Dyed and Gone to Heaven – An Online Magazine and Needlework Resource  

Presenting Part II of our tribute to all the Breast Cancer Survivors and those close to them.

The Breast Cancer Quilt Projects

Part II "Raging Light" Breast Cancer Quilt Project - United States

Part II "Life Quilt for Breast Cancer" Project - Canada

Click here if you missed Part I last month


"Raging Light" Breast Cancer Quilt Project - United States

Part II

Susan spent many hours contemplating the name she would give this project. No one could explain the symbolism better than Susan: ""Do not go gentle into that good night" is one of my all-time favorite poems. Dylan Thomas' image of stubborn tenacity, never giving in, has always appealed to me. It's such a powerful admonition against complacency and resignation. I guess I'd like to hope that I will find a reservoir of that kind of courage to draw upon as the challenges of life present themselves to me over the years. The last line of the poem, 'Rage, rage against the dying of the light,' I find especially haunting. Light symbolizes so many things: strength, warmth, love, inspiration, divine guidance, life itself. And ironically it's also evocative of the end of life, the heart of the transcendence we wish for the dying when we whisper to them as they slip away from us, 'Go towards the light...'"

Susan can't quite recall how the words of the poem got transposed into "Raging Light," but the more she thought about it, the more it appealed to her. It can be interpreted in so many different ways: describing the anger and helplessness of the victims of breast cancer, representing the out-of-control force raging through their bodies, or alternatively, symbolizing the healing energy some women visualize to counteract the destructive impact of the disease. It also connotes the effect Susan hoped to achieve by making the quilt so bright and brash and loud - to ensure it could not be ignored. She has received such overwhelmingly positive feedback on the name, that it has become an integral element in the overall appeal of the project. "Raging Light" evokes from the viewer or participant a visceral, emotional response. Each person's reaction will be different, yet each will be valid.

In the process of assembling the quilt, Susan would often let the squares that arrived pile up for days, reluctant to confront someone else's pain or loss. Some were wonderfully uplifting accounts of survival and triumph. But most were so heart rending that she could only sit and sob as she read them. Her worst fear, once she had committed herself to the project, was that she would become too upset to actually complete it. As it worked out, the challenge of fitting the "puzzle" of all the squares together, combined with the completion deadlines she had set for herself hanging over her head, gave her the emotional distance she required to complete the task.

The overall design evolved as she worked on it. There was no master layout plan or pattern in mind to guide her. Though it's now hard for her to believe that she took such a "leap of faith," Susan did not even view the panel in it's entirety until it was actually finished. She would work on one section and then roll it up in order to reach the next area to be worked. She got into such a rush to complete it on time for "The Race for the Cure" that she never had an opportunity to unroll it, stand back and see how it was coming together. Keeping this in mind, it is quite remarkable that the gradation of light to dark from top to bottom worked so well and was a complete, but very welcome, surprise when she finally viewed the quilt as a whole.

The most difficult part of the project, emotionally, was making the dedication label for the back of the quilt. Over the course of several morning jogs, Susan pondered what she wanted to say. Initially she planned to measure and mark precise lines and guidemarks so that the inscription would look almost professional. But as soon as she sat down to actually do it, pigma pens and fabric in hand, this notion evaporated. The whole quilt had been an exercise in "winging it," and it seemed inappropriate and even silly to do it differently now.

Thinking it would take her very little time to complete the label, now that she had decided to do it freehand, Susan was totally unprepared for her own reaction. The seemingly simple act of chronicling by hand the name of her mother and the other women she had loved so much unleashed all the emotions she had been suppressing for months in order to complete the banner itself. There are only 80 words in the inscription but it took her over 3 hours to write them. It reads:

This quilt is dedicated in LOVING MEMORY to

My Aunt Gerry

My Aunt Sue

My Friend Loiuse

and most especially to

MY Mother Vivian

lost to breast cancer in 1990

Until a cure is found, may this banner serve as a beacon of hope to breast cancer victims everywhere during their valiant struggles against the darkness - Susan Gray, Walnut Creek, California, 1996


"Do not go gentle into that good night...Rage, rage against the dying of the light." Dylan Thomas

The most essential objective of the "Raging Light Quilt Triptych" is to provide an opportunity for breast cancer survivors and family and friends of those lost to contribute to something that will begin to heal the ugly scar that has mutilated their lives as a result of this disease. Susan expands on this purpose: "I've been overwhelmed by how desperately people need to publicly record names. It's the overpowering desire to proclaim 'I've Been Here,' even on something fairly impermanent as fabric". These names inscribed on fiery orange, crimson, purple and gold muslin are now surrounded by thousands of others who have struggled against breast cancer.

Because the quilt represents so many women, Susan feels a responsibility to exhibit it in as many locations as possible. This traveling memorial will be displayed at a number of venues throughout 1998, including quilt shows, university conferences, Breast Cancer Fund Raisers, art galleries, local hospitals, clinics and churches. A series of prayer services in support of those touched by breast cancer is also planned. These showings and services aim to reach out to all those affected by breast cancer: caregivers, spouses, family and friends, as well as those battling the disease themselves. Past exhibitions and services have made Susan realize all the more the necessity to expand the scope of "Raging Light" to embrace the wider community impacted by this disease.

So where does the project go now? Susan has had countless requests from quilt guilds, cancer support groups, and various other organizations to have "Raging Light" displayed at fund raisers, quilt shows and conferences around the U.S. and Canada. Up to now, Susan, being a one-woman show, in addition to time and funding constraints, has had to restrict the exhibitions to California. When the "Earth" and "Wind" Panels are completed, projected for the fall of this year, Susan has aspirations to take all three quilt panels, along with albums containing the letters and stories that are associated with the individual squares, on a lecture and display tour around the country. If she could attract a private or corporate sponsor interested in working with her to develop the project, there are numerous possibilities for expansion and many different directions the project could take. By the end of next year, Susan's current employment commitments will be fulfilled and this will allow her to devote herself full time to the "Raging Light" project and it's future goal of bringing a message of hope, solidarity, courage and empowerment to women across the nation.

Susan Gray's heroic accomplishment is an outstanding paradigm to women the world over. She is still accepting squares to be included in the "Earth" and "Wind" panels. To find out how you or a loved one can be included please visit the Breast Cancer Fund website at http://www.breastcancerfund.org/raging_light.html or e-mail Susan at svgray@pacbell.net

For the sake of women everywhere, we hope and pray to see Susan Gray's ultimate goal fulfilled.

To find out how you or a loved one can be included please visit the Breast Cancer Fund website at http://www.breastcancerfund.org/raging_light.html or e-mail Susan at svgray@pacbell.net

"Life Quilt for Breast Cancer" Project - Canada

Part II

The first panel, "Cut in Prime", made its premier to the public in October of 1996 at the Diane Farris Art Gallery in Vancouver, B.C. Diane has been very generous in storing the mammoth quilt panels when they are not on tour or not being worked on. The second panel, "Call to Rebirth" was unveiled at the first "World Conference on Breast Cancer" in July, 1997, held in Kingston, Ontario. Judy, ecstatic to have come so far in making her original concept a reality and grateful for the continued support and involvement of so many people, remarked, "I do think that having major goals is keeping all of us (cancer survivors) going".


I had a dream about this quilt square and I have reproduced the square as I remember it from my dream.

The square represents the destruction of my life as I had known it before the breast cancer diagnosis. The burned edge is the utter chaos that completely overwhelmed me when I found out that I had cancer. Plain red fabric divides the square and represents a state of being in limbo... just trying to get through each day. Identical fabrics woven into different patterns symbolize how I have been changed yet how I remain the same.

The colours in my square are intense, almost violent, because I want my square to be beautiful, yet uncomfortable. Having breast cancer is a violent experience and the beauty and integrity in my life now was not easily won.

Judy Reimer
Vancouver, B. C.


Title: Putting the Pieces Back Together

When I began making this square, I was unaware that I had breast cancer. After running the 10km run for breast cancer in the fall of 1995, I flet confident that I would not be the 1 in 9 cancer victim. This block represents that I am now a survivor of breast cancer.

The base of the block was constructed of "bits and pieces" of my life - selvages, scraps, gifts of fabric from quilting friends, and purchases from my travels to quilting stores around the world.

All the pieces have been put together to form a whole body, with the lace holding the pieces together to form a whole body, with the lace holding the pieces together. The patchwork heart represents incisions of breast cancer surgeries. It is made with remnants from fabric from a log cabin quilt and is lumpy like a breast before surgery. The heart also symbolizes the love which one needs to cope with this disease.

The beads surrounding the heart are continuous like the road of life that one endures and enjoys. the heart itself was sewn entirely by hand, using my right side which was affected by breast cancer. the edges of my square (not visible in the completed quilt) have been left unfinished and "raw" to represent the healing process, both literally (the surgical site) and figuratively (emotionally).

Marianne McRobert
Richmond, B. C.

The third and final panel, "Green Canopy", is currently a work-in-progress and is scheduled to be completed by October, 1999. When finished in its entirety, the "Life Quilt for Breast Cancer" will measure 12 feet high by 30 feet wide! (Each panel is individually 12 feet by 10 feet.)

At the moment, participation in the way of quilting a square to be included in the "Life Quilt for Breast Cancer" is, by necessity, limited to Canadian contributors. For information on hosting a quilting bee in your community, contact either Jan Muirhead or Anne Massey. Their addresses can be found in the resources section at the end of this story. There is always the possibility that this project may expand to include women from other countries.

Additionally, Judy and her committee are writing a practical easy-to-use resource handbook for women in British Columbia to be released this year. A Canada-wide version may follow after an assessment period. The B.C. handbook contains a problem-solving guide, directory of practical services and a guide to practical ways to help someone with breast cancer. Having been a nurse, Judy recognized how much her friends' emotional and practical support had helped. She wants to encourage others to do the same for those in need. Plans for the future include a coffee table book and engagement calendar displaying some of the contributions to the "Life Quilt for Breast Cancer".


My square is an interpretation of the "wild Rose" by Mary Schafer (1971). It is a simple design, easily adapted to the method I wanted to use in my square for my Aunt Ethel who died of breast cancer.

My poem is hidden in the shape of the rose to be discovered by those who care enough to look more carefully, just like those who care enough to know the things in your life which have affected you the most. Many people in one's life think they know you well but only those closest are allowed to see the things that hurt you the most.

Title: Say Goodbye

I miss you, Auntie Ethey _ I never got to say goodbye

You were like a "wild" rose - a tomboy just like me.

You were my favorite aunt when I was little.

And even when I grew up - I love going to visit you.

But when you got sick - you wouldn't let any of us see you.

I wanted to share your pain and your fears

And I wanted to say "I love you, Auntie Ethey",

But I never got to say goodbye.


Marlen McLean
Burnaby, B. C.

Scheduled events for 1998 include a show at the "Quilt Canada" exhibition to be held at the Asian Center on the University of British Columbia campus in Vancouver from May 25 to May 31. Following that, the "Life Quilt for Breast Cancer will tour the Maritime Provinces: Saint John, New Brunswick from September 18-20, Moncton, New Brunswick from September25-26, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island from October1-5, Halifax, Nova Scotia from October 8-19, St. John's, Newfoundland from October 20-30. Except for the "Quilt Canada" show, all other dates are approximate at this time. The "Life Quilt for Breast Cancer" will continue to tour as long as the need and desire exist. Eventually, though not anytime in the foreseeable future, a permanent home will be found for this magnificent testament to Courage, Determination, Life and Hope.

For more information write Jan Muirhead at 1115 160A Street, Surrey, B.C., Canada V4A7G9 or contact her by e-mail at keithm.direct.ca or write to Anne Massey at 218 15991 Thrift Street, White Rock, B.C., Canada V4B2M9.

Lastly and most importantly, a resounding YES! Judy Reimer, ever indomitable, is very much alive, a mother to her children, now 10 and 11 years old, and a friend to her friends. She has miraculously accomplished the Herculean feat she set for herself just 3 years ago: the transformation of her unique spirit and determination into a physical form that has evolved to a country wide communal project. Thank you, Judy, for having the will and the courage to dare us all to keep Hope Alive.

Other Cancer Support Groups

After we ran the story last month about the Breast Cancer Quilt projects other self-help groups for cancer victims have come to our attention. Below is just one of many such groups that also offer wellness groups centered around stitching.

Self-Help for Women with Breast or Ovarian Cancer was founded in 1976 by a group of women seeking emotional support and guidance to deal with the crisis of a diagnosis of breast cancer. Over the past 22 years, SHARE has expanded to offer a broad range of educational, psychological, self-help and information services for thousands of women, men and children affected by breast or ovarian cancer. SHARE provides over 100 programs a month including peer-led support groups, public education, advocacy and wellness programs.

Together with the Bergen County Chapter of the Embroiderers' Guild of America, Inc., SHARE offers a wellness program centered around stitching. Survivors are encouraged to rediscover or learn needlework as a creative method to further self-healing. Simple projects correlating to breast and/or ovarian cancer and healing are used to teach basic needlework techniques. The early programs have centered around stitching a pink Breast Cancer Awareness ribbon

pin or a Teal Ovarian Cancer Awareness ribbon pin using a choice of fibers and beads from a design donated by Designs by Gloria & Pat, Inc. Funding for materials has been obtained from Outreach Funds awarded by The Embroiderers' Guild of America, Inc. in Louisville, KY.

Margot Anderson who works at SHARE as a financial consultant and is President of the Bergen County Chapter of the EGA is responsible for instituting this needlework program at SHARE.

SHARE is located at 1501 Broadway, Suite 1720, New York, NY 10036. Phone: 212 719-0364

Web site: http://www.sharecancersupport.org

© 1997 The Caron Collection / oice: (203) 381-9999, Fax: 203 381-9003

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