Farm News

Creative Processing: Part III

a photo of a handmade quilt in blues and pinks

Part Three: A Farmer’s Quilt

This essay is the conclusion of a three part essay on creative processing. Read Part One and Part Two.

The quilts I love most contain fabric from worn out work shirts, outgrown kids clothes, and other such scraps that were once a part of every day life for my ancestors, the Jones family. Similarly, the farm blocks I love most are patchworks of joy. These quarter acre plots are full of raucous diversity, where marigolds and squash zigzag down one line while thin white garlic skins peek above horizontal stripes of russet colored wheat straw. From a distance, the wispy fronds of dill sing in the wind while brilliant snatches of glossy red peppers dance along the borders. In each bed, down each row, plant by plant, loving details emerge.

Blooming wildly are my stories of seeds saved and sowed and tended. So much work. So much patience. So much joy. Anyone who has ever been warmed by a handmade quilt can feel that it is more than just simple triangles or squares arranged—no translation is necessary.

Quilting and farming have something else in common. Both forms of expression require significant math, data collection, geometry, research and analysis. These are the same fundamental skill sets upon which all STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs are based, all lovely languages and ways of seeing which can greatly improve our work as farmers or quilters or human beings.

Each one of us has access to an enormous amount of information- billions of potential ‘triangles’ we could find and place in our quilt. Creative processors are able to choose, organize, and coalesce the precise information triangles that are right for their work. This is a very individualized activity requiring passion, practice and diligence. No two of us will find, choose, arrange and stitch together the exact triangles in the exact same way. Just as there are infinite personalities in the world, there are millions of ways of converting data into an advancement.

There are thousands of resources and hundreds of growing guides available for each of my crops. Without creativity- i.e. the confidence and respect for my individual way of expression, it would be overwhelming to develop my crop rotation. If I stick only to the facts and ignore the individual needs of my land, my self and my community, the inundation of data and ‘advice’ would be insurmountable. Thus, creative processing is a skill set I wish all new farmers could develop. If system thinking represents my infrastructure, creative processing is my lifeblood.

How we allow information to impact our work is greatly influenced by our personality and our experiences, so a critical part of creative processing involves discernment. Computers are processors. Humans are creative processors. Devoid of personal attention, of a single human’s hands touching and molding it, a quilt is simply a blanket. Farmers need to know how to work with information, but also about themselves, their land and their style of processing. This is the heart of it. The data informs you, and you transform the data.


My grandmother Florence Dobson Jones was an extraordinary quilter who described herself in her book, A Charm Quilt, as a “Scrapper and a Piecemaker.” I wish I were too. Maybe though, in my own way, I inherited her eye for patterns and colors, her penchant for finding the value in remnants she so creatively repurposed, and her sincere love for piecing, practicing and practicality. As I spread one of her charmed quilts over my bed, I noticed the precision and consistency of her hand work. She was such a professional!

photo of a quilted bag with a dog on it

And then I came across a little bag she made and laughed out loud. I realized how extraordinary it is that even though Granny was exceptionally talented, she never took herself too seriously to just sit down and play. She had made a ‘doggie bag’. Ha! It’s full of whimsy- no square is perfect, which is what makes it absolutely perfect.

I never thought of my Granny as a creative processor, but that’s exactly what she was—a fabric farmer bent on spreading comfort, joy, and nourishing love with her handcrafted, sincere way of transforming the world around her. Granny was open minded, engaged and avidly productive, pouring her unique self into every one of her creations. But she also allowed herself to be transformed by her projects and her community. She wasn’t after perfection, but connection. This is the essence of all creative processors’ lifelong work- creating meaningful, inimitable connections. Not one, not two, but hundreds, thousands. Handmade quilts are a physical embodiment of the integrity we gain through diversity. Granny’s quilts sure came in a diversity of colors, shapes and forms. I am betting that her idea of a quilter would too.

Which begs the question: What are your triangles, squares, needle and thread? What scraps are you willing to hand stitch into connection? Remember, no one else can sow your quilt; no one else is You. ~AJ