My mother was an art teacher and one of the greatest things she gave each of her children is this notion that we are all creative beings. What a gift! She also had a mantra that I hew to more and more as I get older: beautiful work comes from beautiful materials.
It seems so long ago now, but in high school, I crocheted and kept journals. College found me making collages, learning to hand spin and dye fiber with natural materials, and writing — mostly poems. I enjoy drawing even though I’m not very good at it. I’m also not a very accomplished seamstress, but somehow got hooked on making quilts in the late 80’s. Tellingly, after passing the Massachusetts bar exam in 1989, I deferred my hoity-toity job downtown in order to make a quilt.
I didn’t start sewing in earnest until my first pregnancy, which coincided with buying a house. Curtains, chair pads, crib bumpers, pillows, tiny onesies were all imperative nesting activities. The job downtown was left behind and the next job with a non-profit was on its way out, too. I took a class with the Maine quilter Susan Carlson, whose collage approach to quilting ignited me. A Ruth McDowell workshop followed and I learned that precise piecing is about as appealing as tax law — I cannot and will not do either. More recently, I’ve studied online, particularly with Jude Hill at Spirit Cloth. From her introspective and poetic approach, I’ve learned to pay attention in a whole new way. She’s helped me remember things my mother taught me long ago — about beautiful materials, about the value of process.
Selling is not my focus these days, but I have offered my work for purchase over the years — mostly at local, juried craft fairs, but also at galleries in Maine and New York. I participated in Newton Open Studios a handful of times, most recently in 2018. I keep a small etsy shop (called clothcompany) mostly going. I used to teach a fair amount and found third graders to be my favorite age. I used to make a wide array of things but these days, I sew mostly small quilts, dolls, and pouches.
I’m a certified SoulCollage facilitator. This is my second year of participating in the Paris Collage Club weekly collage challenge. I’m enamored with layers and how the meaning created by juxtapositions can surprise me. I work with cloth, paper, and digital layers. The Diana Photo app is my go-to digital tool.
Writing is just about a daily practice. For over a decade, I’ve taken classes taught in the Amherst Writers and Artists Method and in 2019 became an AWA facilitator myself. I’ve been leading a weekly writing workshop ever since. Also in 2019, I was granted a modest scholarship by The Fat Canary Journal to attend a writers’ residency in Assisi, Italy for two weeks. What an experience! In addition, I’ve attended more than a half-dozen AWA writing retreats.
My blog has been up and running in one fashion or another for more than 13 years now. I’m active on twitter and wish almost daily that I wasn’t. My instagram account has my middle initial in it — @deeamallon — in case you’re interested. Until recently most of my writing’s been fairly private. No more. A novel is in its third draft and I’m
about to start submitting it to agents. Oy. What a process! Not for the faint of heart, for sure.
The Weight of Cloth is set in South Carolina in the 1740’s. The story is told through four first person narratives: one historic white figure (Eliza Lucas Pinckney) and three invented enslaved women. Occasionally, a male bondman named Mo contributes to the story, in particular to tell the events of the Stono Slave Rebellion because none of the women were there.
The research and travel associated with this writing project have been life changing. So have the instructive and challenging dialogues happening in the public sphere about cultural appropriation and the proper uses of the imagination. There are no easy answers.
For reasons I don’t entirely understand (perhaps loyalty to my characters?), I kept at it. Two ideas underpin my persistence. The first is that Southern history during the years of labor camps is American history and therefore, my history. This view comports with the idea that it is incumbent on all white Americans to take responsibility for slavery and its long, ugly, and ongoing shadow. Shouldering responsibility is crucial even if our particular families were not slave owners and maybe not even on this side of the Atlantic during the critical years.
The second idea has to do with the imagination — its uses, its range, its entitlements. I’ll admit to wanting to live in a society where anyone can write a book about anything.
In no way do I hold out the idea that reading about enslavement for more than ten years makes me better able to understand what it means to be Black in this country today. Not saying that even a little. But it does sharpen my ear to current events. It does arouse a fierce desire for our country to do better. And, perhaps the reading provided enough detail to be able to craft Black characters in a piece of historic fiction.
We shall see.
I swear the next writing adventure will be about a suburban fuck up looking for redemption in all the wrong places.