What’s the story?

It’s done. Sky indigo-dunked by me. Foreground silk, I don’t remember (arlee barr?) Pink linen: Deb Lacativa. Plaid house window: a shirt of my husband’s. There is blue-grey linen from Montreal, dark blue linen purchased in NYC in another lifetime, and scraps of a skirt that I wore to my last (and loathsome) job.

I keep asking myself — what is this little piece about?

Sometimes the story of the cloth can be found in the fabrics. The clock print would be the obvious narrative (the relentless march of time, etc.) but for me it’s all about that red plaid window. It’s warmth. It’s comfort. K wore it for years and years: camping, mowing the lawn, walking around the North Shore, fixing stuff in the house.

Somewhere I read that when quilters place a red fabric in the center of a log cabin patchwork square, it is to represent the hearth of home.

Yes. That.

A recent experience offers something akin to permission to think about this a little differently. The experience? — this season’s Project Runway (yes, it survived Tim Gunn’s departure!)

If you’re a fan of the show, you’ll know how often the judges insist on ‘story,’ which is something a little different and apart from the designer’s ‘voice.’ Each collection needs a story, the judges insist, a unifying theme. Sometimes what the designers say is laughably far-fetched, seemingly uttered just to satisfy the judges. Other times, you can see how the designer’s story directed construction and textile choices in a meaningful way.

Near the end of this season, the contestants were tasked with creating an installation, and the man who ultimately won simply could not find a narrative for his collection. He painted his cubicle an awful color and slapped up some floral cut-outs. It was dopey. It clashed with his exquisite garments. He flailed, openly complaining that he couldn’t find the story.

And yet, he won. The woven strips of leather, the craftsmanship, the authority of his designs were story enough, it turns out.

I’m still not sure what to think about this. Is the play of color and shape story enough? Maybe, maybe not. Listening (very part-time, I’m afraid) to Jude’s recent class, has me reviving old pieces. One side benefit to watching her create is this reconsidering of older work. IS this piece finished? Is that piece? Could something be added that would enliven it (i.e. tell a story)?

I’m quite certain that the reason making a gift for a particular person is gratifying, is because the recipient supplies the story. It’s built in. You start with this bib and that bob, and you’re off, all the while considering the person who will ultimately receive it. I know that this is an energetic matter, too, because as recently mentioned on Dana’s blog, after making a satisfying gift, I’ve tried to trick myself into thinking a subsequent piece was also a gift, to no avail.

Thoughts, please?

26 thoughts on “What’s the story?

  1. Mo Crow

    Sometimes it’s best to let the work tell the story, I remember visiting my father in my last year of art school & although he thought my body of work was quite interesting, he let me know that my artist statement was a distraction and not worth the paper it was written on… I try to keep the statements brief and to the point.

  2. Nancy

    My own thoughts here may not be to deep or an answer to your ponderings. My first thought was about the nature of ‘time’ in this piece…living under the watchful eye or the pressure of time. Next, I love that you use old clothing items that hold meaning to you. I’ve a few saved, but have not been able to cut into them. Then, after the move…will I ever sew again? Next, I have an a-ha that I ‘could’ put my machine on the new desk I treated myself to – if indeed I do want to do that kind of sewing. Mmm? Then there is the whole ‘gift’ idea…the story (if they chose to be storytellers) really does belong to the one gifted, in the end. I don’t think I’m making sense. Why do we think there has to be a story anyway? I am not sure, but it has always been important to me, but why?

    1. deemallon Post author

      Well I do think story telling is a basic human drive. I’m not sure I’m asking the right question.

      Hope you find a way to create again. As we start to think about downsizing, I’m in awe of others who have done so. It seems so freaking overwhelming! But I don’t need to tell YOU that!

  3. Joanne

    I showed a picture of something I made and didn’t like- no story-on my blog last week. Two different commenters told me what the cloth said to them–same story. So, I had created story unintentionally. Or subconsciously. Perhaps you and I try too hard?

    Any black walnuts yet? I have no idea when the tree makes them.

    1. deemallon Post author

      I think I’m more interested in the story that arises between artist and the work. Less about audience (partly because that’s out of our control). I can’t tell if, on this score; I’m trying too hard or not hard enough. I think it might be the latter.

      Black walnuts are just starting to litter the yard. I thought of you yesterday looking at them.

  4. ravenandsparrow

    We are always trying to make patterns out of what we see, so we will project a story to help ourselves understand. When I look at your assemblage, I see Home (yes to the welcoming red plaid window) set alone into a wasteland (winter? mountains? frozen lake?) under the eye of time. A story for sure, but not perhaps the story you meant to tell, if that story even articulated itself to you. Sometimes the act of creation itself is the story…the intuitions about this scrap next to that one, backed by another one, coalescing into something step by step. I often find myself feeling my way along as the piece I’m making becomes what it wants to be. However, there does have to be enough energy from somewhere to get me working in the first place, so yeah, what story? The best ones arise from a combination of the mysterious interior intention with the uncoiling object, leavened in the end by the eye of the beholder. A fabricated post-story is always a lie.

    1. deemallon Post author

      As usual, you say it so well! There definitely was the notion of winter and some of the desolation that comes with that season. And the contrast with a sheltering warmth. I’m going to think about this idea that the act of making itself can be the story. That sounds right to me.

    2. Joanne

      I also think the work will find it’s way to story. We can’t force it. and as you say- the work/story sometimes (often) doesn’t translate. I remind myself of abstract painters going on and on about what all those blobs of paint on canvas mean and think–WHAT??? Are you nuts???

  5. fiberels

    Some people are gifted with cloth
    Some people are gifted with story
    Some people are gifted with both (Jude, Hazel)

    Are recognize the “gift-thing-story” : it unravels while working …
    That’s always such a great feeling !

  6. Liz A

    I’ve come back to this post several times, pondering. I can only speak for myself, but the cloths I most love are the ones that “became” … that took on a life of their own and became something other than what I originally envisioned. And the tale of their making is the story I hold close.

    Another thought … because I’m hearing impaired, I usually don’t understand lyrics when I hear a song played. The exception is when I am able to sit close enough to hear a singer-songwriter tell the story of a song’s making, then lip-read the words as they are sung. Once that happens, I tend to love the song forevermore.

    I think that’s why I love the blogs that detail process … telling the story of each cloth’s making and giving it context within a larger life. Blogs like yours … for which I am most grateful.

    1. deemallon Post author

      interesting about the listening to the songwriter talk about a song first and how having that background enriches (makes possible?) the subsequent enjoyment.

  7. Saskia

    so much has already been said in previous comments with which I agree, but I have something to add as well (of course I do)
    the story in a piece evolves during the making, which can last years depending on how focused you are/I am…..so the story changes, shifts, is forgotten, remembered, diluted, et cetera and once finished can become more (or even less) once others start looking at, projecting onto and commenting about it. At least that’s what I’ve experienced, as I’m sure you have too.
    I did not know that about the red in a log cabin quilt, I do like to think that such an idea can be ‘read’ by folks all over the world, once you are in the know.
    There’s still so much for me to learn about cloth. Coming here is a good place for that.
    I like that the moon clock looms so large over the landscape and the house offers a safe, warm haven with the heart of red.

    1. deemallon Post author

      yes! things evaporate, coalesce, remain underground, are forgotten, scream to be told… you remind me of the living nature of stories — no surprise, being a story teller extraordinaire yourself!

  8. Hazel

    First of all, I thought log cabin hearth in your window before reading your words.
    This is my third reading of your post, keep thinking I’ll be able to pull the bazillion thoughts together about it all…but no. I went blank and wordless when asked about a piece last week, so this has been on my mind, too. Will say that I think story takes makes “shapes”- words, colors, emotions, pictures, process, and things that I can’t figure out how to express just yet.

    1. deemallon Post author

      Sometimes I think it’s a ‘lens problem’ — this idea that my work doesn’t tell a story. I actually think that way about my writing too — how I can write well, yes, cast a scene, but tell a story?! I wonder if I just (just!) reoriented my thinking… Your pieces seem rife with narrative whether you can speak them or not.

  9. Marti

    I too have come here many times to ponder the question of what is story. Do I have a story when I work with my dyed cloths? You know, I don’t know because for me, story is process, story is magic, story comes when you least expect it, story cannot be manipulated…yet all of my cloths have one central theme, gratitude and quiet joy in the ordinary gifts of the land, as well the discards along the wayside of rusty bits, etc. all combining to create landscape collages. I say all of this because of how I work with cloth.

    Never intended to participate in a cloth journey but when the ability to take foraged gifts from the land, something I had always done but only to display, when the knowledge that these gifts could give color and markings, well a whole world opened up, so many chapters in a simple but universal story of noticing the ordinaries of our world, the rocks, weeds, leaves, blossoms, bark, walnuts, thrown away rusty bits and how how all of them combine to speak to me of one singular motif- love and respect of our Earth. So in that sense, my cloths, my landscape collages are a continuing story with chapters that always begin and end with the joy and gratitude of honoring the land.

    Yes, there have been times when I have had intent, a specific theme, an idea in mind and here is why I used the word manipulate because when I have tried to fit the cloth scraps to tell a particular story of place, invariably those cloth pieces have been ripped out and I begin again. I do so because what I have come to know is that story cannot be forced. My stories of land and place come quietly with a soft whisper, a turning out of all of the naturally dyed cloths onto a table, or my bed and then slowly, my hand moves to each piece as if guided by a sense of elemental magic…NOW I know this is so woo-woo but it is the only way I have to describe how my cloths come to be…

    Just to say also that Dee, when I look at your cloth, what comes to mind so strongly, one word that contains the whole of home and that is Shelter.

    1. deemallon Post author

      I thought I would have more to say back after reading this again, but the singular thing for me about your comment (your life as you describe it), Marti, is how much I am moved by a body of work motivated by and infused with gratitude!

  10. Ginny

    It’s a gorgeous piece, and more-so with the history of her bits and pieces. Just like you!

    To me it speaks of the passage of time, the earth and our past rising up to meet us, and keeps going. Love that you used a work skirt in it. (I look forward to the day I can scrap my work attire!) So great you made something so beautiful with them. And how funny to think how these past, unpleasant strips, can add to the beauty of the whole. Wonderful work Dee.

    1. deemallon Post author

      Thanks, Ginny. Actually, I have still have the skirt, but to make it wearable, I had to cut off five inches and since it was a full skirt, that was quite a lot of fabric.

  11. Gin

    PS Love that I can see a bridge in the middle. Either a bridge across a river, or a body flying head down across a river into the past/earth.


Love to hear what you think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s