Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Studio series: Forgiveness #1

Forgiveness #1 © Karen Thiessen 1999; Photo credit: Julian Beveridge
In February 1997 I was sitting in the Singapore Mennonite Church trying to listen to a sermon, but the pastor's strong Indonesian accent was difficult to understand, so my mind wandered. In that moment I had an epiphany to forgive someone who had hurt me. The hurt was a biggie that had a significant impact on my life and the people that I love. Fifteen months earlier, I decided that I would forgive this person within ten years and I still had almost 9 years to go. There it was, I forgave. 


I soon learned that forgiveness was a process that I had to repeat over and over. I thought about people who had survived wars, the Holocaust, and other evils: was it possible for them to forgive? What did forgiveness look like visually? These questions, along with a lot of research, writing, and a discussion group at St. Mary's University in Halifax led me to make forgiveness-themed quilts for my solo graduation show from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. In the end, I made 7 quilts and you can read the essay here.


Forgiveness #1 was the first irregularly-shaped and unbound quilt that I ever made and it was a turning point in my career. I machine-pieced the top and had to put on my thinking cap to figure out how to put it on a quilt frame to hand-quilt it. The solution was simple: make the backing fabric and the quilt batting much larger than the top and then cut them off when I took it off the frame. The other issue was that I couldn't stretch the top because of its odd shape, so I pinned the top to the backing and batting. 


Aside from the red, purple, and paisley fabric, I dyed all the other fabrics with onion skins and various mordants (salt, alum, vinegar) and I stained the left central fabric with my own blood. I spent several months dyeing and staining the fabric. The quilt was created through countless acts of staining, dyeing, over-dyeing, piecing, and hand-stitching.  As I wrote in 1999: "Hand quilting and unbound edges exemplify forgiveness. Hand quilting slowly and methodically maps the forgiveness journey with blood, repetition and time. Unbound quilts are ongoing, like the imperfect, unruly process of forgiveness."

1 comment:

Judy Martin said...

I love your forgiveness series and reading this explanation about their beginnings was a gift for me. Thank you.