Sunday, January 20, 2008

Labyrinth: Done

Labyrinth
2003 - 2008
68" x 94.5"

Sometime in 2003, a friend told me about the practice of walking a labyrinth meditative as a spiritual or meditative exercise, an idea I had not encountered before. She explained that, technically speaking, a labyrinth is different than a maze in that a labyrinth is not a puzzle, and it has no decision points. It is simply a winding and convoluted path that leads inevitably to a final destination.

Inspired by this much information about traditional labyrinths, and not knowing some other facts that are arguably kinda significant -- that they are supposed to begin at an edge, work through a pattern of concentric circles, and end in the center, for instance -- I charged headlong into creating my own version of a labyrinth on graph paper. Like many of my best designs, the basic ideas were set down during a staff meeting at work. The resulting design has its beginning and end points in opposite corners, and has no relationship whatsoever to concentric circles, but is in every other way (which is to say, in no way at all) a classic traditional labyrinth.

Initial construction was held up by real life while I got married, bought a house, and moved in with my wife, but by late 2003 the adventure began. Since the design requires around 3000 2" x 2" squares, there was obviously a lot of preliminary cutting to be done. For a clear contrast between the labyrinth "path" and "walls" I could only use fabrics that I think of as "darks" and "dark-darks" against "light-lights." In other words, I was afraid the path would lose definition if I used pieces with anything but the very lightest color value. In retrospect I may have overdone this a bit, but in the moment it forced me to scout for and buy a lot of very light fabric in 2003-2005.

Each square was individually placed to create interesting patterns between individual pieces, as well as improvised patterns of color on larger areas of the quilt surface. Those color patterns were, in turn, constrained by rules built into the original "map" of the quilt; essentially, progressively warmer colors are allowed towards the center of the piece. A subtle pattern in the tints of the "path" operates independently of the obvious pattern in the colors of the "walls."

The sheer scale of the project required a special approach to construction. To get a flat area big enough to do the layout, I had to disassemble our bed and clear the bedroom floor. This gave me enough space to construct a third of the quilt at a time. In fall 2003 and winter 2005, I took advantage of long weekends when Mrs.5000 was out of town; for the last round, early last year, we moved into the guestroom for a few days. I laid out the two outside sixths of the quilt first, the two intermediate sixths second, and then the middle third last; for this reason, an incredibly savvy observer might notice the fabric quality and range improving closer to the middle.

Once laid out, the individual pieces were carefully stacked and labeled for the long, tedious process of assembly into strips over the coming months. Because I only realized after assembling the first sixth -- what is now the bottom of the quilt -- that a standard sewing machine foot is not exactly 1/4" wide, that section of the quilt, like everything from my first 10 years of quilting, has the seam allowances subtly screwed up. The bottom edge is a tiny bit shorter than the top edge, and you can tell from the picture that this makes the lowest part of the quilt pucker a little bit. This is the kind of thing that quilt judges just hate. Well, heck with them.


With the face completed and assembled by last September, I took a month or two off from Labyrinth while doing the machine quilting on a few other projects. This was a deliberate decision, as it let me practice and get my most egregious mistakes out of the way on quilts I'm less invested in. Ice & Fire having been my most densely-quilted piece to date, and Two Complex Shapes immediately surpassing it, Labyrinth has a yet denser quilting pattern, and over a much larger surface area to boot. Although the machine quilting was finished between Christmas and New Year, that left plenty of detail work left. Over the last several weeks, I've been gradually burying threads, attaching and sewing down the binding, and attaching a sleeve. I finished all that last night.

I noticed this week that two years ago, in the third post of this blog, I mentioned Labyrinth and guessed that it would be completed in 2009. So, according to that estimate I am in the very rare and gratifying position of having finished something a full year ahead of schedule. It's nice.

34 comments:

Ming said...

Yes, it is nice! I admire all of the work you put into it. Great job!congratulations on finishing it!

Feed Dog said...

Congrats--it looks great! I somehow only just now noticed the swathes of colour "under" the labyrinth (I guess I had thought they were just randomly scattered darks), which look really cool.

Ask those quilt judges if they've ever disassembled a bed and moved to the guest room to lay a quilt out....

Clare said...

Michael - I love it! The way you have planned it and thought through the colours is amazing.

What do quilt judges know about proper quilts LOL!

Congratulations on a fanastic achievement.

Vicki W said...

It's a beautiful quilt. Congratulations!

Su Bee said...

Holy Cow!!! It's awesome - and kudos to you for sticking with it, and Mrs. 5000 is very understanding and patient -- LOL!

Andrea said...

Well done on completing such an amazing and unique quilt. The close-ups of all the different fabrics is great. You have a very patient wife I think - lol !

TIV: the individual voice said...

This is a beautiful work of art. I'm astonished at the patience of quilters.

Bethany said...

WOW. You bring art quilts to a whole new level. I love it. I need to think outside the "girly" box when it comes to quilting.

Great job.

Kim West said...

Gorgeous!!! My husband surely wouldn't have understood sleeping on the guest bed for a quilt!!

Kate said...

I love it Michael -- and do you mean to tell me you finished this after leaving the party? That is dedication.

I need to see it up close sometime.
XO
K

mrs.5000 said...

I've been especially excited about this quilt since it was in the idea stages, and can attest that it looks absolutely smashing in real life. It cracks me up that sleeping in the guest room for a few nights (or stepping carefully around the layout space to get to my closet) might count as any noteworthy sacrifice on my part! It's such great fun to watch it going together. Also, he's always good about asking ahead of time. . .

La Manosa said...

Wow, that is an amazing quilt! Absolutely beautiful. I guess all those boring student presentations and staff meetings are really paying off. I wish I could be so productive. Maybe when I go to a job candidate talk in my department this week I should discreetly design a quilt in my notebook.

By the way, I spent the whole last semester learning about labyrinths in literature (Poe, J.L. Borges, etc.) and the "classic" labyrinth is overrated, in my opinion. I much prefer your version.

Congratulations on your finish!

atet said...

Wow! That piece is incredible. And, even more incredible, you have a wife who will willingly move to the guest room so you have space for your quilting. Of course, my husband has given up eating at the dining table -- but still. Kuddos to you!

susana said...

I had no idea a quilt could trace the contours of the mind. I am awed ( and i never imagined I could say that about a "quilt."
Susana

gl. said...

awesome, m5000! and ahead of schedule, too. aMAZing! (get it? ;)

i love labyrinths. sven made me one a couple of years ago:
http://www.scarletstarstudios.com/blog/archives/2005/04/artists_way_wee_9.html

but we can't snuggle up with it on the couch.

Michael5000 said...

Wow! Thanks, everybody. I had no idea so many people even knew about this blog!

Mrs.5000 is awfully supportive of the quilting. But we DO have a pretty nice guest room, so....

Rebel said...

This quilt is awesome! I think you got the contrast of colors just right, and I like the variations of warm & cool colors in the background.

karmasartre said...

Well, that's just beautiful. What a massive project. What does it mean that the two threadlines follow the path of the lighter colors? Are they structural or decorative? Does it happen on the dark parts as well?

loulee1 said...

I wondered what was keeping you so quiet.
Stunning, fantastic finish.

Exuberant Color said...

Wow it is just fantastic. I had to follow the path with my mouse pointer and make sure you didn't goof. I'm glad I have my design walls, I'm a lot older than you. I used the floor to design my 96" square bricks quilt but the rest I have done on the walls. What in the world can you do to top this one????

Bridget B. said...

Michael - this is really beautiful! I would love to see it in person - and I keep imagining myself interacting with it, following the pattern with my fingers, my eyes . . . some traditions even use finger labyrinths where you trace the pattern with your fingers as a way of reaching a meditative state. I love that this piece almost demands interaction! Again, beautiful . . .

Feather on a Wire said...

It's wonderful. I doubt my DH would let us move into the spare room whilst I lay my work out on the floor. Treasure her.
Next time pin some fleece onto a a not often seen wall, and the pieces should just 'stick' to it (don't open the windows on a windy day!)
The end result is worth all the effort it's great. I love the warn reds and the gentle approach to them.

Mrs. Goodneedle said...

Wow! That required some deliberate perseverance, well done!

LC said...

Fabulous! You picked wonderful fabrics, colors, and values. Great job.

We wound our way through an actual labyrinth in Scotland made out of hedges that were well over our heads. Had it not been for a kindly word or two from a person standing on a platform that overlooks it all, we might still be there!

I was directed here by Wanda at Exuberant Color. I'll be back!

connie said...

Great design and contrast! And the color concentrations make it so much more interesting than if they were scattered through the darks.

I also like your old machine. I sewed on a 1968 Kenmore for a long time, until it was destroyed in a move. (It fell from the top of the pile in the moving van and smashed into lots of pieces, even though it was metal.) And although I have a new machine and one that is about 10 years old, I really like sewing on my mother's 1947 Singer Featherweight. And it fits under the seat when I fly, so I don't have to ship a new machine to out-of-town workshops. Keep you old machine around, even if you get a new one.

Millie said...

It is an absolute, drop-dead awesome, stunning, knockout of a quilt! I adore it! It is nothing short of spectacular. Kudos to you!

Dixie Redmond said...

I am in awe.

Pam said...

It looks amazing! Must feel good to have it finished! Congratulations!!!

andrea said...

That is quite impressive, I totally lack the pattience to do something like that.

About the movie (ali: ear eats the soul) I really liked it. I took some notes, so I'll be writing about that as a reward when I finish learning about MacBeth. I find it has also aged well theme-wise, it is scarily up to date.

If you make me think about it I could fit into any of those three categories, which is slightly depressing. Right now it's all about the German. I lived in Munich for a year and made little effort to go past basic knowledge. Now I've found myself with amazing German friends, an amazing German more-than-friend and the will to move there for good, so I'm downloading random German movies that I've never even heard of. So...if you know of any other good German stuff, let me know!

I'll be reading you too :)

Heatherbee said...

Wow. I got totally sidetracked from whatever I was doing looking at your quilts. I feel like saying "these are gorgeous" is a copout lame understatement, but I don't know what else to say. I began reading the other comments, and I then got further sidetracked looking at scarlet star studios' website for an hour or so. I have concluded that there are some brilliant and productive people in the world, and that I am awed and chastened and also really need to go to bed now.

Can't wait to meet the quilts in person someday. Especially the labyrinth with the subtle color changes.

Rose Marie said...

Wow .... talk about movement! Wonderful! If the bottom part still bothers you, see my post http://appliqueandpatches.blogspot.com/2007/08/waves-be-gone.html and http://appliqueandpatches.blogspot.com/2007/08/binding-fix.html for further explanations. Your problem may not disappear totally, but it will help your quilt to hang better for you.

Libby said...

Yeah your work paid off - the coloring on this is amazing! The kind of affect I always want to accomplish but never have the patience for. (I haven't read the 31 other comments, but I'm guessing they say the same thing.) This is just an all around amazing piece...

jovaliquilts said...

Wow, wow, wow! This is a spectacular quilt. I remember an earlier post of this and it was so exciting to see it done. A really lovely piece of work.

A local park here put in a labyrinth a couple years ago to encourage peaceful, meditative time in the park. Lovely as it is, it's no match for your quilt.

Sandi A. said...

That is absolutely awesome!! I host a quilting retreat at a center that has two labyrinths for guests to walk - one indoors and one outdoors. I have been considering making a large floor quilt labyrinth that I could lay on the living room floor and walk when I am stressed. It's a "someday project"!