Minimalism and Wholecloth Quilting (?)

I have two (2) things to show off today! The first is a quilt which I made as a birthday gift for someone very dear to me. It’s my first experiment with English paper piecing, as well as the first quilt which is (sort of, I guess) a wholecloth quilt. I’ve been fascinated by wholecloth quilts for ages now, and it might be something I experiment with more later this year. I’m keen to try out multiple layers of imagery in them in subtly different thread colours, because why would I start with something straightforward? That would be the easy way out.

But anyway, a few more progress pictures. I should also mention that the design was inspired by some of the quilts I’ve seen Modern Handcrafts make.

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Arranging the hexagons and deciding on my fabric choices.

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I sort of love how all the tiny safety pins look spread across the quilt – like a school of fish.

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I think this might be as far as  I go with paper-piecing. I’m still chipping away at the (very small) paper pieced block for the Sleigher quilt I started, uh, a year and a half ago. I love the lightness of this quilt though and the quilted lines were also my first experiment with using a disappearing fabric marker. It worker surprisingly well and has me thinking about whole cloth projects with more seriousness.

And the finished quilt, with a black and gold binding.

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The other thing I’ve been making fast progress with has been the nesting quilt I showed some early progress on in my last post. I’ve around 2/3 of the way through sewing the initial four block portions, I think perhaps another few hours and the whole top should be complete. I like naming my quilts, and I’m still tossing around potential names for this series (this is 1 of 7). Part of me wants some kind of play on the ever smaller quilts, or something to do with the repetition and inversion of form and colour that will be apparent through the whole series.

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Presently completed four-block squares.

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Dwindling pile of single blocks.

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This quilt top looks like complete chaos and I love it (this is just laid out to get an idea – the final version will have some sage and yellow to offset it a little.)

The other development is that I finally got shelves for my studio! No more storing everything in a pile of plastic containers inching ever closer to my workbench. Left is all my fabric arrayed by colour, right is lengths suitable for backing or binding and a separate cube for each WiP.

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Quilting and Cultural Appropriation

I’ve been mulling this post over in my mind for ages and I’m still not 100% sure how to lay it out, but since I’ve been posting updates on my Indigo Pinwheels quilt which includes Japanese cottons as the main element I felt like it was timely.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about if it’s appropriate for me as a white woman to use fabrics which come from other cultures in my quilting. I know already that quilting has a problem with cultural appropriation – when I was looking, just as one of many examples, for a fabric with a skull print I kept being referred to fabrics with sugar skulls on them. There are already plenty of links which explain in detail why the Sugar Skull is culturally appropriative, especially used in this way – decorating a bolt of fabric, removed from its context, history, a time and place and with no acknowledgement of the history behind it. Personally, I’ve used recently some Japanese quilting cottons in my quilting, and a few months ago I visited Western Samoa and bought some lengths of fabric while I was there, including some Elei fabric (a style of printing traditionally used to decorate tapa cloth and more recently used on other fabrics) and some patterns which various people there told me are sometimes called Samoan but are more correctly identified as Hawaiian influenced.

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I think the main things I am considering are if there is a respectful way I can incorporate these fabrics into my work, or if it is inherently appropriative to use these fabrics from another culture in my sewing. I think the questions of Japanese and Samoan fabrics need to be considered separately. Among the things I want to think about (and I want to stress I am constantly growing and developing in my understanding, so if someone wants to correct me on this and has the energy to do it I would be only too grateful) are the relationship that my culture, as a white New Zealander has to the culture the fabrics come from, if the ways I am obtaining the fabrics materially benefit people from the culture they come from, crediting the origin of the fabrics appropriately and if they are being used in an appropriate way.

To be honest, I am more comfortable using Japanese cottons for a few reason: Japan has a history of quilting – including Sashiko quilting (a form of stitching reminiscent of many contemporary Japanese quilting cotton patterns), so I feel as though using the cottons in this way is appropriate to their intended and historical use. Also, New Zealand’s relationship with Japan doesn’t have the same colonialism inherent in our relationship with Western Samoa. Also, when I buy my Japanese cottons I try to buy them from stores either based in Japan, or owned by people with Japanese heritage so the proceeds from the sale of them are going to people with some relationship to the history of the designs. It doesn’t, and I’m aware this is a fairly nebulous way of putting it, feel appropriative to use the fabrics in this way because it is aligned with the use for which they were produced and my buying them feeds back into the economy of Japan.

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I’m more conflicted about using fabrics from Samoa. To start with, as far as I have been able to tell from my research, Western Samoa doesn’t have a quilting culture – American Samoa has some, largely introduced by missionaries. So the fabrics I have wouldn’t have been created with that end use in mind – I think that as uses  go quilting is fairly benign, but I would still prefer to use fabrics in a way aligned with their intended use. Also, Samoa has a history of being subjugated by New Zealand and I’m very aware of this imbalance of power when I consider if I have a right to use Samoan fabrics in my quilts. Samoa has only been independent from New Zealand since 1962, and New Zealand’s history with Samoa contains incidents like the Black Saturday shootings and the grossly racist Dawn Raids. It feels a lot more like the classic definition of appropriation – co-opting an attractive part of a culture without having to deal with the negative parts of having that identity (the poorer education and health outcomes Pasifika people experience in New Zealand because of systemic racism). For now, I’m keeping the fabrics in my stash because I don’t want to discard them and feel wasteful. One thing I am considering doing in the future is making a quilt from some of them and donating some of the proceeds from it to a Pasifika Womens Refuge or advocacy group.

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Home is Where the Camera Is

I’m home! Finally. And I have taken some more photos of the delightful circle/drunkards path quilt before it goes off to its new home. It was made for a friend whose new babe was born some months ago now, because I am a bit slow with these things sometimes, but conveniently it was her birthday a week ago, so I can probably pass it off under that guise and appear slightly less crap.

Folded circle quilt

I’ve been thinking a lot about quilting, and sewing and repetition. About what it means to give someone something handmade. All the thoughts have been churning around in my head for weeks, so expect this idea to be revisited and refined in future posts, but for now I want to talk, briefly and terribly, about repetition. Repetition as a concept has shown up a bunch in my studies. In my art history papers, because repetition is a key feature of art – performance art in particular. It also figures heavily in a lot of the Media Studies papers I’ve written. It crops up in a lot of Butler’s writing, about identity. This is probably the most academically vague and lazy thing I’ve ever allowed other people to read, but I’m curious about repetition in handmade items, handmade gifts. A quilt comprises hundreds of hours of cutting, sewing, breaking down large pieces into smaller bits then rebuilding them. There is a repetition to the cutting and sewing which imbues the finished product with meaning. A quilt isn’t just a gift of a blanket, it’s an indication that the recipient means enough to you to warrant a hundred hours of pricking yourself with another sodding safety pin.

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I feel (hope) that sometimes a quilt/knitted something can be a reminder that there are people who care about you. A quilt isn’t just a blanket, it’s a tangible ‘you can ask other people for help and many will gladly give it’. Wrap yourself up in a hundred hours of work from someone who had never met you, but was willing to be that when you appeared, tiny and screaming in the world, you would be a good person worthy of love and something cozy for the cold nights.

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Binding plus front

Full circle quilt

 

My dreams of a studio, alas, have not come to fruition – so I’m still taking photos on my lounge room floor, strategically cropping my slippers out of the frame as I hold the camera above my head. I’ve started on a new quilt using the Japanese cottons from my last post and I’m waiting for my finances to pick up a little so I can order some fabrics for matching baby quilts.

Someone (I forget who – if you know please let me know in the comments) wrote a while back about mixing saturation and using that to distinguish light and darks and create visual interest in quilts. I’m broadly grouping my fabrics into lighter/darker and making pinwheel squares from them. I’m excited to see how this comes together.

Dark fabric Japanese Windmill

Lights Japanese Windmill