In the quaint, well-lit corner of the Residential College, Jeanne Bieri’s exhibition of quilts, Mending, spends a three month-stay.
There’s something so intimate about quilts – blankets so well-loved, the material extra soft. The two comforters I flew in from home to my dorm are quilts. Most quilts have been personalized, gifted by a grandmother or someone of the sort.
Immediately, the first quilt felt too delicate, too personal to touch. With elegant velvet and iridescent silk thrown over a backdrop of military blankets, the collection is an utter gem. With the help of relatively thick thread, fabric in jewel tones, wool, knit, corduroy, dye, and the occasional stain create patternless collages. Mixing the brightly bold with humble rustic, Jeanne describes how “the layering of quilts with army blankets tapped into my notions of duality, the scratchy army blanket and smooth quilt, one made of love, the other for war.”
I went through the gallery, slowly like this: Scooching close to admire smaller details, the windings and coils of string, then backing up to take in the whole thing, before glancing over to the previous ones I viewed too. I had music playing, and the stories within the quilts were speaking louder.
The movement of the pieces are so fun. Orange Dot has my eyes trailing along its seams, up-down, and like a game or an animation, it moves. Some are so long they fold back and forth in ribbons on the floor – like poured chocolate. The different stitch patterns in Crazy Quilt reminded me of animal tracks, while the larger whole was a map.
Night Wash contains two twin rivers flowing over a tattered old oil painting, whose ripped edges ripped off to reveal a more colorful culture and history inside.
Tied feels like a landscape, with living organisms and tribes of centipedes snaking between Earth’s crust and plates. The spots and circles resemble bacteria, or eyes. The stitches dotted around the outline of each shape could be wiggly pili or eyelashes.
Orange Drift is funky and fun. This fresh, dress-shaped quilt flaunts colorful seams and embroidered little things like initials and butterflies, flowers, zigzags along the bottom hem, x’s and loops–
My music suddenly glitched out – rewinded, went 3x fast, then skipped to a new song with a bubblier beat – a testament to this quilt’s powers.
Properly spooked, I felt struck. Moved. It might sound silly, but these beautiful blankets also gave me the courage to ask the East Quad pianist what song he’d just played, because staring at those quilts while hearing “All I Ask of You” from Phantom of the Opera for the first time was a spiritual experience, man.
I just had to visit them again, the next day.
I saw scribbles, webs, those circles that looked like viruses blown up through a microscope. Everything was connected, woven together, and somehow this made me think of how the internet has so much info about us, and it’s gross and creepy and dangerous. How traces of someone are always left behind. How even walking in circles can broaden and slowly get you somewhere, out of that hole. How we’re never going nowhere.
I like the spastic squiggling in Clara’s Ribbon and the sneak-ins like the embroidered scene of a bear getting into a barrel of fish, a patch of light-wash pink denim.
Back to Orange Drift – where what looked like closed tulips and Christmas tree lights danced along the silk patches. Then in Barcelona Morals, a subtle appliqued then stitched “margin good” and an innocent bee sat, staring me in the face. If I missed that, what else had I missed?
Upon digesting the fact that there were enough covert details for me to create a damn youtube channel dedicated to relaying all of Mending’s easter eggs with a giant yellow arrow in each thumbnail, I gasped, distraught. Just how long did it take Jeanne to make all of these? I longed to send her a coupon to that masseuse I visited after finals season had seriously fucked my back.
I was especially touched by the story of how textiles connected Jeanne to distant reaches of her family tree. “When I was given one of my Great Aunt’s quilts, I was put in touch with a group of relatives I’d never met.” Her genetic code revealed a shared creative impulse within these women, and in receiving passed-down quilts, she “sensed a tongue in cheek humor within their group.”
I can speak to the great comfort in hand-me-downs. Fabric and garments themselves, I find awe-striking in their painstakingness of stitches. But wearing my family’s old clothes – especially my dad’s or grandma’s (who have both passed) – is a feeling I hold really dear to me. I may not remember their voices ever clearly, but I can flip through an old photo album and say, ha! we’re wearing the same thing.
I never knew that quilts could carry so much personality; I always just loved the homemade, lots-of-thought-and-care aesthetic of them. As someone who hoards scraps of – you name it – fabric, magazines, old letters – with the intention of collaging old materials into something new and deeply personal, I admire Mending and all of its hand-stitched dedication. There’s a whole world waiting to be explored in each of Jeanne’s quilts; I could honestly spend all day looking at them and the hidden surprises they hold.
Read Jeanne’s lovely personal description of Mending here: