This year’s Maritime Modern Quilt Guild Executive Challenge was to make a black and white quilt with a pop of colour. Here’s my response.
My first idea was to quilt the joke, “What’s black and white and red all over?” I had a fat quarter of Daily Prophet newspaper that would be prominent on the back. I needed an alphabet to make “black” and “white”, so I went on an internet hunt and arrived at Fons & Porter’s Quilting Quickly Alphabet quilt, for which there is even a video. I bought the back issue in which it appeared and went into production. See anything funny? Well, yes, those colours are reversed. After all, I was quilting a joke. There’s also a bit of an optical illusion when you look at the red background, especially in the “white”. For a second one morning, I wondered what I had made because the red came to the foreground, but a coffee set that to rights.
Then I added the ampersand in bias tape made with the biggest bias tape maker I could find. Next came the rest of the background. As I wondered what technique to use for “What’s”, I realized I had met the challenge. I had a black and white quilt because it said “black and white”. No needle turned appliqué for me! No figuring out how to add “all over”! The top was finished. All I had to do was quilt it.
I pieced a back out of black and white fabrics from my stash and pondered the quilting. Here’s the back. My esteemed photographer, Gillian, pointed out that in this shot, the quilt looks like a nose. We then changed location.
My original plan was to do some wild quilting with feathers and swirls and all manner of fun things in that huge negative space.
In February, I had been to Memphis for a few days before Quiltcon, and visited the fabulous National Civil Rights Museum that chronicled the civil rights struggles of blacks in America. It was located in the hotel where Martin Luther King, Jr. had been shot, and was incredibly moving. As I worked on my quilt listening to the morning news this spring, I heard terrible reports of hatred and discrimination and intolerance. Suddenly, I no longer wanted my quilt to be an easy joke, but a statement. Suddenly, that “black” in white and “white” in black were significant. And then I knew what the quilting needed to be.
I sewed parallel lines over the entire background, mimicking ruled paper, and then I added excerpts from Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech. Somehow, the words I needed to write flowed easily onto the fabric, and in no time, the quilting was done. The text is hard to capture in a picture; it is subtle, sewn, as it was, in 40wgt thread.
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out its creed: We hold these truths to be…all men are created equal. …When we allow freedom ring, all God’s children… black men and white men… will be able to join hands and sing…Free at last.”
After it was shown at Guild, Gillian and I took the quilt on a road trip. I wanted to photograph it by a church, in honour of the Negro spiritual that Dr. King had quoted. We found the charming Church of St. John the Baptist in the Annapolis Valley, and she took these terrific pictures while I held the quilt.
May we all live in the freedom that Dr. King imagined.