The problem was that by creating the frame first, I had inadvertently given myself serious design challenges – unseen in advance, like putting the horse before the cart. I had never worked this way before, usually working from the centre out, or at least having a background to work on. The frame always came last. And it presented me with quite a conundrum. So I started working on the symbols that would fill the space. I’d already drawn up designs for the Celtic knot and Ionian dove, (though had to play with the latter in order to come to a pleasing design - I didn’t want a “twitter” bird, and the earlier one I’d chosen seemed to give this impression). I knew that they could float on top of the background, placed in the either corner at the top. But first the roses, the moon, and the ancient Dove Goddess image I had chosen to include needed a firm and clear position in the whole, requiring a choice of colour for the background. Looking around at where the blooms were showing in the natural world, with the stunning Jacarandas in full bloom, by serendipity, I had a piece of hand-dyed fabric just that colour in my stash, which was just enough fabric to fill the frame - if I was careful.
I was keen to place the many individual roses, cut out months before and still arranged around the candle on my coffee table, into position within the frame. I often lit this candle, looking for inspiration on how these many roses might be positioned on the quilt. Many people liked them on my coffee table, but I knew they were destined for Rob’s quilt! I needed to give another dimension to the stark rectangular frame with its as yet blank purple canvas, and dividing up the space with the roses seemed like a pleasurable thing to do. Trouble was, how to arrange them? In a circle? In a ’bunch’? In each corner? One morning I went back to bed with my cup of tea, and as I stepped on the little Afghan carpet beside the bed I noticed the elongated square, a square pulled into a lozenge or diamond shape, and overall design for the holding space of the background fell into place, leaving the four corners for the symbols hovering to find their place on the quilt. Strange where inspiration comes from! Another serendipity came from reading a story about a woman who saw her inner self as a rose (Rachel Remen, Kitchen table wisdom). Forming a perhaps rather angular and stylised mandorla shape, this was the first representation of the vesica piscis symbol, which continued to become manifest in other places as the creative process progressed.
The vesica piscis in the Celtic knot
The first symbol to come into form, and waiting to be placed, was the Celtic knot. Robyn had visited the Findhorn Foundation on the island of Iona to do a week-long spiritual retreat, called "Birth of the Undivided Self. During her time there she had felt the place itself had given her a sense of the veil between the worlds being thin, connections with the other world tangible, especially in the case of her grandmother’s presence, who had visited Iona when Rob was 10 years old. While the interlaced triangle is linked to this visit by her Grandmother to Iona, who brought back a souvenir of a silver serviette ring with a Celtic knot engraved on it, the image has no doubt great significance in Rob’s own personal spiritual journey.
On the quilt, the symbol of the Celtic knot (or ‘triquetra’) is composed of three overlapping vesica pisces, which I have coloured white, red and black to signify the triple Goddess and three stages of a woman’s life: maiden, mother and crone. Unlike most images I’ve seen of this knot, however, I have positioned the ‘triquetra’ with the base at the top, and the red vesica of motherhood pointing downwards (rather than the more usual upward pointing orientation) because I feel this gives emphasis to the power of womanhood in bringing forth and nurturing life. It is placed inside an inverted triangle, traditionally representing the fertile pubic triangle.
Interlacing in design is, of course, so beautifully executed in the Book of Kells, and these designs also embody story, with perhaps some evidence for an overlap between indigenous understandings entwined with the imported stories of the Christian Gospels. In the art of story telling, interlacing was a common way of communicating traditional tales and familial connections, in the sense that the audience at a telling could make connections without the need for specific or detailed explanation. These days of digital communications we might say they could pick up on the thread. The interpretation of course relies on familiarity with the story and characters involved, especially in reference to binary complementarities, such as war and peace, love and hate, life and death. Further to this, the interlacing in stories was about endless games containing riddles, hidden omens concealed in the story telling…the more such inferences, the more entertaining, erudite and educational, it was. But, perhaps most importantly for our forebears, ‘it (interlacing) attempts to symbolize the intricate patterns of destiny which none can avoid.’