Thursday, May 02, 2013

A Collaborative Effort

I finished the last quarter of my friend Judi's African quilt last night as I'd hoped I could. To review, Judi was able to design and piece the top half of the quilt before becoming too ill to do more. Her friend Rhonda who lives in the same town agreed to machine quilt the quarters and has done so to that top half. The lower right quarter was partially designed with a few blocks completed when I took over the piecing. Judi had completed a few blocks for the last quarter but had not started working out the design. I've tried to stay true to her vision for this quilt as well as her aesthetic. At times that got in my way of moving forward with fabric and placement decisions, especially with this last part for which she gave me no guidance. It was usually when I said, "the heck with it, my gut says do this" that I'd get past the constant dithering. And I'd remember that even as Judi was designing it, nothing was set in stone. It would evolve as she worked. Why should it be any different for me?

Even before Rhonda and I got involved in helping Judi finish this quilt, it was a collaborative affair. She'd consulted with me when she'd gotten it out several years ago, and I'm sure she did the same with other quilter friends. Beyond that, she'd gratefully accepted help from her husband, who worked out in the CAD program he's proficient in some of the African symbols from sketches, and printed them to size. But collaboration or not, the final decisions were always hers until recently. And so I've been working very hard to keep my voice out of it, not wanting the finished product to obviously look the work of two, for anything I might add to stick out.

So I got stuck. Moving blocks around created a hole too big for just fabric, not sized to easily fill by duplicating an applique block from another section. That large block with the appliqued giraffes wasn't helping any, being so different from everything else in the quilt (it was the first block she worked on and her method changed later). I tried so many different fabrics above it with nothing working. I shared my frustration of not knowing what to put there with a non-quilting friend who suggested I put a bit of myself in it. No no no - that's exactly what I've been working so hard to avoid. Not my quilt, not my design. But he pointed out that Judi had entrusted it to me and so it was partly mine - a work we both contributed to and she would not mind me slipping something in that might be like a signature. I couldn't imagine what that would be but I promised to think on it. I only stared at the design wall a few minutes when I suddenly saw a sunburst over that panel with so much sky. When Judi had included big sheets of graph paper with everything else I'd need, I'd asked why. "You may need it," was her only reply. Yeah, how had I missed that bit of permission to design in her absence? Thanks to that friend, another collaborative voice, who nudged me toward the answer to my last problematic area.

Before I got so involved in art quilting, I was known for Mariner Compass blocks. I'd taken a three-day workshop with Judy Mathieson to learn how to make them, and ended up teaching classes in her method at quilt shops and guilds. You could say it became my signature and Judi watched as I mastered it. This new idea for her quilt required some digging in boxes out in the garage for my Mariner Compass materials and I even found a block that was a class sample that was tempting to include just as it was. But it wasn't quite right and no time to actually piece one. After playing with black paper rays to be sure this would look right, I chose a simple sunburst that could be fused In keeping with other blocks in the quilt. I'd originally thought to use a more subdued background but again, it suddenly popped into my mind's eye to repeat the background of the other two dramatic symbols. How had I not seen that before? I really don't understand how one minute I can see nothing and the next, it's right there.

I'm still too close to this to be sure it isn't just a hot mess, that what I've added has worked cohesively with the rest of the quilt. But I have to trust that I've done ok. And I hope to goodness my measurements are correct. Because now it goes back to Rhonda for the rest of the quilting, and those four quadrants must fit perfectly - no wiggle room.

Time to go pack - I leave tomorrow for Judi's Celebration of Life service on Saturday. I'm so thankful that her final masterpiece will also be in attendance.


June said...

It's perfect. What a fine tribute you've managed, under such difficult circumstances. I'll be thinking of the two of you this weekend.

Donna Deaver said...

I agree. It IS perfect. I know how badly you wanted to finish it before this weekend. What a wonderful gift to her family.