The Friendship Quilt project started as a bit of whimsy just before embarking on my second trip to Shenzhen. It got way out of hand and eventually wound up as a huge quilt project that has captured the thoughts and dreams of over 550 Makers from around the world and touched the lives of many more.
My name is Diane Hamilton. I jokingly call myself a “slow maker” because I choose to work with old methods of creativity: sewing, knitting, weaving. Where possible, I use machines to support my work, but at heart, I am an artist of the old school. I am originally from San Francisco, California. Since 1993, my home has been in Western Australia. My husband and I got our start in the little town of Busselton as owners of the region’s first successful computer and ISP business. It was an amazing learning experience. We sold our business over 15 years ago. My husband remained immersed in technology in his next ventures and even in retirement, still loves to build and program specialized cameras and computers. I shifted into a local government job where I ran three different teams of employees covering many different activities, all providing excellence in public service. We both recently retired and are enjoying time to explore the world through its Maker’s communities.
But back to the project…
My husband wanted to have a booth at the 2017 Shenzhen Maker Faire, held in October of that year. He wanted to experience the Faire from ‘the other side of the desk’ for his third visit. He had several specialty cameras that he wanted to share with the Maker Community and was keen to get feedback on his projects and ideas. I was tagging along.
I decided that it might be fun to take a little fabric and some fabric markers along. My ideas was to invite people I met to sign or decorate a square as a keepsake for myself. I prepared 25 squares of quilting cotton, each measuring 5″ x 5″ (12cm x 12cm) and then told my husband what I had in mind. He informed me that tens of thousands of people would likely visit the Faire. Many of them would visit his booth. Oh! Clearly, 25 pieces of fabric would not be enough.
So I purchased 15 meters of fabric and prepared MANY squares. So many that I lost count along the way. I also purchased three more packets of fabric pens. I even had to take a much larger suitcase to hold the extra weight. I thought it would all come to nothing. The Makers in Shenzhen are interested in technology, not arts and craft, or so I thought.
I couldn’t have been more wrong! From the minute the gates were open on day one until the last visitors were shooed out on day three; our booth was hopping with energy. Many visited our booth because my husband’s cameras are amazing. Many stayed a bit longer to sign a square of fabric in the name of international friendship. Many more would have contributed but there was always a queue of people waiting for a chance with pen and fabric.
In the end, I accumulated more than 550 signatures, well wishes, mini artworks and even original poetry. Over 37 countries are represented in the quilt. The youngest contributor was a little girl of two and a half years. The oldest, in his late 90’s, contributed a poem in exquisite Chinese calligraphy. Only a handful of squares remained untouched. And for me, the project took an unexpected turn.
My original intent was to use the fabric to make a keepsake for myself. But as the Faire went on, I felt more and more that the resulting project would have to give back to the amazing community of Makers here in Shenzhen. By the time I returned to my home in Australia, I had a plan. Due to work commitments and travel issues, I missed the 2018 Shenzhen Maker Faire. But I am back in 2019 to share the results of my project.
It gave me great pleasure to design and make this quilt. As you can see, I have used the familiar robot logo as the basis for the design. In order to fit all of the squares into the design, the quilt had to be quite large. It is approximately 144″ x 176″ (366cm x 447cm) and weighs about 9kg. Every square that was completed by a visitor to our booth is in the quilt somewhere. I even put a few inside the quilt because the square had been damaged in some way and could be put on the outside. I have used the familiar spreadsheet row and column headers to further tie the project to Makers and technology in general. To further tie the quilt to technology, there are two “Easter Eggs” hidden in the quilt. The only clue is that that they are not in the squares that compose the main body of the quilt.
In November 2019, my husband and I returned to Shenzhen with the quilt. We displayed it at the Maker Faire and had two amazing days talking with visitors about the project. Many spotted their own squares or recognized that of a friend of colleague. There was a lot of laughter and many photos.
Perhaps the most precious memory of the fair was when a young woman burst into tears. She explained how moved she was to see something “made with a mother’s love for all of China.” It gave me a new perspective on the project and moved me deeply.
My final visitor at the Maker Faire was Eric Pan, owner of Seed Studio, X.Factory and Chai Huo Maker Space. As the man behind Shenzhen’s successful maker community and organizer of the annual fair it was my honor to gift the quilt to him.
It is my hope that the Shenzhen Makers community will have an opportunity to view and enjoy this quilt during many future fairs. It was a pleasure meeting all the many people that contributed to the project. I wish all of Shenzhen and its people the very best now and always.