How I Became a Quilter
At nine, I sat during long, country Carolina evenings with my paternal grandmother Doraethel (my feet tucked under my bottom, my eyes blinking, my mind careful not to miss a trick) and watched her pushing a needle through squares and odd shapes of fabric scraps cut or torn from old clothing. For hours, I could watch her sew and not grow a bit tired.
But the day came when she knew watching would not be enough for me. After telling me that she had to go cook dinner and handing me a square, a needle and thread, she turned to amble away to the kitchen.
“I don’t know how to do this,” I said.
“Yes, you do,” she said, without even looking at me. I watched her back get smaller through the door that led to the kitchen, turned to the marvelous rags in front of me, and panicked.
I’m going to mess this up, I thought.
Within minutes, my hands were pushing the needle through the cloth. My stitches were crooked, but what I felt in my gut was straight:This is black magic … how we gussy up … how we embellish the cricks and cracks of our days gone by and reinvent ourselves.
As a quiltmaker and fiber artist, I am consistently trying to make all of the different media in which I create converge to spark a dialogue. My sensibilities as a writer, Southerner, black woman, mother, storyteller and lover of images and language layer to form the quilt. Unlike my sweet, industrious grandmother, who made many utilitarian quilts for bedding before she passed away in 1997, I create things that serve the primary purpose of being art. For quilts, I use a fabric base and layer cloth images and other materials to ask the art consumer a question … one that I’ve usually asked myself before I start the process of quilting.
I usually work on quilts concurrently. Most of my quilts are hand pieced and make liberal use of appliqué. Often my works contain words, either handwritten excerpts of my own poetry or words culled from existing print collateral (books, magazines, advertising postcards, food labels, clothing labels, etc.). Because my grandmother’s blood is still river deep in me, I also use some hint of traditional quilt patterns either in the quilt top design itself or in quilt borders. It’s my way of remembering how this habit of taking things apart and reworking them comes again and again through me.