community quilt

This art quilt was brought together by many hands. 

As a teaching artist with ARTreach, Emily was brought in to work with Opening Arts and Minds and Spinal Cord Injury and Disorder Association in Houston, Texas to create an art quilt. Twelve participants each created their own quilt square, shared their thoughts on the quilting collaboration, and told their story. Together they created many adaptative tools so each artist could be as independent as possible when creating their square. Once the squares were completed, they were sent across the country to be sewn down by volunteers who read the stories that the original artist shared. Once sent back, Emily created a quilt from the squares before further developing it with the ideas, and visions of the group. 

To say the group had a heavy vision would be an understatement, they wanted something big, bright, joyous, and full of life and movement like themselves. They wanted something to represent where they are from—many from Houston, Texas and some from Louisiana (New Orleans specifically). So, with Mardis Gras beads at the ready and inspiration from Texas Mums, Emily built the quilt, embellishing each story as she added and added to the quilt.

Story Squares 

Glitter, rainbows, hearts—all things that make you smile. After feeling underestimated by others she wanted a shiny glowing square where the joy she felt would shine through. She is happiest when she is about to make those around her happy, so she wanted to have bright big bold colors to show that the group was full of bright bold and joyous people. 

“A tiger in the jungle that is walking out into rainbow rain” is how one artists described their square. He had a unique approach to making a stamp and the quilt square. While he could tell me the instructions on how to complete parts of his quilt square in the correct order, he actually did each step in reverse, so imagine trying to cut fabric but doing each step backwards. His enthusiasm was infectious. The story of the tiger in the jungle was long and complicated. He kept piling supplies up, so I knew he would want all the layers. In fact, he would like rainbow rain to spill out of the quilt.

Another artist who is featured in the photographs that are on the quilt took to flipping the stamp pad and covering the paper and the table with the ink straight from the pad. He then used a sharpie to draw the same shape for a couple hours. Afterwards, he directed an assistant in how to compose his quilt square while moving his hand in an all over pattern.

Three women chatted in the conventional quilting bee style. They passed colors and shared stories of their youth in New Orleans on fast bikes and then with new born babies. They all needed different adaptations created so that they could hold the tools—scissors taped to a board, large straps made for wrist holders. I moved in and out of their wheel chairs as they laughed and asked me to pass them their favorite color.

A young man who was nonverbal with limited motor skills picked colors and moved triangles around in various compositions and then indicated he wanted his first initial included as well. Once he was done composing his vision, a volunteer assisted him in gluing his work into place.

A woman with crocheted wheel covers decorating her wheelchair worked hard to create her own icon from the familiar handicapped parking image. She made it her own by adding color and hearts, transforming the image that we see daily and often don’t think about into a personal decal.

The student that remained very focused as she worked to get each piece in the perfect spot told me how she was thinking about her grandmother, an indigenous woman who would mosaic things around the house. She felt like she was communing with her younger self as she placed the pieces on her square like her grandmother would. 

Stitching the squares

Once the visions for the squares were all fixed in place, the pieces were sent out to a group of people who volunteered to stitch them down. These people ranged in age, geographic location, occupation, and sewing experience. For one woman it was her first time ever sewing. Another square was stitched by a mother and daughter team. The 8 year old picked the stitches she wanted to learn. A man from the Virginia mountains worked hard to honor the narrative that his square maker told. 

Finalizing Quilt

Once the squares were returned, Emily assembled them into a quilt. Using the colors picked by the group she proceeded to embellish the quilt with their ideas, conversations, images, Mardi Gras beads, and, to signify the complex wrinkles in our brains, ruffles. Emily made connections with the community, with the differences and challenges as well as their similarities that, like the brain’s network, bind us as humans.