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.
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.
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.
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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This queen sized, modern quilt is made from re-purposed plaid wool shirts, suits, skirts and pants. The pattern is a log cabin improv.
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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.
Finally, I'm making progress in patching together these re-purposed wool shirts into a modern improvised bed quilt. I was stuck for a while, so when I began working yesterday I decided to keep my mind peeled for restraining forces, things that were holding me back from flowing through the process. I soon realized that worrying about the outcome was my number one restraining force. As soon as I let go of the outcome, things started to flow. I expect to finish piecing my improvised [ ] parenthesis quilt today.
Follow this project as it has evolved:
It's been almost two months since I blogged from the perspective of the object being mended. In Surrender To The Mender I was the coat letting go and receiving "quality garment care" from the hands of the mender.
Since that time I have been living receptively. Patiently waiting for circumstances to unfold. I haven't taken a stitch towards actually mending my real coat. It's still hanging in the studio.
Now it's time to see again through the eyes of the mender. Creative mending requires the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure. As the mender my role is to listen to the coat, and be guided by its need of repair and want of fashion. I can say that the coat will be worn again with satisfaction but I can't tell you what it will look like.
The coat and the mender are on a sojourn through the wilderness together. Perhaps a wilderness of colorful thread and too many choices.
To address my personal wilderness, I’ve been meeting weekly with a discernment group consisting of five very wise women. Their role is to ask me questions. Help me discover the pillar of fire and the cloud of cover that will lead me through this transition. Last week they blessed my hands, this week my heart.
This is the third post of the series on Mending My Paris Coat.
What is the pillar of fire that guides you through dark times, or the cloud of cover that allows you to escape from your captors? How do you apply discernment in your creative process?
Ever since my car was torched at the end of September, I've been car-free in San Francisco. I've decided to stay that way for the immediate future. I'm saving a ton of money on gas, auto repairs, parking meters, stickers and tickets, canceled car insurance, and a canceled monthly gym membership. I get plenty of exercise now.
When cycling in traffic it's important to wear light-reflective clothing. So last week I biked to the fabric store on the way to my studio, and picked up some sew-on reflective tape. With a little top stitching, I transformed a rather boring looking, gray knit jacket into fashionable bike wear.
When I first moved to SF, I built a bike from scavenged bike parts at the Bike Kitchen, a volunteer run, bicycle co-op. Little did I know how much I would come to love and depend on "Frankie" - short for Frankenstein. He's not the most attractive ride but I'm proud that he's my own creation. Of course I couldn't have done it without help from the Bike Kitchen's volunteer mechanics.
So here's my routine. I can bike to my part-time day job in 12 minutes, or walk it in 30. Getting to my Treasure Island studio is more difficult, since it's half way across the Bay Bridge. It's takes 30-40 minutes by bike and bus, or 60+ minutes by bus alone. It's mostly a flat ride, and although there is a lot of traffic, there are designated bike lanes.
There are limits. I have to plan ahead and designate more time for transportation. However, if the weather is bad, I have a load of something to haul, or I'm just too lazy, I'm lucky to have a boyfriend kind enough to chauffeur me around.
Overall being car-free has been carefree. Life is a little slower and I'm a little happier. I would never have tried to live without a car if I wasn't forced into it. Sometimes the bad things that happen in life really do have a silver, or in this case, a reflective lining.
Do you have any silver lining stories to share?
The improvised [ ] quilt pattern is coming along. My favorite blocks are in the right column. My intention is to make a queen sized quilt, but I'm running out of wool. The star fabric, a beige/yellow, vintage Pendleton plaid, shirt is just about used up. So I went to the thrift store yesterday and picked up another plaid shirt and two pairs of wool pants.
The quilt pattern inspiration for this week are [ ] parenthesis. See my interpretive sketch and it's translation into an actual quilt block, made from re-purposed wool clothing.
Announcing a Passage Quilting Workshop in Cincinnati, OH. This is a hands-on bereavement process, making memorial quilts from the clothing of the beloved.
I have a favorite coat I've been wearing for at least 12 years. It was made in Paris, but I received it second hand. I have a favorite life. It's the one that I'm living every day. Like my coat it's become worn with stains and riddled with small holes over time. Mend-along with me as I repair my coat and my life during a time of transition.
In 2009, Beth El Synagogue in Durham, NC commissioned me to make five Torah mantels, or coverings from clothing and kippot, donated by the congregation. Members of the congregation string-pieced some of the materials for the project during a one-day family workshop held at the synagogue in the fall of 2009. The commission was initiated by the Egger family. I want to thank the Eggers, Laura Quigley and the staff, and the congregation at Beth El Synagogue for their faith in me and for all of their support, help and participation. The mantels were dedicated on January 22, 2010.
Follow the process posts for this project here.
Mending my granny squares isn't exactly like minding your p's & q's, as many teachers and grandmothers have been known to say to rude and unruly children. There is nothing ruled about this mending job. My approach is completely freeform. Thread a needle with yarn and stick it through any section of the granny squares that have frayed and come undone. And then gently pull to draw the separated sections together. I guess you could say that the granny squares subjected to my mending frenzy are being made to mind their p's & q's. Except they don't listen. Every time I wear this beautiful but fragile jacket another hole sprouts up somewhere. It's a constant conversation.
Mending my granny squares requires a certain amount of inner acceptance that the worn and frayed (within me) will continue to err, and need my gentle, patient attention to keep things whole and transforming.
Using a needle and a blendable yarn I catch any frayed and unattached sections, and gently pull them together. Knot in the back and weave the thread. The sleeve edge was particularly frayed. I used a crochet hook and re-croched the edge. Finally I added a large grey button at the top to hold the jacket closed at the neckline.