the FREEDOM to tell a story

Each Thursday, I sit with a group of women and spill out writing under the tutelage of a teacher trained in the Amherst Writing Method as developed by Pat Schneider.

One of the key elements of this method is that all comments must refer to the ‘narrator’.  Even if a participant writes in the first person — the rule holds.  Is this a reliable narrator? A sympathetic character? Is she holding back, or giving us lots of details?  If a participant strays, and refers to ‘you’ or directs queries suggestive of the assumption that the writer is the narrator, our fearless leader corrects course.  “You mean the narrator…”

Why so important, you might ask?

Freedom, pure and simple.  Afterall, our writing session is not therapy and it is not a support group.  Not that we are impersonal with one another — not at all.  But it is nevertheless the case that even with pledged confidentiality, the protection of writing as a narrator is essential for creative flow.  It is actually a profound freedom.

In that spirit, I am working on letting cloth tell a dark story.

Here, where there IS no confidentiality, I am trusting my readers to hold the story of the cloth as if we were all trained in the Amherst Method.  In other words, I hope you ask yourself, “is this quilt successfully depicting trauma?” rather than, “good lord, what happened to you?!!”

At the ripe age of 55, I have come to believe that although we are each born with certain gifts and certain curses, and that they shape our thoughts and feelings in profound ways, on some level the details REALLY DON’T MATTER.

And so, I begin a house quilt where the symbol is not Security, Safety, and Solace, but rather a place of upset and fear.  I started with a simple muslin construct.  I pieced it to a ground and sky, because I wanted it to retain some sense of place once I started cutting it up.  I free-pieced some red fabrics that would be revealed when I cut open ‘windows’ and ‘doors’ in the house structure.This all happened in the span of an afternoon.  A very sunny day before Thanksgiving.
It was hard to stay the course on cutting, and in retrospect, I wish I had left the rest of the roof intact.
Even though I wanted the idea to include that the outer and the inner are severely mismatched, I like the way the red trunk points downward to the linen/green branch of the foreground.
I used a dark green thread to baste the house, the red under sections, and a swath of grey linen together, and the minute I started doing more detailed stitching, I regretted that.  The threads get in the way and I am spending a lot of time cutting and removing them.  Not sure, now, why I opted NOT to use Jude Hill‘s invisible basting method.
I had gotten a little lost for awhile with THIS detour (above)… and forced myself to return back to basics, then making the muslin house of the other photos.  Funny thing, though, when I laid the above-scrap over the basted quilt-in-progress, I found I liked it a lot more.
Not sure what I will do about that – if anything.  I plan to keep stitching the existing layers together, and then I’ll see.  The other little surprise, which goes to content here, is the appearance of an Indigo Angel.  I had absolutely no plan to address healing or grace or serendipity with the piece, and yet, as is so often the case, the quilt had other ideas.
There she is, clear as clear can be (she even has feet, which you can’t see in this picture) – fluttering her wings next to a heart-shaped face!

23 thoughts on “the FREEDOM to tell a story

  1. Mo Crow

    Wow, everywere I read and here in my place too this Full Moon morning is all about finding the magic bits with just going along & following where the process takes us!

  2. Nancy

    Fantastic post! The writing course sounds great, like something I would love. I saw the angel right away, but I saw her head as the smallish circle and the the heart as her torso! Maybe a shutter partially open would calm the red for you a bit. Just great here today.

  3. Jacky Williams

    Dee I like that “scrap” in the house a lot more too. There is a sort of topsy-turvy feel to fear, despondency, trauma…so I think that scrap works for your story here.
    The Indigo Angel – serendipitous! Tells me that through the trauma, that now, she’s always been watching over you, protecting, caring.
    I read a while back that the word Kintsugi means the artful repair of damaged things. I think this is a Kintsugi cloth…repairing things more emotional than material.
    I have just drawn up an Angel for my Christmas cards this year….I finding many angels …they seem to be everywhere.

    Jacky xox

  4. Dee Mallon

    Nancy – you WOULD like the Amherst Writing method – it’s a great way to get the juices flowing… and it’s funny you mention a shutter. I just this second stitched a piece of silk over most of the first ‘window’ — there are many more possibilities (many sparked by most recent posts in Jude’s class).

  5. grace Forrest~Maestas


    i love thinking of the Cloth itself as narrator. and i think this is true, that
    details don’t matter…unless they DO, but then after a time of mattering,
    don’t anymore.

    I just love your Willingness about Everything….

  6. Dee Mallon

    thank you Grace… Yes to Cloth as Narrator… letting it have its own voice, getting out of the way…

    The details mattered a lot for a lot of years. I am very grateful that they matter less so now.

  7. handstories

    yes, this quilt is successful, in many ways. being able to step back from the details and let the story flow in image and color is a powerful thing. a kind of owning and speaking of truth. I knew a house like this.

  8. nadia

    A thoughtful and thought-provoking post, Dee. You make a good point in connecting the narration of writing to the narration of cloth. Very good. I’ve always felt that if a piece is driven by an idea of something you really hate or something you really love it becomes substantial and escapes the eye candy category. You are obviously doing that here, going deeper, beyond the surface.
    best, nadia

  9. Karoda

    Dee, my first calling into art was poet and I went through a period of looking closely at the Amherst program and training as a facilitator. I had sat in a writers’ circle that used that critique method and I was hooked. I had tried to introduce it to a art quilt critique group I was in for a while but it never really caught on with the other participants. The process is quite challenging and rewarding. Hangeth in!

  10. Dee Mallon

    Karoda – interesting to hear of your similar impulse!
    Cindy – lots of us know houses like this, don’t we? I read your recent knitting/holiday post with this in mind…
    Deb – one way I’ve played with inside/outside in earlier quilts is to make the houses out of sky and ground fabrics, to make it a little confusing about what is what… this one’s a little more straightforward…
    Nadia – thank you for your comment, too… I recently read on someone’s blog (manhandled threads, perhaps?) a quote about it being more important to love what you’re making than to understand it… somehow that fits with what you are saying, I think.

  11. saskia

    house, home, angel
    story,unfolding, literally pieced and stitched together,
    sound and am muddled, shaken because of husband;
    what do you mean by the details don’t matter?

    wanted to react, sorry for incoherent babbling

  12. sewingsusan49

    Dee I am always moved by your words and work. I honor your courage to stitch upset and fear. And I so appreciate your being willing to share it with us. Blessings on your journey.

  13. Michelle in NYC

    Hey me too–my Amherst group meets Mondays and we’ve been involved for many years…I know the drill and the freedom it gives….but I just came over from Spirit cloth to see the ‘details’ and the blue angel….I’ll go back there now.

    1. deedeemallon

      Hey Michelle – major irony occurred in class right after this post where nearly EVERYONE told something autobiographical and the instructor could not keep us on track – a post-holiday lack of discipline, I suppose.

  14. deedeemallon

    saskia – comments, coherent or otherwise, always welcome… I will probably say more at some time, but what I mean about the ‘details not mattering’ is that if I step far away enough (or deeply inside enough) of my life, the suffering that happened early on is just there – blameless, almost, without personality, almost – even though there are so many other ways to talk about it, this is how I want to discuss in a public forum.


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