Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Photos from Day three

Iva, Lillis, Sarah, Bieta (Saskia is hidden behind Bieta's head).
This was the only group shot with Iva!

Back row: Pietro and Saskia, front row: Sarah, Lillis and Bieta
(It was Halloween - I was a pumpkin!)
Back row: Pietro and Saskia, front row: Sarah, Lillis and Bieta

A beautiful Iva-Saskia moment...Sarah and Bieta listening but working

Saskia's beautiful bird quilt square

QUILTED: Day two and three

Days two and three ended up being the last days of QUILTED in Poland. But once I relate the events of those days, there is still an awful lot to tell. QUILTED has continued and just keeps going and going.

On the morning of Day two, I was very excited. What was I most excited about? My own sewing and continuing it. But I was also really excited to continue getting to know the other women who had started squares. The day would end up being a very quiet one. Jessica and Teresa had ZBF responsibilities that kept them from even stopping by for a moment to visit. Iva and Alicja had volunteering responsibilities that came first, and I completely understood. Anna was participating in another workshop, which was taking place at the same time. All of my original compatriots were already accounted for and no new ones appeared to participate.

A group of Italians did arrive in search of their accommodations and I invited them to return for the third day of the workshop, but they had to go attend to their rehearsal space. I spent the three hours that morning sewing and drinking tea and reflecting. It was the first time in a long time that I had really taken some time for myself. I enjoyed the quiet and the peace and the "work" of my sewing. The experience of QUILTED in two days had already shown me how important taking such time is for the individual.

Later that day, I met the group that was visiting from Belgium: Pietro, Sarah, and Saskia (I apologize as I know their names are not spelled correctly). Pietro had read about my workshop and wanted to know if he could attend for a moment or two on the last day. While the idea of a male participant or viewer was not originally part of the workshop's intent, I felt that the evolution of the project was more important than attempting to retain the women-only clause so I told Pietro he could come in the last thirty minutes of the workshop.

What surprised me though, was the arrival of Sarah and Saskia at 10am sharp the following morning. Saskia was thrilled to participate and Sarah was a little less so, but seemed to enjoy piecing her square together once she started. Also sewing that morning were the volunteer Iva, and an employee of the Institut, Bieta. She is an older woman and had expressed interest in the workshop to me earlier in the week when the Open Program had been practicing and performing in one of the Institut's off-site venues. On the first morning of the workshop, Bieta came in and shyly told me that she wouldn't be able to stay as she had a lot of work to do. But she asked if she could pick out some fabric in order to start work on a square. Then the members of Open Program told me that she would work on her square while they rehearsed. To them, she seemed happy, at ease and a little calmer while she worked. This didn't surprise me as I had found that sitting down to sew was changing my own mood and place in time as well.

So Bieta managed to find some time to participate with us that Saturday morning. She was going to sew with us and then continue all of the duties and responsibilities she usually dealt with on her one day off a week.

The Belgians were so much fun and Saskia and Iva began a beautifully rich conversation, switching from English to French in certain moments. Saskia was so excited about the project and jumped right into the creation of her quilt square. Sarah was fascinating to watch. She had some idea, but when we asked her what she was doing, she couldn't really speak about it. She found more excitement in the composing of her square and once she realized she only had an hour left, she wistfully turned to the sewing of her creation. I soon found out why she had been ill at ease about the sewing...she had a very hard time threading her needle and so I spent the last hour helping her do this task several times, as she wanted to change the color of her thread often.

I can still feel the gentleness of this act, even now, five and a half months later. There was such a tender, quiet exchange as I threaded Sarah's needle. It was as if she became a child and I became her elder. I can't think of other times that such a role reversal has ever occurred and I think it is these quiet little moments that I was writing about in my proposal. I had been curious about what kind of exchanges would occur among women in an intimate, multi-generational setting and here was yet another peek into those mysteries. Bieta also asked me to thread her needle once she saw that Sarah was not at all timid about asking me.

And just when we were into the full swing of our time together - having experienced both moments of complete quiet and concentration as everyone worked at their squares and moments of loud chatter as we drank tea and laughed and joked - Pietro entered the scene. This kind, respectful, thoughtful artist himself entered so quietly that at first we didn't notice him. But he quietly greeted us and Saskia and Sarah showed him what they had been working on. Sarah left her square to be finished by me, since her favorite part had been composing it and not sewing it. Saskia wasn't ready to relinquish her square though. She took it with her and since she was scheduled to leave the following day, I saw her working on it two or three more times throughout the day. She left it wrapped in a note on the pillow of a fellow Festival-goer who gave it to me after she had left.

While that was supposed to be the last day of the workshop, there ended up being one more worth relating. But first! Photos from Day three!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Inspiration: Part 3

Here's an article that ties quilts to the Underground Railroad movement. Enjoy!

More photos from Day one

Iva and I are well into the beginning of our squares.
Jessica chooses fabric and Teresa contemplates what her design will be.
Alicja diligently cuts out little whisps of yellow striped fabric. Iva takes a moment to show off a new piece of fabric.
Mladdin caught by the camera after discussing the merits (or lack thereof)
of not allowing men to participate in the workshop.
I take a moment at the end of the workshop's first session
to record the names and countries of the first day's participants. Tea in hand!
The work table after the first day of the QUILTED.

Six squares in their beginning stages.
Three of these made it into the final ZBF quilt.
You'll have to continue reading to see which ones were completed.

Monday, March 1, 2010

QUILTED: Day one

QUILTED workshop room - set up and ready for participants!
Scissor-wielder (only slightly anxious)
Iva gets started.
It was just the two of us and we had already had a very inspiring talk.
Now she was ready for business.
Jessica and Anna look on as Iva plays the piano for us.
Teresa studies her fabric options and
Alicja takes a sip of tea before continuing with her square design.

On the morning of October 29th, I arrived at the institute about an hour before the workshop was set to begin. Jessica and I set up the space: a room used for showing films. The room had a high ceiling and wooden floors. We placed two tables in the center of the room and the fabric and needles and thread on one side with chairs all around. Another smaller table was brought in and I placed a tea kettle, mugs, sugar, cream, tea and treats on this table.

I had gone to the grocery store in the Rynek for the sweets and came away with a box of danish-type items with powdered sugar and jam rolled into them. I also purchased a Polish specialty - cookies with crushed nuts baked into them. It being the first day of ZBF, people were running in and out and Jessica was juggling several other responsibilities while helping me set up. She took one small moment to herself when we were ready and looking around said, "I want to participate!" It was very inviting, indeed. And the idea of a morning spent drinking tea, meeting other women and putting needle to thread was very exciting to both of us.

At ten o'clock there was also to be a brief volunteer's meeting at the Institute. A young woman, Iva Popova, arrived for the meeting and asked what we were doing. We told her about the workshop and, her eyes wide and sparkly, she promised to return after the volunteer's meeting. At first, it was just me sewing in the room. I looked over the fabrics and tried to get an idea for my square.

I had cut a square that was approximately 10 inches square the night before to use as a measure for all of the squares, in retrospect, it might have been too large. I decided that since I had designed the logo for the festival, it would be appropriate to make a cloth version of the logo for my square. Once I had my idea, I was intent upon starting and quickly forgot that I was alone in the room.

Shortly after I started, Iva returned and full of energy, life and words, began to tell me about herself. A very young woman from Bulgaria, she was living in Poland - Wroclaw in particular - in order to participate in a nine month internship involved in urban planning and development. The project she was a part of was dedicated to revitalizing a neighborhood on the outskirts of the city. As she told me about her project's scope and as I told her about the intentions behind QUILTED, we started to see some collaboration possibilities. She became very animated especially when telling me of a community center that would be renovated within the month. She felt that a sewing bee would be the perfect way to inaugurate the new center. Iva asked my permission to speak with her program coordinator. I gave her my blessing and promised to participate if the event occurred while I was still in Poland. Unfortunately, a few days later, she wrote to me and told me that her superiors had rejected the idea based on bureaucracy and politics. I was still very proud of her for coming up with the idea and was happy that QUILTED inspired her so.

Iva and I were the only sewers for about thirty minutes. Jessica and Teresa returned suddenly with some thirty minutes or so of free time on their hands. They knew it wasn't enough time to really start a square, but with Iva and I coaxing them to stay, they couldn't resist. Within minutes, another volunteer named Alicja arrived. She was very interested in the workshop and would have participated further, I believe, but had a lot of life stuff going on right at the time of the festival and couldn't commit to so many functions given a very interesting work schedule. She told us that first day that she was having to move out of her apartment immediately and that she worked at a casino as a dealer from approximately 10pm to sunrise.

We were five and then a very good friend of Jessica's arrived. Anna from Slovenia had been a colleague of Jessica's several years ago. She was in Wroclaw for Zero Budget Festival. She was in search of Jessica that morning and since Jessica was with us, Anna decided to stick around. Funny enough, Anna only participated that first morning, but her square is one of the six that was completed for the final ZBF "quilt". She composed a lovely square and so I decided to sew it for her.

For the most part, the three hour work session was full of talking, sewing, composing, talking, drinking tea, laughing, nibbling on sweets, talking and sewing. However, at one point, Iva took a break from her square and ran to the piano in the room and threw open the lid and started playing for us. It reminded me so much of what a traditional sewing bee contains: spontaneity and creative sharing between women. It isn't that men and women cannot have a comfortable exchange of creative energies, but there is something sacred and beautiful about a group of women experiencing some kind of work and expression together. Just as it is sacred when men gather and share what it means to be male in a group. I say "sacred" and maybe it isn't that when you think about it. But next time you find yourself around a group of the opposite sex engaged together, try to tell me there isn't something that draws you to the interaction. And feel free to tell me what it is, because I'm still trying to understand it. But honor it, I do.

This brings me to the other very interesting situation of the three hours. For the most part, the six of us were alone and completely at ease with one another. The workshop had been billed as a "women only" workshop and from the point of submitting the proposal, I had few people challenge this idea. Toward the end of the first meeting however, a male friend of Anna's, a young man named Mladdin, also from Slovenia, appeared. He asked for permission to enter the room, and I was told that he was simply looking for Anna, but once he arrived, he decided to stay. Immediately, he started to ask pointed questions that quickly changed the dynamic of the group. He wasn't cold or even insensitive to what was happening, he simply wanted to know, in a slightly aggressive kind of way why men couldn't participate. It was evident that his challenges were for the most part to be taken tongue-in-cheek, but there was something about his way that silenced the women in the room. It turned out he had spent the entire night before driving and upon arriving in Wroclaw decided to start breakfast with a beer instead of eggs. Later in the festival, he and I spoke and came to understand one another, but in that first instant, it was really wild to see how one male in the room could change the entire fabric of what was being created. It really was fascinating from the perspective of social dynamics.

At noon everyone dropped their sewing and promised to return. It had been a full morning and I was very excited to see how the rest of the workshop would progress. I knew by this point that bringing in Polish seamstresses from an older generation was highly unlikely, but I was still very hopeful that other members of the international group of Zero Budget Festival participants would add a square to the ZBF quilt.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Indoor Market: Wroclaw's best kept secret for notions and reptiles

Although I had already been to the sewing store inside the Rynek, and could have easily returned there to purchase the necessary needles, thread, etc. for the first day of the workshop, I needed to distribute more flyers and I wanted to challenge myself in the indoor market. The sewing store I had originally found was very nice and seemed to attract a certain clientele, where as the indoor market was much rougher around the edges. I figured, if I was going to truly put the idea of QUILTED to the test, the indoor-market was where those flyers needed to be.

Let me give you a quick illustration of the indoor market. This is one of our favorite places in Wroclaw. It sits just outside of the Rynek and right by one of Wroclaw's many city rivers. The market is housed within a huge, ancient brick and stone building with crazy iron rafters on the inside that make determining the original use of the building near impossible. The rafters are so aerodynamic looking that I believe it was a hangar for turn-of-the century dirigibles (19th to 20th not 20th to 21st...). When you enter the building, which only has two small doors for entrance and exit, though they aren't marked and part of the fun is getting trapped by the onslaught of people always going the way you aren't going, you are immediately struck by the synesthesia of the interior. A burst of smell, color, sound and eventually taste (after ordering a criminally cheap bowl of potato soup) explodes upon your every sense so that you're tasting the shouts of vendors and smelling the light filtering in from the ceiling-high windows and seeing the tartness of the fresh pickles and the richness of the freshly ground cinnamon.

Now. What does this have to do with sewing, you ask? Everything. First of all, the people who frequent the indoor market are the kind of salt-of-the-earth people who find grocery stores inconvenient and overly priced and unsociable. These are the kinds of people that I want to know more about. Besides, all along the top floor of the market, which isn't a floor so much as a stroll beside some of the last craftsmen to be found in public, are teeny tiny nooks where cobblers, seamstresses, locksmiths, watch repairmen, etc. can be found working at their craft day in and day out regardless of the Globalization occurring just outside the door. Curiously enough, situated in between these craftspeople, are strange stores that remind one of the sideshows of traveling circuses. There was a reptile store specializing in giant, exotic lizards and insects to feed to lizards. Another store featured baskets. The store smelled like a box that has been traveling on a boat from Asia to San Francisco and got left on deck during a storm. The owner was so doubtful of his own wares that he sat propped in a chair, sound asleep. Somewhere between the reptiles and the baskets, there were two notions stores and one seamstress. I approached the seamstress first.

What do you think of when you hear the word "seamstress"? Whatever you think of, I promise you this woman didn't fit the image in your mind's eye. She was sitting in the hallway, with a great view of the activity on the main floor. Her sewing machine looked old enough to be her great grandmother and she had a tiny radio plugged into the same outlet as the dinosaur. The radio was belching out what I guess I would call "rave" music. And when I approached her to show her my flyer, she actually turned the music up. She was wearing a pantsuit with fatigue print...the arctic know, camouflage in baby blue, white and black? She had a crew cut and looked like she might have come out of the womb smoking a cigarette. I started with a very timid, "Do you speak English?" That was when she turned the music up.

Luckily, my flyer was in Polish as well as English. Slightly daunted, I put the flyer over her sewing machine and pointed to the Polish portion calling for learned sewers to attend the workshop. She shook her head "no". I motioned taping the flyer to a wall nearby her, thinking that people who spoke with her might know how to sew and might be interested in the workshop. She shrugged and went back to the item in the dinosaur's teeth.

I'm shy, and I don't like pursuing something once I am given a clear "not interested" indication. However, I was proud of myself for at least taping the flyer to the concrete post relatively nearby the seamstress. So, I suppose I was a little "heady" with my "success". Which explains why the second person I spoke with turned away from me completely and wouldn't even take my flyer. I had gotten too cocky, as it were. She was the proprietor of a notions store that I had seen while walking around the market the first time with Lloyd. I had lusted after her cheap embroidery thread, having spent the previous three months threadless because embroidery thread in Italy costs the equivalent of $3 per loop! I was recently at our mega-chain: HOBBY LOBBY here in Birmingham and was shocked and delighted to see that the same loop costs approximately $0.40 when sold in the US.

Okay, so she was totally disturbed by me and my overly excited request to tape the flyers to her windows, but I felt she didn't even give me a chance. My last hope was a notions store in between the seamstress and the lady with all of the embroidery thread. I had to be careful. I had to be smart. I had to buy needles and thread!

This store was closed and had what I can only imagine was a "be back soon" sign taped to its tiny door. While I waited for the proprietor to return, I scanned the earrings for sale at the booth that was at the top of the stairs leading down to my favorite fresh pickle dealer. What I wouldn't give right this minute for some of his pickles.

I had no intention of buying any earrings, but my position at the booth allowed me to watch for the return of the notions store lady. I saw a tiny older woman walking speedily towards the door and started towards it myself when I saw her thrust a key in and open the door. She ducked into the back and was nowhere to be seen by the time I entered the store. This time I was going to buy something before bringing out the offending flyers. This turned out to be the correct approach all around, although I still think the tiny notions lady at this last store was far friendlier than anyone else I had encountered that day. I purchased several items and then showed her the flyer. She smiled and gave me a thumbs up because she didn't speak English. Then, two young women around my age entered the store and the proprietress showed them the flyer, pointed at me and grinned. They kind of smiled and then went to look at buttons on the opposite end of the store, which was three feet away.

I left the store with more needles than I possibly needed and lots and lots of colorful thread. I walked back down the stairs into the thick of the indoor market, bought a pickle for the walk home and made my way back to the apartment to cut up fabric and organize for the following morning: Oct. 29th - the first day of QUILTED! (The picture at the top of the post is me preparing the fabric)

TKANINY DZIANINY means Fabric Store!

It is February 26th, 2010. Today is the birthday of two dear friends of mine and as I sit here and think of the passing of time, I realize that it has been four months to the day (almost...three days short) since the first day of QUILTED in Poland. And you don't even know what happened! So here I go, trying to backtrack a bit so as to get it all down. The blog must continue because...there are real chances of continuing QUILTED here in Birmingham, AL, which is where I currently am. I know, I know. There is a LOT to catch you up on. Hold on, here we go...

About two days before the first workshop, I went to the fabric store that had been suggested to me by the Institute's secretary. A very hip woman who makes all of her own clothes, I definitely trusted her opinion. Actually, before going to the fabric store by myself, Lloyd and I made the journey ourselves on a Sunday. Along the way, we met a very nice young man who talked to us about music, showed us footage he had taken on his cell phone the night before at an avante garde performance somewhere in Wroclaw and told us he was leaving for a year in India the following week. This young man ended up coming to a couple of the Open Program's performances before embarking on his Indian adventure. Lloyd and I also found a really delicious restaurant nestled under the raised train tracks before finding the fabric store. I can't remember exactly what he got, but I remember there was melted cheese involved and I had serious entree envy.

I digress. We found the fabric store and I made mental map directions so I could come back later in the week with some money in hand to purchase the necessary fabric for QUILTED. When I did return, I noted quickly that the small space was chock-full of beautiful fabric. The more I searched through the bolts, the more lovely things would pop out at me. I remember picking out this print that had a warm brown background. The print was a floral that was very stylized...something in between Hawaiian Sixties floral print for a wicker couch and well, something possibly more modern? Anyway, I thought, "this will be totally rejected, but I'm buying it anyway" - it was half off.

When I first walked in the store, I approached the nicer-looking of the two female employees and first asked if she spoke English. She sort of grimaced and said, "Yes?" so I kept it very simple. I handed her one of the flyers I had made seeking participants for the workshop and I told her I was going to be buying a lot of fabric. I picked out seven or eight basic solid colors, and though I didn't think about it at the time, I have learned now, just because there is the perfect leaf green, but it is a slippery silk, doesn't mean it's worth it for the color alone. The leaf green silk that I purchased was the most expensive fabric I bought AND the hardest to work with. There were some others that were also perfect color-wise, but have proved very difficult to stitch down with mere needle and thread and very minimal skills/patience!

After getting a base of solid colors, I had a field day picking out the patterns. The best part? They were marked way WAY down and I was able to buy a lot more fabric than I really needed. This turned out to be a great boon after returning to Italy...but again, I am getting ahead of myself. After an hour and a half in the store, I had spent approximately 50 euros and had a HUGE bag of fabric.

I walked back to the Rynek and met Lloyd at the cozy middle-ages looking cafe/bar that we had enjoyed spiced warm wine at earlier in the week. I was excited by the fabric acquisitions. The next step was NOTIONS (all the tools, materials associated with sewing that ARE'NT the fabric).