Tuesday, March 6, 2018

“Death Toll”

“Death Toll” by Susan Brubaker Knapp
29 x 63" Copyright 2018
This piece grew from my absolute despair and frustration over the mounting death toll from guns in America. The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day hit especially close to my heart. The children killed and injured, and those who so eloquently spoke out afterward, could have been my own. In their faces, I see my children’s friends – the soccer players, the members of the marching band. The teachers, the football coach – they could have been my children’s educators.  

The image of the rifle I painted is an AR-15, one of the most popular weapons of mass shooters, and the one used at Marjory Stoneman Douglas; I chose it to represent military-style weapons that are easily available in this country, and are chosen by mass murderers because they are very easy to use, and can inflict maximum carnage and the highest death toll. 

The 17 blood-red roses represent the 17 teachers and young people taken at America’s latest tragedy, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. I wanted the roses to blot out part of the gun, and provide beauty against the ugly, mechanized lines of the rifle. They are linked (by the green vine) forever. The dove represents peace, and the Holy Spirit, who sits unafraid on the gun’s mouth. The stenciled gold clock gears symbolize time running out for the victims, and time running out for us to find a solution before we have more victims to bury. I chose this stencil design because it also resembles targets or bullet holes. 

The space at the bottom was left purposefully empty, to suggest that there are many more deaths to come, that the death toll will rise until we compel our government to do something about our gun laws. 

After painting the entire surface of the white fabric, I started to position pieces of white paper with “tic marks” to help determine the space needed for each of the victims killed in shootings during the last 35 years where AR-15s were the primary weapons. After I had the arrangement the way I wanted it, I painted the tic marks in a transparent gray paint. 

My timeline starts with the killing of two people in 1984. The next shooting, which killed six, was in 2007, followed by a shooting that killed 12. 

Why the gap after 1984 with no deaths? Part of the explanation might be the Federal Assault Weapons Ban (officially the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994) that prohibited the manufacture for civilian use of certain semi-automatic firearms it defined as assault weapons, and some ammunition magazines defined as “large capacity.” It only applied to weapons manufactured after the date the ban was enacted. 

The 10-year ban was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton on Sept. 13, 1994. It expired Sept. 13, 2004, in accordance with its sunset provision. The next mass shooting with an AR-15 was in 2007. Since then, the shootings have become more frequent and more deadly. The second row of tic marks in “Death Toll” indicate the elementary school students and their teachers killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012. Look at how many people have died since then. 

The following information is from USA Today’s article, “Why the AR-15 keeps appearing at America’s deadliest mass shootings,” Feb. 14, 2018. 

The National Rifle Association has called the AR-15 — the semi-automatic, civilian version of the military’s M-16 — the “most popular rifle in America” and estimates Americans own more than 8 million of them. 
The name AR-15 (AR stands for ArmaLite, not assault rifle, which is a common misconception) is trademarked by the firearms manufacturer Colt. But since the patent on the weapon's operating system ran out, a host of other manufacturers began making their own variants of the popular rifle.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry's trade association, campaigned to have AR-platform rifles referred to as “modern sporting rifles,” or MSRs, both to avoid confusion and to try to stem the reference to the rifles with the politically loaded “assault rifle” label. 
Here is a list of mass shootings in the U.S. that featured AR-15-style rifles during the last 35 years, courtesy of the Stanford Geospatial Center and Stanford Libraries and USA TODAY research:
  • Feb. 24, 1984: Tyrone Mitchell, 28, used an AR-15, a Stoeger 12-gauge shotgun and a Winchester 12-gauge shotgun to kill two and wound 12 at 49th Street Elementary School in Los Angeles before killing himself.
  • Oct. 7, 2007: Tyler Peterson, 20, used an AR-15 to kill six and injure one at an apartment in Crandon, Wis., before killing himself.
  • June 20, 2012: James Eagan Holmes, 24, used an AR-15-style .223-caliber Smith and Wesson rifle with a 100-round magazine, a 12-gauge Remington shotgun and two .40-caliber Glock semi-automatic pistols to kill 12 and injure 58 at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.
  • Dec. 14, 2012: Adam Lanza, 20, used an AR-15-style rifle, a .223-caliber Bushmaster, to kill 27 people — his mother, 20 students and six teachers — in Newtown, Conn., before killing himself.
  • June 7, 2013: John Zawahri, 23, used an AR-15-style .223-caliber rifle and a .44-caliber Remington revolver to kill five and injure three at a home in Santa Monica, Calif., before he was killed.
  • March 19, 2015: Justin Fowler, 24, used an AR-15 to kill one and injure two on a street in Little Water, N.M., before he was killed.
  • May 31, 2015: Jeffrey Scott Pitts, 36, used an AR-15 and .45-caliber handgun to kill two and injure two at a store in Conyers, Ga., before he was killed.
  • Oct. 31, 2015: Noah Jacob Harpham, 33, used an AR-15, a .357-caliber revolver and a 9mm semi-automatic pistol to kill three on a street in Colorado Springs, Colo., before he was killed.
  • Dec. 2, 2015: Syed Rizwyan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, 28 and 27, used two AR-15-style, .223-caliber Remington rifles and two 9 mm handguns to kill 14 and injure 21 at his workplace in San Bernardino, Calif., before they were killed.
  • June 12, 2016: Omar Mateen, 29, used an AR-15 style rifle (a Sig Sauer MCX), and a 9mm Glock semi-automatic pistol to kill 49 people and injure 50 at an Orlando nightclub before he was killed.
  • Oct. 1, 2017: Stephen Paddock, 64, used a stockpile of guns including an AR-15 to kill 58 people and injure hundreds at a music festival in Las Vegas before he killed himself.
  • Nov. 5, 2017: Devin Kelley, 26, used an AR-15 style Ruger rifle to kill 26 people at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, before he was killed.
  • Feb. 14, 2018: Police say Nikolas Cruz, 19, used an AR-15-style rifle to kill at least 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.  

Last, I added the names of the cities and dates of the shootings involving AR-15s, with their groupings of victims.  

Monday, February 19, 2018

Chroma Series

Here are two new pieces in my Chroma Series: “Paved With Good Intentions” (above) and “Path to Destruction” (below). 

Both pieces feature melted Tyvek pieces, and are part of an online “Tyvek Explorations” class that I am currently revising. I hope to offer the revised class within a few months. I taught it last year, and decided to change some things so that I can make it shorter and cheaper. I’ll be teaching the basics about ways to melt and manipulate Tyvek, and students will make beads, broches, and a cuff. I’ll offer some art quilts that feature Tyvek as projects in separate classes. 

I spent some time with my friend Lyric Kinard last week to learn how to take better video for my classes. (If you haven’t checked out her great online classes, please take a look here!)

Monday, February 5, 2018

My daughter, the football player

PHOTO CREDIT: Allison Hinman Photography
My daughter Julia is a high school senior this year. I’m extremely proud of her accomplishments. She’s a great kid. She’s a wonderful student (with a grade point average of 5.163 in her school’s rigorous International Baccalaureate program). And she’s an athlete, who until this year, played soccer in the spring (her primary sport) and basketball in the winter. 

This year, she added a fall sport, too; she kicked PATs (points after touchdowns) and field goals for the South Iredell Vikings football team. 

Julia after her first high school football scrimmage.
Even if you don’t live in our area, you may have heard about her because she's been getting a lot of media attention, most recently through Refinery29, which has a huge online presence. 
From Wikipedia: Refinery is an American digital media and entertainment company focused on young women. The brand produces editorial and video programming, live events, and social, shareable content delivered across all major platforms, and covers a variety of categories including style, entertainment, health, technology, news, food, politics, careers, and more.… In 2017, Adweek reported that Refinery29 now reaches an audience of over 500 million globally across platforms.
You can see their story and video (embedded in the story) about her here: http://www.refinery29.com/2018/02/188644/julia-knapp-high-school-football-girl-kicker

Julia had been begging since she was little to play football, and I’d always said no, because I’d seen the news coverage of the NFL concussion studies, and I'd viewed the TV special reports about “student athletes” with permanent disabilities. But this past spring, I started thinking about saying yes. For one thing, she’d grown into a very capable athlete – and a big, strong kid – about 5'9-1/2" and 160 pounds. She plays hard, and she’s very competitive. In soccer, she’s been named All Region and All Conference for the past two years. 

Second, I’m a feminist. I think girls and women should have the same opportunities as men, be paid the same as men for doing the same work, and be respected for their contributions. Lately, it’s been especially apparent that women are not getting the respect we deserve, let alone the opportunities or the pay. You don't have to look very hard in many fields – from politics to business to Hollywood — to see that. 

This spring, some of the guys on the football team started telling her that she should try out. They’d seen her kick on the soccer field, and they thought she was good. At dinner on her seventeenth birthday this spring, she asked again if she could play. 

Julia wanted the opportunity to prove herself, and she wanted to play the game. How could I say no? So I relented, and said yes. I didn't know if anything would come of it. 

This summer, some of her friends on the football team met her on the  field, gave her some tips, then taped her kicking and texted it to the head coach, Scott Miller: 

“Who is that?” he texted them back. And told them to stay there; he was driving over to see. After watching her, he said she had a spot on the team if she could get her parents’ permission. 

She came home and talked with us. My husband, Rob, pointed out that she could just kick PATs and field goals, and the chance of getting tackled, and possibly injured, would be low. (Although Julia would have loved to play a position where she tackled, too.) He talked to the coach on the phone. Coach Miller had served in the army, and he said that some people in the military thought women made better snipers than men; the theory was that woman stayed calmer and kept their heart rates lower in stressful situations. He thought there might be similar argument to be made about trying to kick the pigskin through the uprights with all eyes in the stadium on you, and possibly the outcome of the game on your shoulders. Rob told him we were willing to test his theory. 

And then our grand adventure was on.

Julia waits on the sidelines (lower left, #21).
Footage of her kicking her first field goal here: https://youtu.be/NUOHX0PtLL8

I'm proud of my kid. Proud of her for taking risks. Proud of her achievements on and off the field. I’m glad she got to play a game she loved. And honestly, I’m relieved – and rather amazed – that it went so well.

I knew that she’d have some good times and some difficult times playing a guy’s sport with all male players and all male coaches. I worried that she’d have obscene things screamed at her, and detractors who would try to tear her down. But I was pleasantly surprised. She got tremendous support and sportsmanship from her fellow players. Her coaches welcomed her and treated her like all the other players (with a little friendly teasing, perhaps, but nothing more). 

Coming off the field (center, #21)
Head Coach Miller chats with Julia before a game.
Kicking Coach Noel (in navy above and in gold at left below).

Warming up.

There were a few small hurdles (getting keys to girls’ changing rooms, accommodations to make sure she could come into the boys’ locker room for the pre-game talks, and purchase of some shoulder pads that fit her smaller shoulders), but nothing big. The guys on the team were friendly and supportive. 

Julia with Ethan (left) and Haynes (right)…
… and with Tripp, one of her friends who convinced her to play.

Julia’s senior poster hanging on the fence around the stadium.
Coming off the field with a smile.
She started practices in July, and when pre-season began in August, news started leaking out about South Iredell's new “female kicker.” The Charlotte Observer reported about her (read the story here), and the Charlotte CBS affiliate, WBTV, sent a reporter to practice to interview her (see the video here). 

One of the things that surprised us the most was the impact her playing had on the high school girls, and on the young children who came to the games. A lot of young girls (and boys) came up to her after the games to get their photos taken with her, or even get her autograph, and to tell her they admired her. Julia was shocked, and it took a few games for her to figure out just how to respond.  

Before a playoff game. #21 is one of the players listed on the signs.
In the stands, I could hear kids around her cheering for “number 21.” One girl, no more than 8 years old, yelled out, “Kick it like a girl, Julia!” Mothers of the male players embraced me with tears in their eyes, telling me how thrilled they were that she was playing. Some told me how much they had wanted to play when they were kids, and were denied. Some older guys – grandfathers of the male players – were equally excited, and cheered just as hard. Her girlfriends – many of them also athletes – rallied around her, making signs, and cheering when she went on the field to kick. 

One of the most memorable nights was Homecoming, when Julia was named both Offensive Player of the Game and Homecoming Queen (Statesville Record & Landmark story here). After she was crowned, the guys on the team swarmed around her, hugged and high-fived her, and posed for photos.  

Julia surrounded by teammates and friends after being crowned Homecoming Queen
Julia with me and Rob after the game.
Homecoming video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yOLgr1xfYPo&t=3s

Quartz Media wrote a short piece about it; you can read it here

When I posted about it on social media, the story went viral, and I spent about a week fielding media inquiries. She even got a letter from Samantha Rapoport, director of football development for the NFL, and a Carolina Panthers shirt. 

How did she do? In the 2017 season, Julia:
  • scored 46 Points After Touchdown (out of 48 attempted)
  • scored 7 Field Goals (out of 10 attempted)
  • was the third highest scorer on the team, with 67 points
Looking at records from SIHS from 2008-2017 she scored:
  • the most points by a kicker
  • the most points per game by a kicker
  • the most PATs made
  • the highest percentage of PATs made
  • the most field goals made
  • the most field goals attempted
  • the longest field goal (36 yards)
She was also the first girl ever to: 
Stickers on Julia’s helmet mark points scored.
Rob is a huge sports fan, and loves nothing better than watching his daughter play.

Frequently asked questions

What was her longest field goal? 36 yards, although she often hit 40+ yards in warmups. 

Is she accurate? Yes. Nearly all her field goals and PATs were good. Of the ones she missed, most were tipped by boys on the opposing teams who jumped up and bumped them so that they didn't go through the posts. 

Does she want to play in college, and where is she going? She was just accepted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, her first choice of colleges right now. After four very rigorous years in the International Baccalaureate curriculum, her goal in college is to focus on academics while still having a social life. That's why she didn't pursue playing soccer in college (although she may do intramural or club soccer). Who knows; maybe she’ll change her mind and walk on for football tryouts at Carolina!

Weren’t you afraid she’d get hurt? Yes; that's why I always said no before, and why I insisted that she only do PATs and Field Goals, where the risk is very low. (She basically ran on field, kicked, and ran off the field.) She sustained no major injuries while playing football. In our experience, we've seen more concussions during girls’ soccer, although Julia is fortunate to have not had one so far. She has had several minor injuries this basketball season so far.

How long has she been playing? Julia only started playing football this summer, although she did throw a football around with the neighborhood boys when she was little. She joined her first soccer team when she was 4, and has played ever since. She’s also played softball (for a few years in elementary school) and basketball (since middle school). Julia’s played on the varsity soccer team since her freshman year. She’s been a captain for her varsity soccer team her junior and senior year, for her JV basketball team her freshman and sophomore year, and for her varsity team her senior year.

Did she know much about football before she started playing it? Yes. Julia has been watching football – and lots of other sports — with her father since she was tiny. She has a good grasp of strategy, and an amazing ability to read the field. She shocked her grandparents at age 5 by explaining a complicated play to them when they were watching an NFL game together. She’s won college basketball brackets. And some of her fantasy football teams have been quite good; she's outplayed a number of the soccer dads. 

How the heck did you end up with such an athletic kid? I have no idea; I am a total klutz. My husband played youth sports. My father played basketball in high school. And Julia’s great-grandmother, Helen McDanel Brubaker (my paternal grandmother) played basketball in high school and coached her high school team after college. Maybe it’s in the genes!

Helen, Julia's great-grandmother, about 1917.
Are you glad you let her play football with the boys? Yes, absolutely. It was a great experience for all of us. I hope it has reinforced Julia’s belief that she can do whatever she sets her mind to do, even in male-dominated fields. And I hope it has made the young men and the coaches who witnessed it think differently about girls, and be more likely to welcome them on the field, in the classroom, in the workplace, and in positions of leadership. While I’m frustrated that it’s taken us as a society so horribly long to get to this point, Julia’s experience has given me hope that today’s girls and young women will be allowed to participate, and that they will thrive and achieve. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

“On the Run”: A free pattern

“On the Run”
Copyright 2018 by Susan Brubaker Knapp
My latest piece, “On the Run,” is made entirely with fabrics from Jamie Fingal’s new fabric line, “Sewing 101,” for RJR Fabrics. The line will be in fabric stores starting in April 2018. It is super cute, and features sewing notions – pincushions, rotary cutters, scissors, spools of thread, buttons – on brightly colored fabrics and blacks and whites. 

The scissors are tiny bits of different fabrics sewn together, and reverse appliquéd under the white fabric. I quilted it with perle cotton around the scissors, and then echo machine stitching. The binding is little strips of many of the fabrics, all sewn together. 

The pattern is available – as a free PDF download – on my website!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017


16" x 17" (Copyright 2017)
Cotton fabrics, Tyvek, acrylic paint, cotton thread, wool batting. Free-motion machine quilted.

This is a piece I started while doing a demonstration for my “November Leaves” class at the Charlotte Quilter’s Guild in November. The leaves are painted Tyvek that are stitched down and then heated. The main project for this class features maple leaves, but I was a bit bored with them and decided to try something different. I love the results!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Chewy chocolate gingerbread cookies

This is a perennial favorite of my family. I adapted this recipe from a Martha Stewart recipe I discovered several years ago. These are dense, highly spiced cookies; get your cold glass of milk ready before you dig in! Baking them has the added benefit of making your house smell amazing. 


1 c. butter, softened
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. molasses
2 t. baking soda
1 T boiling water
white sugar for rolling
4 t. ginger
2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. cloves
1/2 t. nutmeg
2 T cocoa powder
3 c. all-purpose flour
12 oz. semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips

In mixing bowl, beat butter, brown sugar and molasses until smooth. In small bowl, disolve baking soda in boiling water. Add in, then add spices and flour. Mix in chocolate chips. Roll into balls and roll in sugar. Place on ungreased cookie sheet and press flat with the bottom of a glass. Bake at 325˚ for 13-15 minutes. For chewy cookies, do not overbake; they will appear a bit puffed, but will not spread much. Cool for a minute on cookie sheet, then transfer to wire racks. 

Monday, October 30, 2017


“Duel” by Susan Brubaker Knapp
Copyright 2017 – 32x26"
White cotton fabric; black, white and red threads; ink; wool batting. 
Thread sketched, free-motion quilted, hand embroidered. 

This is my entry for Studio Art Quilt Associates’ exhibition called “Guns: Loaded Conversations.” The juried exhibition examines America’s “heritage and current cultural norms” and encourages civil conversation about ways to reduce our gun violence.  

The deadline is tomorrow, Oct. 31, so I am just getting in under the wire! I’d had this piece in mind for the exhibition for some time, but did not have time to work on it until I got back from teaching at the New Zealand National Quilt Symposium earlier in the month. 

It is based on a sketch I made of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr and their dueling pistols, and is thread sketched (on the surface and through a layer of interfacing for stability) in black thread, then quilted and hand embroidered (the red blood and wound). There is also some hand stippling (dots) and cross-hatching (crossed lines) using a Micron Pigma Pen to add extra dimension and shading. 

Artist’s Statement: The 1804 duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr took the life of one of our most brilliant founding fathers, and destroyed the career of a vice president and Revolutionary War hero. I remember learning about dueling in elementary school and being in total disbelief about the stupidity of it. Shooting someone in a bizarre social ritual over a disagreement or a slight to one’s honor? Even more shocking is that more than 200 years later, Americans are still shooting each other at record pace, but with far more lethal weapons, and that we seem unable to find any real solutions to the violence.

Here is the text from SAQA’s Call for Entries for the exhibition:

Americans have owned and used guns throughout the history of our nation. Whether used for hunting, sport, protection, commerce or collection, guns have been a part of our shared heritage and culture. Today we find ourselves living in a society in which gun violence feels commonplace. Gun violence has taken its toll all over the world, in many different ways. An enormous divide exists between people who cherish their heritage of gun ownership and others who are concerned that guns contribute to the rising tide of gun violence.

If we are to find ways to reduce injury and death from gun violence, we must find a way to bridge this divide and talk openly and honestly about potential solutions while at the same time respecting legitimate uses for firearms. This challenging problem continues to be complicated by polarizing political positions, various underlying causes of violence in today’s society, emotional responses, and the desire to enjoy shooting for sport, hunting, or protection as well as maintaining family traditions. Layered on top of these competing and conflicting opinions are the forces of both sides' sophisticated lobbying efforts and a lucrative marketplace.

Artists have been a catalyst for difficult societal conversations throughout history, here and abroad. This ever-broadening divide between opposing opinions on this subject will require creative thinking and an evaluation of a wide host of possible solutions, if we are to find ways to reduce gun violence. Artists are encouraged to explore the heritage and current cultural norms reflected in gun ownership; to consider how their personal experience with guns may influence their opinions; to find ways to engage those of differing opinions to listen to each other in a thoughtful manner; and to investigate and encourage community initiatives that may inspire action in seeking solutions. Truly valuable conversation requires looking at all sides of a subject, and considering those differing viewpoints will be essential in building a bridge over that divide. 

San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles
San Jose, California
April 22 - July 15, 2018