June 13, 2009


I've spent this week going from pinned up sections of strip-pieced strata to sewing together the sections with needle-turn appliqué. As I have tried this and that in the somewhat complex process of construction of this piece, the term "bricolage" came to my mind. It's a term I learned long ago when reading Claude Levi-Strauss's book, The Savage Mind; it refers to the making of something through a kind of resourceful tinkering or fiddling around, making use of things that are at hand. When making a quilt that originates in an idea, rather than a pattern, it can be a puzzle as to how to physically get the fabric to do what one has imagined. Sometimes I feel like an engineer, figuring out a process of construction. But "bricoleur" (one who does bricolage) is closer to the role, as it is not a systematic, principled process, but one of trial and experimentation.

Next spring I'm scheduled to do a talk at the college where I teach, in a series dedicated to the research/creative work of the faculty. I'm planning to talk about my turn from research to art, and knowing that this is coming up in a year, I find that I'm starting to think about the talk. This is probably why I've been noticing comparisons of the artistic process to the research/writing process. I can't think of anything parallel to "bricolage" in my life as a writer. Nothing physical (except my love of the original historical documents--though they were not material that I were subject to my physical manipulation, other than careful handling), and very little that was experimental and spontaneous in the way that working on a quilt can be.

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Below is a close-up that shows a line of applique joining strip-pieced sections. In working on this quilt I've been helped by two books that explain methods for doing layers of curved piecing, Vikki Pignatelli's Quilting by Improvisation and Karen Eckmeier's Layered Waves. These have both been very helpful to me, though I'm using hand-stitching to join the sections, rather than the machine stitching they use (Pignatelli using a blind-hem stitch and Eckmeier a top-stitch). Both books avoid using the word "applique," even though these are both methods of machine applique. It seems that many quilters are put off by the notion of applique, which is really too bad, because it makes possible virtually anything in joining fabric.

And here's a section that is all sewn up. By the way, the photo I put in my posting last week was way too dark, but my camera was on the blink and after that photo it gave up the ghost. These images taken with a borrowed camera are much better.

1 comment:

  1. Penny,
    First of all, when your talk for next spring gets scheduled - I want to know! Second, this is such a beautiful creation, I really am excited to witness its progress! All of the time and fine-tuning done with the hand work makes me think of Rob's sculptures and all the time he takes doing them by hand with hammer and chisel. I think it shows in final work done by both of you - all the attention, focus, care. Visible works of meditation.
    I'll stay tuned,