Way Back When
With a year’s worth of allowance I bought my first sewing machine when I was 11 years old. By the time I was thirteen I was creating my own fashions and wearing them a bit self consciously to Jr. High. One day the principal pulled me out of math class and explained that the black sun dress which I had trimmed with white lace was indecent. It broke the dress code because it was sleeveless. I argued that because the dress had wide straps I could still wear a bra with it and thus I wasn’t breaking the spirit of the code. Nevertheless my mom was called to bring me an alternative outfit. While waiting outside the school for my mom to arrive the principal followed me out and began again about the dress code. I felt threatened, vulnerable and angry. I told him to “go to hell.”
When I got home that night my parents made me call all of my girlfriends and tell them through a flood of tears that the big slumber party I had planned for the weekend was canceled because of my mouthing off. I’ve been sewing with attitude ever since!
As a young adult I began making quilts in 1989 and selling them at the local farmers’ market in Carrboro, NC. I loved to sew and I loved fabric. I had a great eye for color and patterns. I thought it would be a good way to make extra money. I sold my first quilt the second week out. Within a year I saw the first exhibition of African-American improvisational quilts, Who’d A Thought It, a show organized by Eli Leon at the Ackland Art Museum at UNC-Chapel Hill. It changed the course of my life. I began improvising with patchwork, which led to my professional career as an artist. I remember selling my first improv piece for $1500 at the farmers’ market it was similar to the quilt below but square and in primary colors. I couldn’t sleep that night I was so excited– my voice and vision was recognized, appreciated, valued. I was hooked.
Crosses by Sherri Lynn Wood, 1992
And now my career as an artist and quilt maker has come full circle. Two years ago, just as I began working on my first book about improvisational process and patchwork, I met Eli Leon at a talk I gave to the East Bay Modern Quilt Guild. He was in the audience and I was talking about how much his exhibition influenced me. We became friends and visit regularly to talk about the quits in his collection. I’ve been given an incredible opportunity to translate some of Eli’s knowledge and combine it with my own into a practical format for modern quilters to learn by. I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. I am incredibly grateful.
SHERRI LYNN WOOD is an artist working in Oakland, CA. She is the recipient of the Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant for Painters and Sculptors, and a two-time MacDowell Colony Fellow. She has been making and improvising quilts as a creative life practice for twenty-five years, and blogs about it at daintytime.net. Teaching credits include Penland School of Craft, QuiltCon, and numerous modern and traditional guilds across the country. Her first book, The Improv Handbook For Modern Quilters – A Guide to Creating, Quilting and Living Courageously, was released by STC Craft/Abrams in May 2015 and has already sold more than 6000 copies.