Quilt Artists Come Together to Mend and Heal

Quilts–the kind you put on a bed–are seen as comforting. But even art quilts, made to hang on a wall, can bring comfort when they are created for a cause. Whether it's to raise money, raise awareness, or just send a message of support, I find that quilters are more than ready to dig into their fabric stash and take up the needle.

One such art quilter is Lea McComas, who was featured in the June/July 2011 issue of Quilting Arts Magazine. Back then, we interviewed her about her art quilt "The Mending" that was included in an exhibition in Geneva, Switzerland, entitled "Peace Quilts."

Lea's quilt art has a deeply narrative quality that reflects both her extensive travels and her interest in social awareness. Here is an excerpt from that interview.

quilt artist lea mccomas with the mendingCan you tell us a little more about the exhibition and how you got involved?

The challenge was to produce art quilts that would communicate a "call for solidarity of the women of the world to work together to defend and protect women in times of conflict and to empower women to be active agents in the peace process."

My art quilt began as a collage of photos collected over a decade of living, working, and traveling overseas. Many of the photos are my own. A friend who has traveled extensively as a medical volunteer contributed others. The photos were printed onto fabric, pieced together with scraps, and quilted in a very traditional manner. The quilt was then torn, cut, burned, and shot; literally tearing families apart. Finally, a woman's hands were added to the top using fused appliqué and shown working to stop the destruction, mend the damage, and repair the vision.

the mending quilt art by lea mccomas

At the start of this project, I considered myself somewhat informed about issues of violence against women, but soon discovered that I was quite naive. In my speech I talked about reading accounts of acts against women that shocked and sickened me. At times I had to walk away from it. How fortunate for me that I had that option. I am now much more aware of the issues. It's as if I've been given sight, when I didn't realize I was blind.

While fortunate that this kind of violence doesn't exist in my life, I'm now painfully aware that it does exist in my lifetime. I have come to the realization that I am connected to these women who live daily with the threat of violence and the shame of having been violated.

These are my sisters, my mothers, my daughters. My actions on their behalf are not only important, but imperative. For me, attending the opening was a bit like putting salve on a wound. I saw and felt the power of people coming together for a common good, heard stories of progress being made, and found a sense of hope to balance my despair.

Do you think quilting helps bring people together across geographic distances? Is there a common message?

There is a synergy when quilt artists come together that is immensely powerful and sustaining. The exciting thing about the event in Geneva was that it combined quilting and social activism. Those same elements of ideas, inspiration, and action, were combined with hope. We see it all the time, in local and international formats: Project Linus, Quilts of Valor, and Quilts for Japan. It seems that sometimes we come together to care for ourselves and we end up caring for others.

In the October/November 2013 issue of Quilting Arts, we'll explore many ways that art quilters and fiber artists are giving back through their art, from fabric postcards and prayer flags to mixed-media quilts and mini quilts.

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P.S. Do you quilt for a cause? What's your favorite project? Leave your comment below.

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