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Ja’naija…A Block for Social Justice Sewing Academy

A few years ago, I did some embroidery on a block for Social Justice Sewing Academy. I remained interested in their work and this summer, I committed to making a block for the Remembrance project. This is a hard thing to do, getting to know someone who was killed by gun violence and finding a way to honor them in a quilt block. I am not an artist, so I was a bit scared, but in the end, I think it worked out fine. But, before I get into the block and its construction, here is a little more about what this project is.

Participating in this project means sitting with your feelings and holding this person close. It means educating yourself about injustices, systemic and individual, that impacted this person’s life. It means understanding the life beyond the name, the circumstances of their death, and working to create art that informs others. Volunteers receive the name of a murdered person and work to design and create an unquilted memorial block to commemorate the life of that person. You need not be an expert artist, sewist, or quilter, but some skill in sewing, working with fabric, applique, or embroidery is necessary.

Social Justice Sewing Academy

Now, onto the way this block developed. Ja’naija “Naij” Johnson was 16 years old when she was gunned down in the streets of Wilmington DE. There is not much information on her or the event, mostly just that it happened. And then the news stops. I wept as I looked and looked for more information, not wanting her life to be forgotten. Ja’naija loved fashion; I wondered what she would have created if she had lived.

I decided to work with this photo and removed the background so I could use it to make a pattern. Here is the link to the website that allows you to do this. I printed the picture extra large so that I could get one that would fit in the dimensions required.

I planned out a layout in Electric Quilt 8, after deciding I wanted to use a fat quarter as a background. This insured that I had enough to make the piece.

I selected this bright pink batik to make the letters. I fused HeatNBond to the back and cut it out on my Cricut Maker. Perfect circles are a thing with a Cricut* ( I am a new affiliate and I love the machine so far)! Next time I remove the paper before I cut the words. Nonetheless, it was much faster than cutting by hand.

It felt important to get her jewelry on the block, so I decided to use a Sulky thread and some fancy stitches on my Bernina 570. For the hoop earrings I used stitch #405 which allowed me to follow the lines I had drawn by keeping the foot in the middle. I did the same with the repeating circle stitch, #652. Both worked really well. The other time I used a decorative stitch was the #62 circle; for dotting the i’s and j’s and elongating it for the inner circles of a few of the letters. I used Lions Brand Wool Ease in Toasted Almond for here hair, with beads that will change color in the light. I hadn’t realized that when I bought them, but I think the fashionista in Ja’naija would have approved. I attached them by stitching with a wide zag zag with narrow stitch length and covered most of the stitches with other pieces. I had not tried this before and was glad it work.

I swallowed my pride and drew some facial features on. They were not going to be perfect but would be sufficient for giving a hint of who Ja’naija was. For me, this was the hardest part, as I knew it was a bit beyond my skills. I think I will work on a portrait where I try to do it by pixels or fabric shading, but there was no time to learn and perfect that technique. From a distance, I am very pleased with the piece.

I thought you might like to see the way the pieces are sometimes displayed. My block will be made into a banner, once it makes its way to California. This was truly a humbling experience, one in which, the approach-avoidance to completing a project often had much more to do with my feelings and emotions about gun violence, than about my abilities to make the piece as a quilter. Remembering the why – remembrance of the dead and the injustice they suffered – helped.

Coming Up on the Blog:
Placemats from Destination: QuiltAlong
WIPS Be Gone progress
Tips and Tutorials on the 22nd – 11/22

Linking Up:
UFO Busting #154
Favorite Finish Monthly Linkup

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10 Comments

  1. October 30, 2021 / 8:11 am

    Nice work Kathleen. I love the jewelry and hair – very realistic!

  2. October 30, 2021 / 10:29 am

    You did really well, Kathleen. A tough project to tackle, but a neat way to honor her memory.

  3. October 30, 2021 / 11:03 am

    What a beautiful memorial, Kathleen! I love that the young lady shall not be forgotten thanks to your efforts! 🙂

  4. Rochelle Summers
    October 30, 2021 / 11:55 am

    A wonderful memorial to a young lady whose life was taken so cruelly. Thank you for sharing your process and your thoughts.

  5. lapaylor
    October 30, 2021 / 12:45 pm

    oh Kathleen… how powerful. Yes give voice and faces to the statistics people throw around. Each person is important and each death matters, and is a LOSS to us all.

  6. October 30, 2021 / 4:49 pm

    Wow, these remembrance blocks are very emotional. I’m glad you went with your feelings to include the jewelry through the stitches. Thank you for contributing to the project.

  7. November 1, 2021 / 4:21 pm

    Kathleen, this isn’t a quilt/project. This is a tribute. It is hard to make, even attempt, such a project. But you did more than that – you did justice to her life and her memory. Kudos to you. Big hugs to you.

  8. November 1, 2021 / 9:45 pm

    Oh my gosh, that is totally amazing…so sad to be gunned down so early in life. such a pretty young lady.

  9. November 3, 2021 / 3:58 pm

    This is amazing, I am speechless. Beautiful job.

  10. November 4, 2021 / 5:10 pm

    Portraits can be quite challenging to make, Kathleen. You did a wonderful job with this block in Naij’s memory!!

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