A couple of weeks ago, I decided to attend the Women's March on Washington, D.C. on January 21, now known as probably the largest political protest in America (and supported by many marches around the globe). I had been waffling about it for a while. Would my attendance really mean something? Was it worth it? It meant a lot to me, and it certainly was. It was positive, peaceful, constitutional, and surreal.
Last weekend, 7 days before the March, I was talking with my close friend Jess Levitt (@jtlevitt) about signs. She mentioned making a quilt, which had also crossed my mind a couple of times. As a quilter, I'd rather make a quilt that will last than a sign that probably won't. Plus, since this was a "Women's March" and women are traditionally associated with sewing, it would be a really cool way to send a message. Was that crazy, especially when the march was so soon? (Yes). Would it make a difference? (Hopefully). Could it be done? (Probably). At first we considered making one quilt to show together, but it made more sense for us each to make our own smaller quilts.
Pictures both by Lori Saporito
I sewed a bunch of pink scraps together. To save myself a lot of time, I decided to machine applique right onto a scrappy white background. If I wanted to quilt and bind the whole thing, I didn't think I'd have time to piece it all together (I was right. Glad I trusted my instincts).
The whole time I was appliqueing, I thought about the message. What did I want to say? Right now (and I say this because it changes all the time - there are a lot of things I'm frustrated about), women's health is at the forefront on my mind.
The great thing about art is that you can interpret it however you want. For me, I am concerned about women having access to quality, affordable healthcare. I have been a patient of Planned Parenthood and support them proudly. I remember what it was like to be a college student with minimal insurance. I wanted to proclaim loudly and clearly that I support women of all ages, races, economic situations, and places and their need for affordable (preferably free) birth control and quality healthcare. Constantly, as I worked, I was thinking of my friends, family, colleagues, students, and myself. Again, you can interpret the message as you will.
Some other slogans I considered:
"My body, my choice."
"Our bodies, our choices."
"Women's rights are human rights."
"My body. Keyword: My."
In the end, "our health matters" seemed more universal, strong, and just, simply, had less letters. :) I used my new pinking shears to cut around the letters (this lessens or totally negates any fraying), glued them onto the quilt with a glue stick, and used a straight stitch to sew them on. The letters are NOT perfect. They are a little wonky. They are messy. That was my intent.
Then, I quilted this bad boy (bad girl?). I used Aurifil 1100, a great, bright pink, to quilt pebbles inside the female symbol. I echoed the sign with my walking foot and couple of times, and filled in the background with spirals, using Aurifil 2024 (white). These are motifs that simply make me happy.
The backing came along because I was reading about how protest/march signs should have a back. I'm proudly an LGBT ally and I support love of all kinds, so I decided to use this ingenious rainbow cheater panel from Northcott Fabrics in the middle (for non-quilty folk, cheater fabric means that I didn't actual sew all those colors together - it's one piece of fabric). I surrounded it with extra pink solid from Cloud9 Fabrics. Only after I quilted and bound the whole quilt (Thursday night, so less than 48 hours before the March) did I decide add a clear message to the back.
So, on the bus, I hand stitched the word "LOVE." It's not perfect. It's messy. But it was so worth a little bit of a bus headache (plus, it took us over 6 hours to get to DC when it should have been 3.5 hours - our bus broke down 3 times, there was tons of traffic, and we stopped at a rest stop, which was also FULL to the brim with marchers, when we were still 2 hours away!).
So then, how did the quilt hold up at the March? Well, it was a little heavier than I expected. I made it so I'd be comfortable holding it up and not dragging it anywhere near the ground. It certainly was large enough - the message read loud and clear. The picture below was taken right after we walked from RFK Stadium (where hundreds and hundreds of buses were parked, with people streaming out of them even at our later hour) to near the U.S. Capitol Building, where Congress meets. My lovely guild friend and march buddy, Lori (@gratitudequilts), made a gorgeous cape that says, "Diversity is our superpower."
So, in terms of the quilt's impact: I had NO IDEA going into this that it would actually make a difference at the March. I WANTED the message(s) to be shown loudly and clearly. I did not anticipate the reaction. ART makes a difference. Art is emotional. I saw so many people look at the quilt and smile (this meant the most to me, out of everything). Men and women gave me thumbs up signs or fist pumps and yelled "YES!" Some people ran up to thank me for making it (way to make me emotional all over again, guys). Someone ran up to me and said they had heard about the quilt and had been looking for it. The four most common reactions:
1. "Nice quilt!" (so proud that no one called it a blanket! ;) )
2. "Wow, did you make that?"
3. "How long did that take you?"
4. "That's some effort!"
Lori took a couple of in-action pictures, unbeknownst to me.
One lady shouted, "YES!! QUILTS FOR HEALTHCARE!" Over 50 people pulled me aside to take pictures. Lori and I were interviewed twice by reporters with video cameras (alas, we do not know where these interviews are). Even when my arms got tired and I wore the quilt as a cape, people were running up to us to take pictures. It was surreal to be a part of something so huge (over 500,000 people is the estimate from D.C) and to show a quilt to the public. I especially love the action picture below because you can see people smiling at the quilt!
Some outtakes from the day:
I climbed up on a raised platform (fountain?) in front of the Capitol for pictures. I can't describe how it felt to share this message in this particular place. Spread the love.
The excitement of finally arriving in D.C.! So many of my quilter friends were there, but alas, it was nearly impossible to find anyone.
We came upon this scene as we were heading out. This was a couple blocks from the National Mall - not a place where you'll see most of the press pictures. THAT'S how many people (and signs) were there. It was literally breathtaking to see a peaceful protest of this magnitude, in person.
One woman was asking marchers to write examples of people who made them proud to be a woman or to be at the March. I wrote down one of my former professors (now a close friend) and my guild's name. This was such an amazing and empowering protest sign, that also was fabric related! Love!!
I made these cute little mug rugs to thank Lori for her hospitality and encouragement, and Tatiana for knitting me a hat. A little commemoration of the day.
Lori left me pins for the March on a quilty pillowcase the night before.
When I got home, I threw the quilt haphazardly onto the railing, and it produced a whole other, unintentional meaning. Love matters.
I've come across two other quilts for the march. First is my friend Jess's (@jtlevitt) quilt, which she holds proudly below (shared with permission). She's going to finish it up with quilting and binding shortly. Darci Sews also made a lovely, powerful quilt - check it out here.
Thanks for reading this far. I feel so strongly about these issues and the March, and, all in all, I hope that quilters will continue to use their voices to speak up about things that are important to them. Much more good than bad has come of speaking out so far. I could not have made this quilt if I hadn't felt so strongly about the cause. I'm thinking about auctioning it off to raise money for an organization, but I haven't decided just how to do that yet. This quilt will be on view in my special exhibition shortly. Feel free to share this blog post and the message, if you feel so inclined. We have to keep talking and sharing, but most of all, we need to love and respect each other.