Wednesday, November 4, 2020

How to Make An African Quilt (Diary of recovery!)

This post was mostly written before the SAQA Europe/Middle East regional zoom meeting yesterday evening. The meeting did not have a specific topic to begin with, but the Rep’s guiding question of ‘to do and not to to lists’ got the group talking about how we are feeling in these times of uncertainty, pandemic and everything that comes with it – lockdowns, restrictions, canceled opportunities to exhibit, to travel and to meet at venues, or workshops that had to be postponed, perhaps for a repeated time. And during that conversation I realized that the making of the African quilt that I describe in the following lines is right down that path many of us mentioned – we want to be making, but we are somewhat blocked about making art. Quite a few of us have turned to making ‘functional quilts’, at least temporarily. While I have always made a functional quilt in between or alongside art quilts, it has become more difficult to make art quilts during the past few months, and having completed this African quilt was a good step for me and my well-being.

During the last few years I have been in close contact with a few African refugees (West Africa – Senegal) here in our town, and have learned a lot from them. A better appreciation of rain, for example – “rain’s a blessing” said Mariama once when I was complaining about a rainy grey and ugly fall day as we have so many in Germany. Or that we should take things with a lighter heart, a repeated suggestion from my special protegé – but I admit that that is a theoretical knowledge on my part only (so far?) - I am not good at taking things easy. Although I am much better at it when my African friends are around who make me laugh! It is always amazing how they refuse to be brought down by the difficulties they encounter in the ‘person’ of German bureaucracy and legislation, how they maintain a smile on their face, how they easily make one laugh and are always good to crack a joke, or tell us that everything is fine (although I know by the date of the month how far the ‘water level’ in their wallet is gone down).

And I have looked at fabrics from Africa differently, too. I am in a process of using a piece of mudcloth I brought back from South Africa last year (my, that’s long ago! we could travel!). And I have another piece of mudcloth that is biding its time for a good idea an be an accomplice to this one.


I recently finished a quilt from a large piece of West African fabric I acquired at Festival of Quilts from the wonderful AfricanFabric Shop  where I always go when I get to FoQ. I have bought a beautiful basket from them, too – not a good idea before going home on the plane, but I managed.

So when one of my African friends complained that his room in the refugee accomodation, very small but his very own, was so cold because it has three walls that go to the outside of the house and the heating system is not exactly up to modern standards, I went ahead and started making him a quilt. It needed to be done quickly, and he has a slightly different preference for colors than I do, so I relied on that African fabric as the main ‘backbone’ for a free cut drunkard’s path, which you can see in the lower part of the picture.


Of course, it wasn’t entirely enough, I added another indigo-dyed West-African fabric as accocmpaniment, as can be seen in the upper half of the picture.

This is a picture as I was putting the blocks together:


I put together a back fabric from several different fabrics and a superfluous block from the front.


And I used my circular quilting templates for the quilting (only the 4” template hasn’t resurfaced yet).


The finished piece looks like this:

Of course, it is not strictly speaking an African quilt. It is a quilt made from a few fabrics that originated in Africa, and it was made for a friend from Africa, but everything else about it just makes it a quilt blanket like any other quilt blanket. But a nice one, the recipient likes it and feels warmer sleeping under it. And life goes on, even as we are confined to a new ‘lockdown’ (light version).