clothing (as memorial): passage quilts

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(images via passage quilts.com)

dear ada, one of my favorite art blogs, posted recently about passage quilts…quilts made from the clothing of those who have made a passage in life (i.e., a birth, wedding, death, or perhaps a retirement or recovery from an illness, etc.). these quilts serve to commemorate and/or honor those passages, or those people.

according to the passage quilt website, each quilt…

“[begins]with the architecture of the clothing, these quilts are pieced without a predetermined pattern. this process provides the maker an opportunity to examine his or her life patterns.

the resulting quilts reflect the relationship of the maker to the materials, retain a sense of the body, and in the case of bereavement, carry the consoling essence of the beloved.”

many of the quilts on the passage quilt site honor a deceased person, and employ clothing that that honored individual wore during his/her lifetime.

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i love quilts, i love quilting. i feel that quilting can be and really is an art in its own right. and i’m clearly fascinated by clothing, fashion, style, and the meaning of all those things, in a broader sense.

the fact that these quilts use a person’s clothing as the source for the fabric, delights me, as they are a deliciously meaningful intersection of my own personal interests.

***

i look at these passage quilts, like the ones above, and think:

clothing, in and of itself, is meaningful, rife with messages. even hanging on a hanger, apart from a person. it’s style, craftsmanship, source (check the tag!) all suggest a story.

but when we step inside of our clothes, make them our own, take them into our fold, and our closets, and fill them out, mixing and matching and layering them with other things we own and love and feel the need to wear (either by custom or choice), we give our clothes even more meaning. our clothing speaks louder, and with more complexity, with us inside of it. we form our own stylistic language, give even subtext to the story the clothes already embodied, sans our bodies.

and our clothing, once we have worn it, also has meaning for others around us: our familiars…our families, friends, colleagues, acquaintances. they see us in certain pieces of clothing, and they add a visual memory of each piece, each look we don, to their own (sub)conscious, collective memory of us, of who we are and were. when we shuffle off this mortal coil, we may (and often do) leave behind the fibers we once wore. they can help our memory to live on, in the minds of those who loved us. we can, in a sense, keep speaking, can keep telling the stories of who we are, or once were, once we are dust.

the somewhat haphazard, improvisational piecing of the quilts shown above also strikes me as being like memory too…little shards of this garment or that garment in the quilts are, in most cases, arranged in an organic fashion. memories and thoughts themselves are not always linear, they come in fractured, incomplete flashes, not always in a sensical order. they aren’t always beautiful (together or apart), they don’t always make sense, but in the end, they are personal, and when put together, make a powerful statement about the story of a person’s life.

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what would your passage quilt look like? what would it say about you? what would you like it to say about you?

what pieces of your clothing would you want to have included in such a quilt?

12 comments

  1. Sherri Lynn Wood

    I love the link you made between clothing, relationships and the improvisational process. I’m facilitating a workshop in San Francisco in January. More info on my website. /slw

    Passage Quilt Introductory Workshop

    This is a workshop for people in transition. Utilizing clothing and materials from everyday life, participants will make an improvisational quilt without a predetermined pattern. This process will be the vehicle for inner work and outward expression as it reveals and orients the patterns by which we survive, thrive and transform. No sewing experience necessary. Sewing machine required.

    January 24, 2009, 9 AM – 5 PM, $175
    Saint Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church, 500 De Haro St, San Francisco, CA 94107

  2. Amy

    Having raised in a country where quilting is not really popular (Puerto Rico), I’ve gone from absolutely hating quilts to understanding their layers of emotions and history since I’ve moved to the States. This is a shining example. Thank you for sharing.

    My passage quilt? Omg that thing would BLIND you! Too many colors!!! hehe

  3. Sal

    Oh, Tricia, you are SO good for my brain. Clothing, I agree, is one of the best markers of memory. It smells like us, is shaped like us, protects us from the elements, defines our bodies to the outside world. For the vast majority of people, it also reflects deeply personal choices: As adults, we choose our own clothing, frequently without any input or opinion other than our own. Making a memorial quilt from a loved one’s clothing seems like an ideal way to keep closeness alive. And just like you, I love the way these quilts unfurl organically – even messily – just like memories.

  4. jenna

    Thank you.
    I’m so glad there are other people that find the real beauty to fabric and clothing. I think it says so much more than a pretty color or fashionable shape.
    My quilt would be unfinished and frayed at this point. It probably wouldn’t match anything. But I’m totally ok with that at this point.
    You’re Inspiring. Thank you.

  5. jennifer

    i’ve been into quilts for a few years now. i love making them, the work that goes into it, the slow transformation from pieces to whole object.

    anyway, my mom died last year. i had thought about saving some of her things and including them into a quilt, but when i opened her closet i couldn’t bear to look at the garments, let alone go through them and decide what to keep and what to donate. in the end, i donated it all.

    anyway, i’m not sure what my passage quilt would look like. i reckon i would use little tidbits of this and that which i loved or reminded me of something. i’d probably piece them into traditional blocks, since i love traditional quilt patterns created with modern fabrics. it might just end up looking like jane stickle’s quilt. you know the one. though, i’d be just as likely to do some abstract applique.

    interesting question. who really knows?

  6. Sherri Lynn Wood

    The clothing of a loved one who has died is extremely powerful. I’m not surprised by Jennifer’s response to her mother’s clothes. This is exactly why quilt making using the clothing is so effective as a hands-on bereavement process, or when using our own materials an opportunity for growth and self-reflection.

    A lot of people are afraid they will be overwhelmed by grief if they take on a project like this but in reality the quilt making provides a solid grounding for bereavement, a container through which they call literally touch their loss. I always remind people that the essential task at hand is to make the quilt.

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