Quilt Diary by Renee Angle
For the last six years, I’ve been embroidering things my children say on 8×8 blocks of white muslin—in the hopes that the squares will eventually add up to a quilt top. They’re done quickly (one a day) to the point that I often compromise the look of things—will use different colors if I run out, or allow mistakes to stand—in order to finish my one a day goal. I started this project when my oldest was two and it’s a way of documenting both my children coming into language and many of the transitions I’ve been through since becoming a mother. My kids say and ask me a lot of things–constantly, rapid fire, all at once. As an introvert, it’s overwhelming and I can’t keep track of it all or even have my own thoughts as a result. So, I just stopped trying to have my own thoughts and instead, I started to sew theirs. Sewing what they say allows me to slow it down and think. Louise Bourgeois says that “sewing is an act of emotional repair” there’s that here too. ⠀
This project is a three dimensional extension of a memoir I’ve been writing about my motherhood experience for the last almost decade.
This project is a three dimensional extension of a memoir I’ve been writing about my motherhood experience for the last almost decade. (The decade is somehow my natural gestational length it seems!) This embroidery project decontextualizes all of the things my children say. There is a story behind each quilt square. Some are obvious and discernible from the syntax, and others, you’d just have to know me, my family, the story. There is real serious heartbreak here, and also rebellion, ambivalence, and also some kind of joy, which I feel is important to note: it’s different from fun. Decontextualizing gives me the opportunity to tell the story in an abstract way. I’m a mother and my own story is sewn to my childrens’, but what is mine to say? ⠀
Louise Bourgeois says “you repair the thing until you remake it completely” which reminds me very much of the experience of writing a memoir. I tell the story and in the retelling, somehow, I remade myself. The location of my “self” and my “story” are lost and located neither in the language I chose or the person that I am–both have changed through the action of the making. It’s as if I’m sewing these quilt squares with the very thread I’ve unraveled from it. Destroying and creating at the same time.⠀
Another tension I was trying to play with is the preciousness of something that is sewn, (samplers where many children learned to write and read, psalms, and other precious words are sewn) but I’m deliberately trying to sew things like my children’s throw away fart jokes, their silly nonsense babble, not just their poetic reverie. Because most of the time being with my kids is not everything beautifully poignant. It’s fucking scary, claustrophobic, and boring to be caring for these young children right now. Every parent/family has their own own short hand, nicknames, non-sense. What happens when we observe this linguistic complexity and absurdity, not judge it, just listen?
Renee Angle is a writer and artist who fuses conceptual, constraint-based practices with life writing (diaries, letters, journals, memoir, genealogy), to create various kinds of texts. The author of a hybrid collection, WoO (Letter Machine Editions, 2016), her writing has appeared in the literary journals P-QUEUE, Entropy Magazine, The Rumpus, Western Humanities Review, The Volta, Diagram, in addition to the anthology I’LL DROWN MY BOOK: CONCEPTUAL WRITING BY WOMEN (Les Figues Press, 2012), and in the chapbook Lucy Design in the Papal Flea (dancing girl press, 2010). She has attended writing residencies at the Millay Colony for the Arts and MOCA Tucson AiR program. She is the recipient of a 2019 Arizona Commission on the Arts Research and Development Grant and the Bill Desmond Writing Award for her non-fiction writing. For over a decade she worked at the University of Arizona Poetry Center, curating programs for both adults and youth. You can see more of Renee’s work on Instagram.