I’d like to share with you this heart-shaped mini art quilt I named “Cracks” and the inspiration behind it.
If you're wondering what "art quilt" means, basically it is just a quilt that explores an idea/emotion/concept, most often without a pattern. It can be made of, and embellished by multiple types of textiles and objects like beads, though that is not a requirement. Create Whimsy does a good job of summarizing it in their article "Art Quilt Essentials and Inspirations".
"Cracks" is made of quilting cotton and a bit of flannel for "backing". No pattern was used and it was inspired and created to convey and explore a feeling/theme: love, loss and the human heart.
Love, Loss & The Human Heart
Do you know that sudden flash of inspiration you sometimes get, urging you to make something? When I get this feeling it's like a semi driving straight at me in the middle of the night with it's brights on. Unavoidable, jarring, and demanding to be addressed. That’s what this piece was born from.
For me, this type of inspiration usually strikes when I’m processing something emotionally significant, or I know someone close to me is. This time it was both.
My step-mother’s Dad passed away unexpectedly on September 13th. With COVID changing the landscape of our 2020 lives, it had been some time since she had seen him and much longer for me still.
You can spend a lot of time beating yourself up for such things, wondering on what-if’s, judging every decision you've made. But in the end, our lives are a series of choices we do our best to make, one at a time. Even the "right", best-intentioned decision can be something to wonder on. But then again, if the opposite choice was made, might things have been worse? Who's to say?
There really isn't a right or wrong. Things like this aren't any one's fault. Still, feelings of heartache, shock, and even anger are seemingly inevitable, at least to me. My heart ached(es) for her. For her brother and extended family, my Dad, and well, the list goes on and on.
My own heart feels the loss of him as well. Though I hadn’t seen him in years, he left an impression on me and I will always think of him fondly. To me, he was on the quiet side, a bit withdrawn but always friendly and seemed genuinely happy to see me (as I was him). To his children, he could on certain days be abrasive and difficult to communicate with. But he always had a bottomless heart, a sarcastic smile and laugh that got me every time. He loved his family, even if he sometimes had a strange way of showing it.
I recall many a holiday dinner at my Dad and step-mom’s house where conversation lingered long after the meal, chatting and laughing with him. The dynamic between him, his daughter, and his son, shifting in an instant from “I-told-you-so-isms”, to light-hearted banter, to reflective moments of understanding. Every so often you could catch the subtle shine in his eyes as he looked in pride at the adults his children had become. Where do the years go?
But that is the way of life I suppose. And it’s easy to get lost in thought on why, and wonder how we are supposed to digest such things. Helpless against the parade of time and all it leaves in its wake. This year has been especially reflective for me on many topics, as I’m sure it has been for many. Life and its purpose have certainly been amongst them.
My busy mind required busy hands to somehow manifest this into tangible form. I guess this is (one of) my coping mechanisms. A way to define a thing, put edges on it, visualize it, see it all at once to try to understand (my eternal curse and blessing, the quest for understanding). And then be able to share that with someone across the country, to show my love and support in lieu of a big hug and hours of reminiscing over a good Finger Lake’s Riesling. (That will come in the not too distant future once it's safe to travel again).
I imagined the human heart. Not in it's medical form full of arteries and pumping blood, but in a soulful, visceral way. Every experience is an impression on it, aging it like fine wine. Weathering it like leather luggage, textured and full of nuance, each wrinkle whispering of the sites it has seen. Every struggle and loss is a metaphorical crack through which the light of a thousand moments of love shine. The heart endures. The heart holds fast.
Basic Steps for the Project
I used small strips of neutral fabrics sewn together to create this. Some had a bit of metallic finish to them which represents the light of love shining from within.
First, I sewed them together into a large rectangle. Next, I cut it apart in multiple places and sewed it back together. I repeated this process of cutting and reattaching about 4 more times. Each time the seams became bulkier so I tried my best to iron them flat (much like attending to a broken heart).
After I was satisfied with the look of the fabric piece, I used a heart template to cut out the final shape. Heat n’ Bond Lite was used to initially secure it in place on a quilted background, cut to size for an 8” by 11" frame. Then I blanket stitched it in place, trimmed the whole thing, and put it in a frame.
Tying Everything Together
I wrote a poem to accompany it, which I affixed to the back of the frame:
Life is a cycle
of heartbreak and healing.
Pieces once broken
never fit quite the same again.
A collage created
of love and loss.
A reflection of a life lived.
Proof of friendship.
Proof of family.
Proof of joy,
and love, and sorrow.
Proof of sunny days
lived to their fullest.
Proof of rainy days
that cleanse the soul
for the next season.
Proof of meaning
shining through every crack.
While we may long for what our
heart once was,
it becomes more beautiful
with every cycle.
And how is that to be regretted
or wished away?
In the heart, love never dies.
It is held and lives forever.
it is impossible to loose
any of the pieces.
For love is the glue
holding them together.
Each piece is a part of
who you are and will be.
Mourn each loss
it is not truly a loss.
Rather a celebration of love
A victory in being human.
Love will shine through all of the
cracks in your heart
until eventually you will see
it is always a sunny day.
You could make an impromptu project like this with whatever scraps you might have lying around. Just sew them all together in a piece large enough to accommodate the desired template. By the way, all my template was is a clip art file printed to the size I wanted then traced onto Heat n' Bond.
For my background, I simply used a piece of quilter’s cotton over a piece of flannel, and did a small meandering stitch over it to add texture. You could forego the actual quilting if you prefer, in which case you wouldn’t really need the flannel backing, though it does add some stability.
I shipped this off to NY, and hopefully it brought some light during these difficult days. Its making was cathartic for me and allowed me to "be there" in a sense until I physically can be.
Please feel free to share in the comments what you think and if you have used quilting to process something in your life or give comfort to others!