Etched in stone

Back in 2018, Don and I ventured out to the La Cieneguilla petroglyph site outside Santa Fe. It was (and likely still is), easy to miss. A scrabbled parking lot with a BLM sign (Bureau of Land Management) and a questionable path up to a jumble of rocks.

It wasn’t at all clear that we were in the right place, until it was. The markings on the rocks were at once both easy and hard to see. The figures chipped into rock varnish untold years ago … themselves overlaid by more rock varnish. There was no signage or explanatory text that I recall. It was silent under the intense sun and blue sky.

This cloth is a memento of that experience …

Stitched in good faith, the intended meanings of the motifs I found online were sometimes puzzling, others seemingly clear as day …

After the brief trial posted here, I pieced together the rest of the pillow top with Malka’s hand-dyed cloth and Deb’s hand-dyed thread during the harrowing week after the Uvalde shooting …

The simple repetition of Kantha stitches in the green border and mock herringbone along the raw edges of the rocky patches accompanied the endless news pouring out of the television.

In my mind, I revisited the two years from 1999-2001 that I spent as a high school librarian following the Columbine massacre. Two years feeling like I had a target painted on my chest.

Then the eight years following 9/11, spent in an elementary school library where we held annual intruder drills.

And finally the three years spent in a vast university library contemplating how to apply the active shooter drills to my corner of the endless maze of shelving, each of the seven floors the size of a football field. Not to mention the colleague who so disturbed me that I actually went to my boss, who sent me to the administration, who said there was nothing they could do for my foreboding sense that he could be a shooter.

Stitched the memory of unrealized fear into the cloth. Surely this is a form of trauma … one inflicted on every teacher, student and staff member every single time a drill is called. A trauma that underlies the lives of millions, hidden but no less real …

As the immediacy of Uvalde began to wane, I returned to the online petroglyph images and sketched them onto the cloth rock patches with water eraseable ink. Then chose to use the thread Deb calls “the devil’s whiskers” … a silk/cotton blend with a mind of its own that turns out to work much better as a single strand than it does doubled …

And so it went, in Jude’s split backstitch and thread beads, not letting myself undo any stitches, imagining how an errant mark on stone could not have been undone, wondering if some of the more inscrutable marks might have been figures in the making that were abandoned for want of an “eraser” …

adjusting to the ever-shifting lengths of thread, until all the motifs were wrought and the ink washed away …

It will be a while until I make a pillow back … it is enough as it is for now.

40 thoughts on “Etched in stone

  1. More than enough. Beautiful as always & your words add so much meaning to the week behind us. Thank you for sharing.


  2. A representation of a moment in time, a place visited that held meaning in so many ways: From re-creating the symbols found on the rocks in Santa Fe to working on it in real time as the horror and tragedy of Uvalde unfolded, leading you to memories of how life has forever changed…cathartic, moving, yes to all of these descriptors of working on this cloth but for me, nothing touched me so deeply as simply seeing the B side; it made me cry for it so represents our broken hearts as well as our dismay and anger.

    This is a powerful cloth in so many ways. Just looking at the A side, it represents ancient spirit and connections. In your hands, this cloth rises to be a symbol of more than it represents but then petroglyphs were always about symbolic meaning, speaking without words, open to personal interpretation. In knowing the backstory to this cloth, it has become all the more deeply touching…


  3. I agree with Marti that this is a powerful cloth. And a powerful post. I appreciate the respect with which you approached these symbols and the way you incorporated how it might be to work on rock into your process.

    I think it’s really important to set these remembrances down because of the way the bad news keeps coming at us in tidal waves. The feeling of that vast library and your sense of foreboding was so chilling.

    All week I’ve been listening to the children at play at the school across the fence with a sense of heartbreak. Their vulnerability. Their exuberance.

    I also remembered 9/11. My boys were over at that school that day and the school notified us that they weren’t telling them anything. They’d leave that to us. This was before ubiquitous cell phones.


  4. Gosh that’s so powerful, Liz. I love what you’ve done here. I particularly like the fact that you didn’t unpick, as if the cloth and thread were stone. I saw the aftermath of Uvalde on the news from the other side of the world over here and can’t imagine how traumatic it must be to have that fear all the time, day after day. Gun crime is relatively rare here, thankfully, and for that to happen in a school is beyond shocking. Like Marti, I found the other side of your work deeply moving.


    1. Thank you Karen … Uvalde is only 130 miles from us, which in Texas is no distance at all … it felt far too close, all too believable … I have been writing to our elected officials again and again … so many are the things they can and should do to stem the tide of violence

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Amazing and awesome stitching within beautiful cloth. I can “feel” the vibes of all those threads plyed so wonderfully.


    1. Thank you … I should say Malka’s hand-dyed cotton is backed with Belgian linen … there were multiple layers that took the needle without resistance and yielded a wonderful texture


  6. Oh Liz, your magic shines here! The playground back feels like a moment frozen in time…through all of time…from then to now. My heart skipped a beat.
    If I were to read your school stories and Dee’s too, while close by, in person – I would be giving you both a huge hug. 9-11 I was working in a Pre-k class, at a community college…we were as informed as we could be and thoughtful in our actions and reactions. The next day children built block towers and flew into them, knocking them down. sigh.
    I discovered a letter to families I’d written after the Virginia Tach shooting, as I worked in a university center at the time and I knew my families would have big concerns. That letter could have been written many times over by 2022.
    Now, I care for babies/toddlers and I’ve spent the nights clenching my jaw and dreaming of how to save them all. I’ve also tried to be proactive, to help feel some control…by talking with co-workers, security etc. We will be having an on campus staff training at the end of the month.
    I talked with my sister, a TK teacher…
    And i hid a bit by watching videos, looking at local history from my youth, and working on a paper project in the works for a couple of weeks.

    Your stitching here and your telling had me thinking of the following quote and feeling very – very, very glad you and yours are safe.

    “Write the bad things that are done to you in sand, but write the good things that happen to you on a piece of marble” ~ Arabic Proverb

    May we all be safe and able to move on…


    1. your experience just confirms my thought that so very many of us have been traumatized, again and again, by those who think their gun “rights” are god-given … let us stitch our truth


  7. LA – what an amazing piece of work – so much physical effort, so many deliberate choices, gorgeous threads, artistry and so much emotion and meaning both from the shootings perspective and the motifs. Time to rest a while. May all the little ones and the teachers have peace; and may the so called political and business leaders have the gumption to say enough is enough – time to stop the deaths – time to stop the crazy addiction to an outmoded right – time to stop the access to the killing machines. LA – go gently. Love and peace. B


  8. This is so beautiful! I thought, after reading everything everyone wrote, that the front is the face to the world, the story, the general history. The back is real life, everything that made the story, the real, human details of history. There’s more to it and the pattern is less obvious, but it tells more, and makes us appreciate the front more.

    Mentioning the hidden trauma made a connection for me. I started school in the era of air raid drills. I never thought much about them. It was just something we did and they ended them before I left grade school. Fast forward to my late teens. Walking home from school one afternoon, a plane flew overhead. We lived near an airport, so this was a normal thing. Maybe it was older or noisier or a little lower than usual. Whatever the reason, I felt a moment of absolute terror. It was only a moment, but it affected my dreams for days as I tried to figure out why. All I could ever come up with were those first three or four years of air raid drills at school. Your comments made me realize how much more traumatizing it must be when you’re having drills because it actually happened and you actually got to see the immediate aftermath on the news, or unmeasurably worse, were actually there and saw it, and/or knew those who died. It may get buried for those not close to it, but it’ll never go away.


  9. So much story and time passing in those marks. I really don’t have words right now…like Nancy working on being proactive because we are so vulnerable.


    1. as ever, I hoped I was honoring rather than appropriating the art of those long-ago artists … I learned so much by closely observing and attempting to replicate their imagery

      may you and your little ones be safe and free of reasons to fear


  10. So beautifully symbolic creating such vision of hope to me. I was wishing for gathering drum circle to surround me and the flute playing in the background. Stitching this had to bring a bit of calm in the face of such tragedy. I caught a glimpse of the news tonight and more anguish and terror pressed in what someone felt was just a normal day. Coming from careers at a mental health facility and an university we practiced cautionary drills, there was protocol, and there was help. Emergencies happened but never at this level of shear uncontrolled madness. I hope just once right choices can be made, at least a start but no one seems to get much of anything right anymore. So evil over good. This BLM stop was on my radar traveling. Guessing carvings as far as your eyes could take in. You sure shared it beautifully. It is such a work of art. I thought i had a large container of Debs threads, not not like yours. I am going to try that herringbone!!


    1. I confess to being helpless in the face of each new edition of Deb’s threads … can never resist the temptation to get more (and she has also been generous in gifting, too)

      as for La Cieneguilla, I confess we did not explore its entirety as I have osteoporosis and was being cautious about doing too much rock climbing, but the site itself is not overly large … as I recall, I was surprised at how open and unprotected it was/is


  11. Oh Liz, you must frame this! Once again your innate sense of design astounds me and brings great joy.


    1. Aw, thanks Deb … I used to frame everything I made back in the cross stitch sampler days … now I just love living with cloth draped over chairs, encasing pillows, blanketing beds … the better to touch and be touched


  12. Third trip back and still pretty sure I don’t have the words. Sitting with this beauty, honouring and layers of history whilst at the same time trying to process, unbearingly so, the astonishing number of gun deaths in just the last week. Almost impossible to process what it means, what on earth would it take? This work will always hold that memory as well. Maybe this time? The decisions you made, every step of the way to be true with this ,complete its integrity. But yes, the back. The other side. It speaks to me of frenzy, of jitteriness, of uncertainty, trying to find ways out…circular targets, a mapping across the country… Powerful.I am so glad you had the solace of stitch to hold you.


    1. thank you for coming back … for your words and for your understanding … I had no idea how much this cloth would have to hold when I began it


  13. Oh, wow, Liz, just wow…the images alone, and then your words… A reflection of being present and going forward all at once, and then there’s the past with the ancient symbols. I love that you didn’t undo any stitches. Remembering the events from my teaching and mothering years when the boys were young. The other day, Blue called to tell about an event he’s going to. Without thinking, I started advising, “Keep an eye on the doors, keep your back to a wall. If there ever is a shooter-you’re tall, drop to the ground…” He thinks I’m losing it. Maybe.


  14. I have no words for what has happened .. with each passing day the news making it all even more tragic. But I really wanted to comment on how wonderful this piece is .. I love the whole idea of it. BeautyFully done.


    1. belated thanks … we have been out of town, so my presence here has been non-existent … Uvalde sadly seems like forever ago, but will surely have an immediacy that lasts a lifetime for those who lived through it


  15. What a powerful post! You communicate so well that deep fear and foreboding … it is gut wrenching and I can’t imagine living it as you, and countless others, have had to do.

    It is awful. But I am awe-filled, because …

    You gather those thoughts, you carry them to the rocks, the marks, the history! And then, and then … you cobble together your fabrics and threads and memories … and you create such a wonderful, complex, stunning, piece of stitchery!

    It’s wonderful. It’s wonder-full. And, perusing it all, fills me with wonder too.

    Thank you for sharing this heartfelt post.

    And, btw, that’s one heck of a collection of “Deb Thread” you have! 😎(


    1. I love the word “cobble” … your use of it in this context makes me smile

      and yes, I do love me some Deb Thread … am absolutely unable to resist each new batch

      Liked by 1 person

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