Tuesday, March 22, 2011

meditations on straight seams

Recently as those of you who have been following my blog post know, I have been thinking a lot about straight seams. What is a straight seam? What is straight enough? What "tricks" can one use to achieve a straight line?

Now I know there are many of techniques out there to create straight seams. Paper piecing. Special machine feet. Why I even saw on the internet a sewing machine that will make mitered corners for you--seriously, it feeds the fabric through at just the right angle. I am sure there must be machines that use a computer program to sew a straight line.

Now I am not a purist. I love my sewing machine--a re-conditioned machine from the sixties that only goes straight. Doesn't even go backwards. That would have cost me a $100 when I bought it in 1983 and back then I did not have the money. I know that I could get a fancier machine--I could afford it by now. Indeed if I wanted to use a quilting machine there is one just up the road from me that I could rent by the hour.

But--and this is a big but--is this really the effect that I want? For a long time I avoided the whole issue by purposefully sewing curved seams. Indeed I think of the quilts of Gee's Bend where part of the charm is that the seams are not perfect.  Now though I have this vision of quilts that need a straight seam.  How to do it.

Do I really want to learn all the techniques out there to create perfectly straight lines? Now I know there are those who manage to use these methods and still retain the human touch. I think of the quilts of my friend Pamela Hill--as she put it, she is "the queen of straight seams." Her geometric designs needed perfect seams and she succeeded. Later she needed the exquisite machine quilting designed specifically for each quilt. But there are so many quilts where the straightness of the seams seem to be the whole purpose of the work--but the pieces lack feeling.

Alas it is no surprise that I have been thinking of the craft traditions of Japan right now. I take down my book by Bernard Leach on Hamada: The Potter. This is one of those books I can only sample on occasion and in small doses. In this book first published in 1975 Bernard Leach a leading English ceramics artist interviewed Hamada in a series of dialogues about art, pottery and the process of creativity.

I  love Hamada's pots--so simple and essential. The glazes and the colors flow together as though they just happened. Hamada describes his process of pouring the glaze standing at a particular angle and then rotating the pot all the while not thinking about the process. It only takes about fifteen seconds but it is so inherent in his body that he knows what to do.

I also love his explanation as to why he can charge so much for his pots. As he said, each pot takes "sixty years and fifteen seconds." (Page 208.) The movements and techniques learned over many years.  The right way is simpleness and naturalness.

I must reread this book and learn more about his convergence of aesthetic and technique. I think of my own recent quilts. The pillows that I am making for the CraftBoston Show and the new wall hangings. Yes, that is the approach I want. Simple and natural. I practice sewing the straight lines using just my pressure foot and a few guidelines to keep it lined up. Not quite perfect but when I square off the piece I find I am off by only 1/32nd of an inch. Not bad.

How meditative these are to make. How I love the colors when I finish. Are these seams straight enough? What do you think?  Where do you draw the line? (Yes, the pun was intended.)

1 comment:

  1. Lovely - I struggle with sewing straight seams also. Worse for me is cutting fabric on a straight line! As an upholsterer who also creates tight fitting slipcovers as well as window seats, etc. it means that sometimes it takes me longer to complete some jobs, but watching a quilter at work and teaming with her to lead a "Quilting as Meditation" retreat I have come to a new place. I have given myself permission to letting myself have moments where it just doesn't matter how straight the seams are when they are for me personally, which allows me to find more enjoyment in what I do, since sometimes it is ok to cut crooked rivers of fabric and enjoy just stitching them however they come out. It is marvelously freeing for this perfectionist!! Thanks for sharing this.