Saturday, March 26, 2011

Stage One: Design, part one

The Thinker
The baby is approaching. I start working on design midway through the friend/relative’s pregnancy, and timing will depend partly on whether I have projects backed up or not. In the last two years, the babies have been coming pretty fast, so I’m behind. I used to like to time it to have the project done right after the baby was born, but that no longer happens. I’m lucky if I get it finished three months in, which isn’t so bad, really. It’s a gift that comes in when other gifts aren’t arriving anymore and things might be a little stressful.
The projects are always different. I make the choice partly based on skills I want to learn or work on, partly based on what I’ve been doing or what I like best, and partly based on what I know about the incoming child.
For instance, I’ve decided that, on the whole, I like doing patchwork best. I’m not sure why; possibly it is because it makes me feel like I am creating order. Perhaps it is because it feels classic. Perhaps it is because I am not so good at appliqué. I definitely like the look of patchwork, and I’ve learned it is extremely versatile.
Even so, I want to keep learning skills, and I am still working on different techniques, within patchwork and in other styles.
In any case, the design usually starts the way I best think—I let my mind wander, often on the backburner while I’m doing other things. I circle around ideas like a hunting lion, not startling anything, staying downwind. The grazing thoughts usually include whatever I know of the family and any previous children, any nursery or favorite colors I have been given, and any clues as to the baby’s name. Also, I think of the baby’s gender, not so much for color, but for design elements. Half-sentences like, “What if I did…” and “I wonder if I can…” drift about, getting discarded or stored depending on my skill level and quality of the notion. Sometimes a theme will come to me suddenly, or I’ll make a stream-of-consciousness connection (as in the turtle quilt—the baby’s middle name would be Francis, aka Frank. I thought of Franklin the turtle and my own lake history, and that was pretty much that). Other times, it’s not so simple.
Take, for example, the circus quilt. I had the theme, I knew the nursery colors and the baby’s gender, and yet the thought process was one of my most involved yet. A circus is, of course, a rich theme, and I’d never done anything like it. It took a long time to figure out what I wanted to do and on what scope, and I have a lot of half-begun drawings that I gave up on.
Gradually, things will take shape in my mind. I’ll make a decision of what I want to try, and then I’ll move forward. Much like the writing process, quiltmaking is recursive, so I know I can always go backward and revise a design, add more thoughts, or completely overhaul if something isn’t working.
Best Part: “Creation is an act of sheer will.” Jurassic Park.
Worst Part: I get antsy when I’m trying to boil up an idea. If something isn’t coming to me, I get frustrated. I won’t give up; instead, I’ll get obsessed.
Next Time: Modeling


Cloud of Secrets said...

Intriguing. I had wondered how you got from nothing to something grand -- those creative, thoughtful, complicated, individually handsewn quilts!

How much can you step back or overhaul once you've got a design all puzzled through and cut, and once you've begun sewing? It would take so much courage and discipline for me to decide a desgin is good enough, and then to proceed with the grunt work of production. It would probably destroy me to have to take something apart and start over once I'd gotten to a certain point. Even once a drawing had gotten to a certain stage -- it would be hard to scrap all the work even if I knew it wasn't right.

I just don't think I'd have the logical mind and discipline to make an Abby-style quilt from idea to presentable gift!

Abs said...

My percolation process is pretty long, specifically to make sure all the ideas are out on the table. I'm not one to take things apart, so once I start cutting fabric, those blocks are going together! I don't usually do the templates (to be described later) until the design is finished and all the blocks drawn up in exact size.
I have had situations where I've run out of fabric, or the arrangement of blocks doesn't feel right, so I have to redraw. Even so, that's just making more blocks or fewer, not really changing the actual elements.
Just like with poetry, you just kind of feel when a design is ready to go. It's a subtle feeling of satisfaction.
Thank you for your thoughtful question!