The evolution of Michelle Freedman’s involvement in The 70273 Project:
1. We meet on Instagram where she is known as @stitchwellandprosper.
2. Michelle makes some beautiful blocks.
3. She asks me to send her a bundle of blocks to Piece and Quilt.
4. Michelle makes plans to host a Special Event at Modern Domestic (isn’t that a fantastic name?!) where people are invited to make blocks and see Quilt #231 being quilted on the long arm.
5. I ask Michelle to be a guest blogger.
6. She accepts, and sends these good words . . .
My 70,273 Journey, Part One.
The 70,273 Project snuck up on me and took me by surprise. What were these quilts that were at once beautiful to look at and tragic to bear? It was a story I didn’t know. It was a story I wanted to tell.
The red XX blocks first caught my eye on social media. My friend Lori was on a quilting retreat and sharing photos of blocks she was making there. I was curious about what she was up to. A few weeks later she popped into the shop where I work. When I asked her to tell me about about the blocks, she replied with the story of The 70,273 Project. I found myself fighting back tears and feeling shocked. Holocaust stories are never easy to hear, but this one was unimaginable. I needed to be involved.
I set up my first block sewing day this past July. My friend Cynthia stopped by and we made a few blocks together. Stitching these first XX blocks was meaningful but I couldn’t shake the feeling of being out of my emotional comfort zone. It was not easy to imagine that each block represented someone who was murdered for such a cruel reason. The more blocks I made, the more it felt like I was stitching up a wound that would never heal.
In the days that followed, I found myself waking up in the middle of the night from bad dreams. I wondered if this project was stirring up some of my deepest fears. I reflected on how I never felt completely comfortable with my Jewish heritage. Maybe I was a product of the times or maybe it was a form of emotional self-protection. Either way this had cracked open something I was used to hiding.
After the first block making experience I reached out to Jeanne and asked her if I could assemble a quilt top, and I decided to host a second Red XX block sewing day. Then Charlottesville happened. Stunned, grieved, sickened — I can not begin to describe how I felt watching images of what happened that day. People were using the words Nazi, Hitler, and Swastika in the present tense. It was surreal. I was angry. My fears escalated. I was in shock.
When the pieces for quilt #219 arrived, I took a deep breath. It was comforting to know there were people all over the world who were telling this story, making blocks, and making quilts. I spent time looking at each block and thinking about the person who made it. I imagined them sewing, painting, drawing, and looking for that perfect piece of red fabric to use for each X. I imagined the papers with the XX marks on them. I tried to imagine who those people were, people who’s fate was determined by medical records and indifference. It felt present, possible, terrifying…
The block numbers in quilt #219 range from 126 to 8,503. Some of the first blocks made for this project were going to be in this quilt! I sketched out a quilt map and found that I was one block short for the design. I read through the papers Jeanne had sent to see what I was supposed to do. Did each quilt have a space for a blank block? Was I supposed to make my own and add it? There were a few ideas to weigh. I gave myself space to make a decision as I assembled the top. When it came time to add in the missing block, I cut a piece of white fabric and stared at it. I asked it what to do. An image of a pregnant woman came into my mind. I knew who the block was for and left it blank.
The 70273 Project is not comfortable to talk about, nor do I want to be comforted. What I’d like is for you to join me in allowing this project to be in your life, to let it stir up feelings and start conversations, for you to make blocks or seek out what others have made for this project and ask them why. I can’t guarantee that you will enjoy the experience, and chances are it will feel uncomfortable, but I know it will be worth it.
Please join me on Labor Day, Monday, September 4 at Modern Domestic to make blocks and quilt #219. The event is free, and machines, materials, and supplies are available (or bring your own.) Children are welcome with adult supervision.
Can’t join us this time? Mail us your finished blocks with the completes provenance forms here and become part of the Modern Domestic quilt we are creating for The 70273 Project:
Modern Domestic / 422 NE Alberta St. / Portland Oregon, 97211
Michelle Freedman lives and quilts in Portland, Oregon. She is a sewing educator and staff member at Modern Domestic and volunteers for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF, and another things Michelle and I have in common). Follow her on Instagram @stitchwellandprosper or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, and please, if you’re in the vicinity of Portland, Oregon, put Monday, 9/4/17 on your calendar and plan to go by and make some blocks. If you’re not in the area and/or are unable to attend the Modern Domestic Block Drive on 9/4, you can still be part of the Modern ‘Domestic quilt by making some blocks and mail them to Michelle.
If I knew who to thank at Instagram for providing the opportunity to meet Michelle, I’d pen and mail the note this afternoon. Thank you, Michelle, for being such a committed member of The 70273 Project. I am especially moved by the “pregnant” block, and I’m so glad our paths have crossed.
Would you like for your business, group, or organization to make a quilt? Let me know, and I’ll talk you through it. It’s not hard, I promise.