Body Count

Studio Art Quilt Associates put out an call for fiber art for an upcoming exhibit entitled Guns:  Loaded Conversations.  After the 10/1 Las Vegas Mass Shooting, I felt compelled to create a quilt to enter into this exhibit.  I reflected on my own opinions regarding gun ownership, reviewed the data and sketched a little...but inspiration did not strike.  One week before the 10/31 deadline, while driving up to the Sacramento area for a meeting, inspiration finally struck.  I arrived to my destination early--just enough time to jot down my idea, do a bit more research and do some quick sketching in my notebook.  Later that afternoon, I returned home and did some more research, sketching and made a quick shopping list to pick up all the supplies needed to execute my vision.  Oh you know...a visit to a local quilt shop for fabric and felt, and oh yeah, stop by the gun store to pick up a paper target with a human torso on it!!!  Just your run of the mill quilting supplies!!
On Target with My Entry
Once home, I went to work transcribing the torso outline and rings onto some solid black fabric.  In my research, I found an online database tracking all the 2017 mass shootings here in the United States.  After importing the data into excel, I was able to better make sense of the data and learned some frightening statistics:

  • There have been more mass shootings than days of the year with 369 mass shootings as of 10/29
  • The number of incidents involving 4 or more victims (dead + injured):
    • 4 victims...231 incidents...
    • 5 victims...76 incidents
    • 6 victims...24 incidents
    • 7 victims...14 incidents
    • 8 victims...6 incidents
    • 9 victims...8 incidents
    • 10 or more victims...8 incidents (including 300 victims from the 10/1 Las Vegas incident)
I needed to find a way to present this data in a visual manner.  I began using puffy paints to draw hearts to represent loved ones lost/injured during these senseless attacks--but they were too cutesy for this topic and didn't capture the fact that guns were the weapon of choice.  I tried to draw a bullet, which looked a bit phallic.  I tried a simple gun sight which was a bit too simple.  When I looked back at my pathetic bullet drawing, I got the idea for using headstamps--which are the markings found at the bottom of the cartridge case, which usually include the manufacturer and year.  I swapped out the city, state for the manufacturer info and used the month/day of each incident in lieu of the year. An old Bernina 820 Bobbin was traced for the outer and inner circle shapes using gold and silver metallic Sakura Gelli Roll pens. 

Creating a Visual Representation
 After sorting the incidents by number of victims, I drew an equal number of headstamps into rings corresponding point value working my way from center out:

  • 3 headstamps in the bullseye representing incidents with 15 or more victims...
  • 5 headstamps in the 10 point ring representing incidents with 10-12 victims...
  • 8 headstamps in the 9 point ring for each incident with 9 victims...
  • 6 headstamps representing 8 victims...
  • 14 headstamps representing 7 victims...etc
Once all the headstamps were traced, I handwrote the city, state and date of each incident.  This gave me time to think about the victims, as well as family/friends living near each site.

Headstamps Representing # of Victims/Incident
Once the majority of my headstamps were drawn in, it was time to add some color and texture to my painted wholecloth quilt.  Each headstamp was outlined and surrounded by a dense zig zag meander which represented the chaos caused by each incident.  Leaving the headstamps unquilted gave them dimension.
Add caption

As I worked my way out, I decided to add more headstamps representing incidents with 6 victims, as well as a tally/score sheet in the top right corner that included the actual statistics of mass shootings through 10/28 (note:  there had been an additional 3 incidents since I last ran the numbers, so while it was too late to add a headstamp to the target, I was able to include those stats in this tally sheet) .
Score Card Keeping Tally of Victims
Aurifil 50-weight threads were used for all the stitching gradating from light to dark:

  • 2024--White
  • 2600--Dove
  • 2605--Grey
  • 5004--Grey Smoke
  • 2692--Black
  • 2250--Red

Each ring was outlined using multiple passes in matching thread colors.
Aurifil Threads Used
In my initial planning, I had the idea of putting actual bullet holes through my quilt.  I reached out to several of my friends and neighbors to see if I could get a willing & responsible gun owner.  I had a few leads who were available Sunday morning.  Well at this point, my quilt had progressed to the point that I feared the bullet holes would either detract from my message or ruin my quilt entirely.  As part of my planning for bullet holes, I used red felt in lieu of batting, which would make for a fun reveal.  Since the red felt was there, I considered incorporating some cutwork into the background which was stitched with circles and paisleys to simulate blood droplets.  Again, I feared the cutwork might detract from my quilt's message.   
Bullet Holes or Wholecloth Quilt?
As I was previewing the entry form, there was a question about copyright.  All of a sudden, I felt a pang of anxiety as I realized that my using the paper target as a template might be considered a copyright violation.  After consulting with a fellow art quilter, she suggested I contact the company, Birchwood Casey, and request permission.  I left messages via email and voicemail identifying myself as a fiber artist working on an art piece to raise awareness about gun safety and proceeded to request their permission to use their EZE-Scorer Silhouette Paper Target as a template and inspiration for my art quilt.  Less than 2 hours later, I received the following email response from Todd Binsfield, VP of Sales & Marketing for the Birchwood Casey company:  "Mel,  Permission granted.  Please send us images as you progress and good luck!"  Phew!!! and a BIG thank you!!!

Despite a late start, lots of self-doubt about the direction this quilt would take and concerns re:  copyright permission, I still managed to finish my entry in just 5 days.  Unfortunately in those 5 days, there were another 5 mass shootings:  10/27-San Francisco CA and Louisville, KY; 10/28-Petersburg, VA; 10/29-Toledo, OH and 10/29-Austin, TX.

Exhibit notifications will go out mid-December.  Luckily the exhibit will premiere in April 2018, here in San Jose, CA at the San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles.   Based on the topic and several of the entries I've seen posted online, this exhibit is certain to engage dialogue about guns in America.  
Body Count, Finishes 27" x 41"
Artist Statement:
The United States is in the midst of a public health crisis as there is a mass shooting almost every single day!  In 2017, there have been more mass shootings than days in a year and it is only October!  In the five days that I worked on creating “Body Count” there were 5 mass shootings resulting in 22 victims.  Unfortunately, questions about gun safety and reform are met with resistance and/or ignored entirely by many of our elected officials.  Even after the 10/1/17 Las Vegas crisis, the worst shooting in US history with 300 victims, the White House responded to questions about gun safety and reform with “there will certainly be a time for that policy discussion to take place, but that’s not the place we’re in at this moment.”  Since then, 31 mass shootings have occurred.  At what point will our nation’s leaders address mass shootings and take steps to prevent the rising Body Count?!?


  1. Once again, stunning work!!!!!

    1. Thanks Sue...these political quilts seem to bring out some of my best work...let's hope they inspire change for a safer world too!

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks Hilary...while the topic was certainly a departure from my happy, bright quilts...I am glad I was able to create a positive impact through my work.

  3. poignant and stunning. Thank you for sharing your process as well as the art with us.

    1. Thank you Linda...there is only so much I can convey in my Artist Statement, so I am glad to be able to share more of my process through my blog posts...especially since this particular topic was a real challenge for me. I doubted myself and struggled A LOT with the direction of this quilt!

  4. So much detail and emotion in this quilt. Perhaps we’ll have a conversation nationwide.

    1. Thanks Ann...I sure hope it will inspire more discussion!!

  5. Mel, I'm overwhelmed by your work on such a sensitive issue. I hope the exhibit does initiated a lot of much needed national discussion.

    1. Thank you was overwhelming to work on this piece, especially as I saw the victim count increase daily as I worked. I too hope the exhibit (regardless of whether my piece is juried in) facilitates respectful dialogue about guns in America.

  6. Brilliant piece! Your artwork keeps the issue front and center,Very needed while the families, citizens and nation grieves and unfortunately the victim list continues to grows. I look forward to seeing the exhibit in April.

    1. Thanks Elaine...I certainly wish this art quilt wouldn't need to exist in the first place, but I am glad it is facilitating dialogue about the the recurrence of Mass Shootings in the US and the rising number of victims. I will find out in December whether it was juried into the exhibit or not...stay tuned!!


Post a Comment

I am delighted you took the time and thought to leave me a comment. It may take a day or two for your comment to appear as I moderate them prior to posting to filter out spam and inappropriate content. Cheers!