October 29, 2010

Shelter is completed

My work is done on "Shelter." (For the origin of this quilt, click here; for all related posts, click on "shelter" in the list of labels on the lower right side of the blog page. Double-click on the above and other photos for a clearer, enlarged photo.) "How do I feel, now that it's completed?" two good friends have asked. One of these friends, Mary Beth Clark, did a series of quilts about the loss of her mother, who had died more than 40 years previously, when Mary Beth was eight years old. (For one of those quilts, "The Last Squeeze," click here and scroll down to Episode 39.) "Does is make it any easier, having done these quilts?" I asked her several years ago, wanting to hear "yes" as an answer. "No," she said. So, how do I feel? I feel a sense of satisfaction that the piece is done. It is the most challenging piece I have done in terms of design decisions and construction techniques. The importance of the quilt to me in terms of its meaning is what gave me the steadfastness to persist through the difficulties, to undo and rework when I could see that something wasn't quite right. With this quilt done--with this hope expressed for the sheltering of our son--I can continue on with work on other ideas lined up, other aspects of my grief and loss. Will that line-up ever be at an end? I don't know. I think I hope not. Designing and making these quilts keeps Jeremy present in my heart, in my mind.

As I worked on "Shelter," I also worked on a talk, aimed at an audience of my faculty colleagues at Knox College, a talk about the central place scholarship had in my life for over three decades, and how my live has turned from scholarship to the making of art since Jeremy's death. The center section of this talk is taken from an earlier presentation about quilting, done in 2005, but this new version brings in my scholarship, and also shows the progression of quilts since 2005. I've put the talk into a web version, so that others can read it too: "From Study to Studio: Meaning and Motivation in Scholarship and Art." It was interesting to me to see how much I figured out about the quilts in the process of writing the talk, in particular, that "Loss" and "Shelter" are closely related through their color palette, as are "Pine Grove" and "Landscape." It seems unlikely that I wouldn't have realized this as I designed them, or at least when I worked on them, but I didn't. Since the talk, I've thought further about the palettes and their meanings. In "Loss" and "Shelter," t
he inclusion of the very strong complementary colors of orange and blue contributes a kind of vibration that refers to the vibrancy of life--life lost, and life hoped for. In contrast, the analogous palette used for pinegrove/landscape with its much lower level of contrast is fundamentally "quiet" and represents the refuge I need from the loss. So maybe one of the deep attractions of quilting is this immersion in color, which has such a direct link with emotions--even if I'm not thinking about it explicitly while we design/sew.

Here are some detailed shots from "Shelter." Color variations are due to different attempts to get the color correct. The full view of the quilt above probably is the best representation of the colors. Details of stitching are best seen with double-clicks on the shots below. The quilt top was done with a combination of machine piecing and hand-appliqué. The quilting was all machine-stitched in the ditch. Some photos show the appliquéd join between the tiers of color.

Most of the fabrics are commercial batiks, but there are also quite a few silks and the occasional piece that I painted or dyed myself.
In the turquoise, blue, and red-orange sections, the complexity of texture is created through variation in value (dark/light) and to some extent by hue (e.g. turquoise/green). In the black section, that didn't work, as mixing in a lot of gray diluted the sense of "blackness" that was important to the me. I used some batiks that had an element of blue or green, but to get more variation I needed to move to texture: velvet, satin, brocades.

At the end of a conversation with the new rabbi at our congregation, during which my husband and I talked with him about our lives in the wake of Jeremy's death, I asked, "Is there a prayer for someone with a broken heart." He replied, "The Hasidic Rabbi Menachem Mendel said, 'There is nothing more whole than a broken heart.'"

May Jeremy find shelter in the open arms of all who loved him.

Fusing with Frieda Anderson

My local quilt guild hosted Frieda Anderson last week. I took both of her workshops, one on free-motion quilting and one on fusing. Our guild is lucky to have as one of its members Jean Lohmar, who regularly wins national awards for her superb machine-quilted quilts. Jean regularly offers classes for the guild, and all I knew to this point was from her. I know it's good to learn from more than one teacher, so I signed up for Frieda's class, and am glad to have learned new tips and gotten ideas for some contemporary-style quilting. The fusing class was the big surprise. I took it only because Frieda was here in town, and because I know it's good to try out techniques/styles, even if you think you won't like them. I don't know that this workshop will have the same impact on me as the similarly-motivated class I took with Suzanne Marshall in 2004, which so enriched my life with the addition of hand-appliqué, but I can think of a couple of projects I've had in mind for which fusing would make construction a great deal easier. After the many months of the very challenging construction work on "Shelter," it's probably not a bad idea to give myself something a little easier for the next idea-centered quilt. It might also work to do a fused version as a first step, and then a pieced or appliquéd version after that.

The quilt above (about 17x17") is a version of Frieda's "Laughing Leaves" quilt. I'm more interested in geometric shapes than organic, so I put in squares and rectangles instead of leaves. You can see the obvious influence of Melody Johnson's work as well, another member of the "Chicago School of Fusing." Below is a detail of the quilt. Click on any of the photos for an enlarged view that will allow you to see the stitching. Following Frieda, I've stitched "in the ditch" around each design element. This is for the sake of appearance only; the fusing alone holds down the pieces. This is fine for wall pieces; if you put a fused quilt through the wash, the pieces would stay fused down, but the edges would fray.

And here's a little piece (5x6) that I made with scraps:

Thanks Frieda!