While I am alone during the day in my studio, I almost always listen to National Public Radio. In the fall of 2009, I was stitching on my long arm quilting machine and listening to the Democratic Party select Barrack Obama to be their candidate for the President of the United States of America, and my heart filled with joy.
I–like so many others–wanted to in some way celebrate this moment. I had just done a bang up job on cleaning my studio. I had abandoned many old projects that were never going to become quilts on their own. These half finished quilts were now officially what I call “bits”–potential filler for community quilts or kitchen sink quits.
I had an idea. What if I take all the star blocks I’d made over the years and used them to make a new version of the American flag? A version of the flag that celebrated all of our cultural diversity. A version of the flag that represented not just traditional red-white-and-blue values but pink-purple-and orange values too.
I got right to work.
First I pieced the stars together using my Kitchen Sink method–which is basically this– If you need to make the area bigger, add some fabric; and If you need to make the area smaller, cut some fabric off. Sometimes classically trained quiltmakers struggle with this method, but once you’ve loosened up enough to try it you will find it very liberating.
It was good that I used old “bits” to make the stars, but the end result was a VERY large star section measuring almost four feet by six feet. Because the star section was so large the stripe section would have to be even BIGGER.
Meanwhile, I had made contact with an artist named Susan Walen who was organizing an exhibit in Washington DC called President Obama a Celebration in Art Quilts. I agreed to finish the quilt in time for the show opening which was scheduled for the end of January 2009. Fortunately, Sue is an amazing women to work with. Without her, this flag would never have been finished. Thank you Sue!
I decided that each stripe should celebrate an aspect of the cultural diversity of our country. Here are some pages from my journal showing me working out the ideas. Building a large quilt like this requires a lot of math! You will see that I have my own methods for getting where I need to go when it comes to construction issues.
These are close-ups of the stripes.
Just finishing the top was a huge mile stone. The final flag measures 6 1/5 feet by 10 1/2 feet.
And now I needed to load it on my long arm and quilt it! That was what I did for the entire month of January 2009. Hours and hours. Days and days. There were times I would lay down on the floor behind my machine and feel sorry for myself. It really seemed like there was no end to this quilt.
About 48 hours before the show in DC opened, Walt and I drove out to the airport post office and mailed Colors Unfurled aka If Betsy Ross had My Stash to Washington. They received and hung the quilt just hours before the opening.
Since then Colors Unfurled has traveled around the US. You can see its complete show history on my website <http://mariashell.com/colors-unfurled/>
It is my visual thank you to President Obama and his family for their service to our country.