Monday, February 02, 2015

Edging toward Spring and more light

This weekend saw the end of two long projects; both coming to a close with a sigh.  The first and shorter was my reading of The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton.  This I read as an ebook, and so was not burdened by its length.  When this title won the Booker Prize in 2013 I was intrigued, and decided to read her first book first: The Rehearsal.  I enjoyed it as something different, not quite a straight story, and with writing which was a real pleasure to read.
The prizewinning novel is about the gold diggings in New Zealand in the 19th century.  I have read another good novel about this place and time: Rose Tremain's The Colour.  The Luminaries was not easy to stick with initially.  Introductions seemed detailed, but not forthcoming of tangible personality, and I was not sure at the very beginning that I wanted to stay with these folk - however, like in life, the characters filled out with familiarity, and it was with sadness that I had to leave them at the end.  This book has been written to a structure and an astrological format which is doubtless cleverly achieved, but went completely by me unrecognised - it did not at all get in my way, or diminish my enjoyment of what was like reading a 21st century version of the 19th century novel. 
All historical research is presented as essential detail, as natural storytelling, and illuminating.  I found that the writing just flowed, and I did not want to leave that world.  Now I do not want fiction immediately after this experience, but would like to keep the subject of the sea close by, and thus will embark on The Sea Inside by Philip Hoare for different, non-fiction bedtime reading.
Always a laugh together (maquette)
Always a laugh together (single panel detail)
The other long project which came to fruition this weekend is a piece on which I have been working since 2012.  I was introduced to lithography through the use of polyester plates, which are essentially thin sheets of plastic like paper, with one side slightly rough.  They can be tricky to ink up - either missing the areas which require inking, or even more annoying, inking areas meant to be left white.  I was wrestling with this technique when I came up with an idea: to use the inking difficulties deliberately.
The plan was to make twelve differently inked prints of the same plate, which would then become twelve panels of a quilt.  The prints worked as I wanted.  I scanned them, and then printed them onto prepared cotton.  This cotton was to be the fly in the ointment!  The A3 sized cotton sheets are prepared for a domestic printer with a coating of something which seems to be like chalk.  I have found in the past that it absorbs ink, so that bright colours are rendered pastel-ly in appearance.  I hoped in this case to overcome that by using black only, and adding the colour with thread and with reverse applique inserts of coloured commercial cotton.  The other quality of the coating is the one which tripped me: the stiffness.
I did not add wadding/batting to the work, stitching through the cotton and a backing of calico only initially.  Well, this was hell on my fingers - and not just because of my increasing arthritis.  I discovered after I had completed all the panels that the sewing machine did not like the fabric either.
Last week I stitched the panels together - I was close to a deadline for submission for a quilt exhibition lottery.  I still had not looked at how the panels looked together.  I wanted to finish the thing first.  I was fortunate that I had just enough cotton to use for the backing, and prepared to hand quilt through all three layers.  That was so difficult I had to use a leather needle and a thimble (which I normally cannot use) for pushing, and preserving my already torn finger ends.
Done.  Time to turn it round and look at it. 
It works!  The idea which came to me as I struggled with my inking all that time ago, and which I have struggled over stitching for all those months has worked.  I had to finish it to see that - but I also see that because of the difficulties and because of the nature of the cotton panel fabric it is not a good piece of work.  I have made a maquette, not a final piece. 
I love it, and I could do it again by having the panels printed commercially onto cotton as I have done with my whole cloth quilts, ...
... but, I'm not sure I want to go over that ground again.  I am happy with my idea, that it worked, and with the less than perfectly executed work which I shall enjoy.  Now on to one of the other ideas which have been piling up in the meantime - and I shall be sticking to stitching soft fabrics from now!


  1. I am fascinated by the single panel you show - the whole quilt with all its detail is hard to view on the small scale of my iPad. The subtlety of the colour is very pleasing in contrast to the bright reverse appliqué. How sad the final result, though it works, doesn't satisfy you - I so clearly know the feeling!

    1. Thank you Margaret. Although it is sad in a way, I am not unhappy - I am just glad that the mad idea I had did actually work for me. And I do have the piece to hang up in the house for our own enjoyment.

  2. Olga, I will check if our library has those books, they do sound interesting.

    Your detailed description of your process with your quilt is very clear and I could feel your pain. You learned a lot and maybe one day will try it again for the idea and design are still worth it.

    I was looking at some old print proofs today and had similar thoughts about the trials one has to do to learn how to create something different and fulfills our vision. Onward!

    1. Life is short, and getting shorter, and so I am delighted that I have something to show for all that work, as well as the belief in my own idea - but I have such a continuing stream of ideas to try out that I am content to move on. I feel happy about it all.

  3. Olga, I am so sorry that you are not fully happy with this quilt because I think it's so very beautiful: abstract, and yet, when one looks closely, not. I am sure it will grow on you as it hangs in your home and that you will get lots of pleasure out of it.

    Reading your post also made me think that maybe I gave up on the Luminaries a bit too soon - but never mind, life is short and there are so many books to be read and enjoyed.

  4. But I AM happy with the quilt! I am delighted with how it has fulfilled what I had in my head. It is simply that technically it is not suitable for posting and handling and touring - if it did by luck get into an exhibition. I was trying to say that I don't need for the work to be exhibited to feel that it is a success. Thus it's completion is a kind of liberation.