22 January 2016

Getting to “Congratulations”—from first ideas to finished products

Anyone who has given a quilt talk gets a couple questions that are real chestnuts—how long did it take and where do you get your ideas.  This post will get at both, I think.

After an enormous 16 month push resulting in acceptance of a piece called Roman Glass (78.5” by 78.5”) to Circular Abstractions (juried and curated by Nancy Crow, opens Aug. 25, 2016 at the Muskegon Museum of Art), I realized that I’d developed a new way of working (at least it was new for me) that suited me and also fit with a rather germinal plan I had to do a series of quilts about ancient objects. 

Not long after that project was completed, Brenda Gael Smith announced her next travelling exhibition on the theme ”a matter of time”.  Though only one entry by any one artist would be accepted, she allowed multiple entries.  I’d had a quilt in the first of her exhibits ( Beneath the Southern Sky) and though I entered two quilts in her next one (Living Colour), neither was selected.  I saw both exhibitions and know that there was no way either of my entries to LC would have worked.  Brenda has a wonderful eye for color and flow and her exhibitions absolutely sing. 

So for round three (a matter of time), I was determined to be as on key as possible.  I decided to work on three of the ideas that announced themselves to me most clearly.  There were some others but they didn’t insist on being made.  I also consciously avoided anything I presumed others might do--so for me that meant to stay away from clocks, trees, the faces of elderly people and other motifs that others might pick and would probably execute better than I would (as these don't tend to be ones that I've gravitated toward in my quilts).

I tend to work from intellectual ideas that interest me.  Are you shocked?  Doesn’t everybody say they “work from nature and observation”?  Nope, I am an academic at heart and studied Latin and Greek at school and have a huge interest in metaphor and literature—so my ideas come out of my head rather than in through my eyes most of the time--at the beginning of the process in any case.  The other place ideas come from is the desire to try out an effect.  For instance, I’m a quilter who needs to know how they do that whether it is a Y seam or the illusion of glowing through color placement. 

The first entries in the sketchbook show that the idea that works out is sometimes the very first one to hit you—but it is rarely as refined as it needs to be.  As the photo shows, I sketched an amphora which was slightly off center and touched top and bottom of the frame.  This would become Patina: Ancient Amphora.

Next to it is the first germ of the idea to have a bit of central red, black on one side and white on the other, quilted in top to bottom straight-ish lines.  You could say that this eventually split into both of the other ideas that I would see to completion.
Here are the two that eventuated from that second idea.
 This one is Red Shift: A Matter of Time and Place.  Hand dyed, then sprayed to punch up the color further.  It is quilted in 8 colors of 28wt Aurifil.

This one is called This Red Hot Moment.  I was quite happy to get that center to glow.  One early test had one slightly greyed orange in the mix and, boy, that put the fire right out.  I was also feeling pretty clever when I needed one extremely pale pink and achieved it through layering a less opaque white fabric over a light pink.

Patina was more complicated.  Elaborate improvisational piecing using Kona solids, silk, peppered cottons, paint stick on cotton, and a much more elaborate quilting pattern (researched from ancient amphorae and other Greek and Roman ornament--and then a heap of improv, poly and metallic thread.  

 So here is Patina with a handle and  a slightly adjusted composition.  All piecing.  No applique.

[Side note--I actually sewed through my left index finger making this quilt.  I was sewing an area with heavy seam overlaps and the machine balked and my hand lurched and, well, let's just say that it was lucky I was at a quilt retreat with a former school nurse (thanks, Donna!).]

And how long does it take?  Well, less than the time to put a patina on bronze, but more than my full-time career easily affords me so the holiday break had a lot less to do with preparing turkeys and far more to do with sitting down at my APQS George to quilt.  I made about half of the fabric for Patina at a three day retreat (but punctuated with some side projects so it was not three continuous days on that project).  
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