Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Every now and then I take down at random one of the hundreds of art and quilting books on my shelves and reread it. If nothing else, you can usually find some nice pictures to drool over, but often you find some words of wisdom that are worth thinking about. In the latter category, some words from Ruth McDowell's book, "Fabric Journey."
I've always been a fan of Ruth McDowell, even though I would never in a million years try to work as she does, with intricate designs totally planned out in advance and executed with precise freezer-paper templates. To me most of the fun of quiltmaking is improvisation, solving problems as you go rather than charting out your course before you even start to cut and sew.
But I'm still in awe of her ability to combine commercial prints into harmonious and evocative compositions that faithfully reproduce the character and feeling of nature, even if they are miles away from the actual appearance of that nature. Only Ruth can make skies out of plaid, pumpkins out of polka dots, flamingoes out of floral prints. And she does it all the old-fashioned way, with traditional piecing techniques.
I was impressed by her remarks about her use of purchased and found fabrics:
"My quilts are visual compositions in line, color, and pattern, as well as interpretations of the inspirational subject; they must work graphically from a distance as well as reward close study of the details. The use of commercial fabrics contributed to this outcome, not only with their variety of colors and patterns, but also because of the historical and emotional connections these fabrics make.
"Fabrics have been part of the human experience, providing comfort and warmth for thousands of years. Technically, it would often be much easier to dye or paint the fabrics I need, but the deliberate use of the same fabrics found in clothing and furnishing in my quilts links both the quiltmaker (me) and the viewer to other lives and times, whether or not we are intellectually aware of that connection."
I don't work much with found fabrics in my own quiltmaking, but I do love to work with other people's scraps or abandoned projects, and it's for exactly the reasons that Ruth points out -- the connection between me and some other woman who once sat down at a sewing machine or a cutting table to work on her own project and express her own joy and creativity in its making. We all honor the same ideal: the power of the needle to stitch together our world and the loved ones who inhabit it.