The Colors of Grief

I recently submitted a quilt that I made as a piece of creative scholarship to a conference in my field.

I won’t know if it’s been accepted until December, but I thought I’d share the process and the meaning behind the quilt with you anyway. Just so you know–this post is going to be a little different than the others have been.

Because you see–the quilt is a color study of the stages of grief.

Grief can be many things.

It can be bright, it can be loud, or it can be very quiet. It can be the first thing you notice in the morning and the last thing you see before you go to sleep at night. It can be a soft thrum in your head that you only hear when you listen for it— but always there.

It can be a rock in your pocket that you learn to get used to but never quite forget.

It can appear at unexpected times—when you smell a Christmas tree or reach for the phone. In that moment of heart dropping grief, you seek comfort. You need something to hold onto and wallow in and physically touch to derive comfort.

A quilt can be such an item. You can hold it, wrap yourself in it, or just let it sit on your lap.

The Kubler-Ross Model of grieving identifies five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.

This quilt is a color study in the five stages of grief; I have applied a color to each stage of grief.

The first stage in the model is Denial. The color purple has been applied to Denial because throughout the world—with the exception of black and white—purple is the color of mourning. These quilt blocks are darker than most of the rest because this is a dark stage.

The second stage of grief in the model is Anger. However, in my experience with grief, Anger comes later, after Bargaining. So the second stage represented in the quilt (which is the third stage in the model) is Bargaining. The color selected for Bargaining is yellow—the color of gold. While grieving we may not bargain with money, but we do give up something of value to have something priceless returned.

The third stage of grief represented in the quilt is Anger. Anger is not always raging. It can be bright, or subtle, or smoldering. The orange is not as overt as red, which is traditionally associated with anger, but an orange fire can burn for a long time; thus the color orange was chosen over the more obvious red.

The fourth stage of grief is Depression. The stage is represented by the color blue, and is dark, similar to the purple of Denial. Depression can be dark and debilitating, but it doesn’t last forever.

The final stage of grief is Acceptance. This final stage is illustrated by the color green. Green is the color of trees and grass and is the color of growth and renewal.

Because emotions and feelings undulate, the quilt visually undulates. Each quilt block has a dark side and a light side to illustrate the high points and low points of the grieving process. Within the green quilt blocks—the stage of Acceptance—each previous color is represented somewhere. It’s faint; because grief never really goes away, neither do the colors.

the finished quilt

The medium I used to create this quilt are fabrics scraps from The Tailor. Each block is made of scraps that have been cut ­from peoples’ clothing, scraps that would have been discarded if they hadn’t been used for this quilt. No fabric was purchased for the top of the quilt.


The back and outer edge of the quilt is made of light grey gabardine pants fabric to honor the clothing origins of the quilted face; the final dimensions for the quilt are approximately 5’-6” x 5’-6”.

Here are some pictures of the process of making this quilt:

The way it begun–piles of scraps.

piles and piles

I chose to use a log cabin quilt block with a pinwheel center.

Here’s some of the initial piecing:


more piecing


In addition to the extensive sewing you would expect, there was ironing. Lots and lots of ironing.


Once the blocks were all individually done, I pinned the blocks together and sewed them.

pinned and sewing more

This eventually became the entire face of the quilt.

quilt top

Here’s a close up of one of the blocks:

close up

When the time came for me to put the top, bottom, and batting layers together I had to clear out my living room and slowly arrange it all so it was perfectly aligned.

laid out on my floor

sewing the layers together

After all three layers–top, batting, and bottom–were sewn together I chose to tack the quilt instead of actually quilting it because (1) my machine’s arm isn’t large enough and (2) I didn’t have the time or skill to hand quilt it.


So that’s it. Here are some sundry pictures of various parts and stages of the quilt:





Like I said earlier, I won’t know until December if it’s been accepted–but I’ll let you know when I know!

suck it, martha.

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Categories: Projects


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5 Comments on “The Colors of Grief”

  1. November 2, 2011 at 4:42 pm #

    You nailed it. I love this and wish I had one.

  2. November 25, 2012 at 7:57 am #

    I love this quilt and how deeply true it is, thank you for the inspiration 🙂

  3. Tricia
    October 7, 2014 at 6:31 pm #

    stumbled across this post while searching the web for something related, and wanted to say: i really like your quilt, and your explanation of the reasoning behind the design. I don’t know if you made it into the show, but it definitely should have!

    • October 21, 2014 at 4:33 pm #

      Thank you so much! That’s really appreciated. It didn’t make it into the show, but I did end up with a great quilt.

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