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Jennifer Tseng, Age 12

A two-time Fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center, Jennifer Tseng is a poet, novelist, and story writer whose books include the novel Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness, the story collection The Passion of Woo & Isolde, and the poetry collections Not so dear Jenny, Red Flower, White Flower, and The Man With My Face. Presented here is an excerpt from a quilt she made at the age of twelve.

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— Jennifer Tseng, Age 12

“When I was about twelve years old, I made this quilt as a gift for my father. I rarely had spending money but my mother taught me how to sew which helped give me a sense of agency. My father had a funny habit of giving gifts back to me, years after I’d given them to him. He did it with excitement, as if he were giving me a gift for the first time, something I’d always dreamed of having. In this case, it turned out to be true because when he died, his wife (not my mother) was the keeper of his things. I never had the opportunity to sit among them & take a memento but because he ‘gifted’ it to me years before his death, I have this quilt.

Most of the quilt’s squares are scraps from dresses my mother made me. The blue with rows of hearts & flowers (detail i) was a favorite, a traditional European style dress with ribbons sewn vertically across the bodice. Three of the four squares (detail ii) come from other favorite dresses—the solid blue dress caught fire while I was roasting a marshmallow on a chopstick over the backyard barbecue. The quilt also includes scraps from furniture (the beige in detail i belongs to an armchair cover my mother made), a binder I covered for school (the orchid & sea green plaid), a pencil case (the red, green & white plaid) I made for another binder, my sister’s pillowcases (red & white teddy bears)—also made by our mother, Chinese jackets our mother made for both of us (the burgundy mini quilt print), & so on.

Over the years, the quilt has come to mean many things to me. It’s a gift I gave to my father, proof of my young self’s love for him, a gift he gave to me, one of the few things I have that he touched, a gift from my mother (without whom I could never have made it), a gallery of her years of handiwork, a testament to her love for us & a collection of childhood memories, evidence of the unlikely life the four of us had together, a life that now so often feels like a dream.”