A week from now, Sara R will pass a milestone: five years at Daily Kos. In that time, she’s proved to be a powerful community builder in a way that is almost shaman-like. Her quilts–both the signature-quilt fund-raisers she has stitched together for Netroots Nation and the spectacular “love catchers” she’s made for 30 (now 39) members of the DK family in need of healing–are tangible expressions of community connection that transcend our workaday political world.The signature-quilt project began before the 2006 Yearly Kos get-together (the predecessor of Netroots Nation) as an effort by Sara and Aunt Arcticto raise money for progressive candidates. Because she currently has four quilts with some “dynamite celebrity signatures” that could be producing money, she’s looking at the legalities and other logistics of doing an online raffle.
The “love catcher” quilts began last September. All these are filled with messages to the recipient, written on muslin in archival ink, creating a permanent record of good wishes, prayers, and other words of hope and comfort to Kossacks weakened by disease or other health disorders, or from being the care-giver of someone who is afflicted. Among the earliest recipients of a community quilt was exmearden, now one of the featured writers on the front page at Daily Kos. To say that the quilts are treasured by recipients is an understatement. One Kossack takes his with him through the machine every time he has an MRI.
As Sara wrote in one of the diaries announcing the start of another quilt:
Without question, it’s your words that make these quilts so valued by their recipients. Think of one of these quilts as a giant, cuddly group get-well card–something that will be kept and valued more than a stack of cards ever will. Such a quilt can be held onto, cried into, or hung on the wall and read over and over. This a very special way for a person who is ill to keep the well wishes of all their friends close while they go through their treatments.
If Sara knows someone is going through a particularly hard time, she will ask the person whether he or she will accept a quilt. “But more and more, I get emails from people suggesting recipients.
“Sometimes, she says, “I will need to put up more than one diary to collect enough messages for someone, but we always get what we need. Non-recipients are drawn to the diaries either because they know the recipient and want to support him or her or because they like the process of connecting with other Kossacks. So many times, there have been exclamations in the comments to the quilt diaries along the line of, ‘This is how Liberals are!’ or ’This is what it means to be a Progressive!’ I think when people participate with the quilts, they feel connected to the group and their hearts open–and this feels really, really good to them.”
The first “love catcher” came about last September with a quilt for othniel:
“I was undergoing some stress at the time,” Sara says, “and I took some time to meditate. I kid you not, in my meditation, the idea to make a quilt for othniel came quite clearly. I put up a diary to collect messages. Othniel saw them the night before he went into surgery. He became so excited he called his beloved and made him come to the hospital late at night to share the experience of reading the messages together. It was all that love and support that he took with him into surgery, even before the blanket was done. Since that time, the blanket goes with othniel everywhere, to keep his friends’ love close.”
After caring for their parents in their final illnesses, Sara and her sister resettled in Portland, Oregon, a community they chose for the natural beauty of its surroundings, the transportation system and city leaders’ attempts to encourage sustainable living, something, she says, that aligns with her own progressive views.
Sara prefers simple, traditional blocks: “There is a comfort and geometry to them that really appeal. But I use a mix of fabrics–many pictorial prints, some historic reproduction prints, and some very modern – and ‘paint’ with them in a collage-like fashion.” She doesn’t come from a long line of quilters. She first “made a stab” at it in college, literally, she says, “stabbing the needle up and down instead of properly rocking it.” After two quilts she gave up.
Then, 11 years ago, on a trip through New England with her sister, she stopped at a quilting store in Maine and both caught the bug. Last year, that became a business. “Like many others,” Sara says, “I have found it hard, as a fifty-something, to find salaried work in the current economic climate. So doing what I love is paying the bills at the moment.” She and her sister-partner also have an online shop at Winglion: quilts from the heart.
Making a living, of course, isn’t what community quilts are about. The $5 donation that Sara asks from each message-giver covers costs of materials but only a small scrap of the time she puts into her creations. It’s obviously through her dedicated craftwomanship that the quilts ultimately come into being. But she says there is another power involved:
“Ojibwa, who writes with me on Street Prophets [and also at Daily Kos], says that in his Native American tradition that community is recognized as an important component of healing. The quilt project appears to be tapping into the healing power of community–and not just for the recipients. The people who give messages also receive a feeling of well-being and harmony from the exercise. There is something wonderful at work here–and I can’t claim credit for it. It comes from all of us, our spirits, our hearts, focusing on a need. When we wish healing for another, we do something good for ourselves and the whole group, as well.”
As we say in Creek, Sara, M’vto–thanks–for tapping into that healing power and turning it into something of beauty and strength.
*Original interview, Community power! Community Quilts was posted at Daily Kos.