Tonight I found a quote from Sas Colby, a mixed media artist.
Creative people can draw parallels between diverse ideas and things, connecting seemingly disparate notions to come up with something new.
That quote made me feel a whole lot better about what previously seemed to me to the be the dangerously frenzied pattern of thinking that resulted in this quilt. I am not mad. I am creative :)
I had no idea what to do for this quilt. I had nothing. Zero. Nada. Panic was brewing.
To calm myself I decided I could at least go and pull out the fabrics I had which fitted the challenge. First I set on my desk a piece of fabric I made by rubbing Markal sticks over revealed plaster when my kitchen was being renovated. Then I tossed down a folded fat quarter of deep blue acquired at PIQF and it landed slightly off the edge of the original. I stared it it. I liked the accidental shape. I have made quilts on top of quilts before. I could do that again.
But then what to do with it? I still had no real idea save that I wanted to keep my African theme if possible. I rummaged in the scrap box for a piece of bark cloth. Set it atop the fat quarter and... well, doh! Of course. This was to be a quilt about Falasha. Obviously.
Really - that's exactly how it happened!
And what are Falasha you might ask? They are Ethiopian Jews. You can get a longer explanation here but in essence they are Jewish people who have been for centuries practising their faith in Ethopia. Some think them to be the lost tribe of Israel, some to be the descendant of King Solomon and Queen Sheba, others to have been converts to Judaism Whatever their origins by the time President Mengistu took over they started to have a rather bad time of it with 2,500 being killed and 7,000 made homeless. Others were inmprisoned and all were forbidden to practice their faith. Ultimatley Israel orgainsed three sereis of airlifts under the names Operation Moses, Operation Joshua and Operation Solomon. About 36,000 Falasha now reside in Israel.
So how on earth, I hear you saying, did she get to that? Well, simply, when I set the barkcloth vertically on the folded FQ it reminded me of a mezuzah - the small case containing parchemt on which scripture is written, which observant Jews place on the entry to their homes. The barkcloth comes from Africa, hence African Jews.
Once I saw the Falasha theme, the other symbolism rushed towards me screaming rather obviously to be included as I worked on the quilt. The bead on the sage background and with sage strings is an amulet. That refers back to my last Twelve by Twelve quilt but also to the common use of amulets to protect during travel - many of the Falasha had to endure a grueling journey on foot to Sudan to be airlifted. Many did not survive. The dangling strings refer to the tzizit which observant male Jews wear sticking out over their waisrbands from an undergarment - they are knotted strings to remind them of the commandments. There is hand stiching from me which mimics the hand stitching already present in the African cloth. I did that in my last quilt too and it gives me pleasure to repeat a tradition from someone who went before me, just as the Falasha continue old religious practises. By repeating my own work I am also creating new traditions just as the Falasha introduced new ways of celebrations to Israel. The Mezuzah is almost straight but actually it is just slightly off, giving a slight uneasiness to the viewer. This reflects the experience of immigrant Falasha who have often found it hard to settle in Israel and have suffered discrimination from other Jews. They have been rabinically recognised as Jews, and yet....
The right hand side of the quilt is obviously quilted. This represents the overt Jewish life the Falasha may now live in Israel if they choose. The quilting pattern might be seen as desert pebbles or maybe champagne bubbles to celebrate their safe arival. The left hand side is more subtly handquilted representing the time in Ethopia when some discretion in their practise of their faith would have been necessary to survive. The quilting follows the marks on the fabric just as the Ethoipians followed the paths of fellow Jews in making Aliya to Israel. The hand quilting is broken representing the fractured families as some members have been left behind.
Just before I read the above quote I emailed Diane, lamenting the fact that I felt a bit of a fraud. The rest of the group spend so much time on beautiful surface design and sometimes I feel I throw a quilt together quickly then pretend it is something profound to mask the lack of technique. Then I read that quote today and a lightbulb went on. My artist's life is not actually that disimilar from my lawyer life: a good barrister can often distill piles of paperwork and months of client's anguish into a few succinct sentences and quickly wrap a case up much faster than that client expected. It is not that they cannot be bothered to spend a lot of time on the case but rather that they have spent so much time previously learning law and practising the craft of anaylsis and representation, that the years of study and experience result in a speedy resolution.
So it is I think for me. There is it seems an alarming amount of stuff in my brain just floating about in there being of interest. And given the right visual cue bits of it come flying out into the quilt. Why particular bits come out at particular times I have no idea but I am learning that in my search for a my quilting 'voice' I should not be suprised if what comes out through my fingers resembles what went into my brain through my eyes and ears. But I am looking forward to suprising myself again with the next challenge. And maybe to experiment by reading a lot about some entirely new topics and seeing how long the fermentation period is!
Our new self-published book is now available on Amazon
About Twelve by Twelve
We are twelve quilt artists who embarked on an art challenge together. We're from different places throughout the world and our artistic styles vary, but we share a love of art quilting and a desire to play, experiment, learn, and grow.
For four years (2007-2011), we each made a 12x12 inch quilted art piece on a designated theme or palette. See our Theme Series and our Colorplay series.
For the 2012 Series, we changed things a bit and made rectangular pieces, 20x12 inches with roughly 10 weeks between each challenge. As before, we had a designated theme for each challenge.
We shared our process, progress, and results on this blog. It remains a key record of our rich collaboration.