Sunday, March 26, 2006

Wedding Presents

From the original "Friendster" version of SOTC.

Wedding Presents
DATE: 03/26/2006 11:37:56 PM

I'm sure, gentle reader, that you have been breathlessly anticipating an update on the challenge quilt. Well, I finished it on the Sunday the 12th. On Monday the 13th, I handed it over to a woman from the guild. It was very strange to work on something so intensively for so long, and then to immediately give it to a stranger. But, I guess if I want people to see what I make, I'm going to have to get used to handing pieces over and trusting that they'll come back eventually.

I still can't show you a picture of the challenge quilt, unfortunately. That will have to wait another two weeks, until the Guild meeting on April 10.

With that big project off my plate, I spent a few days going nuts on about four different projects, making bits of incremental progress on all of them instead of focussing on any one piece. It felt good to work on some less fussy quilts, where I could get into a groove and make some fast progress without sweating over every individual stitch.

But eventually, it was time to get serious again. In particular, I've been thinking I really should get started on a wedding present for a good friend who got married, uh, last August. I am a firm believer in the one-year rule, but even at that I've only got four months left on the meter. So, that's what I'm working on now.

Now the problem with this as a blog subject is that once again I'm working on a project that I can't show you a picture of -- since my friends who got married last August might be among you. And I know you, gentle reader. For all of your sophistication and book larnin', you mostly want purty pictures from your quilt blog. It's OK, you can admit it. It's perfectly normal and healthy to want to see pictures of attractive quilts.

So, what I'm going to do is show you some pictures of wedding quilts past. First, though, a note to my friends who were married last August, if you happen to be reading this: what I'm working on for you is not quite to the scale of the pieces I'm describing here. It will be a smaller thing, but hopefully special in a different way. All will become clear.

OK, where were we? Oh, right, wedding quilts. The first one I made was for Mark and Lisa, back in 2000. I don't have a good picture of it, but this one will give you the idea. I designed it with the help of a seventh-grade lad named Ethan (this was back when I was a student teacher) and consequently the wedding symbolism is not as subtle as it might be. But perhaps that is part of the charm. It was my first foray into jewel tones, and with only four fabrics (green, red, blue, black) it is unusual for me -- most of my quilts use at least 10 fabrics, and many use hundreds.

Alas, I did not finish it in time. I flew it out to Huntsville, Alabama for the ceremony, showed it to 'em (see figure B), brought it home, finished it, and shipped it back out to 'Bama, where it has since remained as far as I know. Mark and Lisa seem to like it. I hope so.

Two years later, it was Mary Beth and Kim's turn. I brought them in on the design process, asked them about colors, showed them sample quilts and asked for their opinions on them, and asked them to describe what the perfect wedding quilt for them would look like. After this exhaustive market research, I sat down and came up with a kinda clumsy design in which the wedding symbolism, at least, is a little more subtle. I borrowed it back today so I could get a good photo of it, and I have to say, it's much better than I remembered it. Which is good. A wedding quilt is not where you want to do your crap work.

I don't know if other quilters feel this way, but a wedding gift is kind of a special thing to work on. For one thing, it involves you in actively celebrating your friend's marriage for several months in advance, which is a pretty powerful and joyful experience (note: I have been strongly in favor of the four marriages mentioned here. Making a quilt for a wedding you had big reservations about might suck.) And then, to be completely honest, there is the gloating certainty that your gift is going to make a big splash. Let's face it, a handmade quilt is the atomic bomb of wedding gifts. You know that you are going to wipe the gift-giving floor with those crass bastards who paid thirty bucks for something off the registry at Target.

Or so I had always supposed. Then came 2004, and Marsha and Charlie's wedding. I made an all-flannel piece, my only one to date. It uses only three winter-color fabrics in a simple (although hard to piece) pattern. Wedding symbolism is present but subtle. Not terribly showy, it is nevertheless among my favorites of everything I've made.

Nice quilt, right? I must have rocked the gift-opening, right? No. I had not accounted for Charlie's mom, the quilter. Nor for Charlie's grandma, the quilter. And you know, it's hard to compete with mom and grandma. Poor Marsha and Charlie -- I'm afraid they have a few more carefully handcrafted blankets than they really know what to do with.

Well, that's all I have to say about that for now. A procedural note -- I've changed the subtitle for this blog, which was originally going to be about my adventures in both quilting and home music recording. Turns out I like writing about the one, but not the other. So, we're talking quilts here. Nothing but quilts. Peace.


Thursday, March 09, 2006


From the original "Friendster" version of SOTC.

DATE: 03/09/2006 10:07:39 PM

So, I've been tracking down Portland quilters under 45 on Friendster and trying to start conversations about, well, being a quilter under 45. Kind of fun. There's even a male or two out there.

One of the people I've met is Cynthia, a designer who has a web page showing some of her quilts. They are great -- very fresh and spontaneous, and miles away from the block patterns that are at the core of the American quilting tradition. Quilts like this are called "art quilts." I'm not always crazy about them. They usually veer toward the frou-frou or cutesy, and are often embellished with embroidery, buttons, beads, and other bric-a-brac. Not my thing. Cynthia's, though, are very excellent. What I love about them is that she has combined the spontineity and painterly possibilities of the art quilt with the discipline and dignity of the traditional quilt. Really. Check it out!

Now, when she looked at my quilts, Cynthia initially characterized them as "traditional," which I have to admit came as a bit of a shock. I've always thought of myself as the edgy young guy pushing the envelope. Examining this idea now for the first time, I have to admit that it is basically a crock. But, before I lay down the pretext altogether, I want to lay a case out here that I am at least not a completely hidebound, musty, cobwebbed traditionalist. Ready? Here goes:

Exhibit A: Two Complex Shapes, a quilt I made at the very end of the 90s. This is probably the most original thing I've ever made; I've literally never seen anything else like it. I was dating a painter at the time, and tried to incorporate some of her ideas about composition in my own medium, on a free-form quilt. I made the basic sketch while one of my students gave an oral presentation, and when sketch and presentation were both finished, I realized I hadn't heard a word he said. I gave him a "C," figuring that a good presentation would have held my attention.

Complex Shapes, like most of my quilts until recently, is very weakly quilted. Because of that, and because it hung for years in my old apartment, it sags and doesn't have the visual impact it might. Sometime later this year, I want to requilt it. It can't hurt it, and it might turn it into a real showpiece.

Exhibit B: Sue's Quilt, a quilt I made for Sue, duh. This one came out of the collision of two kind of wacky ideas I had in 2002. On one hand, I was knocking around with some image software, trying to see how big a non-replicating pattern I could make using squares of 1x1, 2x2, 3x3, and 4x4 units. (Yes, I know that's a little strange). On the other hand, I randomly decided to buy a box of scraps on Ebay from some dude in San Fransisco who makes doll clothing, with the purpose of challenging myself to make a quilt out of whatever happened to be in the box when it arrived.

I ended up using the pattern of squares with the scrap fabrics, and this was the result. It was a real challenge of composition and construction, but I'm happy with the way it turned out. Sue seemed pleased, too -- "continually pleased," she says, popping into the room. This ended up being the first piece I displayed outside of a small town, at the 2005 Northwest Quilters show. It was hardly a showstopper, but it is another one that is essentially unique -- I don't think anyone else has made a quilt quite like it.

Exhibit C: Japanese Garden, one of three "slash quilts" I made in the late 1990s. This one belongs to my dear friend Mary Beth. Breaking a background fabrics with "slashes" of inset strips is not a unique idea with me, but I think I applied it pretty well. I was into Kandinsky at the time, and I think I was trying to cop some of his big compositional lines. I ought to mess with that technique again sometime.

Let me finish by saying two more things about tradition. First, I like to work with geometries of rectangles and triangles, as have many quilters before me. Because of this, I'm forever coming up with an original design (only once have I ever made a quilt from someone else's pattern, and that was for a class, so it doesn't count) only to learn that I've replicated something that people were making back in the 1870s.

Take this one -- I came up with that pattern myself, on graph paper, after Thanksgiving dinner in 2004. I've got witnesses! But somehow, I wasn't the first in the hundreds of years of the quilting tradition to think of it, and I've since seen several quilts with the exact same pattern in books and magazines. But none with such fabulous colors.

Which brings me to my final point. Even within the most cliched and common of the traditional patterns, there is a lot of room for innovation, discovery, and artistry. The Log Cabin from the last post is an example of this; where most quilts in this very traditional pattern take their effect from fabric groups of contrasting value, I juxtiposed fabric groups of almost exactly equal value, but from opposite ends of the color wheel. The quilt works, in my humble opinion, because it has both a traditional structural vocabulary and a warm glow all of its own that comes from its color contrast. "Around the World" is about as traditional a pattern as there is, but all four of my AtW quilts have messed with the conventions somehow, either unraveling the structure or using unorthodox fabric sets -- but that's a post in its own right.

Anyway, time to wrap this up with a spectacular display of banality: Tradition is good! Innovation is good! Growing from the roots of your Tradition toward the flowering of your Innovation is good! And, in a sense, inevitable.

Thank you for your kind attention, gentle reader! You rock!


Thursday, March 02, 2006

Log Cabin

From the original "Friendster" version of SOTC.
Log Cabin
DATE: 03/02/2006 09:35:22 PM

We took new pictures tonight of the Log Cabin quilt -- the one I talked about way back in the first post. I needed a new picture to use with the entry form for the Northwest Quilters annual show. It's not a juried show, so it will definitely hang. So, y'all can come out and see it... amid a zillion other fabulous quilts, most far superior!

The Northwest Quilters 32nd Annual Quilt Show will be April 28, 29, and 30 at University Place, 310 SW Lincoln, in Portland. You should check it out. Really!

Photo by Sue. By the way, you can click on any of the photos in this blog for a larger version....