Six years ago, my new friend Heather and I journeyed to the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. We shared a long weekend in study, art, and reflection with Pam England, the author of Birthing From Within. That time was transformational for me in many ways, deepening my friendship and enhancing my ability to support women in childbirth. It also strengthened my convictions which led me to birth both of my children at home.
That weekend, Pam taught us how to use labyrinths in our work with birthing women as preparation for childbirth. The matrix of the cretan labyrinth which I learned there is a motif I often find myself drawing and reflecting upon. I used it many times in my own birth preparations.
It was not until recently that I began to use the labyrinth with my child. As labyrinths have been used for ages as a contemplative tool, so can the circuitous paths be shared with children in meditation, prayer, or simply as a means to strengthen their focus.
The first labyrinth I made for my daughter was simply drawn on paper with crayon. Her chatter ceased and her breath deepened as she used her finger to trace the path, occasionally looking to me for guidance. After that first experience, she began to ask for a labyrinth on a regular basis.
I have on several occasions taken her to a walking labyrinth as well, and observed how the purposeful movement is calming and balancing. The twists and turns of the labyrinth are so different than that of a maze, where there is much confusion and frustration. We are reassured that the labyrinth path will always lead to the center, and then back out again, no matter how far away from the destination we may feel.
I was inspired to create this finger labyrinth for my daughter out of my own favorite medium, fabric. Here I will provide you with a simple guide to help you draw your own labyrinth, as well as a tutorial for creating a reverse applique finger labyrinth. It may be hung in a window, allowing the light to shine through the path like a stained glass. This tutorial will lead you to create a 16” square labyrinth panel, but you may adjust the size according to your needs. You may easily take the finished, unbound panel and use it to create the front of a pillow, or incorporate in other fiber art.
To begin your labyrinth, you may follow the basic picture tutorial I have provided here. For more detailed instructions and information on the history and purpose of labyrinths, I recommend the book Exploring the Labyrinth: A Guide for Healing and Spiritual Growth, by Melissa Gayle West. For more information about the use of labyrinths in the birthing year, read Pam England’s new book, Labyrinth of Birth. The Cretan Labyrinth I have chosen is appropriate for my four-year-old daughter, but you may find that you want a simpler or more complex path based on your child’s needs.
Materials and Tools
½ yard of solid fabric for the front and back of the piece
Fat quarter of pretty fabric for the inside
16” length of dowel, or a thin straight stick
Optional: purchased bias tape measuring at least 70”, or you may make your own from the solid fabric
Petite scissors appropriate for applique
Paper, ruler, and a marker for drawing a labyrinth
Air erasable marker or fine chalk
Temporary spray adhesive designed for fabric (I used sulky kk2000 which is non-toxic and free of CFCs)
Iron & board
Prepare the Fabric
From the solid fabric, cut two 16” squares. Using the remaining fabric, cut one 16” x 4” length for the dowel sleeve. You may also at this time cut 70” of 2.5” wide fabric strips for the binding, if you desire.
From the patterned fabric, cut one 16” square.
Create the Dowel Sleeve
Begin by folding each short end of the 16” x 4” strip of fabric in a generous one inch and press.
Fold this piece in half lengthwise, right sides together, and stitch together the long raw edges with a 1/2” seam allowance. Turn right side out and press, and set aside.
Assemble the Panel
Place one of the solid 16” square pieces on a protected work surface, right side down. Upon it neatly place the pretty printed 16” square, right side up. Proceed with applying your temporary spray adhesive to join these two pieces. I simply rolled up the printed piece, sprayed the solid piece, and carefully rolled the printed piece back down over it, smoothing as I went. Once this is complete, repeat the process with the other solid square right side up on top of the printed fabric.
Center the paper practice labyrinth you have drawn on the top of the panel to give you an idea of where to place the beginning cross. If you choose, you can use a transfer method, but I prefer freehand drawing most of the labyrinth with an air-erasable marker. You may wish, as I did, to use a ruler to begin the cross and then freehand the rest.
Once you have drawn the labyrinth on the fabric panel, it is time to begin sewing.
Stitching the Labyrinth
It is worth your time to test your stitching until you are happy with the width and length. I chose a zigzag stitch to allow for more fabric stability in the reverse applique. You will probably want a wider zigzag that is close together.
Begin your stitching near the center of the labyrinth, at the end of one of the lines. Backstitch before you continue. Slowly work your way around the path, gently turning and easing the fabric. Put your needle down and adjust as needed. If your labyrinth has angled rather than rounded corners, lower your needle on the outside edge of the corner and pivot the fabric.
There will likely be two long paths of stitching to complete. Be sure to backstitch at both the beginning and the ends. You may find yourself surprised at how many long inches of stitching you need to complete the labyrinth!
After the labyrinth is stitched, a good pressing will help clear away any puckering.
Cutting the Applique
Very carefully insert the sharp tip of your small scissors into only the top, solid layer of fabric. Once you have made a small hole, you can begin to cut out all the labyrinth path. Approach this very mindfully and slowly. You may cut close to (but not through) your zigzag stitching, or you may choose to leave a few millimeters on either side. It is pleasing to watch the labyrinth revealed as you work.
After you have finished your careful cutting on one side, you may do the other as well, if you choose. Cutting out both sides will allow more light to come through the labyrinth if you wish to hang it in a window.
To bind the edges of the labyrinth, I recommend the following resources, of which I combined for my own use:
Heather Bailey tutorial on quilt binding.
Angry Chicken bias tape tutorial.
Complete the Panel
Once you have finished the binding, you may hand-sew the dowel sleeve onto the upper back side of the labyrinth panel, or carefully machine-stitch it right along the topstitching of the binding. Insert your dowel or stick and tie a ribbon on it for hanging! The labyrinth is easily taken down and ready to be placed on a tabletop or cushion for use.
Bernadette Emerson is co-editor and publisher of Rhythm of the Home magazine. She recently moved with her family from Colorado to the Midwest, where she is looking forward to exploring all that life has to offer.