Friday, March 30, 2012

Cloth Mountain

Quilt No. 84
March 2012

I was firmly embedded in my big leather chair reading a quilting magazine when I came across it -  a quilter describing how her fabric stash had become a “mountain of cloth”.  It hit me like a bolt of fabric: Cloth Mountain!  What better way to ransack my bloated fabric collection than by creating an actual “cloth mountain”?  I immediately began rummaging in boxes, dressers, bags, and my four sets of rolly plastic wheely drawers, admiring all the odd fabric bits I’d collected.  But how could I pull all of that loveliness together – and make it look like a mountain?  I’d need a whole lot of little pieces, but I didn’t I want to start randomly hacking tiny corners from a few hundred fabrics.  Perhaps this idea needed time to form on its own.

I resisted the adrenaline rush of first inspiration, and turned my attention back to other unfinished quilts.  I decided that when I had very small left over fabric pieces - below potentially usable “scrap” size - I would put them in a box and audition them later for Cloth Mountain.

After completing Julie’s Garden I noticed there were a lot of nice green pieces in the box.  A picture stared to emerge in my mind.  I would need white transitioning to grey, followed by darker grey, and then on through a range of greens.  And I already had most of the greens!  Now I was able to consult a much smaller number of boxes, bags, and fabric hiding places.  I cut a bunch of mini-scraps and into strips with the rotary cutter, and then sectioned these into irregular squarish pieces, dividing them up by colour and then each colour by value.  This technique is used in confetti quilting but with much smaller pieces.  It also requires a layer of tulle on top to hold everything in place. I wanted the mountain pieces to stay loose and shaggy, to resemble a cast off pile of random fabric bits so I had to do this without the tulle.

I found some stabilizer with grippy dots on it and drew a mountain on it. I began at the white peak of the mountain, and using monofilament thread and free motion quilting, loosely tacked one small section of pieces at a time onto the stabilizer, keeping the pieces loose looking.  It worked fairly well as long as I remembered not to fold the fabric during the quilting process.  If I did that the pieces would dump all over the place and have to be re-placed – again and again.  Eventually I got the mountain entirely covered.  It had almost as many pieces on it as the floor did.  The pieces migrated throughout the entire house and are still showing up in inexplicable places - like the drawer under the kitchen stove (which I swear contains pots and pans, not fabric).  I sewed the now “stablized” and assembled mountain onto the hand dyed background.

Now... what to put on the mountain?  My original rough drawing contains miniature skiers and snowmobilers, questing hikers, and a sewing machine perched at the summit.   All of this, when rendered in cloth, looked ridiculous – the scale was just too odd.  The design wall inside your head is far more forgiving that the one in front of your eyes!  I went back to thinking about what the concept was for this quilt.  It was a mountain of cloth.  And what had my personal mountain of cloth generated?  So far, 85 art quilts and related works!

I have digital photographs of all of these, but how to go from these to cloth, and how to keep the printed photos small enough?  Resizing 85 photos to less than half an inch across seemed likely to be a lifetime pursuit rather than a way to finish a quilt.  I noticed that the computer screen showing the quilt photos as icons looked like it might do the trick.  I did a screen capture of these icon pages and printed them out on iron-on printable  cotton.

When cut out into individual quilt photos the icons were the exact right size... if only I knew where to put them. Equally spaced around the border? The whole piece looked like a jumble. There was no place for your eyes to focus. On the mountain? They were completely lost to the eye.

The only empty area was the sky. But how would these 85 quilts get into the sky – what excuse would they use? A bird? A plane? Superman? A kite? That was it! I strung the icons spaced out along white strings behind the kite, but it still didn’t work. I sent a photo to my sister to get her input. She suggested that the quilt icons should not have spaces between, that they should touch one another. Brilliant – now they formed a continuous line that was pleasing to the eye. And so they came to be launched as the tails of a kite, stretching from the sky to the bottom of the quilt where a road sign announces “Cloth Mountain, Population 85” - celebrating of all my quilting projects so far.