Recently somebody wrote to the Quiltart list asking us to look at her blog and give her some comments about her work. She wrote: "I have no friends (yet) in this community and no process for feedback locally. I also cannot afford to travel to shows and events. So it’s just me and my sewing room. I am desperately trying to find my 'voice' in fiber art. I would really appreciate those w/experience to help me with ANYTHING."
This struck a chord with me; twelve or thirteen years ago that was pretty much me. So I looked at the work on her blog and noticed that like me, twelve years ago, she had made a bunch of pleasant quilts that were not related to one another in any way. I wrote her back and suggested that she think of working in a series, building on work she had already done and progressing deliberately to repeat things that went well and avoid things that didn't. I said that I had written a lot about this subject in my blog and maybe she would find those posts helpful.
So of course I had to go back and review exactly what I had said in the past, hoping that they might actually be helpful. In one post I discussed when you should abandon a series, and promised that some day I would show you some series that I abandoned and tell you why. Readers, that day has come. Return with me to some of my great failures.
Several years ago I had a solo show in which I made a quilt for every letter of the alphabet. The Z quilt was particularly pleasing to me, because it was a big step forward in my courage to try non-traditional, non-nice technique. Recalling my childhood sword-wielding hero Zorro, who was wont to slash his initial into miscreants' shirts, I slashed a Z into a piece of canvas before dyeing it. By the time the fabric emerged from the washing machine, the edges of the slash had frayed beautifully. I put blood-colored fabric beneath the slash and let it peek out a bit from under the quilting stitches.
I liked the effect so much that I wanted to try it again. The first time was a tiny reprise of the Z, using some canvas left over from my first experiments in fray/dyeing. The next was a small quilt with blue lamé-type fabrics peeking out from the slash, plus a few beads for extra glitz. The third time was a larger quilt with gold peeking out.
I liked all the quilts up close. The frayed edges were nice, the quilting stitches had a good rhythm. The contrast between the rough, drab canvas top layer and the shiny, glam inside worked. But step back a ways and the quilts died. The composition wasn't strong enough to carry the day. I didn't realize at the time, but the simpler the composition, the more important it is to get it right, and these quilts just didn't hack it.
I had already slashed and dyed another piece of fabric for a fourth quilt in the series, but I decided to quit while I was behind. There wasn't enough promise in the three pieces I had made to keep me going. In retrospect I wonder if I made the right decision; there was something of value there and perhaps I could have made it work had I kept with it.
In retrospect, I also realize that the series sputtered to a close because it didn't have enough meaning to me. Yes, the "can't tell a book by its cover" theme is obvious. But that theme doesn't particularly resonate with me; I haven't spent a lot of time contemplating hidden meanings, or trying to figure out people whose inner and outer personalities are vastly different. It was a message that I didn't want to devote a year of my life to sending.
Bottom line: it might have worked visually, but not intellectually or emotionally. Abandon ship.
More failures later.