My sister, Minda, is the Manager of Women and Families Services at Recovery Resources a nonprofit community-based healthcare organization in Cleveland that helps people triumph over mental illness, alcoholism, drug and other addictions. When she told me about the quilt project she was working on with women in recovery, I wanted to know all about it. Here she is sharing that experience with us. – Annice
“Quilts are rituals of life. Along with shelter, the quilt safeguards the human body during its greatest vulnerability, sleep. Learning to make quilts indicated, at the same time, that a girl was ready to join the company of women. The quilt symbolized practicality and survival, an acquired knowledge of recycling and reuse. Quilts relate human experience bursting with ideas, dreams, knowledge, courage and ingenuity.” William Arnett and Paul Arnett
“ Mama made a lot of quilts for keeping us children warm. I remember sleeping under one of them every night. Cold nights, maybe a bunch. Made them things out of coverall pants or anything she could find. After clothes couldn’t be fixed no more-skirts, dresses-it all end up a quilt.” Pearlie Pettway, Quiltmaker, Gees Bend Alabama.
The inspiration for Recovery Resources’ quilt making began with thoughts of a project for our women in recovery to work on together. The project would create an environment where our women could get together and form an attachment in a way they may not have experienced before. In talking with a group of my women friends, the idea of making a quilt was revealed. One of the women, Sherri Katz, volunteered to facilitate the project. Having a degree in Fiber Arts, she was the perfect person for the project. We first introduced the women to the idea of quilt making by showing them the award-winning documentary, The Quilts of Gees Bend .
Gees Bend, Alabama, is a small peninsula that was home to the Pettway Plantation. The quilt makers are all descended from generations of slaves who worked that plantation; they were so embedded in the community they created for themselves that they remained there after the Civil War, the Great Depression, and throughout the Civil Rights movement. The community was declared one of the poorest places in the United States, and the descendants still remain there. These women struggled to subsist on what they could produce for themselves and their families. They raised a number of children, farmed on leased land, lived in log homes without water and electricity, and held their families together through prayer and a profound sense of community and love.
The method for quilt making is a long and arduous one.
The Recovery Quilt is primarily composed of re-purposed fabric and denim combining collage, appliqué, embroidery and fabric pens. Some women worked diligently and assisted others in completing their quilt squares, while others worked more haphazardly, wanting to finish the task quickly without taking the time to think creatively. Some women did not complete their quilt squares at all.
Common characteristics of addiction are that it robs one of the desire to complete goals, creates an inability to concentrate on the task at hand, and steals one’s self esteem. Addiction creates an emotional challenge that many are not prepared for. Many of the women were fearful to start something they would not be able to be successful in completing. For some, this was true. For most, it created an opportunity to work on a project in a supportive, nurturing environment that fostered creativity, encouraged camaraderie, and challenged their thinking about who they are and what their recovery means to them, their families, and their community.