Category Archives: soulwork

How I Learned to Think Diagonally and Sew with My Soul the Gee’s Bend Way

Mary Ann Pettway

Mary Ann Pettway

The long leaf pines swayed in the mountain breeze. The atmosphere inside electric with color, song and humming sewing machines. This past week I attended a 4-day Gee’s Bend Quilting retreat in the beautiful rolling hills of northern Alabama. We were in the midst of two inspiring Gee’s Bend quilters: Mary Ann Pettway and China Pettway.

The Pettways have an interesting way of teaching. Demonstrating, then observing. Showing, then praising. They loved us through the process until we “got it”. The quilting itself was not the Big Thing. The Big Thing was the small voice inside that spoke through our hands as we worked. From time to time the Pettways would break into song – sounds of praise so deep, the voices of the two women reverberated in that room so that anyone would have thought there was a choir of twenty.


Basil ready to slice his strips into angles

There were fifteen quilters. Basil, the only male quilter there, is an art quilter from St. Louis. Arleen brought her Gee’s Bend Quilts book for the ladies to sign. She worked quietly in the corner and produced gorgeous angles in her blocks – obvious that she had studied the style prior to the workshop. Others struggled to let go of all they had learned about quilting to learn a new way of sewing tiny pieces of fabrics together.

“Yes, you’ve got it! You’re quilting the Gee’s Bend way.”

When one of us heard that, we knew we finally understood that we were slicing and dicing our way into a new way of quilting. On the 2nd day, I finally got it. Allow the Spirit to take over in your sewing! Sew with your soul instead of what the world says you should do.  Forget about straight lines. Forget about patterns. Forget about bringing a preconceived notion of what you will make. Let the quilt develop into what it wants to be.


“You’ve got it.”

“That’s where the art is,” China Pettway says.

What have you learned to do in a new way? When have you realized that they way you have always done something may not the only way, the best way?

pettwaysI’m sending out a huge Thank You to the Gee’s Bend Quilters and the Alabama Folk School at Camp McDowell!

almost finished


gees bend quilts

a few quilts the Pettways brought with them


Examples of dreams as sources of fiction, poetry, and image amplification. 
(This is the first post of a project I’ve been working on for several years. For the next few weeks and months I will be posting a series of these  “Lessons”. )

Journeys to the inner world of dreams and the unconscious have changed my life. I believe that my dreams come for the purpose of healing me along this journey to wholeness we call our life. What I have found is that I no longer see the people, places and events of my life existing only in black and white. I am aware of a vast gray area that harbors a depth of color that I never imagined. People appear with dimensions that I heretofore did not know existed within them. This work has given me a deeper awareness of the presence of God within my own soul. I am compelled to pass this on.
I am using my knowledge of Jungian concepts, depth psychology and dreamwork in a monthly dream group class. I apply my experience of these concepts in my pastoral care and counseling work in a church setting as well. In my work with parishioners who are newly divorced, widowed, terminally ill, or in other ways going through a crisis or personal trauma, I help them work with their dreams as they “carry the dream forward”. We explore together the messages brought to them in their dreams.  We journey together on an exciting adventure, and they are usually ready for the journey. Thus I began work on Lessons in Dreaming: A Field Guide as a reference for those in the dream group as well as those who ask for help in working a dream one-on-one.
My Field Guide to dreamwork began with working with my own dreams and taking certain elements, colors, or characters and developing them into short stories, poetry, artwork, and two novels. I believe that creative writing begins the journey of the terrains of one’s soul when we carry our dreams forward into the wonderful world of descriptive language and colorful character development, whether put down in written form or painted on a canvas.
Writing is one of the closest ways to get a detailed look at our dreams. Anyone can write creatively, and as Flannery O’Conner said, anyone who had a childhood can write fiction. Stories, poetry and songs come from the subconscious at a most divine level; they show the author’s inner thoughts and let the reader into the divine arena of a person’s dreams, a true expression of the soul. Writing is a continual dialogue between the right-brain irrational, creative, dream-logic part of the mind and the left-brain rational, critical, linear part – the masculine and feminine energies. How do we balance the two? The solutions and answers lie deep within each one of us, often to be revealed through our dreams.
As I visit certain parishioners, we embark on the adventure as we carry the dream setting and characters forward into fictionalized accounts of what life might be like – or how a character might be transformed and brought to life through the written word as we look at them through the “soft-eyed” gaze of the soul. This work brings forth laughter, tears, and, I believe, may help prepare their soul to leave one quadrant of their life and move into the next. Or, in the case of the terminally ill, to help them prepare to leave this world for the next.
The use of clinical language would not be as pastoral as the language of the person, the dreamer. That is the language I use. Within this work many people are able to find hope, meaning, comfort and sometimes healing of past hurts or worries about the future. Always, it is the language of the past that pushes the characters and images forward, and that is where the insights occur as we work together to draw pictures, in words and colors, of the symbols and people that appear in our dreams. In order to protect the privacy and integrity of my work with my parishioners, I have used my own dreams here as examples of the work that I do.
These posts are condensed versions of the information booklet I developed and I share with others and is also an explanation of the work I do with them. My booklet includes graphics to help make the work fun, including a Model of the Psyche for the sake of demonstration.

In one-on-one dreamwork, and in dream groups as well, I occasionally read passages from works of fiction that were inspired by dreams, or review a list of stories, movies, and novels that include or were inspired by dreams. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland and the HBO series Carnivale include wonderful examples of archetypes. Also works by Robert Louis Stevenson. I introduce works of poetry or fiction, inspired by dreams, such as Dreams, by Olive Schreiner, or one of the following:

Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron
House of Spirits, by Isabel Allende
Peachtree Road, and King’s Oak, by Anne Rivers Siddons
Salem’s Lot, by Stephen King
Queen of the Damned, & others by Anne Rice
B is for Burglar, by Sue Grafton
I encourage dreamers to consider alternative realities: An elephant can fit through the eye of a needle, animals can talk, people can have two heads and circles can fit into boxes. This surrealism is a reflection of the early state of creation, and I coach them to consider that anything is possible as they work in the same manner as they “carry their dream forward” through creative writing.
Lesson # 1: Necessary Equipment for the Journey
Necessary items for this journey to the center of the soul are:
1. Field Notebook. A spiral notebook, journal, or loose-leaf paper will work. Lacking any of that, use the back of an envelope, or anything in sight. Record your dreams immediately upon waking, even it what you remember is merely a snippet or single image.
2. Pencil or Pen (preferably a pen with a light so you won’t wake your partner in the middle of the night).
3. Sketchbook. Any blank page book will work.
4. Colored Pencils.
5. Reference Books. Continuing education is necessary for any journey. ( I will include a reading list next time.)

How do you work YOUR dreams?