November 12, 2013

Quilting Regret

I finished piecing the top of "Regret" back in March, described here, where you can see the whole composition.  It took me a long time to figure out what to do about the quilting.  My working plan was to do straight-line machine stitching, which I felt to be in keeping with the starkness of the image/message.  Here's a small maquette I did, quilted in this fashion. (Figures in the final version are placed slightly differently.)
But I couldn't figure out what to do in the black figures, which I thought should be quilted differently from the background.  I was also considering parallel lines going in just one direction through the whole quilt, maybe diagonally.  I had considered hand-quilting, but didn't want the "softness" of look/feel one gets with hand-stitching.  And part of me felt, "I've been working on this quilt long enough.  I want to get it over with, and machine stitching will be so much quicker."

Then I took Dorothy Caldwell's workshop on "Human Marks" last spring.  One of the exercises in the class led me to a stitch (improvised, done while blind-folded, to the word "dialogue") that I've come to think of as my "conversation" stitch.  I tried it out in a small sampler piece (stitched on an entirely different project), detail below.

I decided that this stitch would be meaningful to use in this quilt about regret, which, after all, often comes from missed conversations, or conversations gone awry.  I began the stitch in the black areas.  I liked the way the stitch looked on the back side of the quilt as well, so in the red areas, I've done the same stitch, but worked from the back.  Here's the corner of the quilt that I've quilted so far.  (Ignore the long blue stitches--that's just basting to hold the layers together).

A close-up of the stitching is the top photo in this post.  I've used an occasional black thread in the red area.  I may or may not keep it in--I'll see what I think when more is stitched.  Very easy to remove if I don't like it (one of the benefits of hand-stitching--machine stitching is much more difficult to remove).  I may also try a little red stitching in the black.  The thread, by the way, was dyed to match my hand-dyed fabrics, just lightening the black into charcoal, so that it would show up on the black.

I wanted to keep the quilt as flat as possible (easier with machine stitching than hand-quilting).  I tried stitching just through two layers of fabric, no batting at all (which is how many of Dorothy Caldwell's pieces are done), but I found I missed the sense of weight as I held the fabric on my lap.  I tried a couple of thin battings, but one was not thin enough, and the other "bearded" (bits of batting work their way through the fabric).  I ended up using just a layer of black flannel in the middle--thin, easy to work with the needle, but still gives me the weight I like to feel as I hand-quilt.

Below is the back of the quilt, before quilting.  One of my other quilting ideas had been to write out in machine-stitching the regrets that have fueled the making of this quilt, and I made a list of them to prepare for that.  But when I did trials of the quilting, I found it not satisfying--one can't be as fluid in machine stitching words (especially over such a large surface as this quilt, about 60" wide) as one can in writing by hand.  I decided instead to incorporate the words by writing them on the back of the quilt, and I'm happy with that choice.  Rather than writing in straight lines across the whole quilt, the sentences are written out in sections.  To obscure the writing, I overlapped the lines a little bit.  Words are still sometimes legible, but it is difficult to read more than a word or two in a row, even for me.

Many thanks to my fellow students at Dorothy Caldwell's workshop, whose diverse and beautiful work have so inspired me--and who also coached me through the process of dyeing thread, which I hadn't tried before.  And thanks to Dorothy for her total love of mark-making, and for the encouragement to slow down, and to look at the back of things.

. . . . .

It might be that machine stitching in parallel lines would have been a better choice for the final appearance of this quilt, and it's not impossible I'll do another version that way some time.  But sitting with the quilt for the months it will take to finish this, maybe letting some of my regrets dissipate a bit along the way. . . it's been the right thing for me to do.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing your process of discovery with your quilt. The quilt is simply stunning! I have been doing lots of reading about the "hard edge" painters lately. Your design is as powerful as any of them.

  2. The "human marks" are a nice balance to the hard edges. And the writing on the back makes this so personal...even though I can't read any of it!.