Memory Quit from Men’s Shirts

Quilt from Men’s Shirts

full side 230-IMG_3332

This is a memory quit from 12 men’s dress shirts.

The man who commissioned this memory quilt requested that I create a Queen sized quilt from his shirts He wanted a contemporary style pieced quilt and even sent me a “rough concept” painting to give me an idea of what he wanted. He didn’t want a memory quilt that had collars, cuffs, etc. I was to only use the fabric from his shirts.





I enjoy corresponding and collaborating with my customers and Aaron and I exchanged quite a few emails about his quilt. We discussed the color options (given the limited palette of blue and brown with a single shirt with orange in it.)

Memory quilt with Kaffee Fassett backing

Aaron wanted the quilting done on the top with an orange thread.  He chose a Kaffee Fassett fabric for the back that had stripes of different widths on a brown background. I used a dark brown thread in the bobbin. I even sent him ideas for the quilting design so he could give me an idea of what he liked. I ended up doing the quilting in a pattern of squares and rectangles that complimented the overall design.


IMG_3355I did  lot of different styles of piecing—some straight edge, some softly curved. I did strip piecing, cut the blocks of strips and switched them around to create new blocks. I cut right through blocks and inserted strips in crisscrossed patterns. I did some log-cabin style piecing, some crazy piecing, some nine-patch type piecing. This was a big exercise in piecing with a very contemporary twist.


Limits Push Creativity

62-IMG_3365One of the things I enjoyed most was the challenge of the limited palette. Having boundaries/limits is a great way to push yourself creatively. It seems counter-intuitive to say limits are creatively freeing, but it’s true.

Designing a quilt from someone’s clothing is an exercise in designing with limits. It’s really so much easier to go the quilt shop or dig through a stash and pick out just the right pieces of fabric—and go back and get more if things get challenging. With a memory quilt, I can’t do that. My boundaries are to use whatever I am given and make the most of it.

Aaron was concerned that there wasn’t enough variety of mediums and darks. Well, one thing I did was use the reverse side of some of the fabrics. One of the blues was woven so that the right side was a very pale blue while the wrong side was a rich medium hue. Both of the brown striped fabrics looked much darker on the reverse sides (the stripes were much duller on that side) so I could use those wrong sides as an almost-black. I think from a distance you can’t really tell how few fabrics there are in this quilt!




Just for fun I took a photo of what was left of the shirts, backing and batting when I was all finished. This is it. I think I did pretty well using up my materials!








Creating Art Like A Song

I have struggled with my artistic individuality for years. It’s not that I’m not unique, it’s that my work IS unique….unlike what I see elsewhere. When I create my clothing lines, they are fun and funky and different, but I always keep an eye to trends and what other artists are selling. That seems to be where my inner conflict or discomfort originates.

Being influenced is different than trying to influence yourself. The first is about an unconscious absorption of what one sees and experiences that becomes evident as one expresses oneself creatively. The latter is not so natural, it can be artificial, superficial, and feel uncomfortable. Creating something “to sell” is being a crafter. Of course, there is nothing wrong with crafting, but owning that I’m an artist implies creating one-of-a-kind, original, unique pieces. Trying to be authentic, true to myself and trying to somehow fit in with trends is a conflict for me.


I was walking recently and listening to a song in my I-pod. There are some things about this one pop song that I really love.  The whole sound is sort of scratchy-old time sounding. The intro chord progressions are not traditional “rock/pop” sounding.There are vocal runs that sound improvised. There are some growls and tone changes that just get me jazzed. At one point you can hear the vocalist giggle. And once she cusses under her breath. I was boogieing  along (it’s a rural area—no one was watching!), thinking about all the things I love about this song, why I keep listening to it, and then I had an epiphany.

The aspects of this song that I love are what make it really unique. The singer has obvious incredible vocal skills, but that’s not what keeps me coming back. It’s the stuff that is different, not traditional sounding for the genre that I love. It’s the parts of the song that sound like maybe they aren’t supposed to be there that I love. It’s the sound of free-wheeling improvisation (it may have been planned, but it doesn’t sound that way.)

And then I realized maybe these are the same aspects of art, of my quilt art, that other people may be drawn to. And these are the very aspects that make me comfortable with my art not looking like everyone else’s. I feel confident that I have the skills to do what I do. It’s the fear of being different that undermines my confidence. If my work doesn’t look like some others’ work that sells or gets acclaim, is that OK? Will someone want my work?

The answer, I believe, is yes. I guess sounding like popular music gives you a better chance of selling more records. Or just being forgotten for sounding like everyone else. Adopting techniques and materials that are currently popular could help me sell more work. And it increases the chances of my work not being noticed because it looks like everyone else’s. And, most importantly, it doesn’t really make me feel good.

So many artists are struggling to express themselves creatively but at the same time make something they can sell. Artists. Crafters. Trying to be “unique” and at the same time adopting popular trends to help them sell more.

Creating works of art from textiles that are genuine, not adopted from popular trends is not the easy way to go. It is risky, just like aspects of that song I like. That song sold a lot of copies. I’m not the only one who liked that funky, unplanned, raw sounding song. And if my art is funky, appears to have an aspect of being improvised, and a little “raw” rather than perfect, then that’s fine. It’s more than fine. It’s Amy. Other people like a little boogie with their art, too!


Got some great news yesterday which confirmed what I already knew. My son Dean, who has Down Syndrome, is pretty darn smart. I’m not one of those parents who drives around with “My kid is on the honor roll” bumper stickers (partly because the other 3 are classic underachievers….like mother, like son?) but hey—when you’ve got a child with a disability, it’s OK to brag, right?

Dean got his IQ tested recently, at age 24. This is the first time since he was a real adult that this has been done. He scored a 70. I know—IQ tests are dumb, they don’t test the 7 basic intelligences, we shouldn’t quantify our brains—-I’ve sung those songs, too. However, there has to be some measure for him to get the appropriate care and opportunities. A score of 70 puts him on the borderline of “mentally retarded” (and, again, we won’t get into the antiquated jargon cuz it would mean I have to write a whole, long, boring post instead of what I wanted to say originally!) The folks that tested him were quite impressed. The case worker told me they’d never met such a high-functioning individual with Down Syndrome before. Now that’s the interesting part. He scored at the very top end of what is expected of a person with this disability.

I couldn’t have known his IQ when he was born. But I could see that twinkle in his eyes—he was alert, he was watching me and the world around him. I didn’t know what to expect and I really didn’t have fantasies of having a super-brainy mentally retarded child. I did, however, want to give him every opportunity to learn and grow—not “stoop to expectations”.

This brings me (finally!) to what I really wanted to talk about—-potential. I believed Dean had potential and by not listening to limiting or negative voices I gave him lots of support and experiences that allowed him to reach (I hope) his highest potential. I’m finally (!) starting to do that for myself, too. (About time, right?!) The limiting and/or negative voices were mostly my own, but I understand what a disservice I’ve done to my creative and spiritual growth by listening to them.

We don’t have to know what our greatest skills are to give them a chance. We don’t have to know the rules to play a game of our own devising. The important thing is to recognize we have potential and deserve the opportunities to grow, stretch, learn. All you need to see is that little twinkle in your own eyes, feel that slight skip of a heartbeat when you come across an idea or artistic technique (whatever it is) that tells you this is worth trying. this can take me forward. this can help me blossom.

What would Dean have been like if he’d been born 50 years earlier and immediately institutionalized? It’s a horrifying thought. What will you be like 10 years from now if you don’t embrace your own potential and give yourself the opportunities you deserve?

>Dreaming of possibilities and opportunities

>I was blessed to have the opportunity last night to speak to a group of about 60 teachers.  I began by reading my poem, “I Dreamed”, then went on to discuss some of my experiences, passions and loves about raising a son with special needs.  This is the text of my talk:

I Dreamed

I dreamed he’d be born beautiful and healthy.
He was.

I dreamed he’d tell me that he loves me.
He tells me every day.

I dreamed he’d be bright and funny.
He is—his humor is wonderful.

I dreamed he’d ride a bike, catch a ball, and wrestle with his big brother.
He does and his brother loves it.

I dreamed he’d have big birthday parties with lots of friends and cake and presents.
He’s had six.

I dreamed he’d one day get on a bus and go to kindergarten.
He did it yesterday – my heart full of love and my eyes full of tears.

I dreamed he’d make us proud.
He has…..and he’s inspired us.
My child has Down Syndrome
I never dreamed that.
©Amy (Opalk) Cavaness 1994                                 

I just wanted to share something I learned almost 24 years ago when my son with Down Syndrome was born. I didn’t know before his birth that he had this condition, and no one told me the night he was born. I didn’t notice…and that’s ok…and I wasn’t told til my pediatrician came the next morning, 12 hours after his birth.

 I don’t remember who said this to me, but they said “It’s OK to grieve the loss of what you thought you had.” This was SOOO important for me to understand—to honor my feelings at that time—-I’d spent 9 months imagining a different child, and a different life for myself, and spent 12 hours bonding with a different child than what I thought I had. So although all my love, and caring, and dreams were for something I’d just imagined, they we a real part of myself. It’s what I thought I knew. 

Sometimes we are struck with a similar type of shocking news—our dreams for our lives, businesses or our art—-just haven’t been born the way we thought they would be. AND, most IMPORTANTLY, we have been given a new gift…a gift of new potentials, new opportunities to learn and grow in ways we never imagined for ourselves. 

I had no idea I needed this child and the jolt he brought to my sense of “normalcy.”   I was smart.  I had little patience for people who were slow.  I had stuff to do and didn’t want someone slowing me down.  

My first son was precocious.  Started talking at 9 months old.  He could name his gifts at his first birthday. (He’s a writer now!)  At that time, if I’d even bothered to think about having a mentally slow person in school with my son, I’d have thought “Oh, I don’t want someone holding him back, slowing down the class”.  I never gave a thought to the GIFT that a kid like Dean could be.  

What is really important in our lives?  The facts we’re tested on in school?  Or values and compassion we learn to accept and practice?  On our death beds, will we look back and think “Oh, I wish I’d have learned more facts in Social Studies” or might we look back on our lives and be grateful for the opportunities we had to make a little difference in someone’s life.  Or might we regret, as I very likely might have regretted, NOT having the depth of compassion for others that we could have.  I don’t want to regret limiting myself to be exposed to only one type of person.  And how dull a life would that be, anyway? 

In fact, I love diversity.  I come from a privaledged and educated background.  I’m married to a man who grew to adulthood without indoor plumbing.   I look at his background as just a different culture.

I have hosted 3 foreign exchange students, for a year each, to learn about other cultures.  I hosted the 1st girl initially as an act of compassion. I saw a sign at the pool that this girl would be landing in the US in a few days and had not been “chosen” by a host family yet.  Could someone offer temporary housing til she was placed?  I thought how terrible I would feel to be going to a strange land at the age of 16, knowing no one wanted me.  I opened our home to her, then 2 more exchange students afterwards.

Dean was born into a family, into a neighborhood, into a community.  He belongs to us.  Why would a school stick him in a little room at the end of the hall? What message is that for the other kids? That he is not good enough? That he doesn’t BELONG with them? How is that right? 

Here I think this is old news, but change happens slowly and I guess there are still a lot of people who need the concept of INCLUSION in their worlds.  

Inclusion of children with special needs involves “curriculum adaptation”.  You may be familiar with it.  It requires some extra funding in schools to pay for aids to the teachers.  But it seems like something that could be incorporated in schools even without extra funding. 
Teaching our children isn’t completely dependent on money.  There are opportunities everyday in our lives to show compassion, to teach equality and fairness, to give someone with special needs the opportunity to be A PART of their community and their schools.   

We don’t have a special room for Dean at home.  We don’t leave him out of events, even if we aren’t sure he’ll understand everything about what we’re doing.  I am so glad his brothers had the opportunity to be very close to someone that’s a little different than themselves.  I think they will be better men because of it.  I don’t think they’ll want to just ignore the “little guy”, or judge someone as “not worthy”.  And I believe the acts of kindness we show, small or big, will be repaid by the universe some day.

Some kids accel at academics, others at sports.  Some kids don’t accel at all.  And some have something to teach US.  Dean was born with a true sense of God and prayer.  He is the first one to put his arm around someone and say gentle words of comfort if they are sad.  He does not judge people.  He feels others joy and celebrates with them, whatever their victory.  Like all of us, he gets annoyed with things and people, but his heart truly has no place for hatred.  

I believe everyone in a community deserves to know each other, in all their diversity.  Putting kids with special needs in a separate place is a silent message to everyone, students, faculty and staff, that they are not worthy.  They are not enough. They have nothing to offer, but will be a distraction or hindrance to us. 

We do not have to view people that way.

In the book “Quantum Creativity” Pamela Meyer talks about letting the boundaries free you.  Dean’s birth could have been viewed as a big clamp on my life.  I have chosen to see it as a chance to grow into a much better person than I would have been otherwise.  I see his limitations in a way as making more room in his heart for the things in life that really matter. 

And, by the way, the first words out of my mouth when my pediatrician told me Dean had Down Syndrome were, “Will he love me?” I remember the most important thing to me, that I was trying to ask, was if he would KNOW my love and reflect it back to me.   Isn’t this what we all want in our lives?   That others will know our love and our values, and reflect them in sharing our world with us?

As teachers you have an opportunity every day to be creative in your approaches to teaching and in the examples you set.  I hope you will remember my story, and us.

I hope where you see limitations in people, in shools, in funding, that you wil open yourselves to creating possibilties for growth and understanding.