Decorating As Ritual : A New Life Made Visual

Four months ago, my son and I moved to our new house and it’s begun to feel like home.

While most of the furniture here came from our earlier place, it’s now time to add something new. We honor the memory of my husband Dick, who died a little over a year ago, in all kinds of ways including living with his books, photos and toys. On a bookshelf in the living room, you’ll find one of Dick’s childhood cowboy figurines alongside a Shakespeare “action figure” (he’s holding a magical weapon, his quill pen.) I love seeing these little reminders in every room. 


But we need to make this place reflect our new reality, and I chose to start with the fireplace, the heart of our home. I wanted to hang something deeply meaningful to me over the mantel. I thought back to what had held this place of honor in our earlier house, and for more than 20 years, it was two wonderful black and white photographs that Dick’s daughter Kate took in high school. After her father’s death, she asked to have them back.

So I took my time thinking about what I wanted and about a month ago, the answer flashed into my brain. When Kaffe Fassett gave the keynote lecture at Quilters Take Manhattan in September, one of the slides he showed was of a quilt-like collage that was made from wood salvaged from Hurricane Sandy in 2012. I remembered that several works by that artist had been hung a year ago at the Michener Art Museum in Pennsylvania, while a show of Kaffe’s quilts was also going on. I decided that if I could locate the artist, Laura Petrovich-Cheney, and she had any of those Hurricane Sandy collages left, it would be the perfect object to hang over my fireplace. 


Luckily, I found Laura easily online, and she had exactly the piece I wanted, called “Meadow of Delight” (below). I agreed to buy it and she brought it to my house (I had to wait for the exhibit it was currently hanging in to end). I told her, “This is the perfect metaphor for my new life: you go through the storm, and then you pick up the pieces and make the most beautiful thing you possibly can.”  I love that the distressed wood is pock-marked with nail holes and the paint is peeling. The texture is rough and the edges uneven because this isn’t about perfection: these are remnants of people’s actual lives. Laura knows some of those people and can tell their stories. These bits that survived are full of character, and all together, they make a stunning, hopeful whole. 

Meadow of Delight

Meadow of Delight

The artist said, “You were meant to have this piece.” It is based on a soulful poem that is a Celtic blessing and she sent me a link to a page where I could both read the words and hear the poet, John O’Donahue, read it. The poem made me weep and it fits the work perfectly: this art is a blessing too. 

When I get up each morning and walk toward the piece, I feel centered, ready to enter the next storm, equally ready to draw up a chair before the fireplace and contemplate my happiness in landing in a new place of beauty. 


Note: you may have seen Laura’s distinctive work in the magazine UPPERCASE (and on the cover) of Issue 30, Summer 2016. You can see more of her salvaged wood quilts on her website.   


Prayer Flag Blog Hop: Fresh Ideas for an Age-Old Tradition

 Vivika Hansen DeNegre, editor of Quilting Arts magazine, said she asked me to participate in this week’s Prayer Flag Blog Hop because of my unusual combination of skills: as both an expert in quilting and traditions, she thought I might have something fresh to add to the ongoing conversation.
Crafters, sewers and quilters looking for small but worthwhile projects have been gravitating to making banners inspired by the tradition of prayer flags. These flags have a rich history and tradition and are made to express the maker’s prayerful pleas for a better, more peaceful world. Even creating small flags on strings using contemporary embellishments can tap into some of those feelings of thankfulness and awe. Tibetan prayer flags, simply made and decorated with sacred colors and symbols, are meant to better all living things as the breeze lifts them. But a string of indoor flags can also express love and devotion.
  When my packet came in the mail from Quilting Arts with the Moda Home Made banner set, the timing was perfect. I was about to fly to St. Louis to help my sister after back surgery, and it seemed perfect to make my flags express a prayer for her healing. I would be staying at her home for a week without access to my sewing machine, stash or other sewing supplies, and here was the perfect portable and meaningful craft project. 
At first, I planned to use bright, spring colors to make it cheerful. But once I got the idea of using the bold Red Cross symbol, I decided it would work best in just red and white. And that made packing easy. I grabbed some bright red prints, some white fabric, and a few tokens to stitch on, like a guardian angel charm. Along with a pincushion, thread and scissors. There was no time to explore local quilt shops while I was in the area to add more, but I did find a packet of red buttons at WalMart, while buying groceries.  (And, I did have to buy an IRON at WalMart, because my sister didn’t own this basic quilting tool.)
 I thoroughly enjoyed working on this project, my first attempt at making prayer flags. This kit was wonderful because the size of the individual pennants gave me enough room to play with. It was the buttons on the banner that inspired me to add more buttons still as a design theme. And the buttons allow one to play around with the order of the individual flags as well. Also, there are 8 pennants in the set, but since they are only attached by buttons, you can choose how many you want: my design concept took seven.
 My sister — shown here with her charming daughter Jenn– was thrilled by the results, and happy to have these healing wishes shine upon her daily, even after I left to come home to Princeton. 
  Now I’m eager to play with some more styles and sizes of prayer flags, and will dig into all the inspiration found in Interweave’s ebook on Prayer Flags: the readers of Quilting Arts magazine provided more than 550 miniature flags and construction ideas for this special publication. Go here to order just the eBook from Interweave or the eBook and Moda banner kit. 
I can envision making strings of flags for many occasions, including major milestones and accomplishments, and to send love and prayers to my nearest and dearest, whether I can bring them personally or not. And, I am seriously considering finding some fabric I could print on and leave outside, in my garden. I want to research the Tibetan and other traditions for using these objects respectfully. I feel like I’ve discovered a whole new medium, both in my crafting work, and as a maker of tradition. 
By the way, I will be giving away a banner kit in the April issue of Quilt Journalist Tells All.
Thanks, Vivika!!
Want more inspiration? Visit The Prayer Flag Project blog, to learn more about this movement, upload your own prayer flags, or just be inspired and uplifted by the flags of others.
Here’s the rest of the blog hop, do visit each one. These women are far more accomplished quilt artists than I, and I can’t wait to see their takes on this project.
April 11: 
April 14:     Jane LaFazio  
April 15:   Meg Cox  (YOU ARE HERE!)
April 16:    Deborah O’Hare  
April 17:   Jamie Fingal 
April 17:   Susan Brubaker Knapp 
April 18:     Carrie Bloomston

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