The first week in December, I had 167 pieces of cloth, each bearing a stitched version of one of Nancy’s scratchings. I posted the last one, then breathed a sigh of relief, prepared to set all stitching aside and delve into the holidays when everybody would light at our house for together time. Then along came an email from my friend Angela – a copy of a submission she sent to the Florida Museum for Women Artists for the exhibit called Applaud That Woman:

Dear Crystal,

I’m writing in response to your invitation to honor a woman who has influenced me: Jeanne Hewell-Chambers. Jeanne describes herself as ‘woman, wit, writer,’ and those things are true, but they only begin to scratch the surface of the talents she offers to the world. Jeanne is a gifted writer and cloth artist, and she is also a champion of other women, an encourager, a community builder extraordinary.

If you have a project or a cause and Jeanne gets behind you, thank your lucky stars because you have found someone who will support you through those times when you need someone to care about it more than you care about it yourself. And if your voice isn’t very loud or one that the world will readily hear, Jeanne will amplify it and magnify and translate it for you and with you.

Jeanne has a number of projects in the works, as you will see if you check out her blog, but the one I want to showcase here is her “In Our Own Language” project. In these pieces, Jeanne collaborates with her developmentally disabled sister-in-law, Nancy. Jeanne provides the pens and paper, Nancy provides the sketches, Jeanne stitches the sketches. And then she sends them out into the world for other people to photograph and send back. This project is quintessential Jeanne – voice to the voiceless, generous, creator of community and beauty.

Jeanne inspires me to create art and to be a better woman.

Best regards,

(Angela’s email inspires me to be a better woman cause I love her too much to make a liar out of her.)

Crystal said “Yes,” and I had until 1/16/13 to get this pulled together. Holidays and all.

It was stressful.

It was heavenly.

Other than one brief phone call I had with Lisa Call when I shared a quick sketch of a flash image I had with her to talk about field of vision and other design elements (she’s fluent, I’m not), there were no concrete ideas of what to do and no time to ponder and plan. I simply turned my hands loose and stood back to watch this magnificent process called creativity. Having a focus and a deadline was freeing, exhilarating. I don’t remember when I’ve had so much fun and been so blissfully contented and peaceful.


Even without a clear image of the finished piece, I knew I wanted the cloth to be thin, fragile as Nancy is. I wanted it to hang away from the wall so it would be responsive to people as they walk past, the movement representative of how we affect each other, even if we never realize it. The batiste I stitched each scratching on was heavier than I wanted, so I emailed Judy Martin to see if she had any ideas, and she told me about some cotton lawn fabric that sounded perfect. I ordered 10 yards (having absolutely no idea how much fabric I would need), and when it came in, I watched delightedly as my hands spread it out on the table and ripped a length off. Then I fiddled and grappled, finding my way to the next step.

I ripped the “margins” off each stitched rendering, and when I began to put them together, I decided it would be impossible to put all 167 into one cloth, so I divided them into thirds. (Using the word “decided” sounds like I sat and meticulously planned and figured and measured, but I did none of these things. My hands had no time to spend scratching my head. It’s just hard to assign words to this amazing process. The hands don’t need rulers, words, or to show their work.) (I think this is one reason I’ve been so long writing about it – words are totally inadequate.)



Letting the pieces flop and romp together, I thought of Nancy because she is a puzzle whiz, and this was like putting a puzzle together Nancy-style: without the box top to go by. I stitched each teardrop together first,


then stitched each teardrop onto the cloth background, doing short, arhymical stitches in between and around each stitched scratching.


I have this obsessive fascination with teardrops as reliquaries, as vessels, as containers, and it just won’t let go of me, so I shaped each third into a teardrop.

Envisioning vintage ladies’ hankies from the 50s and 60s (the era when Nancy was born), I thought the hankies would fill the space around the teardrop. I knew I’d need a lot of them, and having no time to visit nearly enough antique stores, I reached out to Susan Lenz who put out the call via her newsletter, and hankies began to fill my mailbox from delightful, generous, caring women like Merry Mary Ellington, Mother, Alison Chambers Carole Rothstein, Janett Rice, and Margaret Blank



I pulled an all-nighter (one of many) cutting, folding, and ironing the hankies. Tried letting them fill in all the white space around each teardrop, but quickly found that too overwhelming, too distracting, annoying . . .




and went with a single-row border instead.



Delivery deadline was Wednesday, 1/16/13, and there was absolutely no way I could put this baby in the hands of some postal employee and say “You be real careful now”, so we drove to Atlanta on 1/15, spent the night with my Mother (where I pulled another all-nighter stitching the hanging sleeves) and flew to Florida Wednesday morning, 1/16. We checked into the hotel, and while Andy (my adorable, supportive husband without whom none of this would have been possible because he stepped right up and without any prompting or pleading, he took over all the menu planning, grocery shopping, cooking, pet duties bill paying, and more) went to the local home improvement store to fetch curtain rods, eye hooks, and fishing line, then came back to sand and put it altogether, I attached the sleeves on the back of each panel.



And off we scooted to the museum . . .


which was closed. But we went out to celebrate anyway.




The next morning found us up and out (relatively) early, and at last, In Our Own Language, Set 1 was delivered.





A week later, Andy, Mother, my nephew TJ, and I flew down for the opening reception (Friday, 1/25/13) and well, let’s just go with “ta-da” why don’t we.

For so many reasons, in so many ways, this has been the most amazing experience . . . and there’s absolutely no way I could have ever done it without the love and support and assistance and encouragement of so many people. Until I can think of a better way to convey it: From every cockle of my heart, thank you.

[ ::: ]

I’ve been wanting to share this for weeks now, and what finally motivated me to take the sticky note off the wall and spend the time pulling it all together and deal with the photos and pat around in the dark for the they’re-totally-inadequate-anyway words is to be a part of Nina Marie’s Off The Wall Friday.

She is my developmentally disabled sister-in-law, Nancy,
and I am Jeanne, the woman who flat-out loves her.
Go here to start at the beginning.