Monday, July 11, 2011

Compos(t)ing: it’s how you mix it.

To make good compost you should intelligently mix an assortment of materials to make something good and rich and much greater than the sum of its parts! The same is true without the “t”, though of course (as you know) I’m rarely without the (cuppa) tea!

The first thing to decide is the shape of your compost heap. In the garden I make little circles of fencing wire that I can fill quickly and easily with my mix of materials (some brown (warm colour), some green (cool colour)! The traditional shape is square or rectangle, however. The boundary is the first parameter to set. Likewise the first four lines in any composition are its boundaries: the edges of your quilt. Square or rectangle or round? And, if a rectangle, what ratio of height to width will you choose? Common ratios are 1:2, 2:3, 3:4, 4:5, 5:6. When I’m thinking about my subject material, I’ll often draw these shapes out so that I can see what will fit my idea the best. Currently I’m enamoured of an almost 2:1 (width to height) rectangle. I think this is because I’ve been working with landscapes. When I made the series of quilts called Idea of a City, however, I made them all square. I wanted to show the strength and stability of the old cities and the timelessness. My home town is 2,000 years old; I wanted the shape of my quilts to reflect that persistence through time. A square is very strong and stable.

ideaofacity castlesintheair OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Having decided the shape of the compost heap, or the quilt , the next thing is to decide where you’re going to place the important elements, the big shapes. In a compost heap, a horizontal stratification usually works best, though there are those idiots who like to smoosh the peelings and leaves around into an amorphous mix. I’ve never been keen on amorphosity! I like a clean clear plan that in some way fits the idea I’m working with. I always remember that lovely little painting by Milton Avery of a river with a row of ducks…all lined up, very horizontal – as a river will always be. If you ever want to see the big main shapes in a painting, Milton Avery is the place to go – he is a master at isolating those shapes. Google images has lots of examples.

all that glitters is not gold

In my quilts I’ve always been fond of a strong diagonal force which is held in place by opposing diagonals; I like to get a sense of a pulsing vitality, especially in the industrial landscapes but also in the abstract building pieces.

 

 

nantahala72

Natural landscapes, however, suggest a softer approach, a curving arrangement of the important shapes with a little mystery here and there – now where might that interesting looking road go…..

 

There are several other arrangements you can choose besides horizontal , vertical, diagonal or curving S shapes. You can experiment with cutting out abstract shapes in black paper and arranging them on a white page – see how many possibilities you come up with. Circular or radiating designs, for example – very popular in quilting for many years. It’s good to think how various arrangements might fit specific ideas. I remember when I worked in a long stay hospital years ago, I was always dismayed by the way the nurses would arrange the patients’ chairs in rigid rows. I had them re arrange them in more natural social curves and groups. In a recent class, a student was making a quilt about bottles and there were so many different ideas that she could convey about those bottles simply in the arrangement of their shapes on the background of the quilt.

These are only the first two steps in compos(t)ing - there are many steps more before the luscious result!! So, I’m going to don my wellies and get to work!!

And so, if you have been, thanks for reading!!!
If the comments suggest interest in further steps,
then I’ll be happy to return to the keyboard aka the compost heap of words!
Elizabeth

11 comments:

Kathleen Loomis said...

what intrigued me, reading this post, is how differently people work. I generally have no idea what shape my quilt is going to end up (except rectangular). As I proceed different bits get sewed to different sides and at some point I decide it's done (maybe that's all the fabric I had??). Then I discover what shape it is.

Elizabeth Barton said...

I'll sometimes find it's turned out a little bigger - or more likely smaller as I frequently prune off a large section! - but usually the shape and the ratio stay the same...
I think the difference may be whether one is working with units that are then arranged together...or one big image or idea.

pam in sw florida said...

I would love more steps. I appreciate the realting composting to art! I usually like less visual patterning than the quilts you showed, but that is me with my simple brain.

Elizabeth Barton said...

further thoughts on compost are in the works!!

PJS said...

Elizabeth I have been reading your posts for quite a while and to me they are one of the few that really make me think. I really appreciate the time and effort you put into your posts and I love the insights. I have taken your Inspired to Design class at Quilt University and I will be back again. I just returned from the Sisters, Oregon Quilter's Affair and Quilt Show. The week before the show is filled with classes given by artists from all over. When asked who I would like to see your name filled the blank area on the form. I really hope to see or meet you someday.

Thanks for sharing.

Pam in Oregon

Elizabeth Barton said...

Thank you very much, Pam!!I appreciate both compliments re the blog (to which I wish I could devote more time, but alas there are so many things!) and to the recommendation for the Sisters Quilt show. It sounds like a great experience!

Quilt or Dye said...

Elizabeth,
I think you should put together all your design lessons from your blog into a book and sell it. I'd buy it! Your posts are exceptional.

sandy in ca said...

I'd love more steps as well and echo those who learn from your postings! I really appreciate your willingness to share -- invaluable to me.

nandas said...

well, to pam in oregon... elizabeth has agreed to come to the columbia fiber guild in portland oregon next year! maybe we will see you there!
elizabeth i read your posts regularly... i love learning more about how to put a quilt together. there are so many things that you have thought through and you are so generous to share. you must be a born teacher!

Elizabeth Barton said...

thank you for the positive comments...and I am taking steps towards putting some of this stuff into a book....
I'm looking forward to my trip to Oregon - have never been there!
And with a little bit of luck this w/e will be able to add a little more compost info! thank you all for reading!!

Kerry said...

Elizabeth...another fascinating and thought provoking post...