Monday, March 30, 2015

Failed series 1 -- slashed and frayed

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.

Remembering Zorro

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. 

Revelations 2: Heart of Gold 

Revelations 2 (detail)

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.


  1. I wish you hadn't stopped.
    I love the idea of slashing that reveals something inner.
    I think there could be a metaphor in this that relates to our humanity.

  2. I have come to your blog via a comment from Olga Norris ... and I'm very pleased to be here! Olga sent me a link to a post of yours from last year following a workshop you did with Dorothy Caldwell. She felt that I would be interested in what you did as I have recently been playing with all sorts of mark making - and she was right. I shall be revisiting I feel sure!

  3. It's interesting that you stopped with the slash and reveal, while continuing with the fracture lines. The fracture lines are really kindof similar in a way. Especially when the teeny lines are all the same color. So... did you REALLY stop? Perhaps the fracture lines have the stronger composition that the slashes did not.

  4. Isn't it nice how sometimes a "fail" can really be a win?