I have been working on a geometric piece this weekend. It was two mid-sized panels of fairly finished piecing with green leaves and hut shapes — part Treasure Island Quilt leftovers, part Global Warming colors and themes.
With lots of cutting, seaming, repositioning, pawing through bins looking for this particular scrap or that one, sometimes lucking out and sometimes not, I found myself aware that the ‘endless re-arranging’ cycle of design was in full swing. I was curious – was there some way to minimize this phase and still produce something really pleasing? In the past, I’ve noticed that the endless redesigning doesn’t necessarily produce IMPROVEMENTS, but instead generates variations. I really didn’t want to design six quilts in the process of making ONE – not this time.
So, what if I made this quilt about something entirely different than some of the original piecing would dictate? And what if having that new idea in my head directed my remaining choices in a way that was more efficient?
Yesterday, after dropping my thimble down in between the bleachers at C’s track meet, I abandoned the Choo Choo blanket quilting and plucked out my kindle. I have been reading a book about the Middle Passage called “The Slave Ship – A Human History” by Marcus Rediker. Even when I’m at home, I only read this text a little at a time, partly because it is horrifying to absorb, and partly because it’s on my kindle, which I’ll admit I use primarily for playing Scrabble.
But this morning, remembering the true account I’d just read of the rape of an 8 year old girl by the ship’s captain, I glanced up at the quilt, and suddenly saw its potential to become about the slave trade… the kidnapping of families from their homes, the dreadful march to the coast, the disgusting, brutality-filled, and dehumanizing trip across the Atlantic.
The quilt features what had previously struck me as an overly large black piece of snake fabric. Perhaps I can think about this differently now. The surrounding lush colors, which in an earlier thought process had represented Africa (from Treasure Island Quilt for A Boy), will remain about Africa. But now the chaotic patterning and fragmentation will stand in as a visual representation for the ruination of souls… the process of turning a person into a piece of property. The loss of so much more than home, but also that.
The questions, then, about whether to make the piece two panels or one…
and how to resolve the lower edge, will now be informed by an entirely new set of criteria… consistent with what has already been worked, but potentially introducing some new elements.
The black floral roof tops (there are two above) came from a dress that looks distinctly African in design – I may introduce more pieces of that. The black/teal tie dye was handmade in Africa – I may use more of that. Once upon a time, I found vintage drawing of bodies squished into the lower deck of a slave ship. I may transfer those onto fabric and find a way to include. I may make the whole lower edge a balance sheet, with human beings symbolized as assets. Who knows yet.
Or maybe I’ll just finish it up, with a new decisive eye.
It doesn’t matter if the idea translates literally into what is pieced and stitched. What matters for now is that the thoughts provide organizing principles. Not only do I hope to avoid the endless rearranging that I sometimes fall into, I also hope to make something with a kind of punch that only these sets of thoughts and feelings could provide.
Lovely work–I like the two-panel idea—Julierose
i love hearing your thought process and really like what you have put together here. it’s like writing a novel…one chapter at a time.
lovely colours in top photo; it is indeed a treat to read about your thought process and how this might shape the outcome and possibly the feel of a piece. wonder if you can ‘skip’ the endless rearranging, if so explain please, ha!
thanks everyone… after continuing work yesterday, it may go on and on anyway!
Julierose- I am working the piece as one, but it could return to two before finishing….
Deanna – your comment reminds me of Annie Lamott’s book about writing, “Bird by Bird” – where her title refers to the idea that a book gets written chapter by chapter, as you say. Looking up the correct spelling of her name just now, I found this:
“E.L. Doctorow said once said that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”
saskia – I’ll keep you posted!