March 31, 2013

Using black

I timed a recent visit to New York so that I could see a large Matisse exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  When I think of Matisse's use of color, I think of his vibrant blues, greens, yellows, oranges, and reds.  The label next to two paintings of apples included this quote from Matisse on his use of black:  "Before, when I didn't know what color to put down, I put down black.  Black is a force:  I used black as a ballast to simplify the construction."  Ah, if Matisse sometimes had to rely on black, then I don't feel so bad about my own use of it.  I am especially drawn to using black when working with solid fabrics.  But I've felt a little guilty about it, because it does simplify decisions.  Scroll down through these images from the Matisse show, and you'll see the many places he uses black, including the two 1916 paintings of apples, where I saw the quotation.  The apples also here and here.

So, here are some thoughts on work where adding black in has, I think, improved it.  I took a workshop recently from Sherri Lynn Wood on doing improvisational quilting, starting from a traditional block.  I started out from a "rail fence" block.  Here's a photo of a pretty standard rail fence layout, which consists of a combination of four small blocks, each of them with parallel "rails":

And below is an array of the piecing I did in the workshop, improvising off of this basic model. (Double-click to enlarge the image.)  Starting at the top left is a pretty standard block, but with the rails cut free-hand, with no attempt to be precisely regular.  The changes proceed from there (moving left to right and then down).  In the second row, on the left, you can see the swath of strip-pieced fabric (tan and teal here), from which the smaller blocks would be cut (a typical way to construct the smaller blocks, so that each doesn't have to be pieced individually).  Then in the 3rd row, I simplified the color, putting in black and reducing the color to two shades of one color.  I liked this more, especially the third one (yellow-green), where I also curved the lines for the black pieces, rather than having them straight. 

In fact, I would have stopped there, quite satisfied with the results of the workshop, but there was another hour or so to go, so I figured I may as well continue on.  I made another swath of strip-pieced fabric (bottom left), but left it in a vertical arrangement (pieces put in a different order).  Then I got the idea to leave the larger swath whole, but to break up the piecing in the middle piece, which resulted in the final two pieces in the bottom row.  These I really love!
I will definitely come back to these.  I think a number of them could combine well into a quilt.  And/or I could do a somewhat larger version of one swath and make it into a table runner.

But first, I'm going back to the intermediary result of the black/2 shades rail fence, working this up into a lap-sized quilt.  I chose four colors of Kona cotton, and then dyed some fabric to make a lighter shade for each:
I worked up some blocks in each color, to see if I wanted to continue.  Answer is yes:

There will be endless possibilities for how the blocks will eventually be laid out.  Should be fun to play with.

So, hurray for black, with colors. . .


  1. Very striking & powerful!


  2. I agree - those verticals are very dynamic. The color blocks look luscious, too!

  3. I am really interested in the process of improvisational designing. Thanks for a clear explanation plus photos. I love the H block and your simplified color choices.

  4. Thanks for your comment, Vickie. It's interesting to me that the block turned into an "H." When I designed it, I was thinking of it horizontally, in which case it reads like railroad ties. But vertically, yes, it changed to an H.