Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Blast from the past

My friend-since-graduate-school sent me an email the other day with a photo of a quilt:

I made this quilt 50 years ago for her son Kimo, who is about to have his big birthday.  It's obviously still in circulation in the household, perhaps used by one of his kids.  

I had never taken a picture before I mailed it off, and I am thrilled to see it again.  I remember the actual design and construction, and how I struggled to make it.  I had cut out the beautiful curvy motif, turned under the edges and pinned it carefully to the background.  But when I started to sew, it slithered around and thus became all puffy and bulgy.

With hardly any quilting to hold things in place, the bulges have survived the decades.  So have the vivid colors, since the fabric was largely polyester (that's pretty much all we had in the early 70s).  

For me, the photo is a reminder of how little I knew about quiltmaking in those days -- and no wonder, because I was totally self-taught, without benefit of the myriad books, magazines, workshops, quilt shops and quilt guilds that later turned quilting into an easily-accessed industry.  Fortunately, I have learned many things since then, and not just about quilts!

The photo also reminds me of my enduring love for the curvy shapes that I stole from Henri Matisse.  You probably know about how the great artist, having lost almost all his sight, turned to scissors and paper when he could no longer paint.  He cut these shapes, along with dancers and stars, and made a body of work that is stunning in its simplicity and power.

Henri Matisse, The Sheaf
Kimo's quilt was the first time I had used this motif, but it would certainly not be the last.  Years later when I learned how to do free-motion quilting, I used this same curvy rhythm to fill space.  I called this pattern "Matisse" and have taught it to many students.  

Sometimes I make little motifs in rows.

Sometimes I let the curves sprawl across large areas.  

Just looking at the photos makes me want to go down in the studio and sew Matisse curves onto something!