Saturday, December 3, 2016

Peace of Mind

When it comes to politics, I tend to be pretty quiet and opt to keep my own political beliefs and values to myself.  And while this strategy typically has worked well for me, I can no longer remain silent in light of this past Presidential Election.  Like many Americans (and much of the world), I experienced a wide range of emotions after learning that Donald Trump won enough electoral votes to become the next President of the United States:  shock, disbelief, sadness, anger and fear.  I tried to process my emotions and attempt to understand how so many of my fellow Americans could support a candidate who not only preyed upon others' fears, but went so far as to overtly attack women, individuals with disabilities, Latinos and the LGBTQ community.  And while I know the United States is not immune to hatred, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny, I had no idea just how rampant or strong these beliefs were within Americans.  This past election brought out a very dark side of America, one that I have a difficult time recognizing or accepting.

After several restless nights, I was looking for a way to express my feelings about the tension within our political climate.  A voice within screamed "make a quilt."  The 2017 QuiltCon East deadline was one week away and I wondered whether it would even be possible to design and finish a quilt that would 1. express my feelings, 2.  be strong enough to be juried into QuiltCon and 3.  simply be done in time for the deadline.
A Sign

I began to write down my thoughts and sketch out a few possible quilt designs.  I must confess that both the writing and the accompanying images were equally dark and grim, and I wondered if I would have the strength to work through the darkness.

I dug deep to find the peace within and reached for a roll of blue tape to outline a large Peace sign on my design wall.  Almost immediately, I felt a sense of hope:  hope that I would be able to have a quilt ready to enter, and hope for our nation's future.

To symbolize the diversity of our country, I wanted to improvisationally piece a color wheel out of scraps.  Just as I was about to raid my scrap bin, I remembered the stash of 5" charms from participating in two charm swaps back in 2012.  More than 70 quilters from across the country participated in these charm swaps, adding a rich variety of colors, pattern and texture to my quilt.  As you can imagine, I had so much fun going through this stack and sorting them by color family.  I could feel the stress just melt away as I absorbed myself in all this glorious color!
Little Pieces of Fabric From Across the Country
For each of the 12 sections of my color wheel, I would start with 10-12 charms and cut them into different sized shapes/strips ranging from 1" to 3".  I would incorporate a few strips from my own scrap bin as needed.  For my first few fabric slabs, I just assembled them with no real plan or intention.  
Piece of Peace
After experimenting with some improvised log cabin shapes to highlight some of the larger prints, I decided to use this basic structure for all my slabs.  I went back and sliced up the initial red slab and reworked the components into a log cabin structure and then resumed my clockwise progress around the color wheel.  Once all twelve color slabs were pieced, it was time to figure out how best to assemble my peace sign.  I went back and forth on different construction designs but they all involved assembling the center first.  Luckily I had leftover units and scraps to fill in the center line and branches.  For the perimeter, I chose to start with a partial seam to attach spinning borders/slabs.  I was pleasantly surprised that the construction went as smooth as it did, and despite my initial worries, I soon I had a pieced peace sign!!!
Working Towards Peace
All along I knew I wanted to insert floating triangles into the background to represent just how fractured our nation is at the present.  When first starting this quilt, I had planned on piecing a gradated background that went from white at the top to different values of grey and finally to black along the bottom.  In fact, Doug and I spent an entire evening pressing and cutting up a stack of squares for the background.  But as I began working on the peace sign itself, I felt much more optimistic and hopeful.  I chose to keep this positive energy flowing and scrapped the grey scale background for a more bright and cheerful confetti print that I found in my stash.  It was vibrant and tied in beautifully with my fractured vision.  Unfortunately there wasn't enough yardage to fill in the background entirely, and thus became a design opportunity to enlarge some of the fractions in order to fill in the gaps!  Again, I was able to use up leftover units and scraps for each of these floating triangles.
Fractured Background
Early into my designing process, I wanted to incorporate words and messages.  In my darker stages, I had considered incorporating fear, hate and harm.  But as I found peace, I chose to focus on the positive messages which I would free motion stitch into the background.  Doug and I brainstormed 40 or so uplifting words of peace, respect and passsion, but I feared this would not be enough to fill in the background area.  So I put a call out to family & friends via facebook:
Dear facebook friends & family...I need your input!!  I am looking for words of hope, peace, love and inspiration to stitch into a top secret quilt that I am making in response to the current state of our nation/world.  I welcome all and any suggestions that are positive and hopeful for a more peaceful/compassionate world."
I was delighted to see 25+ of my friends & family (many of which are not quilters) respond and contribute more messages of peace.  I was just thrilled that so many embraced the challenge and more than tripled my list of words!!  Not only that, but reading all these messages of peace gave me the energy to endure two marathon days of intense quilting (10+ hours/day).  Last but not least, one participant even shared that "just this exercise offers healing of its own."  Many thanks to all who participated in this exercise and I hope you too experienced peace within.  

As I prepared to start free motion stitching the words, I turned to my trusted blue painter's tape to establish lines to keep my words straight.  Since many of the words included j's, p's, q's, y's and z's, I chose to work my way from bottom to top in order to avoid stitching into the taped lines.  I found that I had to retrain my brain to free motion quilt all the words in cursive.  Part of it was remembering to take the time to cross my t's and dot my i's with hearts as I stitched along.  But I also had to figure out how to start new words without breaking thread.  When I first started out, I practiced writing each word using a dry erase marker onto my acrylic board.  Over time, I became more comfortable with cursive writing and no longer needed to sketch out each word.
Pieces of Blue Tape to the Rescue!
I auditioned a few different threads including Aurifil white, grey and black.  I skipped the black and dark grey as I did not want to detract from the Peace sign design.  I opted to use Superior's Fantastico Pixie Dust as it provided a bit of subtle color and sheen (it was a bit difficult to photograph, but know that it looks so beautiful in person!!)

In total, I believe there are almost 100 words of hope and love stitched into the background including: Advocate, Aloha, Community, Compromise, Convergence, Dignity, Empower, Engage, Faith, Honor, Integrity, Listen, Mercy,  Reflect, Respect, Support, Tolerance, Understanding and Unite.  Within the peace sign itself, I chose to stitch in 30 translations of Peace including  Amani (Swahili), Fred (Danish, Norwegian, Swedish), HePing (Chinese) Pace (Italian), Paix (French) and Pokoj (Polish).  I found the quilting process to be very meditative as I reflected on each word as I stitched them out.
Messages of Hope & Peace Stitched into Background
For the binding and backing, I raided my bin of rainbow fabrics.  There I found a wonderfully vibrant rainbow ombre for the binding.  I also found 2 yards of this wonderful cheater cloth which made for a lovely quilt back.  I supplemented it with a Michael Miller print featuring Peace signs.
Pieces of Rainbow From My Stash
With less than 24 hours until the entry deadline, I managed to stitch on the label and binding.  Mother nature was on my side as I woke up early to capture photographs to complete my online entry.  A few hours later, I drafted my Artist Statement which had to be under 100 words:
In the wake of the 2016 Presidential Election, we are left with a fractured nation in which respectful dialogue has been replaced with fear, hatred, and violence.  It is my hope that “Peace of Mind” will serve as an example of how we can pick up the pieces and come together to restore peace and compassion.  The Peace sign and surrounding fractures are improvisationally pieced with charms exchanged with 60+ quilters from across the country.  Over 100 messages of love and hope (from Facebook friends & family) are stitched into the background (including 30 translations of Peace).  Peace to all!
I am so incredibly proud of this quilt!  I truly hope it will be considered by the QuiltCon jury.  But regardless of the jury's decision, I found the entire process to be incredibly therapeutic, meditative and much needed for my own well being.  Despite the fact that I was literally racing the clock to finish in time, I felt so incredibly happy and at peace as I worked on this quilt.  I hope you too will celebrate its joy and peace.  
  
"Peace of Mind," 53" x 53"

6 comments:

  1. You've done it again! WOW! I love that the fabrics came from all over. I have also been thinking about doing a quilt about unity. You have inspired me to get it done.

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    1. Thanks Jackie...this was certainly a whirlwind project but I loved every minute of the journey. I especially love just how many people were involved in its creation from exchanging 5" charms to sharing messages of hope and peace. I can't wait to see how your unity quilt emerges!!

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  2. WOW is right!!! This is amazing and inspiring. If you don't get accepted, I don't know how they choose... Well done!!!!

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    1. Thanks KB...while I wanted to get this done in time to be considered for QuiltCon, I ultimately made this quilt for myself and to bring hope to others. And in the event it does not get accepted into QuiltCon...I will certainly look to enter it into other quilt shows.

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  3. Your quilt and your story take my breath away. Mel, you are a marvel!

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    1. Awwww...thanks Joni...and the pictures and my storytelling do not do justice for this quilt. I will certainly look to bring it to a future meeting show and tell.

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