June 22, 2013
It is such a joy to be back on my blog and back in this community I am grateful to belong to, dear readers. I have a lot to tell you and pictures to share after returning home from…(It will be a surprise in my next post) But for now I would like to share something very meaningful to me. Before I tell you more, let’s take a pause, sit comfortably in the sun or in the shade, and enjoy a cup of tea or a glass of your favourite fruit juice. I am so happy to tell you about a book I read recently, that I loved for many reasons. It is called How to Make an African Quilt: The Story of the Patchwork Project of Segou, Mali. The book is written by Bonnie Lee Black.
This is a memoir, not a crafts book. It contains so much more than the making of an African quilt. Why am I telling you of this book in particular ? Because it touches me personally. The true stories Bonnie tells about her experience in Mali are about solidarity, friendship, determination, cultural sharing and hope. Bonnie created a women’s project that one cannot but love and feel proud of. This book is precious to me because it was written by a friend of mine, whom I did not know as a writer when I first “met” her.
About 14 years ago, I responded to an item in a French quilters’ magazine that mentioned Bonnie’s Patchwork Project in Segou. Bonnie was asking for used French quilting magazines with patterns she could use for her project in Mali. I found quite a few on my bookshelves that I sent her and her Malian friends. At that point we started writing to each other now and then, and we’ve kept in touch over the years.
Guess what ? Today I have the immense pleasure and honor to welcome Bonnie Lee Black as my guest writer on this blog. I am also very thankful that she has offered to share her life-changing experience in Africa as well as some patches of her life. Thank you, dear Bonnie, for telling us more about your book, your quilting project in Mali and what your hopes are.
“Thank you, Isabelle, for this honor to share with your readers my wonderful experience in Mali, now encapsulated in my new book, How to Make an African Quilt. The title, as you suggest, is really a metaphor for “connection” – cultural connection – and I’m hoping that theme comes through in its pages.
This book is actually the sequel to my Peace Corps memoir, How to Cook a Crocodile (Peace Corps Writers, 2010), about my two-year service as a health and nutrition volunteer in Gabon, Central Africa. When I completed my service in Gabon, I decided to go to Mali (rather than return to the United States) and do independent economic development work there. I was in my early fifties and felt I still had more to give.
Soon after settling in Segou, Mali (which is the textile “capital” of the country), I met a group of talented Malian seamstresses who asked me to teach them patchwork quilting. Well, that was a challenge for me because I’d never done patchwork quilting. But I soon taught myself from a quilting primer and happily created the Patchwork Project, which the women loved. In the book I share their stories and show their joy, especially as they sat together at the quilting frame (a makeshift contraption I made from lenghts of bamboo) laughing and singing as they stitched.
I took the project as far as I could in the thirty months I lived in Segou. But it could go much further to help the women there earn extra income. I wrote this book in the hope that someone, somewhere, some day might read the book and be inspired to take the project further. That someone would have the business-and-computer knowhow that I lacked – and still lack. When the talented graduates of the Patchwork Project of Segou, Mali begin to make patchwork quilts to be sold internationally over the Internet, then I’ll feel that my dream for these women has come true and my book has done its job.”
Bonnie Lee Black
Amkoullel, l’Enfant peul, 1991
by Amadou Hampate Ba,Malian writer and ethnologist, 1900-1991
Here is a link to the Wandering Educators website which shows a video about Bonnie’s book.
April 26, 2013
A short, very short story.
Two cats in a garden close to my home, so close they often pay me a visit. One jump over the fence and here they are :
and Solero, the brown Bengali who reigns over our area and whose descendants are numerous and beautiful.
The garden they live in is just beginning to bloom and it is a real pleasure to look at it. What a gift to stroll through its alleys after the long Winter ! Its gardener, my friend Germaine, so loved by both cats, spends hours tending to it.
This is how Germaine’s garden looks through the eye of my needle.
A round ochre terrace surrounded by colourful bush, neat narrow alleys and a kitchen garden where flowers have nested too. In a secluded corner lies a small pond amongst pink flowers, home to golden fish and frogs.
Flowerbeds glimpsed at through Germaine’s kitchen window. Nature and beauty are all around.
Lovely and peaceful, yes, but on the other side of the fence is someone who is not in good terms with the feline crew. Worried and annoyed by the boldness of Renia and Solero, Ninio-the-Beagle shouts it loud and clear in the neighbourhood. Oh ! Happy Sunday mornings when our pets greet one another…
April 8, 2013
On April 8th, I posted this blog about the colour green in a way of feeling closer to a Spring that was lazying somewhere but definitely not here ! Guess what ? One week later a friend of mine, Karen at
proposed one of her photo hunts : “Colors of your world”. The deadline is on Sunday, April 28th, please have a look at her blog if you feel like participating. I chose to send this post as my contribution to Karma’s challenge.
St Patrick’s Day has come and gone as well as the green wave that is associated with its celebration all over the world. Originally though it seemed to have been the blue colour. Green is the shade many of us long for at this Season in the Northern hemisphere. Winter is not in a hurry to give way to Spring this year. Personally I cannot dissociate green from Ireland. For having lived there years ago, I remember marveling at the infinite array of greens in the Emerald Isle.
It is a colour I use a lot when sewing. I find it relaxing. Like in this small scrappy quilt where I put together some Irish memories. Edna O’Brien’s “Mother Ireland” is the first non fiction and most personal book of the famous novelist. Her memoir (1976) includes seven essays written in her lyrical and sensuous voice. E. O’Brien wrote many other works (she is a playwright, poet and author of short stories) and had to see some of her work banned.
“Irish ? In truth I would not want to be anything else. It is a state of mind as well as an actual country. Perhaps it is that, the unmitigated challenge of landscape, of rock, of meadow, of woodland, of rain and of sheer desolating emptiness that makes people hurry there and hurry from it”.
There are magnificent black/white pictures in this book. They were taken specially to illustrate “Mother Ireland” by the acclaimed Irish photographer Fergus Bourke.
Another Irish writer and philosopher John O’Donohue, born in the West of Ireland, expressed so beautifully what the colour green meant for him in a book: “The Invisible Embrace of Beauty”. Here are some excerpts of a particular chapter entitled : “Green : The Colour of Growth”.
“One of my favourite images from childhood is of meadows. Often the sheep would be let in to graze there. When you opened the gate, you could almost feel the meadow breathing. It was absolutely carpeted with grass. The colour of this grass was so rich as to seem blue-green. The sheep needed neither introduction nor persuasion; they simply gave in and became instant addicts !”
“Gravity cannot keep it down; the call of light is always stronger”
March 5, 2013
For the past two years, I have been sewing this quilt by hand, on and off. I started assembling fabrics after the shock and distress I felt when a major earthquake hit the Eastern coast of Japan in March 2011. The earthquake triggered powerful tsunami waves devastating everything on its way and caused nuclear accidents. Friends of mine were living in the same area. They barely escaped this disaster but so many, many people lost their life, were injured and are missing. Towns, villages were destroyed, homes broken, roads and railways heavily damaged, whole landscapes disappeared.
The quilt is better looked at from the bottom to the top. This is how I started assembling my thoughts and fabrics. Scraps of materials like the broken pieces of a familiar world that suddenly was “deconstructed” by powerful and unstoppable natural elements. Layers of fragments and leftovers remaining after the devastation. Phases of life after the tragedy.
Destructive waves moving further inside the country, over scattered parts of houses and objects that were discarded and that used to be part of people’s life.
Little by little as waves receded, life went on when men and women overcame their indescribable fear, loss and distress. With immense joint efforts, resilience and great courage, people started reconstructing homes, birds found their way in a nature that slowly came back to life.
The top part of the quilt is sewn with some Japanese fabrics. Symbols and tribute to the People of Japan, survivors of many tragedies, moving on with life courageously, great willpower and hope.
The quilt below, “Friendship Squares”, is one I sewed several years ago; it was sent with many other quilts made by quilters all over the world to various Japanese rescue associations that distributed them to people in need after the devastating events in 2011. My quilt was not very large, but I like to imagine it warmed the body and heart of a child.
December 1, 2012
Last July my family celebrated my only and favourite sister’s birthday. It was special. A birthday with a round number, the type that is more striking than a yearly celebration, you know? We had planned a beautiful celebration for my sweet little sister. Each of us had a personal and particular idea for a gift. I had mine too but I needed everone’s help. By now, you should know what I had in mind
A quilt of course ! Here it is : our common project and my personal gift for Françoise’s birthday. Improvisation for the sewing part but not for the preparation ! When I asked family members and friends to give or send me one or two pieces of their used clothing, they did not know what I was up to (at least not all of them) but they joyfully agreed. The most difficult part was to get some used clothing from my sister herself. She was not meant to know anything about our project.
Spring and particularly Spring cleaning helped me. Some time in February I told Françoise of the great feeling I was experiencing in sorting out my wardrobe, getting rid of clothes I no longer wore even though I liked them a lot. Which I absolutely meant.
“What a good idea ! I think it’s time for me to do the same.” said my nice sister.
Taking a deep breath I told her : “Great ! why don’t you send some of your used clothes to me ? I know what to do with them”.
And this is how it all started. After a few weeks my sewing room looked like a “souk” or African market. I was a bit panicked before sorting out the clothes I could use or not (too beautiful to bring my scissors close to them). The leftover garments I gave to an “Emmaus” charity shop.
The overall blue material in the quilt comes from a pair of linen trousers my sister wore and the grey stripes used be a shirt belonging to her companion.This silk blouse and black velvet pullover, for instance, were amongst the favourite clothes worn by Françoise. I hesitated a long time before cutting through them but I knew she would love to find pieces of them again on her quilt. Underneath the block, Ninio-the-Beagle is “stuck” in total admiration
A precious block made of one of my mother’s aprons bordered by a piece of her embroidered handkerchiefs. The hook belonged to my grandfather and the heart is sewed in one of my grandmother’s dish cloths. The three of them were very present in our hearts all along the birthday celebration.
Precious : one of my sister’s best friend clothing, her checked black and white trousers and rose t-shirt. My sister immediately remembered those clothes.
“We all love you, Françoise” (title of the quilt)
Françoise was So surprised ! and delighted. Such excitement as she tried to recognize what belonged to whom, including her. A lot of fun. And a happy quilting that brought back memories, places, events. Sewing together all kinds of materials was not exactly easy but I enjoyed the slightly wonky look of this quilt. Different.
October 10, 2012
Today, October 10, is the 10th World Day for the Abolition of Death Penalty. Many events of all kinds are organised all over the world for this occasion. This year the emphasis is put on the progress that has been accomplished for the past ten years regarding a universal abolition of death penalty and also on the challenges to be taken up in the future.
This quilt is a common project created in fact for the International Day against Torture and Death Penalty, I sewed it a few years ago. The many embroidered squares of cotton were sent to me by members of various Human Rights organisations in my area, namely Amnesty International, ACAT, Lifespark. Each plain cotton square has been stitched with the name of an inmate, one who is sentenced to death. Behind each name there is a life, its history and a fate which in several cases has already come to its end.
This quilt took me months to put together. It is filled with so many various thoughts and emotions. It was definitely not an easy quilt to sew. Nevertheless it was one I wanted to create with others for this special day, as a mark of our engagement for this cause.
As I sewed along, my thoughts went to these inmates, men and women sentenced to death, waiting for years in their cells, a respite between life and death. In one month, one year, ten years, even longer often, they will be escorted to the death chamber. Some prisoners receive a brief letter about their scheduled day and time of death. Others will never learn about their planned execution but in the end, all of them have to follow the guards to a chamber or a yard.
How could I not think also of the victims and their shattered families and friends ? I thought of their loved ones whose life had been changed forever in the most devastating way. Never to forget. Some families have found inner peace in a forgiving process. They are members of reconciliation groups, like “Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation” http://www.mvfr.org/. I truly admire each and everyone of them, as I believe forgiveness is probably the most powerful action a human being can accomplish.
Then I also thought of other families, often forgotten, their distress and deep sadness is just as immense. They are the prisoners’ families, innocent of any crime and yet having to face this ultimate punishment : the scheduled execution of a spouse, a son or daughter, a Dad, a family member or a friend.
What about some of these death row inmates who had been claiming their innocence for years and who were proved right, only too late ?
So many thoughts went into every stitch of this quilt. Such inexpressible feelings under the embroidered names of those men and women whose life or mental state went very wild, violent and uncontrollable : feelings of despair, regrets, shame, revolt, remorse, indescribable sadness, loss, hopelessness although at times Hope would shine dimly in their borrowed time.
Yet, there is Hope that one day a universal abolition of death penalty will prevail. I truly believe that Justice, anywhere, can use other means than a penal revenge to protect society from dangerous criminals instead of killing them. Is killing a good response and example for showing that killing was wrong in the first place ? “An eye for an eye and the world is blind” said Gandhi.
I expressed my Hope in choosing colourful materials, mainly African, for sewing together the various embroidered squares. As if instinctively I wished bright shades could help healing painful scars in the heart of all those concerned, in an humble and compassionnate way.
Many thanks to all of you who joined me in this project.
We were out in the recreation yard, just walking in our separate cages, exchanging thoughts. After they came to take F. back to his cell, I waited for my escort but he didn’t come. I guess he forgot about me.
I walked about until I ended up by the gate. A nice breeze was coming through the bars. The sun was shining and I closed my eyes and stood there, facing it.
The rays warmed my skin. It felt good, like when I used to stand on the beach. My eyes still closed, I saw oranges, reds and yellows, and I was somewhere else.
It was still and I could hear a bird chirping somewhere in front of me. My eyes still closed, I reached towards it but my fingers collided with the gate instead and I was at once brought back.
Still, It felt good to have been away, if for only a moment.”
More information on this World Day for the Abolition of Death Penalty here :
(Human Rights Education Associates)
August 9, 2012
Summer is well on its way. We are having such a heatwave over here ! Unusual canicular days are followed by violent storms, heavy rains and coolness. Temperatures going up and down at brief intervals. Our landscape is especially luxuriant this Season, gardens and fields are grateful : flowers, cereals and vegetables abound.
An orange-red rose, my favourite, with as many petals that open every day as the pages of a scented book you would read with delight.
Some of our fresh vegetables picked early in the morning and served for lunch. On the menu that day for our visitors: leeks with vinaigrette, grilled zuchinis and chards au gratin with cheese. We will have to wait a few more weeks to taste our purple potatoes, something new this year.
It has been a rather busy Summer with little time for blogging and visiting you, my friends, I feel sorry about this; there were several birthday celebrations, family and friends’ visits, excursions and picnics in the mountains but also quiet times along a river near our home. Days are longer and as the sun sets on the water, I sometimes meet a family of swans catching its rays as they glide gently towards the shore, hoping for some pieces of bread I don’t always have.
Summer also brought its days of sadness and loss. Two dear friends passed unexpectedly leaving family and friends deeply shocked. The sun shone brightly though as we all gathered in a small mountain village graveyard to pay homage to both friends, at a two weeks’ interval. Sadness for the great loss.
Sadness for all that remained to be shared and said. Sadness when the realization of their absence became more tangible every day. Why so soon ? Unanswered question. At about the same time, I began reading a book about Celtic Wisdom by the Irish writer and philosopher, John O’Donohue: “Anam Cara” or “Soul Friend” in Gaelic. Thank you to Lumens Borealis http://lumensborealis.com/about/ for having introduced me to John O’Donohue’s writings.
Serendipity, happy coincidence in a moment of distress ? I don’t know but here are a few lines, comforting thoughts, that J. O’Donohue wrote about death in his inspiring book :
The Dead Bless Us
I believe that our friends among the dead really mind us and look out for us…One of the exciting developments that may happen in evolution and in human consciousness in the next several hundred years is a whole new relationship with the invisible, eternal world… We do not need to grieve for the dead. Why should we grieve for them ? They are now in a place where there is no more shadow, darkness, loneliness, isolation or pain. They are home. They are with God from whom they came. They have returned to the nest of their identity within the great circle of God…the largest embrace in the universe, which holds visible and invisible, temporal and eternal, as one.”
So much gratefulness for these lines and deep reflections about death, and about much more I read in this wonderful book. Hardly a day passes without thinking of those two close friends although now sadness is mixed with the serene and happy feeling of having known them both.
For R. and J.-J. I chose this Vivaldi Cello Concerto, largo. I know they loved it.
The circle of life. As days go by, sorrow is followed by joy as a new life has brought happiness in my family. A baby girl, Alima, is sharing her irresistible and peaceful smile with us all. A sweet messenger of Peace as shown on the card her parents sent us :
“Jàmm rekk ! Kayra dorong ! La paix seulement”
Good wishes in Wolof, Mandinka and French. Alima’s papa comes from Senegal, her maman is my niece. The words chosen by her parents to announce their daughter’s birth mean : “Peace only or Peace be with you”.
Welcome sweet little Alima !
Over the past month, I have been asked if I was working on a new quilting project. Yes, indeed I was and still am. A quilt is finished and has been offered to my sister for her Birthday. Two others are in progress (WIP) ! But that is another story that I will tell you about later. Just a few shots to give you an idea.
July 3, 2012
A recent challenge for our patchwork group brought me behind my sewing machine. Everyone of us received a large sheet of paper cut as a triangle. We were asked to make a quilt of the same dimensions (60x50cm – 19×23 inches) using as many fabrics as we wished and free our imagination for embellishing it.
So this is how I started. Looking into my treasure-troves of scraps, I found a piece of dark brown corduroy, some jute that used to contain basmati rice, the pretty remaining material that covered one of my mother’s armchairs and a piece of polyester in various shades of green.
The result looks like this, waves of Seasons as my imagination created them.
But in between a lot of time was given as to how I would “dress” this naked triangle.
On the lower part which I saw as the colder Season, I sewed a thin twig surrounded by old tiny buttons that belonged once to my grandmother. Pebbles and snowflakes. Her small sewing table contained real treasures and an array of thread bobbins to quilt all the rainbows of the world. Simply amazing !
I added a few broken branches that were covered with a kind of colourful lichen on our plum tree. The wave of raffia is the frost of late Fall and Winter.
Moving on to Spring time…
Fields and cultures are growing on the polyester narrow strip and another light twig is showing its first leaves on a bright green silk from Hong Kong (not the easiest one to embroider !). The yellow and green fabric above is a piece of beautiful curtain found in a thrift shop decorated with golden hot rain drops in Summer. Looking up in a red Australian sky (material found in an ancient and fabulous shop of Melbourne) a kite is dancing at sunset. The next wave is made of Indian embroidered silk, I just added some beads to enlighten it.
Here you see more of this blue and purple waves. The indian embroidered silk and above it a small precious piece of organza ornated with tiny plastic flowers. Its transparence varies in shades according to the light shining on it. It can move from a light green colour to a sea blue or deep purple underneath. Truly magic to hold and observe. Its texture is as free as waves are, gliding through your fingers.
Of course I just had to add some African fabric, a blue/turquoise shade with a wave of green beads, like seashells. The orange material at the top is another one found in Melbourne, like the hot Australian deserts but also like the warm mood that surrounds Christmas time and its decorations… here an orphan triangular earring found on a trail in the forest. Imagine that !
April 7, 2012
She arrived with a heart as big as her maker’s. A red and soft heart of felt, arms wide open for me to welcome her and eyes bright and cheerful as her dress. Who was that ? “Mara”, the cutest doll I ever received, she was created by Marie’s talented hands. A gift from her heart. http://ancientcloth.blogspot.com/
Ever seen such a pretty hairdo ? Mara also came with her arms full of presents, fabrics of all sorts, reproductions of antique materials that I cannot wait to use in a quilt, just for me. Thank you so much Marie ! For having lived several years in Africa, this adorable little doll touches my heart and brings back many memories of people, places, events. A time never to forget.
My little doll from the South arrived at the same time as Spring does in the mountains. Not many colours yet to brighten the landscape but for the catkins on some trees. Patches of snow remain in the cooler areas and green grass barely starts growing on the pastures. Still, walking along those tracks in a new Spring makes you feel good, it gives you energy and joy. It makes you feel grateful too.The new Season gives you inspiration for whatever you need or plan to do, or so I feel. No greenness outside yet ? No problem ! I can deal with it and create my own palette of colours. I did so in sewing (of course) a heart of “Forty Shades of Green” for Irish friends of mine brought together by destiny. A happy quilting, I assure you. There were really forty different scraps of green fabrics for those who might wonder;)I thought this fresh and green quilted heart would be nice to send you my best wishes for a Happy Easter. Green like the hope and light that we all need, at any time. A renewal in nature as in our life. A promise of better times ahead in a troubled world. I do wish you all the best.
February 2, 2012
There are all sorts of connections and ways of communicating. Some more awkward than others but…when there is a will, there is a way. Personally I love writing/receiving cards or letters. For years I have been writing to friends close by or corresponding with penfriends much further away. I also like a chat with a friend, an unexpected conversation with someone in town, on a train or elsewhere. It all brings us together. Moments of sharing and smiling that may brighten up one’s day.Not too sure what these cables were meant for but they looked very picturesque
Often friendship is built along the way. Once I received a card that read : “The long remembering heart requires no token”. And yet tokens of friendship are exchanged sometimes. In French we are used to say : “Little gifts keep friendship alive” (Les petits cadeaux entretiennent l’amitié).
Like this wonderful gift – more than a token really - I received shortly before Christmas. First surprise : the parcel came from Danemark. As I unwrapped the cheerful red and white paper and looked at the cover of the slim black book, I could not help wondering : “This picture looks so much like my own quilt !” I could not believe my eyes and I kept staring at the quilt in total amazement. Then when I recovered, my eyes went down to the title : “isathreads…”.Finally I opened the precious book and there they were : all the pictures of the quilts I posted on my blog were inside. Artfully presented on each page. A blue letter fell out of the book, words of friendship brought a wide smile on my face and a warm feeling in my heart. Thank you so very much, Birgitte, http://my2008blog.wordpress.com/
for this special and wonderful gift that has been admired more than once. It will be cherished always.
Another lovely gift I received is this pair of mittens sent by Dena, my English friend living in Italy. Our wonderful and lasting friendship started unexpectedly. By a great coincidence, we used to write to the same penfriend in Indiana/USA. Our common friend thought we might well like writing to each other too (Dena and I). As I received her address, I sent her a small card to introduce myself; she answered with enthusiasm and we never ceased writing since then. We also met on various occasions during the past ten years.
Estela is another friend from abroad, I met her on flickr. She is a talented Brazilian quilter. One day she suggested we exchanged fabrics. We started doing so and year after year we both enjoy sending gifts from the heart and from our sewing rooms. This lovely quilt is Estela’s gift for this past Christmas. Isn’t it pretty and thoughtful ? I love it.More treasures were packed in Estela’s parcel: samples of fabrics and patterns, a hand stitched piece that I will use some day in one of my own quilts. All so appreciated !A while ago I had sewed for Estela these colourful parrots. Birds like those I imagine flying in her garden near the ocean.
A token of friendship can also be a visit or a call to someone. An unexpected conversation that may bring so much pleasure. A gift of one’s own time. A phone call is such a simple and direct way to stay connected. I love those surprise conversations as I do enjoy the smile in someone’s voice when I make a phone call after too long a time.In the recent years, I have also been discovering the pleasure of blogging, of communicating with you and others all around the world. Getting to know your environment and activities, sharing your thoughts is a real gift. At the risk of repeating myself, I will say how grateful I am for all of it.
And since we talk about communicating… I must add that because of some health problem I will remain silent for a while, But I do look forward to visiting and reading you again. Take care, all of you. And be well.