Quilting for the coast

When I walk in the door of the Dogwood office these days I am greeted by a colourful tufted puffin with its beak stuffed to the brim with eulachon. It’s a square on one of the quilts that have been generously donated and hung on our office walls by the Positive Energy Quilters, a group based for the most part on Gabriola Island, and founded by long-time quilter and quilt-book author Kristin Miller. The quilts are part of the UnOiled UnspOILed Coast quilt project and have been donated and put on sale to raise funds in support of Dogwood’s No Tankers work.

“You can really say something with a quilt,” says Miller, whom I recently had the opportunity to chat with on the phone from her home on Gabriola.

Miller has been quilting since 1980. It all started with a one-off craft project that got her hooked permanently. At the time she was living in “pretty rustic conditions” across the water from Prince Rupert on an island.

People living on the surrounding islands often exchanged quilts as gifts and Miller was amazed by how much she was able to express feelings and emotions through her quilt creations. She has always designed her quilts by, as she says, “doing what I want with the fabric,” and eventually wrote a book encouraging others to do just that.

It was while living on the north coast of B.C. – where boats are the primary mode of transportation – that Miller came to appreciate the area that is now threatened by the Enbridge proposal and the very real threat posed by the oil supertankers that would come with it.

After moving to Gabriola in 2000, Miller became involved in the grassroots movement against a proposal to build a gas-fired power plant at Duke Point, near Nanaimo. She said, “Let’s make protest quilts,” and along with many others, used her art to spread the message about the risks posed by the power plant, and to advocate for alternative energy. They came to be called positive energy quilts and thus, the Positive Energy Quilters were born, and played a small but colourful part in the campaign against the power plant proposal, which eventually died.

Fast-forward to the summer of 2010 when BP’s Deep Water Horizon rig exploded, leaking more than 4.5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. That’s when the Positive Energy Quilters revived their group and decided to translate the extreme outrage and sorrow they felt in response to the devastating oil spill into art. They worked together making squares and started turning out quilt upon quilt, each celebrating different aspects of the unique and diverse ecosystems of the B.C. coast.

They displayed the quilts at fairs, community events, and in art exhibits, where they raised money for Dogwood’s No Tankers campaign by inviting passers-by to remove fabric “oil blobs” from the quilts to reveal the artwork underneath, called “unblobbing.” Positive Energy Quilter Nancy Crozier told me “A lot of people have been very excited by it.”

All of the 14 quilts created as part of this project, (5 of which have been donated directly to Dogwood), will be sold to raise funds in support of Dogwood’s No Tankers campaign and to raise awareness about the threats posed by oil spills. Here at Dogwood, we are very grateful to all of the quilters who have donated their time and energy as part of the project.

The quilts on our office walls are now for sale, and though I’m happy they’ll be going to good homes, I’m sad that I won’t be able to see them when I walk through the door in the morning for much longer.

I can’t think of a more positive message than that embodied by these quilts: appreciate what you have and don’t risk it for any amount of money.

Check out the Positive Energy Quilters website.

Tidal Zone

“Tidal Zone” – Photo by Jean Wynberg.

Balance of Nature

“Balance of Nature” – Photo by Jean Wynberg.

Salmon Planet

“Salmon Planet” – Photo by Jean Wynberg.

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