Saturday, January 30, 2010

Old and New

In 1992 I was twenty and getting my undergrad in art a small private arts school in Seattle. This was a school that made a sincere distinction between "high" art and craft... For example, the school had a kiln, but would never hire a ceramics teacher because clay was considered craft and therefore, not real art. The school did have photography, but only black and white (I think for financial reasons rather than aesthetic) and even then, there was still some debate about it. High art was painting, drawing and sculpture. Craft was ceramics, quilting, beadwork, knitting, sewing, weaving, etc. short, anything you'd have a chance at making something actually practical with. Haha! No, really---it was a serious art school.....just not a very diversified one.

That year, fall semester, I got it into my head that I wanted to make a quilt. I'd done a little sewing, self-taught, altered some punk rock clothes as a teenager, that sort of thing. I remember getting this very powerful idea for a quilt and having the very sure, very real understanding that if I made this thing, "Good things will happen!" For those of you who don't make art, let me tell you a strange but deeply important truth: When a creative person gets an idea that seems to shout in their head and heart, they HAVE to make it. If they don't, it rots inside of them. These powerful ideas, the real 'singers,' as I call them, lead you on to more art, great art, powerful art....whatever your art may be! Dog mushing analogy here: Singers are your lead dogs of lead dogs. You put them out in front of the team with perfect love and confidence. They will lead you and all of your other ideas straight and true.

So....I began the quilt.

I didn't know anything about materials, but I knew I wanted to make it out of recycled, found fabrics of all kinds. I delighted in going to thrift stores to buy odd fabrics and clothing made of such to cut up. (I also searched my closet---if you look, there is an off-turquoise embroidered vest in there...)

Not having a sewing machine, I did it all by hand.

Not having a work table, I did it all on the floor.

Not having a teacher or classes or even a book about quilting, I made it all up as I went along and I had a FABULOUS time!

I skipped classes at school to work on my quilt. I couldn't tell anyone about it, either. Since I went to a shee-shee arts school, quilting was craft! (Insert horrified shudder.) Not only was quilting craft, quilting was home craft. In current art trends, so many crafts are experiencing a resurgence of use, popularity and respect and I am thrilled with this. In the early 90's, that wasn't the case.

The quilt kept growing and growing and growing. It covered the entire floor of my little apartment. Finally, to figure out where it had to STOP, I took masking tape and lined out borders right on the carpet----this far and no farther! Although I slept on a single bed foam mattress on a 6' sturdy coffee table, the quilt was HUGE. I loved how the shapes and colors combined to such an extent that the quilt, well....was extensive! It turned into something that covers a king sized mattress.

This is something I have great nostalgia about----my artmaking panache at that time. No planning, no fussing, no questioning....just making. I'd get an idea and DO it, and wouldn't worry about....well, anything at all, really.

I made the quilt---finishing it entirely with backing and batting over the course of a couple of years. And good things DID happen! I found an adorable old four poster bed for it to fit on. I slept under it and had great dreams. I snuggled up with cute boyfriends under it and had even more great dreams. I got married to a man cuter than any of the boyfriends, hands down, and it graces our shared, even bigger bed, in the house we built together.

Twenty years later, I still have and still love this quilt. I still believe that it will bring me great things. It's taken a beating, however. 20 years of frequent use shows. I've patched it from time to time, here and there... but the tears, wear spots, fading fabric, bad sewing (I did mention I taught myself) and bad seams have gotten the better of it. I drew some arrows showing some of the damage....and there's damage to almost every patch!

2010. I decided this is the year to finish up a lot of old projects, throw out/get rid of stuff I will never finish, and finally---repair those things that I really love and want to keep. The Grand Quilt is #1 on the list to fix.

My studio, yesterday, applying the first patch. Since I've done other fabric projects over the intervening years (other quilts, too, although none as precious) I have a big box of fabric. I dug through it for good patching material and found a few pieces of the original fabrics! What a thrill! I'm not a packrat, but I do keep important art supplies. (Translation: I am an art supply pack rat.) So....the Grand Quilt will live on for another 20 years with a slightly new, updated face. My fantasy is to always have this quilt, always take a period of time to repair and renew it, and sleep under it when I am old and white haired and stinking rich.


Leanne Pizio said...

Love the quilt and your quilt story.
I think about the art verses craft debate quite often. Can you believe I used to subscribe to the theory that pottery making, wood working, sewing, jewelry making was craft? They taught me that at school too. Look at me now! Ha! I am much more evolved and they(my old snobby teachers)can shove their idea of art.:)

Eero said...

I struggled with that debate, too---and had similar teachers! It's funny---and kind of tragic---that I felt like I had to do anything vaguely crafty in secret.

I am SO glad all crafts are getting the respect, enjoyment and attention that they deserve.

Anonymous said...

Haven't looked at your blog in a while, funny to look at it when you post this. I do remember talking with you about that quilt then, though I never saw it. And your old apartment building was torn down this year, to make way for more condos and a train station, I think. Your quilt looks beautiful, a treasure. The quilt you sent me hangs on the wall in my foyer. People comment on it often. I've only made a few small quilts, and gave them all away.

Anonymous said...

What a WONDERFUL story! Thank you for sharing. I 100% know how you feel. I studied art history at Harvard and let's just say they were more than a little surprised when I wrote my senior thesis on the art of quilts. I too spent many late nights in the dorm room sewing. The whole art vs. craft debate just seems so silly to me. I LOVE sewing, quilting, knitting, you name it, and could care less about those who feel it isn't as worthy.

I'm so glad I found your blog ;)

Kathy Hodge said...

I used to have to sneak home to look at Persian miniatures, when my art teachers were pushing Rauschenberg on me...

bugheart said...

god, i love that story.
and i remember
thinking that
quilt was
the most beautiful ever.
you made me want to quilt.
happy birthday dear friend...
your present is late
but in
shlichta style
with belated