For the first time, I’ve started keeping a daily journal–nothing detailed, just a sentence or two for each day. Most of what I write down is the small, mundane things that make up my week, like going to the grocery store or talking a long walk. Individually, the entries aren’t much, but together they’re a fun snapshot of my year so far.Today’s Q.S.O.S. Spotlight is shining on Barbara Schneider’s “Ring of Days”, a quilt that’s also a daily journal, sewn together in a unique format that offers a view of a year in a glance.
Barbara shared the story of this incredible quilt, and the ways it helped her in difficult days, with interviewer Karen Musgrave in 2008:
“A Ring of Days” is a piece that I did when I first started to get into quilting. I had taken the traditional quilting classes and had done some sample pieces. At the time I was working as an executive for a publisher and I had a really busy life and my husband was ill. He was diagnosed with cancer and I felt like I didn’t have time to do quilting in the real sense of sitting down and doing projects. I had seen an article by Nancy Halpren in Threads in which she wrote about doing a visual journal. That really struck a cord with me – that I could come home at the end of the day and just do one simple thing. So I set a goal for myself to do that with a template for the shapes and the things that I wanted to accomplish by doing it. I wanted to really be more observant each day of what was happening in my environment and to do something creative each day even if it was just go down and make my sketch. It would be an opportunity to learn new techniques on a very small basis instead of thinking I had to do a much bigger project to accomplish that. I had a notebook that I just carried with me that I could record things about what I might do if I couldn’t get to it that day. It started March 1, 1997 and ended February 28, 1998. I pretty much finished in that time. I had no actual idea about what it was going to become, a “Ring of Days”. I just kept making those pieces day after day after day. After a while I developed a few templates. I did a lot of travel for my work so I made a travel template…
Whenever I had travel I used this template that was pointing north, south, east, west. I ended up doing it so I could gain a little bit of time. There were some other format kinds of things – I always did the full moon each month. I would do it a piece based on myths like the strawberry moon or the harvest moon. Some pieces are about events. Actually it was like the only year I can remember in my life in any detail because I can say [pointing to one block.] ‘Oh, that is when my daughter Ellen [Schneider.] graduated from college. So it tends to be events, observations, trying new techniques. I had the book “Jacket Jazz” [author Judy Murrah.] and I tried a lot of the fabric manipulation in it. Many pieces were about nature which is one of the things I learned toward the end of the year. Probably half of them had flowers or leaves or water or things like that. Working on the pieces really helped me to feel like I was making some amount of progress in my quilting life, in my artist’s life. One of the great findings at the end of this was that there was next to nothing about the career [audience laughs.] that I had been pursuing for twenty-five years. That fact came together with a number of other things going on in my life and I decided that it was time to move on. At the end of ’97, I retired from publishing and moved into a different role as a consultant. So that was really an observation that came out of this as well.
The final format of “A Ring of Days” developed over time. Once I had all the blocks I had to figure out a way to put them all together. I tried out a number of things and ended up finally creating strips – one per month. Then the next step was how to join all the strips. I tried a number of things – continuous loops that you could hang on a rod or could be sewn together. And one of the ideas I had was to create a giant windsock or a Japanese Boys Day banner and it all just started to come together at that point.
I had to figure out the structure and how long was it really going to be [sixteen feet.] and whether that would be manageable. Actually a little side note is that when you are using a little plastic template to cut your pieces – after three hundred and sixty-five times it tends to get a little smaller [laughs.] and then you see that the earlier 31 day strips are longer than the later 31 day strips.
A story that goes along with “A Ring of Days”, and the reason I decided to bring this piece for the interview, is not only about the fact that it had such an influence on my life at that point but also that it was the first piece that I ever entered into an exhibit. I was attending IQI [Illinois Quilters, Inc.] at that time and the first time I ever heard about Fine Art of Fiber [a joint show with IQI, North Shore Weavers and the North Suburban NeedleArts Guild that is held at the Chicago Botanical Gardens.] I submitted this piece to display at Fine Art of Fiber in 1998. I had never sent anything to an exhibit before that. I packed up the piece and I sent it to Robbi Eklow [then President of IQI.] who gets the box and says, ‘Why did you send me this?’ ‘It is for the show.’ And she said, ‘Oh, you just submit the forms.’ I didn’t even know at the time that you only submit the forms [audience laughs.] I just sent her the whole thing.
I do remember it hanging in the middle of the gallery space at the Fine Art of Fiber. I see some heads going up and down out there in the audience. It was quite an experience to actually have something out in public and since then I have done a lot of other exhibits. Doing this piece got me to start creating my own work and it became much less traditional, much more contemporary. I realized that that whole nature base is really important to me.”
You can read more quilt stories on the Quilters’ S.O.S.- Save Our Stories page on the Quilt Alliance website.