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.


  1. Words cannot really express anything but this is absolutely exquisite. I love what you say about immersion in color. You are a good tender of your broken heart.

  2. The texture, the colors, the meaning behind each choice and decision, all the precision work...you have brought it together in an expression of hope.

  3. WOW! How beautiful! Reading about Shelter brought me to tears...how moving both your journey and the quilt are, one enhancing the other. The color, texture and design all work together to create meaning and beauty.

    May you find shelter in the open arms of all who love you.

  4. Penny, I love the large scale created with the small slices. I'm wandering if the quilting in the ditch is significant to the meaning as well as the design.

    Jeremy's story lives on. We may not have known him but your love for him is so evident. Hopefully, through your art and friendship, we can ease your burden. We see his beauty. JIll

  5. The finishes Shelter is stunning, Penny. I think it has and will continue to offer you and David shelter as well as Jeremy.

  6. The curve in the quilt is exquisite, Penny. I read that it was dictated by the arc you could draw without moving your feet. That says a great deal. I can feel the engulfing of loving arms in that curve. The many pieces fitting into one another over and over again reiterate the movement of the curve. It is an instinctive move we make to shelter and protect. It is a movement filled with the deepest love. Thank you for sharing Jeremy, David and yourself. May you all find shelter in the open arms of those who have loved you. I love the comfort in that phrase for all of us. Marny