Monday, August 20, 2012

Still Verboten

Long before Hitler and the Nazis made the swastika their symbol, the little twirling design turned up in all sorts of art. The swastika was an innocuous ancient design and usually meant as a good luck or fertility symbol. Seen on native American baskets, in weaving, in Chinese porcelain, and lots of other artifacts, it took World War II to brand the swastika as evil. Once when I was dealing in antique quilts, I happened to be selling a swastika quilt in typical 30s pastels. A woman viewing my quilts yelped at me and stormed off and I didn't know what I'd done as the old quilt, to my eyes, was a pinwheel pattern but she had seen it as a swastika. When I realized the gaffe, I reduced the price and off-loaded the offending quilt as soon as possible.

The quilt pictured is a late 19th century swastika quilt in the state of Nevada museum (photo credit Scott Klette).

The other day I came smack up against the power of the swastika again. While making a quilt for a friend, I got pretty creative with variations of the Drunkard's Path pattern. My friend's favorite color is red so there's lots of experimenting with all manner of red prints. In the center of a Drunkard's Path block, I used a bright red almost-solid batik and a white-and-red-toile. I worked through the afternoon but by time to go home, something about the piece bothered me. I pinned it to the design wall and stepped back. What was the problem? Then it hit me: the inner pinwheel of the Drunkard's Path block, in red and white, looked like a Nazi swastika.
Yikes! I couldn't get out my seam ripper quick enough.

By the next day, the middle of the Drunkard's Path block had been re-sewn as a Rob Peter to Pay Paul block and I'm happy with the quilt now. It's being machine-quilted for me and will be going to its new home in a couple of weeks.

Could I have dismissed the swastika reference and not changed the quilt?  Maybe. But I ran the risk of offending my friend who's older than I am and likely has an even stronger emotional reaction to the swastika symbol. I'm not willing to  hurt someone's feelings just to make an artistic point. My purpose in making this quilt is to bring her joy. The swastika is still verboten in my house.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Feeling Hex'd again

Everybody who quilts has orphan quilt blocks. Maybe you won the block raffle at your local quilt guild meeting and received some, hmmm, unusual blocks. Or maybe, with the best of intentions, you began a quilt and after a hard time piecing a block, decided not to continue. Or your friends gave you left-over blocks of theirs.
Or one morning you stepped out and found a bag on the porch and it has-gasp!-old quilt blocks in it. Dump-and-run quilting--this has actually happened to me and the only thing I can surmise is that the dumpee felt guilty, couldn't bear to trash the work, and knew I'd "do something" with them. This is likely the same person who gifted you with not one but a litter of kittens. And you took those too.

But my orphan blocks have been hanging around in a box for years labelled 'block fodder.' They were mine and I could do with them what I I cut them up. After getting a set of Big Hexie templates made, I went on a rampage. Took out my frustration on those poor orphan blocks...and it felt good. I actually got to laughing as I sliced them!

A funky patchwork block that individually was a real loser, once cut into a hexagon, assumed new importance and interest. Talk about a makeover! The fabric holding the blocks together (the diamonds and border) in this composition is a shot cotton. The shot cotton fabric has two colors of thread: a dark reddish/purple warp and then a royal blue weft. If you look at the fabric from different angles, it seems to change color.

Stuff like this keeps me interested in quilting. If someone told me, "Now you must make 300 identical red and white quilt blocks----" I'd jump off a bridge. This is quilting for someone with attention deficit disorder. Funny thing is, once the excitement of assembling this piece is done, I'll hand-quilt the thing. Mood swings are common in my world: from total rotary cutter madness to the zen buzz of methodical hand stitching.