200 Quilts · Quilts · Something to Think About

Not Waving, but Drowning


Not Waving, But Drowning
Quilt #173
39″ high by 43″ wide

This quilt began its life in a quilt block I designed, which I call Semaphore.   My friend Cindy saw that and made a version for a fabric manufacturer, who then put it on a world tour (see a photo at the end).  I saw it again at Quilt Market in May 2016, and decided I wanted one myself, only larger.


I purchased several charm packs of solids, and arrayed them all out by color family and from dark to light, using several color groupings.  There were many duplicate squares, but after I felt I had a good amount, I went to work.

I titled the block Semaphore, but always in the back of my mind while I was working on this quilt was the poem titled “Not Waving, but Drowning,” by Stevie Smith, about a man who gets in trouble while out in the waves.  He drowns because people think he was waving, but in reality, he was signaling for help.


I think the half-square triangles look like a series of nautical flags, waving in the wind.  I decided to quilt it also in a wavy pattern, but didn’t want a tightly controlled wave.


I wanted those waves loose and lanky, wild and woolly, just like those ones that come up and splat you in the face when you are wave-jumping in summer.


I love the colors in this quilt, and the up and down fluid movement of the quilting. It calls me to remember that our lives, like the ocean, can lift us high, can hit us in the face, can overwhelm (as in Stevie Smith’s poem), yet also can bring a lovely memory of a summer’s day. In a nutshell, it reminds me that life is full of ups and downs, a blend of dark and light.  It’s also a reminder that, in spite of what we post on Instagram and Facebook, we all aren’t having tons of fun and radiantly happy all day long.  But we also don’t want to be drowning when we are in reality signaling for help.  So, take care of your loved ones and friends, and please please…take care of yourself.

And keep quilting.


Cindy’s quilt at Quilt Market, using the Semaphore block.

(NOTE: This post has been updated with different content after original publication.  It was originally about depression.  Thank you all for your comments; I have them saved and will reread them often.)

16 thoughts on “Not Waving, but Drowning

  1. Such a powerful post!!! and so many insights and positive thoughts for those who daily battle these demons and many more who cross paths with such periodically. The quilt is gorgeous and the poem’s words heartrending!!!!!!

  2. Thanks for the post. I’ve dealt with depression, too, and can only hope it won’t come to me again. And yes, there are different kinds and people experience it in different ways, and my depression may not appear at all like someone else’s. Anxiety disorders are the same, in that they are NOT all the same.

    No response needed. Thanks again.

  3. I agree with the previous post that this quilt has a powerful message that makes you take a second look at it. Thank you for sharing your story and it is true about depression and that so many people are embarrassed to mention it but each one of us needs friends to help them cope and lean on when times are hard. Thank you again for bringing the subject up and letting us know it is okay to be depressed but always ask for help if you feel the need to talk to someone.

  4. A great post – especially for this time of the year. It is difficult for so many people.

    Your quilt is beautiful – the quilting and the backing are just perfect too.

  5. Given the condition I am carrying at the moment (and the bad couple of days I’ve had) this post is most relevant and touching too. I love this quilt and I love the story behind it. Thank you for sharing yourself with us so eloquently and lovingly.

  6. How apropos. Thank you for sharing. Although depression is more talked about now, many people still don’t understand what it means to suffer from depression. I guess if someone told me they had cancer or something else which I have no experience with, I wouldn’t understand either except I wouldn’t expect them to just shake if off. I am grateful for having some people in my life who do understand and don’t judge. I love the quilt and will add it to my list of quilts to make in 2017.

  7. It’s funny you mention Dick Cavett. For a long time when I was still in my 20s, I thought I couldn’t be depressed, because I could still laugh and smile, then I saw him on a talk show onTV where he talked about his depression. That was a turning point for me. If he could be a comedian on TV, and laugh and smile while having depression, I could, too. It was many more years before I got treated for it, but it was life-saving just knowing that it was okay to laugh and smile when you have depression. I’ve been on several different anti-depressants over the years, and most of the time I’m “okay.” With my depression, I get what I call “a burst of inertia”, where I just can’t do anything. That’s the worst for me. Coupled with really poor self-esteem, it’s tough. I’ve always been overweight, and I was always made to feel that I wasn’t good enough, even by family. I used to swear that the next person that said, “you have such a pretty face, if only you’d lose some weight”, I would scream. Even a doctor said it to me once when I was a teenager. What I heard was, “you’re not good enough.” Right now I’m dealing with being “terminated” 13 days after my 70th birthday, from a job I had for 28 years. Some of the things my boss said feel like personal attacks (and some were lies), and it’s hard dealing with it. I am now left with living off Social Security which will be about 50% of my wages, and 2/3 of it will go to rent. Living in San Diego is not cheap, and I don’t have any other place I can live. I’ll be okay, but I fear it will be a long time before the mourning period is over.

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. Isn’t it awful that depression is genetic? Several of my kids have it, too. It’s not something I would wish on anyone. I love the quilt. The bright colors are very uplifting.

  8. What a powerful post and story behind this quilt, Elizabeth. It gave me goosebumps to read it and resonated deeply with me. I knew the poem straightaway and the quilting lines are so perfect to tie everything together. Thank you for continuing to talk about this.

  9. This was a very eloquently written post. I’m glad you let me know about the poem when I first made Semaphore. Outside appearance can be so very deceiving, and I often wonder about the person behind so many beautiful pictures on Instagram, as I know pretty pictures don’t always convey what is happening on the other side of the computer screen.

  10. Wow – I don’t know which I love more — your beautiful quilt or the thoughts behind it. I appreciate you sharing your story. I am going through a difficult time myself and it’s often a struggle to stay on the upside of things. Sometimes I can’t. I am so grateful for good friends who check in with me to see how I am handling things and are there for me regardless of which side of the door I’m on.

  11. this is just lovely and so true. My Mother died at xmas time years ago but I get depressed one way or another no matter what. XXOO

Leave a Reply to Mary Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s