Friday, August 24, 2012

Aesthetics 101: When the whole is WAY more than the sum of its parts

Bill and I just stretched my newly-finished quilt top along an empty wall in the living room and he said, with dismay, "It's a little loud."  That might be taken for tactful understatement.  We thought just maybe it might look cheerful in the hallway leading upstairs in the dead of winter, but I'm really not sure about putting it on a wall at all.

I have been taking this week off to re-set some habits.  I've been knitting too much and quilting too little simply because picking up a piece of knitting where you left off is much easier than getting out your sewing machine and ironing board, choosing fabric, cutting it out, and beginning to piece.  But knitting is also much less satisfying.  So I thought I'd get this quilt finished and basted up so that sitting down to quilt is as easy as picking up a sock.

Sheba quickly got the drift of the whole "new habit" thing and concluded that my spending  three or four hours in the morning and a couple more hours at night reading had been arranged just for her.  She's been a limpet.  So today when I wanted to put the borders on the quilt, I had to bribe her with the good end (the wide end, that is) of the ironing board which I put under the "sun" of a task light.  Otherwise, she wouldn't stop demanding attention, kneading the quilt and pushing her nose under my hands as I tried to pin on the borders.  The wide end is the good end because she so frequently stretches out to arrange herself and falls off the narrow end.  Laughter ensues and her dignity is in tatters.

I plan a lot of things in my life.  I even had plans for my week off that included finding reading for the Literature and the Environment 110 class I'm teaching in the winter term and making good headway on Ford Maddox Ford's very lengthy Parade's End.  I also wanted to find a home every day for something languishing in the basement--clothing or kitchen equipment I no longer needed, books I've read, so I've made trips to the Mennonite thrift store and a bin where Canadian Diabetes Association collects clothes, as well as bringing more books into the university.  I'm into the aesthetics of minimalism these days, thought you wouldn't know it from my quilt.

As an over-planner, I don't necessarily want to completely plan out quilts.  I had fallen in love with the cheerful blue chintz with its red poppies and simply took my cues from that, making small basket blocks, each of which is different.  Quilters must have a dozen ways of representing baskets.  (Sorry these are sideways; my computer's software doesn't "know" it needs to turn them 90 degrees, and I don't see an option for doing this.)
 So each basket was an adventure with colour and design.  Then I'd wanted to make a "strippie" quilt which is an important part of the North American quilt aesthetic and has been picked up by brilliant quilters in Japan.  A strippie is organized vertically and each strip can be made of different blocks.  Following the Japanese examples, I thought I'd alternate appliqued strips with blocks on point. It seemed like a good idea as I worked my way through my casual plans.  The blocks were lovely and fanciful; the applique panels, based on flowers designed by Nancy Pearson but arranged by me for the space I had, had a kind of music about them.

What I hadn't fully accounted for was how much wider it would be than it was tall and the effect of all that startling red and the intense robin's egg blue.  I could cut it back to two rows of baskets and a single applique panel.  What do you think?  I have a photograph of 3/5ths of the quilt, but my computer wants to put it in upside down, so just put your hand over a couple of rows and see what you think.

Since the ancient Greeks, unity has been a quality we look for in a work of art.  Hence we sometimes say "That book (or movie) just doesn't hold together."  Or "I can't see how it all works.  There are too many pieces unaccounted for."   But I'm not sure aesthetics has any principles to deal with something simply being too much.  Ads on TV this week for the last Pirates of the Caribbean movie reminded me that I thought somebody was over-fond of the special effects of the sea monster's tentacles invading the ship and pulling out people and the movie simply became boring for me, in spite of Johnny Depp's cute self-irony.  This isn't boring, or is it?  Is there a boredom of surfeit, like too much chocolate?  That's what this quilt is:  too much chocolate.  I think, though, that in mid-winter, two people could share it over their laps while they read.  A cat could join then and eventually a lovely patina of cat fur would soften the colour a little.


  1. Oh, Kathleen, that is ^gorgeous! And it will look fantastic anywhere you hang it. Hubby will get used to it.

  2. Not loud at all but vibrant! Did you read the piece in the Guardian book blog on Parade's End?

    1. No, Theresa, I didn`t. Could you send me a link? I'm into the second "novel," and am finding the description of the war pretty rough going. Paul Fussell makes a good case for the Brit's overly-organized incompetence, but Ford makes clear how bad it was.

      Thanks for the comment on the quilt. I'm trying to figure out a pattern for the hand quilting. My daughter says the hand applique pretty much demands hand quilting.


  4. I think it looks lovely and it's not that too loud. If I may say, it's vibrant and bring life to your room. I started my own quilt project but finding it difficult to finish because it takes a lot more to finish one. Bye, got to go since I have to help my daughter in her essay writing service project. Thanks for sharing your stories.