Saturday, February 2, 2019

The Maningrida quilt

It might be embarrassing if I counted the number of started but not finished quilts in my possession (UFOs in quilt language), so I have resisted the temptation to count those lovely things inspired many moons ago and tucked away in separate boxes for safe keeping. The Maningrida quilt is one of them, which took its inspiration from two sources. The main source was of course the beautiful cotton screen prints by the Indigenous women at the Babbarra Women’s Centre in Maningrida in the Northern Territory, found in Spotlight who advertised that 30% of all sales would go back to the group in Maningrida. Printed on the selvedge of these beautiful fabric designs were the names of the artist sand the name of the item that is part of the everyday lives of these aboriginal women, items such as spider webs, fish trap designs and various edible plants and roots, all in a variety of colour ways. Here is a sample of some designs.

The design concept came from a book by Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr entitled “Quilts made modern”.[1] It struck me as being a very simple and elegant design for these fabrics, which would go well with a quilt cover set I had for the second bedroom. It was going to be double-bed size in its original manifestation, but having been put to one side for a considerable number of years for multiple reasons. This grand design has how more than halved, and is more like a cot size. I figure it is better to get it finished in smaller dimensions than to struggle on with piecing the minute scraps to make the design. So the full size of 87”x104” has now come down to close to 32”x44”, named as a ‘wall or baby’ quilt (it's actually more like 36x36"). Just cutting my cloth according my means - by which  mean, my energy reserves. 

Strips of random colours involved joining a various widths, from 1” to 2/14”, then cutting up into 2” lengths and joining to make the long strips desired. Very labour intensive, and quite fiddly in that all the seams needed to be pressed against themselves because of the cream seeded cotton! I had almost half a quilt, when I decided to take a shortcut and cut them all in half to make a wall/baby quilt. No more agonising!

I’m not getting any younger, and as most know, have been dealing with immunotherapy treatment for metastatic melanoma over the past 3 years, eventually rendering the disease ‘inactive’ at the moment I am delighted to report.  But I’m not wasting any time, so I am heading for a finished article! It will look nice above the said bed covers on the wall until it decides to transition into a cot quilt! Below is the quilt top, as yet unjoined to its batting and backing fabric. I might need some help here!

The help I need is because I do not have a space to pin the three layers together, and I do rather like the quilting design as it is shown on the front cover of the book, as seen below. This can only be done by someone with a long-arm quilting machine, so my next job is to look around for such a person. Look forward to posting the 'final product'! Original design below.

[1] 2010, C&T Publishing: CA. I bought it the year following publication, in 2011, so you can see how long this little quilt has been waiting for its resurrection.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Knowing Innana: the Goddess of descent and return

Shape-shifting is probably the most common feature of all goddesses across all cultures. All gods needed to bi-locate, at least – but what they often do is to multi-locate to meet the needs of those seeking their assistance. Shape-shifting is more of a forming spiritual connection to address the needs of followers across geographical boundaries, and even across the boundaries of cultural practices. Although the screen print in this little votive offering was originally of the Bird-headed Goddess of the Nile River,[1] she has shape-shifted for me into Inanna.

Over the years, Inanna has shown herself historically to be a wonderful example of that quality, particularly through knowing her influence in the lives of my friends going through much shape-sifting themselves. She has become present to me more recently in my own life, as I work my way through dealing with all the outcomes of having been diagnosed with metastatic (sometimes called ‘advanced’) melanoma, starting with the wide local excision on my cheek in November 2015 and going through to February 2016, when I started the immunotherapy treatment.

Sumerian Inanna is variously called Ishtar in Babylon, and perhaps Astarte or Ashera in Canaan and Israel. She is certainly of goddess of fertility, both for the land and as the virgin bride of the new king, who can renew her virginity to bring fruitfulness. She is similar to Persephone, daughter of the Greek Demeter, who descends to the Underworld annually in order to return fertility to the lands and those who dwell on it. There are many versions of the story, including the one that has her descending to rescue her consort/husband Dumuzi. Another tells of her descent on hearing the wailings in childbirth of her sister and Underworld counterpart, Ereshkigal. She was required to abandon an item of clothing in order to pass through the seven gates that guarded entrance to the Underworld. Finally, on arrival, it appears she gave her own life, being suspended lifeless on a hook until her ‘return’. (I’ve always said it is women who are the “sacrifice”). Whatever view or emphasis is given to the narrative, it is a story of a difficult and perhaps unwilling descent, but also of a triumphant return, bringing new life – and of holding the opposites.

Here she is standing triumphant with a full moon behind her.

After two years and nine months of treatment with immunotherapy, it became clear that I was not being ‘rescued’ with the hope for outcome: NED (no evidence of disease). There had been other incidents during those years, which now I think of it, could be aligned to passing through the gates: loss of thyroid function, skin rashes, another seemingly unrelated melanoma on my vulva, lichen sclerosis, to be topped off with almost 3 months of dealing with a bout of very painful shingles that prevented me from having my regular infusions. During the last six months I’d been wondering why it did not seem possible to give me a PET scan to see if the lesions were still active. If they were not active, I could go off the immunotherapy with peace of mind, but for whatever reason, I could not have a PET unless I did cease treatment. Catch 22. Russian roulette.

Going through all of those ‘gates’ had caused various types of anxiety – developing stage by stage I suspect – until it just couldn’t be ignored! Perhaps most of all, I felt very disappointed in myself that I had not defeated the demon. I had worked so hard, but seemed to be left hanging! Thanks to the oncology team, they recognised the symptoms of my ‘existential anxiety’. The immunotherapy was halted (with my agreement), and a PET ordered. While the lesions had shrunk in size by more than 30% during the long course of treatment, they were still obvious on the CT scan, though the PET showed no metabolic activity. So no NED for me, but  a respite and at least I am now free of the grind of three-weekly infusions requiring blood tests prior and all the follow up. Now it’s a CT every three months.

 I decided to show my Inanna rising from a lotus, a sacred flower across cultures. Its anchor is below the surface, and it shows its beautiful flower on the surface, nurtured as it is by its roots in the mud below. After all, Inanna is about change and transformation, no matter what her original and morphing stories. I can claim my own story, and I feel that I have shape-shifted to a new place in my ongoing story of living with melanoma.

[1] Again I am grateful to the creator of this image, Suzanne Swanson. Together we made many screen prints of this powerful goddess, and I have nearly used them all now.