When I first began dyeing my own fabrics what seems like 30 years ago – well it was 28 years ago so I guess I’m close on the feeling – I did so because what I could buy was too “prepared”. I often told my quilt shop owner friend that the fabrics, while gorgeous and colorful, looked “finished” to me – in other words I wouldn’t know what I could do with them.
I spent a lot of time buying unique fabrics, anything that was out of the ordinary – I hated little calico prints and teensy little ditzy things. I went for bold abstract patterns with a lot of abstract neutrals. Still, the fabrics looked cohesive to me and just simply “done”. I got out the dyes.
I started with the most disgusting muslin at that time. It was heavy, naturally colored beige and it was a bitch to get a needle through. It was so dense it also didn’t take dyes very well. But I persisted and while the colors didn’t come out bright and punchy, they came out well enough for me to incorporate them into my wall hangings. In fact, that cheap old muslin became the stones in this quilt:
You can see the variations in how the fabric took the dye. Still, this is one of my most favorite quilts at 8′ square it took up a whole wall at the gallery and with the spotlight on the full moon, it was outstanding. Not least of all because the gallery goers could place prayers in this replicated Wailing Wall and actually have them faxed to Jerusalem. I love this quilt and I’m so happy it’s on permanent exhibition.
This quilt too was a part of the cheap muslin dye lots, but the colors here were naturally brighter and they did stay that way. This was the result of my quilt shop owner friend and I talking one day. I told her I needed to do an Escher quilt. Escher was all the rage then and I wanted to do something that would be in the vein of his work. She started drawing triangles. After we had some done she sent me to the copy machine next door and I copied a page or two. Then I went back and she cut them up and pasted them next to each other. This is that pattern. It is outstanding, the way you see the bird, the flags, the sailboats and the starfish. You have to look at the negative space, but it’s all there. She is a marvel.
I have always been attracted to African-American quilts, primarily because of the colors used and the complete disregard for traditional patterns. African-American women can make a traditional quilt – they just do not chose to do so. I started collecting these quilts back in 1997 and I sold most all of them. I am sorry that I did. I wish I had every last one of them with me now.
The particular ability to cut fabric by eye and stitch it into a glorious abstract piece of art is unique to African-American quilt art. Although my first piece from my recently dyed fabrics is very precisely cut, my next will not be. For the first we have 2″ squares laid out in a pattern of color to draw your eye to the center.
The movement of the color is hard to see in this flat picture. A better one will be shown on a wall once the quilt is complete. You can see the definite distinction between light and dark fabrics.
And so – in my own practice of fluffology – I start with a picture in my mind. That picture begins when I look at a piece of undyed cloth (I buy good quality cotton now – none of that heavy cheap stuff) when I decide what colors I want the cloth to be. I want it to be more than one color and I do a lot of scrunch dyeing where I cram a piece of cloth into a very small container and proceed to sprinkle or pour over dyes. I have an aversion to mono-color fabric – makes my skin crawl although I know I need some solids to play the scrunch-dyed cloth against.
All in all this adventure which began when my son was but 7 and picked up again after a 25 year hiatus – this adventure is marvelous. Playing with color – I could do this all day.