Quilt of Belonging

Quilt of Belonging is a stunning, collaborative textile art project that shows there is a place for all in the fabric of society. This rich tapestry is 120 feet (36 metres) long and 10.5 (3.5 metres) high. Its 263 blocks portray the rich cultural legacies of all the First Peoples in Canada and every nation of the world.

Beautiful quilts are a joy to behold. I’ve always admired those Mennonite Quilts in the Waterloo//St. Jacobs area on my visits there.  My plan was to buy one and and wrap myself in its beauty and warmth during the winter.  To take all these small, colourful pieces of fabric and stitch them together to make something big, complete, and useful is akin to putting the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together.  Imagine having that vision of the end product and working day by day until it’s completed.  Each hand-made quilt is truly a labour of love.  Quilting is on my “to do” list as something to learn.

Our lives are like quilts bits and pieces, joy and sorrow, stitched with love.

This post is about a special kind of quilt –  a “Quilt of Belonging.”  This is one to wrap oneself around in a different way.  On my visit to the CNE this year, I was privileged and mesmerized to see this story quilt. I could have spent hours looking at each piece and taking pictures.  It is one which speaks to the heart of every living person.  It speaks to our need as humans for that sense of feeling that we belong – as humans, members of different countries and groups, as well as within society as a whole.  “When you get to a place where you understand that love and belonging, your worthiness, is a birthright and not something you have to earn, anything is possible.” (Brene Brown)

This project is the brainchild of artist Esther Bryan who is of Slovakian origin.  She and her parents returned to Slovakia in 1995 in an effort to find family and the home her father had left behind.  He had come to Canada in 1952.  She came to some powerful insights there about the “stories” that are brimming within each one of us.  “The dream of making this artwork was born as she recognized that everyone has a story to tell, each culture has a unique beauty and that the experiences and values of our past inform who we are today.  In this textile mosaic, each person can experience a sense of belonging and find a place in the overall design – there is “A Place for All.”  Together they record human history in textile, illustrating the beauty, complexity and sheer size of the human story.”

As I looked at this quilt hanging there in the International Building at the CNE, I was deeply touched by how powerful this message of belonging was to me.  To see all Canada’s First Nations represented there as well as countries all over the world made me feel that universal kinship we have one with the other.  I realized that the “story” this quilt was telling was something we all need to hear over and over again – we’re all family, we all belong, and we’re better together.  When the stories we hear or witness through the media are divisive, it’s good to have a story quilt like this to ground us and bring us back to who we really are.  “We may have different religions, different languages, different colored skin, but we all belong to one human race.” (Kofi Annan)

To bring this post to an end, I am sharing a quote from one of my favourite authors about belonging.  Belonging doesn’t have to be “clingy” but can be mind transforming and life transforming.  “The hunger to belong is not merely a desire to be attached to something. It is rather sensing that great transformation and discovery become possible when belonging is sheltered and true.”   (John O’Donohue)

I hope that this “Quilt of Belonging” touches your heart and transforms you in some way as it did me and may we always feel that sense of belonging and shelter as we journey through life.

NOTE:  All the images were taken by me.  Some of the information provided in this post came from brochures I picked up at the Exhibition and from the internet.  Because the quilt was so beautiful, I want to share all the photos I took with you (below).  There are also YouTube videos on the quilt you may like to watch if you are interested.  Just look under Quilt of Belonging.