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

Sunday, September 30, 2007

27. Moon over the Mountain

Made in the mid-90s, "Moon over the Mountain" hinted at future explorations while making use of traditional patterns, revealing the "back-and-forth" thought process behind the quilts I was making: sometimes I wanted to be an artist doing my own thing and sometimes I simply wanted to enjoy making work that other people would like and want to own. I gradually learned, of course, as I sold (or didn't sell) pieces, that both paths are a very, very difficult way to make a living. Or, rather, to make money. The living part is actually very rewarding.

Traditional pieced block patterns have survived the test of time because they work; the ugliest stuff didn't get passed from generation to generation, and it mostly disappeared (though it is true that some of it bobs to the surface from time to time, and then sinks out of sight again.) Choosing "tried-and-true" old-time patterns for this piece allowed me to concentrate on exploring color and setting. Familiar structures served as a jumping-off point to which I added rectangular blocks featuring free-form curved strips pieced together in a more improvisational way (a technique first learned from Marilyn Stothers back in the 80s). I had worked improvisationally for some time, but now I began to incorporate free-form, no-template curves into the mix. When making less traditional choices there is a much greater risk of failure--who knows what will survive the years?--and I was straddling the fence in this piece: I wanted to sell the quilt, so it couldn't be too far "out there." But I wanted to enjoy making it, so it couldn't be just another thoughtless repetition, either.

This is the tightrope on which I balanced at the time. In order to have a viable career in quiltmaking, I concentrated on making and selling work. Wanting to sell work comes perilously close to wanting to please, and it's tough to make honest work of integrity that way. Some do. I couldn't--at least, not enough to be self-supporting. It was time to move on to new ways of earning, and the move was monumentally jump-started when Michael woke up one morning and suggested "new house, garage, more storage." For me, that meant "new studio." It also led to much diversion of creative energy, a bit of a quilting dry spell, and then a brand new chapter.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

26. What Relief

The phrase "pales in comparison" was surely coined for "What Relief". This quilt hangs in the main stairwell of our house, and you must pass it to reach our guest bedroom or my studio. I can't even count the people who have been in my house numerous times before they ever notice the six-foot-square quilt hanging in front of their eyes. It has a similar impact in slides, photographs, and quilt shows, which must account for the fact that it has been rejected from multiple shows. When it does manage to secure a spot, it often serves only to highlight its more colorful brethren. And yet...and yet... it's a very comfortable quilt to live with, graceful and easy on the eyes, with both hand and machine stitches defining its curved quilting designs. It's one of my very favorites, but its virtues can't be captured in a photograph.

It sprang from a desire to make a quilt which would have the same "embossed" relief effect that I had seen in a magazine picture of a white plaster wall with raised white floral designs. This kind of effect has been achieved in many traditional quilts through the use of trapunto techniques, also called "stuffed work," often done entirely in white. But I couldn't see my way through to abandoning color entirely, so I strip-pieced pastel fabrics together to form a "canvas" on which I would do lots of hand quilting, machine embroidery with metallic threads, and bobbin embroidery with RibbonFloss.

At this stage of my career, one of my purposes in making any quilt was to do my best work and hope it would enhance my public reputation, so I would be able to secure additional teaching jobs. I don't know why I thought that making a quilt which disappeared in a crowd would do this for me, but there you are...when inspiration comes, you really can't fight it. I wanted to create subtlety, and I most certainly did.

I worked really hard to help this quilt succeed: it got into its first show based on a slide taken before it had been fully quilted, and the deadline came upon me before I had completed the stitching, which--since I'd never missed a deadline--caused me to stay up most of the night stitching away, only to be too tired to drive it to the dropoff point an hour away. Husband to the rescue again: he dropped it off while I slept (thank you, Michael). I like to think I manage my time better in my older, wiser years, though it can still be touch-and-go around Christmas time.

The interesting thing about "What Relief" is that it, too, has gotten not only older but "wiser," through an unforeseen influence of time alone. Pictured here are two detail shots of the quilt including the border fabric (which was also used for the thin wavy lines throughout the quilt). The photo on the right from 1996 shows the border fabric design before its fugitive dyes began to fade away, as shown in a photo taken today. The fabric was originally low contrast and pastel, but its blue and beige tones have nearly vanished, bringing pale yellows to the fore, so that the fabric now is creamy and very subtly patterned. I don't mind the reduction in contrast, although I liked it before, and so did the judges at Quilt America who awarded it a prize in 1996, its moment of public glory. Fading should not happen, at least when fabrics have been carefully protected from direct sunlight as they have been in this case, but mistakes are made in the manufacturing process from time to time, and I remember that I did purchase this particular decorator fabric from a remnant table at a very good price. So..."What Relief" not only pales in comparison--it just pales, period. Then again, I've developed wrinkles. Of the two forms of aging, I might prefer fading...