Saturday, March 24, 2012

What It Takes

I have been busy with tax season, with other projects, and have not had a quilt to work on for a couple of weeks. So I had a few minutes in the studio this week and decided to start something new. My first impulse is usually to do something I have done before, what I call the "Hollywood Impulse." It worked before, so maybe I should do the same thing only a little bit different! I laid a whole quilt out to do just that, and realized that I was remaking something, and that my heart was just not in it.

But once I had the fabrics laid on the floor, a couple of them caught my eye, this striped stuff and this beautiful African print. Since I am always looking for high contrast, these two seemed like a pair I could work with.
Great. But now what to do with them? I often find myself in this situation, without an idea in my head. Nothing. No idea what to do. When I feel like that, I just get out my rotary cutter and cut into my favorite of the fabrics before me, the stuff I am afraid to cut. That was this strip. I just whacked away at it for a while, cutting strips on different angles. Eventually I figured I could lay this across some of the green and orange print.

And I was off. Everything at that point becomes a design problem, a problem with an answer. Not, "What should I do?" anymore, but "How big should this chunk be?" and "What should I do about this corner?" and so on.

For me, what it takes is this willingness to start a project without a pattern or picture. For you it might be the pattern or picture. But whatever it takes to get going is what we have to find. For me finishing it is the easy part: I just keep going until I am done with this piece, then start another.

A big part of making the quilts you want is simply finding out what it takes to start your motor.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Winona Pepin, Quilter Extraordinaire

Last December The Dorcas Quilters of St John's Presbyterian Church in San Francisco lost a guiding light when Winona Pepin died at the age of 98. Here is a picture from a few years ago with John Maxwell and Patricia Pepin holding up one of Winona's many quilts and everyone else gathered around her.

Winona was born in Kansas and came to San Francisco in the 1950's, I believe. What I know about her for sure is that when I first moved to San Francisco in the 1990's and attended a quilt show, she was there with the Dorcas Quilters as ever, quilting at the frame as a way of inspiring and teaching all comers about the joy of quilting. She was quiet and contained, so one might overlook her at first, but once you sat at the frame for a few minutes it became clear that Winona was the acknowledged master quilter and the sparkle in the atmosphere. She was always very clear about what she liked and how she liked quilts to be done, but she was also always open to new ideas.

I got to know Winona a bit the day she turned 91. That year I had received a grant to have a long exhibition of my own quilts together with antique quilts from which I had drawn inspiration. Part of the show was a Walk Through How-to-Make-a-Quilt Wall, which culminated in a frame with me sitting there and quilting all day, every day. I loved because I could see the whole show from where I sat, so I could answer questions, conduct tours and teach quilting all at the same time. One day in July Winona drove herself up from Daly City to sit an quilt with me for a while. Over the course of the day I learned it was her birthday, and this was the way she wanted to spend it. We had a ball, talking quilts and life. I learned that she had been quilting all her life, and that she came from a long line of quilters. But most important was that I learned even more about her agile and fertile mind, that she was always curious. Fortunately few people attended the show that day so we told stories and quilted for hours.

After that whenever I had a quilt frame set up in the public somewhere Winona would always spend at least a day there with me. Generous to all, and always fun to be around, she lit up the room. The Dorcas Quilters have quite a few brilliant and accomplished quilters, but none who learned to quilt so long ago, none with that amount of experience. She is irreplaceable there and in my heart as well. We all miss her.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Vanishing Point

Here is my latest pieced and appliqued quilt, "My Vanishing Point." The pink fabric is a sort of dark pink and white striped shirting, and the black and white striped fabric is shirting as well. The other two fabrics are standard quilt fabric. The little appliqued squares were given to me by Naomi Ichikawa, editor of Patchwork Quilt Tsushin, a Japanese quilting magazine. When she came to visit and interview me for an article she brought me a stack of precut squares, which I decided to use just as they came out of the package. The black lines are made with commercial bias tape, which I buy whenever I see it.

I wanted to make an image of how I felt about the horizon of old age, how it always recedes, with an image of my own road I am walking, which someday will vanish. For me it is a comfort to make something that allows me a place to think about topics like this. If I keep making things only about the beauty of the world, I get tired of it. Also, I want to see things I have never seen before. So making a quilt on this subject in this way turns out to be exactly what I need to stay alive and interested.