Tuesday, May 31, 2011

that first block

I keep telling myself that a big quilt begins one block at a time--isn't that some old Chinese saying--or maybe it is from Aesop. Not even sure if it matters. But sometimes it is so hard to just start. What if I can't remember how to make the quilt? What if the colors are wrong? It is harder because it is such a large custom order. Sometimes I can make a custom quilt twice--but this piece is too large for that. It must be right the first time.

As you may remember I have an order for a large quilt for a wonderful room--cozy but open. Dreamy. I wrote about it HERE. The test quilt grows and grows on me. When will it reach the sky? A friend suggests I call it--the stars of August. Great title, isn't it? I love this piece with its optimism and bright colors. I was definitely reaching for the joy of the blue skies that finally came.

Of course the colors are wrong for the order. Far too bright. Blues and reds just don't work in the room. I knew that when I made it. I wanted to explore the potential of the design--see how the rows grow and interact--while still keeping the concept fresh for the wonderful dreamy room where new quilt will live. I had created the design this winter. Even made a wonderful large quilt based on it. But there was so much I didn't know about making this particular quilt. How do the elements interact? What are the possibilities? The variations? I remember how Hamada said each pot took him a lifetime to create. Isn't the same true for quilts?

I buy more fabric--that is the easy part of the research.  The fun part. Arrange it in color progressions in the studio. Is this too warm? Too bright? I sit back and squint. Try to imagine the colors in the room.
This is also easy to do. I contemplate it as I do some hand sewing.

I get out the sheet of samples I sent the client. Neatly taped to a piece of paper for her approval. Of course I kept a copy. Think some more. Rearrange the fabrics. Again I go through the digital images of the space that are stored on a folder in my computer. Had I remembered the colors of the wood? So many subtle variations. The detail in the other artwork. I don't want to dominate but to coordinate and accentuate. That is the hardest part. There is more grey here. The dreaminess of mist and smoke. The softness of stone. Maybe that is the solution.

I rearrange. Pull out new fabrics. Think. Wake up at five in the morning. Yes, this works.  My studio is such a mess. Piles of fabric everywhere.  I put away fabrics that I know won't work but still I need this "clutter". Sometimes clutter can be useful. I squint one last time. Then tell myself I absolutely must start this quilt now. I need to get it done regardless of my fears.

I cut out the back of the first block. The cotton batting. So blank and empty looking at me on the cutting mat. Almost taunting isn't it?

I sort through the fabric and cut small strips in the colors that may work. Neat little piles to add to the quilt. I remember that the first blocks on the test quilt looked dark. The design did not begin to pop until I had several blocks. Then I will have to control the progression to keep it subtle and dreamy. I know it may want to go blue but I won't let it. I clean the sewing machine. Put in a new needle. Wind a bobbin. Drink some coffee and take a deep breath. The journey must begin.

And you--how do you begin a new project? Do you also find that the first block can be the hardest? How do you warm up? Or do you even think about it?

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