Tag Archives: design

the joy and misery of one quilter

I like cloth, the way it smells under the heat of an iron, the way it feels in my hand, how it drapes over my lap, responds to thread. I like stitching up bits of it and then moving the components around — first this way, then that and then the reverse and perhaps back again. Removing, adding, slicing in half, saving some parts, dispensing with others. Writing does this for me too, but cloth carries a special legacy.

My mother was a seamstress extraordinaire (think: upholstered couches with contrasting piping; lined, tailored wool blazers; Austrian shades; my wedding gown, pieced from antique laces and linens). Her mother sewed and hear tell, worked for a famous milliner in New York for some years. One of my maternal great grandmothers made quilts. There is a lineage here and a reassuring one, especially since my writing veers off into more challenging territory.

At some point, a quilt emerges, but it’s inaccurate, in a way, to call it ‘finished.’ It’s more like a slice in time. The piece could’ve come to a halt sooner or I could’ve kept going. Because digital technology makes these things easy to track, I’ve learned that it’s not unusual for me to strongly prefer an earlier, vanished iteration. I don’t wring my hands about this though and never have, not only because there’s no other way I could work but because each iteration offers some new leaping off point. Really this is about accepting one’s basic circuitry.

But even so, do I wish I brought a higher level of intention to the table? Maybe, though I’m not quite sure what I mean by that.

Self-acceptance and reliable absorption aside, misery does gain entrance now and then and when it does, you can be sure it stinks with comparison-mind.

Have you noticed how consistently comparison produces misery — as in Every. Single. Time. More and more I stand witness to its corrosive bullshit and step aside allowing the sanctity of life, my unique life, to hold sway.

Comparisons, if given free reign, would gnaw my fingers off. Is my work selling? Does it evidence a voice or is it derivative, merely? If I like X’s work a lot, is there a way to internalize her process so that it becomes my process, thereby creating work I like as much as hers? And if not, how come I can’t identify my process nearly so well? Has my color sense progressed or is it stalled? What about my themes — are they moving forward or is it the same old shit every time? What do I say to charges that I’m not staying in my lane? Why do I have so much fabric? Why does Y get acclaim in the form of gallery space, instagram likes, and invites to teach — is her work that much better than mine? — and what does it say about me that on some fundamental level I don’t care enough about all that to even step into the game?

A recent post in Jude Hill’s online class reminded me that connecting with others and letting the work be about joy might be the keys to letting the chaff fall away.

Ah yes! Look at the scraps of unnecessary thought juddering away!

Playing Card Symmetry

At last, there’s enough quilting on this piece to consider that step done. Now — how to finish? It’s a little on the big side for me — maybe 18″ wide? Back when I composed this — two years ago — I had considered placing a reverse house below the horizon line, not unlike a playing card — one knave’s head down, the other up. Didn’t stick with that idea, but now I find myself wanting at least a moon below. I can consider the idea with the app PicFrame.

It’s more interesting with two moons, don’t you think?

PS I am under the weather with a cold or flu, so forgive my delay in getting to some of your blogs. My cheeks hurt. My eyes feel furry. My nose is stuffed. This is the first congestion I’ve experienced since I started using a Netti pot about four years ago. A pretty good run, I’d say.

The Barn

Having this quilt on my wall for a while meant a couple of poor color transitions had time to prick at me. When I decided to give the piece to my brother for Christmas, I decided to tackle those spots before shipping it off. It’s not always advisable to attempt “improvements” of this kind.

First, I added some yellow in the foreground to pull the eye foreword and interrupt the blockiness of the patchwork.Stitched a few dark patterned strips on either side to lend depth and to interrupt what had been a distracting light area to the barn’s left.

And finally, I applied more hand quilting here and there and added some red bits to adjust the perspective lines on the cupola and far right eave (not terribly successfully).

The tweaks are okay. Maybe not what I hoped for. With additions like this, you always risk of either disrupting the spontaneity of the original design or of creating new problems while fixing existing ones.

This piece ran the additional risk of spoiling the (possibly impressive) fact that it’s almost entirely pieced.

Anyway. The upshot is that my remediation, successful or not, has whet my appetite for learning. How come I never learned perspective? Really? And, maybe it’s time to learn how to manage transitions more skillfully by attending to color values.

teach what you want to learn

face-shapes-traced

simplest components from African mask (see last picture, below)

We’ve all heard that right?  We teach what we most want to learn.

On the eve of teaching another class at The Boston Center for the Arts, I ought to be asking, then, “What is it that I want to learn right now?”

Hmmmmm. How to take a motif, maybe, and ‘go deeper’ with it (whatever that means). But I know what that means.

teaching

making faces

Or here’s a corollary: we give the advice we need to follow. This is extremely useful for me personally, because two of the people I routinely give advice to are Oppositional, with a capital “O”. Sometimes all I can do, is turn it around.

What advice have you given recently? Don’t fudge it by scanning memory for advice you WANT to hear. I recommend just thinking of the last three things, the most recent things, you have said to someone… in an effort to be helpful.

I’m always telling certain people to be more organized, or more responsible (and yes, yes, that applies here) but here’s the most recent thing offered:  yesterday, I suggested to someone that she partner written memoir passages that are painful with those that are joyful, so that the juxtaposition told a story, on top of those told in the passages and, possibly, to make it bearable to write the really tough stuff.  My idea for her was that a one-two step like that had the potential to turn into a dance, given sufficient air and trust.  So? Trust. Give work air? Partner the ‘uck’ with the ‘yahoo’? That’s probably pretty good advice for me right now.

four-faces-blue

building from the bottom up

Little changes make big differences

Little changes make big differences

eye lid adjustment

eye lid adjustment

looking askance

looking askance

add patterns!

add patterns!

Tomorrow’s adult class will be ‘more sophisticated’.

two sections (top and bottom) that may or may not belong together

two sections (top and bottom) that may or may not belong together

But, I’m wondering, maybe the more you break a thing down, the more complex it becomes. This I have seen time and time again in the manner of Jude Hill‘s designs and thoughts and cloths… the simpler she makes it, the more avenues spin off in every direction.

So maybe for the adults, I should make it EVEN SIMPLER!

Female kifwebe mask, late 19th or early 20th century. Unknown Songye artist. Democratic Republic of the Congo

Female kifwebe mask, late 19th or early 20th century. Unknown Songye artist. Democratic Republic of the Congo

teeny-scenery

This fragment surfaced during the flood clean up. I had set it aside to reincorporate into a larger piece, but when I saw it again, it looked complete. Added the background grid, some of the up and down stitching over the black and zig-zagged the edges. The wonderful house in black outline and tree came from a pair of Capris.

Pushing one’s preferences, but not too much

This picture was shot under a sky light that was filtering northern light through a thin veil of snow — hence the blue cast.

Are all epiphanies obvious after the fact?  Here’s my latest, associated with making this little quilt — when taking on something new, don’t change up EVERYTHING else while you’re at it.

While consciously switching scale, palette, or medium is very instructive to an artist, and probably ought to be built into one’s work rhythm on a regular basis, juggling too many projects where everything is new is disorienting.

Case in point — my first script quilts (like the above).  I was busy shifting to a paler palette, sewing more by hand, trying out gel mediums and markers on fabric, weaving strips of fabric — and getting very frustrated because NOTHING was familiar (except the collage aspect).

For the  little spiral piece, I played with some of my most beloved fabrics. . . current fabrics (in use in the Global Warming Quilt that is in progress downstairs).   This is my preferred palette.  I am drawn to very saturated colors — not always this hot, but usually this saturated.  To mix in a few washed out hues was not enough to throw me.  Further, these are patterns I love — polka dots, solar disks, spirals.

So, the teeny scale and hand stitching, which are NOT usual for me, could be dealt with.

I picked a single variegated Sulky thread and stuck with it, so that I could focus on placement of stitches and not thread.  It was so pleasurable to stitch!

PS  I am thrilled to be pushing a needle through soft layers.  In the past, I have needed to use my TEETH, often, to get a needle through because I’ve backed my quilt with an upholstery fabric and layered applique on top of piecing, and sometimes added sections of previous quilts (that would be SIX layers, one of them upholstery-weight!).