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.