Since 2002 I have been working with people through collaboration, consultation and commission to make improvised quilts from the clothing and materials of everyday life. This practice developed into an active, hands-on, therapeutic process for working through life transitions and bereavement, that I call Passage Quilting. For more information see the Passage Quilting Blog Archive, and Passage Quilting tutorial.
With its visual field of deep black velvet and twinkling white stitches this African-American signature quilt is as powerful and mysterious as the universe.
Because Rowan's hands chose Sunny's clothes, cut them apart, pieced them back together and participated in the slow process of hand-quilting, the result is not only a memorial to Sunny, but it also embodies the living relationship between them that resides in Rowan's heart.
The improvisational patchwork process mirrors the re-orientation of bereavement.
Through her daily living she translated the importance of slowing down, and rejoicing in the simple pleasures of craft and relationships.
Sunny's western shirts, Wrangler chambray and a few Pendleton wools are his gift to his grandson, and the score for our quilt improvisation.
I can't imagine the depth and pain of a client's loss, but I can connect with it compassionately when I'm stitching on their quilt.
It's Good Friday, the day of Christ's death and burial, so I chanted a little prayer to Jesus while I was stitching today.
The Dolores Wolfe memorial quilt is basted and ready to be quilted. Ruth Anne, Dolores's daughter, will be joining me in June to begin the hand quilting as part of her bereavement process. Ruth Anne also wants to explore adding embellishments of buttons and other mementos from her mother's life, which she will be bringing with her from Cincinnati.
I really like how the quilt top came out. I didn't expect it to look like this but Ruth Anne's mother had such an interesting contrast of fine formal wear, with fitted and fanciful details, and rugged everyday clothing suited to someone who made her life as a farmer and crafts person.
The shapes of Dolores's clothing suggested peaks, and rolling hills, very folksy all in all. I also love the swirling movement of the shapes. Are these mountains or figures dancing? Or as Beth at Smazoochie commented earlier, an old-fashioned family portrait?
I've been asked to create a memorial quilt for Ruth Anne from the clothing of her mother, Dolores Wolfe. Ruth Anne began this quilt herself in the Passage Quilting™ Workshop that I taught in Cincinnati last fall. She asked me to continue the quilt and finish it for her.
So here are Dolores' clothes. As I began cutting to preserve certain architectural features, a vocabulary of shapes and images began to emerge...
Trees, mountains, peaks, knolls and valleys... Can you see them?
Always at the start of something new, a few simple shapes mysteriously bubble to the surface. The unknown begins to be known in this way.
After two months of moving, and settling I have begun my first quilt in my new studio, in a new spring. I'm wondering about the shapes mysteriously surfacing in my life right now...
A new acceptance of myself, a sense of peace with where I am, renewed attention to my creative life, joy in having my own space to live and grow.
I am so impressed with all of the comments about ideas and materials for keepsake quilts, by those of you who entered the Whip Up Mini Quilt Book Giveaway. The possibilities are endless.
Choosing Your Materials
If you have gathered your materials and are ready to begin, guess what? You have already completed the first, and one of the most significant steps, of the process. For those of you still on the fence, choose materials and pieces of clothing that resonate most strongly with memory and meaning. These will be the heart of your piece.
- Choose the most resonant materials for the heart of your piece.
- Supplement with less resonant pieces but good colors, texture, pattern, etc.
- Don't limit yourself to woven cotton materials. Anything goes except for leather.
- For a mini quilt try to limit yourself to two or three pieces.
- Beware of too many t-shirt logos.
For the Mini Quilt that I created for Kathreen's book, I asked my friend Liz to provide only two pieces of clothing, one from her son's infancy and one from her pregnancy. These two pieces represented her passage into motherhood, while celebrating the life of her first child.
A mini quilt is a small format so I recommend that you limit yourself to two or three pieces of clothing. Include more pieces if you want to make a larger quilt. The finished size of my mini quilt is only 30" x 24".
Cutting the Clothing Apart
You can always cut your clothing into small squares and create a nine-patch keepsake quilt. However, Passage Quilting™ is about the process of transition, growth and healing. For this reason I work with the architecture of the clothing to create an improvised quilt without a predetermined pattern.
- As you begin to cut your clothing apart consider which architectural features you want to include in your quilt and cut accordingly.
- Cut the clothes along seam lines.
- Remove extra linings and bulky seams.
- Prep, cut apart, all of your materials before moving to the piecework.
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Next Monday, in Part 2 of the Keepsake Quilt-Along, we will begin making blocks or sections from our clothing parts. I will also review tips on improvisation and curve piecing techniques.
What was it like to cut apart your meaningful materials? Was it liberating? Scary? Sad? Joyous? A relief? A surprise? A mixture of emotions? Please share!
Lauren Kenney asked me to make a memorial quilt out of her father's clothes as a gift for her mother. Lauren and her husband came to my studio with a few choice items of clothing, a gold coat beloved by her father in spite of her mother's sense of better taste, golf club covers, gloves, and towel, a favorite plaid shirt, old jean shorts and a pair of suspenders.
Walter was a down to earth kind of guy who used a rope as a belt when working out in the yard. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps, and as a Connecticut state police officer, and was a loyal Red Sox fan. By his clothes, I can see that Walter had a colorful and bold personality!
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In December I was invited to lead a bereavement, memorial quilt making workshop in Cincinnati. Six people attended, each with the loss of a child, parent, or close friend. Everyone brought clothing of the person they were mourning to use as the material for their quilts.
We began the two day workshop sitting around an alter we made of photographs of the ones we loved and lost. Each person brought one piece of clothing to the alter and shared the story that it contained. Soon we were cutting up the wedding dresses, the jeans, the soft baby toys, the nightgowns, and the work shirts of our beloved.
After lunch the reconstruction began. We didn't have pre-determined patterns to follow. Each person worked intuitively and with the architecture of the clothing to reorder the fragments into new patterns and transformed relationships.
The next day we sat around the alter again and shared the many insights that came up overnight because of the process. People brought relief, fear, anger, sadness, gratitude, compassion, love, and forgiveness to the table. No one's feeling or experience was left out. The group was able to hold everyone's different expressions of grief.
We followed this time of sharing with another full day of cutting and sewing. We learned new patchwork and improvisational skills. We learned how to piece organically without rulers, how to sew knits, hand stitch delicate elements of clothing, and how to pull it all together into a composition. From my perspective it was an abundant time, full of sorrow, joy, friendship, and healing.
If you are interested in finding out more: Passage Quilting™ is a hands-on bereavement process that I developed and began facilitating in the fall of 2001.
Even though the war in Iraq is supposedly over, deadly emotional ramifications continue to persist. Join me for a virtual sewing circle in honor of Veteran's Day. Help stitch the names of soldiers who have died in the Iraq war as a meditative act of petition, prayer and compassion.
Announcing a Passage Quilting Workshop in Cincinnati, OH. This is a hands-on bereavement process, making memorial quilts from the clothing of the beloved.