Quilting, Accounting and an Authentic Woman

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When my mum finished secondary school, she had no idea what she wanted to do with her life. The school’s career adviser apparently passed her an A-Z book of careers and told her to pick. She got as far as Ac–Accounting and decided, I could do that.

In the UK in the 70s, not a lot of women were training to be accountants. Lectures were routinely 90% male, so to say my mum was outnumbered is something of an understatement. I’ve always been proud that she chose that path. I’ve always been proud that she had the courage and belief in herself to walk into a hall where she stood out and say, I belong here. And then go on to be a successful business owner. Her drive and her leadership skills inspire me.

Perhaps my favourite story from those college years is one about a quilt.

Mum tells us that some lectures (like the ones on tax law) were information-heavy and you had to spend the hour furiously scribbling notes. Others though, were less about note taking and more about sitting and listening. My mum is not one for sitting still without something to do. If you put a blank notepad in front of her, it will be full of doodles within ten minutes. She says it helps her concentrate when her hands are busy.

So, she started bringing her quilting to class. Small bits of material from the dressmaking scraps of clothes my granny was making at the time or from old dresses of her own. One by one the scraps were stitched into neat little hexagons, ready to be sewn together once she got home that night.

I imagine her sitting in the lecture hall, the sound of Accounting terms drifting over her head as she carefully made those small stitches. I am inspired by her ability to be unapologetically her.

In that male-dominated space, she could have been told that she should act more masculine in order to be accepted, or at least hide any overtly feminine traits. It wouldn’t have been the first time that “advice” was offered. Instead she took her sewing to class. She embraced who she is–all of who she is, the woman who is both fascinated by tax law and the woman who loves to quilt. Unapologetically.

It’s the confidence of a woman who knows she is created in the image of God. It’s the confidence of a woman who knows these strengths, skills and interests are gifts from her Heavenly Father who delights in seeing her use them, stretching and growing into the woman she was always intended to be.

It’s that same confidence that allowed her to become a successful tax consultant to everyone—from the local shop owner to international ambassadors. It’s that confidence that gave her the vision to keep serving and working in her local church until the day they finally accepted women to preach and lead. It’s that same confidence that taught me to dream and even now gives me the courage to keep stepping into those dreams.

The story has a twist that I love. And this part comes from my Dad, who was sitting in those lectures with her, gradually falling in love. He says the young men were fascinated by her neat hexagons. So fascinated that she started handing out pieces of fabric and teaching them the stitches.

I love it. I look at the quilt now all those years later and I see her unabashed spirit. I believe more and more that when we embrace every part of who we are, when we are confident to be all of the person we were made to be—whether that fits everyone’s expectations or smashes them—we are drawing closer to the Creator who made us.

A quilt stitched together in an Accounting lecture reminds me of that.

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Fiona Koefoed-Jespersen
Fiona lives in London with her Danish husband and her two young children. She is determinedly seeking the sacred in the ordinary, learning to see that even the most mundane moments of her day can be spiritual if she wakes up to the Divine in those places. She is in training to become a Spiritual Director, and baking is her favourite spiritual practice. You can follow her through her blog at fionalynne.com.
Fiona Koefoed-Jespersen
Fiona Koefoed-Jespersen

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Fiona Koefoed-Jespersen
  • Joy Howard

    As a quilter who has spent many hours stitching, I love this story. As an academic PhD who has spent all too many hours in all male spaces, my heart breaks at this cold reality. I rejoice that your narrative offers our imagination a different reality than the neat rows of all men scribbling away. Our minds and hearts sometimes have trouble imagining the possibilities of inclusivity. Your story gives us a snapshot of what inclusiveness looks like 🙂 Thank you.

  • This is awesome. I can just picture one woman in a classroom full of men quilting away! So amazing! I love this “when we are confident to be all of the person we were made to be…we are drawing closer to the Creator who made us.” Yesss!!! So so so good!

  • This is just amazing! What a beautiful tribute to the spirit of your mum.
    May we all find grace to live “unabashed.” (Love that word!)

  • I love this story Fiona. Perhaps because I relate to needing to have my hands busy. I’m often doodling on my iPad in meetings. I’ve explained to our employees that I concentrate better that way and I do. I could use more of your mum’s confidence though 😉

  • Ganise C.

    Ah, this is so goooood. YES!!! 🙂

  • Such a beautiful story! Thanks for sharing it.

  • Susan

    My dad the WW2 tank battalion member- took up making rugs at 75 defying his gender restrictions. Of course that was after he fixed dinner and did the grocery shopping while my mom got her masters degree- 1972.
    Love those who have such confidence in being themselves.

  • Saskia Wishart

    This is beautifully crafted Fiona. I too love that she didn’t have to change herself to fit into a male dominanted space but instead she embraced who she was and it drew others to her.

  • Jo Cameron Duguid

    That’s a fantastic story! Have I seen this quilt at your parents’ home? Yes, it would have been so easy to try to “fit in” in that masculine world by suppressing anything that might look “girly”. Such boldness to just be completely herself. I love it, including your dad’s contribution about the men’s interest in what she was doing. Oh and, for the record, I applied for a job as a trainee accountant with Hampshire County Council when I graduated from university, which I’m still sure I would have been very good at. They interviewed me and told me I was “too small and pretty to be taken seriously in a job like this”….

  • Beautiful story and reminder to be our unique selves no matter what others are doing. I remember being in a Shakespeare class in college and one student brought her knitting to every class. She knit several sweaters during the semester. It made me want to bring my own knitting, but I was to busy taking notes.