My quilt, A Day of Hope, pays homage to the women of Iraq who walked long distances to polling stations on January 30, 2005 to vote for a Transitional National Assembly, the first step in the democratization of their country after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The women then spent hours waiting in line to cast their ballots. In spite of the danger of suicide bombings and mortar strikes to disrupt the voting, Election Day was a day of celebration for Iraqi women. They had gained the right to vote and a promise that twenty-five percent of the Assembly seats would be filled by female candidates under the electoral system of proportional representation. Women were filled with hope that the election would lead to a future of peace and stability.
Sadly, the Transitional National Assembly failed in its attempt to establish a government acceptable to all factions in Iraq. Iraqis still live with violence and chaos, their dreams of peace blown to smithereens. However, the women and their Election Day hopes should be remembered. Perhaps embers of that hope still kindle in their souls. I sewed A Day of Hope to support this hope and to honor the women for their bravery, spirit, tenacity, and endurance.
My quilt depicts the women standing in line waiting to vote at the polls. (Males had separate voting lines.) Their faces are from photographs of Election Day that were printed in the newspaper. I scanned the cutout faces into my computer, then printed them on fabric that was ironed onto the waxy side of freezer paper.
For their clothing, I draped the women in three-dimensional shawls, black abayas, and burkas. Groups of Iraqi women usually have babies in their arms or children at their sides. On Election Day, however, they left the children at home given the threat of terrorism. I had a long internal debate whether the quilt was self-explanatory or needed a sign to explain the story line to viewers. If a sign had been posted at the polls it would have been written in Arabic. For the benefit of quilt viewers I chose an English sign instead: Women, Line Up Here To Vote.
The most challenging part of making A Day of Hope was the patchwork wall mosaic behind the women. The pattern of the mosaic was drawn from a book of Islamic geometric patterns. The problem was to figure out an easy way to sew the design.
After study, I determined that the pattern consists of three quilt blocks: a solid square, a block with an X, and a connecting block.
The basic pattern is two rows of blocks. Row 1 has alternating X blocks and connecting blocks. Row 2 has alternating solid blocks and connecting blocks. Note that the connecting blocks in Row 1 have vertical deign elements. In Row 2 the connecting blocks are turned so that the design is horizontal.
I always try to find easy ways to sew blocks. My solution for the X block is as follows:
- Draw an X block on paper the size of your choice.
- Cut a plastic template the size of your X block drawing. Place the template over the drawing and mark the center square on the plastic.
- Sew a patchwork block with a simple cross. The center square should be the same size as the center of your template. Measure your drawn X block from corner to opposite corner (for example, six inches) Each side of your patchwork cross block needs to be that size. (six inches square).
- The final step is to lay your plastic template on the sewn cross block as illustrated. Use your rotary cutter to cut along the sides of your template.
After sewing together the blocks of my mosaic design I used gold trim to outline and accentuate the patchwork patterns. The trim adds to the complexity of the mosaic design, creating a pattern of its own.
Once the mosaic was completed, I made the arch that frames the mosaic. I drew the arch with a compass on freezer paper, then cut out the center to create an arch pattern for the quilt. (Refer to my Bismillah: The Making of an Islamic Quilt post for detailed instructions on making and using arch patterns.) Arches
Then I ironed the waxy side of the pattern onto background fabric so I could mark the shape of the arch on the fabric. Unfortunately the gold fabric I wanted to use was purchased for a previous project. There was very little left so I had to piece small leftover sections together, a task that was complicated by the vertical stripes in the gold design. I always seem to have problems like this when I quilt. I start the sewing with a rough idea, but make most sewing decisions, like color and scale, on the fly. If only I planned ahead……
To complete the quilt, I added a patchwork frame to the arch, appliquéd the women figures to the bottom of the quilt, and sewed on borders.
For the quilt back I used a light tan-gold fabric that unfortunately showed my machine quilting stitches to a disadvantage. To cover my double stitching and hide thread knots I sewed little gold beads, seemingly at random, on the back. I didn’t expect to fool the judges, but thought they might not make the effort to find mistakes to criticize. To my surprise one judge wrote, “How nice to find decorative beads on the back.”
A Day of Hope has been very well received. It has been accepted in a number of juried national quilt shows, including the International Quilt Festival in Houston, the AQS show in Paducah, KY, the Pacific International show in California, and received an Honorable Mention at the National Quilt Extravaganza XIV in Harrisburg, PA.
The quilting compliment I cherish most came from my high school English teacher, now in his eighties, whose wonderful paintings have political messages. After I sent him a photo of A Day of Hope he wrote that he was so inspired that he has taken his easel out of storage and is painting again.
California quilter, Donna Hussain, has exhibited in major quilt shows around the country, authored books, and is a regular contributor to Fiber Focus. Click on her name to see all of her past articles.
The photo shows Donna with her husband, Pascha.