The Traveling Quilt

 This is my travelers quilt (commuters quilt, car quilt).  It is 34.5 X 48.  I worked on it for a full year, the longest project to date.  It started when I said to myself: "I really do get to see some amazing things!" even though I have this long commute.  I was looking at the positive side of the situation.  I spent the first year commuting writing phrases in my head or planning photos I wanted to capture.  With my eyes firmly on the road, I'd blindly write on my yellow pad or point and shoot my camera.  This was before I owned a digital camera, so I sure wasted a lot of film capturing nothing but a blurry mess!  
Once I felt I had the words and images I wanted, began to create the elements for the quilt.  The photographs were a 3 step process.  First, I printed out the photos.  Second, I made my selections and created the collage on paper.  Third, I scanned those collages into my computer and printed them out on commercial cloth (created for this purpose).  I did the same copying process for the postcards of the 7 cities I drove through each day.   
Once I had the pieces, I began to lay out, to assemble the quilt.  One side was presented as the road, dotted yellow line and all!  I used fabric that looked like asphalt or reminded me of the sheen of oil on the wet road.  I was thrilled when I stumbled on to the grey fabric that looked like cars stacked upon each other.  This strongly represented the traffic I had to move through each day.  
The other side of the quilt was made up of the postcards and fabrics that represented all that I saw each day.  There were flowers and trees and assorted greenery.  There were the changing colors of the seasons.  There were homes, rocks and the ocean.  There were feathers, the sun and stars.  And of course, there was more asphalt and traffic and motor oil!  The last element included on this side was a copy of an email from my mom where she explains our family origin of the term 'sky-blue-pink'.  This holds a very special place in my heart, so it added an extra layer of warmth for me (an emotional hug, if you will).
This quilt was quilted with a dear friend using the fancy stitches on her new machine and rainbow threads (I saw those too over the year!)  The machine did not always behave, but that didn't matter to me.  The binding was sewn on by hand, as I'd been taught years earlier by a quilting co-worker.

The last step was to take all the prose I'd written and write it on the muslin.  Now, this was a scary step.  I told myself that mistakes didn't matter, that I could X them out or cross them out as I'd seen the mixed media artist Sabrina Ward Harrison do.  No biggie, right?!  Well, after I'd gone along writing it all nice and neat, I felt quite different when I made the first mistake!  After some brainstorming, I decided to cover it with a little related applique.  I did that with the second mistake too!  Haha!  Then, I added a few more and some hand stitching too as more design elements!  It was a fun challenge to figure out where to place each observed category so that all of my writing could fit in the space I had available.  As luck would have it, it worked out just perfectly.  I didn't think too much of writing on this 'finished' quilt until my son mentioned how this was a "brave" thing to do!  I just used a lot of focus and deep concentration on each letter, one at a time!  The harder part was to Stop Writing new prose in my head once a section was completed.  After all, the commute continued!
I'm so thankful I took photographs soon after completion as the parts that were transferred have all faded and are now barely visible.  This quilt kept me company for many years of making that drive, especially on the cold mornings or dark nights of winter.

 So, without further adieu...

I’ve seen some amazing things…

I’ve seen some amazing things…
In groves, dusty green leaves, fluorescent and white trunked, straddling  
   the highway, announcing water below
In rows of giant expired piles of citrus delights
Gauzy lace borders to the patchwork groves
Lone and looking seaward
Bunched and hiding the homes of the city
Planted in wooden boxes, randomly tipped after a wild game with
   the night’s fierce wind
Palms, fallen and sliced with remaining stumps floating in a sea of ice plant
Brilliant, stark in sharp contrast to the rain-blackened sky,
   illuminated by sunlight, creating a tolerable commute
Silent sentries standing guard on citrus fields
Silhouetted in the twilight sky
Eucalyptus branches stark, entwined, and reaching
Dividing spaces into unknown rooms
Autumn bursts in distant dots
Purple jacarandas, freckling the Santa Clara River Valley floor
Baby citrus trees, toothpick trunks wrapped in white, headstone like,
   forming an Arlington National burst of new life
Heaped in clumps, masses of giant limbless trunks, flooded down to the

I’ve seen some amazing things…
Rain in blinding sheets, willfully pushing my car from side to side
Falling from the sky, modifying my vision, saturating my soul
Seeping up through muddy flooded roadsides, months after record rains

The 'Road' side of the quilt

I’ve seen some amazing things…
   One or two, low in the sky to be seen through the windshield of a driver’s
   Freckling the dimming twilight

I’ve seen some amazing things…
Glistening in the early daylight
Brushing up against the distant shores
Spreading out in a limitless vision
Bursting up upon the rocks, the highway’s border,
   sending spray to meet the day
Hiding silently beneath the fog
A redundancy of white-capped waves seeking the shore
Supporting man’s ventures, his footsteps and dreams
Black, brooding, and mysterious in the cover of darkness
A holographic expanse of light and shadow
From around the bend, throwing brightness onto the
   hillside dwellings, causing their very whiteness to leap from their
   coastal perch
Fluorescent foam visible in the foggy twilight

I’ve seen some amazing things…
Waking the hilltops in shades of bright brown pink
Blazing into the ocean at day’s end
Blinding my peripheral mirrored vision
Sinking behind the reflected mountains, homeward bound

I’ve seen some amazing things…
Pale, full white moon, dancing in the daylight, teasing the sun
Playing peek-a-boo with the clouds and the shadow of the earth
Full and orange, pausing on the horizon
Soft and muted, tickled by the fog

I’ve seen some amazing things…
Dark and foreboding
Dark and peaceful
Darker still, creating a space capsule effect on my moving car
Clouds, white feathers in the sky
Fire red setting on the ocean’s edge
Twilight peeking over the mountain’s rear-view rim
Filled with fog dancing on the hilltop, moving en pointÈ
     across the bluffs
Cloud filled, lying in layered sheets, filling the space from
     here to there and back again
Evoking family memories in blended color
Floating fog like a blanket tucking in the still sleeping morning valley
Clearing after the previous night’s storm, crystallized
Filled with cotton-candy clouds, lining the valleys on my homeward-bound
Clouds charcoal-white-gray-black, bright and surreal in their suspension 
   over the valley
Fog, oozing over the mountaintops on the scenic ocean drive

This side represents all that I saw and the 7 cities I drove through each day.

I’ve seen some amazing things…
Sunlight, moonlight, starlight, headlights, taillights, twilight
Firelight oil flames shooting out of darkened mountainsides
Encircling oil frameworks standing guard, floating on a night sea
Searching, beckoning distant shoppers
Casting eerie glows on rugged oceanside cliffs
Announcing play in progress
 In pairs, leading the way, a source of nourishment for man and vehicle
As the high beams of night-time drivers, pushing forward like bulldozers 
   on the highway, scraping the asphalt with broad arcs of brightness
Floodlights spreading daylight hours on trestle bridges and mysterious
   nighttime mountainsides

I’ve seen some amazing things…
A watercolor wash of green hues wide under the denim-blue sky
Folding, draping, reaching, extending in the bowl of the valley floor
Covered in rolling mounds of mustard shouting at the morning sun and sea
Supporting grasses, neatly boxed and scattered in the field
Covered with rows of budding crops, a directional optical illusion at 70 mph
Mountainsides rearranged by Mother Nature, once housing devastation,
   now scrub brush and mustard blooms
Barely visible furrows in shades of brown
Growing fields of flowers in organized blocks of color

I’ve seen some amazing things…
Tumbleweeds gathered close, sheltered under the protective arms
   of the mother orange trees
Tumbling over the freeway’s confines
Marching to keep the peace between the north and the south
Lying lazily or energetically climbing for a better view
Providing splashes of color in a concrete world
One solitary 3 foot burst of sunflower sunshine, spontaneously sprouting 
   among the oleanders
Blue flowered tendrils reaching out for me as I pass by

I’ve seen some amazing things…
Mammals …
One lone cow on the edge of a hilltop backyard
Many in grassy fields, moving as one
Expired by the side of the road, coyote, raccoon, skunk, opossum, rat,
   cat, dog

I’ve seen some amazing things…
One of each, very large, egg and tear-dropped shapes nonchalantly pausing 
   in the dirt turnout 
Acting as trampolines for energetic waves

I’ve seen some amazing things…
Of skunk, making me want to run and hide and bury my face in something
   soft and sweet smelling
The arid night smell of burning cropland, signaling the time between
The pungent mix of oil wells and salt water
Vegetables growing in the morning sun, pregnant with their warmth and
Memory evoking, sweet dry grasses and scrub brush

I’ve seen some amazing things…
Herons, thin legged and solitary in far off fields
Feathered friends huddled together wing to wing on power lines that      
stretch across the freeway
Turkey vultures circling, swooping, and soaring
Pacts of seagulls heading towards the ocean
Crows holding council by the side of the road
Flocks of blackbirds flying hurriedly to start the day
Multitudes of dark little winged creatures flitting and rushing over to land    
   on the scrub-covered hillside and electrical lines around it’s perimeter  
Silhouetted against the evening ocean sky 
Crows laughing at traffic bound humans
In their final resting place, roadside, seagulls, crows, a hawk with wings
   spread wide, and a chicken with legs reaching for the sky

I’ve seen some amazing things…
Drivers dangerously challenging circumstance to be fifty yards further
   ahead on the highway
Eighteen wheeled wonders speeding, swerving, parked in a roadside 
   community, rolled over, melted, traveling in herds
Shoes in wrong places
Trains rounding the crumbling sandstone edges of the foothills,
     speeding through the morning in a race to start the day
Roadside monuments marking memories of the past
A license plate standing at attention in the emergency fast lane
Ceramic faces peering around pots and plants at the roadside vendor
Ironic road signs
Humorous advertising
Homes perched on nature’s fingertips
Architecturally fantastic bridges spanning from here to there, from today to  
   tomorrow, from our lives to our dreams
Metal, rubber, plastic and fiberglass tonnage clogging the pores of our cities
The silhouette of a very small head, viewed in my rearview mirror, low 
   down peeking through the bright Blue Impala’s oversized steering wheel
Sprinklers, arcs of white mist moving rhythmically over plains of green
Drainage pipes, open mouths facing south, rows of cylinder mysteries  
   tainted with vague pictographs of graffiti warfare
Lone houses, perched like watchdogs above the wide valley
An invasion of twenty-four roadside stands, a sudden burst of
   Americana, American Pride, American Capitalism and Charity, if only
Two red shoes, posed in first position, roadside
Cement rivers, colorfully tagged and identified
A beachside caravan of white, seasonal homes, a mist of fun
A boat trailer and a truck bed resting on the rooftops of rural outbuildings
Santa Barbara traffic housing a slow moving BMW driven by an early
    twenties man, pacifier in his mouth

I’ve seen some amazing things…
Majestic heights in front of me, as purple fades to green
Autumn hills fooled by rain and warmth, an early spring green
Unnaturally flat, layered for man’s convenient invasion
Craggy nooks reaching for the ocean’s edge
Rounded tops embracing polka-dot orchards
Shadowed, jagged, and distant
Harboring caves and wild things
Rolling mounds of orange trees, lined up troops marching
   towards the morning sun

I’ve seen some amazing things…
Whirling, swirling, constant movement
Whistling around my head
Roughly caressing the tops of trees
Playing tag in the orchards
Sending debris dancing, skittering across the road
Tickling the palm fronds making them twitter and flitter in the
   morning breeze
Blowing leaves in a game of chicken with the morning traffic

90 mile commute, one way
July 2004 - July 2005

Photos and Writing by NAE ©2005



    what a great project Nancy. 90 miles one way!! How long did you do this commute?

    what a clever way to make it an interesting and positive experience. I especially loved reading all your words...I felt I was on that journey with you.

  2. Jenclair- Thanks!

    Helen- Thanks. I did this drive for 7 long years. The quilt really did help that first year. I'm glad you could go along, journey's are nicer with friends!


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