Category Archives: House quilts

Insect wings : a meditation on scale and mothers

Image result for art insect wings

I dream about making furniture out of insect wings. Tiny, sheer, delicate and for whom?

Upon rising, I think about size in creative endeavor. How scale matters. I wonder: am I working too small — somehow limiting the scope of my work — or perhaps, the opposite — making life difficult by bucking a natural inclination to work small?

A large wall quilt. A goddamned novel.

And then out of nowhere, I remember something my mother said to me when I was seventeen or eighteen: “You may very well be a miniaturist.” Her tone was curious detachment as if still considering the idea, not at all one of her emphatic pronouncements.

Hmmm.

For reasons both complicated and pragmatic, I spent my senior year at the school where my mother’d been teaching for almost a decade. For a span of nine months, then, she was both mother and art teacher to me and for nine months, I was her daughter and her student (and the ‘art teacher’s daughter’).

That year, I was perpetually embarrassed by my mother — what 17 year old isn’t? Her clothes. Her laugh. Her opinions. I still remember how cringe-worthy her repeated mispronunciation of the late Baroque period was — making it sound less like a hot beverage and more like a porn star’s screen name — Ro-COCK-oh. Again, Mom? Really?

But, overall it was good. For one thing, seeing her in her element enlarged my view of her. In particular, it lent credence to an assertion she’d been making for years about having this respected competence elsewhere (as opposed to the beleaguered and disputed competence at home). But more importantly, I was the beneficiary of her considerable skill as a teacher. Of course, she dispensed observations and enthusiasms throughout my childhood, but as her student, the feedback was sustained and structured and something a little different could unfold.

Even now, it’s hard to square my mother’s capacity to run rough shod over people with her perceptive skill in the art room. Imagine a woman walking into the teachers’ lounge of a small school where she’s disliked by a majority of her peers — a place where her chain smoking and a tendency toward dismissive, smug bombast put people off.

Now picture that same person entering her classroom and coming alive with the give and take with her students. Watch that same forceful delivery of opinion turn a shy student into an aspiring artist. Yes! That quiet student who formerly floated from class to class in ghost-like invisibility has become a person determined to make something beautiful and certain she can do it — because of my mother.

You know how teachers talk about ‘that one student’ that made their entire teaching career worthwhile? My mother sometimes had two a year.

My mother taught her students that they had something to say and that how they said it was both unique and discover-able.

Teenagers who’d convinced themselves by the ripe old age of 15 that they were ordinary or ‘just jocks’ found out otherwise in her classroom. For the wild kids (called ‘juvenile delinquents’ back then), she’d harness their misspent leadership energies without judgment, instilling no end of appreciation. “Give ’em a job,” she’d cackle.

Of course, she celebrated talent — what teacher doesn’t? For those students, her unique skill seemed to be in knowing when to gush effusively (but sincerely!) and when to step back and let them struggle. She ushered one outstanding student after another into their talent.

“You just might be a miniaturist.”

Is the observation as straight forward as it sounds — as in, ‘work small’? Given that my mother was right about an obnoxious number of things, I’m willing to consider this anew, but not exactly sure how to.When I removed a small section of a semi-large quilt to work on separately, I considered letting the fragment stand alone. I do this all the time.



(The fragment has been returned to the whole). Sometimes, when the prospect of finishing a first draft overwhelms, I get energized at the idea of trying to get excerpts published (and then, ironically, I can get back at it).Is scale of work as innate as our preference for certain palettes? And if it is, is it useful to step outside of that preference now and again and see what happens? What results if we don’t discover or honor our basic preference regarding scale — does it add pitch to the learning curve in a distressing manner, building in frustration that could be avoided? Or is this something else?

Before I go, I have to tell you we’ve had a string of truly beautiful summer days here. The weather was especially nice for a small birthday gathering for K yesterday — very Napa-valley with the tables in the yard and flowers cut from the garden. Of course, our new fire table was a big hit!

 

Insect drawing from RoyalSocietyPublishing.org.

Palm sky house



Too much blue? Added more today including at rooflines. Those are the pieces I’m considering taking off.

The bottom dark blue floral strip came from a pair of rayon pants I bought a couple of weeks ago.

More progress shots, just for fun.


Another rainy day here. Spent part of the morning at a program for the 21st Annual Mother’s Day Walk for Peace.

Wedge of orange

It repeatedly amazes me how much a micro-change can impact overall design — as in ruin it. Quilters know this because it happens all the time.

Challenge: stick to an original design as much as possible (using photo on left as reference). I am allowing the inclusion of the inadvertently captured small wedge of orange (at bottom), but no other departures!

That means cultivating an openness to novel construction techniques while simultaneously casting aside a long-standing flexible approach to accidents and mistakes. ‘Oh look, I put this section back upside-down — is it possible I like it better this way?’

(Mercurial adaptability often employed in service of laziness — but never mind!)

Even as I stitched the dotted red floral rayon onto the lower edge, I knew it’d have to go: it’s not a small wedge of orange at all! I couldn’t let myself fall down on this challenge so early on.

Other sections are coming along.


Cold and cloth 

When the rhodies do this, you know it’s cold. Had to pull my scarf up over my nose in our morning walk! Tuckered Finn out, I think.


In spite of the wintry temps, I padded up and down the cellar stairs yesterday and the day before to work on this medium-sized quilt. Used the machine down there some, then returned to heat and TV upstairs to iron and sew. Also stitched some seams by hand.

When the construction starts to foreclose possibilities, I am often disappointed.  Over the years, I have wondered if there wasn’t some other way to connect up the pieces that would more reliably capture earlier design ideas (like collage the scraps to canvas with gesso?)


I take a lot of pictures these days. But maybe I didn’t refer to them enough this time. What’s missing is an energetic flow.

While sewing this morning, I catch up on Maddow. The work satisfies me with pattern, simplicity of task, color, and measurable progress.


But it is not satisfying or productive enough by half to counteract the unfolding American shitstorm. There seems to be a theme: destruction.

I don’t get it.

Later, I’ll make beef with barley soup. Good for a cold evening, almost medicinal in its meaty and grainy deliciousness.  And I’ll turn off the news.

How the roots spread out

Reading Jude’s blog earlier I was struck by how themes and images circulate, sometimes in nonlinear ways. Her post explores “home” and features a cloth house sprouting branches out its roof. (Spirit Cloth, sidebar)

This small vertical cloth is (6″ x 13″?) combines hand piecing and appliqué. I stitched the pink roots awhile ago but keep adding chips of cloth on top, hoping to find a house in the design. 

Last night, inspired by both Jude and Hazel (handstories on side bar), I sketched somewhat mindlessly. Drawing revealed the house. 

Part of me wants to widen the quilt to create room for the structure to expand. But no. This will be an exercise in containment. 


Also: an exploration of adaptability in tight circumstances or the mystery inherent in observing another’s home when most of it is out of view. I won’t strain to connect this small quilt to the devastating roll out of the new administration, but suffice it to say that notions of safe places are very much on our collective minds. 

Unmoored


Laying down a strip at the base of Moon House quilt just now, I set the structure momentarily aside. And it struck me how apt that is: known angles canting off, the roof tumbling away in willful contrary movement, the house either about to crash back to earth leaving a splintered, uninhabitable pile of refuse or to improbably float off into the ether.


I think I’ll stitch it there. As I do, it will be a chance to sit with a conundrum. For what is anchoring down with thread that which is in free fall but a conundrum? Finn returning the ball poses a glad image of being airborne. I wish you could experience his grace, his enthusiasm, his boundless joy, how effortlessly he dwells in the moment. The house tipping over vs. the dog flying back to me for another throw.

Abandoned ‘Gingko House’

IMG_8953Here I was making a tiny little quilt, enjoying the soft feel of the felted sweater base, taking pleasure in tucking a little sliver of black silk behind the black/gold gingko print in the near-center, finding intrigue in the fiery sheer print defining the sky above the roof… (because of course the central shape took on the characteristics of a house).

IMG_8952At some point, the prospect of completing the piece made me feel bored or restless or both. 

Maybe it was that the black house had nothing to say to me.  A mute house of shadows? Or could it have been chock full of old hauntings that I just didn’t want to hear again? 

On the way up to Montreal last week, I left it in a bathroom in St. Albans, Vermont.  It was weirdly satisfying.

It may have been thrown out by the cleaning crew or it could have been grabbed by someone who saw it as an unexpected little find. Or maybe someone took it in a swipe of puzzled acquisition and THEN threw it out. I’ll never know. 

And it doesn’t matter. For me, the treasure was in letting it go. And you know what? I can now start to listen to what that dark house had to say.