Saturday, January 27, 2007

Journal Quilting again

In 2003, friend Judi and I attended the new IQF show in Chicago, which we quickly dubbed "Houston North." I could have spent all my exhibit-viewing time with the inaugural Journal Quilt Project display. For an explanation and pictures of the current project, go here. It was fascinating to see how dozens of quilt artists chose to approach this monthly exercise, and surprising what could be done in such a small space - the size of a piece of typing paper. We got to talking about how we could and should take part in some kind of challenge between us, even though we both had plenty of projects to complete and had been cutting down on activities that sent us in another direction. Judi was the one who suggested we use the journal quilt format - maybe this exercise would help us develop the discipline and time for exploration we both lacked. And so in April of that year, we embarked on our own journal quilt project, with our own rules, including designing our quilts in landscape orientation and not sharing anything about each month's work until it was finished so we would not influence each other. As hoped, it was a good exercise and I learned more than I could have dreamed possible working in this small format. You can see my collection here.

I would have liked to continue with this, but life seemed to work against both of us by the end of our year commitment. We promised that once our lives settled down, we'd do this again, with new rules to keep it interesting. Alas, it wasn't happening, and I couldn't motivate myself to do it on my own, although I made three more last year. After I got moved last fall, I told Judi I'd really like to get back into making journal quilts on a regular basis and she thought maybe her life might be settling a bit to be able to do it too.

So earlier this month, she reminded me. I think we both were rolling our eyes at the timing, as we are both just now gearing back up to regular studio work. But hey - it's important to make time for this sort of thing and be more efficient overall, so we are taking the plunge again. Our new rules include using portrait orientation, selecting the same time each month to work on them and only spending one day on them. That last one is a tough one for me - I've been known to spend weeks on a journal quilt - but Judi thought it a good way to address our concern about waylaying our other projects with this additional commitment. And I really do need to get comfortable with working more quickly and making decisions more quickly. Ok, Judi, you're on!

I think Judi is going to use her journal quilts to explore interpreting her own photos in fabric. I plan to interpret the monthly themes and quotations from a 2004 calendar entitled "Simplicity: Inspirations for a Simpler Life." It hung in my studio that year and exemplified what I felt I needed badly at the time. It still resonates.

So my theme for January is "Connection" and the quotation is a poem by Lucille Clifton: I keep hearing / tree talk / water words / and I keep knowing what they mean. Does that fit me or what? Actually, my last journal quilt from that year challenge was based on this poem (Blue Birches). And today was our designated day to work. I started with this little piece I painted last year:

It reminded me of a beach. However, when I unpacked some things from a bin, it fell out and presented itself turned this way:

Suddenly I saw the hint of tree trunks and thought, "Bingo! My tree and water talk..."

I'd like to say the piece went to plan, but it did not. The first few lines of stitching to delineate the trunks did nothing of the sort. I wanted to experiment with a free-motion zigzag quilting stitch, but my first few runs didn't improve things any. I finally changed threads and allowed myself to cross over the lines that were too straight, then double-stitched along the trunks which helped. Then I worked some zigzag in blue for water, outlined some streaks that looked like dead snags in the background and had to call it good - I was running out of time. The finishing touch was to satin stitch around the outside of the painted panel to firmly adhere it to the background. This was set up much like my "Home Again" piece, and I'd considered couching threads or trying a more decorative stitch, but as I said, I was out of time. Click on the picture above for a larger view.

Definitely no masterpiece, but journal quilts are not supposed to be masterpieces, in spite of the fact that more recent project participants have let the thought of having their fabric journaling exposed to the public eye and possible purchase push them to discard "failures" in favor of redone more successful tries. I think we are losing the original intent, which was to observe how an artist works and learns and grows. As for my own journal quilts, the good ones go up in my studio, the less good ones go in a box, and all are available for reference along with a written journal with additional explanations.

1 comment:

Sally Bowker said...

I like your thoughts on journal quits. It seems important to keep them true to the original purpose and goal to really get value from them. Hope you show us each month's quilt. You are inspiring me to start as well, to establish my own rules. I like journal quilts as an activity I CAN do in a period of not having time.