Tuesday, April 2, 2019

That very last minute – part 2

The South Korean and the German Patchwork Guilds are preparing for a joint exhibition with 30 quilts from 15 quilters each from these two countries on the theme/topic of the “divided country”. It was initiated from the Korean Guild and a bit over-intellectual about the sizes that the quilts were allowed to have – Germany’s quilts either 89 cm square or 90 cm square, depending on the reading of when the division of Germany ended, and no real size restrictions for Korea because right now nobody knows when Korea’s division will end. The German quilts will be displayed at the German Guild’s Patchworktage in June, then travel to Korea for a joint exhibition of both countries, and we are hoping that more venues will be found where both collections can be shown together. 

I had been invited to be one of the 15 people to contribute a quilt, and I had been thrilled to do so. In the beginning. 
My family is a family who was divided by the ‘iron curtain’, my aunt lived in the eastern part of Germany. My entire childhood is full of memories of my mother sending packages to the East, either her sister, or other friends. Coffee, textiles, no printed media, no western style music.  In appreciation we would get gifts of stationary with flower motifs which we hated, sometimes sheet music, classical records, sometimes books. Visiting my aunt was difficult because you had to get a permit, she was only allowed to come and visit once, when my grandparents were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, but she had to come alone, her husband did not get permission. And many other stories like that.
So I thought I had a lot to say on this topic, but – as it turns out, when one is too emotionally involved, it is mighty hard to come up with a good quilt on that topic. The deadline was drawing nearer and nearer and still I had no real clue as to what to do. My aunt passed away a couple of years ago, otherwise we might have been able to make something together, she, too, was an avid textiler.

Something on the Green Belt (German explanation, English explanation), that area which was the zone around the border fortifications? After 40 years of little traffic or activity in that area it has since turned into a natural protected zone. 

Picture taken from here
But nothing came to my mind that I could turn into a quilt. (And today I saw on social media that Heidi Drahota, another of the 15 invited artists, used the Green Belt, so I am glad I did not stick with that.)
Finally I had the idea that I would put together a few handprinted fabrics of mine in a kind of earth-tone-mixture, 

and underlay that with a spiral in the colors of the German flags (both, East- and West-Germany had the some colors black-red-goldenyellow for their flags) to symbolize the way that the countries were intertwined, but also the confusion that the division created.
And I knew that I wanted to do something with the outline of the state/s, in reflector fabric, of which I still had a decent sized piece.
When I finished the ‘German flag colors’-fabric from which I would have taken the spiral, I realized that it looked a bit like a flag itself, though ‘turned around’. 

Despite the fact that flags have a front and a back and both of them are seen equally, printed representations of state flags always show an orientation where the pattern part is in the left upper corner. After sleeping one night about this I decided to dump the spiral idea and simply take the ‘flag’ as top layer.
I cut the outline of re-unified Germany from the reflector fabric, which was easy enough. Getting it onto the foundation was hellishly difficult and took a long time, almost as long as the separation itself, that’s what it felt like when I was trying to pin it down. And even then it wasn’t quite exact, when sewing, I had to make a few adjustments. But I got it done.

Adding at the top because despite repeated measurements taken, suddenly
the size was not correct anymore, not even when you make allowance for
89  or 90 cms.

My good friend Kathy Loomis criticized the idea of quilting words with a connection to spearation and reunification over it all, suggesting that would take too much attention away from th visual design. I am glad I heeded her advice because I would never have been able to finish in time if I had then started quilting text onto it all.
Quilting in relatively straight and parallel lines, not in the vertical, but horizontally. And then the problems started – and I am not going to go into them in any kind of detail. I had meant to finish the piece last week Monday, but despite the fact that I kept working on it every day after coming home from school it was Friday before I finally snipped the last thread. 

The former border is marked by red herringbone stitch. No political intention
related to the red - it just seemed slightly less obvious in this color context than
either black or yellow would have been.

Never before have I sent off a quilt so quickly after it was finished – a mere 40 minutes between that last thread and my trip to the post office. It is called "Wächst jetzt zusammen, was zusammen gehört?" ("are they now growing together as they belong together?"), which is a citation of a statement by Willy Brandt about the two Germanys, but put into a question format (here is a reconstruction of how that 'citation' came about - obviously he never really said that, and definitely not at the foot of the wall, as it is being narrated. Today we call that fake news). Frequently, even more than 25 years after reunification, we can still find instances where East and West have not yet adapted to each other. Division was severe, and it won't be that much longer now until reunification has lasted as long as the separation itself did. And only a few months before the Wall came down I still thought I would never live to see that in my lifetime!

I don’t credit myself for this wise saying, but “if it weren’t for the very last minute, a lot of things would never get done” surely is a very important statement.
And then despite the fact that I am worried about climate change etc. I boarded a plane on Saturday to go on vacation for a few days after finishing (and passing) my probation period in the training. I could write more about how far we might have entered into the very last minute before everything is too late in that respect, and yes, flying is not a climate-friendly way to travel… but I wanted to go somewhere warm and sunny and near a beach, and there are not that many options for doing that when starting from Germany in the end of March.


  1. I really like the work! In the end you have come up with a very striking work that will cause viewers to remember their own thoughts about life and the separation.

    1. Thanks, Sandy. I am pleased with the result myself. Amazing how being tied up with that part of history has an influence on what you can or want to do in the artistic medium...

  2. Patchwork ist nicht nur Patchwork, es ist eine heilsame, heilende Kunst. Deine Arbeit hat einen so weiten Horizont, sie beinhaltet die persönliche Ebene,nationale und internationale, familiäre und menschheitsbetreffende Teilungen, Ablehnungen, Verfeindungen, aber auch das Licht am Ende des Tunnels, die Möglichkeit eines echten Miteinanders. Eine gelungene Dokumentation.