Trish's Reviews > Plain and Simple: A Journey to the Amish

Plain and Simple by Sue Bender
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really liked it
bookshelves: color, nonfiction, quilting, classics, buddhism

This book was given to me as a gift with the proviso that I return it to the giver when finished. I read it quickly and then read it again slowly, over a period of months. It has a simple, clear style: the short paragraphs remind one of a literally simple but intellectually dense Buddhist discussion on wakefulness and being. Author Bender makes a journey that many of us might make in a lifetime: from a cluttered, busy, “what am I missing?” lifestyle to one that is far less dense. “You are missing nothing important,” a Buddhist might say.

One day many years ago, Bender the artist saw some old Amish quilts used to showcase men’s tweed clothing in an artful display in a boutique on Long Island. She went back several times to view the quilts, and realized that there was something understated and truly unique in the style:
”Odd color combinations. Deep saturated solid colors: purple, mauve, green, brown, magenta, electric blue, red. Simple geometric forms: squares, diamonds, rectangles. A patina of use emanated from them…

The basic forms were tempered by tiny, intricate black quilting stitches. The patterns—tulips, feathers, wreaths, pineapples, and stars—softened and complemented the hard lines, and the contrast of simple pattern and complex stitchery face the flat, austere surface and added dimension.

At first the colors looked somber, but then—looking closely at a large field of brown—I discovered that it was really made of small patches of many different shades and textures of color. Greys and shiny dark and dull light brown, dancing side by side, made the flat surface come alive. Lush greens lay beside vivid reds. An electric blue appeared as if from nowhere on the border.

The relationship of the individual parts to the whole, the proportion, the way the inner and outer borders reacted with each other was a balancing act between tension and harmony…How could a quilt be calm and intense at the same time?”

Bender the artist sought, and found, a way into the community that could produce such work. She lived with different groups of Amish for periods of weeks over a period of years in Iowa and Ohio. She learned that the larger group called “Amish” has different sects which live differently, but generally it is a group which focuses on living as a community, each producing what it can so that the whole functions harmoniously.

She did work on a quilt or two, but mostly she was involved in understanding the lifestyle in which someone can produce art but whose work is as prized as someone else. This joy in the process, rather than the finish or the glory, seemed profound to Bender. She developed an attachment for the nine-patch pattern, and in one of the last chapters, pulls her experiences together in nine observations that serve to calm and direct her when life threatens to subsume her once again.

1. Patch #1 VALUING THE PROCESS/VALUING THE PRODUCT
2. Patch #2 LIVING IN TIME
3. Patch #3 CELEBRATING THE ORDINARY
4. Patch #4 HOME
5. Patch #5 COMMUNITY
6. Patch #6 LIFE AS ART
7. Patch #7 LIMITS AS FREEDOM
8. Patch #8 POWER OF CONTRAST
9. Patch #9 CHOICE

Bender has worked to eliminate the clutter from the book, so it is calming to read and has many one-liners that make good daily fare for musing and developing one’s spiritual muscle. One of my favorites: “I learned there is nothing simple about the ninepatch.”

The line drawings decorating the book are just the right touch, and the color plates chosen for the removable dust jacket also leave one looking and thinking deeper. All in all, Bender has succeeded in creating something lasting that can help us get through the bad “patches” in our own lives, and seek the serenity of being at home in our own skins. “Miracles come after a lot of hard work.” A joy, and a classic.
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Reading Progress

July 2, 2012 – Started Reading
July 2, 2012 – Shelved
July 2, 2012 – Shelved as: color
July 2, 2012 – Shelved as: nonfiction
July 2, 2012 – Shelved as: quilting
July 2, 2012 –
page 76
43.18% "My sister gave me this and I am reading it in bits and pieces. I like the short paragraphs."
September 3, 2012 – Shelved as: classics
September 3, 2012 – Shelved as: buddhism
September 3, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-3 of 3 (3 new)

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Kathryn Mattern I loved your review, and especially the passages you quote, which illustrate the high quality of the writing, and also your inclusion of the 9 'wisdom patches' (my title for the list) - this book really is "a joy and a classic."


Trish Kathryn wrote: "I loved your review, and especially the passages you quote, which illustrate the high quality of the writing, and also your inclusion of the 9 'wisdom patches' (my title for the list) - this book r..."

Thanks. Kathryn. I've thought of this book several times since I've read it, and think it is a book that remains useful, long after one thinks it's lessons are understood. Sometimes things only come into focus much later, or we need reminding. It's a friendly, communal book.


Kathryn Mattern Yes, I agree, and having grown up on the fringes of this kind of 'communal' thinking, and now living in the Bay Area in California, I am always happy to be reminded of these values. I feel they are a part of me I don't want to lose.


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