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.

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