This quilt was made as the fires raged from September 3 through the first rains of the season on November 8, 2020. Each 4 inch square was created from screen shots captured on PurpleAir.com of the outdoor Air Quality Index of San Francisco.
For weeks, millions of Californians were smothered by smoke from a record explosion of wildfires burning through grass, shrubs, conifer forests, homes and businesses. Eyes watered. Lungs burned. Skies glowed orange. People suffered sore throats, headaches and chest pains. Many cloistered themselves indoors as pollution spiked to “hazardous” levels, or worse. Smoke transported health dangers to nearly every corner of the state. State air quality officials are aware of no precedent for so many people breathing such high levels of wildfire smoke for so long. Even as air quality begins to improve, many remain worried about long-term health impacts. Wildfire smoke is poisoning California kids, and some pay a higher price than others.
In many ways, the blazes were unprecedented. But experts say these kinds of wildfires will also become very normal and routine if we do not take significant action to adapt to climate change and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
On September 9, 2020 we awoke to an apocalyptic dark orange sky with smoke blowing at high altitudes across the California coastline from wildfires throughout the northern part of the state. At midday the sky was still so dark headlights were required to drive and with no daylight penetrating homes, interior lights were required to function indoors as if it were night. While hard to believe, the smoke only got worse in later days as it moved from high altitude to ground level, making it even more hazardous to breathe outdoors.
The higher the AQI value, the greater the level of air pollution and the greater the health concern. Air quality ranged from purple/red (hazardous/unhealthy), to orange/yellow (unhealthy for sensitive groups/moderate) to green (good/satisfactory.) San Francisco’s microclimates and hilly terrain causes a great deal of variety in the small 7 by 7 mile city, as indicated by the varied confetti and bar colors at any one point in time. Here are examples of blocks created from the associated PurpleAir.com screen shots.
To keep the blocks in chronological order (marked on masking tape on the back of each block) I sewed the entire quilt by chain piecing it. The completed quilt measures 60″ x 60″.
So often in these past 4-5 years something has happened in our country or in the world that makes me want to create things as a response to feelings of outrage. I’ve scrapped so many ideas that focused on negative quotes and statements in the news – the thought of intensely stewing in bile for the 20-40 hours it takes to make a quilt is simply toxic.
With this in mind, I focused on imagining what I wanted to happen. Inspired by a giant “blue wave” sign made from thousands of blue Post-It notes at the March for Women, I set out to create my own blue wave.
The background is various blue/violet Kona cotton fabrics and was pieced using a variation of the “Disappearing Nine-Patch” design. I cut it up further and pieced it back together to create a more jumbled background. It finished as a wall hanging at 36″ x 36″.
I knew I wanted to make the waves by quilting, but was worried the busy-ness of the background would make the quilting get lost. My first attempt at this was to create and sew three bias tape waves that I’d fill in with big-stitch hand-quilting using various white and blue colors of pearl cotton. Once I did this, however, I thought it looked cartoony and silly.
I was disappointed as it really didn’t have the feel I was going for. So – there’s always the seam ripper! I sewed around the bias tape, pulled it out and added a lot more quilting and, while still subtle, am very happy with the end result.
This quilt invites you to take a closer look. From farther away, you see the patch of blue, and a few shadows swirling across it. Closer up, the eye wanders around and through the stitching like a labyrinth.
I take such joy in repurposing fabric from clothing. I’ve used my downtime during the pandemic to clean out closets, “get real” about what I really like to wear and will be wearing in the future, and donating clothing to Goodwill for better purposes. I set aside a set of linen dresses that I’d worn out, or just didn’t fit or look right on me, and cut them into various long strips and pieces and began to put back together as a quilt. The result is the Five Dresses quilt (56″x79″). Once pieced, it was quite saggy and droopy. Before quilting, I heavily spray basted it (in my backyard – why haven’t I been doing this back there all these years and instead cramming myself in my enclosed garage?) and then densely quilted it. I love the process of just sewing strips and pieces together without much though except for trying to get light/dark variation, and using up as much of the fabric as possible. Using what I had on hand, the colors just turned out to work together. It definitely has the feelings of Gees Bend and Rose Lee Tompkins. I’m looking around our closets to see what else I might repurpose – nothing is safe!
It’s been more than six months since my last post here, having largely moved to Instagram. What an unimaginable world of change: pandemic lockdown and spread with hundreds of thousands dead and many more sick, an economic freefall, political unrest and election activism, protests for social justice and change, fires across my state and oppressively smoky air. And of course the resulting changes and effects on our family, knowing that for an overwhelming number in our community and country the multitude of tragedies has caused complete devastation. We are still in the midst of it all, and yet have so far to go.
During this distressing time, a light in my life (and, I admit, my lifetime) has been juried acceptance of my Improve Mosaic quilt into the de Young Museum Open Exhibition. It is thrilling to have been selected as one of the 877 works of art from over 11,000 entries across the Bay Area for the reopening of the museum!
Additional icing on the cake is appearing on the inside cover of the Fall 2020 edition of Fine Arts Magazine!
It was a joy to return to the de Young Museum on Tuesday, recently opened since closing in March. The show opens to the public today and will run through January 3rd. It is truly an honor to be among such talented, beauty and inspiration! My heart is full.
As it is National Peace Corps Week, and the week of the presidential primary election in my state, I thought I’d combine a post about Peace Corps with my Day 1 introduction for #igquiltfest2020.
I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Western Kenya. I worked with a women’s income generation cooperative that made tie-dye fabric and garments near Kisumu, on the shores of Lake Victoria. I worked with Luo people, the same enthic group as Barak Obama’s father (Obama is a VERY Luo name, BTW.) The women I worked with used the funds they earned from the co-op to support their families and children with food and school fees.
My experience in Africa as a young, very green, person just out of college with a business degree, profoundly impacted my worldview, feminism, patriotism and political leanings – forever. It’s difficult to adequately put my thoughts and feelings into words, but I thought it’s a good time to try.
WORLDVIEW: My worldview was rocked in countless ways – Trying with all my will to truly understand life viewed through eyes of someone with life circumstances vastly different than my own; finding empathy and the understanding to learn from and embrace the motivations and needs of others; and, most importantly to me, recognizing that human souls are born into bodies in wildly different situations and that for a staggering portion of our planet’s population, these souls are born into crushing poverty, disease, oppression, inequality and disadvantage that often makes it impossible to persevere or ever rise above their circumstances (and, belatedly, realizing that this was and is happening in in my own country as well.)
FEMINISM: I grew up in the South in a time when girls were constantly reminded to “be ladylike” and “don’t be bossy.” I was soundly ridiculed by male friends and professors in college for being pro-ERA. In my first rounds of college interviews I was asked what my plans were for marriage and children (yes, it WAS illegal back then!) And of course #Metoo. But seeing what the women I worked with in Africa faced to get through their lives left me reeling.
Things I remember:
Listening to a woman in my housing compound screaming during the night as she was beaten by her husband. I could hear the sound of fists hitting her body. The next morning, seeing her battered and bruised face as she went about washing the blood from her clothing in the communal water spout. Shame that I didn’t know what to do to help her and fear that I might be a target of violence if I did.
Talking to a man on public transportation telling me that a man beating his wife “shows that he cares about her.”
Being told by the women I worked with that I made them feel good about themselves, that I treated them with respect about the work that they were doing and that was a new experience for them.
Being asked by a Catholic missionary (nun) if I would accompany women to get IUD birth control, as they were being turned away because they didn’t have husbands with them and if they came with a Mzungu, they would be more likely to receive services to prevent more pregnancies. President Reagan launching the Mexico City policy.
Learning that a baby named after me, Baby Lorraine, died at 3 months due to dehydration and dysentery because her mother didn’t have access to clean water.
Bringing a team of women to Nairobi for the United Nations International Decade of Women conference – their first time to a city – and seeing Bella Abzug debating with an African man in a workshop. My female African colleagues came away stunned by a woman who “spoke up and talked just like a man – but for women!”
The women I knew had so little control over their lives and bodies – I would never take that for granted the rest of my life and am horrified that health access and the reproductive rights of women are presently being eroded in my own country.
PATRIOTISM: I returned to the U.S. deeply patriotic and passionate about the U.S. Constitution and the rights enshrined in our laws. I take them extremely seriously and certainly take nothing for granted.
Votingrights: During elections, our Peace Corps training group had to go to a remote location – basically, to hide – to ensure our safety due to fears of a coup d’etat. I’d never worried about a smooth government transition at home. Fortunately, there was no coup. But I learned from other volunteers in the field that in their communities, those that were running for office, and whom the single political party did not approve, were rounded up and arrested on election day, to ensure that no one could line up behind them on Election Day. (That’s how it was done for local elections – people stood in line behind their chosen candidates. If the candidate wasn’t there, no one could line up behind them to be counted.) Since then, I have made sure I vote in every single election. This summer I plan to register voters in key swing states for the November election and will work to expand and ensure voting rights for all Americans.
Freedom of speech and freedom of the press: Peace Corps Volunteers were soundly warned that, while we could say whatever we wanted about our own president, under no circumstances could we share any beliefs or thoughts on the Kenyan president. If someone tried to engage in such conversation with us – especially if it involved criticism of the government – we were to walk away, for fear of being framed or arrested. All public buildings, offices, businesses, churches, etc. had to publicly display an approved photograph of President Daniel arap Moi. The police would arrest or beat the owner or manager who did not comply. There was only one legal political party – the KANU party – and the KANU party ran the country’s only legal national newspaper. The newspaper ran only propaganda about the president (some of it was laughable through our American eyes at the time.) Subsequently, and especially in recent years, I treasure the fourth-estate and the critical role the media plays in our country through our freedom of the press.
POLITICS: The same week U.S. Senate was holding the impeachment trial of Donald Trump,the NY Times ran an obituary of former President of Kenya, Daniel Arap Moi. The similarities between him and things happening in our own country are chilling:
I never would have imagined that so many decades later, I would be fearful for my own county. I treasure our democracy and the rights that we must continue to fight and work to uphold to provide for all Americans and all people. Our valuable, inalienable American rights.
This is what Peace Corps did for me. Truly the toughest job I’ll ever love. I’ll be forever grateful.
(Note: I understand if my views, based on my lived experience, are not your own, but respectfully ask that mine be respected, in the American spirit of democracy and freedom of expression, .)
American Patriot: Words Matter
I am an American Patriot. Following service in the Peace Corps, I emerged passionate about our valuable American rights and freedoms. I witnessed first-hand the oppression of a people without freedom of speech or a free press; of an unchallenged president in a one-party state; of corrupt elections. The women I worked with were limited in personal and economic freedom and had little control over their bodies or lives. This quilt was inspired by these experiences as well as signs exhibited at the peaceful marches in which I’ve participated since 2016. Made from my family’s jeans and recycled clothing
I just completed an art swap with a longtime friend of mine, Dan Gremminger. He admired an earlier version I made of this quilt design, and I been enjoying his Pop Portraits pixelated art series. We’ve mentioned it a few times over the years, but finally agreed at our last reunion (University of Texas Longhorn Alumni Band! Hook Em Horns!) to do an art swap. This is my completed quilt for him with a few detail photos of the echo quilting below.
I was delighted to use this fabric for the back – I’ve been looking for the perfect project to use it!
In return, Danny painted this wonderful portrait of our beloved family dog, Sparky, whom we lost earlier in the year after 16 years. I wrote about him here. It is our new family treasure and heirloom.