creative practice & process

my Aunt Grace quilt LOC.3

Bowandarrow21420
My life-long love of super scrappy bed quilts began as a tiny child.  As a fifth generation quilter I grew up studying any number of hand sewn quilts on the beds at my grandmother's house where I was raised - and also in the upstairs bedrooms at her older sister Grace's place.  All these quilts bore the generational mark of frugal DIY ladies born at the starting line of the 20th century.  They'd been raised to make good practical use of every scrap of cloth they had to hand.  Not all at once, certainly, but eked-out slowly over time so that the various fabric patterns recurred like a narrative theme covering time, space, and an ongoing roll call of the past's play suits and pajamas and special birthday party dresses/boy's dress shirts for Good/church.

Upon immediate reflection - what I just described is what I grasp(ed) of Aunt Grace's methodology.  Her quilts were to my eye joyous and freewheeling - impeccably sewn but otherwise completely off the How It's Done rails - brought to heel only by the implicit structure and rhythm of one patch/bold graphic classic quilt patterns.

For scrap work my grandmother favored impeccably aligned log cabin/dresden plate variations that were by and large unobtrusive or painterly in their color range and its distribution.  Her choices often suggest she pre-sorted her scraps as she accrued them in order to work efficiently in a far more color coordinated/visually restrained style.

(Oh come on Pearl, the Grace of my memory would sometimes goad.  Live a little why dontcha)

As with so many other things about how she presented herself and her home I feel pretty clear that my grandmother's self-expressive style consciously hewed to the specific and implicit dictates of the fairly dour Lutheran sect in which she and I were both raised as the backbone and mental/psychic wardrobe of not just our lives but Life itself.  She was not a showy woman in any way.  But she understood some people were colorful without being prideful.   Quite early on she saw the way I was breaking, so to speak, in the aesthetic sense and had no trouble asking her friends to supply more colorful scraps for me to learn - and practice until perfect - a variety of piecing techniques.

Her sister was a lot more layered in how she lived and created.  She had an ongoing willingness - from which I actively inferred enjoyment - to use all the scrap happy colors and patterns all at once.  She mixed decades worth of fabric to create ingrained family myths of origin.  The kids in our family who were her grandchildren slept in her upstairs rooms full of handsewn quilts all the time.  They knew at least some of the stories connected to each of the fabrics.  Stories about things that happened while their parents and uncles were wearing clothes made from specific scraps in yardage form.  In the timeframe of my memories the quilts were growing worn at the edges.  They held the aura of fading scrolls documenting family life when our own parents were young or mere babies.  The upstairs rooms in our time weren't needed save for sleep overs and dedicated kidspace while the adults talked downstairs.  We could crawl around and sprawl together laughing helplessly much as we later would on living room floor based Twister game mats.

  Every once in awhile one of Grace's masterpieces would require seam mending and patching.  This would be a big deal for the sisters.   In addition to brown paper bags overflowing with scraps at both their feet they were also inundated by young enthusiastic children.  We flocked around them in a minimum of 4 and an average of 6 in number  It was a sunlit offhandedly nurturing environment suddenly awash in Pearl's far from muted alarm concerning all that could go wrong - particularly with so many children and the sisters' combined collection(s) of the very most necessary sharp Things that outnumbered the kids three to one.

I loved being able to watch close at hand.  Adults in my life often granted me a front row seat to their activities because they knew I'd be quiet and more or less motionless. I fully realized this as well as the fact that my freeze frame hyper-focus on what they were doing formed a kind of hedge/buffer zone between their workspace and more overtly excitable kids inclined to shout, grab suddenly for things they shouldn't touch let alone run with, or jump around and around and around the adult who was trying to Get Something Done despite the ongoing distraction. 

When the sisters' stitching time turned surgical I was outright called to Assist by simply being there between them and the other grandchildren.  Immobilized with fascination and Need To See.  I loved the moment when split (homemade and much patched, naturally...) bias binding was pulled free and I could see within Aunt Grace's generous seam allowances the true scope of how colorific the unfaded fabrics were.  My eyes gravitated to the excessively excessive somebody-stop-this-woman factor like a very happy bee in a mile-wide clover field.  In such visual mayhem I instinctively found permission to rest and quiet my ever-spinning child's mind.  And isn't rest what a handmade scrap quilt is most meant to Hold?

Bowandarrow215

At the beginning of last Friday the super scrappy hand pieced bow and arrow quilt top featured in this post existed in a state of un-joined but individually pieced/hand sewn 24-inch squares.   Near the middle of the afternoon it looked like the lede image.  I just ... had to do this.  I needed to put together this quilt top - to spend a few day's worth of Workday time sitting quietly in the sun and stitching while I thought things through as much as one can in today's hall of mirrors.  A later point in life ambition became quite tangible in the impulsive form of last Friday morning.   I simply picked up the rolled bundle of blocks and brought them to the studio with me.  It was mid-afternoon before I zeroed in on the nice detail that I finally got my act together* in this specific way - featuring a Bow and Arrow pattern - on Valentine's Day.

What I stitched is primarily a valentine to the woman I grew up calling Aunt Grace even though she was my grandmother's sister.  Her grandchildren in turn called my grandmother Aunt Pearl.   The sisters were very close.  They shared weekend phone calls of fair length during a time when long distance charges usually kept my grandmother's sharp eyes fixed on the clock and her phone call/egg timer. 

Although they did exchange fabric scraps these were kept as a kind of sisterly contemplation - the scraps wrapped small to large within themselves.  They were, at least on my grandmother's end, kept in her nightstand's drawer in a charmingly warped wooden box their younger brother had made.  Grace's scraps were kept there solely to be arranged in various ways on the plain white sheet of Pearl's unmade bed.  Carefully put away for the sheer pleasure of bringing them out again at a later time.  That was in a whole other category from how they worked and with what.  Their quilt and clothes making aesthetics differed enough that unless they were in clear agreement over specific pattern and color choices they worked primarily from stashes as separate (and impressively huge...) as passing ocean liners.

[*It should be said that I first began cutting out the individual scrap pieces on July 4th, 1992.  The occasion marked my first authentically crippling migraine headache.  Had I had an inkling of how many I'd have over the course of the next 20 years I would have curled up on the bed and wept.  But I did not and thus I tried to make some constructive use of young mother alone time while J. and T. watched the fireworks from the old Lechmere parking lot in Cambridge.   I began making my lateral longview way towards a hazy future when I'd have time and inclination to begin putting together a whole new generation of hand sewn bed quilts.]

Each fabric used comprises a single six inch block's worth of pieces:  two quarter circles and the curved bow-tie looking piece in the center.  A number of fabrics I used weren't large enough for the center portion so I cut extra pairs of quarter circles for a wider choice range.  Once I got to the point of beginning to stitch (roughly 15 years ago ...) I used the same fabric on each block's opposing quarter circle because - in a quilt this loud and random the ongoing repetitive duets of the same fabric provides points of discernible focus  if not outright resting space.  The fact that the twin pieces appear in different circles keeps your eye moving.  After a few stumbles as to where or why it's moving your brain registers the repetitive code and starts seeking it out.   It's the pattern within the distortion of "pattern" that my - and Aunt Grace's - seemingly off-the-wall pairing choices create. 

Aunt Grace did this all the time and quite deliberately.  I'd watch her stitching while my grandmother also worked amidst gentle chiding (oh Grace!) that showed deference to their birth order.  It's my inner child's sweet spot/intuitive design point I learned from my loving perusal of the childhood era quilts that most drew my eye and gladdened my heart.  By the end of Saturday I'd stitched together the above.  And my ongoing studio companion was extremely quick to lay claim to my accomplishment.

Mamaonquilt21620

Mama takes her studio kitty duties very seriously.  Haven't stitched anything big like this since her arrival but she seemed to have an instinctive grasp of how to most effectively participate.  meanwhile on my end - due to my extended hiatus from working big and strictly by hand I'd forgotten how freely the mind wanders through reflection, problem solving, and just plain wiping a grimy media saturated brain's slate as close to clean and blank as it gets these days.

I forgot about the way I connect to the spirited history of stitchers fairly immediately once I've found my personal needle rocking rhythm and smooth pull of the thread.   And the ongoing almost simian grooming of stray threads that proliferate the more you handle and shift the fabrics.  My grandmother - who could be super impatient and exacting - had quite tenderly and slowly taught me how to stitch well.  Our religion didn't encourage pridefulness and yet she made it clear that she expected to be able to be proud of me in terms of both my stitching manner and rhythm and also the ongoing quality of my workwomanship.

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This is how the quilt looked once I got it away from the cat and took it up to the bedroom.  Had to spread it out on my bed in order to gauge how many of the remaining blocks would need to be added. 

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By mid-afternoon on Sunday I had finished sewing together this loving tribute to my Aunt Grace  It's something that's still making me shake my head in surprise since the accomplishment was not on the books.  It was more a case of "this is what I'm doing now.  I won't ask why I'll just do it with single-minded creative focus until it's done."  


the luxury of cloth .1

Bathroomcurtainnot

Last year around this time I started looking in all the wrong places for this particular friend.  My intention was to create a bathroom curtain for a room I'd say I dislike if it weren't entirely functional and easy to clean - even at the deep detail level. We don't need a curtain there in the green months.  In the winter we don't need more cover than what you find from a single layer of batik such as this.

When I couldn't find it in the places I looked I pinch-hit with a resurrected quilter's cotton curtain (dark green printed with white hyper-basic morning glories sporting incorrect leaves.  They form staggered vertical lines across the green) from J's music room at the old place.  It's serviceable and okay but ... thought I was looking forward to making the switch ASAP until I finally found the above batik yesterday afternoon.  Then I recalled, in slow delicious layers, how the fabric came into my life and specifically why I bought it rather than another satisfying armload of books.

From there I further recalled that throughout my younger adult years I'd put so much stock and blind trust in my largely unimaginable future Old Woman form - as I hazily envisioned her already nestled in what I thought of as a Sleeping Walnut somewhere near the center of my heart.

 Have recently been unpacking, admiring, and re-evaluating aspects of my fabric stash that aren't sitting on open shelving here in the studio. The extra-significant specially treasured stuff in other words.  My efforts don't have much of a plan to them - I've simply been inspired by both Jude and grace - specifically their recent posts about the importance of handling and dreaming over cloth for however long.

My takeaway from both of their shared experiences is that the cloth we make a point of keeping shows us who we are.  who we have perhaps for quite long imagined ourselves to be - be-coming.

and.  what I now realize to be far more relevant -

I have an old white cotton comforter that's the perfect weight for several months of the year.  Everything about it is entirely cotton - as cotton used to be and it's perfectly worn-in, to boot.  Needs patching that's likely to lean closer to total recovering.  Know this but couldn't quite find the incentive to additionally know where to begin.  Since coming into the studio earlier today I've been thinking of cutting this batik apart at the edge of the repeating pattern.  Using that panel length as the centerpiece of the comforter re-covery process.  Keep the top portion as-is and hem with something else I really love too much to actually use - to become a dedicated studio altar cloth.  Don't currently have one.  Whenever I feel the need to move/work in that particular way up here I 'import' cloths from other parts of the house. 

This seems remiss.

[I bought this on my 34th birthday - It was an impulse purchase after I'd dodged into a large glass-fronted store just beyond Coolidge Corner on Beacon Street.   This piece of cloth was the first gasping half-unfocused  thing I saw when I entered a place I'd never been or previously noticed prior to seeking escape from an unexpected lightning and thunder laced summer shower.   The store was full of batik and ikat yardage as well as beautifully understated clothes made from both. 

There were also store-length tables brimming with every imaginable style and price point of beads.  And, I later discovered, frequently these were peopled by a casual handful of women making staggeringly beautiful jewelry from them.  Along the other store length wall were glass shelves full of Day of the Dead shadow boxes, Nicho frames, carved bone pendants and parquet curio cabinets.  These shelves were interspersed with drop-down accessory displays.   Mostly hand woven shawls and belts or braided cord finger-woven versions of same.

There were also wooden/pottery/porcelain bowls and plates and all sorts of other well-off gewgaws such as elaborate hair combs and custom-made miniature brocade couches/wing chairs for a cat or small dog but these things didn't interest me at the time.  Now I'm sure I might have envisioned wall displays of such things.  Not for myself to live with but just as an aesthetic exercise to create a cohesive collection/statement wall.  Along the lines (although clearly QUITE different vibe) of the wall display featured here.  Back then I was mainly concerned with the rain stopping promptly so as to get me back home in time for a carefully planned birthday supper  - that I wasn't supposed to know about - with J. and T. 

I bought the fabric - stopping only briefly to consider its price - because I'd picked it up when I arrived.  Once my eyes did fully focus on the colors and pattern I knew it would mean something of a glad-hearted/hopeful nature to me later on in my life.  Just knew.  And so I spent the money meant to be my yearly solar return Book Binge without a blink of regret.]


Marti Reponds to Recent Events

She Rises When Needed

Martiresponds

grace has also posted about this wonderful work this evening.  Please read her post as well as the first comment which contains Marti's detailed heartfelt explanation for her creation.

 


Day 30 - results

Trustyourself

(because that's where and why and how all the creative magic happens)

I'm really glad we all did this together.  I hope you are too.

  EVERYBODY did outstanding work - not just in the scope of their collage creations but also in terms of quickly establishing a challenge-based working style and dedication to their personal process development.  Despite the initial uncertainty any challenge brings it was truly remarkable to see how quickly everyone adapted to their freshly personalized relationship to this expressive medium.  By reviewing each other's efforts the way we'd all look at something together if our virtual situation was happening in the walking-around world - we each insured that every single one of us "got" something about collage that we hadn't quite put together before this time of sharing.

  Everyone - including me -  willingly trusted I'd guide them to a stationary end-point while also digging deeper into their private stashes of emotion and life experience as well as their paper collections.  Now - going forward - there's only one barometer/compass rose to be followed:

trust yourself

keep speaking truth to and FOR power

from the center of your creative soul

and every corner and crevice you discover

where true power resides

*~*~*~*~*

My faves from these days:

Dee

grace

Joanne

Liz

Marti - curendera (make sure to scroll down or click for her response to our final prompt)

Nancy

[For those who like statistics - this blog has averaged 82 unique visitors a day for the challenge time-frame.  Including myself and everyone actively involved - 35 people have let me know they're participating/following along as a somewhat regular part of their creative experience. 

The most unique visits to a single post (328) happened here. oof.  Typepad is going rogue on me right here at the end!

For reasons unknown all the [listed as published] posts aren't appearing on the blog right now.  At least not in what I can see of it here on my laptop or phone.  The post with the most unique visitors was the Day 16 results page for the garden Crone totem.  Quite a skyrocket!  Somebody somewhere linked, obviously, to significant effect.  Perhaps it's fitting that my first studio-based intention once I've scheduled this post is to paint that totem's background layer.  Last things first, as I like to say!

Not at all by design but I'm very grateful it's working out this way - I don't have to be/go anywhere that requires me to be all the way ON until Thursday morning.  Between now and then I'm planning to stay paint smudged and considerably more powered-down than I've been since ... before Thanksgiving, actually.  Yikes.  No wonder I feel so ready to shift from extro to intro mode energetically.

and I still don't have a clue what I might post on this blog going forward.  or why ...]


a guest post from Marti

Ojomarti

For all of my collage companions,  I offer this simple collage filled with images, some of my dyed cloth and an important word in Spanish, Ojo.  Ojo means eye and Acey, you have given us the ability to go deep within ourselves and see in a new and connective way.  Rather  than offer up  a stepping stone, I give you an old archway, next to an old door, open the door and glide through this portal, this opening so that we  may all continue with the discoveries that we have made,  both outward and inward in working with scraps of paper, scissors and glue. Imagine that this archway contains these carved words:  Continue to find your sense of personal discovery.  Find solace and quiet joy in nature. Know that rainbows always come after storms. May you have candlelight to soothe the darkness.  Most of all, thank you all for stepping along the path of collage with me, for being a part of such an illuminating time, a deeply moving and connective way to begin this year of 2020.  Love, Marti
 
 
 

Day 30 morning post

Prompt #30:

Imagine our shared challenge experience has been a literal path marked with stepping stones - one for each person who participated in whatever fashion.

What does your stepping stone look like?

(hint:  what would you wish us to receive as a gift related to what you most enjoyed about collage?)


day 28 - results

 

Seeddream

My response for today's prompt references a truly gorgeous never-forgotten dream I had when I was 14 or 15.  Hadn't thought of it until I was focused on working with a very different seed representation/color palette.  While looking for something else I found some of my very first deli paper prints.  Both examples in the above's background layer reference one of the dream's key visual elements.  So does the lovely white marble sculpture, the shape and scale of the seed, and the Florentine mirror.

For the moment this collage is serving as an art journal place-marker.   Have three or four different ideas of what to superimpose on the mirror.  at this point I believe any additional layers - beyond that mirror - will be made with ink and ink-on-ink  OR ink and designer's gouache.  

As the challenge winds down I've begun wondering what I'll choose to share here on this blog once I re-calibrate on the other side of this thing I apparently did during the month of January.  I have a lot of options, really...


Day 27 - results

Gaiaaltar

Today, for a change, I woke up with an idea from the night before which didn't re-invent itself before during or after I made the  collage above.  I've been responding to all the prompts that don't fit the narrative of my Bee allegory booklet within a catch-all art journal.  So I'm pretty sure there will be an additional layer or two of line work using ink and super fine-line paint pens.  Will also connect the free-floating coral-pink negative ions and sentience bubbles in what I hope will be a very cool way.  As usual there doesn't seem to be a lot of grey area.  It'll either work or it won't.  The freeform paste paper cut-outs represent wild rose thickets.   I'll add many more small free-cut stones and maybe some moss.

Although this isn't a realistic rendering of the landscape where it's located my collage is a tribute to my actual gaia altar.  I've kept one for two decades now:  a sacred place to reverently return plant matter used to prepare tinctures, glycerites, flower essences with too many components to successfully return them to the base of each plant where I was guided in my bloom selections. The coarse scrim I use to strain therapeutic oils free of plant matter every late-autumn/early winter  has a few months to weather itself apart before nest-lining birds descend to pluck up every thread. 

The rock is understated and seemingly unremarkable.  We are a likely and lucky alliance.

~*~*~*~*~

Back at the spiffy first-spark of the New Millenium I read Jim Green's FANTASTIC herbal medicine making handbook cover to cover twice in a row.  It's still a favorite of mine to recommend for far too many reasons to encapsulate in this context.   He stressed the belief/philosophy that any tincture, tea, or oil we prepare needs to have its maceration remnants returned to the earth before the herbal healing properties are fully released into the mind and body. Green attributed this equation of reciprocity to "ancient cultures" or possibly some types of shamanism as I recall.  Not sure of the ultimate provenance but I will say that maintaining this practice and being diligent about working with its energy mindfully has also taught me how to plant and harvest and plan in a way that is equally beneficial for All.

If you've not yet seen my group-tribute collage it's right here.