February 13, 2016

From "Stones" to "Holiness"

In the last two months, I've spent a lot of time in my basement wet studio, dyeing many gradations of different grays.  After the first set of gradations, which went from dark gray to very light, I found myself especially drawn to the very lightest of values.  (The photo above shows scraps from the fabrics that were eventually cut into blocks.)  So, already having narrowed from a palette of neutral stone colors to gray, I found myself narrowing it further to very pale grays.  This inclination of my eye and heart led me to an understanding/decision about the aspect of the subject--stones--that I was moving into:  the quality of holiness.  The original commitment to stones as a subject goes back to the experience of the Jewish practice of leaving small stones on a grave.  I've thought about why one would leave a token of a visit, and why stones serve so well as such a token.  I've been drawing stone shapes for many years now, thinking that the beauty of the shapes would be the focus of a quilt--and it may yet still be.  But I also wanted to work abstractly, extracting from the stone as an object something of the quality that so draws me to it.  As I puzzled over my attachment to the pale gray fabrics, the idea of holiness settled into my mind.  The holiness of the place where the stones are left--the cemetery itself, as well as the grave of a loved one--and the holiness of the relationship--of the love, of the attachment, of the grief--that is embodied in the gesture of leaving a stone.

I had been thinking for a while about a composition that would be very similar to an earlier landscape quilt, "Late March."  I had adjusted the proportion of the rectangles to be more suggestive of the actual proportions of random stones--they would be 9x11" rather than 9x12".  But once I found the new subject of "holiness," rather than "stones," that seemed too small, and I scaled up the blocks to 14x17.  The final composition is 85 x 70." As I chose the colors and decided on the layout, I had these qualities in mind:  quiet, secure, solid, protective, encompassing.
"Holiness" [photo from August, 2016; unquilted cloth stretched on a wood frame]
Most of the quilts I've made in the wake of my son Jeremy's death--quilts like Loss, Shelter, Regret, and Accident--have been exhibited and then rolled up and put away--they are not meant to be used or hung on display at home.  But this one I can imagine actually using as a quilt.  It won't be for a while, though, as I plan to hand-quilt it, which will take some months.

This last photo is for those who are interested in details about what dyes I used.  Unmarked squares are from dyes I mixed myself from primaries; one other one I mixed is identified as "Carol's black"--the formula known to anyone who has taken a dyeing class with Carol Soderlund.  The 600-numbers are pre-mixed blacks from Pro Chemical and Dye; the "Black CWNA, Dark Black, and Black Bang" are from Custom Set Procion Dyes.  The second number is the DOS (depth of shade), where .03 DOS means 0.03% (or 0.0003 of weight of goods).  The orange that I mixed with one bluish black is a primary from ProChem, "Strong Orange."  Not shown here are the samples that I didn't use because they leaned too much towards green, blue, or brown.


  1. I am amazed looking at the different grays online how much "color" I can see in the different rectangles: definitely yellow and blue but even some pink.

    I hope that using this quilt to keep yourself warm will be a nice remembrance of wrapping Jeremy in the blankets that I'm sure you knitted for his crib!

  2. I leave a stone, knocking it gently on the headstone, to let them know I am there. I love the idea and execution of the quilt. Very meaningful.

  3. Penny, I am moved so much by this collection of work. That you have identified the loss that defines every day of your inner life and tried to make it visible not only for yourself but also for others, is courageous and remarkable. I feel honoured to be able to see these pieces and read your text. Thank you. xo