Passages, is one of several quilts that Myla created that speaks to her ancestry.
PHOTOS BY STEVE SMITH, VISIONFIRE STUDIOS
New Glasgow, Nova Scotia
quilt maker Myla Borden sews together
the pieces of her peoples’ past
Myla Borden prefers that people cozy up under one of her quilts to having it hang on a wall. Their colours and stories are meant to spread warmth, be used, and loved instead of passed by.
“All quilts are made to sleep under, and they are sewn, not glued,” Borden insists. She doesn’t gift or sell a quilt that hasn’t first been slept under and does not like her creations being stored in a chest or hung on a wall where they abandon their function.
For Borden, quilting is a labour of love and while she is happy if one of her pieces is admired, she does it for herself. Quilting is part of her daily practice as both a creative outlet and mindful self-care. Being able to tell a story with what she loves helps her alleviate stress, and gives meaning to the world around her. With colour, fabrics, patterns and the intricate sewing methods, Borden’s quilts often tell the stories of the resilience and triumphs of Black Nova Scotians. Through her craft, she feels the importance of depicting the journey of her ancestors through all of their challenges. She appreciates that every one of her quilts tells a different story depending on who is experiencing it.
Borden uses the craft as a therapy, allowing her to focus on something tangible and create something beautiful. Quilting has been a way to stay connected with the community of quilters, beyond all borders. “Once you can make a connection with another quilter it’s like you have a new sister,” she says.
“Once you can make a connection with another quilter it’s like you have a new sister.”
The New Glasgow maker and educator says she learned the most basic methods of quilting from her Aunt Frances and that she continued to develop her skills with her association with the Vale Quilters Association. Before the pandemic her group met regularly to sew, chat, and bond.
“We would meet regularly, going from house to house to enjoy treats and ‘speak the same language,’” she adds.
No longer convening with her quilting friends and mentors, Borden says that she took advantage of the quiet time to finish nine quilts since the beginning of the pandemic with the help of a family member. With the love and support of her husband, aunt, and mother, her quilts of many colours were brought to life. Some of her designs include Passages, illustrating a timeline of black people from slavery to freedom, The Ecstasy of Amelda Colley and the depiction of Africville and its historic church.
Borden, who studied to be a teacher but was not employed in her profession immediately after graduation, was strongly encouraged, in the kindest
of ways, to get off the couch and do something. That “something” turned into much more than her champions imagined.
Remembering how her Aunt Frances took material and needles to her house when babysitting her daughter, her love for quilting was sewn up as soon as she learned the basic skills. For the last 30 years the practice has become part of the daily rhythm of her life. Each stage of quilting brings her joy, from searching out colours to the final stitches and filling a basket of remnants that will become part of something another time.
There are several quilts that will be forever stitched into her memory. One that a friend was making who passed away before finishing the project. Ten years after the woman’s passing, Borden was able to finish the quilt and gift it to the woman’s grandson on his wedding day. There was also an inspired signature quilt where a collective each contributed a special block that was stitched together. There were no rules or requirements for this piece, it was simply a way for everyone to work as one.
“The collective could make a block of their choice or use an orphan block (left over from another quilt). We made it to introduce our quilt shows and our quilting styles,” she explains.
Borden’s daughter grew up watching her mother patiently stitch together pieces of fabric and layers of batting into beautiful objects filled with warmth and love. She says that she hopes her daughter someday picks up a craft and finds her own passion for the traditional art to create her own legacy.
“I often think of the legacy that I will be leaving knowing that stories will be told. Also, the feelings of warmth and comfort the quilts have provided to family and friends along the way. I just hope that I will inspire others, not only from my family but beyond, to leave their marks.”