Taken from A Patchwork Life: The Hands-On Guide To Living by Louise Silk
Available as an ebook: A Patchwork Life: The Hands-On Guide To Living
The feminist revolution had to be fought because women quite simply were stopped at a state of evolution far short of their human capacity.
Betty Friedan; The Feminine Mystique; 1963
The disappointment I harbor that we haven’t come to a place of gender and racial equality in my lifetime is deeply palpable. A religious teacher, observing the look of frustration and disappoint on my face as he explained a Jewish law that excluded women, counseled that I needed to be patient, the women’s movement is young; significant change takes time.
On one hand, current society is woefully derelict in its vision and practice of all things equal. On the other hand, considering that growing up well into my late teens, I thought my only job was to stand beside my man and look cute, I surrender to the realistic nature of progress over perfection. I admire and support my revolutionary sisters who employ more radical means, but it’s not me.
My feminist trajectory began in the early seventies with a phone call from a neighbor organizing a women’s conscious raising (CR) group to investigate all aspects of womanhood.
During weekly evening meetings, members pursued grassroots liberation, one by one, with an eye-opening series of questions and discussions. Topics included non-traditional living situations, altering gender roles, equal opportunities in the workplace, increasing access in education, body politics and sexual liberation. Every word, piece of writing, and discussion was totally revelatory and shocking for me.
The decision to quilt came from the serendipity of an article in MS Magazine about quilting making as a woman’s art form. I identified with the idea presented that men having little interest in needlework, left women unsupervised to explore the craft on their own.
My Home Economics training and my consciousness raising came together in the creation of my first quilt, a queen-sized machine-pieced hand-quilted grandmother’s flower garden. Over the year and a half, it took to make that quilt, a lifelong passion came into being.
While feeling the dissent festered and gnawed within me but being resistant to change, I clung to my traditional model, finishing my degree in Home Economic Education and marrying my high school boyfriend.
Our relocation to Chicago in 1973, was the prelude to action. Looking to meet people, I answered an alternative newspaper’s ad gathering women to fight for legalized abortion. Through that, I became a member of Health Evaluation and Referral Service (H.E.R.S.) where I learned how to negotiate and evaluate a medical system that had no consideration for women’s rights.
Our focus was on a woman’s right to free choice in all things related to health, exposing medical issues such as faulty health research, limited birth control, inadequate health education, sexual wellness, and legitimatizing homosexual rights.
The main source of our inspiration was the Boston Women’s Collective book, Our Bodies, Our Selves. We sold it, as available then, in a thirty-five cents newspaper print edition. Through its guidance, we explored cervical self-exams, vegetarian diets, self-aware orgasms, and the politics of male-denominated control in all things related to health.
Our main action was evaluating abortion clinics and then making referrals by way of a hotline. There was no government regulation of clinics at that time. In addition, we opened a free clinic where we taught classes, disseminated birth control and monitored legal battles.
This was my first experience with a like-minded women’s collective, offering leadership training and positive reinforcement. H.E.R.S. built confidence. This applied first and foremost to the women’s healthcare system but also spilled over to each of our individual skills. H.E.R.S. showed me that quilting had value and that it was my particular skill set to contribute to the group. We had quilting retreats at a member’s family camp where I taught everyone to quilt. We organized group quilts to celebrate life events. My time with H.E.R.S made me feel valued, both as an advocate for women’s health and as a teacher of a women’s craft form.