Saturday, August 27, 2011


"If that was the only thing I did in Kosovo, it would have been worth it."
Melinda Elliot telling about her experience using the story rope with the mostly Albanian team during her 3 wks. in Kosovo. She is holding the story rope she made in Kosovo to demonstrate the process. (top photo)
In Kosovo. The smiles on the women's faces belie the earlier 1 1/2 hrs. of tearful sharing about their life stories. Although this team has been together for two years,this was the first time the women were able to openly talk about things that they had never shared with each other. (middle photo)
The story rope, like a personal time line, was a catalyst to sharing. Made with local materials, the buttons & ribbons were thoughtfully chosen & tied to a strip of fabric in an order representing a sequence of events. If willing, participants were invited to tell their story using the rope.
This creative activity released each storyteller from the deep burden she had silently carried alone & brought a new level of openness, understanding & empathy between team members. So simple yet so powerful!
(lower photo-Melinda in my studio before Kosovo trip, learning the story rope.)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


I was asked to do story ropes last year with elders in their 80's & 90's at an assisted living residence.
It was so rewarding to sit, listen & watch as they touched & told about each strip representing an important piece of their story. A privilege really to facilitate this looking back.
Some story fragments: childhood was very happy
...then the war
...this was the depression
...and this was Pearl Harbor mother died in childbirth
...there was no work we moved
...Hitler came and it was bad for a long time
...I liked playing in the dirt with my brother's friends father died in Auschwitz
...I went to college
...we were poor mother wanted me to study to get a job
...we went to a lake in Hungary
...we had a wonderful life
Someone I met recently saw the story rope idea & wants to make one with her aging parent in the early stages of Alzheimer's, before all the stories are gone. Deep.
So many situations. So many directions to take this idea.
I've been invited back. I wouldn't miss doing it again.
Photo: My friend, Herb, holding the black rick-rack saying, "This is Pearl Harbor."

Monday, August 22, 2011


Somewhere in the Back of Beyond
her body black and blue
looking so traumatized husband to another country for work, maybe for years sends no money as promised marries, has second family in there comes back unannounced, moves in, beatings restart "we're going to a party" husband said A trick, takes her to empty apt & rapes her marriage arranged-does not love her beautiful wife & 4 children but girlfriends on the side friends to husband, "beat her, show her who is boss." beatings, beatings, more beatings

1 in 3 women experience domestic violence. This is their reality.
How could we help? We could not fix their problems. Thankfully our NGO friends were there to encourage and help. But we could facilitate having them tell their stories in safe, small groups.
There is something theraputic about working out your story in a tactile way. Our groups of women made story ropes, telling their stories sequentially with ribbons (colors they carefully chose) & tied to a narrow band of their ethnic fabric.
An important part of the process came next - telling their stories. BUT only if they wanted. There was much understanding & support as they took turns sharing - touching each colored ribbon, telling the part of their story it represented.
At the end of each session there were smiles and glowing faces.
One young mom looked at me directly in the eyes and said, "I will never forget this day."

Sunday, August 21, 2011


As I was preparing to lead workshops on the topic of forgiveness and reconciliation in the country of genocide, Rwanda, I was challenged here on the home front.
"What do you, as a white woman from America, have to say to genocide survivors on the topic of forgiveness and reconciliation?"
A blunt but fair question. My answer -
"Nothing, absolutely nothing. But I have been through a very dark depression and I know what it is like to feel hopeless, to suffer & feel trapped, wondering if I would ever get better. And I do think I can make quilts to share about that and the process of healing. Yes, I think God can help me do that."
Transparency is powerful. When I was experimenting with story ropes before going to Rwanda, I tied clear saran wrap on after the very black area. That is where I started taking the risk of being transparent sharing my story of a very long, very dark depression, when self esteem was gone and hope lost.
Transparency helps the other person feel safe to share. Click on OUR STORIES on the navigation bar. God wastes nothing.
As Becca and I met with groups of genocide survivors, we both had a story to tell of our broken lives. We were not perfect white women as is often thought in a place like Africa. We had struggled & endured too. But nothing like they had. Never like they had. But our humble little bit of transparency along with honest compassion was enough to break down walls & their sharing after 14 years of silence was nothing short of amazing.


'Patchwork of Hope' is an article by Rose Busingye, writer on the World Relief Rwanda staff.
It's from a Rwandan's perspective. What did a white woman coming from the US know about the pain and trauma of genocide?
And when Rose heard that the contemporary fabric artist would be using art quilts to teach on the sensitive topic her doubts increased.
Read what happened when I came with my quilts & story rope materials to World Relief Rwanda. Article has photos, stories of the 4 Rwanda Quilts & breakthrough reactions. Here's the link: Patchwork of Hope
Photo: Final presentation was speaking at World Relief's the weekly chapel service. Marge in brown with Becca Smth (the WR country director's wife) in blue & my Rwandan translator.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


It was July 2007, Kigali, Rwanda. One of the venues that invited Becca and I, was SOLACE a ministry to the widows & orphans of the Rwandan Genocide. It was one of the sites where we trained women leaders, who would in turn train others. Multiplying.
Becca presented the story ropes. While making the ropes they broke out into spontaneous song. I took 2 video clips of the women working. Now yrs. later the clips are together & you are transported there! Click for video: MAKING STORY ROPES Kigali, Rwanda.
These women watched, endured & survived the most horrendous, incomprehensible acts to humanity. In their brokeness, they will be helping others who are broken. We were so humbled to help them process their stories through this simple thing called a storyrope™.

Photos of the tea break which was provided for by our home church.
Becca in top photo & Marge in lower, enjoying the break with the SOLACE trainers.


The story rope is neither art nor craft but simply a colorful engaging hand made timeline of ones life, using the simplest of local materials. These instructions can be adapted to any culture.

Purchase materials locally
• honors their culture
• familiar - 'theirs' - cultural connection
• found in their markets - they can replicate teaching

What we used in Rwanda
• African fabrics - precut into long strips
• spools of ribbons - black, red, white, green, light blue, yellow
• buttons
• thread
• couple pairs of scissors

How each made their own story rope
• each selected a strip of African fabric
• cut lengths of ribbons, choosing colors identified with each segment of their story
• tied ribbons onto strip in the chronological order of their story
• with thread, tied buttons on to rope representing parts of their story.
Photos: top @ Solace; lower @ World Relief in Rwanda

Friday, August 19, 2011


The simplest story telling method is the storyrope™, which I developed in Brookfield, CT on June 12,  2007. It requires no artistic ability by presenter or participant. I used the storyrope™ in Rwanda in July 2007, where I worked with the genocide survivors with my friend, Becca. Husband, Phil, was at that time the director of World Relief Rwanda & they lived in Kigali.
After sharing the Rwanda quilts (this story in another post), I used this simple hands on project by which each participant could process their own story in a limited time frame. It related to the quilts, using fabric, but did not involve time consuming sewing.

(top) Becca getting ready to teach the story ropes. Rwanda quilts in background with one of the orphans finding his story in the quilt designs.
(bottom) Our translator sharing her story rope.