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…
December 12, 2012
…I still wish to share some of my Fall colours just before snow fell heavily and unexpectedly. Colours from here and there along those past weeks.
Ninio is posing in a golden forest and probably thinking: “If I were not on a leash, all you could photograph would be just a vague glimpse of one of my white legs running away like a flash or just leaves !”
I finally finished sewing a small quilt that brings warmth on a wall of our house. Inspiration came from a photo of a Flickr friend and artist, Eglantine. I tried to find on fabrics the colours and patterns she painted on wood with acrylic and pastel. Thank you, dear Eglantine, for your inspiration and permission to use your picture. Underneath is the photo of my friend’s artwork.
More pictures of Eglantine’s Flickr photostream here : http://www.flickr.com/photos/eglantine/
This is the mini-quilt I sewed and embroidered using scraps of colourful cotton, polyester, organza and gauze ribbons.
Colourful too were the images of a beautiful and fascinating movie I saw recently, in particular the thousands of bees’ swarms working diligently and flying in all directions. “More than Honey” by Markus Imhoof or “What if Bees would disappear ?” in French is a documentary. Fascinating, I wrote, but I should also say very worrying and well worth seeing. The present situation of those precious and endangered insects was filmed in various countries of all continents. Our whole planet is concerned with the bees’ disappearance from their hives or new colonies having to be destroyed.
What are the causes ? Pesticides or medicines used to fight them ? Parasites ? A new virus ? The stress bees are submitted to during their forced long journeys ? Industrialisation and mechanization ? Pollution or damage caused to the environment ? No sure answer is given but the documentary definitely makes you aware of this terrible danger : the bees’ disappearance and with them the absence of cross-pollination. Losing bees, as we all know, would have repercussions throughout the food supply chain.
“More than Honey” should be released abroad at the beginning of 2013. Don’t miss it if you have the opportunity to watch it. The film was presented at the Locarno Film Festival 2012, in Switzerland.
Since October weather has changed. Snow fell heavily in November, temperatures dropped a lot and a Siberian North wind is blowing every second day. I know, Winter is here but…one can still dream of colours, right ?
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)
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.
June 27, 2011
Rules or improvisation ?
After reading Sherri Lynn Wood’s post in http://daintytime.net/2011/06/20/a-quilt-makers-memoir-of-rules/ , I thought a lot about rules or improvisation in the way I have been quilting for many years. Sherri is a wonderful textile artist and a great source of inspiration. Her “Improv Mondays series” particularly is a forum where quilters can exchange their experiences and learn from one another with Sherri’s encouragement and teaching. I started looking at pictures of my previous quilts and see how my own quilting has evolved over the years from rules to improvisation.
This is one of my first quilts. It is sewn and quilted by hand since I had no sewing machine yet. The materials are leftovers of curtains (silk-like) found in an interior design shop. I cut the nine-patch patterns around templates I was taught how to make. This warm blanket that has been mended countless times and I am still so happy with it. At that time I decided to name each quilt I sewed, adding a small fancy label at the back. Since I had very little knowlege about sewing, another rule was to start with easy patterns and move on slowly until I felt more or less confident with what I was doing.
When I joined a patchwork group later, we were proposed to sew a sampler of the colours of our choice. I bought the large turquoise fabric but used only scraps for the different patterns. No improvision yet for this quilt apart from the “crazy squares”; it was fun to learn new designs and techniques, like paper piecing for instance.
Later I ventured into curves. Controlled curves, mind you ! Four different shapes of curves cut with the cutter and assembled together according to colours and forms. I enjoyed this immensely for the surprise it created and the many variations. Not endless though, I knew there was more to learn and improvise about it. Another rule was : explore, try new techniques for a wider form of expression, even if it is not “perfect” according to some rules. Letting go of definite shapes and lines whenever I felt like it.
One of my all time favourites is this light quilt made in a very thin and sheer material, organza. There were also leftovers given by a friend who sewed the most beautiful little handbags.
I very soon realised that, wanted or not, there would be curves ! And folds and bumps and total “un-evenness” (if such a word exists in English;) The organza kept sliding under my fingers, there are few straight lines in this quilt. And guess what ? I simply loved it ! This quilt was and still is very alive, moving like a feather in its lightness and irregular folds. Another lesson I learned there : accept the fabric as it is, play with it and follow its weaving or movement while sewing. It gives more “character” to one’s quilt, I find.
Of course I have continued sewing with African fabrics since I came back home from a five years stay there. Improvisation came naturally, just by assembling colours and designs the way I thought they would complement one another.
“Africa in red and black”
Now I am trying to improvise in creating quilts that I sew for a particular person or occasion, in memory of someone or to remember a moment, a place, anything that I want to keep alive. Some quilts take time and much thinking, chosing the materials and design that will best show what I feel. I started this particular quilt over a year ago. It could be a “passage quilt” although no personal materials/clothes were available. This picture shows just a part of it, the correspondance that brings sunshine when one’s life is confined. I keep adding stitches and patches here and there as I remember events.
“R. quilt, letters”
Nowadays my quilts vary. I may sew some traditional pattern like the Seminole quilt I made a while back which was a real challenge for me. I may also follow my inspiration and put together scraps or carefully chosen fabrics and try to materialize an image, a thought, a memory. A way of expressing myself. Those are the quilts I especially love. No real “rules” as such, apart from some basic techniques but a lot of improvisation as I move along with pieces of fabrics and thoughts. For the pleasure of quilting.
Detail of a quilt where I joined the watercolour technique – learned in a great book by Gai Perry, “Impressionist Quilts” and my improvisation. I made books with selvages of various materials. A wonderful project based on a challenge about a French philosopher and writer, Michel de Montaigne.
Books and quilting, two of my favourite hobbies. Thanks Sherri Lynn for having brought up these thoughts about one’s way of quilting and expressing it.
May 27, 2011
How do I know about it ? That is a real nice story. One that happened thanks to Internet, quilting, a painting class of 15 students between 15 and 18 and their dedicated art teacher, Renee Sonka, in the heart of the Midwest, Minnesota.
From Africa to Switzerland and on to Minnesota/USA
or how African fabrics are inspiring and travelling !
You may remember this quilt of mine, an African mosaic I posted on January 2009 as I started this blog. It is a logcabin pattern made with countless scraps of fabrics I brought back home after a stay in Africa with my family.
The art teacher, R. Sonka, had a particular project in mind for her painting class. It was entitled : AFRICAN TEXTILES as inspiration for mixed media paintings. The designed plans were to study the textiles, infuse mixed media, think about subject and meaning, become the composer, develop sketches and realize one’s idea !
In addition the students were to create a larger collaborative painting where each of them would be responsible for small sections of the whole. Together with the picture of the quilt, I had also posted a detail of it. This is what the students chose to create painted versions of sections of my quilt.
This is the collaborative painting of a section of my quilt ! I cannot express how honored, admirative and touched I am as I look at the work of those 15 talented students. They used acrylic paint on canvas. Never would I have imagined that my quilt could be such a source of inspiration. It is a beautiful project and you can all be very proud of all you achieved !
The other three pictures represent individual compositions designed by students. More inspiration from patterns, textures, colours found in African textiles. They used acrylic paint on plywood, some include other materials such as fabric, cardboard and raffia.
Panel created by Greta Gangestad
Panel created by Annette
The art teacher, R. Sonka, sent me all those pictures, for which I am very grateful and happy to share with you. Thank you Renee for all your mails and details; without them I would probably not have been able to explain well enough the development of this great project.
This is the school Art Show that represents the drawing, painting and ceramics classes. A beautiful compilation of weeks of work, individual and collaborative. I like this concept very much.
Here is a link about the Art Show and the Mounds Park Academy in Saint Paul/MN.
May 20, 2011
Another step in my WIP-quilt (work in progress). A passage quilt for a friend who passed one year ago. Little by little thoughts and memories come to mind and I add this or that piece to the vast puzzle of a life.
Excerpt of a letter received several years ago, memories of a particular day in someone´s life :
“I am at the beach with my family. I must have been 10 years of age. A small and skinny boy. I loved to swim and I’m swimming out … far. In my mind, I am swimming out so far where nobody will ever find me. I have swum out so far that everybody on the beach looks like tiny specks. I get the feeling that sharks are swimming near me and I frantically swim back as fast as I can. Once back on the beach I’ve got to run along the coast to find my family. I see one of my brothers and am relieved. I see that he has a bologna sandwich in his hand and I run to the car to get one myself. Seagulls are flying above and I toss a piece of bread up to them. The seagulls flock around, waiting for more. I take a slice of bread when my mom is not watching because she has told me to leave the birds alone. I am fascinated by them and want to catch one but they get in flight too fast for me. I watch them fight for a piece of bread and, as one seagull drops it, a mad rush to the sand ensues. I wrap a shell in bread and toss it up so a seagull will drop it. I run to catch a seagull as they come down but they quickly see me coming and I watch as they take flight. The sun has tanned me good. I attempt to bury myself in the sand and I watch the seagulls soar above me”.
May 8, 2011
Today we celebrate Mother’s Day in Switzerland. My own mother is no longer here but she will be lovingly remembered indeed. This flower is for her; her love of nature and flowers, her pleasure to sit in the garden, inhale scents and let her eyes wander quietly over the greenery. She sometimes started telling of her younger years in the mountains she loved so much, a life of hard work that taught her a lot about nature, its beauty and dangers. I am happy to have written down much of all she shared although her words are in my heart forever.
The weeks preceding Mother’s Day are even more busy at school over here… My sons always brought me lovely surprises on the second Sunday of May. They still do but at that time there was mystery and secrecy, something they could hardly keep for themselves…”I have a surprise for you but you are not allowed to see it !”
The D-Day finally came and the suspense was relieved. Both would wait till I woke and then present their gifts, nicely wrapped in a paper they sometimes had created themselves. What an excitement and impatience for me to open those treasures ! I received many, many wonderful drawings and gifts of all sorts, made with love and care; I cherished them all. One of them is still in our kitchen : it is a small decorative wooden panel made for me in primary school. There was an original handmade notebook on the right hand side that has been replaced countless times since then. Very handy. What still brings a smile whenever I write a note on my “to do list” is the poem one of my sons had composed for Mother’s Day on that particular year.
He had to find rhymes. For example : Isabelle/belle – bruns/lapins – noir/loir – maman/tendrement. In English though it may sound a bit strange to your ears but so lovely to your heart
How beautiful you are
With your eyes
As brown as rabbits
And your hair as black
As a dormouse
This is just to tell you, Mama
That I love you tenderly “
The French spelling is as creative as the images/rhymes he found and I just love the fact that his teacher left it untouched
To all mothers, mamans, mamas here and there and elsewhere I wish a Very Happy Day filled with love, sharing, joy and gratitude.
This is quilt I sewed several years ago for a Mexican mama of many children who happens to be also a dear friend of mine, Fina.