The Unfinished Quilt Top: Unraveling Threads

–by Carl Young

Manager’s note: You can read more about Carl’s journey with his son at  It’s a heart-breaking journey and an absolute must-read.

Unfinished quilt tops.

Loose fabric, pieced together.  seams re-sewn to strengthen the final product.  adjustments, another persons eye to style and color.  A work in progress.

I have been told, I have broad shoulders to carry the burden of David’s care. To these people I say:  I am just a dad.  A sewer, striving to finish his quilt.  That is all, nothing more.

I strive to save the lovingly hand stitched aspect of the quilt top while ensuring it won’t fall apart upon the first washing.Life lessons.  Spools of thread.

Simple things the second.  Complex thoughts on the first.

I was thinking about a sewing project I have been trying to find time to work on.  I am finishing a quilt.  I purchased an unfinished quilt top at auction and am working to finish.  Just haven’t been able to make time to sit down and tackle it.  Not to mention the stack of patching, hemming and repairs that are sitting in my sewing area.

In thinking about the similarities between the spool of thread on my sewing machines, and David’s care I am struck by one thing.  It seems like the harder I pull on that small thread, the faster things unravel.  We have built a team of professionals around his needs to allow him to receive the best care possible.  Yet.  I feel like his care is like that unfinished quilt top.

How do I move beyond where we are with his care and onto more productive, and a more supportive care plan that is wrapped around him like a quilt? That doesn’t just protect him from the cold harsh realities of life, but offers a warming protection against those same realities.  Because, truly, right now I would have to agree with a former team member and say that eventually he will just end up in prison.

Prison is not a place to go to get mental health services.

I can talk to people until I lose my voice.  But they really don’t get the struggle that is David’s life.  They don’t get that, much like the needle on my sewing machine, if it breaks, you replace the needle, you don’t throw away the whole machine and start over.  You don’t continue sewing with the same needle, hoping for positive results.

You change the needle.

If it breaks again, then you consider your thread. Or adjust thread tension.

unfinished quilt tops: unraveled threads

If you continue to do the same thing over and over again without adapting to the fabric you are working with, all that you will experience is frustration.

As we strive to move forward with David’s care, we bring together varying professionals, much like fabric scraps used to make a quilt.  Sometimes, one scrap will work better with the rest of the top than another.  Same with professionals.  If one part of the team that is David’s “quilt top” isn’t working, we need to open the seam and change that piece out.

David’s world has unraveled.  We can try to rewind the spool of thread that is his world, rebuild the quilt top with the right pieces, and wrap him with a finished quilt that can support him for a long time to come.

Barriers exist in the mental health system that bar our success in finishing the first quilt.  In a few years, he will be an adult in the eyes of the law, while remaining a preteen mentally and emotionally.  At that point, he will be needing a new quilt.

Ask any quilter or sewer.

A quilt is a work in progress.  Eventually it might be labeled as finished, but throughout it’s life, it will periodically need care.

I have been told, I have broad shoulders to carry the burden of David’s care. To these people I say:  I am just a dad.  A sewer, striving to finish his quilt.  That is all, nothing more.


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