Final Post and Reflections

Apparently it’s the sign of a good sabbatical when I end up not blogging about the sabbatical?

After that last post, I spent my time doing all those things I was supposed to be doing on sabbatical, and then the last couple of weeks of sabbatical traveling with my husband in celebration of our upcoming 25th anniversary (since said anniversary falls at a very busy time of year for both of us). So I didn’t take the time to get on my computer and share with everyone what I was doing. In some respects, it was more of the same. More English classes, more time with women, more reading and reflecting and pondering. But each individual moment was unique in what I took away from it, and much of that is still tumbling around in my head, waiting to come out.

I do know that, due to my sabbatical experiences, my quiltmaking as creative expression has taken a rather abrupt departure from the kind of quilting I was doing before sabbatical, and I’m now exploring new directions and purposes. We’ll see where that all comes out.

I also have some very interesting questions rolling around in my mind about International Women’s Day, and what my role is as an American woman in relationship with other women in my own community and around the world.

I didn’t have some of the experiences I’d planned to have, but I had some that were quite unexpected. Some experiences occurred for a discrete period of time and are now over. Others continue on. And some that I think are over may come back in new and different ways later.

I’ve definitely come to the conclusion that much of what we’re called to do as people of faith is simply take a step forward, as hesitant as that step may be, and see what happens. Keep our eyes open for what doors may be opening, and walk through without worrying about whether we have the skills or experience or knowledge we think we actually need. Be humble, and ask for help. Be honest (with others and with ourselves)  about what we can and can’t do. And then, of course, do what we can.

I’ll close with a photo gallery of my other sabbatical experiences. The gallery includes my favorite two events: 1) International Women’s Day, and 2) The Women’s Learning Club (women from Burma) field trip to the Susan B. Anthony House in Rochester.


Catching Up…

Sorry, time flies.

It’s not that I’ve been too busy to post, really, but I’ve been trying to spend less time on the computer and more time doing all these other things I’d wanted to be doing with my sabbatical. So I’ve neglected to update everyone.

Here are the last few weeks in a single slideshow:

  • The Women’s Learning Club (women from Burma–my Wednesday afternoon fun) made fleece blankets that will be donated back to their community. This is part of a larger church project, led by Karen and Carolyn, inspired by reading Half the Sky.The women in Women’s Learning Club taught one another (and me!) some hand embroidery to applique a heart on each blanket. The blankets are being donated back to their community.
  • On week 2 of blanket-making, we were joined by a few more women, plus my daughter and her bestie who were both on spring break from college. I had my machine with me this time and spent the afternoon buzzing finishing stitches on the edges of as many blankets as possible. With such a crew working, I think we got something like 15 blankets done, and Karen took a few more home with her to finish up. Htee Shee and Paw Ne taught Evann and Kim how to do some stitches. Pretty fun stuff. I had some interested observers on the sewing machine but not enough time at that point to teach, so we’ve got plans for another session and a different project in a couple of weeks–with the help of a few more volunteers–to actually teach some machine sewing.
  • This week in our Women’s Learning Club, we switched it up. We went back to a cooking class, of sorts: Jell-o. An all-American favorite, and an inexpensive treat for a hot day. (Lots of 70-degree and higher days here in Rochester in mid-March. Personally, I’m thinking it’s a sign of the apocalypse. Very unnatural. But I’m not complaining.) Plus we had a special guest with us that day, Sarah, the immigration outreach worker from our resettlement agency, Catholic Family Center, talking with the women about the process for citizenship. A couple of them are only about a year away from being able to start that process, so they’re anxious to learn what they need to know now, so they’re ready. We’re already making plans for the party when they get their citizenship!
  • The students of the Somalian Community Center graciously allowed me to take their pictures–and they’re usually smiling and laughing a whole lot more than they did as soon as I held up the camera, of course. That’s where I’m teaching English once a week, plus joining them for exercise, lunch, and then periodically some other random activities. (Denise, who I wrote about a little while ago, is also in the pictures. Language barrier aside, she’s making friends in the class, which has been fantastic.) This week, the women surprised me by bringing me back upstairs when I’d been on the verge of signing out for the day to show me that they had some donated sewing machines and wanted to start learning how to use them. One of the Somalian leaders is an experienced seamstress so she was doing a lot of the teaching; I was her assistant and mostly spent my time showing folks how to thread the machine and the bobbin. Too much fun! On the flip side, I also had the opportunity that afternoon to interview one of the Somalian leaders about the situation in Somalia, her experience in the refugee camps, and some conversation about girls’ education. I can’t wait to present that interview on the In Their Shoes podcast when I’m back in the office. Very thought-provoking.

Not pictured: I had the opportunity to attend two special events in the last couple of weeks as well. First, I attended a lecture by Rose Mapendo, from DR Congo. Very, very moving. I had my friend with me, a young woman from Republic of Congo, and we met up with one of her friends, also from Congo although I’m sorry to say I don’t know which Congo. In the car on the way to drop both young women off home after the lecture, I heard a little more about their own experiences escaping war, living as refugees, and the effects on their families and communities. I’m still processing all of that. Can’t put it into words yet, but it’s kept me up at night a few times. I’m praying: How can we be Christ’s hands and feet in the midst of such atrocities?

The second event was a special photography exhibit on survivors of the Gatumba Refugee Camp massacre in Burundi in 2006.  The exhibit was photographs taken by a high school junior and her older brother (a college student now) during memorial gatherings of survivors here in the U.S. It was, again, a tremendously moving exhibit. There’s more to that story that I hope to be able to share with you later.

So, in addition to having a lot of fun and some great experiences, I’ve had lots to think about in these last few weeks. More questions than answers. I’m processing.

(*I’ll be posting pictures from our International Women’s Day celebration in a separate post.)

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Happy International Women’s Day!

The refugee women’s network that I’m a part of here in my hometown is planning our International Women’s Day celebration for Saturday. Two of the leaders of the Somali Community Center program are also leaders in our women’s network. When I was there this morning for my usual Thursday teaching engagement, they were telling me how excited women in their community are about our upcoming celebration.

Beyond the plans our planning team has sketched out, they’ve taken the ball and run with it. I’ve now heard rumors of a Somalian folk singer, dancing, “and lots of food!” We’re also planning for our Congolese sisters to teach us some games, and our sisters from the ethnic groups of Burma will help share stories. Depending on who can actually make it that day (work schedules and children’s needs often supercede where women really want to be), we should have a truly wonderful international celebration of women.

I remember the first time I spoke with my Congolese friend about International Women’s Day a couple of years ago. She asked me how we observed it here. I said that some organizations did little things here and there but there weren’t any really big, universal celebrations in our city. She was astounded. As she described to me celebrations she’d attended in the Republic of Congo and then Gabon, where she’d lived as a refugee, all I could think was, “Gee, can I come?” Songs, dancing, games, educational forums on issues related to women’s health or topics such as domestic violence, and empowerment–often with several hundred women attending. International Women’s Day is a big day all over Africa, it seems. And in Burma and the refugee camps on the Thai-Burma Border. And probably many other places as well.

I’ve never lived in an area where there’s been a big celebration here in the U.S., although I’ve heard rumor of some. I sure am looking forward to our event. I hope you can find celebrations near you to attend!

As we were working on how to say our addresses in English class, I asked the students to tell me how they’d say where they lived in Somalia, and pretty soon we had sketched out maps of the U.S. and Somalia on the white board and had dots and arrows all over the place. In swap for teaching that the U.S. has 50 states, I learned that Somalia has 16 states. I learned that Somalia is more-or-less shaped like the number seven and I taught how to make your hand into New York State to point out where Rochester is (always a helpful little visual aid).

The Somali program includes a hot lunch at the senior center upstairs from their meeting spaces, and I always join them. It’s better company than I’d get at home, and a better lunch too. For $3.50 (non-member fee), I can’t go wrong. At lunch today, I sat with the two Somali women leaders and an elder American woman who attends the senior center on another floor of the same building. She was very friendly and welcoming, and we started out by chatting about our respective children. As the conversation progressed, we ended up talking about sibling rivalry, traditions around funerals and weddings, and gender roles. It was wonderful sharing, everyone finding common ground first as women, then exploring our differences with interest and respect.

Did I mention that at the end of class, when I asked what they wanted to learn next week, they told me they want to know the names of all their female-specific body parts for when they go to the doctor? There didn’t happen to be any men present in the room when that topic was requested, and we decided they probably shouldn’t be in the room again when that topic is discussed!

I’m feeling all sorts of International Women’s Day-y today.


Learning a language is hard!

I was back at the Somali Community Center again yesterday. There were many of the same folks who had been there last time that I taught, but a handful of new faces. One new face I recognized, however; she’s a Congolese woman who attends my church. I was thrilled to see her, but a bit surprised. After all, she’s  not Somalian nor does she speak much, if any, English. So I wasn’t entirely sure how attending this particular English class–which is being translated into Somalian–would be helpful to her. But we smiled at each other and then I just hoped for the best as I launched into teaching.

During short breaks as the learners were all interpreting for each other (it’s a very interactive class, shall we say) I would dig out of the deepest recesses of my memory the very few words in French that I still remember from high school and try to engage Denise in just a little bit of conversation. She smiled at first, then couldn’t hold back the giggles as I struggled to put even rudimentary sentences together. I can get through “hello,” “how are you,” and a few different responses (“I’m fine” and “I’m tired” are about the extent of states of being that I can adequately describe in French). I do a little better understanding spoken French, so she was able to say some things to me–the gist of which was primarily, “You don’t speak much French, do you?” And a lot more laughing.

I’m always game to provide entertainment. At very least, I figure that it does a soul good to be able to laugh at someone else struggling with your language when you spend all day struggling with hers. Plus, I do believe that experience helps me keep firmly in mind how difficult it is for people to learn my language–especially when they’re my age or older. I have tremendous respect for all of the learners that I work with–but especially those in the grandparent-age category. Bless them for continuing to plug away at it. Bless them for laboriously writing down each word I write on the white board. Bless them for repeating after me again and again, “head, heads. Eye, eyes. Nose. Noses. Mouth. Mouths. Knee–remember that K is silent!–knees.” Bless them for standing up for a rousing rendition of “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes,” and singing it with a smile!

I’m determined to brush up on more of my French so that I can do better than simply say “hello, how are you” to Denish in church or in class. And every time I think, “I’m too old for this” as I struggle to remember a sentence, may God plant Denise’s face, and the face of all the other students in that class, firmly in my mind.

The Grilled Cheese Culture

What does this represent to you? To me, it’s comfort, memories of my Mom, passing along a heritage to my daughter.

And it’s a dang good sandwich.

When we first met with what has now become the Women’s Learning Club, and asked them what they wanted to learn, they asked to learn how to cook “traditional American foods.” As discussion continued, we talked about how many of them receive WIC and have no idea what to do with all that cheese, as cheese isn’t a component in traditional cooking in Burma. So we brainstormed some easy, inexpensive meals that would allow them to use up some of that cheese. First thought for me? “Ooh! I can teach you how to make grilled cheese sandwiches!”

And so we did. We were originally also going to teach how to make homemade vegetable soup but my compatriot in this endeavor, Hkadin, was down with a bad headache so we simplified and I picked up a couple of cans of Campbell’s tomato soup–which, after all, is what you always eat with grilled cheese anyway. Well, at least it is when you live in my house.

While we were waiting for everyone to show up, Hkadin taught us how to do some napkin folding. Apparently I’m going to have to step it up a notch–I usually figure I’m on my game if I even get napkins on the table, let alone having them look like swans, fans, or lillies. It was fun, though. So next time you’re over at my house for dinner, check out those napkins, please.
We made one big centerpiece out of our final napkin folding attempt. Actually, kind of cute!
Once everyone arrived we got to work. I talked about the role of grilled cheese sandwiches in my life (my Mom made them, I made them for my kids, I taught my daughter how to make them, and now whenever I’m under the weather my daughter makes them for me). We described the many variations you can make on grilled cheese–adding tomatoes, various meats, using different breads and cheeses. Then we demonstrated the technique and let them go to town.

When the sandwiches were made and the soup ready, we got the table set (we’re also teaching American-style table settings and table manners, and I’m learning Burma-style etiquette), I showed them how to crumble saltines into the soup if desired, and we passed out the carrots (arguably the only really healthy part of the meal) and dug in.

The verdict? Thumbs up to the sandwiches. Mixed reviews on the tomato soup.

Even more than teaching how to make a simple meal, it was fun sharing a bit of my own history with the group. I texted my daughter who is away at college now a picture of my own sandwich–to which she responded, “Very well done, mother.” My daughter’s approval–the cap on a fun afternoon.

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Just an update…Sabbatical Weeks 1 and 2

I didn’t spend much time playing with fabric last week because most of the days after I posted last were taken up with the other focus of my sabbatical: being with people. (Many people take sabbatical as a time to be alone. Since I work from home, I spend an awful lot of time alone which, as an introvert, is a very comfortable space for me; but in the name of sabbatical being a time to do something different from the norm…well, for me, that means actually breathing the same air as other people.)

Wednesday I had the opportunity to celebrate Susan B. Anthony’s birthday by attending a luncheon fundraiser for the Susan B. Anthony House here in Rochester. I’ve always been very proud of the fact that she lived here and our area was such a key place for women’s rights…but, sadly, I’ve never actually been to her house. Now I have another sabbatical goal. In any case, it was a great program and reminded me again of how far we’ve come, but how far we still have to go before women the world over have rights and voices.

Shortly after the luncheon concluded, I was meeting with our a-borning Women’s Learning Club. This was our first session, getting input as to what the women really wanted to do together. We had two women with us to start, but they listed several women they would work to bring with them next time. Sometimes it takes awhile to get the ball rolling. Based on their input, we’re going to do some cooking classes, some sewing, and other life-skill training. Everything will have English acquisition integrated in the classes. Meanwhile, they’ll be teaching me all the same from their own traditions and cultures. I’m looking forward to some real cultural exchange moments in the weeks to come!

On Thursday, I spent several hours at the Somalian Community Center. They have been given some wonderful space in a neighborhood community center and are working on collecting donated office equipment and supplies and finding volunteers. This is a very new program, and it’s really fun to watch it get rolling. There were about 20 or so in the class–mostly women, with a handful of men; some were seniors, but I’d say the majority of the class were in their 30s-50s; most likely mothers coming to the center while their kids are in school. There is a wide range of skills in the class, from folks who are just learning to write to those who help as interpreters. They’re trying to work into a pattern in which everyone works together on whatever the topic is for the day, and then they break into small groups based on skill level and some more advanced students and volunteers help others. I was expecting to mostly observe that first session, but was immediately invited to start teaching; and then the two women who were going to act as my interpreters both got pulled into a meeting. So we really jumped in with both feet, those students and I. I don’t know how much was accomplished but at least we had fun! Fortunately there were a couple of women in the class who, while not entirely comfortable interpreting, were able to help us all understand one another. I also asked them to teach me about Somalia and Somalian cultures, so for this week, they taught me how to say hello and goodbye. It’s a start!

I went from the Somali center to Mary’s Place, a refugee outreach center in another part of town, to spend time with a young man in high school. Our first session together was mostly trying to get a sense of what we’d need to do in the future, so it was fairly short. But at least we know one another’s names now and hopefully can dive in tomorrow, when we meet again. It was good to walk into Mary’s Place and immediately see so many people I’ve grown to know and love over the last several years–lots of hugs, catching up, making plans, laughing, hand-shaking, more hugs… Truly a joyous moment.

I was supposed to be at the Somali Center again this morning but it was (much to everyone’s surprise, since the community center staff hadn’t said anything to anyone) closed for President’s Day. Now I’ve got all my handouts and lesson plans ready for next week, anyway. Tomorrow I’ll be back at Mary’s Place for a bit, and then the rest of the week I’m at a quilt conference in Virginia feeding that other part of my soul.

I do love teaching–especially people who so want to learn. And I love learning, especially from people who so want to teach. I can’t wait for next week.

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Sorta makes you want to treat them with a little more respect…

Charlie Brown: Don’t think of it as dust. Think of it as maybe the soil of some great past civilization. Maybe the soil of ancient Babylon. It staggers the imagination. He may be carrying soil that was trod upon by Solomon, or even Nebuchudnezzar.
Pig-Pen: Sort of makes you want to treat me with more respect, doesn’t it?

Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection

I’ve been a fan of fabric for a long time, of course. Hard to be a quiltmaker without falling in love with the concept of fabric in general. But only since beginning my sabbatical study into textiles have I come to an understanding of how deeply embedded textiles are in our self-understanding. (You should be thankful I resisted the rather obvious “how much textiles are woven into the fabric of our self-understanding” analogy.)

I’m still reading Quilt of Belonging–now renewed from my local library. I should probably just buy it. There’s a lot to absorb in this book–I could be reading it well past the next several renewal dates and, frankly, the library probably wants it back.

Today I had the one-two-punch of watching a couple of Great Courses lectures on DVD about art in the Louvre followed by a return to the introduction of Quilt of Belonging, and have once again been pondering the role of art in our cultures. The Louvre, once a palace, was turned into a public museum with collections from all over the European world both for public edification but also as an in-your-face proclamation of conquest and superiority. “Look at us, we have your art, we own you,” it screamed at the time. And yet, if it weren’t for the Louvre and other public displays that quickly followed, many works of art would have remained only in private collections and the rest of us would never have been able to experience or learn from them.

(Yes, I’m guilty of a grave simplification of centuries of process. But blogs are short. Forgive me.)

Then, I turn to Quilt of Belonging and am immersed in a world in which collecting art from many cultures and peoples is not an act of conquest but, rather, an act of community. Here we are, all of us together, no one better than another. It’s not ownership, but embrace.

When we choose to own art, what is driving us? For some, an expression of wealth (look at what I can afford to own). For others, an expression of being part of the “in crowd,” (aren’t I smart and hip, I know who the art world has proclaimed as up-and-coming). But I think those folks are in the minority. Most of us choose to own art–be it painting, photographic, textile, sculpted, or otherwise, or “purchased time with art” through attending plays and concerts*–because something in that work of art appeals to us. It symbolizes something to us, or brings back a memory, or whatever. Perhaps we also own art that says something about us to the outside world–this is who I am, this is what I like, this says something about me. Art has both an inductive and deductive response, in that respect–inductive: what do I see in this work; deductive: what does this work say about me to others?

Fabric is most often seen as a mundane means to an end. We might enjoy a pattern or the feel of a particular fabric, but fabric itself has largely lost its representation. We focus more on what that fabric has been made into–the fashionable dress or the meticulously-pieced quilt. And yet, my study has led me to a greater understanding and appreciation for the fabric itself–the very act of spinning something (cotton, wool, linen, etc.) into thread, thread into warp and weft, dying threads or printing fabric, to ultimately become something greater than the component parts. For centuries, fabric was imbued with meaning and symbolism–the way it was woven and the colors it was dyed in symbolized social standing, often religious meaning; the way it was passed from one family to the next symbolized politics and (again) social standing. Actually, fabric and social standing are a major theme in everything I’m reading. I’m sure that will be popping up again in this blog at some point.

I feel like I’m wandering a bit today through a lot of unconnected thoughts–but that’s how learning works. Put a lot in there, swim it around for awhile, and eventually sift out what it might mean. You’re witnessing the first two parts of that process today. Basically, the question for my pondering today is about art from the consumer aspect–not necessarily “consumer” as in purchaser, although ownership is a part of my thoughts, clearly; but “consumer” as the one who is receiving, viewing, experiencing art, not the creator. Most of the rest of my sabbatical study is from the creation aspect, so this is an interesting flip for me to the other side of the equation.

What does it mean to want to purchase a piece of art? What are we connecting with? What does that particular piece of art represent or mean to us? And what do we think displaying it says about us to others? What messages do we see in the art, and what messages are we sending to others about that piece of art on display in our homes?

*You may wonder about my lack of reference to writing as art here. Writing is clearly art to me–and one I am most connected to by nature. But it’s often more difficult to include writing in these same categories as it is visual arts. I’ve not run across the same references to books being traded as representation of families coming together in marriage, for example, or books being confiscated and displayed as symbols of conquest. But there are certainly parallels–what we choose to read is due to having a personal connection with the story or, conversely, because everyone else is reading it and we want to be part of that “in crowd” as well; sometimes we display certain books on our shelves because of what it seems to say about us to visitors, whereas on the flipside, the rise of e-readers has also given rise to sales in certain genres of fiction because now people can read these in public without others knowing what is being read. This is probably the topic for another kind of blog.

Nuances of Meaning


I had a very enjoyable three hours last night helping a friend for whom English is not a first language work through some college classwork. She’s taking a biblical studies course during her first semester at a four-year college. She’s pretty fluent in English these days, but the professor has the class reading Jurgen Moltmann, Walter Brueggemann, John Wesley, and others; I said that when I was in seminary I’d have to read things multiple times myself to finally figure out what it was saying, so she was in good company. First language or not, some writing is just dense to wade through. As I warned her, it’s been a lot of years since I’ve been immersed in that style of writing–I was a bit rusty. I had to remember the language of academics first myself, and then try to figure out how to explain it in a way she could understand.

During the conversation, we got talking about biblical translations and interpretation, the role of culture in language, and how nuances of meaning can change as something is translated, then translated again, then translated again. People immersed in a new language culture are much more aware of these issues than most of us are–for every answer I gave her, she came up with another question that would poke at yet another nuance of meaning. “Well, yes and no,” I found myself saying over and over, and she’d just start laughing again.

During the evening, we also took some time to look at pictures I had taken when visiting refugee camps in Thailand a few years ago; she had grown up in one of those camps so for her it was a nostalgic walk down memory lane–more good memories than bad. It was fun for me too as she told me stories spurred by the photos, giving those images layers of life beyond even my own experience of having been there. But our conversation about language continued:  one picture was of a sign written in Karen (pronounced “kah-RIN,” one of the ethnic groups of Burma) with it’s English translation. I’d never been able to figure out what the English, “Women Exchange,” was actually describing. She gave me her own English interpretation of the Karen phrase. It took her a few minutes to figure out which English words would most closely match what was being described in Karen, but as it turned out,  her description made ever so much more sense than the English in the picture. I wish I’d thought to ask her years ago. After five minutes of discussion, we turned the words “Women Exchange” (which could have gone in so many different directions, really) to “Women’s Discussion Group” or, possibly, “Women’s Idea Exchange,” which is, frankly, a lot less scary and a whole lot more empowering. I can get behind those much more than something that originally sounded like a bad TV reality show.

We wandered through a lot of language together in three hours. My brain hasn’t gotten that much of a workout in a long time. I had a ball.

And this is why I love working with textiles. It pulls you completely out of that vocabulary and drops you right into another one; a vocabulary of color, shape, texture. There are cultural assumptions built into that vocabulary as well, certainly. Colors don’t have the same symbolism from one part of the world to the next. Images used as meaningful symbols in one time period become simply decorative or completely change meaning altogether a generation later.

This is part of what I’ve (ironically) had difficulty putting into words as I’ve described my sabbatical plans to others. I want to learn the language of textiles from other cultures–I want to be exposed to yet another vocabulary of color, shape, and texture formed out of cultural experiences so different from mine. Why use these particular materials? What do these shapes mean, if anything? What story is being told through these colors and designs? What does this artwork reveal about the daily life and concerns of the maker?

Now, mind you, I’m also very aware that not everything a person makes reveals such deep and profound things. If someone were to look at all my quilt projects over the years, often they’d just see the story of someone in too much of a hurry to worry over details, or someone who just liked a particular color at a particular time–not some big cultural exposé. But on the flip side, they would be able to see the influence of where I live, when I live, who I rub shoulders with, and what has been passed down through the generations.

I look forward to getting to know some new women over the next few months…women who will help me question my assumptions and find new nuances of meaning in my own vocabulary. Yep, I’m really looking forward to my own Women Exchange (now that I know just what the heck that is).

Beauty and Identity in Harsh Times

“On my trips to Slovakia, I collected and was given textiles by my new family and friends. The country prides itself on its distinctive regional embroidery styles, and textiles are especially treasured in Slovak homes and history. The hand-embroidered pieces placed in my hands spoke to me. Incredibly, through years of difficult circumstances, extensive embroidery work has been continued. The simplest articles became works of art: pockets to hold combs, costumes, tablecloths, bedding, and even work clothes for farmers. The fabrics could be coarse homespun or fine linen, but the need to embellish, to produce beauty and identity even in harsh times spoke to me of the indomitable human spirit.”

 I’m currently reading Quilt of Belonging: The Invitation Project, by Esther Bryan and Friends (2005, Boston Mills). Esther Bryan, an artist, found a new direction for her art when she had the opportunity to accompany her father back to his homeland of Slovakia in 1994, after the fall of the Iron Curtain–the first time he had been able to reunite with his family after almost 50 years of being separated. As he retraced his roots, his daughter Esther gained a new understanding of how people express themselves through art. The Quilt of Belonging became a work of art that would include “all who needed to belong, artist or not.” 

Usually I skim pretty quickly through introductions in quilt books to get to the pretty, pretty pictures. But in this case, I keep finding myself going back and re-reading paragraphs–I haven’t even gotten to the pictures yet. What she’s saying is so close to what I’ve begun to ponder–the making of art in the midst of harsh times. The need for beauty even when day-to-day life is a struggle. Maybe especially then. So many women that I’ve gotten to know from a variety of cultures–women who have seen or lived through far worse in their lives than I can imagine–do gorgeous embroidery or beautiful weaving on the most mundane, every day objects. And I know in myself, when I’m at my most stressed is when I find myself wanting to get my hands on fabric. 

I imagine I’ll be blogging about this book a bit more–I’m seriously digging it. Unfortunately, I don’t know any Slovakian women to find out more about that particular style of textile art. I looked it up–here’s a link to Flickr set with photos of Slovakian embroidery. I’ve been given permission by the owner, red2white, to post it. Beautiful!


And So It Begins…Almost

Sabbatical (noun): any extended period of leave from one’s customary work, especially for rest, to acquire new skills or training, etc. (

Fabri-Sabbatical (noun): any extended period of leave that involves fabric. (Sandy)

I have the very great privilege–and I understand what a great privilege it is!–to serve an organization with a sabbatical policy. Staff are granted sabbaticals every few years for renewal and the opportunity to learn and grow in ways that our usual work-a-day schedules may not as easily allow us. My sabbatical proposal for three months in 2012 has just been approved, so I’m now in a time of preparation for that event. In other words, I’m starting to put a few brightly-colored textile ducks in a row.

My sabbatical will involve two things that deeply engage my spirit: the lives of women and girls around the world, and fabric. I’ll be exploring how women express themselves through textiles–how they uphold cultural tradition in the midst of change and dislocation, how they express themselves creatively, how they use their “voice” through their art, how they create beauty in the midst of difficulty and struggle, and how (in some communities) they support themselves and their families through creating items for sale or trade.

I’ll be doing this partly through rather traditional forms of study. However, more so, if I can work it out, I’ll be learning traditional textile arts from women who practice them. I’m making connections with women from around the world who have relocated here to my hometown; if they are able to take the time, I’d like to learn their cultural arts from them.

I don’t expect to become hugely proficient at any textile art during the timeframe I have alotted; nor do I expect to have completed embroidered tablecloths or woven shirts by the end of sabbatical. What I do hope is that I’ll have met some really wonderful women and gotten to know them at a slightly deeper level.  I hope to be doing what women have been doing for thousands and thousands of years–joining together to pass knowledge and skills from one woman to the next while telling stories, sharing problems and joys, being silly and serious, and making community.

I’ll also be doing a lot of creative self-expression through textiles myself. (Read: Quilting.)

I’ve been asked to blog about my experiences, and I decided this may well warrant a slightly different blog than my just-for-fun quilting blog, although there may well be overlap. So folks can choose if they want to follow one or the other, or follow both. Or neither. This one will probably be less prolific–especially before my sabbatical begins. But I figured I’d start it now since I’m already doing some reading and trying to make some connections–I’ll pop up a post now and again, but with no great regularity.

And off we go…