It Touched a Tender Spot In Me

Everything happens for a reason, and sometimes things help us clarify and articulate what matters and what we – what our life – is all about . . . 

“Last year we had 12 volunteers, this year we have only 9,” she was saying as I walked in. “I asked for 12, but I only got you, so people will just have to wait because we are NOT going to rush. Hey, you can’t be in here,” she barks when she sees me slip quietly into the room.

“But I signed up to help,” I tell her.

“What’s your name?”

“Jeanne Hewell-Chambers.”

“Who ARE you?” she asks loudly.

And with that, the 6-8 other women around her begin to giggle.

“I’m Jeanne Hewell-Chambers,” I tell her again.

“And YOU volunteered to HELP?”

The women don’t know whether to look at me or her, but they all know how to laugh in either direction.

“Yes,” I say, my voice now almost at a whisper.

More laughter, then she says with a sigh and rolling eyes, “Okay then” and joins in the laughter with them, shrugging her shoulders as if to say “whatever”.

Though it certainly feels like it, this is not the 7th grade playground. This is a quilt show just a few days ago. I officially belong to this organization (even though I’ve never been able to attend a meeting because the drive is 1.5 hours each way), but because part of the membership requirements are to work at the annual quilt show, I raise my hand and show up at the appointed time.

Staying in the back of the room by myself near the exit door, I work the entire shift, frequently fantasizing about walking right on out the door and never looking back, but I have two quilts to pick up, and besides, I gave my word and, as we now know,  they are short-handed, so I stay and work. Three hours later on the walk to the car, I physically brush myself off and do a little shimmy – my way of slipping out of the negativity and leave it there.

We stop for a nice supper, The Engineer and I, and when we get home, I remove the quilt show tags and open two envelopes that my novice brain thinks contain a renewal notice and a thank-you-for-helping note.

But no.

quilt1aquiltshow2016amended

The 70273 Project, Quilt 1 is one of the quilts I entered, explaining in my artist statement that people from around the world are making 70,273 quilt blocks to commemorate the 70,273 disabled people who were murdered in Germany between 1940-41. White bases represent the medical records on which evaluations were made, and the two red X’s represent the death sentences. The judges’ feedback is that the blocks are not the same size, causing the quilting lines to be askew.

communion14aquiltshow2016amended

The other quilt I entered is Communion 2, a visual interpretation of a conversation with my mentally disabled sister-in-law, Nancy. The judges’ feedback is that while the hand stitching is okay, the quilt should be square, sides straight, and there should be no exposed raw edges on the fabric used in the quilt.

Though I’ve attended many quilt shows, this is the first time I’ve participated, and the judging is a surprise to me. I feel quite sure that the judges are expert quilters – as expertly talented and knowledgeable as every person who had a hand in creating The 70273 Project, Quilt 1. I am also keen on believing that the judges weren’t privy to information about each quilt before judging . . . but still. Had there been an option on the submission form giving me a choice of having my quilts be judged or not, I could have saved the judges some time and me some angst. Their words sting. It hurts to be misunderstood, to be told you’re less than . . . and the thing is that though I do admittedly feel a tiny bit bruised, my ire comes from the disrespect shown – intentionally or no – to Nancy, to Kitty, to MJ (the Piecer and Quilter for Quilt 1), to those who made and continue to make blocks for The 70273 Project, and always, always, always for those we commemorate and celebrate. It’s this setting aside, this overlooking, this dismissive behavior we are standing up to here in this project.

Now I’m not saying that it’s what The Woman In Charge Of Volunteers or The Judges were doing – in fact, I feel pretty sure that the judges have to adhere to a set of quantifiable, measurable rules and standards (and I still maintain that it would’ve been nice to be able to opt out) – but I am saying that I will never understand why some people make themselves feel better and bigger (as in more powerful) by stomping on and squishing others.

And let’s be honest: we all know people who people like this.

Such behavior seems to me a shallow, temporary way to fill your Self . . . like a sugar rush that brings a burst of energy followed quickly by lethargy. On the other hand, people who fill themselves by doing good work – who spend every day spilling caring, kindness, and compassion everywhere they go – these people have no need to belittle or begrudge others because they fill themselves up with Things That Count. It’s easy for people who know how to fill themselves in lasting ways to accept differences in personalities, in preferences, in creations, to see value in every human and every creation.

I hope that makes sense.

I’m not saying we have to like every single quilter, but how hard is it to be pleasant and appreciative (even when tired at the end of a quilt show)? And I’m not saying we need to like every single quilt, but how hard is it to be encouraging, to find something good to say (or at least ask a question to show interest and willingness to See), even if it’s not our preferred style of quilt?

Before long, I’ll open an envelope with a form requesting my renewal dues. I think I’ll spend that money buying fabric for a new piece in the Communion Series  and takingThe Engineer out for a good dinner – complete with a glass of wine – on our way home after attending next year’s quilt show as spectators who love marveling at and being in the presence of quilts (and each other).

29 Comments

  1. Patricia Copeland

    What you’re doing with your project and your relationship with your sister-in-law are so powerful! What those judges wrote is dreft in the wind – meaningless. Your quilts carry so much within them. There’s no way that they didn’t affect those who saw them and read their histories. Your wavy lines and exposed edges are so symbolic and fantastic and wonderful. They connect hearts. Love your decision about next year!

    • whollyjeanne

      Thank you, Patricia. Your kind words of understanding and caring are a balm to my spirit.

  2. Becky Collis

    Why, oh why, as quilters and as women, do we do this to one another? It happens far too often. It happens when we are minding our own business, when we are trying to help, and when we are trying to create and enjoy our art. I used to feel bruised after encounters like this, but I have decided to call these people out on their behavior. The only way for me to be OK with this kind of rebuff is to point out the offense, and earnestly ask them why. “Did I catch you at a bad time? Are you angry at something or someone? Do you speak to everyone like this?” Are all questions that acknowledge that you were offended, and alert them to the fact that you are not willing to play along in their game of “let’s be mean to the new girl”. It has taken me over 50 years to grow the guts to confront the haters, and now it’s like a mission! I must insist that you will at least consider trying this yourself, because I honor and respect you, and me. Chin up Jeanne. Oooo, and enjoy your new fabric and dinner!?

    • whollyjeanne

      That’s exactly what it felt like ,Becky – you nailed it. As I stood in the back of the room, I did fantasize not just about leaving, but about doing as you suggested. I hope I never encounter such behavior again (I think we both know how that’s going to play out!), but thanks to your encouragement, I bet I do call them out on it next time. (though the first time I may lead with “Becky told me to tell you . . . “)

      • Becky Collis

        Feel free to use my name, and know that I will be there with you in spirit!

    • Jan Pascoe

      Good for you Becky! I too have taken over 50 years (more like 60) to address people who behave in this matter. Only after helping to look after my Motherinlaw 24/7 for 7.5 months (2 years ago) before she died (aged 89) and dealing with the dysfunctional dynamics of her other 2 children did I suddenly “find my voice” !

  3. Chloe

    Dreft indeed, thank you Patricia! I am thrilled that you have put this pain out into the world for all to see: it is deeply and unmistakably wrong for you to have been treated with such discourtesy and disrespect by that ignorant woman in particular. How dare she be so hateful towards you. I want to hop on a plane and bop her on the nose in front of her cowardly cohorts.

    I sincerely hope that you ARE able to let this particular seed of hate and incomprehension go: don’t let it fester in you when you are doing So. Much. Good. You have the love and support of all these hearts you represent in the front line, giving a voice to those who cannot speak up for themselves.

    Your selflessness and the beauty in your heart will shine on long after you and I and those judges are gone. This wonder, this work that you and we are creating together is a legacy that will continue to teach and reach hearts long after those judgemental fools are gone.

    Don’t you ever straighten your lines, or hide those raw edges. Don’t ever lose faith in what you do. You are amazing. Xx

    • whollyjeanne

      Thank you, my friend. Thank you for listening That Night and again tonight. I love the way you saw those raw, frayed edges as vulnerability. I love the way you understood immediately that I am angry on behalf of the Nancys, and Tula Belles, and so many others who remain, because of things outside of their control, voiceless. I will not stand for it – I simply will not – something that’s easier to do with you beside me. xo

      • Chloe

        Love you so much, Jeanne: I’m so sad that you, of all the people who least deserve this kind of rudeness, were hurt by this. Big big love to you xxxx

  4. Debbie

    I barely know where to begin.
    I see both sides of this predicament.
    On the one side, the quilt was entered and, as were all other quilts, it was judged according to the high standards usually desired. There would be no identification or explanation with it: if there were, it would be disqualified. There’s nothing wrong with that. I have glowed beside my first place ribbon and am thankful for the experience. That is the purpose of the show: to validate the highest standards of quilting.

    On the other side, the quilt was in a show. It was seen by many people who had no idea what they were looking at. I hope there was proper signage after the judging that explained the reason for the existence of such a rebel quilt. People would be surprised to learn it stands for the disabled, the broken, those a tad askew in terrible times.

    Quilt shows are excellent venues. Perhaps some will pick up some red and white to become contributors. Some will become better educated.

    If the judging comments are too hurtful, forgive them. They were doing their job. They, like the red X’s, were innocent and had no idea what was in front of them. If they knew, there’s no doubt the comments would have been kinder.

    I hope these quilts find their way into art galleries and museums as well. There, too, people will wonder what these rebel quilts are about. And they will learn as we learn how to get our message out to them.

    This is nothing for you to bear, Jeanne: it’s not a criticism, it’s a misunderstanding because they didn’t have all the information. They didn’t know why this special quilt of love was there. It is an opportunity to learn. We are all in the thick of it and it is so obvious to us. You will have this fine-tuned in no time because that’s the kind of gal you are! You got this!

    • whollyjeanne

      I understand what you’re saying – and by the way, congratulations on your blue ribbons! how wonderful! As I said, this is my first quilt show, and had I an inkling that the quilts were going to be judged other than awarded ribbons, I would have politely declined. I just thought it was handled like a talent show – all the judges made their assessments, then huddled up to tally the scores and aware the ribbons. I didn’t enter these quilts to be judged, and while I know (as I also said) that they didn’t have access to my words, to the story about each of these pieces, their comments were nevertheless hurtful.

      I did see several people – visitors to the quilt show – gathered around both of these pieces, talking about them and taking photos of them. (Of course I now wonder if the photo they took of Communion 14 wasn’t to use in a what-not-to-ever-do presentation!)

      Had they just said something like “I sense there’s more to this story . . . ” or “I am intrigued and reluctant to judge because I sense there is more to this story . . . ” or even “this is not the kind of quilt I do, so I will just say Thank you for entering it because there are as many kinds of ways to make a quilt as there are quilters to make them” – well, that would have made all the difference.

      I am hopeful that at least a few quilt judges will find this post and see things from a different perspective, making sure to look a little deeper than straight stitching lines and blocks that are not the same size and maybe even understand that raw edges are the perfect way to visually describe a conversation with Nancy.

      That’s the reason I took a few days to think about it, why I spent half a day writing and polishing and being clear about the reason for making this public. My fingers are crossed;)

      And thank you for your kind words (but those written comments sure did feel like criticism of me, of the quilts, and of the people the quilts represent), although I did and do allow for that to not be the case. My fingers are crossed about that, too.

    • whollyjeanne

      PS: I plan for these 70273 project quilts to find their way into museums and galleries! If you know of any I need to approach/petition, please let me know. In a museum, for example, the story can be posted alongside the quilts (like we did at the local library.)

  5. Nancy Carroll

    It’s funny, Jeanne, as I was reading the part of your blog about the comments on the quilts, I was thinking, “but that’s exactly the point of the ones you entered.” Life isn’t filled with straight lines and edges — no-one’s is!! Life’s path meanders here and there and we get bruised and a little ragged and crooked as we move along them. With respect to both the 70273 Project and the Communion Series, you were trying to emphasize the importance of people whose lives perhaps take a few more unexpected turns and are a little more bruised around the edges. But, the power of the quilts is that they represent lives that are no less important, and perhaps even more so, because of those very qualities. You were being judged by people whose world’s are filled with special rulers to make sure lines are straight, an obsession for ensuring seams and points match, and that everything is squared up and true. I’m not saying this is true of all quilters, but, I suspect those chosen to judge believed these qualities were of primary importance in their work — hence, the comments you received. If I were you, I would consider those comment tags as badges of honour, for those quilts have succeeded in portraying exactly what they were meant to do — draw attention to and honour those special people, as unique and as valuable as anyone else. <3

    • whollyjeanne

      “If I were you, I would consider those comment tags as badges of honour, for those quilts have succeeded in portraying exactly what they were meant to do — draw attention to and honour those special people, as unique and as valuable as anyone else.” Thank you, Nancy, for turning my head around to a fresh perspective.

      I do realize that judging requires quantifiable standards, and these two quilts do not fit those confines. Well, it feels like confines to me, but to others it’s comforting and challenging and what they love to create. (And I love to look at.)

      Again, thank you for understanding and opening a window for me. I think you nailed it, Sugar!

  6. Nancy Carroll

    Jeanne, if ever you have a spare moment, check out a FB group that I belong to called The Textile Collective. If ever there were pieces with wonky edges, bizarre shapes and, at times, incomprehensible meaning these would qualify. Yet, each artist is exploring and expressing his/her creativity, emotions and soul and, viewed from that perspective, they are unique and wonderful. Here’s the link https://www.facebook.com/groups/368600056587126/

    • whollyjeanne

      Oh my goodness, Nancy – I just looked (can only see the members), but there are so many friends whose work I hugely admire, so i’ve asked to join. I think this is a better place for me. Thank you.

      • Nancy Carroll

        I think you will find some kindred spirits — some of them do very literal work (lifelike animals using felted wool) but others are truly “quirky”, that’s the only word I have for it — some I just don’t understand, but others make my heart smile ….

    • Debbie

      Thank you, Nancy, for finding the way to say what I tried to articulate. Project 70273 quilts aren’t meant to be judged as quilts but to be enjoyed as works of art. Unfortunately, Jeanne wasn’t aware of the lion’s den she was entering. It is extremely competitive. The judges judge. They aren’t there to give advice or lessons or even comments. Yes, it is very much like a talent show! Some are paid to come in, judge, and leave. It’s a job, paid or not.
      Project 70203 quilts would be better received as textile art.
      Thank you.

      • whollyjeanne

        And thank you, Debbie, for articulate what I spent a lot of words trying to say! I learned a lot. Had I been able to attend meetings, I might’ve known more – at least I would’ve had the opportunity to ask questions. I knew ribbons were awarded, but like I said, I thought it was handled like a talent show (at least the shows I’ve judged). So yes, I learned a lot – I learned (as much as I want to know) about judging and that, like you say, our quilts are better situated elsewhere. Thank y’all for helping me further clarify and articulate.

  7. Pam Patterson

    “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
    You did not come into this world to be a “nine stitches to the inch” perfectionist, you came to be a world changer! And that you are, my girl.

  8. Kevan Lunney

    small minds. your work is important and carries a universal message! Your technique supports the meaning which is a design principal born of higher thinking and artistic skill which is taught in art /design schools not quilt circles. Only continue to share in these venues if you intend to spread the word to your audience. Perhaps if there is a next time, check the box, Do not judge. You have bigger fish to fry. And we will be by your side until the job is done.

    • whollyjeanne

      Thank you, Kevan. Your words hit the spot, as my Daddy would say. (And I’m still waiting on Disqus to help me sort this URL thing out . . . and meanwhile looking into alternatives to let the good ones through and keep the spammers at bay. I’ll keep you posted, I promise.)

  9. Wendy C. Reed

    Well, I could go on all morning about the trials and tribulations of quilt shows and “judging”, but instead I will simply say “good for you” for shrugging it off. I am thankful that you are a strong person who knows her own value and will not let people like this discourage them. My only wish is that everyone could be this strong as this would eliminate the “negative” people in the world for they would have not one to belittle! Thanks for all you do and I hope to get my blocks out to you next week!

  10. Desiree Habicht

    I am so sorry Jeanne that you are feeling this way but I dare to offer you a different take on what happened. May I be the devils advocate as I come in to give you a virtual hug offer an alternative suggestion. Judges have a pretty hard job as they must look at a quilt in a few minutes and decide if it goes into the show. Once in the show they are held to scrutiny on what quilts win and what quilts don’t based on a standard of excellence. It’s not about the story or the merit of these quilts, it’s someone’s subjective opinion. They judge on the technique not on the heart of the quilt where your quilts would surely have won.
    I am also surprised to hear that at your quilt guild there wasn’t an opt out option! It is fairly standard. Everyone should have the option to show their quilts and tell their story and not be judged if that is their desire.

    As far as rude people like your woman in charge, I remind myself that she probably has no voice or power at home, longs to feel important and sadly has now become the abuser instead of having a heart of gratitude. I think this is what happened to many Germans during WWII, over come with a power which is then abusive to others. I love Beckys suggestion to call her out and expose her nasty words and tone! No wonder her volunteers are dropping off! I find that this often happens with woman, sadly! Thus I have found I don’t like guilds and group as it seems to often bring out the uglies! I love your shimmy response as you dusted her off before you left!!! Perfect, you arrived in love and were treated poorly but you didn’t take it home you just shook her off! Perfectly lovely example of the high road. I would tag your Quild president on this post!
    So I would like to offer a different approach. I would like to say that this is not the arena for our quilts, this is an arena of judging perfection and our quilts are imperfect and rightly so. Although my disabled daughter is the most beautiful woman I know I would not subject her to a beauty pageant scrutiny, why would I when her beauty goes so much deeper than the surface. So let’s leave the quilt shows for the “beautiful” quilts and enter as an exhibit where our story can be told loud and clear! We aren’t competing for a prize anyway right. We are wanting to have a voice, be heard, and tell the story for all these disabled people who didn’t have a voice! We want to scream it from the rooftops right? It’s finding the right venue! Let’s talk!
    I love your heart and commitment to this, I admire your focus and clarity! I feel honored to have met you through this and for being a small part of it! You are a jewel and you deserve the prize!

  11. moondrop

    some day sugar, have me tell you the story about my days as a art judge…
    I think you will laugh, and get a glimpse into something else …
    Love you so…

  12. Sandy Snowden

    yes. what you said.

  13. Sandra Miller Pitts

    I hardly ever comment but this time I must. Yea for you! The behavior of these people is unfortunately not as uncommon as one might think. Several years ago I was a cloth art doll maker was being the key word. It was people like these whose rude, disrespectful and entitled behavior ruined the joy of creating for me. I too decided that observing from a safe distance was better. Next year I know you will enjoy looking at the quilts and the fabulous dinner after. Congratulations on the right decision! You are such a warm and giving person who has the love and respect of quilters and non-quilters around the world.
    Your heart shines and we see it.

  14. Neame

    I don’t ordinarily leave a comment. But I’m so enraged by the inconsiderate folk you describe, I must. Several commenters have left words to use when confronting those who hurt rather than help. I have one more suggestion: in as neutral a tone as possible “I’m so sorry you are having a bad day.” This sends a ‘stop now’ message while at the same time allowing for the possibility the mean behavior was unintended. And it places the responsibility back where it belongs – on the party being hurtful.

    Thank you so much for all you and your team are doing with this XX project. It’s particularly meaningful to me as there are disabled people in my family. And the older I get the more I realize there are disabled people in almost everyone’s family; but we are ‘trained’ to hide these loved ones away out of sight. So, bringing them and their humanity into the light is a gift to us all.

    Neame

Pull up a chair why don't you, and let's talk . . .

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