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Healing Threads: Gainesville womans quilt part of national traveling exhibit
Judy Carpenter stitched during her chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer
0410THREADS7
Detail of Judy Carpenter's quilt colored using snow from a past snowfall and colored dyes.

Sacred Threads Quilts exhibition
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1-4 p.m. Sunday, April 13 through May 4
Where: Grace Episcopal Church, 422 Brenau Ave. NE, Gainesville; Enter through the Parish Hall greeting entrance, adjacent to the Grace Episcopal Pre-School.
How much: Free
More info: www.sacredthreadsquilts.com or www.gracechurchgainesville.org/sacredthreads/

In 2012, Judy Carpenter sat and watched her mother slip away from life while in hospice care.

Two years later, the Gainesville woman sat while liquid was pumped into her body to rid it of cancer cells in her breasts.

During each hardship, Carpenter focused her energy on art.

“For me, to make art when I’m stressed out is a good, healing thing for me to do,” said the local artist, who has worked with textiles in various forms including knitting, embroidery and smocking.

Now, one of the products from her past emotional and physical tribulations is touring the country for all to see. The abstract, handmade quilt from screenprinted silks that Carpenter made during her treatment is part of a national traveling exhibit called Sacred Threads. It will be on display beginning this week at Grace Episcopal Church in Gainesville.

Tragedy inspires art

While her 94-year-old mother spent two weeks in hospice care in late 2012, Carpenter was taking a fiber arts class out of San Antonio, Texas. Her school work kept her busy, she said, making it a vessel for her during the difficult time.

For 14 days, Carpenter spent the day with her mother, then came home and screenprinted “massive amounts” of silk.

After her mother died, Carpenter packed away the silks. Looking at the pieces reminded her of her mother’s illness.

When she was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer, she pulled out one of those pieces and started stitching.

“I’d go to chemo and have three hours to sit and embroider,” she said. “So I’d embroider on it whatever I wanted to embroider. The whole time I was sick, I worked on it.”

She described her diagnosis as “terrifying.” She suffered not only physically, but from nightmares and fear. It’s a hard thing to put in words today, she said.

But having a project during that time was a relief.

“It’s a healing kind of a thing,” she said. “And I liked it because it kept me busy.”

Over nearly eight months of treatment, Carpenter covered most of the pieces of silk. Then she decided turn it into a quilt.

Carpenter has made numerous quilts throughout the years, but this year's Sacred Threads quilt is dubbed “Stage Two: My Cancer Journey.” She called it an abstract “mishmash” of greens, blues and a bit of yellow. She hand-dyed the embroidery thread, and the silk prints were inspired by her mother.

“When my mom was sick, the screens I was screenprinting with were abstracts of coronary arteries,” she said. “Because I felt like she was tugging on my heartstrings.”

Art on display

Sacred Threads was created in 1999 by textile artists who wanted a dignified exhibit of artwork that showed the meaning behind each piece of work.

Today, 200 quilts are chosen for the show in the Washington D.C. area. Of the 200 quilts, only 40 are chosen for the traveling exhibit opening Wednesday at Grace Episcopal in downtown Gainesville. It will close May 4.

These quilts cover a variety of themes, including expressions of joy, spirituality, grief, healing and more.

Each quilt includes an audio recording from the artist, explaining the meaning behind the work.

“It’s a fantastic exhibit,” said Jim Taflinger with Grace Episcopal. “I’ve been fortunate enough to see it, and I think people will be incredibly touched by it and the stories behind the quilts.”

Carpenter was first featured in the 2013 Sacred Threads show for another quilt.

“I was really excited about it, because I’d never gotten into a national show before,” the 35-year member of Grace Episcopal said. “I basically just do this for my own enjoyment. That’s all I really want. But I was blown away when I went to the show in 2013, because it was just so moving.”

When Grace Episcopal Rector Stuart Higginbotham heard Carpenter was going to be featured in the traveling show, he spoke to Carpenter about bringing the show to the church.

“He said, ‘Well let’s get it to come here,’” she said. “He’s really invested in this kind of stuff.”

The church is also developing a creative expression ministry of its own, which will coincide with the exhibit. Taflinger is working on the new “ministry cluster.”

“What we’re looking at is people who can express their spirituality, who can reach within themselves through talent and creative endeavors,” he said. “I think this is a show that demonstrates exactly what that’s about. Here’s a variety of people from all different walks of life that have done that through their quilting.”

Carpenter and Taflinger said Sacred Threads is the church’s first art show, but won’t be the last.

Taflinger commended Carpenter for her work and spirit.

“She’s been through a lot, and yet she always has a positive attitude,” he said. “And she’s incredibly talented, also.”

Carpenter said Sacred Threads is about spirituality and feeling more than religion, but she is grateful to belong to a church that appreciates the value of art.

“It’s a spiritual thing, art,” she said. “It comes from your heart. It comes from your soul.”

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