I often use text in my quilts as an additional tool for self-expression. Some of these are political commentaries, some are self-reflections on identity, while others challenge our notions of censorship. This one revealed today is all of the above.

Yesterday I reminded you of the series of Who I think you think I am quilts and indicated that this new quilt continues that theme but takes a step away from me to examine a descriptor that is not part of my self-identity. This quilt was inspired by my friend, Steven Ambrose, a PhD student in English in Michigan.

Life as a picnic

Steven and I worked together for more than a year on this idea, as I puzzled my way through formulating my philosophy on usage of this word. This is an unusual collaboration and one of the sort I’d like to pursue again.

We decided to interview each other for this reveal. My questions and Steven’s responses are below. You can and should read Steven’s questions and my responses over on his blog.

Life as a picnic

Seriously, Steven asked me better questions. Don’t forget to go read over there too.
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Due to the use of the full English language, some may consider this post not safe for work (NSFW).
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Scroll at your own peril. Go watch Ted the talking porcupine eat a pumpkin instead, maybe?
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Seriously. There is a six-letter f-word below that you might not want to consider or that you might not want on your screen at work.

Life as a picnic

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Cauchy’s Questions for Steven

Tell us about you. The usual big questions: Who are you? Where are you from? What do you do?

lol i feel like this is a speed date! the basics are i’m steven ambrose. i’m from michigan, though i’ve lived in dublin, chicago, and pittsburgh before i moved back. i’m a phd student in english. i suppose people have called me witty, and i’m admittedly rather inappropriate. really, all you need to know about me is what is says on my ravelry:
fiber snob, flickr junkie, harlot lover
i knit.
i blog.
i walk my dog.
the rest changes without notice.

Life as a picnic
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You’re pretty craft-y and it seems that you are careful in choosing what to make. Tell us about that. What catches your eye? What do you make? And why do you make?

well, i’m primarily a knitter, but in general i’m a sucker for traditional design. i like designs that are simple or at least have the illusion of it. i prefer solids and neutrals, or light variegation, especially in knitting. i loathe all synthetics. i tend make a lot of lace because, while i can’t really pull it off, it’s a challenge that makes sense in my brain. i’m definitely a process knitter and have given the majority of what i’ve made away. if you look at my ravelry, i think my projects reflect all of these things, with some exceptions of course.

i would say that 75% of what knitters make is hideous and i think that’s part of the reason why people don’t take it seriously. i’ve learned a lot about knitting and have very strong opinions about the craft and the industry. for the most part, i keep my thoughts to myself. but every now and then i just have to call out a designer, yarn, or burn a book.

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When did we “meet”? We have mutual Rhinebeck friends, but never crossed paths there. [I have a vague impression in my mind of a message you sent me in early 2012; actually, the impression is of the to-me-bold suggestion written therein and how we find ourselves here today.]

this is a hard question as i have an horrible memory. luckily, i keep records and the internet saves everything. the first official time we ‘met’ (by which i think we both mean “corresponded electronically”, was 18 jan 2012 after i commented on your blog post. you have the blogging trifecta of beautiful work, photography, and compelling writing. you have a point of view that i couldn’t resist.

that being said, i have a (possible phantom) memory of seeing you at my first rhinebeck. you had run into our mutual friend yarnyoldkim and i was like, “who is this bitch? people seem to know her.” but of course, as i said, my memory is notoriously unreliable.

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Life as a picnic
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What does this word mean to you? [There are too many possible angles: first time you encountered the word, whether it was ever aimed at you, broader societal context (appropriation, re-claiming, is it still commonly used?). I’ll leave it open to you.]

the big question.

there are rare instances when i use the word in a kind of ironically loving way; like seeing a visibly queer boy, turning to my friend and saying, “look at this faggot!” to acknowledge their fabulosity.

generally though, this word makes me feel bad in a way that’s indescribable for the most part. to me, it signals both hateful loathing and danger. whereas ‘fag’ is still incredibly derogatory and equally abhorrent, ‘faggot’ usually means it’s time to get outta there or this dude will fuck me up!

and yet (and i’m sure freud would have a field day with this one) it’s still a part of who i am. anyone can clock me as gay as soon as i open my mouth. anyone with any sense can tell just from how i walk. i’m not one of those gays who’s trying to get married and prove to the world that “i’m just like you” or “love is love” or believe everything is ok because “it gets better” (as if that were even true for everyone or makes it worth the shit queer kids still have to go through). i live in this world differently. there are people in the world who hate me because of that. i can’t change that and won’t change for them.

for me, hearing faggot is just a reminder that being hated will always be a part of my world.

luckily, i’ve minimized my exposure to it.


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Life as a picnic
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This quilt is part of a long-term series exploring identity and I went through several different design ideas before settling on this one. While the picnic style of the patchwork, using 1930s calicoes and a traditional Quaker cross stitch sampler motif, was meant to emphasize that incurring the wrath behind usage of this word is not a picnic, I think I was subliminally inspired by the early scenes of bliss in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. Discuss. [Ha! But, no, really. I mean it.]


i totally feel what you mean! can’t you see us picnicking on it, eating strawberries and drinking château peyraguey at the next rhinebeck?

Life as a picnic

to me, if you were to make a quilt that represented what the word sounds like or evokes in a more literal way, it would look completely different. for me, what makes this piece so interesting is the juxtaposition of such a beautiful, old-timey look with a word that sounds so ugly.

it’s funny, but this design is totally different from your original idea and you picked calicos. one of my life goals is to make a traditional quilt using calicos. but what’s weirder is that both the fabric and color scheme are eerily similar to my baby blanket! however anyone feels about this word, or your larger project of quilting using challenging vocabulary, i can’t help but think that this quilt was meant to be.

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Don’t forget to go read the companion post on Steven’s site. His insightful questions and my answers round out our project with our two (or more!) perspectives on the ideas and the work.
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Life as a picnic

The Details
Materials: cotton solids and calicoes from stash
Techniques: overall, a traditional Quaker sampler, longarm machine quilted by the amazing Pam Cole; hand-bound by me
Finished size: 70″ square
Started: May 5, 2013
Finished: October 16, 2013

Comments, whether positive or negative, are welcome. Hate speech will not be posted, however.