Saturday, July 01, 2006

Size Matters

Ok, no snickering from the peanut gallery...

I'm referring to the size we choose to make our quilts, be they art or not. This topic comes up periodically on quilt art lists and blogs, and has been on my mind quite a bit as well, but not for the same reasons necessarily.

For art quilters, small has become the way to go, especially if hoping to make some money with sales, or if needing to transport samples for classes and lectures. But the art world often questions the art quilter's "commitment" to a piece, idea, design, if it is done in a small format. And sometimes these formats are indeed small - the size of a piece of paper or even smaller. A lot of huffing and puffing ensues, explanations and rationalizations meant to justify working small. A bit of soul searching results on occasion, and if an artist is secure and comfortable with what they do, this criticism from the art world does not ruffle.

I definitely agree that the size of a piece of art has a bearing on its impact to the viewer. If you've only viewed Amish Diamond-in-a-Square quilts in books and magazines, you are totally unprepared for their impact in real life. Larger pieces often take more of a time commitment, while some argue that smaller works may also take much time and may be even more difficult to execute good design - no margin for error.

I've made just about every size of quilt, from a king size bedquilt for my brother, to journal size quilts for my own enjoyment. The bedquilts required not only a lot of hours to complete, but more money for materials and more space for laying out during the construction process, not to mention more energy to physically maneuver them. I'd finish a big project with a huge sigh and swear I wouldn't do that again. Back to more manageable wall quilts! But then I'd make a few of those and think, ok, that's nice, but you can't exactly curl up under one. And before I knew it, I'd be started on another large quilt.

Since I passed the 50 mark, I realized I was losing interest in working on the really big quilts, somewhat because of the sheer logistics of working on something so large. It's getting physically harder to wrestle the units into the finished top, climbing up and down a step stool and stretching to take advantage of every inch of design wall, bending over a table to mark, layer and pin, then hauling it all bundled to run through the machine (or placed in a hoop) for quilting. If using cotton batting as I often do, those big quilts get darned heavy and I don't know how much more abuse this body can take. I feel it in my wrists, shoulders, neck especially, and where once I'd ignore the odd ache, I'm not so willing to do so anymore.

And then there's the issue of time, as in, just how much time do I have left? I think quite a few years, but then I also have a zillion ideas for quilts. Does it make sense to oversize my pieces if a smaller format will do? Not every design demands feet of space to make its point.

And lets not forget about storage space. I have a trunk of bedsize and wall quilts, and what I can't stuff in there have found a home in bins and on shelves. There are just so many beds, walls, friends, and families available for my creations. For those I hope to sell, their size will definitely matter to a prospective buyer who may also be dealing with limited space as well as limited budget.

The picture above was taken last fall and shows 4 projects of varying sizes in equally varying stages of completion. All but the lone star are done; it is in the process of being hand-quilted - at least part of it. I found myself with no desire to quilt the whole thing by hand, although sections of it I definitely wanted to hand quilt. It feels like an albatross hanging around my neck it has taken so long to make and has so far to go before it is totally done. I think it may be the last large quilt I make, although I've learned to be cautious about saying, never again. I'm just not willing to devote the time and energy, preferring instead to concentrate on more manageable sizes. The fact that the lone star remains unfinished while the other three quilts (and several more) are completed, helps to make my point.

Working on Irish Eyes was confirmation of all that. At 41 inches square, it went together quickly, was easy to work with on the design wall, did not require a lot of stretching over the table to get it layered, marked and pinned, and was light and easy to maneuver through the machine. In just 17 days it was done, and if I'd applied myself, I probably could have completed it in a week. Manageable and satisfying, with plenty of visual impact.

As I explore unfamiliar territory in my creative journey, there's security in working on a small scale. Not so much space to fill up, not so intimidating. A really large blank space throws me at this point when it's not to be filled with traditional blocks. I've rarely worked to a specific size anyway when designing, letting the quilt dictate how large it might grow as I designed on the fly. I seem to have better luck that way, starting with an idea, a small beginning, and seeing where it might go. Confining myself to the journal size quilts was a real eye-opener. I didn't think so much could be done in such a small space, but some of them are truly lovely and complex.

So that's my take on "size matters." My reasons may not be the best ones for choosing a size to work with, but they represent my current reality and that's good enough for me. If that reality changes, then I'm sure my thoughts on this will change as well.

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