Mini-quilt: GAM, ME, + THE SINGER SEWING MACHINE
It was early May, 2005, when I took a class with Rayna Gillman on various printmaking techniques to use in fiber art that I first became interested in combining my love of genealogy, memorabilia, and photography into fiber art. My maternal grandfather, Herbert Llewellyn Buck (1881-1972), was an avid amateur photographer from an early age and of his descendants, I inherited the bulk of his photography equipment, the 5x7” glass negatives, hundreds of black and white negatives, and a humongous collection of photographs. I also inherited his genealogical interest and materials, along with my grandmothers’ hand-written recipe book amidst a bunch of other nostalgic paraphernalia. Thus, it seemed only natural to use all this ‘stuff’ somehow in my art. In preparation for Rayna’s class, I printed up a variety of old photographs, recipes, postcards and such on transparencies with my computer. Thus I came to class armed with a LOT of material with which to experiment. The class jump-started a new series of fiber art work that has challenged my computer and printing skills, my design and composition skills, my patience, and my emotions…
Mini-quilt: THE MEN
In mid-October 2005 when I received the first notice of a potential venue for my photo/memory quilts. Keisha Roberts was curating an exhibition entitled “Nearness of You: Memory and Commemoration in Quiltmaking” to be exhibited at the February 2006 Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival in Hampton, Virginia. Keisha was looking for a variety of examples demonstrating some of the ways quilters have preserved their memories in their Quiltmaking. I sent her an email and subsequently agreed to show two of my quilts in the exhibition – one of which I made in 1994 from my mother’s old embroidered dishtowels and one of which was not made at all, but merely a germ of an idea. And so the quilt, “Threads of Our Lives” began.
The printing of the transparencies and transfer thereof onto muslin was time consuming yet it was fulfilling in some way, too, because I watched Pop’s old photographs birthed with new life and visited with old memories along the way. Printing directly on muslin turned out to be a more reliable method of transferring the photos to fabric, but it also demanded a high learning curve on my part to execute the prints without harming the printer, the fabric or my self-esteem!
Mini-quilt: THE WOMEN
Within a month I had a body of 8 ½” x 11” muslin pieces, each with a montage of photographs or printed materials such as postcards, cookie recipes, maps and the like ready to quilt. I chose to quilt each small panel individually using a variety of monochromatic, neutral threads. The quilting designs seemed to flow from the montage of printed matter – spoked wheels danced across the mini-quilt featuring horses and buggies and model T automobiles. Circles wrapped around the corners of my mind, my memories and the quilt-lets as I proceeded to quilt each piece, some with waves, lines, curves or wandering trails of thread. The edges of each piece were deliberately left ragged and many threads were left dangling from the finished sewing lines, as well – all to achieve the unfinished look to emulate the incomplete family stories that were unfolding across the face of the quilt.
Once I completed a group of these little mini-quilts, I arranged them on a large piece of black fabric until I found the order which created the best composition, given the nature of the project. Twelve pieces seemed to create just too much of a photo album appearance, not the artistic arrangement of memories in fabric that I sought to achieve. Eleven pieces, however – three rows with 4 mini-quilts on top and bottom with the middle row of three, seemed to work well. For a time, I considered having some remnants of batting and pulled threads tacked down to the surface of the quilt, too, to continue the loose-threads appearance and meaning. That concept was scrapped as the quilt began to refuse to cooperate by telling me what it wanted by way of completion…
ON THE DESIGN WALL - but not quite right...
From early December to early January, the quilt hung on my design wall, then on a portable design board – refusing to give me permission to complete it. I can admit to the fact that I didn’t really know quite how to quilt the entire piece into a cohesive unit, too. But something about the quilt just didn’t “feel” right. I tried fusing the 11 mini quilts to the rich polyester black background only to be unhappy with the results of the fusing. Something about it wasn’t working quite right, so I pulled the mini quilts away from the fusing and backing after determining I needed a different fabric for my ground. The fabric somehow needed to be richer, but I didn’t even know what that meant. While shopping, I found a deep brown and black silk tapestry fabric with threads of gold, red, and green running through it that were totally lost in the weaving. It was perfect. I sandwiched the tapestry to the black poly batting and black polyester fabric and quilted in random waving lines top to bottom.
Mini-quilt: WEDDING PORTRAITS
When the base quilting was completed, I laid the quilted sandwich out on my parquet kitchen floor to make sure I was squaring it correctly, then carefully laid each mini-quilt in place – pinning it for what I thought would be more quilting. That turned out to be a total disaster with my machine rebelling strongly with the density of variety of fabrics I was pushing through it. As it turns out, this is the heaviest quilt (in every sense of that word!) I have ever made. I settled for sewing each mini quilt to the background by hand – and, surprisingly, I loved the effect that created. Then I had only the binding and the artists’ statement to complete and attaché along with the hanging sleeve. The quilt was finally completed today, January 22, 2006 – by which time I am so sick of it that I left it face down on the dining room table until it’s time to take it to the photographers!
THREADS OF OUR LIVES - c2006 Pat Dolan 49"x49"
The quilt, “Threads of Our Lives,” will be mailed out to Keisha the last week of this month along with the dish towel “Irish Chain Memories of You” quilt to be exhibited at the special exhibits section of the Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival (Mancuso) from February 23-26, 2006 in Hampton, VA. I’ll not be attending the show, much as I’d like to see the other pieces in the exhibition and see how others have incorporated memories into their quilting. And I hope there will be lots of photographs taken and shared so I can get a taste of the exhibition. Maybe when my quilts are returned, I’ll actually like “Threads of Our Lives” once again. But I’m not so sure about that. It was a fussy, difficult, emotional quilt to create and I’m extremely glad to have it behind me!