My block honors Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton. She was 45 at the time of her death and left behind three children. As a part-time minister at Emanuel AME, a speech and language pathologist at Goose Creek High School, and also the coach of the girls’ field and track team, her death impacted a wide circle of people.
image from NBC news
She was said to have run ‘cheek to cheek’ with her athletes — a method of inspiring runners to perform at their best level. Imagine that: a grown woman, strong and swift, pacing her high school students on the track, pushing them to go faster. It’s an unshakable image. I also read that there were times when she ‘prayed so hard that the tears fell down her face’. And her smile! Look at that smile! Apparently, Rev. Coleman-Singleton was known to wear that smile even when disciplining her students!
Not long before the bullets began to fly, she took a call from one of her children. I am grateful the phone call was over before the violence erupted. It was a mundane, housekeeping kind of call — letting one of her children know where she had hidden the game controller. The three stitched hearts on the left are for her children: Chris, Caleb, and Camryn. Synchronicity lead me to dedicate my heart to Reverend Sharonda Coleman-Singleton. At my town’s vigil for Charleston, the person who read the prayer for her wore an unusual dress. I actually gasped when I recognized it, because I had used fabric from an identical dress (purchased ages ago in a thrift store) for my block .The quilt square was in my purse, in fact, at the time – I wanted the cloth to be in the energy of our town’s memorializing and prayers. When I read about Rev. Coleman-Singleton’s life, I wanted to honor her even more — in part because one of my boys ran track for four years in high school and it would not be an exaggeration to say that the experience changed his life. Because of his first coach. When you start counting up all the people touched by Rev. Coleman-Singleton’s life, it really makes you shake your head.
Eulogizing her, Mayor Riley of Charleston said, “In each of her roles, everyone she touched, their personality changed. That is passed on and that’s how a community is changed.”
I used some of the indigo strips that I dyed while at a workshop outside of Charleston last September, as well as that cut up dress mentioned above and some fabric dyed here in Massachusetts in my back yard.
The nine patch in the center of the heart is mis-aligned, but I left it that way. It, of course, stands for the nine deceased. Those squares are silk and have a slight sheen to them, which makes me think of how memory shines after a person is gone. I’m not sure the block is quite done yet.
Some of the double exposures that I created during this time were visual explorations about faith, death, and martyrdom. The ‘African Christ’ figure made ages ago appears above.
One more square is winging its way to Massachusetts from Montana as I type and a block arrived from New Jersey yesterday (stay tuned!). Soon it will be time to assemble the quilt.
Many of the contributions honor all nine of the deceased. Others honor a single person. I haven’t yet resolved how this will determine the final quilt (i.e., if one is honored, shouldn’t they all be?). Furthermore, when with this in mind I started a block for Tywanza Sanders, my online reading revealed the agonizing fact that his mother watched him die. That particular article made the point that the “Charleston Nine” really ought to be the “Charleston Twelve”.
More on this as I go.
To read more about this project,
please refer to the the sidebar category:
“Hearts for Charleston Quilt”.
It is beyond gratifying to see how other fiber artists are responding to the call for The Hearts for Charleston Quilt. I will post about them in the order of their arrival.
Liz Ackert of I’m Going to Texas sent the second square. Liz exemplifies what I really admire about makers of Slow Cloth — over-the-top attention to detail, composition, and color, skilled dyeing and needlework, plus tremendous thoughtfulness and love informing the design. I really encourage you to visit her blog and read about the process, because it’s fascinating!
Then, Liz embroidered the names of the Emanuel Nine* onto strips, along with each person’s occupation and age. This must have brought home the impact of the tragedy. Liz also stitched the date of the massacre in various red tones at the far right of each and every strip. That, too, must have been powerful, to stitch that date over and over.
stitching and photo by Liz Ackert
stitching and photo by Liz Ackert
Liz tells us on her blog that the Ethel L. Lance strip was reworked prior to the weaving
Because I hadn’t made a decision about the names and also because some gardening reminded Liz of Psalm 139 (about being made in secret and woven together), Liz was inspired to flip the strips over, rendering the names secret in a way.
There is something fitting and poignant about the names disappearing. Then, Liz read many of the follow up news stories and was inspired by statements made by surviving loved ones. She selected one quote to correspond with each of the deceased and then stitched them to nine more strips. [read about these decisions and the square’s assembly here].
Here are those statements:
Every fiber in my body hurts … I will never be the same Prosper and believe in any of your dreams This has truly broken my heart in every way We are the family that love built. We have no room for [hate] She was where she needed to be … she was not a victim I forgive you and my family forgives you You took something very precious … and I forgive you Their legacies will live in love so hate won’t win Hate is taught … she never taught us to hate
As we all know, many of the utterances were remarkably and profoundly forgiving.
Weaving the strips interrupted most of the phrases. Liz made two exceptions. The astonishing phrase: I FORGIVE YOU.
And: BROKEN MY HEART.
She was worried that the word “hate” might end up visibly prominent but it was buried. Liz initially felt an impulse to tidy up the denim heart (above) and then decided against it, letting its raggedy state stand as a symbol of the ravaged community instead. [read more here] The entire heart is composed of fabric cut away from the reverse applique heart (below). The tiny pink “X’s” stand for the children left behind — there are twenty. On the back, Liz stitched a beautiful label, and when attaching it to the square (partly to solve a buckling issue), it just so happened that it traced nine horizontal lines across the ecru heart.
Such a beautiful quilt square! It will be wonderful in another month to work at doing justice to it and the other contributions in making a single cloth for the Emanuel AME.
*I have consciously decided not to call the deceased “victims”, though clearly they were. I feel as though it diminishes them somehow and one of the survivors specifically stated she refused to think of them as victims. In places I refer to the group as “the Emanuel Nine”, following Liz’s lead.
To read more about this project,
please refer to the the sidebar category:
“Hearts for Charleston Quilt”.
Does thinking about the nitty gritty offer relief in the face of the unthinkable? Perhaps.
This link provides short bios of the victims: NBC News.
Nine victims of the Charleston church shooting. Top row: Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton Middle row: Daniel Simmons, Rev. Depayne Middleton Doctor, Tywanza Sanders Bottom row: Myra Thompson, Ethel Lee Lance, Susie Jackson Via Facebook and Getty Images
African Christ – work in progress
I am rethinking the stitching of names onto the squares. Hold off on that for now, please. I think they might look better embroidered on strips that go all around the edge of the assembled nine block, rather than on the hearts or strips themselves. Some of the names are quite long and I don’t want them to get lost.
This weaving method is simple. Some of the genius variations that Jude Hill has created are listed in links toward the end of this post. I encourage you to take a look at just a quick sampling of her work– even those of you who have been following her. The method here is hers, the tricks are learned from her. The artistry will be all yours and mine — I hope!
Jude teaches two basic approaches. You can lay your strips on top of a backing cloth and weave (which is what I will demonstrate), or you can ‘anchor’ an uncut cloth to a backing with a single row of stitching, then cut that top piece into strips and weave into that. The finished area should measure 10″. Please leave at least 1/4″ all round, or more, for flexibility at assembly.
I have chosen light and dark blue for a checkerboard affect, because symbolically I think that speaks to the intersection of people of different colors. In a checkerboard, each hue has equal weight. It is harmonious. So, I like that here. You are welcome to go in another direction.
It is easier to start in the middle and work toward each edge in turn.Laying a ruler or piece of cardstock on top helps keep things from moving around too much. When you approach the edge, the strips won’t want to stay folded back, so you might want to use a weight. A ruler is good. Here I use scissors.
To turn the square when you are done going in one direction — slide something firm underneath, like a plastic placemat. Then rotate and repeat process.
Then, pin. I use a lot straight pins, knowing I may get stuck. As Mo pointed out yesterday, it might mean bleeding into the cloth. I can think of no better cloth to offer our blood to. But the point is (no pun intended), you may want to use safety pins. I find them too fussy.
Then, to adhere the layers with thread, it is up to you whether you want to do a LARGE BASTE, an INVISIBLE BASTE* a la Jude, or just dig right in and start stitching — across and down, in matching or contrasting threads. A woven square this large will flop around quite a bit without a lot of basting, so I will do a fair amount.
For both the basting as well as the initial finish stitching, it helps to have a firm work surface — one that a needle can encounter without you worrying. If you have a glass top table, that works. I have been using a laptop lap desk that a friend gave me. It has a hard plastic surface and is the right size. Once the layers are integrated enough, you will be able to lap quilt without these concerns.
The heart can be a color of your choosing. Except for the red, the ones I have shown are a little too big, covering up too much of the weaving. As mentioned earlier, I will use traditional applique (with turned under edge), but you may use raw edge applique.
Any fabric is good. I like, though, that so many of you have indicated that you plan to use indigo. This will unify whatever other fabrics come in, making it easier for me to trust this, the way one trusts a potluck. Just please do me the favor of selecting fabric that a needle will easily stitch (i.e. no batik!! no jean-weight denim.)
DATE: August 31. Email me for my address when it comes time.
Here are a few of my weavings created after taking one of her online classes. I’ve archived some of the heart pieces I’ve made or photographed on flickr, here.
People stand outside as parishioners leave the Emanuel A.M.E. Church, Sunday, June 21, 2015, in Charleston, S.C., four days after a mass shooting at the church claimed the lives of its pastor and eight others. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
* Invisible baste is when you grab just a teeny knick of fabric on the top and let most of the thread between stitches run underneath. That way you can leave the stitches in when you are done, even if the thread is contrasting.
Ever since the senseless murder of nine black congregants during a Bible Study circle at the Emanuel AME in Charleston, it has been hard to think of much else. It is sickening to realize that we now all have enough experience with these tragic events to recognize what could be called the ‘one-two-three punch’. First comes the awful, heart-rending racist violence itself. Second comes the media distortions, in which various denials and weird angles continue the racist harm. Third, we get to wait and watch for the possible failure of the political and judicial systems to prosecute or make a finding of guilt (or take down the Confederate flag). These very distinct kinds of harm overlap and blur into what for me is an increasingly intolerable state. What must it be for families of victims? For all African Americans?
Which is part of why I want to make a quilt. It’s not quite the ‘fearless action’ I consecrated myself to in a Solstice circle yesterday, but it is not nothing either.
A nine block would fitting. If each heart was secured atop a square of woven strips (in the style of and with techniques taught by Jude Hill), I think it would convey something about hope and love uniting us all – whatever hue our stripe.
Unlike the flurry and fury of my online activity (facebook and twitter), this would be a gesture with a little heft. What I have in mind is a modest wall hanging. More of a sympathy card than an heirloom quilt but still, something with literal and metaphoric heart… something that the members of the congregation in Charleston could touch and hold. That feels important to me.
Anyone in? I only need EIGHTSIXFIVEFOUR others ONE MORE. Thank you Sandi and Donna! And Ginny! And anonymous. And Dana, Mo and Gillan.
After the morning at the Charleston Museum, I drove over to Bull Street, where I walked around, took pictures, and waited for the Avery Research Center to open. The institute, housed in a two-story brick building, is part of the College of Charleston. From their website:
The mission of the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture is to collect, preserve, and promote the unique history and culture of the African diaspora, with emphasis on Charleston and the South Carolina Lowcountry. Avery’s archival collections, museum exhibitions, and public programming reflect these diverse populations as well as the wider African Diaspora.
The young man who helped me may have been relieved to be interrupted from his task of retrieving data from floppy disks, still, given that I walked in without an appointment, I really appreciated how helpful he was. He shared book titles. He printed out the entire 1740 Slave Code. He did a quick online search and determined where I could find the copies of The South Carolina Gazette that I was looking for. Gave me directions. Twice.
I ended up a few blocks away in the public library reading microfilm. Does anyone remember one of these? From seventh grade, maybe?
I was looking for reportage about the Stono Slave Rebellion (September 9, 1739). Didn’t find a word. Maybe Lt. Gov. Wm. Bull was overly distracted by the menace of the Spanish and the French. Or maybe it was thought better not to mention for other reasons. I’m sure historians have speculated about this elsewhere, so I won’t add my two cents — (when has the presence of a more informed opinion stopped you before?! you ask). Anyway, it’s entirely possibly that in my clumsy operation of the lens and wheels of this thing, I missed it. But I don’t think so. The 1740 Slave Code was the mention. I think the research assistant at the Avery already knew this, too.
Grace inspired this shot*
I took a few mediocre pictures during my walk, but even so, I hope you’ll get an idea of what an incredibly pretty city Charleston is. So many gracious and historic homes! Then there’s the lush tropical plantings, beautifully crafted ironworks, and stone carvings! The day I was there, the light was beautiful, too.
* Just finished watching “Hidden Colors 2” — a movie that Grace recommended in a comment back in September. I’ll let you google it, b/c the link I watched was corrupted with ads. Fascinating stuff. I learned that the pineapple/pine cone can be used as a symbol for the pineal gland, which looks a lot like a pine cone. This gland produces melanin and is where the highest concentrations of serotonin can be found. Read about some of the studies that have compared racial differences and posited an African advantage, here. But watch the movie for an in depth retelling of our history taking race into account.
P.S. The first time I came across the idea of a superior African immune system was in the the slavery-rationalizing theories circulating in the mid-eighteenth century. One of them was referred to as ‘jungle immunity’. This notion held that Africans possessed superior immune systems (in particular for tropical diseases) was a convenient notion, then, for it justified working slaves in disease-infested swamps and marshes. Even before it was known that mosquitoes were the vector for some of the more awful diseases, the settlers knew that the fetid water of bogs, marshes, and swamps were not healthy.