herstory: ola belle reed

welcome to herstory- an ongoing journal series where I share stories of the women who continue to inspire me and my craft. I hope they inspire you too.

Ola Belle Reed

b. August 17th 1916 Lansing NC

d. August 16th 2002 Rising Sun MD

 

Ola Belle Reed was an Appalachian claw-hammer banjo player, singer, and songwriter. She was born into a musical family in Lansing North Carolina, where she lived until her family moved to northeastern Maryland, seeking to escape the economic burden of the Great Depression. Throughout her career Reed wrote and sang many songs that spoke to her Appalachian heritage, family traditions, social issues, and her religious values. Reed suffered a stroke in 1987 that left her unable to perform. She died in 2002 in Rising Sun Maryland.


The first song of Belle Reed's that I fell completely in love with is "My Epitah"; I instantly connected to the clarity and rawness of her voice and lyrics. The song’s lyrics discuss death, social conventions around death, and briefly touch on the afterlife. As a printmaker during my undergraduate years I found myself investigating similar themes- there’s a special kind of magic in discovering artists who reflect back to you so many of your thoughts and questions about life. Please listen below.


Listening to Ola Belle Reed speak I feel as though I'm having an intimate conversation, sitting right next to her. On the album, My Epitah: A Documentary in Song and Lyric, each track has both a song and an excerpt of Belle Reed speaking, relaying personal anecdotes and general thoughts on life. This alternating format of song and speech helps to contextualize Belle Reed’s music, offering a more complete portrait of this incredible woman and artist.

 

 Please click below if you would like to know more about her personal history:

https://folkways-media.si.edu/liner_notes/smithsonian_folkways/SFW40202.pdf

 

A colletion of her songs is available to listen to on Youtube:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCu2B15gaG5VS3u9IFfXkCmQ/videos 

b.r.h.m. book nook vol. 2

 
 

traveling through pages; collecting bits of myself along the way

 
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Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage, Dani Shapiro

The book my healing, romantic, guarded heart needed and will continue to need. Dani invited us into her marriage, crafting a poignant reflection on the ebb and flow of human intimacy.

“What must we summon and continue to summon in order to form ourselves toward, against, alongside another person for the duration? To join ourselves to the unknown? What steadiness of spirit? What relentless faith?”

 
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The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion

“This is my attempt to make sense of the period that followed, weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I had ever had about death, about illness, about probability and luck, about good fortune and bad, about marriage and children and memory, about grief, about the ways in which people do and do not deal with the fact that life ends, about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself."

image @jak_daily

 
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An American Marriage, Tayari Jones

Newlyweds Roy and Celestial are torn apart when Roy is falsely imprisoned. Jones' novel explores how their marriage holds up to the passage of time, Celestial's growing relationship with childhood friend Andre, and what happens when Roy's conviction is suddenly overturned. 

“Much of life is timing and circumstance, I see that now.”

image @bluestockingbookshelf

 
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100 Selected Poems, E.E.Cummings

Cumming's fun, lyrical, and dynamic prose never disapoints. 

"unbeing dead isn't being alive"

 
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The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

I got about halfway through this one before throwing in the towel (for now at least...). Davis is a great writer, but her style is a little to dense for me to fully get into. Seeing as this was my first time reading Davis' work, maybe I should've started with something less ambitious. 

image @lilystockman

 

 
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Reading Pushkin in Siberia, Celia Ores

Holocaust memoir written by a friends-neighbors-relative. Ores recounts her early life in Poland, her time in a Siberian gulag, Kazakhstan, and life post war. 

 
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Swing Time, Zadie Smith

The first Zadie Smith book I've read; perhaps not the best one to start with as I found the plot to be slow and confusing at times. Swing Time tells the story of two girls, their differences, similarities, and how their adult lives unfold after their friendship abruptly ends in their twenties. 

"A truth was being revealed to me: that I had always tried to attach myself to the light of other people, that I had never had any light of my own. I experienced myself as a kind of shadow."

image @booksandquills

 
 
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Ask Me About My Uterus, Abby Norman

 

 

A brave memoir in which Norman discusess her experience of endometriotis, her personal history, and provides historical information around women's pain and patient experiences. An incredible portrait of what it means to navigate our healthcare system in a woman's body. 

"'I have so many people come to me who are willing to tolerate so much, or have tolerated so much', Dr. Marin began, in our discussion of female pain, 'either becuase no one was willing to listen to them, or just because they thought it was normal, or that it was the price of being a woman'".

image @thkatehaddigan

 

slow fashion fixes: alterations, mends, and tips to get more out of the clothes you already own

As excited as I was for my trip to Austin, a glace at the weather forecast had me thinking "yikes!" While we were still enjoying 30 degree days up in Connecticut, Austin was posting temperatures in the 70's and 80's... summer weather for this New England girl. As I tried to wrap my brain around how I could afford even a few new summer pieces before my trip I knew I had to prioritize my expenses and really to the best to make good use of the clothing I already owned. Here are some tips and how-tos I picked up in the process. 

1) purge and sort

I recommend sorting your e n t i r e wardrobe at least twice a year. It's nice to take inventory right before the seasons change you can begin to address the needs of your wardrobe before it's suddenly 70 degrees and you realize you have nothing to wear.  I don't have many clothes to begin with, but I also don't have much space to keep my closet crowded with things that are not in use. This is how I sort out my clothing:

-get rid of / donate / swap / sell: Anything worn out and scraggly, anything that no longer suits your personal style or anything that makes you think "I should do better for myself". For me this category is mostly gross t shirts, exercise wear that doesn't fit and isn't flattering, and items I simply don't want and aren't worth altering. If you have a good amount of high quality clothing you're looking to remove from your wardrobe investigate local donation based thrift stores in your area as well as local clothing swap options or the growing number of apps that enable you to sell gently used pieces directly to other consumers.

-keep in storage: Things that you need, or sort of need, that should not be taking up space in your closet. Two sub categories... 1) things you keep for a specific purpose (re: summer camp, mission trips, anything you use, but not regularly, and fills a very specific need). I hang onto a pair of paint covered yoga pants to avoid dirtying up a new one, my sister keeps a mostly separate set of clothing for summer camp. 2) things you don't really need or want but they fit, they're in good shape and you never want to spend money on again. For me this is a pair of plain khaki pants and some basic button ups. I have them, don't wear them, probably never will wear them, but I'd rather tuck them away than frantically have to run to the GAP. I recommend keeping this category in proportion to the amount of storage you have. 

-keep: Things you love! Things you wear! EVERYTHING IN THIS CATEGORY SHOULD BE A HELL YES. If you have things in this pile you don't love, that can't be remedied with an easy mend or alteration, you should probably get rid of it. 

-mend / alter: I know we all have things in our closets that we wear that don't fit properly, or things we love that are worn, or pieces we like one aspect of but are not totally sold on. Keep this pile aside for now... we'll get back to it :) 

2) Maybe the easiest wardrobe fix... placement!

I have a few summer button ups that I really like! But they were at the bottom of a pile in my closet meaning I often forgot I had them! I hung them up in plain sight so I will remember they're there. If you want to make more of an effort to wear a certain piece keep it somewhere you'll see it or be able to access it easily. 

3) Alter and Mend

some basic mends and alterations you can do to make an item of clothing better serve you include: hemming, patching, and over dyeing with a household dye (RIT) or natural dyes. Some more advanced alteration techniques include adding darts, taking in a waistband, shortening sleeves (and probably many more I'm not familiar with) :)   

Here are some examples of mends and alterations I've done to breathe new life into clothing I already own.

-Shortening a hem: turn a dress into a shirt. When I originally purchased this dress from Goodwill it was tan and a decent number of inches longer. The hips were originally too tight for me so I brought the skirt up at the waist and then indigo dyed the dress. It was certainly worked better for me than the piece I purchased but I still didn't wear it all that much. As a dress, it was pretty shapeless and did nothing for me. I decided to shorten it so the hem now hits just below my high waist. The shorter length made the piece much more youthful, something I can dress up or down depending on my needs. 

-Color change: re dyeing/over dyeing. I had 2 dresses in my "alter/mend" pile after sorting my closet that I like some aspects of but needed a little TLC for me to start wearing them regularly. 

The first is this dress that I've only worn once. The flowers are not me at all and the blue is way to bright, but I like the shape and the linen is so soft. The solution? Dye it black! 

The second is a dress I have gotten a fair amount of wear out of. Its nice linen, I like the shape, it's comfortable. And as much as I like the soft light green, I'm not big on pastels in my wardrobe and I just feel washed out whenever I put on the dress. I opted to dye this dress a rusty red/brown. I also shrunk it down a bit in the dryer and it now its much more flattering for me. 

Redyeing is also a great way to spruce up your trusty pair of black jeans. 

-Adding a patch. Like many women, my jeans wear through the inner thigh fairly quickly. Adding a patch is a simple fix to extend the life of your favorite item of clothing. HERE is a link to a tutorial I wrote about how to machine mend denim jeans. Lately I have been exploring sashiko patterns through mending; both indigo denim pairs I wear are very worn and require large patches. I opt for a more invisible approach for my black jeans. 

-The 180: button up to cropped top. I bought this button up because I was in love with the fabric... and I'm still in love with the fabric. I think I wore the shirt a fair amount when I bought it, but the past several years its been worn maybe a handful of times. It's slightly too big for me and I'm not a huge button up shirt fan. Because I had a fair amount of fabric to work with I decided to try my luck at turning the shirt into a tank. I used a Hackwith Design House piece as inspiration and patterned the shirt off of my own body and other clothing I have.  

 

 

b.r.h.m. book nook vol. 1

 
 

A journey to familiarize myself with contemporary women writers, the stories they tell; collecting bits of myself along the way. 

 

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The Girls

Emma Cline

Wild, free, dangerous, malleable GIRLS. Cline's Manson family inspired novel tells the story of Evie's journey down the rabbit hole of attachment and idolization.   

"Poor Sasha. Poor girls. The world fattens them on the promise of love. How badly they need it, and how little most of them will ever get. The treacled pop songs, the dresses described in the catalogs with words like 'sunset' and 'Paris.' Then the dreams are taken away with such violent force; the hand wrenching the buttons of the jeans, nobody looking at the man shouting at his girlfriend on the bus"

 
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The Abundance, Annie Dillard

Some of the best prose I’ve had the pleasure of reading. This book reminds me of how beautiful IT all is. The intersection of the natural world and human spirit; how it all tangles together in the ether.

"The universe has continued to deal in extravagances, flinging intricacies and colossi down eons of emptiness, heaping profusions on profligacies with ever-fresh vigor. The whole show has been on fire from the word go. I come down to the water to cool my eyes. But everywhere I look I see fire; that which isn’t flint is tinder and the whole world sparks and flames."

 
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South and West, Joan Didion

I tore through these sharp, highly relevant essays in about a day. South and West while written about the 70’s remains pertinent to our current political and cultural climate. 

“I had only some dim and unformed sense, . . . that for some years the South and particularly the Gulf Coast had been for America what people were still saying California was, and what California seemed to me not to be: the future, the secret source of malevolent and benevolent energy, the psychic center.” 

image @lilystockman

 
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Commonwealth, Ann Patchett

Spanning five decades this book tells the story of the joining of two families- the Keatings and the Cousins. The children bond over a shared disillusionment of their parents, becoming ever entangled in each others' narratives. 

“All the stories go with you, Franny thought, closing her eyes. All the things I didn't listen to, won't remember, never got right, wasn't around for. All the ways to get to Torrance."

 
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Sex and Rage, Eve Babitz

"Sex and Rage delights in its starry, sensuous, dreamlike narrative and its spontaneous embrace of fate, and work, and of certain meetings and chances. We witness Jacaranda moving beyond the tango of sex and rage into the open challenge of a defined and more fulfilling expressive life." (source: goodreads)

“She figured that any day now she was going to start feeling the simple composure of normalcy that Jane Austen's heroines always sought to maintain, the state described in those days as "countenance," and later as "being cool.” 

 
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The Dark Dark, Samantha Hunt

Collection of short stories. Her writing is so deep and murky. She doesn’t just lead you to the grave, she digs it up and rearranges the pieces. Not reality, but how reality can feel.

"This family is an experiment, the biggest I've ever been part of, an experiment called: How do you let someone in?"

image @coffeeandbookss

 
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Hold Still

Sally Mann

A memoir by one of my favorite artists. She explores her family and personal history in connection to her own artistic practice.

"Photographs supplant and corrupt the past, all the while creating their own memories. As I held my childhood pictures in my hands, in the tenderness of my “remembering,” I also knew that with each photograph I was forgetting."

image http://randomphoto.blogspot.com/2015/08/sally-manns-hold-still.html

 

 
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The Rules Do Not Apply, Ariel Levy

Creating your own rules and a lesson in accepting ownership of them. Everything will be OK.

"I wanted what we all want: everything. We want a mate who feels like family and a lover who is exotic, surprising. We want to be youthful adventurers and middle-aged mothers. We want intimacy and autonomy, safety and stimulation, reassurance and novelty, coziness and thrills. But we can’t have it all."

image @belletrist 

 
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Marlena, 

Julie Buntin

What its like to be 15. THE PILLS, the desire to one-up on the suffering level. How sometimes the circumstances determine who gets out alive. Wanting to be liked, loved, desired, remembered.

"Privilege is something to be aware of, to fight to see beyond, but ultimately to be grateful for. It’s like a bulletproof vest; it makes you harder to kill."

image @belletrist

 
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Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion

Essays divided into 3 sections each with their own unique identity; Lifestyles in the Golden Land, Personals, Seven Places of the Mind. I have a certain fondness for the second section, Personals, which deals with subjects such as self respect, keeping a notebook, and the puzzling inability to truly “go home”.

“So the point of my keeping a notebook has never been, nor is it now, to have an accurate factual record of what I have been doing of thinking. That would be a different impulse entirely, an instinct for reality which I sometimes envy but do not possess.”

 
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Stay With Me, Ayobami Adebayo

A story of birth and death, modernity and tradition in Nigeria. Adebayo’s prose is full of life, with her use of folktales and allegories adding a touch of magic to a story otherwise rooted in reality.

“If the burden is too much and stays too long, even love bends, cracks, comes close to breaking and sometimes does break. But when it's in a thousand pieces around your feet, that doesn't mean it's no longer love.”

image @belletrist

 
 
 
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This Close to Happy: A Reckoning with Depression, Daphne Merkin

An honest and vulnerable account of the author’s journey with depression; she speaks about her mental health in a way that few of us are brave enough to do. Merkin’s story helped me to appreciate my own mental health journey and acknowledge my own resilience.

“If I can’t quite declare victory over my depression, I am giving it a run for its money, navigating around it, reminding myself that the opposite of depression is not a state of unimaginable happiness but a state of approximate contentment, of relative all-right-ness.”

 
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Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado

A collection of short stories about the varying forms of violence that affect women's bodies. So formally playful and genre bending... This collection is one of my favorites. Simultaneously otherworldly and all-too-real. 

"Many people live and die without ever confronting themselves in the darkness."\

image @booksforthesoul

 
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The Immortalists, Chloe Benjamin

Benjamin tells the story of the Gold children who in their youth visit a fortune teller who gives them each the date of their death. Whether the siblings fulfill, or create their prophecies, this book gives credence to the power of words and the notion that "thoughts have wings". 

"Most adults claim not to believe in magic, but Klara knows better. Why else would anyone play at permanence- fall in love, have children, buy a house- in the face of all evidence there's no such thing?"

image @thelibraryhop

 

introducing: the union quilt

The Union Quilt is my largest quilt to date. At around 116" x 124" it is fit for a king size bed, a dramatic wall tapestry, or even possibly an area rug. I purchased the quilt top on ebay, pieced the back, and hand quilted the entire piece with sashiko thread for durability. The top is made from old suiting fabrics and the back is pieced with vintage flannels and cotton. The name "union" came about naturally; the woolen fabrics reminded me of old civil war uniforms, with the lighter grey bearing a strong resemblance to the uniforms of the confederacy. The larger stars feel very patriotic to me, yet stripped of the showmanship we tend to associate with modern day patriotic memorabilia. 

Here are some images of the process. Shop HERE.