Communicating Through a Quilt

21 Apr 2010

Many communicate with their loved ones overseas through letters or care packages, but when Pat Hamlin’s son was serving with the Montana National Guard in Bagdad, she kept in touch with him through a quilt. Each week that he was away (52 altogether), Pat created a 6"-square block which she photographed and sent with a short note. She then combined the blocks using metal zippers and binder clips to create “Letters to Bagdad” (56" x 37"), which serves as a record of her son’s time away. Here, she discusses why and how she created this quilt.   

What gave you the idea to communicate with your son through a quilt? What did a quilt enable you to express that other forms of communication might not have?

Mail is lost, paper rips, computers crash, and words are spoken and forgotten. Quilting/art is silent but it speaks volumes about the maker, the moment, and the recipient. Making time each week, I reflected about the present, but also the past, and I looked forward to the future when he would return home. 

You can wrap yourself in a quilt and the love it was made with but an e-mail leaves you a little cold. Also, blank paper scares the bejeebers out of me.

What kinds of events did you record? Could you describe a couple of the blocks?

I recorded our daily family lives; special events; and the good, bad, and ugly of everything in between. Some weeks were a challenge as we have a pretty quiet (sometimes boring) lifestyle, but in other weeks, I had to choose from several events which would interest him most.  

My son’s birthday was one of my favorite and saddest to make.  It is a simple, raw-edge appliqué  showing  his favorite cake, banana cream pie, and his best friend Clyde, a stuffed monkey. The best block to make was the last block, “Welcome Home.” I began with an appliquéd house surrounded by the words Service, Love, and Honor. I then inserted a photo transfer of my son, his little boy, and his sister and her family, standing in the open doors of their home and being greeted by the blue sky of Montana.

You challenged yourself to only use materials that you already had. Why is that?

There are two reasons for this. First, it was a personal challenge for me, forcing me to look beyond the obvious and to stretch myself as an artist. Secondly, I felt that it would be representative of how he would be living while in Bagdad. The freedom we take for granted, “getting things just for a special purpose,”  “I just have to have it,” or “I deserve it” is not a way of life for our soldiers serving in combat zones.  Now that he is home and has this freedom back, I can rebuild my stash.

What kinds of techniques did you use on this piece? Was it important to you as an artist and quilter as well as mother?

The techniques were secondary to the message; anything I could find that would best express the story of the week was used.  I used baby hair bands for the week I felt stretched to the limits; layers of hand dyed fabric and netting , thread painting, stamping, Angelina® fibers, and cotton balls to show the beauty of a crisp winter day; a  life saver wrapper surrounded by an inner tube and free-motion stitched ribbon to let him know we were all here for him . I stamped, fused, appliquéd, painted, dyed, burnt, glued, silk screened, beaded, and put it all together with zippers since you can always pull yourself back together.

Had you made quilts like this before? Have you considered making other journal-like quilts or was this an exception?

Until you asked this question, I never gave my quilting a name or style. As I took time to look at some of my work, I realized that I am in fact a journal/story quilter.  I want my pieces to stay something about what is important to me as the maker, but also give the viewer a chance to see something about themselves in the work.  I would like to believe that I bring a piece of joy to their lives and maybe expand their thinking so that they can make positive changes in the world.


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jabotquilt wrote
on 21 Apr 2010 12:27 PM

What a Fabulous story to post on your blog!  I really enjoyed that.

on 23 Apr 2010 11:34 AM

I to was a journal/story quilter. I don't quilt as much these days because of illness but I still try to remember the beautiful ones I made. Yours is a beautiful story to your son. I too have one I've been making for many years. I took his fathers blue workshirts and dungarees (military) that he would replace with new uniforms. I cut them in squares and diamonds  Added red as my dividers of blocks and put a white background to the quilt. I have not finished the quilt as my son and I lost track when he went to live with his father for a few years. We did not speak and well remembering my story every time I picked it up I cried. I really didn't want to finish a soggy quilt. :) So I work on it as I can and my goal is to send it to him when he turns 21 in 2 years.  Thank you for sharing your story it gives me courage and hope for the future of a father/son legacy.