|So overdue it's embarrassing - The Orphan's Quilt
||[Aug. 8th, 2008|09:16 am]
The challenge was simple, the results complex and beautiful. catvalente (otherwise known as award-winning author Catherynne Valente) announced an invitational art show for the release of the concluding book in her two-book series, The Orphan's Tales. The medium in which people could work was unlimited; the theme of the show was art inspired by either book.
Now, it's always a little scary when you first read the book of a close friend. What if you hate it? What if it's dreadful? What are you going to say, "My, didn't they choose a lovely typeface for the text"?
I needn't have worried. The books are so luminously written that the pages practically glow. They are retold fairy tales - some familiar, some obscure - all twisted and turned to give fresh insight to the familiar icons of our youth. The tales are nested like a Russian doll, pulling you layers deep into the story of the story: a former slave telling the story of her life will lead into the story of how her master received his fortune by magic, which will lead to the story of the wizard's training and so on, until you are several layers deep in the tale. And then the layers will be added back, one at a time: the wizard's story finished, the master's story finished, and finally back to the tale that began the journey.
Honestly, if you haven't read the books yet you should stop reading right now and go order them.
Everyone back? Good.
The tale in the book that struck the deepest note in me (and in several others, as you can see from the other art show pieces) was the pirates. Their ship, The Maidenhead, has a tree for a sail, and the crew is made up of women who don't fit into society - a ship full of monsters, and proud of it. Also, the fabulous SJ Tucker (s00j) had written a song about the ship on the album she made to accompany the firstbook (you can hear a sample of the song on Amazon - go here and click on "Shipful of Monsters" ) I decided I wanted to make a quilt based on that tale.
But how to you portray a tree as a sail? It's a lovely mental image in the abstract; try to make it concrete and suddenly you've got all kinds of problems. I thought about an evergreen - the triangular shape lends itself to the image of a sail. But that didn't feel wild enough for this ship. Then I hit upon the notion of a weeping willow. They are trees that dance in breezes, and their long branches make a perfect stand-in for the ropes of rigging. I was getting close, but the pale green uniformity was still not quite the right look. So I changed that to deep tropical greens, and finally had the look I was seeking:
A slightly closer view:
Detail of the sea:
Detail of the tree:
Once I had decided on the look I wanted, I had to figure out construction. I knew I wanted the richness of lots of color in the water and in the tree, so would be working with small scraps of material. In the end, I stuck with the wild and changing theme of the ship and her crew. Except for the base shape of the ship and the bole of the tree, all fabric edges stand loose and subject to raveling - slow change over time, but changeable nonetheless. I spent a lot of time snipping bits of fabric, laying them out on the foundation fabric, standing back to look at them, adjusting, coming back the next day, changing the lighting, until I was finally satisfied with the look. At that point I added the silk cording vines in the tree, tucking their top ends among the leaves and branches and pinning them down. To add to the changeability of the piece, I skipped over the areas where the bottom end of a vine passes behind a cloth branch - that leaves those vines free to be adjusted to different shapes.
That left the sea looking rather empty, so I added silk cording to it as well. I then hand-basted everything down, sandwiched with the batting and backing, and free-form quilted the layers with metallic thread. For the tree, I straight-stitched along all the shapes and added lines of quilting that followed the flow of the branches, but the sea I just stitched wave shapes haphazardly across the surface. In the large sky spaces, I quilted in other forms: a griffin, another ship in full sail, three geese flying, the names of the ship's crew, and the first line of the song's chorus: Sing of the Maidenhead, lass of the sea. Once all that was done, I hand-stitched beads and metallic thread embroidering in the sea and the tree, and added brass findings as ship details. The large red-orange bead along the ships railing is, of course, Captain Tommy's fox tail.
And then I didn't get around to photographing it before it had to go away to the auction. Fortunately, Cat loved it so much that she had to have it for her own, so I can go visit it now and then. And the last time I was there, I took these pictures with my Blackberry. They are pretty poor, but at least they are something. One of these days I will get over there with a proper camera and take decent pictures, but I wanted to at least get these up. Of all the quilts I've made over the years, I am proudest of this one.