“Loss,” a Fabric Collage

To grow up is to accumulate loss. As we go trough our lives, new people keep entering it, but at the same time people we deeply care about continuously depart. Under normal circumstances, the older we get the more loss we accrue. The fact that death is a part of life, a stage in the normal cycle, doesn’t make things easier. Every passing leaves a hole, a life-changing tear. Once we lose someone, we keep on living, but we are forever altered.

Over the last two years the raging pandemic took nearly 5.7 million lives worldwide (and counting). The USA alone lost more than 880,000 people,  accounting to 13.5 million lost years. Whether we personally lost a loved one to Covid or “just” know about someone who passed, the collective grief is deep and wide, and one we will be dealing with for years to come.

This quilt was born out of the shared loss that is all around us. It depicts my own dead, the closest family members that exited throughout my life, but is meant to represent the personal losses of each and every one of us. Even for me personally, there are many more people who should be included here and are not: more distant relatives, friends, my grad school advisor, neighbors, acquaintances.  Yet, even though I did not portray them in image, they are still there in spirit. 

The Process

Selecting Images

I wanted the images in this quilt to be silhouettes, featureless, ghostly outlines that can represent different loved ones for different viewers. At the same time, however, it was important to me that they feature my own, real family. So I started by going over old family photos. I spent hours looking at pictures. It connected me to many forgotten memories and reminded me of deep love. I selected several photos for each person, then slowly eliminated some until I was left with one image per lost relative. 

I changed all the photos to black and white, and use a background-removing program to eliminate the noise. Then I put all of the images together into one document, ordering them by the time in which they left my life. I finished by digitally manipulating the size of each image to create a perspective, with the earliest departed being the smallest, and the most recent one the largest.

My Dead

My earliest loss, the smallest image on the top left corner of the quilt, was my paternal grandfather Zwi. He passed away young, unexpectedly, three days before I was born. He left me his name and dark eyes, and the knowledge that I missed out on a whole lot by never knowing him.

(This is him with my grandmother Sara).

My remaining three grandparents lived to a ripe old age. I took their existence for granted, without realizing, at the time, the incredible luck I had in the miracle of their long lives.

Clara, my maternal grandmother, was my second loss (depicted below with my grandfather Israel). She passed away at 96, leaving memories of many shared moments, of summers spent reading lazily on her sofa, of baking cookie and munching cakes.

My maternal grandfather, Israel (see above), departed shortly after. A master tinsmith, he supported my early art endeavors by helping me cut into sheet metal and building my first (and only) large, 3D sculpture.

Sara, my father’s mom (see first picture), lived to be 102. She was the only grandparent who lived long enough to meet my kids. She gave me her face, her hair and her smile.

My parents in law, Jean and Silvia, exited next. Although not blood relatives, they were an important part of my life for over a decade.

Finally, my most recent loss and the deepest of them all: my father, Yaacov, on the quilt’s bottom right-most side.

I chose to depict him in this quilt together with my mom, who is thankfully still with us (hence the different representation). The picture of them together was the best picture I found of him from the back. Later, I realized it was quite fitting, because my parents were a tightly-close, inseparable unit. One creature with two bodies. When my dad died, a part of my mom died with him.

Making silhouettes

Textiles are incredibly versatile, and there are numerous ways to work with them. I keep learning different techniques, and playing with different ways of doing things. For this textile collage, I experimented with how to create the silhouettes. At first, I tried sewing sheer fabric directly onto a background, and cutting out the excess reverse-applique style. But the fabric was too shiny, too opaque, too frizzy.

Next, I tried fusing a cut shape out of plain white fabric. The result was too crisp and sharp, not quite as ghostly as I wanted.

Painstakingly, I used an Exacto Knife to cut out a human shape out of a plastic sheet, and then painted over the stencil with acrylic paint. I liked the result, but it was a tad too pale, and not quite fabric-y enough. Acrylic of fabric feels too much like plastic…

So I signed up to Mary Pal’s cheesecloth course. In the end, I adapted her instructions to my needs, and ended up with a cheesecloth figure. I really liked the way it looked. 

It took several days to create all the figures.

The Finished Piece

I called the finished artwork, which is 16″ x 20,” “Loss.” Although personal, I hope it represents a common, general human condition, which many can identify with. 

It is another addition to The State of Human series.


Update: When I created Loss, my mom was terminally ill. She was still with us, but on her way out. I cherished every moment I had with her, but was also already grieving for the inevitable. In April 2022 my mom passed away, joining my dad on the other side.

If you’d like to see Loss in person, it will be on display at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art from from June 3-August 1, 2022.

6 thoughts on ““Loss,” a Fabric Collage”

  1. I loved this idea . Very moving way to preserve memories. I am in the process of attempting to create a representation of memories (and lives lived) by those in our family tree..

    1. Sounds like you’re embarking on a very meaningful project, Judith. There are so many ways to celebrate lives lived, and honor those that came before us! I’m sure you will enjoy the process. I am hoping to be able to see what you create.

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