Sunday, March 21, 2010

Termite art – part 1

I had the pleasure of speaking at our local Quilters’ Day Out last week. It’s always a challenge to figure out what to say to an audience of mostly traditional quilters without making them feel that you have abandoned them for the rarefied air of “art.” But I feel such a bond with the traditions of quilting that I love to have these crossover opportunities.

Once I read about the concept of “termite art” – obsessive work made of a gazillion little bits assembled together – and decided that it described me pretty well. I thought I would use this as my theme for the speech, because if there’s anything that traditional and non-traditional quilters share, it’s a love for sewing little pieces of fabric together.

I started by displaying probably the most traditional quilt I’ve ever made, one incorporating thousands of 2-inch squares of leftover bits sewed together. (I wrote about my 2-inch squares in a recent blog post.)

I’ve made those 2-inch squares for years, working on them when I needed the therapy of sewing in a quiet room but was too tired or stressed to do anything requiring actual thinking. The first several thousand went into this quilt, but I kept sewing. One day I realized that my therapy squares were disproportionately green, and it gave me the idea to put them together to make a design. I was on an alphabet kick at the time, so the design happened to be a letter.

Green T, 2001, 33 x 44

That worked out so well that I made three other quilts with the same concept.

Black T, 2002, 33 x 44

Orange Pekoe T, 2002, 33 x 44

Earl Grey T, 2002, 33 x 44

Later I took the concept farther, abandoning the 2-inch square but still using bits of pieced work to make up large expanses of monochrome.

Complementary With an E, 2005, 50 x 68

I'll post later this week about other series that I think qualify as termite art.


  1. As I was surfing the quilting blogs today i found this wonderful entry, then went on to read the earlier post that you referred to. Thank you for sharing these ideas. You have a new fan.

  2. I know I have seen this work but I had forgotten how beautiful some of the surfaces are. I love the "background" fabric for the E.

  3. I came across this post via a link from another blog - I love what you have done with all your scraps. I'm basically a traditional quilter and hate to throw out my scraps, even the smallest of the small, thinking 'one day I will use them' but not knowing how. You have given me some great ideas to work with. Thank you....Joy (in Australia)

  4. thanks to all for your kind comments!

    Joy, keep reading -- in Part 3 I'll tell you how to use even tinier scraps.