Sunday, October 16, 2016

Wysocki's Victorian Street

Wysocki’s Victorian Street
Quilt No. 115
September 2016

I’m still feeling the inspiration of the crewel, crewel world of embroidery-quilt fusion.  Metaphorically, it’s like jumping out of a plane.  Once you cut the embroidery out of its background fabric, you are on an unwavering trajectory.  Hopefully the conclusion will be a pleasing one, but failure to open your parachute or execute a satisfactory quilt will have the same critical ending.  There will be a splat.

It seems lofty to say it, but this quilt started out as a Charles M. Wysocki painting.  His works are fascinating to examine, simple in appeal, rich in detail, rendered in warm tones.  Many of his compositions are fictional towns or villages reminiscent of American life from the 1800’s to the 1930’s.  They beckon you to pack up your steamer trunk and move in.  We can’t all own a Wysocki painting, but we can experience his art through the Wysocki calendars and jigsaw puzzles that have made him so well known. Converting his art into crewel embroidery kits gave us another way to enjoy his designs.

I was surprised to learn how similar his method for creating a painting is to designing an art quilt.  Wysocki did not paint existing places, but used his imagination to take ideas from several sources and bring them together into a new and convincing scene. The  Swoyer's website gives us a peak at the steps involved

Wysocki's method of working is painstaking and methodical. When he gets a concept for a painting, he first draws the various elements on small pieces of tissue paper. There might be two or three or as many as dozens of such mini-pieces. These are moved around, or changed, or developed, or all three, until he is satisfied that he has a balanced composition. He might then do an overall drawing on tissue and then embark on color. If the color is not going properly, he will start all over again to redesign. Sometimes a painting will take weeks to develop. Sometimes all the many elements fit easily and everything seems to fall into place.

I too have used this method, and taking elements from numerous sources, moving them around endlessly until they cooperate and form a into something that matches the murk of my mind’s eye. This was the technique I used for Horse With No Name.  I’ve certainly never been as accomplished as Mr. Wysocki, but having used the same technique does give me some appreciation for the patience it takes to continue rendering a work of art through the frustration of the initial unsuccessful stages.

It was a humbling experience to take Wysocki’s brilliant artwork through yet another rendition in its path from painting, to crewel embroidery, to quilt.  The original framed embroidery had a plain background that left the street floating unanchored in the picture frame. I wanted to take it back a step in time and ground it with earth and sky.

My mother had completed this embroidered piece in the 1990’s.  It hung on the wall of her Ohio home for many years, proudly flying a tiny American flag in her American/Canadian household.  Many years later, the piece looked out from the wall of her Canadian home, the flag still flying and unconcerned with its new location.  Regardless of the location, visitors always paused to admire her handiwork and choose a favourite house on street. 

When I decided to give this embroidery the “quilt treatment”, it took me more than a few weeks to get up the courage just to un-frame it.  Washing it by hand was the next scary step, but both the embroidery and I survived the act.  The background shrank in unison with the crewel wool, but the embroidery floss did not shrink at all. 

My next step was to stabilize the piece with fusible cotton.  I trimmed the background off, carefully snipping around the trees.  I sewed the earth fabric to the sky fabric, and fused the embroidery onto that.  This stabilized everything nicely, and allowed me to machine quilt it with “invisible” thread to give a more three dimensional look to the buildings, people, horses, and so on.  A considerable amount of “touch up” needlework was needed because of the variable way it had shrunk during washing.  I saved this step until the quilt was completely finished so that any additional problems caused during quilting could be fixed at the same time. I finished the quilt with a wide black binding. Surprisingly, the piece went back to looking like…a framed picture.

During the process of quilting this piece it was easy to become lost in the detail, leading to an appreciation of the care and skill both Wysocki and my mother had poured into its creation.  I felt he had scrupulously achieved one of his key goals for his work. "I want drama and light, carefree times or a lonely, heartfelt memory." All of these come to life when you're strolling down Victorian Street.