Friday, April 2, 2010

Quilts of Various Sorts.

I've been known to be a quilter. Not a "quilter" in that sense of having a lovely sewing room with all my fat quarters (look it up, non-quilters) arrayed in precise prismatic order, and all the latest gear for machine embroidery. I like scrap quilts. The ones I grew up with, with printed cotton broadcloth cut either cleverly or economically into kaleidoscope patterns. When we were kids, we used to like to look up through them in the mornings and admire the stained-glass effect of the colours and the seams that became visible through the backing.

I like the idea of quilts that use up every scrap of the useable. "Use it up, Wear it out, Make it do, or Do without" is a saying that could have come out of the mouth of either one of my grandmothers. One had a tinfoil drawer, a ball of elastics, and scads(to use her word) of string. The other was the quilter. I have on my bed, sometimes, the quilt she gave to my husband and I as a wedding present (lo, these many years ago). I had it on my bed for every day of my marriage while she was alive. After she died, I thought I'd better take it off, to better preserve it, but its pretty tattered now anyway, so whenever I feel the need of it, I put it on the bed again. It is a masterpiece of conception and construction. Grandma used the remnants of housedresses, doll clothes (which were probably remnants when I knew them as doll clothes), aprons, curtains, and combined them into pinwheels, masked off by ribands of multicoloured solid strips, on a pristine white ground. Despite being composed of a multiplicity of colours, the whole is perfectly balanced, allowing the eye to wander over the entire surface without distraction. The corners match, the seams, some of which are now visible through lifting patches, are arrow straight, and look as if they'd been cut with a razor; this long before the handy dandy rotary cutters which are the only way I can do this kind of thing. The quilting, done by hand on a frame built by my grandfather, is at least 8 and more often 10 stitches to the inch, and as I can recall from working with her, if the needle didn't make it through all layers, you went back and tried again.

My quilts are more, Yes, let's call it that. I try to keep things on the straight and narrow, but if a seam edge flips over when I'm sewing it, I leave it. My stitch length depends on which needle I'm using and if the television program in the background is interesting or not.

Both Grandma and I learned the hard way that the recycling ethic has a downside. Remnants are ok, but using much loved already used garments can be disastrous, as that patch will wear out before any of the others. Using cheap material can also sometimes let you down. So it is with my quilt. That, as much as anything is why its tattered. The stitches have held, but the fabric has not.

While I was thinking about Grandmothers, I remembered a photo I'd once made for something called Self-Portrait Tuesday, which was a kind of web "happening", which started as blog, became an interactive website, and now, renamed Self-Portrait Challenge, seems to exist only asa Flickr group, though it still maintains its thematic nature. If you Google it, that's where you'll end up. There was a monthly or weekly theme and photographers from around the world would post their interpretations. I made two that are quiltish. One, I called Quilt of Days, and was a nine-patch of images I made of myself and what I was up to for a space of time. I wanted it to look like a crazy quilt.

The other was a collage of images which I called something like "remembering the grandmothers" or "thinking about the grandmothers" or some such thing. Genetics is a bit like quilting really. You take a bit of this and a bit of that, an eye colour here, a quirky smile there, some stature, or not, a laugh, a predisposition to this or that disease, and stitch them together. There's a pattern, but you can change it up a bit. GATTACACGATTA. You know.

And you just never know how the whole thing will come out until its finished!

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