Towards the end of 2016, I started work on a personal story quilt for long-time friend, Robyn. She had told me what she would like included, and I started with a large to-scale sketch of what I thought I might create for the background, but it seemed to not want to come to fruition in the usual way. For the next few months, it continued to cause me some angst that nothing inspired a space on which to arrange the symbols that Rob had requested be included. It’s not that I usually start out with a pattern, or even a clear idea when making a personal story quilt. I have a few ideas to work with in the form of words, and one thought usually flows seamlessly on, connecting to another without too many hindrances, being identified as images. It didn’t happen so easily this time.
The symbols Rob wanted in the quilt spoke for themselves, being quite literal, and I had no trouble finding ways to bring them into form, almost immediately following receiving Rob’s commission. A Celtic knot into which could be woven the colours of the maiden, mother and crone had to be set into a public triangle. The dove from Iona took on a few metamorphoses until the final form. But they needed a background, a place to become part of the landscape of the whole quilt, which did not want to come into form according to my original plan of using the florals with the colours of the ascending chakras, and the blues as showing the movement from darkness to light.
I had rummaged through my large collection of floral fabrics and selected some out, which for some reason I had begun to cut into eight by eight inch squares. I did the same with various shades of blues showing stars, thinking to mix them to form a background on which to place the symbols Rob had suggested. This approach of cutting regular sized squares was most unusual for me. I am used to taking an intuitive approach, allowing the inspiration to give shape to my work – with a more usual free-flowing design. I tried many arrangements, including free-cutting the blues into the florals, dark blues with the reds and so on, having discarded the plain hand-dyes originally selected for the chakra colours. Then thinking florals down one side, blues on the other, and even free-cutting through layers to intersperse the florals throughout the background with the blues in no particular order.
None of these attempts worked for me, materially or artistically. I wondered if my brain had had a keg or two worn down due to the immunotherapy, as it seemed very difficult to think through, let alone resolve, the confronting blockage. They do talk about “chemo brain”. Why was it seemingly so difficult to bring into form a simple background on which to place the symbols already taking shape? In desperation to make something - anything - happen, I cut the floral square in half to make rectangles and joined them in what seemed to be ascending order of the chakra colours for which I had chosen them. Halving them again I found myself with a frame. Now, I had boxed myself in, cornered myself within a frame, something unthinkable to me and my usual organic, intuitive process!
Very many mistakes were made in the process of making of this particular quilt, something that is quite unusual for me, nor something that I like to admit. I felt constantly stymied by decisions relating to dimensions in particular: in spite of making measurements, the background fabric was cut too short, and had to be added to either end. Then the stabiliser used to back the mandorla of roses for the free-machine stitching really should have been spread across the entire back of the quilt; the spray on adhesive - just forgot about it - could have been used to great advantage, in melding the layers before any free-machine quilting had begun. Here I want to thank dear friend, Kerry Beaumont, for helping me out with the free embroidery machine quilting of the roses. I am so terrified of using this technique - in case I make an ugly mistake – that can’t be unpicked! As it turned out I did quite a bit of unpicking in other areas!
I won’t go down the track of enumerating the other mistakes…but mistakes lead to new ways, new discoveries and realisations. According the spirit of ‘wabi sabi’, nothing is perfect, permanent or complete, and there is beauty to be found in and through the various states of imperfection, impermanence and incompletion. Thanks to Jennifer Rolfe for alerting me to this ancient Zen philosophy of aesthetics and life in general. Nevertheless, I feel that regardless of the mistakes made and hesitancies pushed through during the process, this quilt has come into its own, holding together to honour Rob’s amazing life in spite of the challenges encountered along the way – hers and mine!