Finishing Unfinished Projects (UFOs) Part 3: Eclipse Art Quilt

Inspiration

In August 2017 we were privileged to witness The Great American Eclipse. As noted on Wikipedia, this total solar eclipse was visible within a band of the USA that spanned from the Pacific Coast all the way to the Atlantic, something that hasn’t happened since June 1918, and will not happen again until April 2024.

To see the eclipse, my family traveled from California to Madras, Oregon, where we camped for a few days at an eclipse camp. The overall experience was memorable and positive, and the eclipse itself left a great impression, too. What I remembered most were the multiple hallows around the sun. There were also weird shadows that projected circles within circles on all flat surfaces for the duration of the event.

Beginning

When I came home, the circles stayed with me. Shortly afterwards, I started working on my third-ever art quilt (following Give a Hand and Dare!). At that early stage in my art-quit journey, I was still hung up on the idea that quilts needed to be composed of blocks. And  so, like in the two quilts which preceded it, I started this piece by sewing a nine-patch grid as the background. 

One of my goals for this quilt was to experiment with a color scheme I didn’t normally use. I also wanted to try reverse applique for the first time. After some thought, I created a composition of appliqued and reverse-appliqued circles of various sizes. I positioned them inside squares and rectangles. Then I arranged and rearranged them until I the color balance felt right. Afterwards, I spent hours hand-stitching the pieces on, and also adding embroidered details (a slow, arduous and painful process, as hand-stitching through thick home-décor textiles is not that easy…).

I ended up with a quilt top, which I named Eclipse:

Somehow I didn’t complete this piece, however, and the top ended up in my UFO pile, where it languished for years.

End

When I fished it out in January of this year as part of my UFO-completion goal, I wasn’t sure if I should finish it. My quilt-designing taste evolved since those early quilting days, and if I were to design a quilt around the same idea now, I would probably have done it differently. Eventually, after a long contemplation, I decided to finish it after all, mostly because I had already put so much work into it.

Finding a backing and sandwiching the quilt was easy. Deciding how to quilt it … not so much. I  thought long and hard, but couldn’t come up with a good plan. I consulted wise quilters in one of my Facebook quilting groups. Some people suggested using metallic thread, and I seriously considered doing that. I never used metallic thread, and don’t own any, either. I considered buying some, but realized I probably won’t use it often. And so I decided to stick to thread I already have: my 12-weight solid and variegated threads!

I eventually chose to repeat the theme of circles and sun rays in the quilting as well as in the design. The quilting took a few days and required some re-evaluations along the way, but I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.

Here is the finished piece, 23″ x 23″: “Eclipse.” 

A Shining Light Amidst a Total Eclipse: Lessons from Madras, Oregon

The anticipation has been building for months, years even. A gradually-increasing excitement spread across the nation, as the population of half a continent geared up for a once-in-a-lifetime event. A natural phenomenon was about to occur, one that was last seen across the Untied States in 1918. A total solar eclipse.

Meanwhile, as millions of people were getting ready to see the moon obscure the sun, casting darkness in the middle of the day, another kind of darkness has been building up. That darkness, too, thickened across the nation for months. As it turned out, that other, man-made darkness erupted several days before the natural one. A human ugliness of the kind that has not been seen here in decades flared up. A repulsiveness which we all hoped would never be seen anywhere ever again.

On Monday, August 21, I joined the millions who traveled to see the eclipse from the path of totality. I went to Madras, a small town in the high desert of central Oregon. The predictable weather and open landscape there ensured clear visibility. Even NASA chose the place to put up some of its experiments.

A town of less than 7,000 people, Madras was expecting eclipse-viewers in the hundreds of thousands. The town has been preparing for months, and when the crowds arrived it was ready. Townspeople organized several activities, including a Solarfest with food stalls, arts and crafts and a NASA booth, where NASA volunteers provided information and activities. They set up at least four large campgrounds on open fields, including at the local airport. They marked camping spots in advance, closed roads, put up signs, brought in porta potties, and established several shuttle lines.

I stayed in a campground called Solar Town, that by Monday grew into a small town.

Our temporary town functioned flawlessly. Despite hosting thousands of people, it remained orderly, clean and quiet. People camped within their allocated slots. They deposited all the trash in trash bins. Despite the long lines to everything–lines for the bathrooms, lines for the shuttles, lines to see the NASA booth and lines to buy food–people remained calm, patient and friendly. The nights were mostly still and silent.

The people who congregated in Madras came from all over, as seen from this map, posted at the entrance to Solarfest:

There were people of all colors, people of all religions, people of all languages, cultures and countries, people with all body shapes and all sexual orientations. There were locals, visitors, tourists and, yes, IMMIGRANTS! And they all got along. Spectacularly.

“It’s amazing,” said the man who stood in front of me in line for the bathrooms the morning of the eclipse. “A camp full of nice people.” And a camp full of nice people it was. Tens of thousands of them.

This jumble of people sat together to listen to NASA scientists talk about the upcoming eclipse:

Together they ate foods originating from different ethnicities, like this Native American fried bread:

And they all danced together when Native Americans from the local Warm Springs Indian Reservation shared some of their culture:

On Monday morning, everybody watched together when the moon began obstructing the sun:

And everyone held their breath together when, for 2.2 minutes, the moon completely covered the sun. In fact, television crews broadcasted the scenes from Madras , in real time, across the world:

Amazingly, even my parents were able to watch the eclipse with us, directly from Madras, all the way on the other side of the earth.

Millions of people were awed because, in comparison to the sun, the moon and the cosmos, we are completely insignificant, all of us. Our differences and squabbles, our joys and sadness, our small pettiness are all inconsequential.

In times past people considered solar eclipses to be bad omens. They were seen as punishments for sins, warnings from the Gods, the withdrawal of the Mandate of Heaven. We know better now, but perhaps we should still see this as an opportunity for self reflection. Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, is just around the corner, after all. A total eclipse following the eruption of human ugliness should make us think. Hard. And it should make us act.

There is hope, however. In Madras I found not only a wonderful place to view the sun, but also bright rays of promise for this nation, and for humanity in general. The two minutes of the eclipse passed in a blink, but the light that shone on the high Oregon dessert will last much longer, in many people’s hearts. It showed the good that we are capable of: inclusiveness, consideration, kindness, respect, patience, mutual-help, dignity, appreciation, human decency. These and some others are the qualities that define, or should define, humanity. These are the qualities that make our species stand out from the rest.

Hopefully, camps-full of nice people, like the one I stayed at in Madras, will vanquish the man-made darkness that threatens our civilization. Just the way that the brightness of the sun overpowered the twilight of the eclipse, making the world normal again.