Monday, 23 June 2008


On the last day of May I finally said goodbye to the treadmill: no more working for a living - I have now officially retired, which means I can at last become a full-time quilt artist/art quilter/textile artist/artist/whatever. I think privately I prefer the term "maker" though if I ever get to the stage where I have an exhibition I may have to come up with something more grandiose!

So about retiring. I was well aware of the risk of settling down forever deeper and deeper into an armchair and intended to avoid it at all costs. But I did have an extremely lazy first week pottering about, meeting friends, reading books. In fact this lasted till about half-way through the second week (though I had discovered the therapeutic uses of gardening by then - half an hour a day of taming the jungle gets results, is helping to get me fit and wakes me up).

Then I remembered that rash half-hour when I added to my two entries for The Festival of Quilts a third which was less than half finished. In short I had three quilts to finish in not much more than six weeks. One simply needed finishing off and machine quilting. The second took a lot of designing and drawing up but is now going together quickly and easily. The third is a new venture for me with 3D stuff plus some hand embroidery which I have only recently returned to but is the most risky and the most fun of the lot - so far nothing has gone wrong with it (I really shouldn't have said that...)

I suppose I'd better explain for readers outside the UK that most shows here including the big ones are open entry without the need to pass a jury selection, so this sort of recklessness is possible. I'm also working on a journal quilt to enter for the Houston show where I shall have to have it finished, photographed and a CD sent well before the deadline. I think the jury system at least preserves me from the dangerous effects of recklessness to which I'm prone.

Anyway, the first quilt was probably going to be the most labour-intensive. This is how it began life, as a grid of woven fabric strips (using my hand-dyed fabric) at the end of 2006:

This was made during Myrna Giesbrecht's Self Expressions class at Quilt University, a life-changing class if ever there was one and highly recommended. We were asked to produce a small quilt which expressed where we were at the time. I decided to focus on the whole process of creativity and came up with the idea of a game of snakes and ladders to describe it in a light-hearted way. The grid was the board and I'd originally decided to applique the snakes and the ladders.

However, I spent one happy evening playing with transparent fabrics - hand-dyed chiffons and organzas - and liked the effect, especially of one red and one orange fabric, of transparent overlays:
This prompted me to come up with a design using reverse applique: the following version though not as clear as I would like shows the basic shapes.

Though I really don't like real snakes much at all to the point of being phobic I am also quite fascinated by them, especially the symbolism of snakes, and during the course of this they became a sort of symbol for creativity.

There are a number of silly jokes here as well as some serious symbolism. Starting at the bottom left, the first snake is a familiar symbol of continuity or eternity; on a lighter note it also describes going round in circles, something I do endlessly at the start of a project. Once I start I can keep going for a bit - hence the second snake (middle bottom) just moving along at its own pace.

However, soon afterwards indecision hits with a vengance, shown by the block at bottom right which can't even make up its mind whether it's a four-patch or a nine-patch. This can send you back via the snake to the beginning, or you can take the ladder up the right-hand side or if you're lucky get swallowed up by the exploring snake which takes you further on (NB not all snakes in this game take you backwards). Or you might move right to left across the board and meet the snakes on the right-hand side. One will take you onward, but if you miss that you might eventually get to the other which will bring you back down (these are based on the twin snakes of classical symbolism - the snake that gives life and the snakes that takes life away).

When you get to the top you encounter three more situations: the snake in the spiral is the dreaming snake - if you dream it right the snake will take you nearer where you want to go. However there are still problems even at the very top of the board - a snake tying itself in knots, an episode of doubt (does everyone have this when they're in sight of finishing?) shown by a snake in the form of a quesion mark. The last thing I shall do is to complete the final square at the top left with my initials and the date.

This is where it was just over a week ago. The satin stitch has now been strengthened to make the ladders clearer and it has been extensively machine-quilted. As a result of the stitching it is now slightly lumpy and I intend to block it before adding the binding (I had originally planned to face it but it needs a fine strip of colour round the outside - now for the agonising decision as to what colour to use - any advice greatly appreciated!)

Usually I don't like my quilts immediately after I've finished them - something to do with seeing all those mistakes really close up all the time - but this one I do (the extra satin-stitch and the machine-quilting improve it enormously). I hope I still like it when it's hanging up there for everyone to see!

Will post a picture of the completed quilt during the last week in August.


Karoda said...

The evolution of a quilt! I love it! And congratulations on your retirement.

zquilts said...

YaHooooooo! OMG I had not realized that retirement was indeed a fait accompli! Congratulations. I just adore that first quilt - and the organza/transparency effect is totally amazing. The colors are so lush - ummmmmmm!!! I never like a quilt after I finish it either - and I have to agree-it's a matter of knowing where all the faults are - and looking at it for so long!

Anne Wigfull said...

All these quilts are marvellous but the snakes and ladders quilt is fascinating. As for a binding colour - the turquoise in the quilt is lovely, but who knows until you actually audition your choices.