I started as a quiltmaker, and I literally started making art quilts twenty years ago by looking out the window at my own backyard. We had lots of trees and bird life, and in the snowy Kentucky winters cardinals would practically line up at our bird feeder. I knew I wanted to capture their vivid red against the snow. I wanted to design my own original quilt block, one that was recognizably a cardinal and was also sew-able, without too much sobbing and gnashing of teeth. Here are a few of my early sketches:
My fibers professor in grad school required that before we plunged into the construction of any piece, we had to make several samples, mock-ups using the actual design and materials, in order to test our ideas, materials, and methods. Often we had to do half a dozen or more samples before we were permitted to proceed with construction of the final piece. While this is not a project I did for school, I followed this process. So here are a few of the cardinal blocks I tried:
Ruth McDowell. To add interest some of the background blocks are pieced in strips, and the quilt's border is irregular and interrupted in places by the blocks themselves.
Here's the final quilt:
Of course, you know what they say about the best-laid plans. In this case, after I had all the blocks pieced together and had done the quilting--when the quilt was nearly finished, in other words--I added the large branch shapes, appliqueing them over the surface of the quilt. It seemed that the birds perched on their tiny twigs needed to be connected to larger branches somehow. Not all the birds are on a branch, but enough are. The birds are no longer floating in space, and the branches lead the eye through the piece effectively. And I like the disconnectedness of the branches, which would never have happened if I had designed them in from the beginning.
So it seems that both deliberate planning and then being able to respond sensitively to the piece in front of you as it develops are both crucial. Hmmm. This is one of those lessons I seem to learn anew with almost every piece I do.
There are still some spots available in my class at Fiber Forum, April 16-19, 2015. Email me for more information, or go here.