You start thinking when hiking in the woods and one thought that came to mind on a recent hike (High Shoals falls in N. Ga) was that I get the impression from chat groups and blogs that when it comes to an art quilt, quilters either have to have no design in mind and work “intuitively” or they “over design” it! But, to me, both charging right in to cutting and throwing up fabric on the design wall, and sitting down with graph paper ready to draw out a full cartoon, have advantages and disadvantages.
Yes, it’s lovely just to go into the studio, see all these luscious colors of fabric just begging to be chosen for the blade! Slash, slash and up she goes! “Need a bit here, let’s see now, aha! That bit of pink would look good next to that dusty green. And now for a little black just to set them both off. And then there’s that gorgeous flowery stuff I just bought, I should have a nice piece of that in the middle, it’s so beautiful it will just make the quilt”.
Well, you can have a lot of fun and you might get some spontaneous combustion some where! Your piece will definitely be nice and loose..it will have energy and pizzazz and it will look like no other quilt out there! But it could also look like a fabric store that’s been hit by a tornado, or be “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. (and we know what kind of tale that was!)
So what if you over design your next quilt? What if you draw out a precise diagram, get it kinkily enlarged to full size, decide exactly which fabric will go where and make sure you don’t have too many fabrics and that they all match?
Then you have a stiff and lifeless piece, precise yes, those quilt Nazis would love it I’m sure, with every I crossed and every T dotted (never play completely by the rules!). Paint by number, without spontaneity, without serendipity, without tension and those little bits of unpredictability that just lure the viewer in closer and closer.
On the other hand your quilt will have a definite direction, a clear meaning; it will be strong and well organized. You will communicate that which you wish to communicate! But it may be something up with which we could not put!!
I do think, however, that there is a happy medium between these two extremes that allows you the best of both and reduces to a minimum the worst features of each. Think about how an architect would set about planning a house. Or a gardener planning a garden. Decide where the big shapes will go – the different rooms, the number of levels, the vegetable patch, the main trees and so on, but don’t specify which ornament will go on the mantelpiece till you have it in front of you! Know that you’ll have a bed of low growing plants in a light or dark color, but wait till the garden as a whole is ready before deciding exactly which flowers and colors will give you the right mood and feeling.
Use your head to build the main skeleton to plan; add the details (the flesh!) spontaneously as your eye and heart tell you they are needed.
Now Hamlet didn’t have a compromise position between life and death – basically you’re one or the other – like being pregnant. But as quilters we can reach a compromise between too much design and too little. And hopefully we won’t reach the end of the play with all the main characters (or quilts!) completely dead.
If you have been, thanks for reading!! Shakespeare has a lot of good advice for quilters if you look for it!! Elizabeth