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. The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters will be released by STC Craft in early 2015. 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 making her own way as an artist, improvisor, and quiltmaker in Oakland, CA. She combines her knowledge of craft, social practice, and systems-centered theory to reacquaint people with personal agency, community, love and the basic skills of living. She has been making quilts since 1989 and is the developer of Passage Quilting, a hands-on, bereavement process utilizing improvisational patchwork and the clothing of the beloved. She has been blogging about craft as a life practice since May 2010.
Sherri has an MFA from The Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College and a Master of Theological Studies from Candler School of Theology at Emory University. Awards include the prestigious Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant for Painters and Sculptors, 2012; NC Arts Council Artist Fellowship, 1996, 2006; The MacDowell Colony Fellowship 2005, 2006. Her work and quilts have shown at the NC Museum of Art, Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (NC), San Francisco Museum of Craft & Folk Art, Asheville Art Museum (NC), Quilt National (OH) and numerous other exhibitions spaces across the country. She is a frequent instructor for Penland School of Craft and the Modern Quilt Guild.