My life as a quiltmaker (for chronological order, read oldest post to newest)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

20. November Unfolded

A flowered fabric in unusual colors and a take-out food box led to "November Unfolded." The pattern idea was simple enough; I had already done two small wall-hangings using an unfolded box as template and felt I could do more--I wanted to integrate the curved "tab" of the box into the design.

The color was another story; I was drawn to a very light floral fabric with an unusual palette: creamy white background with yellow, rust, green, and black flowers. (This fabric is used in the patches which represent the base of the unfolded box.) I struggled with the colors in this quilt; I was fairly certain the fabrics I saw on my design wall wouldn't be on anyone's list of favorites any time soon, but I was compelled by them. A couple of weeks into the process I realized that these are the colors that show up on a rainy November day along a New England roadside: the rusts and dark wine colors of the oak leaves that hang on after the brighter leaves have long since fallen... the bittersweet, with its bright orange berries and hint of golden yellow husks... the pines whose needles have gotten a bit more yellow-green as the year has aged... the bright red-orange winterberry... the black of wet tree trunks after a downpour... and the ever-pervasive gray of the sky just before winter sets in. Not the best-loved landscape of our region, but home nonetheless.

By this time I had come to understand that any quilt worth my time and effort would have to please me. But when you send work out into the "quilt show" world for the express purpose of its being seen, you really hope a few other people will love it, too. And I had a bad feeling about that. My feeling was confirmed at a "show and tell" event with two local quilt guilds. A ripple went through the crowd when I showed the quilt, but it was because I tripped as I went up the stairs to hold it up for display. The actual showing yielded the dreaded "hmm...interesting" reaction.

I had wanted a jury to like it enough to select it for a show whose deadline was coming up in January. It was not to be. Though I completed the quilt in record time (two days early!), it was not accepted into the AQS show. Here was a moment against which I had been steeling myself, but even so I was not prepared for the strength of my anger and hurt when I got the rejection letter that set off a series of internal struggles which of course had been there all along just waiting to be faced. Again I looked for answers about the value of putting so much time and effort into making quilts, and again I found myself in utter confusion about how to best get my favorite work "out there", and blah blah blah. In the heat of the moment it was difficult to sort out the issues, and I didn't have the time. I now found myself in a public school classroom two or three days a week, with other days and evenings taken up with quilt classes or my part-time job for the Conservation Commission. And that didn't count the huge energy cost inherent in not doing things, especially when you factor in the internal agitation resulting from the things not getting done but constantly shoved to the bottom of endless lists. If I were to do a word count in my journal entries for that year, the highest number would go to the word "tired." Resilience and sense of humor are early victims of fatigue, and yet they are the most sorely-needed traits while contemplating life decisions. Something had to give, and this 93-94 school year would help me to decide what was worth pursuing and what had to go.

Twenty years had passed between my first quilt and November Unfolded. Back then, I was already an "old hand". But fourteen more have passed since then, and I've learned I was really just beginning the journey. I'm still not happy my quilt was rejected. I am still happy I made the quilt I loved. I did find those "few people" who also loved this quilt: one wrote about it in an article called "Strange and Wonderful" and another invited me to include it in a show called "New England Seen" at the New England Quilt Museum. And that's enough for now.

Monday, June 4, 2007

19. Nocturne

Circles have kept coming round in my quilts. Sailboats, also. Nocturne is an example of both, in a quilt begun shortly after I had worked long and hard on a very large, very pink and white traditional quilt. I longed to work with bright colors again. A magazine ad featuring a sailboat weathervane provided inspiration; it featured a background divided into sunny sky on one side and rainy sky on the other. I placed my version of the boat in a circle, half day and half night. The patchwork forming the border is a variation of the traditional "Ocean Waves" block, quilted with a "clamshell" pattern. The night/day interior is quilted with wave-like shapes in metallic threads. I tried out a number of techniques and materials and ideas with results that satisfied me, and yet somehow--though I enjoyed making it--I didn't feel emotionally connected to the piece. I'm no sailor. I find I can describe the quilt perfectly accurately from my memories, but I don't remember why I wanted to make it, and so I think of it as a "study". It's definitely too small to function as a quilt, and viewing it as decorative art raised the question of how I felt about making quilts that weren't...quilts. To this day, I continue to explore that particular issue and have come up with a very large number of (sometimes circular) thoughts about--not to mention attempts to resolve--that stubbornly abiding question.

It wasn't until much later--when the piece appeared in a magazine--that I discovered that the pieced border in the top right side of the quilt has a red/blue half-square triangle unit that somehow got rotated a quarter turn while I was sewing the block; it's just plain wrong. This was another in a long line of mistakes which help to give my quilts their unique voice, and really the one thing which finally linked me to the quilt and gave it some "personality." This particular work made me happiest when I found someone who really did connect with it, enough to purchase it.

Themes come round again in life, also. As I've mentioned, my first son was off to college, with the second not that far from following him out of the nest, and I was once again faced with the question of where I wanted to put my energy--not to mention the responsibility of sharing those giant tuition bills. Keeping home running smoothly could always eat up time, but I was devilishly clever at finding ways to do the "homemaking" I wanted to do and avoid the parts I didn't like, and it had become clear to me--and to my husband--that I always would. I knew I had a passion for quilting. But did I want to keep it as a hobby, untainted by the need to please anyone but myself--or did I want to throw myself into it full force and make it a career? It was time to make some difficult choices. And then, against all reason and just as my quilting voice was beginning to be heard in a larger world than my own town, I decided to give teaching in public schools one more try. I signed up to substitute teach in a local school system, to see what it would be like. Thus began a year of soul-searching and, finally, a commitment to my work.