It's about exploring and sharing my creative adventures (mostly sewing these days) ~
~those activities that sometimes obsess, usually inspire, occasionally frustrate
~and always provide a delightful maze to wander through.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Invention of Wings

Story Quilt sewn by Harriet Powers, 1837-1910
On Display at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts
This post is a little bit about sewing - specifically hand sewing and quilting, but it's more about a book review (the sewing story is in the book).

I let go of my formerly voracious appetite for books some years ago (too many non-fiction studies got in the way of reading for the sheer pleasure of it, I fear!).  One of the wonderful aspects of going through a drop in physical energy this past year has been a return of that appetite, and the plethora of excellent literary novels (my favorite genre) that's built up during my absence from fiction will hopefully sate me for some time to come!

I just finished the last page of "The Invention of Wings" by Sue Monk Kidd, and I'm compelled to write about it here for a couple of reasons.  Fine hand sewing, millinery, and most of all quilt-making threads its way throughout the novel, and a couple of the quilts are actually major characters in the story.   All of them were sewn by slaves in the 1800's.

Which leads to the other reason I want to encourage the reading of this book.   It's an important book in that it tells the (thickly fictionalized) story of two of most famous American woman that you may have never heard of, Sarah and Angelina Grimké.  They were well known (either deeply respected or despised) throughout the States in the late 1830's as leading and vocal abolitionists and women's rights advocates.   Born into an upper class family of slave owners in Charleston,  the sisters managed to find enemies in many areas of society, religion, and even in the Northern states, with their beliefs that women and slaves were people too, who deserved equality with white men.  (Have we come a long way yet, baby?)

The story is based on numerous factual events, with Kidd creating her story by fleshing out the personal lives and thoughts of Sarah and the slave girl she was given by her parents when she turned 11.    There were only a few written known facts about Handful (the slave girl's) life, so her story is nearly all made up by Kidd, but the intertwining of the 2 girls' stories, along with Sarah's sister and other important people in their lives, makes this a book that anyone with even a remote interest in American history and some of the events and attitudes leading up to the Civil War would be well served by reading this book.

I appreciate the 'Author's Note' at the end, wherein Kidd differentiates the factual from what she made up.  But then, I'm the sort of person whose first action after seeing a biographical movie is to look up what really happened.

Kidd states that one of the quilts in her story was based on the "story quilts" of Harriet Powers.   There are 2 surviving quilts of Powers', the above pictured  quilt in Boston, and the following quilt, apparently not currently on display, but it lives at the National Museum of American History

Harriet Powers

The Sisters Grimké
Angelina on the left, Sarah on the right

If you've read the book, let me know what you think - if you haven't, what are you waiting for?  ;-)  By the way, for other readers (I know there are a lot of you in the sewing world!),  Beth of Sunnygal Studios wrote a post recently asking for book recommendations - if you're interested, check out the responses - lots of good suggestions!  One of the fun followups to this is that we both happened to be at a sewing group meeting at the Berkeley Library shortly after  her post, and after the sewing meeting, several of us hung out and talked, not more sewing...books!

For now, here are a few more modern, extraordinary quilts for your viewing pleasure:
Judith  Roderick
Midnight in the Garden of Iris and Cats

Timna Tar
Endless Chain

Ellen Mashburn Place
Billy's Bluebirds

Sharon V. Rotz
We See They See

Although I'm not a quilter, I have participated in a couple of group projects - a kayaking themed quilt with a group of fellow yakkers (back in the day....), and a beautiful square honoring a friend for the AIDS Quilt Project.   Both projects were fabulously memorable!

If anyone knows of a local display of beautiful quilts, please let me know - I'm definitely up for some ooohing and aaahing over them!


Martha said...

Jillian - I share your fondness for this book, as well as for the characters. It's so hard to find a book like this. So I'll follow your link for recommendations. Martha

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the book recommendation. I'm very interested in this historical period, despite not being American. And thanks for those beautiful quilt images too. Gorgeous.

kbenco said...

Beautiful quilts, and I am off to look up that book!

Cheryl said...

I recently read this and just loved it. I like non-fiction and bio and this had enough of that in a very well told story. Thanks for the quilt pictures.

Kathie said...

Ahhh, I reserved the book before I was finished reading the third paragraph! Looking forward to a great read. Thanks!

rhodeanie said...

Thank you for this recommendation! Reserving it at the library now!

luckylibbet said...

I'm not a quilter, but I come from a family of quilters.

San Jose Quilt Museum

520 South First Street
San Jose, CA 95113

Wednesday to Friday 12pm – 5pm
Saturday and Sunday 11am – 5pm

We should go visit.

Mary said...

This book was so engaging, and I also appreciated Kidd's postscript. Another historical read you might enjoy is "In the Company of the Courtesan" by Sarar Dunant

mrsmole said...

Five words from my did they do that? Such artful quilts just take my breath away...the precision and love and colors...OMG!

Judi Pinkham said...

Sounds like a good is now downloaded to my Nook. :)

Jane M said...

I loved this bok and also just had to find out more about the sisters and about the quilts. I had not enjoyed "The Mermaid's Chair" but I thought "The Invention of Wings" was engaging and engrossing.