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

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

25. LocoMotif

Hubcabs 1 led to Hubcaps 2 which led to Windshield Wipers (more on that later) which meant that I had a series going; LocoMotif is the fourth quilt in that series inspired by machine imagery. While visiting the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell, I had noticed a train engine in a nearby pocket park. Drawn to the sculpture of sinuous pipes, nuts, bolts, gears, and wheels, I wandered up close, took a photograph, and loved the resulting imagery so much I decided to translate it into fabric. And because there was a contest coming up featuring train and railroad themes, I decided to do it in one week, the end of which was scheduled to be a mini-getaway long weekend in New Hampshire for my husband and me. He gamely watched as I couldn't quite get it finished enough to photograph before leaving for vacation; he bravely suggested that I bring it with us to work on. I rolled up the full-size drawing and packed it along with fabrics, pins, needles, threads, and paints. I still can't believe I spent part of our vacation working on a quilt deadline, but in fact it was a most efficient way to work, because the only distractions were welcome ones: running on beautiful country roads, swimming on a lake, and eating out. Efficient, yes. Fun? It depends on who's answering the question. My husband's unflagging support qualifies him as a bona fide saint (that, by the way, doesn't make him any easier to live with, but I digress). I mailed the slides off only to be rejected because my entry didn't arrive in time (I had hoped it was a postmark deadline, but I was wrong). This is another of those experiences that taught me lessons: it's good to stay utterly focused, because you'll get a lot done in a short time; it's better not to do that while on vacation; and it's smart to pay attention to the fine print on the entry forms.

This quilt went on to gather additional rejections until it was discovered by someone who thought it belonged in our local museum as part of an exhibit called "Fuel for Thought." There, someone gave me a real gift by recognizing the engine depicted in the quilt. Then LocoMotif was discovered by my younger son. If you give one son a quilt for his 21st birthday, you must do the same for the second son, and the quilt is now his. However, come to think of it, it's still in my studio and it's still part of my traveling lecture/trunk show. Given that he's a married homeowner who just turned 30, it's probably time to let the quilt go home with its rightful owner. And it's time to come full circle and complete Number Five in the series, which has been accepted for a fall exhibit at--where else?--the New England Quilt Museum.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

24. Neighbors

Throwing lots of fabrics up on a design wall to create new work is easy. Knowing what to take off the wall is really hard. Knowing when you are finished and ready to sew the piece together is harder still. These challenges are represented by "Neighbors," one of a category of quilts which in the mid-90s was something new for me, involving a more spontaneous design process. My quilts and wall-hangings up to this point usually had an idea, a concept, a plan--however "sketchy"--behind them. What I began to do now was much more improvisational.

This new approach was born of a need to work fast, which in turn had arisen from a decision to use high-end craft venues to move small works quickly. I needed a lot of work to send out to galleries and also to take with me to several large craft fairs which were an experimental part of my business plan. Small works were either wall-hangings like the one pictured here or pillow covers. Both initially represented a way of working which let me try out ideas and techniques on a small scale; they were like fabric sketches.

It wasn't until I had put up a few pieces of fabric (probably retrieved from a scrap basket or even more probably from scraps piled in a heap on the floor) that I began to think I was creating a city of sorts, a city of strange juxtapositions. I didn't try to understand why I liked these combinations (maybe some things are better left unexplored!); I just kept auditioning pieces of fabric to see what the piece would become, and at some point--the sky fabric came last, I think--it felt like enough.

In sewing it together, I had to plan ahead, because the order in which I sewed pieces could box me into corners or create nice, easy-to-sew straight lines. Though designing "Neighbors" was like creating a collage, I couldn't simply superimpose one piece of fabric over another if I were going to piece the work together without making a mess of it. This spurred thoughts about how construction techniques dictated some of the "look" of the piece and raised questions for future work: Would I limit what I represented in fabric to what could be neatly constructed, or would I design with abandon and then figure out how on earth to sew it into some form or other?

I'll answer that: yes. Yes, I would. Both. I'm still working it out.

Let me sum up: as usual, the results of working on a succession of pieces like "Neighbors" followed the laws of unintended consequences. I learned to work fast and with less plodding because I needed to sell more work: a good thing. I chose craft shows to try to do that: a not-so-good thing. I learned more about the limits and possibilities of my chosen medium and was pushed in new directions: good. Though the craft shows were not worth the effort from a business point of view, the "preview open-house sale with friends and students" the week before the show developed into a successful tradition for me for a number of years: good. From where I sit now: it's all good.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

23. Fiesta Log Cabin

Though the title says "Fiesta," the quilt looks Asian-inspired to me...and it is, having been conceived as a solution to the problem of how to use 18 samples of Japanese yukata fabrics, each of which was a small and pricey rectangle sporting one ginormous (it's in the dictionary now, so I can use it) flower motif. I had bought the super-sized swatches because they were so unusual--almost garish, with a strong statement of their own to make. It was a challenge to get them to cooperate with other fabrics.

The setting features the flower fabrics as the centers of "courthouse steps" log cabin blocks, surrounded by strips of equally strong but less bold fabrics. These blocks alternate with large squares composed of four half-log cabin blocks joined together. The whole idea came from a sketch I did on a napkin at a restaurant where the pattern of the table surface had given me the idea. Though at first glance the blocks with the floral centers appear to be smaller than the adjoining blocks, they are actually the same size. This optical illusion was a surprise to me--and I love it when that happens. (Sometimes it would be nice to know exactly what the quilt I've designed in my head will look like, but I almost never do). The colors in the stripes reminded me of old-fashioned Fiestaware, which--together with the fact that the quilt had a lot of visual energy and I had a lot of fun making it--led to the title.

As part of my renewed enthusiasm to "make a go" of my quilting career, I had begun to put out a regular newsletter announcing the classes I'd be teaching and shows I'd be in. In one of the issues I announced that I would give away this quilt to the person/organization who could come up with the best proposal for using it to raise money for a good cause. It was an experiment in launching a quilt to do some good in the community without actually having to sell the tickets myself. I thought I might get a bit of publicity out of it, too (which, by the way, I did not--oh, well). Out of several proposals, I selected one which would benefit an alternative school for kids who'd gotten themselves into trouble. I spent a bit of time visiting at the school when I dropped the quilt off. The quilt had had its day in the sun at a few quilt shows; it was a quilt with lots of good energy in it, and I felt happy to look at it. And that was that.

People often ask me how I can bring myself to give my quilts away or sell them. Except when a bit of nostalgia hits and I feel a brief wave of desire to see a quilt again, I'm well-rewarded as I work through the creative process, and when the product is's over. Of course I love it when someone is willing to buy a quilt from me, because then I can be reasonably certain that it won't immediately end up as a dog bed or a furniture moving pad. But once it's out of my sight...I'm already looking forward to the next quilt.