ESTHER'S FABRIC'S SUPPORT OF BLACK LIVES AND MAKERS
June 29, 2020
This was part of a newsletter that I wrote on June 9, 2020…to learn more about what we are doing please read on.
Blocks and Strips (ca. 1970), Cotton plain weave and synthetic blend plain weave pieced and quilted by African American Annie Mae Young (1928-2012)
“I like big pieces and long strips. However I get them, that’s how I use them….kind of like working a puzzle. You find the colors and the shapes and certain fabrics that work out right.”
I have been watching the news and Instagram over the last week. How does one address the issues of police violence against African Americans, and how does our society address racism as a whole? Despite being silent, I have not ignored the call to action. My thoughts have been about what actions My thoughts have been about what actions I take as a small store owner tucked away on a small island in the northwest that will make a difference. How can someone who cares deeply make a statement that does not come across as trite or insincere? So, I decided this week I would listen. I have listened to the news, felt appalled and disturbed over the violence we have seen perpetrated on peaceful protestors, saddened to see the destruction on the streets of our country. But, I am encouraged to see the changes that are starting to happen in communities across the country, and across the globe to address racism and police violence.
I mistakenly believed that we were making real progress in addressing discrimination with the election of President Barack Obama, but I was encouraged by his words that for the first time in his lifetime we are having honest conversations about race. I am listening. I am reading. Right now, I am reading the book “So You Want to Talk About Race”’ by Ijeoma Oluo. Ms Oluo is an African American resident of Seattle who addresses in clear language issues such as privilege, police brutality, affirmative action, microaggressions and more. I am also listening to black makers who are talking about their experiences in the sewing community. You can hear about their experiences in conversations on instagram @blkmakersmatter. We support the reforms needed to make this country a better place to live for African Americans,
I hope that everyone that walks into Esther’s feels welcome. I have always striven to make our store a welcoming place to anyone who has interest in sewing, no matter their race, their background, their skill level, their sexual orientation, their sex, or their age. As makers, I see us form bonds together over what we love, the art of sewing. Although I am often ill at ease in social situations outside of the store, I can easily talk to someone about a beautiful quilt, or a challenging garment pattern, or a beautiful fabric. We can all find common ground in those subjects even though we might be years apart in age or come from very different backgrounds. I know I speak for myself and the rest of the staff, we truly want to welcome everyone to our store and to make them feel they are truly welcome and valued. If you have something you would like to say, if you want to have a conversation about these ideas or your experience, or have suggestions in how we can do better as a store, then I am open to ideas, please email me.
Finally, I hope you were intrigued by the photo at the start of this essay. This beautiful, very modern looking quilt was made in 1970, 50 years ago! I took this photo when my daughter and I visited the De Young Museum for an afternoon in 2017. I had read about and looked at many photographs of the quilts of Gee’s Bend over the years, but was thrilled to see them on special exhibit. If you are not familiar with these quilts, they were and are made by a community of African American women in a section of Alabama near Camden. Gee’s Bend is surrounded on three sides by the Alabama River. They had a ferry service that ran from Gee’s Bend, also known as Boykin to Camden, the county seat, where people went to buy goods and to vote. But in 1962 the ferry was eliminated making the trip to Camden over an hour, thereby putting up a barrier to the people of Gee’s Bend making their ability to register and vote onerous, a blatant act of voter suppression. These black women and their artistic quilts became widely known in 2002 with an exhibit of their works in the Whitney Museum. Their work has helped revitalize this dying community and helped to earn them much needed incomes. Learn more about these women and their work….an NPR interview, an article from The Outline, an article from Souls Grown Deep Foundation, a PBS segment
In support of black makers and specifically the Gee’s Bend quilting community, this week (June 6-June 14), we will be committing 5% of our sales to the Souls Grown Deep Foundation. This is a foundation, which has one of the Gee’s Bend quilters as president of its board, has launched an initiative to help revitalize the impoverished area of Gee’s Bend. Souls Grown Deep has already helped place quilts by 68 Gee’s Bend quilters into permanent collections in twenty institutions. This foundation is dedicated to advocating for artists of color who made artworks born in the struggle for civil rights, supports projects for advocating racial and social justice, provides support for health care and education, and promotes economic development across the Deep South. We want to give back to the makers who have contributed so much to the art of quilting.