A couple of months ago I came home and found these two giant boxes on my back porch. It was over a year ago that Sarah emailed me and asked if I would make a quilt from her sister-in-laws clothes. Her sister-in -law, Kim had died suddenly. Sarah and her husband wanted three quilts to give to different family members.
I’ve had the boxes of Kim’s clothes in my studio for a while and today felt like the day to open them up and get started making the quilts for Sarah and her family.
But before I opened the boxes, I spoke to Kim. I told her who I was and what I was doing. It’s an intimate thing to be going through someone’s clothes who is no longer alive. Someone I never knew or even met.
Then I opened the boxes and looked through Kim’s clothes, getting a feel for what I would be working with. Colors, types of fabric, that kind of thing. I sorted them into piles of similar colors and prints, all the time looking for the special ones, those pieces of clothing that were the most worn and faded. These I know are the person’s favorites. The ones they wore for years, each time they came out of the wash. I found a few of these in the boxes, but the one that stood out the most was a Chicago Bears T-shirt. I imagined Kim wore it as a nightshirt. It’s big, the fabric thin and soft with so much wear, the words and images cracked and fading.
Even though I’ve given up doing commission’s, I know that every time I do one I get something out of it. In a way I get to know the person whose clothes or fabric I’m making the quilt from. But I also often do something different creatively because I’m working with a selection of fabric that I didn’t choose.
With Kim’s clothes it was using white. In the box was a pair of white pants. They still had one of those plastic tag holders on it and I wondered if she never wore them, or wore them a just a few times and didn’t notice it. I know I’ve done that by mistake, more than once. I suddenly felt a little closer to Kim, as if we shared something. I also felt as if using the pants was the right decision, even if I wasn’t sure quite how to do it.
White can be so stark and bold and I usually avoid it. But I’ve seen it used in the Gee’s Bend Quilts and it always works. So I flipped through my Gee’s Bend book to see just how the different women used white. What I noticed was how graphic it was in the quilts. So I decided to use it the same. Big blocks and stripes with solid colors. It actually scared me to do. It’s so not a part of my color vocabulary, it was like I had to get used to it. That’s how I knew it was the right thing to do. That it was so different for me. Me stepping out of my comfort zone.
This is what I have so far. The white is bold and I see how it sets off the colors and frames them. I get little nervous looking at it, wondering how I’ll make it work, but actually that’s also the fun part. Otherwise it would just be me doing the same thing over and over, like a formula.
What I do know is I’m going to somehow continue using the green on the two other sides that don’t have it yet, and use more white too. If I look at the quilt out of the corner of my eye, I can almost see it….