We Are So Close

by Ryan R. Young

I entered High School in the Fall of 1973, and the Equal Rights Amendment was big news. For a boy of that time growing up in Orange County, California,I was pretty progressive and I thought the ERA was COOL. The only male member in my high school’s chapter of the NOW, I watched the seemingly inexorable march to ratification with interest.

46 years later. Ratification hasn’t happened. AGAIN I’m the minority male in an organization of strong women, this time a quilt guild.

What else could my subject be, for this Centennial celebration of Suffrage?

My quilting praxis is Machine Made Modern Quilts for USE. I make a lot of baby quilts for my young co-workers just starting families, and I often work improvisationally. Making an "Art Quilt" that told a particular story stretched my craft in a different direction.

As I cast about for ideas, I was surprised to learn the ERA is NOT dead, and that there was STILL a movement to ratify. The fundamental message of the quilt, soon appliqued in red, leaped out at me. The map (digitally printed from an image in the public domain) with the machine embroidered pink hearts suggested itself, and the other graphic elements fell into place. I used Trapunto (extra layers of batting) for graphic emphasis and, for the central element, to suggest the famous button of the time, worn by Gloria Steinhem, Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisolm; all S-heros of my youth.

Once the top was finished, I contemplated the quilting, and decided to use more text (free motion quilted) to tell more of the surprisingly complex and ambiguous story of the ERA. I like quilts that work at 10 feet away and ALSO at a foot away from the observer, and I think this quilt does that.

I’m unsure what will happen to the ERA in the future. There are a lot of unresolved Constitutional issues around the "sunset" date in the original legislation, the extension (which did not yield any additional ratifications), the 5 states that rescinded their ratification, and the two which have ratified after the "sunset" date. Many of the perceived negative consequences Mrs Schafly harped on have been made moot by changes in society, changes in family law, the end of the draft, women’s integration into the armed forces, etc. But the extreme partisan "sorting" of public life has narrowed the space for broad-based change, and statehouses and courts have been packed with social conservatives via gerrymanders and other un-democratic means.

A lot to sew into a quilt!