Monday, March 5, 2012

Fracking Quilts

Virginia ("Gina"—pronounced Ginna) Kellogg, a life coach and founding partner of Leadership That Works of Troy, Pennsylvania, began quilting in 2006, as a way of expressing her deep grief after her brother died. Since then she has created dozens of what she calls "journal quilts," works in fabric that are creative responses to emotional states. Now she is sharing what she has learned with others.

Gina formed her "Fracking Quilts" workshops in response to the massive gas drilling that has invaded northeastern Pennsylvania in the past three years. Fracking is short for hydrofracking, a technique that entails blasting a mixture of sand, water, and toxic chemicals deep into the Earth, both vertically and horizontally, to release natural gas. The industry has invaded this quiet, rural area with noise, light pollution, contaminated water wells, exploding gas wells, and leaks in pipelines. It has also caused severe physical, psychological, and social damage to individuals, families, and communities.

So Gina decided to offer women in the area an outlet for their feelings through the process of making a quilt. Last weekend I attended one of her Fracking Quilt workshops. Caroline and I had never made a quilt, Lynne had experience quilting, and Leslie, who had already made a fracking quilt, assisted Gina and offered us guidance.

We began on Friday night by choosing a square of fabric from one of the antique quilts that Gina collects and had already cut up. We then "fracked" that one square and used it as the seed for the rest of the quilt. In the quilt pictured above, the seed pieces are the jagged green shapes that represent the fracking penetrating the land.

Gina has an enormous collection of fabrics that we could choose from. As we worked, she was there to answer questions and provide guidance, but as she frequently stressed, the point was not to make a "good" quilt, but to express our deep feelings . When we got stuck, she urged us to pick a fabric we "hated or would never consider using." It worked! An essential part of the process was to "frack" our quilts themselves—cut them up—after we had gotten the design just where we wanted it. Although most of us felt some reluctance to do so, cutting through the design helped us to realize that we did not have to hold on to what we were attached to.

For the backing of the quilt, which no one would see, we chose a fabric that represented what "has your back," what supports you. Most of us also took Gina’s suggestion to write words or prayers on fabric and insert them between the front of the quilt and the soft batting. Gina herself quilted our designs as we sat on the other side of her sewing machine, directing her about what kind of stitches to use and what color threads.

The quilt I made is above. It is called, "They are Piercing the Earth and All, All, All Is Falling into the Cracks." The yellow and orange bands represent the beautiful hilly landscape in this part of the state and the towns and farms nestled among it. The fracking process is cutting deep into the Earth, and the villages are collapsing. The large striped "crack" that runs from top to bottom symbolizes the extent of the fracking, which fractures not only the Earth but families and communities as well. The circular part on the lower right is still a bit of a mystery. It seems to token life and growth and wholeness, even at the depths, when everything around you seems to be irreparably broken.

All of us felt transformed by this remarkable event. We were able to express feelings about the gas drilling that we had been unable to articulate in any other way. Sharing our stories about both our experiences with the gas drilling and, as we moved through the process, the design of our quilts, made each of us feel less alone. And by transforming fear, grief, and anger into a creative act, we became empowered and ceased to be victims of an overpowering force.

For more information about Virginia Kellogg's Fracking Quilts, contact her.