Monday, July 18, 2011

More on compos(t)ing: legless eyes!

There are a lot of important things to remember when trying to compos(t)e well.

Don’t put too much into the mix at once, it will overwhelm the process. Gradually add ingredients assessing constantly as to whether the balance is right. Squinting is a good way to assess the balance!! (Actually,holding your nose is often good too!) When you look at the heap, or the piece on the wall, you want to see a few large value masses….I must admit I am always turned off by those quilts that look like they’ve been through a shredder – lots of squitty little bits that don’t add up to any large shapes to grab my attention. (but this is probably good for a compost heap!)  In a quilt, however don’t get too carried away with details. The big pieces are what’s important.

warmlight And the shapes should be interesting, not too stiff and block like – that’s why we all loved the direction shown us by the Gee’s Bend and Oakland quilters, they made the shapes so much more interesting than the rigid stiff rows we had learned in quilting 101.


Don’t add one large thing slap bang in the middle, it will probably just sit there indigestible to the end! As you add ingredients, do it with rhythm, the more syncopated the better! The mix is more interesting if things are not lined up rigidly. The same is true with plants…rigid planting rows look unnatural and industrial. Unless, of course, you’re making a point about that rigidity as Elizabeth Brimelow has done so elegantly in several of her quilts.

One thing I notice, as I critique and make suggestions in my online classes with Quilt University, is a tendency to have important things too near the edge of a piece, or lined up with the edges too stiffly. Now sometimes there is a reason to do that – for example if you were making a quilt about marginalization, but usually you don’t want the good stuff right on the very edge of things or stuffed into a corner. It’s like planting your best rose bush behind the garage in a dark corner…. Even in the Gospels it says bring out the good wine first!    And, yes, I’ve wandered off the compost metaphor a bit!

lavender gothic 2 Now it’s often written that you should have a clear opening for your quilt or your compost heap, that there should be an entrance, and a pathway round for the eyes (or worms!) to follow. I think this must be because people think of their eyes as having legs! But in fact your eyes have wings! And they fly quickly from one thing to another, so I don’t know that pathways are All That Necessary. I don’t know about your peepers but mine absolutely leap to the good bits!! Forget following a proscribed path!! (not that I haven’t had clear entrances to many of my quilts!) .  I like them, but I don’t think they’re strictly necessary.


…I think it’s more important that the different elements within the piece form a coherent pattern, that things are not just dotted around like currants on a bun! Our neighbours have had a landscape gardener who frankly should be shot because he created a “rockery” where the rocks are dotted painfully evenly spaced across the slope. It looks so fake and weird. There is no connection between the rocks – the main shapes – and that disconnection means the piece is scattered, incoherent, poorly pulled together. (thank goodness he doesn’t read my blog!!) (the neighbour or the landscaper!).




One good way to organize elements like this is with gradation – a very useful way to help balance a piece and also create movement. Our eyes do follow gradations in line, in shape, in dark to light, in colour. By using gradation you can make a large shape both more interesting and keep the movement going so that, as we look at it, we don’t get stuck. This is especially useful toward the edges of a piece…you want the viewer’s attention moved towards the center. This effect was often used by the Amish in their quilts…gradually shifting colors towards the middle of a piece.  In Geoff’s Shed (on the right) notice how the values are graded gradually as you go up the piece.


Well it’s time to get back out there and layer on a few more possibilities!
If you have been, thanks for reading!
Love the comments! Elizabeth


Cheryl K. said...

Great illustrations for your thoughtful and timely post! Thanks!!

Elsie Montgomery said...

Thanks from me too. You are a constant reminder of the basics of design... I so often get caught up in the details and forget the big picture. For me it takes a deliberate choice - you always help with that!

M.E. said...

How are these pieces constructed? Are we looking at applique, foundation piecing, inset seams and Y-seams a la Ruth McDowell...?

Elizabeth Barton said...

thanks for the comments!! Re construction: straight forward piecing whenever possible, so the top one is all pieced as is the bottom one, the street scene is nearly all pieced with some applique. and the Lavender Gothic one is nearly all applique. No glue. No foundation piecing, and to be honest I don't know what inset or Y seams are! but I may use them and call them something else.

Elizabeth Barton said...

I've never taken a Ruth McDowell class but I think it would be very interesting - if anyone wants to treat me!!

M.E. said...

I would if I could! Her piecing is out of this world. According to her website, her five-day course at Asilomar is $1300.

Kerry said...

Elizabeth...we're going to get fat on all your food for thought>>>>lol

Thanks for more...


Suzanne DeCuir said...

Besides squinting, I've found that turning a piece upside down or sideways helps in planning composition. THanks.

Linda Strowbridge said...

I love this string of posts. And I'd love to see more ... if you're so inclined. :-} Recently, I've been reading a composition book for painters that stresses over and over and over again the need to focus on abstract forms of differing value and not to get lost in details. I think I need to engrave this above my design wall.

Elizabeth Barton said...

That's what is so wonderful about art, there is always more to learn which will help one improve!! I'm beginning to work on a book...but am currently in Canada to sail!! so I'm not sure how much compost I'll be making up here, knots more likely!