On the left are two samples of pieced square patch quilting I made back in the 70s, soon after I made my first quilt. I enjoyed looking at the complexity that could be made by sewing together little tiny geometric shapes to make bigger ones in my first quilting attempt, and I picked out another pattern to try another pieced quilt. I quickly became frustrated at how precise you need to be with the cutting and the sewing. This care is especially true if you’re combining triangles, as at least one edge will be on the bias, or the diagonal of the fabric. That’s the stretchest direction on woven fabric, and while the warp (vertical) and the weft (horizontal) threads on a piece may fit together easily when sewn together, the bias can crawl all over the place under the sewing machine needle no matter how well it’s been pinned or basted.
In the above samples, the one on the right is 34.5″ T x 12″ W, or 87.5cm T x 30.5cm W. The piece on the left, made of the exact same fabrics and sized pieces, measures 2″ or 5 cm shorter and 1/2″ or 1.5 cm less wide. As you sew together the little squares and rectangles, 1/8″ or 4mm off in the stitching together of the sides quickly becomes more and more off as you continue sewing more and more pieces together. The above two sections could have been sewn together by putting a running stitch along the edge of the wider piece and “easing” or taking up very small “pleats” in the larger side so that they didn’t really show up. Then, with heavy quilting on the larger piece, the ripples created by easing could be flattened and not show up as much. I decided that would have been too much work and quickly abandoned the project, setting aside the samples until I was cleaning out my studio.
While I’m not sloppy when it comes to my sewing, the confines of sitting at a sewing machine felt constricting early on in my art quilting career. Here is a sample made some time in the 90s when I got my new Bernina 1630 and I was trying out some of the programmed computer stitches built into the machine. At the time, that machine was top of the line, and still has a motor that keeps on going. I was piecing together strips of ribbon and fabric and you can see how quickly the strips became distorted as I moved from left to right. Besides the differences in “give” in the different fabrics I was using, I was also employing different stitches to fasten the strips together. The two varying factors of fabric content and stitch scrunching contributed to a lot of discrepancies in the length (17″ or 43.25cm) at the longest side to 9.75″ or 24.75cm at the widest part of the sample. They were supposed to be the same length!
In 1979, Maria da Conceicao’s innovative book, WEARABLE ART, came out and i was mesmerized by her use of various strips of fabric with folds and other manipulations interspersed with luxurious fabrics. One of the things that I remember from the book was that she often used lace and other fabric motifs over some of her strips of fabric to cover up “mistakes”. I thought I would employ that method and so I also used motifs deliberately placed to balance out for the eye some of the other motifs that had been used. This sample was one of my early attempts at overlaying fabrics.
I greatly admire the skill that goes into piecing some of the intricate art quilts that I’ve seen, especially those that have curved seams. However, applique, for me is so much more forgiving, and quickly became the technique that I employ the most in constructing my art quilt tops. I have just too good of an eye not to see seams that are 1/8″ or 4mm off and I HATE to rip anything out.
Why have you chosen your favorite art medium? What others did you try and why did you abandon them?
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