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

Saturday, February 23, 2008

35. Camryn's Quilt

Flowers and leaves are often represented in quilts by pieced block patterns or by appliqué patterns. Both methods usually involve using lots of templates and painstaking labor. Such quilts are often exquisitely beautiful, complex, precise -- with nothing left to chance.

Sigh. Those are not my quilts. I don't enjoy the process of appliqué, and I no longer enjoy repeating identical blocks. As for drawing a large paper pattern and then making templates from it in order to re-create the drawing in fabric: in my world, doing the drawing would be the fun part, and all the rest of it would feel like painting by number; I'd never be able to finish such a quilt.

Yet flowers and leaves inspire me in the same way they have inspired countless others! So I went back to the methods I'd used in "Why 2K?" (entry #32) and created "Camryn's Quilt." Just as no two leaves or flowers in nature are exactly alike, no two blocks of this quilt are identical; they can't be, because each block was created improvisationally. My rotary cutter was the drawing tool. I used no pins, no marking tools, no paper, no patterns, no templates -- with a great deal left to chance.

Before I cut, I thought. The thoughts were about the structures of natural things: how a tree and its branches were similar to a leaf and its veins, for example. How a leaf or a flower shows itself to us based on the contrast between it and its background. How some flowers are round and some have petals and some are quite irregular. How some leaves are fat and others long and skinny. How the order in which I sew pieces together determines whether or not I get the background and foreground in the correct relationship. How oddly-shaped assemblages of irregularly-pieced shapes can be connected and united into a whole. I thought a lot.

Then, I cut a curve. And cut another. And sewed two pieces together. If it looked right, I cut and added the next piece. When it didn't look right, I either ironed it until it did and then re-sewed where the pressed line told me to, or I cut it apart with my trusty rotary cutter and tried again. A pretty forgiving method, all in all--hardly any ripping out. Yet the quilt does represent a steep learning curve, with lots of trial and error to get the look I wanted. Over time I got better at predicting and controlling the shapes that would result from sewing curved bits of fabric together. The technique was simple enough, but the thinking part burned up plenty of calories, as I was to discover when I began teaching other people how to create their own versions.

Gradually I realized something as I watched students struggle to understand what I was talking about: I was really teaching a new way of thinking about making a quilt rather than a new sewing technique. I wasn't aware of other people talking or writing or teaching about this way of creating natural forms with rotary cutter and fabric, and it occurred to me that this might be a way in which I could contribute to contemporary quilt literature. I gave some thought to writing a book. And therein hangs another tale.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

34. Mosaic

Although "Mosaic" isn't a traditional crazy quilt, it may well be the nuttiest I've ever made. Pictures of the mosaic artwork in Ravenna, Italy, had captured my imagination--all those wonderful little bits of color!--and I tried to turn cloth into stone. Here's its story.

The beginning: Great enthusiasm and energy for a fun design--couldn't wait to see what it would look like.

The middle: Whoops--ran out of steam early as I cut out half-inch squares of fabric and batting and set them in place on a gray background with fabric glue, having no real sewing plan in mind.

The end
: Resurrected the piece after several years, having re-discovered it in moving my studio from the old house to the new. Thinking it would be perfect to hang on the wall of our newly-tiled master bath, I doggedly sewed each piece down with free-motion zig-zag stitch and made my peace with the fraying threads that popped out from the raw edges between the zigs and the zags. Having gone through all the trouble (in retrospect, absolutely unnecessary) to put a small piece of batting under each square to make sure the finished product would have the right texture, I didn't want to flatten it out by quilting over everything once the quilt was layered. The only option remaining was to quilt the gray fabric "grout", of which there is a surprisingly large amount. I did, and lived to tell the tale.

The moral of the story:
The fact that I really enjoy the finished product a whole lot more than I did the process speaks volumes about why mosaics are made with stone tiles and not fabric. There's information here for me about knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your own medium, and I'm sure I'll figure it out as soon as I stop thinking about mosaics made from felted wool squares (no frayed edges to worry about) in smaller sizes--pillows perhaps?