I spent yesterday at an academic conference on narrative and storytelling in organisations. Just before the lunch break, Carol, one of my colleagues from UWE, asked me what I was working on. I’m always amazed when people know what I work on or have read anything that I have written, but we had a conversation about the Body Shop quilt and through the photo album app on my phone which still astounds me, I showed her photos of the monster. I told her that I had now moved on to Laura Ashley. As we talked I told her about how the Body Shop quilt was somehow the epitome of my quilting. I have used just about every technique I know, I have made a monster of a seven foot by seven foot quilt, which is really heavy because of using so many beads and embellishments, and which is made of silk because I really wanted to make something special with very choice fabrics. After finishing this giant, which took me a highly significant nine months, I haven’t really done anything which has surprised or delighted me. Or anything much at all, really. I have made very small pieces, but nothing like my big, extended wall pieces such as my Starbucks quilt, or Elvis quilt or Marks and Spencer quilts. I really felt when I had finished it that it was my life’s work. I have said everything I want to say in quilting. There doesn’t seem much point in making another large and sustained piece. It is like I have used ‘it’ all up and need to recharge my batteries.
But after talking to Carole, I suddenly realised that I have had a kind of pendulum swing. My current project is everything the Body Shop quilt isn’t. It’s absolutely back to the beginning for me. If the Body Shop represents every sophisticated technique I know and every bit of experience and exuberance I have, the Body Shop piece is simple, hand-sewn, basic. It represents where I started with my mother, not where I am now aa a grown woman. It is cotton not silk. It is done over papers. It has simple, pastel, almost washed out colours, whereas the Body Shop piece is saturated with crimson and pine and ochre. And preparing the patches over paper is incredibly soothing as opposed to the exhilaration (when it is going really well) of machine stitching. The Body Shop quilt is about me and Anita (Roddick); it is a solo endeavour; it is a private and personal obsession. The Laura Ashley quilt will, I hope be collaborative with many hands making it, as many people have already contributed fabric. It is plain rather than fancy sewing.
I wonder how this has come about. It wasn’t a conscious decision to detox, but that seems to be what is happening. The human brain is an extraordinary thing. Mine seems to have decided to have a rest, take stock, touch base, revist the basics of the craft. And try as I might, I can’t get one over on it. When the time is right I will make something else big and glittery, but just at the moment, it is time to enjoy the rhythms of handsewing while watching old films on television, and the repetition of handcutting endless papers and pieces. It is some sort of balm for the mind, the soul and the hands.
This probably all sounds very pretentious, but there is something about finishing a really large project, like handquilting a whole cloth or handstitching a Baltimore, which is satisfying but also a bit of an anti-climax. It seems to be part of some sort of normal cycle of creativity. We all need to recharge our batteries occasionally.