Take a deep breath, please. That’s right. And another. Now, allow yourself, in whatever way is comfortable for you, to be led into that imaginal space where each path leads to many layers of meaning.
Perhaps, as you walk along, you can feel the sun on your face, and the dust between your toes, even as you notice a quilt, tattered at the edges, and faded just a bit, drying on a split rail fence. Bits and pieces of calico and homespun cloth, cut and pieced just so, form patterns as old as the ages.
Oddly, quilts can form maps of the future as well, for, as the story goes, they were used as signposts on the Underground Railroad. Signposts on the road to freedom.
This was a myth I did not know until I was long grown. Oh, I knew the tales of Harriet Tubman. I knew scraps of the saga of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. But I, white, Scots-English, Swedish, educated, affluent, main-line, mid-Western/Floridian that I was raised, had not imagined that bed linens, those icons of country décor, had once marked the road from slavery to freedom.
Hidden in Plain View, by Jacqueline L. Tobin and Raymond G. Dobard, tells the story. Here I encountered symbolic meanings of quilt blocks I had thought merely pretty or quaint or hard to sew. Here I discovered that knots used to tie quilts could be mileage markers along the way. Here I learned the word, griot, “an African term for community storyteller and keeper of cultural heritage, history, and stories”, and knew I wanted, with every fiber of my being, to be one.
And here, most importantly of all, I read these words: “the fugitives needed to break their mental chains as well as their physical bondage. Yes, the fugitives needed to put on new clothes and use external disguises; however they had to also change inside… Freedom demanded internal as well as external change.”
This quilt holds stories of some of those changes in my own journey. First, it is a reminder of one of those things that are so hard to say aloud. Mama wasn’t always right! She meant well, though telling everybody that I was the smart kid and my sister the artistic kid was no huge favor to either of us. I was 40 years old before it occurred to me that it was actually possible to be both smart and artistic! The fact that this was clearly going to be an art quilt—instead of the kind that keeps kids warm—added to the pressure!
You see, this was a challenge quilt. Keepsake Quilting announces challenges a few times a year. There are size limitations and lots of rules and specific fabrics that must be used. In this case, all solid fabrics. No Kaffe prints or dots or batiks here. All solids. Very scary! And yet, I signed up.
To make a long story less long, what grew under my hands turned out to be this sort of Amish blend with strong overtones of Gee’s Bend and notes of Gwen Marston’s “liberated” quilters. It begins in the center, with a nine patch within a nine patch.
The blue and green frame is known as a monkey wrench block. According to the Underground Railroad tradition, slaves who saw a monkey wrench quilt knew that the time for escape was drawing near. They were to gather the tools they would need for the journey. Both actual tools and inner ones were required.
The heart is one of those tools. This heart is my image of the wisdom of Jungian analyst and keeper of the old stories, Clarissa Pinkola Estés, who calls together the “the tribe of the sacred heart—many of us scar clan. Still standing. Still dancing.” It is a strong tool, indeed, for one with knees scarred over and over with attempts to still stand!
Strips surround the center in a log cabin block, symbol of the home that calls to each of us.
Then there is the green and purple checkerboard, nine patches again. Very decent and orderly nine patches! Square and even and nearly identical. The way we are “supposed” to be. Pretty colors, and appealing in their own way, but static.
The triangles inside the rectangles are my favorites. Celtic spirituality legends claim that wild geese are a symbol for the Holy Spirit. My wild geese blocks are “liberated”, as newness often is.
And then the stars. Nine patches full of the energy of the universe, tugging us to “follow the drinking gourd” in the direction of our most free selves.
Stories are tools with the power to change lives. There are many ways to tell them.
Take a deep breath, please. That’s right. And another. Stretch a bit if you need to. And remember the quilt hanging in the light on that split rail fence. It’s a map to the future!