“Anxiety, Anxiety you give me no mercy
Grind my teeth smooth and flat in my sleep.”
– Against Me!
No Mercy is a quilt about many things. It is a quilt about quilts. It talks about how basic construction and traditional blocks can be re-purposed to create new compositions and a means for self-expression.
We understand that, at a base level, a traditional quilt design is a usually compromised of uniform units (blocks) set into a grid. Sometimes it has smaller units (sashing) set between them to create separation and additional pattern. I played with that idea by taking the concept of a four patch block, altering it’s proportions and scale to provide the foundation for flexible patterning.
It speaks to quilters’ general propensity to use every last piece of fabric, as this entire quilt was pulled from my scrap box, one strip at a time. I used yellow, orange and orange-red fabric scraps leftover from other projects to construct the blocks, figured out how they fit together with scraps of white and off-white. To compose the quilt, I arranged those blocks across my design wall and opted to use pre-cut scrap fabrics as the sashing. I removed the blocks from the traditional grid, opting to play with the ever-pervasive modern alternative grid.
I also opted to face this quilt, the edges of it rolling over slightly to the back. This eliminates the border a binding gives a quilt and causes it to float when viewed. I have used a similar technique for my work before, opting to flush mount photographs instead of framing them.
This quilt is also about my very real, very ugly and ever pervasive issues with anxiety. It looks the way anxiety feels to me: an endless and circular loop of ever-firing thoughts, feelings and reactions.
I hear people describe themselves as laid back and I have often wondered what that means. For as far back as I can remember, I have always been high strung, high key, high energy, my brain bouncing from place to place. I have little capacity to chill. It drives me towards work. My past tells me I must worry, must fret, must consider every horrible thing could possibly happen and then to think about them over and over again.
But here is what anxiety has taught me: that something isn’t right. Be it the way I am living, what I am doing with my time, the secrets I am keeping. Anxiety tells me when something is wrong and that I should figure out what it is. Anxiety is, in a sense, a way of knowing for me. When I actually listen to what it’s saying, it tells me something I need to know.
I started this quilt in April of this year, brimming over with generalized anxiety about my life, its lack of direction, its lack of focus. I have felt like I’ve bobbed along, always reacting to circumstances, never weighing my options, never thinking. My life spent either being swept along by currents not of my choosing or reacting against them to get out of a situation that I accepted. It does not give one a sense of autonomy to live like this. There is no peace and there is no sense of accomplishment. There is, simply, worry.
It’s appropriate, then, that I finished this quilt the week while contemplating an incredibly difficult decision. It was fueled by such hideous things as unmet and lost needs, emotional distance and misplaced malice. There was deep disconnection, unsettled disagreements and heaps of resentment. It felt like drowning.
I returned to the east coast in late September, my favorite time of year to visit. I saw my family and made pierogies, a yearly ritual I cherish. I stayed with my parents, their house my second home. I spent time with my closest friends, in places that they call home. I ate delicious foods that I find to be lacking in Colorado, pastas heavy with sauce, soups thick with vegetables, hard cheeses dusting whatever appropriate. I walked the boardwalk of Asbury Park, the ocean air cool and salty.
Bathed in those comforts, I made that decision, despite an unknown future.
This time, however, I did not just react, did not just fight against the current. With a plan, I threw myself onto the shore and have been embraced by the community I’ve worked really hard to build. My anxiety has ebbed. I have washed up, dear reader, with as much grace as one who has spent their entire adult life scraping along the ocean bottom. I do not know where I am going to end up. Where ever it is will be okay, because it is entirely of my own deliberate choices.