September 2, 2015

Accident 2, top done, and the context of the original Accident quilt

The top is done. It measures about 60 x 100."  

I do not have the full sense of satisfaction that I sometimes feel when I complete a piece--that I have gotten just what I wanted, or so close that there are no thoughts about going further.  But I am content enough to work further with this top to bring it to completion as a finished work.  I am thinking of doing hand-stitching through the top and a second layer of fabric (no batting); I have begun stitching trials.  It is less an issue of what stitching will add to the piece, as my needing to sit with it, stitching.

I have been thinking all along that I would leave a white rim around the printed area, maintaining the rough visual edges where the dye was scraped.  But I may decide to turn under the edges.  With the help of Photoshop, here's what it would look like:
If I later decide to do a different version of this piece, here are the things I would repeat and the things I would change:

  • the colors of turquoise, blue, ochre, and black
  • overdyeing most of the text, but leaving the key phrase in white
  • the size/style of the lettering
  • Work on making a better transition between the turquoise and the blue.  (I would need to get help with this--I tried various methods on samples, and could not get the look I wanted.)
  • Try a version with the ochre placed differently.  I'm satisfied with the slash in this version, but could see trying something else also.  Of the small watercolor sketches below, I'm most interested in #2 or 3.
  • If I leave a white rim, watch the shape of the large black area.  I didn't mean for it to get narrower towards the bottom.  (This is one thing I could adjust on the existing piece, if I decide I want to--I can just add more black.)
  • And more radically--and perhaps the most likely one of these I would do--I could change the scale and focus by cropping to the area immediately around the highlighted line.  I didn't think of this until I took a detail shot of that area of the quilt.  I think this could be a piece in itself.

* * * * * *
My intention is that when I show this quilt, it will be in close proximity to the first Accident quilt, a small piece (35x48") in which I stamped a narrative of the night my son died in 2004.  I want the viewer to be familiar with the narrative--so that it is recognized in the second piece, without a need to decipher the obscured text.  The focus instead is on expression through color and shape.  For Accident 1, I intended the reader to stand and read the narrative.  

I hope the narrative will be legible to you on screen here (double-click for a larger image), and if you read it through, I think you will see why I chose to highlight the phrase that I did.  

The color of the cloth is the color of the mud that covered Jeremy's body.  I dyed many pieces of fabric before I came to the color that matched the evidence I kept as well as my memory of it.  I incorporated much of this fabric into the back of the quilt.  I used the same color dye for the diagonal slash in Accident 2.

* * *
I could not have done this piece without a great deal of help, inspiration, and encouragement.  Thanks first to Claire Benn.  I signed up for her September 2014 workshop on "Graphics & Graffiti" in order to get more ideas for using text on cloth.  In addition to getting a lot of practice with text, it was there that I learned the technique of making a paper laminated screen; a small version I did at the workshop using a couple of lines from the Accident narrative was the beginning of this piece.  Claire had mentioned that one could work very large with this method, but when I started to think about doing just that, I realized the many challenges of upscaling.  When I wrote a few questions to Claire, she suggested that we talk it through on the phone.  I am deeply grateful for her encouragement to work this large, despite the challenges, and for the time she took long after the class to explain in detail how I could adapt the technique to this scale.  Thank you so much, Claire!

Thanks also to my husband David, who is my steady interlocutor for many aspects of this process.  He understands as no one else can the grief (and the process of living with grief) that shapes this work.  I often rely on his eye to help with design decisions as well.  And for this piece especially, he was my studio assistant, as I relied on his physical help for setting up the huge print table, and other tasks in the printing process that I could not do on my own.

Finally, thanks to my friends in the Quilters by Design Group.  They have seen all my major pieces in progress, and I depend on their supportive critique to move the work forward.  I am especially grateful that our teacher, Bill Kerr, has been able to come to some of our gatherings; the response and advice he's given on these two works on the accident have been especially important.


  1. Hi Penny, fantastic that you have completed this work. It has very real impact, even on the small screen. I'll email you with thoughts and observations on your ideas for next steps as too much to write here. Thanks for sharing this emotive work. CB

  2. Thank you for sharing your work and process here. As a mother, this is heart-wrenching to see, but as an artist, so vital to explore how your world has been shaped and altered. I’m very relieved to learn that your husband is such a physical part of the process. To move through this grief with him and then show it to the world is a brave, brave thing. XO Amy