On Abstract and Narrative

I went to an arts high school, where I learned drawing, painting and sculpting from teachers who were artists themselves. We learned art history, too, but our art history teacher was also an artist. She taught us to look at art from the point of view of artists: to analyze a piece by looking at its composition, colors, proportions.

In college I majored in art history and East Asian Studies. My art history professors had an entirely different approach to art. They looked at art, and tried to find hints to traumas in the lives of the artists who created it. They tried to apply stories and shallow psychoanalytical interpretations where they didn’t belong. In other words, they tried to enforce a narrative on something that addressed entirely different concerns. I never warmed to this approach, and so I ended up specializing in Chinese history.

Now, as a textile artist, I feel most comfortable with abstracts, but some of my pieces have a narrative, too. Many (though not all) of my abstracts are just that, however: a play with the different components of art. One such series was the Spark series, which I blogged about a while back. I had no underlying story when I created this series, no big idea I tried to express. It was all about colors, shapes, lines, play. I didn’t even name the different pieces, just gave them numbers.

The Question

I shared parts of this series on social media. When I came to Piece No. 7, something interesting happened.

Spark Mini Quilt Series, Quilt #7

Someone commented as follows: “It reminds me of an opulent bedroom in a castle somewhere in Europe. 🏰”

I never thought of Piece No. 7 as a bedroom in a castle, but once this person said that I could see what they meant. All of a sudden, this piece made ME think of Elsa’s ice castle in the movie Frozen. After that, whenever I looked at it that’s all I saw.

So I decided to share it in one of my favorite Facebook textile artists’ groups. I posted the picture and asked a simple question: “What does this make you think of?

I expected fellow artists to talk about colors and shapes, but got none of that. People were looking at my abstract piece, the little game I played with myself and my scraps, and saw different things. Surprisingly, many of them agreed on what they saw, and the great majority aligned with that first comment above.

The Answers

More than a hundred people commented on my post. I found their answers so interesting, that I decided to analyze the first 100 responses. I copied them all, and divided them into general topic groups.

Dwelling

Of the 100 people, the great majority–87 people–saw a dwelling of some kind in my abstract. This included a house generally, a bedroom or bed (with a significant minority seeing Van Gogh’s bedroom), a dwelling associated with water, other kinds of dwelling or a trailer/caravan.

General Room or House

Of the 87 dwelling-seers, 37 saw a general room or house. A few didn’t project any emotions onto the houses they saw:

An old house.”

House with the window. Actually just the side.”

Student living.”

Room with a view.”

Some attached a positive feel to the house they imagined:

A cozy house.”

A door and a window to something lovely.”

An empty house with possibilities.”

Home, the acceptance of things in life not being perfect, the familiarity of the imperfections of your own life – they are yours, you own them and accept them. Peace.

A house, worse for wear, but home, a refuge.”

I include in this groups the four people who were reminded of an elderly relative’s house, mostly a grandparent.

Others saw sinister tones:

Abandoned house.”

Broken home.”

A room that a tree crashed into.”

A derelict abandoned house.”

The texture and feel has a very camouflage kind like something wants to hide in greens or mountain and the roughness of edges gives a very broken feelings for me it reminds of war times broken houses and people in camouflage suits.”

It reminds me of a still from a scene in an Alfred Hitchcock type movie … an attic bedroom with the bedhead, and a dagger.” 

Bombed out houses with remnants of domestic life exposed.”

Bedroom or Bed

Twenty six people saw a bedroom or a bed. This number includes seven people who were reminded of Van Gogh’s painting of his bedroom. Six people saw a poster bed. Once again, some associated positive feelings with this bedroom or bed: “A bed surrounded by tapestry in a movie set in medieval times…,” “A warm, comfortable bed to snuggle in when it’s stormy outside.” Others had more negative associations: “Fear of the marriage bed.”

Water Dwelling

Eleven people imagined dwellings near or on water. These included entire cities or towns, like Venice or the Philippine town of Ukay on the island of Bohol. Others saw a cottage by the sea, a shipyard, a boat house or a cabin on a boat.

Other Kinds of Dwelling

Eight people were reminded of other kinds of dwellings or structures. Those included the South African city of Soweto, a Chinese village, a fishing or hunting cabin, a barn or a yurt.

RV/Caravan/Trailer

Finally, five people thought of a caravan/trailer/RV. Here, too, opinions ranged from positive (“looks cozy to me. Maybe in an RV“) to more negative (“Trailer abandoned“).

Other Associations

The reminder thirteen people thought of other things. Those included positive things like aerial/drone views, landscape, or the Golden Gate Bridge, and negative things like winter, life’s obstacles, Godfather Part 2, and murder. One person was especially nice and wrote : “It makes me think that you’re a great artist.” Thank you for that!

Thoughts

I found all the answers really interesting, especially as they were coming from artists. I was wondering what made people see things in my own work that I myself never thought of. Was it the question I asked, that implied there WAS something to see? Or perhaps it was our inherent human need to reflect our own narrative on art? Could it be that people see their own experiences even (or especially) in abstract? It could be me. Maybe my college art history professors were right after all, and it was MY experiences, as an artist, that were reflected in my work, to be seen by others but not myself?

I don’t have answers to this. But here is a thought: I created this art in December 2020, A year plagued by Covid 19, marked by lockdown after lockdown. Most of humanity was locked up at home for nine long months by the time I created this piece, and almost a year by the time I shared it in February 2021. Is it really that surprising that most people saw my work and thought of dwellings? Could people have reflected their own enclosed experiences, both positive and negative, on what they saw? Did I, sub-consciously, reflect my own lockdown experiences in this series, too? Would people’s answers have been different had I showed them this piece during a normal year? In summer?

I’ll leave that for you to decide 😉

Finishing Unfinished Projects (UFOs) Part 2: Patchwork Totes

I dedicated January of this year to working on my unfinished projects. If you’ve been following me for a while, you might recall that the majority of projects in my UFO pile were totes. Twenty three totes, to be precise (out of 58 UFOs). Three of those were patchwork totes, but each was different than the others.

First Patchwork Tote: An Experiment in Piecing Upholstery Fabrics 

A few years ago, early in my bag-sewing adventure, I started experimenting with piecing upholstery fabrics as if they were quilting cottons. As a part of that experiment I created two patchwork panels, which I intended to turn into messenger bag flaps. The experiment didn’t go very well. Home décor textiles, it turned out, were nothing like quilting cottons, and piecing them was more difficult and time-consuming than I expected. My experiment started and ended with these two pieces.

Shortly afterwards, I stopped making messenger bags. The two pieced pieces went straight into my UFO pile, where they lay for years. A couple of years ago, a good friend visited me and braved the mess in my sewing room. She saw these pieces and suggested that I combine them into a tote instead. It took a while longer, but I finally did. 

Here it is. Tote number 1:

And from back:

I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. My friend was right 🙂

Second Patchwork Tote: From Busy Work to a Memory Piece

In January 2019 I visited my parents. I really enjoyed spending time with them, but I was used to working with my hands, and really needed some fabric to stitch and keep my hands busy. My dad had a pile of torn jeans he no longer wore, so he gave me one, along with some rags. I started stitching Sashiko-style patches, just for fun. When I returned home, I added a few pieces from my scrap piles, with the intention of eventually making a tote.
 
Two months later my father passed away unexpectedly. I couldn’t touch these patchwork panels after that, and into the UFO pile they went.
 
I’ve now finished that tote, which became so much more than just a way to keep my hands busy. I gave it to my daughter, as a memory piece for my dad. She’s already using it, carrying a bit of her grandfather with her every time she does.
 
Here it is from the front:
 
 
And the back:
 
 

Third Patchwork Tote: A Tribute to Japan

The third patchwork tote bag took a LONG time to make. It started way back in summer 2018, in a narrow alley in Nara, Japan. My daughters and I browsed interesting little shops and boutiques (in the good old days when this was still possible!), when we went into an artisan shop and saw these gorgeous, hand-carved wooden handles. Of course I had to buy them! Right there and then the image of a Japanese-inspired tote popped into my mind.
 
 
We kept walking and browsing, and came into a store selling antique Japanese fabrics. I bought a bundle of mostly indigos, but also some bright red. I knew exactly what i was going to make with them!
 
 
Back home, I used some of the vintage Japanese fabric to make a Boro-style patchwork panel (I later used the remaining fabric in my jacket). I also added some fabric from my stash. I spent days (weeks?) Sashiko stitching it all over. I finished the outer layer, and then got distracted. The stitched panel ended up–you guessed it!–with my other UFOs.
 
Well, I finally completed the tote. I even added a wooden hand-made button that I bought years ago (and haven’t found use for until now!).
 
It turned out just the way I imagined it, in that narrow alley in Nara. This is the front:
 
 
And this is the back:
 
 
I’ll be giving this tote as a gift to my sister, once I can finally see her again. Something to look forward to…

Finishing Unfinished Projects (UFOs) Part 1: Smaller Items

The Problem

Over the years, I have accumulated an ever-growing pile of UFOs (Unfinished Objects). This wasn’t intentional, it just kind of happened. Sometimes I was working on things right before vacations or trips, and never got to them once back. At other times I started something new before finishing an existing project, and then moved on. And right before my father passed away, I worked on a big batch of totes, and then couldn’t bare to touch them afterwards.

I kept my UFO pile on a glider chair that was a part of our guest room before I conquered it and turned it into a sewing room. It didn’t bother anyone, and was just sitting there, getting taller and taller each year, out of mind although in plain sight (I have to admit that sometimes I did feel a little guilty because of it…). Over the years, whenever I did a major tidying up of the sewing room, I reluctantly went over that pile, and sometimes took things out that I no longer liked. But major tidying up was rare, and for the most part I didn’t even remember what was in the pile. Until, in the fall, my kids decided they needed the glider chair, that is. They moved it into our family room, leaving my UFO pile homeless on the floor…

You need to understand that my sewing room is rather small, and that a queen-sized guest bed takes most of its floor space. That leaves very little space for me to work in. Having the UFO pile take some of that space was bothersome. And so, in December, I decided to go over it and take inventory.

My UFO Pile

During my excavations of the pile, I found 58 projects (!!) as follows:

1 troll art doll.
1 veggie bag.
1 moth soft sculpture.
1 boro spring jacket.
2 journal covers.
3 messenger bags.
5 small crossbody bags.
6 clutches.
7 zippered pouches of different kinds.
8 quilts/wall hangings varying from small to a twin-sized bed quilt.
And, last but not least, a staggering 23 totes!

The Resolution

I am usually not one to make New Year’s resolutions, but this was too much. Besides, I needed the floor space for my scrap boxes. AND I thought I should teach my kids by example, and I DO want them to finish things they start… So, I decided to dedicate January to finishing up as many of these projects as I could. I forbade myself from starting anything new for an entire month.

The Execution

I decided right away that I don’t have to finishing everything. Only the projects that I still liked, and only those that were in fairly advanced sewing stages. I decided to absorb the fabrics of early-stage projects back into my stash. That meant dismantling the veggie bag, moth, one journal cover, one crossbody bag, five clutches and a zippered pouch. All of these went back into my stash, as I barely started them.

I resolved to leaving the jacket for the spring, and work on the quilts later.

Of what was left, I decided to start with the smaller projects, the ones I could complete relatively quickly. I knew that seeing them finished will encourage me to keep going.

Pouches

I began by completing the zipper pouches. The first three I probably started in preparation for some craft fair or other, although I don’t remember exactly when. I worked on scrappy pouches (in the bottom pf the picture) in fall 2019, when I made them as gifts to family and friends. I didn’t have time to finished those three then. If you’d like to try making your own, you can find a tutorial here.

Once the pouches were all finished, I went on to complete the one remaining clutch. I started it in spring 2018, in preparation for a May craft fair. At the time, I made two clutches out of the same beautiful embroidered fabric. I never got to finish this one, so it ended up in my UFO pile. Its sibling, on the other hand, sold right away.
Like all my clutches, I lined this one with silk and decorated it with an enameled coconut-shell button.

Crossbody Bags

When I finished with the small items, I moved on to the mini crossbody bags. I don’t remember when I started those. More than a year had passed since I last sewed a bag, and when I resumed working on these I was surprised to realize just how much work they were. There are so many required steps, thread changes, ironing…

Back in December, when I decided to dedicate January to UFOs, I imagined myself sitting in my warm sewing room, hot beverage at hand, looking out at the rain. But January 2021 in California turned out to be one of the warmest I remember. It was dry, sunny and for one week–summer hot, with temperatures close to 80 degrees. Naturally, I couldn’t just sit and sew. I ended up spending a few days gardening, something I’ve never done in January before…

Messenger bag

There were three messenger bags in my pile. Two required just a few extra rivets. The third, in the below picture, waited almost-finished for a LONG time. It was one of the very first bags I ever designed. At the beginning, I experimented with shaping bag flaps to match the fabric designs. I probably made 3-4 bags in this way. For this one, I sewed the flap and lining years ago, but still needed to finish the outer layer. In recent years I’ve always been making the lining last, so it was surprising to realize that I made them first once. It might be five years later, but I finally finished it!

Blue messenger bag

Most of these finished items are now listed in my Etsy shop

Spark Mini Quilt Series

What do you do to get yourself motivated?

2020 was a challenging year, with lots of ups and downs. Locked up at home, I often found myself turning to art as an escape from the world. There were times during the year, however, when I couldn’t muster what it takes to create at all. When this happened in spring and summer, I went out to the garden and kept myself busy there. But in winter things got a bit more difficult.

After I finished my Desolation series at the end of the year, I was left with a kind of deep emptiness. I often feel this way after completing bigger or harder projects. I went into my sewing room, and … wasn’t sure what to do next. That, despite the huge UFO pile and the long list of projects in my head… 

In the past, simply organizing my scraps helped ignite my creativity. But in December I didn’t feel like doing even that. And so, after several days of doing absolutely nothing, I decided to give myself a little creative challenge, just for fun. A small game to spark my creative juices. Hence, the Spark series 🙂

I made up some rules:

  • Nine days.
  • One mini quilt a day.
  • Each piece will be 6″ x 6.” Small and manageable.
  • Use only scraps.
  • Use the existing shapes of the scraps (but cutting them to fit was OK).
  • Each quilt should use at least one fabric from the previous quilt.
  • Use only black thread to outline shapes.

Here is the result: The Spark Mini Quilt Series. Can you find the fabric/s in each piece that I also used in the piece before it? (Hint: the very last piece also uses fabric from the first, closing the circle):

Did you find it/them? Which is your favorite?

Hopefully this will inspire you to create a Spark Mini Quilt Series of your own. It’s fun! And it does help rekindle creativity 🙂

Desolation Quilt Series

In March 2020 we went into a pandemic-induced lockdown and everything closed. For months, places which were once crowded and bustling were suddenly deserted. The streets were empty, as were shops, movie theaters, libraries, places of worship. Everything remained abandoned for months. Then some places opened, only to shut down again when case numbers spiked .

Desolation prevailed wherever you went. Inside and out.

In September, the California wildfires restricted everyone further. Unable to go outside, I went back into my sewing room and tried to lift my spirit up with some bright colors. A small quilt formed, but it was all sharp angles and confined spaces. I tried to soften it with some lace, but the lace, too, ended up as a border, restricting. Mazes within mazes, escape routes blocked, small, confined spaces, sharpness. And yet, there was also some beauty in it all, just like in the real world…

This is Fenced Garden. 10″ x 10.”

In the following months, slowly and painfully, more quilts in this series emerged. Emerged in-between other projects, as if on their own, designing themselves. Some took weeks to complete. This was not an easy series.

These quilts evoked abandoned streets, taped-up play structures, empty squares, and boarded-up shop fronts. They portrayed cities that lost their citiness.

This is Eerie Streets. 10″ x 10.” The emptiness of streets in that first lockdown, deprived of both people and cars, was one of the most striking differences between the “before” and “after.” And the quiet that accompanied it. A deep, screaming quiet. The quiet was nice, actually.

The quilts in this series shouted barred cathedrals, churches, synagogues, mosques and temples. They whispered of locked museums and closed schools.

Here is Locked Cathedral. 10″ x 10.”

These quilts hinted at abandoned structures, quiet public spaces and things falling apart.

For my family, one of the hardest aspects of the March Lockdown was the closing of theaters. Both of my daughters were in a youth theater production at the time. They practiced for months, getting ready to perform over two consecutive weekends. The first weekend still happened, albeit in front of smaller, spaced-out audiences. By the time the second weekend rolled by, however, we were already in full lockdown. The disappointment was bitter.

Fittingly, the last quilt in this series is Shattered Theater, 10″ x 10.”

And yet, each of the quilts in this series contains some beauty, too. In pleasing colors, the softness of textures, or in rounded shapes. In each, there is some hint of nature, in the form of leaves or the silhouette of mountains. And each has the silver lining of lace, pretty even when constricting, bringing hope…

Looking Back at 2020: An End-of-year Summary

2020 is about to end, which means it’s time for that end-of-year summary, by now a tradition. It turns out that this is my fifth end-of-year post. ANY Texture is now five years old! 

How do you summarize a year like 2020? A year in which the sense of time itself has been compromised? The world as we knew it shifted. Time got warped. Our lives were turned upside down and we all went on a wild emotional roller-coaster ride. Many of us emerge from this year somewhat altered…

Life Changes

For me, this year led to both physical and lifestyle changes. The physical changes were relatively quick: We had to adjust our house to accommodate distant learning and everyone being home all the time. We moved large pieces of furniture, rearranged rooms, assigned new functions to old spaces. My kids confiscated the glider chair that sat in my sewing room for years, and which housed my huge pile of unfinished projects. That forced me to try my hand at reupholstering… 

There were changes in the garden, too. After several years of neglect (ANY Texture’s fault!) I finally managed to spend a lot of time outside, digging, pulling, pruning and planting to save my sanity. The garden almost resumed its pre-ANY Texture glory.

The lifestyle changes have been more gradual and are still ongoing. My life slowed down. I’m in less of a hurry. More and more, I’m enjoying the small things, the little moments, the here and now (perhaps because the future is so unpredictable, and any plans are susceptible to change). I’m finding more time to read books, to watch movies, to practice yoga, to learn new things. I have a better balance between life and art making. With everyone home, there’s been more cooking, baking, eating, spending time together. The upsides of a dire situation.

Art Changes

ANY Texture was born after I got the Bag Bug five years ago. Following a few months of intense bag making, however, I started creating other things, including art quilts. For a couple of years I’ve been meaning to make more fine art, but haven’t quite gotten to it. When my father passed away last year, I realized that life was short, and that I should concentrate on the things I want to do and spend less time on the things I don’t enjoy. So I made less bags, participated in less craft shows, and completed my first quilt series, the Calendar Quilts. Then 2020 arrived.

Jacket

I kicked the year off with a boro jacket to honor my dad.

Right when I was finished, the pandemic happened. Shows got cancelled, online shopping halted, everything closed. I no longer needed to create inventory. Instead, I turned to art as a refuge, a means of expression, an escape from the world.

Animal art

Insects

We entered the first lockdown in the spring. I spent much of it in my garden, where insects, birds, squirrels and the occasional cat kept me company. I found it to be the perfect time to further explore the shape of insects and beetles, something I’ve been meaning to do more of since I completed my Dare! quilt in 2017. I made more butterfly brooches:

Art in Times of Corona: Textile Butterfly

Then the Amazing Beetles series.

Art in Times of Corona: Beetle quilts

And I was finally able to play with three-dimensional beetles as well:

Four fabric beetles

Birds

For several years I’ve been wanting to try Ann Wood Handmade’s owl and bird soft-sculpture patterns. The pandemic gave me the time to get to it. I first made owls.

And also wrote a tutorial for a small owl my daughter made based on something she saw in Japan:

Then I worked on a flock of birds.

And finally created a series of small bird quilts:

Cat

My sister and mother were supposed to visit in the spring. Their much-anticipated visit got canceled like everything else. So I made my sister a quilt of her cat Trini:

Trini the Cat art quilt

Abstract Art

My true passion lies in abstracts, and this year I got to play more with that. Interestingly, I am realizing more an more that even my abstracts are strongly influenced by nature…

Early in the year, I completed the Colors of the Day series, a series influenced by landscapes I enjoyed on past travels.

Later, I created a series of mood-depicting Textile Poems. These drew much of their inspiration from my garden.

I also explored the textural variety of Tree Bark, something that was on my to-do list since my trip to Japan a couple of years ago.

Art Influenced by Current Events

2020 was an unusual year, and I couldn’t but respond to it in my art. This year, I created three of what I think are my most powerful art quilts to date: Interdependence, Ashes and 2020.

I also made Black Lives Matter, Wildfires and Let the Mending Begin.

Other

Early in the pandemic, I made wall hangings of the Jewish Blessing of the Child for my children, just in case…

Before Thanksgiving, I made a textile card for my mom:

Thankful for you, mom

And in the fall, the maple tree outside my window inspired me to make an Autumn Leaf wall hanging. You can find the tutorial here.

Autumn leaf wall hanging

After completing all these art quilts and more in one year, I decided it was time to finally join the Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA), something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. I’ve been really enjoying all that they have to offer. Check out their website for some gorgeous textile eye candy!

In December, I was honored to be included in an article on recycling in textile art, written by Heidi Ingram for the TextileArtist.org blog. Check it out here.

So here we are, at the end of 2020. Back in a second lockdown, with Covid numbers skyrocketing, but with the promise of a vaccine in sight. My sewing room is still messy. The Unfinished Project pile is taller than ever (I didn’t even touch it this year!), and is now homeless. My scrap boxes multiplied from three to seven, and are all overflowing (even though I used mostly scraps this year… This will remain a mystery).

Next year? Tackle those UFOs, perhaps? I have ideas for more art quilts than I can possibly make, piles of jacket-worthy fabrics, and a long list of things to learn. In other words, I’m excited to keep experimenting, learning, and growing as an artist… The adventure continues 🙂

Thanks so much for accompanying me on this journey!

Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year. Keep safe and cozy.

Autumn Leaves Wall Hanging

Autumn is my favorite season. It’s the time of year when the trees change color, painting the world with warm, vibrant reds and golds. The air gets cooler, sending us indoors, to warmth and fireplaces and hot chocolate.

I have a beautiful maple tree right outside my sewing room’s window. In fall it brings a reddish glow into my studio. Sewing in a warm room, a hot cup of tea at hand, admiring nature, gives me a wonderfully cozy feeling.

It always amazes me how beautiful fallen leaves are, and how unique. Because although there are millions of trees in the world, and thousands of leaves on each tree, each leaf is special and one of a kind. Just like people.

In fall, autumnal colors always creep into my work. They inspire me to make various red and yellow products, and, of course, quilts. This year, I decided to make an Autumn Leaves Wall Hanging. Below I explain how I made it. You can follow these steps to make a wall hanging of your own, or, if you prefer, a table runner.

Fall Leaf Hanging Tutorial

I started by collecting different kinds of fallen leaves during one of my neighborhood walks. I brought them to my sewing room, to use as templates.

Looking through my scrap piles, I found suitably-colored pieces, and made little quilt sandwiches out of them: a backing, batting and top. Then, I placed the actual leaf on the top fabric, and drew an outline around it.

I zigzagged along the outline, and, once done, carefully cut the leaf out along the outside of the stitch. This has to be done carefully, so as not to cut the stitching itself.

I made a little pile of leaves.

Out in the garden, I picked a dry stick. I placed it on my carpet, and started arranging the leaves beneath it. This took a while, as I wanted to reach just the right balance between colors, fabrics, shapes and sizes. (If you want to make a table runner, leave the stick part out, but still arrange your leaves in any shape you want).

Once I knew where each leave goes, I free-motion quilted details onto the leaves. I used a heavy, variegated thread for added interest.

I placed each leaf back carefully. To make sure I have a mostly-rectangular shape, I placed them onto a cutting mat and straightened them a bit. Then I carefully pinned them together.

I delicately took the pinned piece back to my sewing machine, and stitched the leaves together where they touched each other, starting from the top and going down.

When they were all connected, I hand stitched the top row around the stick.

Finally, I found a red string that one of my kids brought home as part of a school project years ago (yes, I collect things that might be useful one days, and some of them do find a new purpose, even if years later!). Viola: an Autumn Leaves Wall Hanging!

I hung this in our dining room, to enhance the autumnal feel. I love how it glows in the light!

And now, it’s time to collect the real fallen leaves out in my yard, so I can add them to my compost bin all year long!

The Tree Bark Quilt Series

I’ve always enjoyed textures up-close. Textures of man-made things like old structures or rusting tools, or the textures of nature: lichen, rocks, cracked earth or tree bark. But it wasn’t until I visited the island of Hokkaido three summers ago, that it occured to me that it would be really interesting to make a tree bark quilt series.

The Birth of an Idea

In Hokkaido, we visited a local museum. One of the displays included felled trunks representing the different native trees of the island. Put together, the contrasting textures were striking. When I saw them, I immediately realized they must be turned into quilts.

Alas, I when I came home I got busy and distracted, as I often do. I archived the idea of tree-bark quilts in my head, alongside many other creative ideas.

Timing is Everything

Then came the 2020 Lockdown. I spent most of the pandemic-sticken summer in my garden, surrounded by wildlife, flowers and trees. My only outings were walks in the neighborhood, on which I noticed the plants and trees in my neighbors’ yards. Some were truly beautiful, like this tree right down the road from my house:

The California wildfires, which started in mid-August, smoked me out of the garden and into my sewing room. The unhealthy air made it impossible to leave the house. That, in addition to the pandemic, was a lot to deal with. I desperately needed to treat myself, to somehow uplift my spirit. So I decided to buy myself something I didn’t really NEED but that I’ve been wanting for a while: a big box of thirty variegated 12-weight thread spools!

I didn’t use them immediately after they arrived. I wanted to first finish my pandemic quilt, and the fire-influenced quilt I started. But I saw them, and drooled over them, every time I came into my sewing room.

Then, one day, it suddenly hit me: these spools were made for the tree bark quilt series!

The Process

I decided to make six quilts in this series. Like all my work, I meant them to be a study of shapes, colors and textures. An excuse to play with forms and color combinations I don’t normally use. I wanted to utilize my new thread, and also to practice my free-motion quilting, something I haven’t done much of.

I began by searching the web for pictures of tree bark, and settled on six general types. My idea wasn’t to copy them, just to use them as inspiration. For color combinations, I was inspired mostly by pictures of Rainbow Eucalyptus and Gum trees that I found online.

I used many layers of fabric and stitched over them, raw-edge-applique style. It took a lot of playing and tweaking to get the stitching right.

I was absolutely smitten by the thread, but my machine didn’t like it at all. It squeaked. Potested. Broke the thread again and again. It did strange things with the bobin. I had to change the tension over and over. My jean needle wasn’t good enough, so I tried a top-stitch needle instead. I also had to clean the machine often, as it turns out that 12-weight thread sheds. A LOT.

The Quilts

Each quilt taught me something. In each, I played with slightly different techniques. They each have little flaws and blemished, but in general I’m pretty happy with how they turned out.

This is Tree Bark 1:

Tree Bark 2:

Here’s Tree Bark 3:

Tree Bark 4:

 

Tree Bark 5:

And last but not least, Tree Bark 6:

I hope this series captures some of the diversity that nature offers. We live in such an amazing world with so many interesting lifeforms. Maybe my work will propel people to notice, and more importantly–to CARE. Care enough to help preserve the beauty that is already here…

So what do you think? Which of the tree bark quilts do you like best?