December 15, 2014

Two quilts accepted into QuiltCon

My blog has been silent for a few months, as I was spending more time than usual on some travel, a workshop at the Crow Barn, and then an unexpected month-long stint back working at the college, substituting for someone who took an unexpected leave.  What time I had for my own work, I spent sewing rather than writing about sewing.  I did line up topics for several posts, and I hope to know come back to them and catch up.

Good news from QuiltCon also pushed me to the computer.  This is the second time the Modern Quilt Guild has put on a national convention/exhibition.  In 2012, I submitted three quilts, none of which were accepted.  This year I submitted another three, two of which were accepted; the show will be in February.  The quilt that wasn't accepted was Regret, not too surprising, as it is more an "art quilt" than a "modern quilt," though the line between these is pretty hazy.  (And not a debate I'm interested in getting involved in.)  I haven't yet posted about either of the two quilts that were accepted.  One of them is an improvisational quilt, done as part of a call for quilts by Sherri Lynn Wood.  She is publishing a book on improvisational quilting, and she wanted quilts by others to use as illustrations of her methods.  The quilt I made was accepted for publication in her book, and part of the agreement is that I would wait to blog about it until the book comes out.  That will happen in February, so you'll see a post or two about that quilt in a couple of months.  

The other quilt accepted in the show is called "Self-Portrait, Year 2: Beneath the Surface."  It is a large, conceptual piece (68" x 94").  It goes back to my experience of being in the second year of mourning the death of my son.  At that point, the persistent sense of grief and loss that had become the underlying condition of my life had become invisible to others.  From the outside, all looked normal.  But underneath the surface, a fundamental change in identity was being shaped.  I ended up expressing this condition with a two-sided quilt.  One side is a dusky lavender, presenting the apparently calm surface.  (Only after choosing the color, did I learn from Claire Leeds that lavender was the Victorian color of mourning, allowed after black had been worn for a period of time.) The other side--"beneath the surface"--presents a bold black and white statement.   I've asked for the quilt to be hung at QuiltCon so that both sides show.  

First, the lavender side, which looks empty.

Close up, you can see the machine stitching around the letters on the other side, so the wording is just barely visible, in reverse.

And here's a small portion of the other side, black letters on white.

I don't feel comfortable showing the whole message.  It is difficult to look at, something to be seen in person, I think, rather than on a screen.  I thought of not posting about this at all, given my discomfort with showing the image, but decided to go ahead and give you at least a partial view.  

* * * * *  

On the technical side, this was a challenging quilt to make.  As often happens, a final piece that looks simple in design was the result of many decisions on multiple fronts.  For example, choosing what font to use for the message.  I am very satisfied with my final choice (Helvetica Neue Bold), but the choice was made after many weeks of trying out various fonts, reading about typography in general, and about Helvetica in particular--including this film.  The size of font to use was another decision, and then figuring out how to print out letter templates that large.  (Thanks much to Tim Stedman of the Knox College Art Department, and to Bill Kerr of Modern Quilt Studio for their help on all things typographical.)  And how to lay out the eight words of the message--could be 4 or 5 lines, with line breaks in various places.  Once the design was settled, there were many challenges in the construction of the work.    

Because the quilt is meant to be two-sided, and I didn't want a rim of binding around the edge, I used a "pillowcase binding," which is more usually done on small pieces.  I laid out all three layers (top, bottom, batting) on the floor, holding them down with masking tape.  Here are the first two layers:

Then the third layer laid on top of those.  I used felt instead of regular batting, as I wanted the piece to be quite flat after the quilting.

Then all the layers had to be squared off and trimmed, doing all this moving around on my hands and knees.

After the sandwich was stitched and turned, I needed to mark the quilting lines. I needed something 8 feet long, rigid and straight.  Wooden molding was not straight enough, so I found a heavy strip of metal at Lowes that worked.  I used this to mark the placement of the rows (a marker worked well on the metal), and then I also used it as a guide to mark the lines, running a hera marker along the edge.

Looking through my photos, I found this one (below) of early quilting trials.  I'd forgotten that I considered quilting horizontally rather than vertically.  I also tried out various spacings for the vertical lines.  I ended up using a spacing just a little narrower than the width of the letter elements.


  1. Congratulations my friend!! It is satisfying (can't find the right word) to be able to express one's emotion in art.

  2. It's continuously amazing to me how much technical work and how many decisions are involved behind the scenes when creating a quilt! Thanks for sharing all this. And, of course, congratulations on having two quilts accepted by QuiltCon.

  3. Hi Penny - I just wanted to tell you that I saw your quilt in Austin today and was so incredibly moved. It does everything great art should do - visually express something there aren't enough words in the universe for.

    I admire your courage and so appreciate you sharing your talent - I will not forget seeing this. Ever.


  4. Dear Penny-
    I saw your quilt today and stopped dead in my tracks. On an art level, I was transported from a convention hall to an art museum. New conversations erupted in my head, and the concept of quilt shifted and changed. On a human level I was so moved by your piece. Its raw, unapologetic nature was painful and perfect. I can't imagine what this piece meant to you as you worked on it through your grief, but it engaged and moved me in a way that was unexpected and unimaginable. Thank you for sharing it. Sending love and good thoughts to you.

  5. Penny, I saw your quilt on Thursday. My friends tried to keep me from seeing it. Impossible to do when you are at a quilt show looking at quilts. They told me I should stay away from that section of the show. Not knowing what it was I was supposed to avoid, I came upon it and gasped. I'm still not sure how I feel about it. When your child is dead, you are always the mother of a child who has died on the inside. Not looking at a quilt doesn't change that. My son, Ryan, died in 2011 when he was thirty years old while working out at the gym. We had the best conversation of our lives on the Wednesday before he died. I thank God every day for that conversation.

  6. Penny, seeing your quilt made me realize/understand what my aunt and a dear friend must feel every single day. For a while after I saw it I was stunned and the black letters kept hitting me but slowly I began to love it for the message it conveys.

  7. A very stunning quilt that boldly states what you so rawly felt in the first years when interacting with people. I like that one side represents your outer presentation and the other reflects the inner self with a statement you probably wanted to shout at people. I'm awed by how beautifully you've been able to stitch your grief into your art quilts.

  8. Elizabeth AbernathyNovember 4, 2015 at 2:14 PM

    I saw this quilt at the show in Austin, walking around with my mom. I have one child, pre-school, who is alive. Still my eyes filled with tears and I had to tip my head up to keep them from running down my face. It is amazing that you made such a work of art that instantly conveys sentiment, even through I realize that what I felt (and feel even now when I just look at a picture of it) is just the smallest portion of what you feel. Thank you for making this.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Elizabeth. Knowing that the quilt has moved others makes all the hard work worth while. . .