Nellie"s Needles

Friday, September 22, 2006

Out of the Rubble

 "Out of the Rubble" - 38"x70" - 2002

"Out of the Rubble" hung for several years in St. Paul's Chapel which is located just east of where the Twin Towers had been.
I had not intended to create this commemorative quilt. Following is the sequence of events and my feelings while making it. The process began in Macatawa, Michigan five years ago this weekend and ended in Farragut, Tennessee when the first final list of names of the victims was released. I wish there were digital photos to post. These are digitally reproduced from photographs taken when the quilt was completed.

My initial reaction to the events of September 11th was to watch every bit of news coverage every day for at least that first week. When I could no longer bear to view or hear anymore, I found myself seeking the positive reactions and written thoughts of my fellow Americans. I can't tell you why I was compelled to cut or tear them out of publications and newspapers.

Two weekends after 9/11, I demonstrated a quilt piecing technique (Ricky Tims Harmonic Convergence) to my daughter-in-law, Jeanette, and niece-in-law, Diane. Four fabrics are required and Jeanette had brought red, white, blue, and a waving flag print to make a patriotic banner to hang from her porch in Oak Park, Illinois. She couldn't find a flag to buy. Every source was sold out. Seeing her result, I decided to make one for our cottage. The fabrics I chose were a hand-dyed red, a blue skyline print, a black/white graphic, and Jeanette's waving flag print.

In the process of piecing, the three buildings of the WTC that imploded appeared. Right then I knew this piece was not just a banner. I immediately replaced all the black/white graphic pieces with the other three fabrics in the area around the buildings. About that time, someone observed that this skyline fabric depicted the buildings of New York City. I had purchased that fabric sometime ago on the chance that I just may need a city skyline for a piece I might make in the future.

During that next week I collaged the layer of rubble over the pieced fabrics. I knew then that the names of all the victims must be included on this piece. I was prepared to figure out a way to get those reported 6,000 names included. I painted six yards of muslin outside on the back porch with watered down black fabric paint. It felt eerie to depict that haunting image and to paint all that fabric.

At some point, it occurred to me that more than death and destruction resulted from that pile of rubble. All of the love, support, strength of spirit, and help that poured out from so very many people both literally and spiritually to the people of New York City was very much a part of this tragedy. This is when I found a way to include the quotes from those clippings I had been collecting. They are written with a fabric pen in the blue and red stripes of the outer border.

And then the song, "America the Beautiful", took on a whole new meaning for each of us. Who could keep a dry eye when it was sung before the baseball games and at other events. That just had to be in this piece, too. The lyrics are embroidered and painted around three sides of the inner star border. The fourth side (bottom) has, "We shall always remember those who perished and the WTC buildings that symbolize our strength and freedom."

In mid-October we moved back to our winter residence in Tennessee. The piece, then called "We Shall Always Remember", was hung on the design wall in my studio. Over the next few months I finished the handwriting and construction details while I waited for the final official count of victims.

And then there was Thanksgiving and Christmas. After the first of the year, I felt compelled to make something beautiful and full of light and love. So, "The Spectrum of Love" was created on my design wall next to "Out of the Rubble". It is the most beautiful and rich piece I have made to date. A number of people wanted to purchase it, but I couldn't sell it. Instead I gifted it to our son and daughter-in-law. I visit "The Spectrum of Love" in their home in Evanston, Illinois.
"Spectrum of Love" - 60"x60" - 2002
When the final count of victims was announced, my other son, who works for the Chicago Tribune, got the list of names that included the age of and where each person had lived. It was compiled by a friend at the Long Island Newsday newspaper, which had released the first official final count. My son printed them in columns with the type size and spacing I had decided on when I was in Chicago for Christmas.

Preparing the streamers took five days. The tearing of the fabric, the crumpling and tearing the paper, the sewing between each name felt like a sacred act ... that I was making funeral shrouds. The fabric and paper are raw edged with the sewing thread ends left dangling. The fabric strips are sewn into six layers. I kept the names alphabetical so any name could easily be found by a loved one or a friend. I meant for this piece to be touched.

During all this time I worked in isolation. I couldn't share that I was making this quilt with anyone but family members. The process of making it was my personal expression of grief. It was not mine to keep. It belonged to the people of New York City. I'm honored that Trinity Episcopal Church accepted this donation and displayed it along with momentos brought to them by the families of the victims and the rescue workers.

Farragut, Tennessee's Town Hall - 2002
The 1st person to find a name was one of the workman who helped set up the show - his wife's cousin was a victim. It amazed me how many people in my small community personally knew or were related to someone who died at ground zero.

Dogwood Arts Festival - Knoxville, Tennessee -2002
There was a special non-judged exhibit of five 9/11 quilts. Three came from other parts of the country.

St. Paul's Chapel - New York City - 2002 thru 2005
The piece is presently archived by Trinity Episcopal Church. I compiled a notebook of the above information including photos, fabric samples, the periodical clippings, and correspondence with Reverand Matthews to go into the archive.

All photos are clickable for you to view a larger version in a separate window. Click the back arrow icon of your server to get back to this post. The highlighted text is also clickable to take you to the link or posting that is being referenced.


dot said...

Wonderful. I love out of the rubble. You rock!!!!!!!

Karen said...

What a powerful work! I can see why you needed to make something on a lighter( no less powerful though!_ note after doing Out of the Rubble. Karen.

I have put a link to your blog on mine.

jecrosheck said...

Nellie - Very articulate and touching commentary on the evolution of the piece. I admire your ability to channel the emotions that you felt into an object of beauty - and of passion. Congratulations on its placement in New York near the focus of 9/11. That honors so many people in a special way.


Regina Stewart said...

Nellie - Your creativity is amazing! On the weekend before the 5th Anniversary of 9/11, I shared the press release photos of "Out of the Rubble" with the family of Jimmy (James Francis) Quinn, a 23 yr old victim and close friend of mine. His parents, Noreen & Mike, were touched by your sensitivity and grateful for your tribute.
Although I did not view the quilt on it's showing in New York, I hope to see it as a permanent memorial to all the victims in the future. Thank you for caring,
Regina Stewart

Aliza Durand said...

Love the piece. I know that I don't know anyone who died at WTC but
seeing them die has had a huge impact on me. I really appreciate the
work you put into it. It's a very special piece and i believe anyone
who see's it will agree.
Thanks for sharring.
Love Aliza

Nellie Bass Durand said...

Aliza is an actress and is married to my nephew. She wrote and has starred in the production about her experience that fateful day in NYC. More about her and her story can be found at:

Kevin Briles said...


In my literature class last week we discussed a short story called "Not for Everyday Use". In this story the young girl was inheriting a quilt that was passed down from her grandmother, and it reminded me of the quilts we have hanging in our condo. I also remebered you had made this quilt and I mentioned it in our discussions. Everyone in class wanted to see it. Tom gave me your website, which had the link to it from your "Spectrum of Love" quilt, but did not have the full description as the new link Tom sent me. It was interesting to read the description and what each piece meant after evryone in the class had their own interpretations of what was in the quilt (the picture did not show the detail). Some said that the ribbon at the bottom reminded them of maybe the fire hoses carried up the building, and some thought maybe it was for the building, and others thought maybe the people who passed. Everyone thought is was wonderful!!! Next week I will bring the link so everyone can see what you put into it.

Gail P said...

Thank you for sharing this. Words fail me! It's an incredible piece . . .hugs!