Monday, December 3, 2012

The challenge of challenges 1

A popular trope in the quilt/art world is to organize challenge or theme projects.  Participants must submit quilts that fit a given theme, a given size or shape, a given color scheme, a given fabric, a given subject, or combinations and permutations of the above.  Such projects are often fun for all concerned.  Participants often find that making work in response to a challenge sparks their creativity and fosters cameraderie.  Viewers often enjoy the exhibit because it's fun to see how different people responded to the same rules.  Organizers often find that the exhibit is attractive and easy to hang, especially with a size or shape constraint.

I used to love challenge projects, and participated in many of them.

In 1997 Quilter's Newsletter Magazine sponsored an exhibit called "Rhapsody of Roses."  The rule: you had to have at least one rose on the quilt.  I was determined to enter the contest, but worried about how my work would stack up against the others to be juried in.  I anticipated miles and miles of beautiful roses, and I just don't do beautiful.  So I decided to be in contrast to the beautiful roses, and focus on thorns.

Rose Among Thorns, 1997

I drew three different thorn blocks on the computer and printed them out for paper foundation piecing.  The blocks were irregular quadrilaterals, which will tesselate to cover the surface.  The colors aren't very true in this photo -- digitized from the original slide -- but the thorns were all gray or brown, against green backgrounds.  One pink rose lurked in the bottom corner of the quilt.

I was thrilled to get into the exhibit, and mystified to win a prize for "Best Interpretation of Theme."  I still don't understand whether the award came from the quilt or the artist statement, in which I said something sappy about the rose that struggles against adversity being sweeter or more beautiful than the one that has no troubles.

Some time in the mid-90s I took a workshop with Margaret Miller, a quiltmaker whose work I have always admired because she provides plans rather than patterns; no two students will ever make the same quilt under her guidance.  After the great success of her first plan, "Strips That Sizzle," she was experimenting with a new plan, "Easy Pieces," in which you construct a block out of several wedge-shaped strips, then combine blocks in different patterns.  At the end of the workshop she invited us to make quilts using this plan and send her photos that she could use in a book.

I made a couple of quilts, one of which did appear in the book.  This was a breakthrough project for me, the first time I had ever quilted a piece of this size (about twin-bed size).

Blue Ridge Mountains (detail below)

Later this week I'll tell you about some other challenge quilts I made.



  1. This sounds fascinating. I am looking forward to hearing about your journey.
    Sandy in the UK

  2. I found your blog recently and love your work/style of quilt making
    I have always wanted to be more involved with challenges but don't always feel my quilts would be as creative as others.
    looking forward to you sharing your journey of challenge quilts

  3. Kathie -- stay tuned -- my journey goes a long way before it gets to present time

  4. I am in the middle of a couple of challenges, and I have turned 180 in how I feel. But that said, I will persevere. But I have new insight, if that is the positive way of thinking, about involving a challenge.

    Thanks for your honest thoughts.