Tuesday, October 27, 2015

In Memory of Jessica: thread and fabric

Nearly 3 years ago my friend Jessica Kraf died at the age of 27 from Ewing's Sarcoma.  From the time she was diagnosed with stage IV to the time she died was less than 11 months.  During her treatment I made her a Prayer Quilt from fabrics sent to me by her friends and family.  After her death I was filled with pain and anger and made the Fuck Cancer quilt.  For a long time the only way I could think of her was how she looked when she died, the embodiment of the ravages of cancer:  intense pain, hairless, gaunt, scared and confused.  This quilt is my way of replacing those images with how she was during our 13 years of friendship: strong, passionate, vibrant, beautiful and full of life.

Many years ago she posted this lovely photo to her facbook account:

Photo credit: Morgan Estill

I was immediately struck with how similar the pose, lighting and feel were to Leonardo Da Vinci's La Scapigliata:


The photo stayed with me, and I decided I needed to turn it into a quilt.  I wasn't sure how though, and started looking into different methods of turning a photo into a quilt.  The mini Starry Night thread painting I made earlier this year was actually an experiment to play with the method before attempting this portrait.

Photo printed on fabric, ready to quilt!

I had this photo printed (with permission) on Kona cotton at FotosOnFabric.com, it currently measures just under 12" x 15".

Aurifil threads selected for this thread painting.

Aurifil has generously sponsored the threads for this quilt, I am honored at their trust in me.  I'm also excited about this because my sewing machine loves Aurifil threads, and I love the way they shine on my quilts!  Here is approximately where the colors will be used (the large spool is primarily for the bobbin): 

Aurifil threads selected for thread painting.

For the series of blog posts about this quilt I'd like to include something new:  How I'm Feeling.  I am filled with emotion every time I think of Jessica, of her friendship, and especially of the last 11 months of her life.  This quilt is my way of honoring those memories, and spending time with her again.  I miss her more than I'd like to try and express.

How I'm Feeling
I think of Jessica almost daily still, but I've been missing her a lot lately.  Probably because I received the fabric print a couple of weeks ago and it has been staring at me from my design wall.  There is a song that has been playing on one of my Pandora stations that I wish I could send to her, for some reason I think she would have liked it a lot: Stitches by Shawn Mendes.  She thought I'd like the song Fireflies by Owl City, but I thought it was just catchy and annoying.  I didn't tell her that.  But this a capella version has been playing on one of my Pandora stations, and I quite enjoy it and it reminds me of her.

Putting the threads with the photo made me feel so nervous, excited and anxious!  I've been planning this quilt for over a year, and it is all finally coming together!

"Do not give from the depths of your own well; give only from its overflow."

In Memory of Jessica thread painting series:
1. Thread and fabric (you are here)


  1. I am feeling excited for you to start this project; empathy for your anger and frustration; thankful to Aurifil for sponsoring the project; and happy that you still think of her so often and associated with music.

  2. What a great tribute to a friend. I agree the last images of a person are hard to forget. They overshadow the good images. It's been 4 years since my dad passed and I still find it hard to look past how he looked in the last few weeks of his life.

  3. Thinking of you and Jessica. I'm sure this will be a cathartic experience for you and I look forward to seeing your progress.

  4. That is a gorgeous picture, Renee! I'm looking forward to seeing it transformed with the thread. I can only imagine the pain of losing such a good friend. I hope good memories come to mind all while you're working on it.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing how you are feeling. I lost my sister to Colon Cancer in March of this year - she was my best friend and the person who taught me to quilt. I have had a hard time letting go of the sadness, anger and vision of her in the last few weeks of her life as cancer ravaged her body. Lately, like you, I have been seeking ways to honor my sister's memory and spirit, and to let go of how she looked before her death because that is not who she was...she was so much more than her disease. I love that you are using this gorgeous image as a way of honoring Jessica...I am sure she would love your courage to work on this project :) I have found working on some special pieces have helped me to remember the joyful times with my sister. Yes, I am still sad and missing her, but through art (especially art that we shared with each other), I am finding a path through the grief. I hope you will also find this process healing.

  6. This sounds like such a good idea. I made a mini book about my grandmother after she died, and I found it very therapeutic to remember the good times.

  7. Renee, I'm feeling nervous, excited and anxious for you! I can't wait to see the progression of this quilt and your experience as you stitch. Quilting has gotten me through many dark times and I know you have experienced the same. Thank you for sharing such a personal journey!

  8. Just.. big hugs, because fuck cancer.

  9. What a beautiful tribute to your dear friend. Using quilting as a tool for emotions is a lovely idea. :) Hugs!

  10. What a tragic end for your dear friend and at such a young age. Hoping that your tribute will fill you with wonderful memories of her and your time together.

  11. Interesting project with such a sad story behind. Fingers crossed!

  12. So sorry for the loss of your friend. That portrait is so lovely, I can't wait to see it thread painted.

  13. I can imagine the process will be difficult. I find myself getting teary as I sort through Dad's photo albums, one of the last tasks left since his death. You will be working with this photo for long hours. Keep the tissues handy.
    It is lovely to hear of Aurifil's support.

  14. I lost my sister 15 months ago to Ovarian cancer. It was very hard because she was my best friend and now everything about life has changed since she's been gone. I can only imagine the feelings that you are going through as you work on this beautiful memory of your friend. I think about my sister everyday and remember her through my daily chores and activities. We are blessed through family and the friends that we meet and make along the way. Perhaps the best memories can be carried forward as we live our lives and share with other people. ♡♡♡♡

  15. Oh .... Wow. Renee your tribute to Jessica is incredibly moving. I remember the Fuck Cancer quilt you made and understanding completely why you made it. Jessica's portrait is beautiful! If anyone can do justice to her in a quilt, you can!