Friday, August 15, 2014

Working on the Wall

Work progresses on the quilt for the godson's little boy. More fabric needed to be cut into strips because two fat quarters do not a quilt top make. I found myself happily dipping into the color runs from last August's dye sessions. That IS one of the advantages of dyeing your own fabric - it often magically works together even when that was not planned.

Here I'm randomly adding strips from two different hand-dyes - one with blue/violet undertones and one with highlights of turquoise. The turquoise one was a fat quarter while the other I could cut in selvage to selvage strips of 45" inches in length. Still getting a feel for how these fabrics are working together and carrying out the vision in my head.

Eventually I had to commit to at least some of the vertical row arrangements, sewing shorter strips together and trimming to length. Part of the winging it has been working without a firm finished dimension. I figured somewhere around 44 inches would be ok for length but what about width? I'm really limited in how much focus fabric I have to work with. I found myself referring to a general quilt instruction book for crib mattress sizes.

When working without much of a plan, I always find the last few sections the hardest to get right - running out of fabric usually and struggling with balance. And in this case, as I started this last session to work out the outer rows and make any other adjustments, I realized how dark the quilt was becoming (although it looks brighter in the pic). To get the width I need (because what you see has not been sewn together - I need a lot more added), I decided I could sew "spacers" between each row that would finish at half an inch. I'd originally thought to use that dark hand-dye on the left but decided I need to add something lighter and/or brighter to lighten things up - this IS for a baby after all. And I think the spacers will help the design, such as it is, to show up better. A strong fuchsia might be the obvious choice but I don't want to make this pinker than it already is. 

If you look closely, you can see I'm auditioning some brighter blue strips in the upper section - any other blue I tried made the pink/blue snow dye look dirty. But I wondered if there wasn't another color I could introduce that would give more pop and interest, even if it was only a square or short section added to the strips of blue. Using Joen Wolfrom's 3-in-1 Color Tool (seen on the lower left), I determined that chartreuse works with this palette. We'll have to check what's in the stash but I can see how this might provide the excitement I feel this quilt is lacking.
Michele asked some good questions on my post about winging it with this quilt. She wanted to know how I like creating on the design wall rather than from a sketch. I generally like this kind of designing quite a bit, although like most things, there are pros and cons. I tend to think it's mostly how I work these days, remembering my traditional quilting days when so much of what I made was figured out in quilting software or on graph paper, quilts often meant to be reproductions. Upon reflection that may not be true; many of my traditional quilts came together on the design wall, deviating and building upon a concept while many of my art quilts followed a sketch or an enlargement of a photo. It so depends on what I'm working on and whether the fabric has sparked an idea or if the inspiration has come from without (photo reference for instance). I suppose I'm more likely to work from a sketch or mock-up if the design is more realistic than abstract. Perhaps if I took the time to sketch out my abstract ideas, there'd be less frustration while working at the design wall. Perhaps there's be less time spent staring and pondering and fewer pieces of rejected cuts of fabric lying on the work table. But there's no doubt that I feel a certain exhilaration working this way, and I think some of my best work may be those pieces that have evolved on the wall rather than on paper.

Michele's followup questions had me nodding yes. She wondered if working on the design wall was a bit like improvisational jazz, giving more freedom to the piece to develop and grow as it wants. I think this a perfect analogy. Having played jazz in college and heard both inspired and cringe-inducing improv solos, I know there's skill involved - it's not just "serendipity" - and as great as the piece of music might be, when the players can deviate and build on the basic theme, something even greater can be created. I don't always feel I have the skill to successfully "improvise" when designing, and that is when a sketch that has worked out the kinks keeps me out of trouble and makes the transition to fabric easier.

But does a sketchbook lock me into a design that may or may not be feasible or possible, Michelle wondered? Oh indeed. And maybe not just into things that aren't feasible to execute (because I love the technical challenge of figuring out that transition), but lock my brain up so that it can't see or accept when something should or could be changed for the better once work begins. I think that's why I didn't want to try to sketch out this particular vision that appeared. It was a bit vague to begin with and relatively simple so why not just let it develop on the wall? Of course, if I had sketched this out beforehand, I could have calculated dimensions and how much fabric I needed. But that too could have locked me up, setting aside good options rather than finding solutions to include them. As Tim Gunn so famously says, "Make it work!" Being forced to come up with creative solutions often results in a more interesting product than the one carefully mapped out in advance. I think it's my left brain that keeps telling me not to deviate from the sketch or reference photo, insisting I follow it exactly. The right brain, when I can get the left brain to go away, can appreciate the safety net of the sketch or photo without being a slave to it or just totally go off on its own.

So you may be wondering, is the quilt I'm improvising turning out as originally envisioned? I don't think so - I think I lost part of the original concept partly due to the limited amount of focus fabric. Am I frustrated or unhappy with the direction it took? Not at all - I'm liking where this is going and that I'm having to put in spacers which may make the design stronger. Will I continue to work both by designing free-form on the design wall and in a sketchbook? Yes - and sometimes with a combination of both. 



The Inside Stori said...

Yup....I can see the addition of an accent color zipping this quilt right up. Though, considering its purpose, it is lovely just as is too.

Chris said...

The quilt is looking good, but I think a zip of color would be interesting. I don't think I have ever really just improvised a quilt from beginning to end on a design wall. I don't know if I could work that way. I guess that is my science background. Even planned quilts don't turn out as you initially imagine. A sketch is helpful, but only a road map. Although I am beginning to think that a value sketch is really helpful and can save lots of time.

MulticoloredPieces said...

Hi, Sheila. This quilt is looking cool--good for a baby, but not at all babyish. Very pretty. I gave up working from sketches long ago...although I have one design I might want to execute. And I totally agree with you. It doesn't come out as you thought it would, it comes out better. I always expect to be dazzled!
Enjoyed seeing your craft fair buys as well. Beautiful.
best, nadia

Michele Matucheski said...

Ahhhh! I see I need to check your blog more than every couple of weeks! Nice to see that my line of questions really struck a creative cord with you. I'm working up my own answers -- It's only fair I tell you how I work, too.