Friday, May 20, 2011

Exercises for the Quiltmaker

"Sitting still is highly dangerous."  says James A. Levine.  Have you ever noticed that painters stand up to paint?  They back off from the easel, squint at it and then lunge forward with the brush?  And what about sculpturers?  forever hammering away!    Compare these artists’ physiques  to the comfortable “traditional”  (as Mma Ramotswe would call it!) build of the average quilter…..and think about it!!

Let’s take the Seven Steps to a Successful quilt that I detail, sometimes (I worry) ad nauseam (!) in one of my workshops and figure out how each could be done from a Standing Posture! Standing steps not sitting steps.

Content conception (no, not contented conception that’s something else and you probably don’t want to stand for it :)).    If, you’re trying to think what to make a quilt about, go for a walk!!  Walking in the forest yields so many possibilities for nature, walking through the shops gives ideas for still lifes, walking through the square by the outside cafes gives ideas for groups of people, walking through a junk yard yields beautiful abstracts.  Stand to take a picture, or make a sketch.  Do it quickly!!

Calculations: you need a sketch, a working plan.  When you get home from your perambulations, firstly take some concrete blocks and raise up all your tables to standing height.  Carry out all the chairs and put them by the road for the sedentary!!  Now rearrange the studio!  Oh no, not just one room!! Aha!! that’s the old idea.   Your planning and sketching table should be on the top floor of the house, if not in the attic space!! (but only if you can stand up of course), your fabric dyeing area should be at the bottom of the garden.  Fabric to be kept on the first or second floor, sewing machine on the ground/first floor.   And the Design Wall in the garage.  Now you’re ready!!  Sketch out all the possible ideas from your walks through forests, parks, neighborhood bars and other playgrounds!   In fact it’s even better if you have  to step up a couple of steps to your sketching table.  Now I think about it you should have a set of those kitchen steps (just 2 or three treads) in every space you use.   

Compass and capacity: so how big do you want your quilt to be?  First measure the ratio of length to width on your sketch…then pace this out on the front lawn.  I think it would be good to roll up sheets to lay them out to indicate the edges of the quilt.  Then, quick!, upto the bedroom windows and look out down at the projected layout…does it look right?  No? Then downstairs quickly, rearrange and up again to reassess!  NO helpers allowed on this one!

Chiaroscuro: it’s important to get the values right so when you shade the sketches…do it on a large sheet of paper.  Really put some elbow grease into the dark values.  A ten step value scale should be enough.  After each value  is laid down. back off about ten paces to asses, then quickly dash back to muscle in the next value!  Results guaranteed!!!

Colour: And now for the colour scheme.  This means another walk – down to the art museum, note the colour schemes you love, over to the fruit and vegetable outdoor market, great source of colour.  Then a quick hike up into the mountains, or along the beach to see what nature has to offer.  Then into the botanical gardens – outside and inside, ignore those benches!! They’re for the non-quilters!!  You’ll come home with nice strong legs and lots of ideas for colour.  Then head down to the bottom of the garden to start dyeing (note the “e”!).

Critique:  so now you have your chosen sketch, values shaded and and your fabric dyed in the hues you adore (not Hughs, please!), all beautifully ironed (standing position only!) with the water spray bottle kept at the other end of the room and returned to its proper position after each use.  The fabrics are laid out in value order, the sketch is ready.  Now for the critique.  Assess each of the design principles one by one, and between each run around the outside of the house 3 times thinking harmony harmony harmony, or tension tension tension!!  Make adjustments as necessary (to sketch, to breathing, to dress..)

Construct:  Oh the joys of manual construction!  First a quick stretch…put your hands on the sewing machine and walk backwards as far as you can while still gripping the machine.  Then walk forwards, pick up the machine with both hands and slowly raise above your head while you decide whether to piece, applique or glue.  People who are glueing must then gradually descend into a deep squat whilst continuing to support the machine above their heads.   

Finally, the quilt is finished!  And you are……………not!! you’re in amazing shape!!  Spread the word…..

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!!!  And do please send more ideas, quiltmakers love to exercise their ingenuity!   Elizabeth


Sandra Wyman said...

Just what I need - though I do have relevant spaces on each floor of the house - studio is top floor, dyeing space on middle floor and coffee banned from both areas so I have to go down to the ground floor to get it. Preparing to teach a dyeing workshop this week I have been rushing up and downstairs and have lost a kilo in two days - now if I can only keep this up (shall have to practice the machine lifting thing and the running round the block I think).
Seriously the coffee only on the ground floor works well for all sorts of reasons - some dyeing techniques, mixing dyes (the easy way - introduce strong urea mix to dye, stir and then go away - it really does work)require a stage that says go away and make a cup of coffee; and going away and not looking at a quilt, design, painting whatever is something I find really important because it makes me look at it differently when I return...

Anonymous said...

Another great read. Thanks for the ideas.

Elsie Montgomery said...

Oh, this is a great post. My biggest problem would be seeing a totally unrelated thing, like dust on a table, on my way from the garden to the top floor, and by the time I do the dusting, I will have totally forgotten why I was going up or down or what direction? and why? For all of this, one needs a head piece that has a stick going out the front to hold notes of reminders of the order of these C's and check boxes so I can remember what I'm supposed to be doing and what floor to go to so it can be done!

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, my house is small and doesn't have three floors. I have a small studio, which is the room above the attached garage, and everything else is on the ground floor. My garage is for parking for my car, storing garden tools & lawn mower, garbage & recycling containers, Christmas decorations, house paint and supplies, saws, screwdrivers, and other necessary items. I don't have the desire or the space to put my design wall in the garage and dyeing fabric in my yard would be a total disaster! My dog would want to "help"!

JKW said...

Your blog is amazing. I am in an itty bitty condo and need a puppy and to move where I don't hear everything my neighbors are saying and doing!!! I am a cloth doll maker and crocheter. Blessings, Janet

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your knowledge through these most entertaining blog articles.
As an untrained (quilt) artist, the road to creating an original piece is often solitary and frought with uncertainty and confusion.
Thank you for shining a guiding light.

Lizzie, South Africa

Sandy in CA said...

Thanks for the great laugh!

I live on one level so will have to figure out another way to add in the up/down aerobics.

Phyllis Cullen said...

So, another reason to sign up for one of your classes, art quilting and aerobic conditioning by Elizabeth Barton- to make up for all the good food at those venues.
And if nothing else, as I tell my patients- "stop, stretch , and breath ", and I tell my students, just like at the railroad crossing, good work means "stop, look, and listen"
LOVE your blog!

Becky said...

Well said, Elizabeth :) I do a lot of getting up and sitting down when I sew as well, but perhaps not QUITE to this extreme.