I've been making some unusual quilts, for me, at least. I've made two fairly traditional pieces in the last few months, and here's the article I wrote about the making of them:
I haven’t made a strictly traditional quilt for a long, long, time…..probably 15 years, or so; but I just made two traditional quilts this last month. So, why now? Part of the reason is that I took a workshop and made traditional blocks in the class in pretty batik colors that would be a shame to waste. Part of it is that when I looked around for some old blocks I thought would go with the new blocks, I found those signature exchange blocks we made for 3 different retreats (way back when), some miniature blocks given to me by Kathy Levesque, and a doll quilt made by my daughter when she was five years old. None of the old blocks would play nicely with the new blocks because the old ones were all made out of calicos; so I had to make 2 quilts. But, still, why make them into quilts, at all? Sheer stubbornness not to have an unfinished project around? Possibly, but I think there was another reason.
I think it’s due to an unusually frustrating, emotionally distraught, annoying couple of months at my house. I find that when times get hard, when I hit that wall and can’t quite get over it, if clutter I can’t control is in my space, my creative brain won’t work properly and the only thing I can do is put lots of pieces together perfectly to create the illusion that I am in control of my environment. It’s a Zen thing.
The basic rules of quilting, I think (and this is my own, totally irrational theory, not based on any historical fact), were made by women on the prairies as a self-protection mechanism. A prairie woman could not control the Indians or the grass fires or the locusts, and she couldn’t even get clean on a regular basis. She could not access Weather Scan on the Internet, she couldn’t call AAA when the wagon broke down, or Webvan and have groceries delivered. She was out there in a lonely wilderness, often completely helpless; therefore, she had to have something to cling to, something to give her the illusion that she had some control over her environment. I think that that when she could make ½” squares meet perfectly, diamonds and triangles with sharp little points, and quilt evenly 20 stitches to the inch, she felt in control of that quilt, and thus part of her life. Seriously, don’t you think that’s where the rules came from in the first place?
I do. I’m a contemporary art quilter. I don’t do repetitive blocks, sashing, or traditional quilts anymore, but that’s what I’ve been working on lately. Something about putting squares together in neat little rows helps me tolerate the mess in my bedroom while the workers are reconstructing the master bath. Something about cutting nice straight sashing and adding in corner squares distracts me from the emotional angst some family troubles is putting us all through. Something about making all those scrappy blocks flow together in color waves helps me ignore the chaos in the backyard where my husband’s construction project has lain in bits and pieces, strewn with tools, for months. And let’s not even talk about the falling-down fence (is the fence company really backed up for 5 months????), the half-stained deck, and the irritating tangle of computer/camera/phone/charger cords that inhabits the desk in the back office.
No, let me go into my sewing studio where I can cut and piece and reminisce about when my daughter was little and played with that doll blanket; about all of those friends whose names are on the nice, square, blocks; and keep sewing them in pretty patterns whose colors ebb and flow around me as I drink my tea, listen to country music and sew order and peace out of the chaos. I can retreat into my nice, little illusion that I am in control of my environment.
It’s my illusion, and I’m clinging to it.