It’s the first time in a long time that I went to my studio and didn’t have anything waiting for me or any idea of what I wanted to work on. I did have the feeling I was ready for something different.
So I looked through my pile of old quilts, pulled out the one that called to me, and laid it on my floor. Then I stood there looking down at it. After a while, I sat down to have a closer look and saw the intricate hand stitching. For some reason, I focused on a little square inside another square. It wanted a circle inside of it.
I tried to resist. It’s not what I had in mind. I was thinking I’d be inspired to start a fabric painting. But, when nothing else happened and I couldn’t get the idea of the circle in the square out of my mind, I gave in.
I had to start somewhere.
So I drew the circle and some more circles, then an eye, and so on. When the words came I wrote them down too. And when I was done, I stopped. That small section of quilt now looked like a page from my sketchbook.
I’m not sure how I made the leap from the drawing to the cloth bag of hankies that Susan sent me.
I’d been thinking about them since they arrived in the mail. The bag, as pretty as the hankies, lovingly created, collected, kept by Susan’s mother, and passed down to her daughter. Susan has had the hankies for almost 50 years, ever since her mother died.
When I opened the bag and pulled out the stack of hankies, my first thought was that it felt like a book to me. Like it was telling a story. Each hankie a page, the cloth bag the front and back covers.
I imagine the only person who knew that story was Susan’s mother. Where and when each hankie was from and how they were used. The ones on top are embellished by hand, the ones on the bottom machine-made.
But now they had been passed down to me, so the new story they would tell would be a collaboration. And I found that story today, with the help of an old quilt and a Sharpie.
This morning there was a frozen egg in the chicken coop. The shell had cracked and the egg bounced when I threw it on the ground for the hens to eat. So I stepped on it with the heel of my boot and broke open looking exactly like a hard-boiled egg. How curious I thought that extreme heat and cold would make an egg appear the same.
It stuck in my head and came out in my drawing.
And now it seemed significant. I thought of the hankies as a book, but in fact, it’s already more of a journal, a diary. So why not take the idea of a journal and weather in particular(suddenly it’s cold again and the egg freezes in the coop) and tell that story.
Farm journals are filled with accounts of the weather. And traditionally weather is the kind of thing that people talk about to make polite conversation. Often a way to avoid unpleasant topics. I do it all the time, with the clerk at the grocery store, as a way of easing into a conversation, on the phone with my mother. And it can still work to keep the conversation light.
Except, of course, with Climate Change, talk of the weather can also be politically divisive. So in a way, it has joined the ranks of those things not to be talked about at the dinner table.”
I’m not looking to make this piece of art overtly political. It will be my personal journal with entries relating to the weather. But once again, talking about the weather does not have the same meaning it used to. So as the feminist artist’s of the 1960s and ’70s declared personal is political.
I decided to keep the hankies in the order they are in the bag. Laying on top of the hankies was a collar. I couldn’t help but think of Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s Dissenting Collars. It was just right to stitch the title of the piece on.
And for my first entry in the journal I took the words from my drawing.
I’m using my sewing machine to stitch the words. And some of the entries may even have drawings on them. I don’t have an idea of how long it will take me to complete this piece. I want it to evolve organically. But I imagine now that I’ve begun, I’ll be paying attention to the weather in a particular way.