Monday, March 17, 2008

I Am My Mother's Son

I wrote a long time ago about how I started quilting. Summary: In 1994 I was sick, I stayed with my parents for a few months, I got fascinated watching Mom quilt, and one thing led to another.

I've been wondering lately how much I've been influenced by the specific piece that Mom happened to be working on that summer. Here it is:

Now, to be clear: I would never make this specific piece in a million years. I don't know if I could, for one thing -- when my mother does something, she tends to do it right -- but also, it's a bit, well, girly, isn't it. Hearts aren't really my thing. There, I said it.

Nevertheless, I think this quilt had a really profound effect on me. Let's start with its method of construction, in which a pattern is formed from a grid mosaic of 2-inch squares (1 1/2" finished, for those of you taking notes). The first eight quilts I made were all composed with 2-inch squares; Cow Quilt, my fourth quilt [shown at right], had a few larger blocks interspersed, but the basic idea was still the 2" grid. My ninth and tenth quilts mixed things up by using different sized squares, but they were still basically grids. It wasn't until the eleventh quilt I made that I finally tore myself away and used something other than squares. It's as if the grid was what quilting was for me, because the one time I had watched somebody else quilt, that's what she was using. Any deviation from that, I had to make up on my own.

Another thing: Mom, and me, were both very impressed and influenced by the Deidre Amsden's "Colourwash" books (my first quilting memory is getting Mom an Amsden book off of her Christmas wish list and thinking, "Woah, this is awesome!"), but if you are familiar with that genre you'll notice that Mom's heart doesn't look at all like the conventional colourwash or watercolor quilt. Mom was a lot more interested in using fields of color, and that gives her piece a lot of its power.

Well, maybe it's just that I, too, am drawn to fields of color. Or maybe it's the influence of that heart quilt. Whichever, I can watch myself experiment with my own far less subtle fields of color all the way from my very first quilt:

...through, say, my 10th quilt, a Scrabble board:

...or my 20th quilt, the unlovely Green, Blue, Purple, the name of which gives away what I was experimenting with:

Or even this wedding quilt I made for my friends Mary Beth and Kim in 2002:

Looking through my photos, it seems like at least a good half of my quilts are still working out the implications of that first quilt I watched my Mom make, trying to create a pattern using fabric value, in the colourwash tradition, but with a fairly blunt use of pure color.

Both of these qualities, by the way -- the 2-inch grid and the colourwash-with-fields-of-color -- are running riot in the last major piece I've finished, Labyrinth, or in the Quilt Map of Oregon I showed in the last post.


All of this makes me wondered what would have happened if Mom had been working on some other project when I happened to be sick. If she had been working on one of her more classic colourwash quilts, how different would my own ideas about design be today?

Or what if she had been working on this one? I might not have ever become a quilter; I admire this all-green piece on a technical level, but I can't imagine that it would have fired up my enthusiasm for color and mosaic. If it had somehow got me quilting, I'm pretty sure that the work I'm doing today would look quite a bit different than it does.

Or here's a scary thought -- what if I had found a really good book, and hadn't gone in to watch Mom work on her quilt at all? It would have been a whole different life, I'll tell you what.

It would certainly be a whole different blog.


jovaliquilts said...

I was about to comment on your post when I saw your tag, "unnecessarily confessional," and had to stop to laugh aloud at that first!

Interesting post. Quilts are like life, I guess: what's innate? what was born from some other influence? I rather like being part of a tradition -- not a static one, but a constantly developing one.

Su Bee said...

Yea, I might not have been nearly so interested in your blog if it was about, say, fly-tieing! LOL! I'm so glad Mom had such a great influence on you - and her work is beautifukl too. Great creative genes in your family!

SisterDG said...

Hi, Michael - what a wonderful post! You're so right; every tiny event in our lives has the potential to send us into new creative territory. I'm glad your mom was quilting at that particular moment - I love reading your blog.

Rebel said...

first off - your mom kicks ass! I'm glad you saw her quilting - the alternative is too frighting to contemplate!

My mom was not a quilter, but she was a quilt appreciator, and we had inherited a couple of very beautiful quilts (which have been completely worn out from use & washing use or not to use - the eternal quilting question)

What specifically about your 20th quilt deems it unlovely? I think it looks great.

Exuberant Color said...

I think all of us quilters are influenced by other quilters but most of us are drawn to a certain style. I have to agree about the green one, how you might not have experimented as much with colors and value ranges if that is all you had seen. I really like the cow quilt.

Libby said...

Yeah, funny how these things work out, huh?? I am, without a doubt, eternally indebted to my quilting mom. Anyway, I just wanted to say that I got a HUGE kick out of the scrabble board...

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