I thought I knew what “quilt” meant

A long ago discarded pair of pants are hanging over my desk. Well, that’s partially true. To be precise, parts of my pants and parts of two other peoples’ pants are hanging over my desk in a wall warming creation called The Traveling Elephant Quilt.

quilt hanging on office wall

detail of elephant quiltdetail of pants in quilt

The elephants are parading through space to an unknown destination, but the “traveling” part of the piece hails from my insanely talented, creative, and silly friend, Sharon. Throughout the earlier part of this year, I received sporadic emails from her that read, “Now where? Hee hee,” and “Elephants in Orleans, CA?” accompanied by an image of the quilt in progress. Then one day a box arrived and this masterpiece came into my life. What a gift!

I thought I knew what a quilt was until I experienced the stunningly beautiful and story-rich assemblages that were exhibited in The Quilts of Gees Bend, a traveling exhibition that came to San Francisco’s deYoung Museum in 2006. These “quilts were pieced from scraps of fabric often salvaged from worn-out clothes combined in extraordinary combinations of color, pattern, and texture,” said the museum’s website, and my perspective on this art form changed overnight.

Mere months after seeing the show, I met Sharon, and in these years since, I’ve also met her quilts. Just like the pieces produced by the women from Gees Bend, I am in awe of the deeply personal, beautiful, and surprising directions her creations can take. Her home is awash in the magic, and I love the unexpected recycled and/or collaborative content many contain.

jean quilt

detail of jean quilt

The piece above is made from her father’s jeans. The random pieces of metal are from the eclectic collection of things he found on the street during his daily stroll through the San Jose neighborhood where he lived. Another piece (not photographed) was made using several of his shirts, complete with writing implements he also found on the street tucked into a pocket.

In Sharon’s sewing room which doubles as the guest room, there resides a cozy work-in-progress made from sweaters knit by her grandmother. While it seems like sacrilege to some to “destroy” such a family heirloom, I love that my friend willingly defies convention and turns these meaningful creations into something even more meaningful to her. She gets to experience her grandmother’s stitches, re-experience the sweaters, and tell her own tale of this relationship in color and texture…

detail of sweater quilt

sweater quilt

And my favorite quilt in the house: a collaboration between Sharon and her dragon-loving, eight-year-old daughter, Emily. Emily drew a dragonian representation of her choice elements – air, fire, life, lightening (yep, I spelled it the way she did!), rock and water – and chose the fabrics to accompany each.

detail of dragon quilt

dragon quilt detail

The result is an amazing snapshot of their respective creativity and time spent being together…

dragon quilt

…and of the place that friendly monsters, make believe, and unbridled creativity can play in all our lives.

Now I know what a quilt really is.

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  1. Avatar
    ReStitch Me Reply

    I love these quilts! My favorite is made of her father’s clothing. Truly works of art!

  2. Avatar
    thegreenergood Reply

    What a great way to reduce waste while creating something beautiful!! I really love the Travelling Elephant Quilt

  3. Avatar
    Notes Along the Path Reply

    What a wonderful story, Deb. I love your reflections, the beauty of the work and the mother and daughter working together. Doesn’t get much more fun than this! Thank you.

  4. Avatar
    Barbara Reply

    In my office, I have a colorful quilt made from patches of women’s saris from India. I love that material, and it brings me right back to my time in that part of the world with some amazingly strong women. I think it’s interesting how the quilts we choose really reflect what’s most interesting to us. Thanks for this beautiful post, Deb.

  5. liberatedspaces
    liberatedspaces Reply

    Thanks for the comments, folks. I’m glad the quilts resonated…even in digital form!

    Living in earthquake country, it helps to have soft wall hangings just in case things get jiggled off the wall. That’s why there’s also a hanging made of Indian saris (similar to yours, Barb) hanging over my bed.

    I also can’t help but think about the wall-warming effects of a quilt in this drafty 19th century Victorian flat I live in. Quilted wall hangings seem to be a contemporary counterpart to the medieval tapestries that warmed the walls and halls of old stone buildings.

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