where is your edge

To find one’s voice with cloth is particularly challenging, I think, because there are so many ways to attach scraps to each other and to a flat surface, and then many ways to quilt or otherwise add texture.  And while one is busy trying to figure out what techniques fit with one’s temperament and basic work-tempo, there is the perhaps less-tricky but still not-exactly-straight-forward business of finding one’s basic subject matter.  It is a challenging braid, this winding of technique and subject, and one that can take a frustratingly long time to come together.   Because the learning curve for technique is fairly long, one can hide behind the process of skill-acquisition for undue amounts of time.  Then, as a decorative art, quilting affords the possibility of playing with pattern for its own sake, which is not a BAD thing, but is a process that won’t necessarily inch the maker closer to her subjects.

Turning to Brenda Ueland’s little but profound book on writing this morning (“If You Want to Write – A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit”), I found this:

          But how to single out your true self, when we are all so many selves?  Yes, I know that is hard.  I know I have been much puzzled by this, for I myself seem to be so many different people, sometimes a man, sometimes a woman, a murderer, a whiner, a mother, a simpering lady, an old rip, a minister, a burglar, a lion, a weasel. And, all my teaching would go for nothing if, in trying to find your true self, you would begin to strain and cerebrate with an anxious neurasthenic frown:  “Am I now writing with the utmost sincerity? I wonder.”
          No, you must not do that.  They only way to find your true self is by recklessness and freedom.  If you feel like a murderer for the time being, write like one.  In fact, when you are in a fury it is a wonderful time to write.  It will be brilliant, – provided you write about what you are furious at, and not some dutiful literary bilge….
          Gradually by writing you will learn more and more to be free, to say all you think; and at the same time you will learn never to lie to yourself, never to pretend and attitudinize.  But only by writing and by long, patient, serious work will you find your true self.

Ueland footnotes that last sentence to say ‘or by any other art; or by the use of the creative power.’

I wonder, though.  Is it all that possible to quilt ‘murderously’? My question is open-ended and I would love to hear other fiber artists’ thoughts about this…

I have a hunch that piecing and stitching – even furiously fast stitching on a machine – does NOT lend itself to particularly riled up states of being.  It may be that those wildly aching, storming states that we all experience from time to time, might very lend themselves to writing or painting but not to quilting.

Could this be why so many fiber artists ALSO draw or write or, or, or…?

Notes about this WIP and these pictures – I often audition quilts on a quilt that is on the wall.  Mostly because it is THERE, but also because if the auditioned piece is smaller, I like the provocative visual of another quilt (and one with perhaps a completely different feel and palette) surrounding the new one… it visually asks, even if one is not initially prone to wonder, does this little insert demand a bigger mantle?  Do any of the mismatched colors in the unintentional background, in fact, MATCH?

What was surprising about this particular audition, however, was not the dissonance of old quilt to new quilt, but the fact that I hung the auditioned piece UP-SIDE-DOWN and didn’t even realize it until the next morning.  So this time, the question being begged is – should I reverse this piece?  Does it demand a horizon or something more like a fore and back ground?  Could I reverse it without losing the hut shapes, should I decide to go that way?!

I often remember the basic design principle which says:  Good design works in all directions, and sometimes specifically take pictures so that I can turn the piece on my screen and view it rigorously from another angle (obviously you don’t need a camera for this, but something about looking at a picture of a work-in-progress is instructive, as well).  But this is not about that.

Fearlessness with quilting, by the way, is often about cutting.  Snip, snip.

21 thoughts on “where is your edge

  1. serenapotter

    Personally i like it with the dark area providing the “top” and i’m not sure why.

    quilting murderously…ummm i get a lot out of anger, but i think it shows. it’s hard to be livid and quilt, at least by hand. though i have done it, but later thought…should have waited on that.

    i think my better quilts and designs are made of frustration more than anger.
    i have one that is destined for nicholas…needs sashing and to be worked into a top, but never photographed.

    and there was such a frustration inside of me through the entire experience. feeling like everything was falling apart.

    i think at the heart of quilting is control. i think that’s why it does appeal to women in particular, because women often control little in their own lives…dictated first by family, then various mates and then children, and lastly their own bodies which prohibit and restrict quite a bit of what they’ve longed to do for so long.

    and then despair, hope, loss, longing. but murderous rage…i think you’re right that’s more about cutting. got your box. thanks for the william morris. mama actually needed it to finish a top.

    go quilt murderously and report 😉 just don’t become one with your needle or scissors for that matter.

  2. Julie

    I think your piece works ‘upside down’ while it is on the quilt on your design wall as sufficient of the hut shapes work either way up but for me I prefer it the original way up when I view it in isolation. I didn’t notice it was upside down at first either until I read your blog entry. My first reaction on opening your page and viewing the first image was ‘Wow, what an wxciting image!’

    I tend to work by hand in a slow way and don’t usually have any ‘murderous’ feelings then, the stitching calms my mind pretty much every time. However I can identify with your first commenter about feelings of frustration when working with a machine and at various times in the design process. Sometimes I wonder why I create in this way when I get so het up with some of the processes but I know I can’t stop. Serena’s comment about control is an interesting one and I had not thought of creativity in that way. I have certainly needed to regain control of my life at various times and quilting does subconsciously or otherwise answer that need. An interesting thought! My husbandmight say that my control muscle is now over exercised lol

  3. saskia

    well, do I at times feel like a murderer when making, I honestly can’t say, but I do know, because this happens so often in a piece, things seem to go really well and then I look at the piece and realise it’s rubbish and what I then have to do is cut out or paint over or something the bit I like most and have been working around and trying to save and that recklessness saves the whole piece! I hadn’t noticed your piece was upside down until I read your post, and what an interesting post it is, thank you!! found you through Jude. By the way I like the free feel of all the patches of cloth in your quilt.

  4. deedeemallon

    wonderfully thoughtful responses, here.
    Serena, your comment that control is a big part of quilting’s appeal makes a ton of sense to me… And Julie, I also find much of the handwork, in particular, satisfying and calming as well. As for pieces that don’t work or that I hate, putting them away and pulling them out later seems to be a good practice. If I really hate them, cutting is not so much an act of fearlessness as an attempt to remediate.

    Thanks for looking, Annie, Deb, and Saskia!

  5. deedeemallon

    good point, the calculating kinds of destruction bear mentioning… our shadows are wide and deep, and I suppose part of the exercise as artists is to invite all the players in… and while we’re at it, murder can be slow and exacting, and fearlessness can be meticulous and time-consuming!

  6. deanna7trees

    i think you can quilt murderously and as Ueland says “with recklessness and freedom”, however it will probably wind up being appealing and meaningful to you but not to anybody else…maybe. that’s where i’m at right now but i’m moving ahead to see what happens.

  7. deedeemallon

    or maybe that furiously created scrap has to be more thoughtfully included in something at a later time? I think I’ve done this now and then.

  8. Jacky

    This is amazing. A myriad of colours, textures, shapes. Very exciting…and I didnt even notice the huts were upside down !!!
    I dont think I’ve ever stitched murderously, I usually use stitch to calm me… If I felt murderous I’d probably just pick up the scissors and throw them (how murderous is that!). Luckily that hasnt happened as yet hee hee.

    Great post.

    Jacky xox

  9. deedeemallon

    thanks, Jacky… just enjoyed a visit to your blog! Good point (no pun intended) about staying away from the scissors in a rage!!

  10. Jill Luigs

    LOVE THIS! I was just blogging about writing art while I was in a life-drawing class with a nude model. As the students were drawing I was writing murderously!!!! 17 pages and stopped only because my hand couldn’t go on… I absolutely love your concept, and I’m with you 100%! http://jillluigs.blogspot.com/

  11. lindamorris

    dee i love this thoughtful post and really Relate to the “hiding for undue amounts of time behind skill acquisition ” part .has got me thinking .

  12. deedeemallon

    Jill – I can write murderously, too, and often do. It is one of the things I do to stay sane. I’m old enough to worry about who will read the damn pages when I’m gone.

    Linda… thanks for your note. I find all kinds of ways to hide… gathering skills is just one way.

  13. Robin

    Fascinating post. I know I have to flip back and forth between fiber and paint, and I do think it’s because paint lets me be murderous. I just can’t find the same wild freedom and abandon in stitching. Nor can I find that meditative repetition in painting. I seem to need both at different times. It does make it hard to find your voice, but then, as Ueland says, maybe that voice has to incorporate many selves and will look different at different times.

    Love your idea of throwing your WIP on the older quilt to see how it interacts!

    Hi Robin — I can’t find wild abandon, generally, with stitching either… although, sometimes working fast, hard, cutting and re-arranging and stitching with a machine, I come close… which is one reason I don’t think I’ll ever abandon the machine as a valuable tool.

  14. glensbirdonawire

    particularly loved your comment about the challenge of finding one’s voice with cloth…and the bit about being able to hide behind the process of skill-acquisition for undue amounts of time just screamed at me! .. …have printed off you whole paragraph and stuck it on my inspiration wall, hope that is OK……….have even set up the beginnings of a new second blog on the strength of it, to ensure I use it as a catalyst to take braver steps…a way to go, but a small beginning…..thanks Dee!

    GLEN — thank you for such positive feedback… I think acquiring the skills is important, but so is being willing to toss away the rules, right? I will check for your blogs.

  15. dancingcrow

    People do talk a lot about finding their passion, however I’ve found I get much farther addressing my irritation, frustration and grumpiness. For me it becomes telling myself to “shut up and sew” (from long ago when I was part of a Morris team with political issues, and finally someone would shout “Oh, SHUT UP and DANCE!!”).

    Although once I am working, there is less room for anger or irritation. Then I am paying attention to the next step.

    For what that is worth. I do like at least the idea of sewing murderously.

    Lee – I LOVE that — “Oh, SHUT UP and DANCE!!” – it has all the potency of Nike’s slogan – “Just Do It”. Glen, in the comment above, talked about posting something for inspiration, and I may print out THAt and put it somewhere highly visible… “SHUT UP AND DANCE!”

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