Saturday, September 17, 2011

Interesting question - quilters from Stone

I did a talk recently for a group in Stone where I was asked several quite interesting questions but one that really got me thinking. I was asked how designed my quilts are before I start making them. The answer was it depends. I might start with no very fixed idea, or I might know where every stitch goes or anything in between. That is a true answer but it really only gives you a flavour of what I mean.

I posted a lot about the process of my latest art quilt 'Quiet Moment', and I mentioned printing three versions of the reference image before I got one the right size. Before that there had already been quite a lot of design work, some formal some less so. First there had been talking to the model, then she selected some images she was happy with. I look at those images and see which ones 'talk' to me. I don't see any point in working with images that leave me cold. At best I won't do them justice, at worst they won't touch anyone else either. Once I have some images I like the look of I start playing with them on the computer. I'm looking for shapes that offend me, and details that can be misread, be it through shape, or shade. Only after that can I think about producing the reference image.  My first thought it that as they follow an image pretty closely these are probably my most designed quilts, but maybe they are just the most formally designed, with paper and everything people think of when you say design. However they evolve a lot as I work on them. If you go back and compare the images of 'Quiet Moment' you will notice many little edits as I went along. I also don't think that much about the quilting until I get to that stage so really these quilts are somewhere in the middle of my planning scale.

'Leather feathers' is one of my least planned quilt. My whole idea when I started it was to sew on leather. Yup really, that was it. Once the hide was loaded onto the frame I thought about the thread. Black to hide errors. Only then did I wonder what I was going to quilt. A bit of hand waving and it got feathers. The big one across the middle came first then the others just sort of filled it in. Maybe this isn't the way you are supposed to make quilts, but if it works it ain't daft.

The next leather quilt and indeed most of my other whole cloth quilts did have a little more planning. Usually I design the straight lines which make up the pattern and I only worry about the colors and stitch patterns when I actually get to the machine.

'Phoenix Rising' I would say is my most carefully planned and designed quilt to date and yet there is very little on paper to show for it.  This is where I seem to really diverge from most quilters (or at least the ones who talk about the process they use). I mostly plan in my head. Partly because I can't get down on paper what I can see in my head, and partly because I don't see the need to. I started off just knowing I wanted a quilt with a phoenix on it. That's tricky, you don't see many of them flying about and I am not good at drawing. On my drive out to Hemel Hempstead I see a lot of magpies though and I quickly realised they were the right base shape for my phoenix. Having solved that problem I could think more about the other details of the quilt. I spent a lot of time considering the pose, I'd have liked it to be more diagonal on the quilt but I couldn't get the aspect ratio right so it straightened up a bit, in my head over the space of certainly weeks if not months. I found fabric that read like flames and ordered it. I lay in bed at nights planning how to make and quilt the feathers of the wings. How to mark the background to get the applique in the right place, what size the quilt would be. The hardest task was the background. I could see a cityscape and I even planned that with it's applique and quilting but it wasn't right, and I knew it. It took at least eight months of play around before I settled on plain background with just the ashes quilted in. By the time I came to make the quilt I knew exactly what I was going to do. It was just like having a pattern to follow and it is exactly as it was designed, right down to all the quilting and the binding, but what design work do I have to show for it? A few photographs of magpies, and couple of printed reference images. That's it.

Some quilts do get a bit more work on paper. Usually so I can check the maths out. I think my most common sketch is a series of concentric squares or rectangles with numbers on. Down the side you will often find a list of numbers. The image is the first one I could find on my desk. It's on the back of a letter, that's pretty normal for me too. I write on whatever comes to hand when the idea strikes me. This is pretty typical of my sketch books, pages and pages full of numbers. I suppose they really look far more like maths books than sketch books but it's how I work. Greek Fossils started life like this. just a few concentric rectangles and some numbers. In fact so did Prometheus, my new monster wholecloth, although that did gain some diagonal lines in the middle.

So that's how I design my quilts, I hope it might inspire others who can't/don't/won't draw to have a go at design. You really don't need lots of art tools to design quilts (though they can be fun sometimes too). My students have become very adept at reading my design sketches, and I've noticed some of them starting to use a similar techniques for working things out. Most of the time quilts don't need a lot of details to get you the information you need. I might go from this sketch to sketches of the blocks in the quilt which would then have their cutting requirements with them. For very simple things I don't bother, I just need to know what sizes I should have at important points. Sorry if this disappoints the folks with the beautiful sketchbooks, but they don't work for me, this is how I think. I kinda wish I did produce the fancy prep work, but at least I can make the quilts.


Susan Briscoe said...

Interesting to see we work in a very similar way. The 'math's book sketchbook' page looks like something ripped out of mine!

Ferret said...

Huh, I wouldn't have expected that. I imagined yours would be full of fish and sashiko. I wonder how many more of us are hiding out there?