Saturday, July 21, 2007

Alice Walker and her Color Purple quilt

This blog started off as a 'column' about writing and swiftly morphed into a quilting site as I found a new passion. I still write but for me quilting is a much less judgmental forum for my creativity. The writing groups I went to inevitabely focused on how to get published and what was wrong with what we had written. Whether your work was 'completed' really depended on its acceptance by an editor.

Of course, I am keen to improve my quilting skills, and will take any class I can get to. However I felt from the very beginning that my quilts were completed when I put the binding on and snuggled on down under them. They have all been admired as they are. I was particularly pleased that I have had nothing but positive comment on the improvsational quilt top I 'threw togther', which conformed to no accepted patterns or formulas ( 'genres' in the writing lexicon) at all. Few shows here are juried and the quilting community offers a supportive, sharing,excited - just- to -be -with -fabric atmosphere in which I feel enabled to produce what I feel beautiful without fear of censorship.

Even with a Masters Degree in Creative Writing, I could never really get a feel for whether my fiction'worked' or not and what that meant anyway. My quilts work if I can hold them up and go 'Look what I made!' and the three layers stay together.

So, the blog may have gone that way, but I am still interested in writing and writers. Which is why I was fascinated by an extract from a book I was reading while I was travelling this week called Communion of the Spirits by Roland Freeman. It was an interview with Alice Walker who, in part, said this about the time when she was writing The Colour Purple.

"... I knew that in order for me to have the kind of meditative depth to the book that I needed, I had to do work with my hands and I asked my mother to suggest a pattern that would be easy and she said that there was nothing easier than the Nine-Patch. You know, you just get some fabric and cut up the pieces into nine blocks and you sew them together and that's it. So I followed her advice and ... in the evenings I worked on the quilt. And as I worked on it the novel formed.

.....This kind of redish or fuscia...black, green and maroon stripes - these are colours that just struck me as colors I needed to give me strength to go on in the work I was doing, so that it felt cheerful and strong and interesting working with those colors. I couldn't have written the Colour Purple working on a brown quilt."

The interviewer told her that Maya Angelou had mentioned that when she was having difficulty writing a book her mother told her,'Take this quilt and go and sit on it and you won't have those problems, it will be all right'. He told Alice that in his family there was a lot of folklore about powers and quilts and asked her what she thought of that. She replied:

" Well... other than to say that I feel just really good and protected and blessed, especially when I am under quilts made by my mother. But my feeling of power... comes from the making. The making of myself. ... The powers partly about grounding yourself in somthing that's humble, something that is- that you can actually see take form through your own effort, and its like seeing that you can change things and create through your own effort and in a way that you can see. This makes you realise that you constantly do that in an unseen way.That is also the way that the world is created.....

.......I feel really connected through the work that I do. Its such a great experience to do this while writing a book, because you know on days when you cannot move in the narrative you can work on your quilt! There are days when the characters don't want to come anyway. They are off doing something else in another world. You have your quilt and you can keep going, and so one faith leads the other - the faith you can continue making this pattern in the quilt restores the faith that you may start moving, that you can continue in the uneseen -which is to draw these characters out of nothing and make them real for someone."

I read that and just had to go and get a copy of the Colour Purple to re-read! There is a picture of Alice with her quilts in the book and I will read imagining her making that quilt. I also cannot remember the significance of the title The Colour Purple but whatever it turns out to be in the text it will now have an added shade ( sorry!) of meaning for me - and now I hope you too.

1 comment:

Erica said...

Yes, yes and yes! There are so many themes here: the power of colour to uplift us; the effect of making something beautiful by hand; the ability of the brain to continue to work away at problems while we are focused on something completely different; the power of words; the feeling of being surrounded by love; the pleasure of touch; the idea of both tangible (quilt) and non-tangible (words) items being handed on to others. How inspiring.