Quilt no. 020: there is an ocean in my soul where the waters do not curve

If I could have chosen where God would hide his heaven,
I would wish for it to be in the salt and swell of the ocean.
Carried by the currents to all continents’ shores.
Reaching into depths where the sun’s light has never shown.

Quilt no. 020 by Shelby Marie Skumanich: Medium Shade Close Up

While piecing this quilt in the summer of 2016, I wrote: “I haven’t touched salt waters of the ocean for a long time. I dream of its depths on occasion, the way light filters down until it is blotted out by the blackness. I dream of being swallowed whole by the powerful waters, my weightless body pulled down, watching the sky above grow dark through a watery lens. I dream of this, surrounded in waking life by high, dry country as far as I can see.”

This quilt is titled after lyrics from The Ocean by band Against Me!, a song that is part meditation, part daydream about what happens when your internal life and your external life do not match. I cannot say that I relate to Grace’s experience of being a transwoman and I would not dare to claim that as my own. But I have found a lot of solace and understanding of myself in the way she has written about her life. I’ve related to the shame, guilt, desire to hide, to be someone else she often expresses in her work.

Quilt no. 020 by Shelby Marie Skumanich: Stitching Details

While I have been a fan since I was an awkward, orange haired punk, I revisit her music on occasion, finding my love of that music as voracious and all consuming as it was when I was a teenager. When I worked on this quilt, I used her music as means to blot out the external world through large Seinheiser headphones. I spent 75 hours over the course of 6 weeks sitting at my sewing machine, feeding bits of fabric under the presser foot and trimming pieces to be the right size. I was trying to stop myself from drowning, pulled down by something I couldn’t name.

Quilt no. 020 by Shelby Marie Skumanich: Close Up

If Quilt no. 021 is about anxiety, this quilt is about depression. Composed entirely of seemingly disparate scraps, I was taken by the idea of using tiny pieces with minor variation to create dense areas of dark and light. I built this quilt. I started with two rows of light and two rows of dark and filled in between them two rows at a time. Viewed from afar, it looks like black or near black solid fabric. Up close, however, the variety of the fabric adds texture and visual interest. The darkness always creeping up into the light, the light always filtering down into the darkness, the in-between muddied and chaotic.

Quilt no 020 by Shelby Marie Skumanich: Askew View

Quilts are a means to make composition with color and value, a way to explore  the possibilities of surface. This feels very different than the way I was formally trained to make work, in photography. With photography, I was always seeking outward, looking into the world, hoping to find a reflection of myself. With quilts, they are born nearly whole from my internal life, looking into myself, finding my own mirror.