I Can’t Breathe

Today I want to post about the quilt I just finished a few moments ago. It’s a One Block Wonder that I started back at the end of June, at the height of the confluence of Black Lives Matter protests and the COVID-19 pandemic. By early July I had watched the musical Hamilton for the first time and I was feeling angry, heartsick, and inspired. I had a very clear vision of what I wanted to capture: the world on fire. I found the perfect fabric at eQuilter.com and started cutting six layers of identical hexagons as soon as it arrived.

As I began sewing half hexagons together, I kept thinking about the right words and images to accompany the quilt. Words are very important to me and I knew that this quilt required not just words, but powerful words. For the front of the quilt, I chose “I Can’t Breathe”, cut by hand and appliqued by iron. Those words have come to represent all those who have died by police brutality, and they also invoke the helplessness I felt with a world literally on fire (Australia, Amazon, California) and a humanity unable to breathe freely because of the pandemic. For the back, I first compiled a lengthy Word document full of poems, articles, and images. I considered quilting names of the dead directly on the quilt top but decided instead on an NPR article that encapsulated the moment and contained not only names but details to set the context of this time even in years to come. And ultimately, despite having collected pages of outstanding poems, I knew I only needed one: a poem by Nikki Giovanni that had hit me like a sledgehammer when I first read it.

I like how the rough black stitching of the quilting partially obscures the article and the poem while allowing them still to be easily read.

Finally, I needed to honor both the power of the protests in the streets and the power of Hamilton’s music and meaning in a combined image that I originally auditioned for the front of the quilt but decided belonged better on the back, where it tied together the article and the poem, along with some extra flames and hexagons.

The front needed nothing more than the starkness of the roughly cut words amidst the flames, and simple black binding with an orange flange.

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