Artist’s Statement:

Many artists, when beginning their career, spend time exploring with their chosen medium, for instance, in painting mastering and understanding the paint (oil, watercolor, etc) and developing their techniques and expertise with brush, palette knife or what-have-you.

In developing as an artist quiltmaker, I focused on two issues: the medium of found commercial cotton cloth, layered and quilted; and the technique of traditional right-sides-together piecing.

In terms of the fabric medium, I chose to disregard the art world’s preference for solid color or hand-dyed, or painted fabric, in order to be able to use the whole wide range of commercial fabrics and patterns. Plaids, prints, even with flowers on them(!), large scaled, small scaled, tweeds, and polkadots. All adding richness and detail and all filled with the references to places and people and eras of time.

In terms of the piecing technique, I love the process of construction, how to put things together, to achieve the visual images I am after. With a pieced design, the lines of the imagery I am working with are the basis of the division of the whole top. The quilt begins with a line drawing of every seamline I will need to interpret the imagery I have in mind to a finished piece. Careful attention is paid to the choice of straight or curved seams and the way they integrate the imagery with the entire surface of the quilt. The extension of the lines of the imagery across the surface of the quilt can be very gestural, enhancing the movements and flow. This seaming process produces a product that is very different visually from an appliqued, painted, or dyed, or fused piece.

Color is not added until I begin to work with the actual fabrics. What I happen to have at the time I’m making the quilt, is the very exciting part of the process, and by far the most difficult. It usually results in a mountain of possibles pulled off the shelves and scattered about. The fabrics begin a conversation, and suggest other fabrics, often ones I would not have logically thought of initially. I find I have to cut out with the piecing templates and pin up all the fabric pieces in place on the piecing cartoon before I’m sure that I’ve made the right choices.

Quilting, by hand or machine, is a chance to add a linear pattern to the surface and develop a low relief if that is desired. It adds texture, detail, and unifies the surface.

My quilts have developed along several paths of overlapping and interweaving interests: geometry, botany, the natural world, color and pattern, abstraction and composition. Geometry was an early interest, beginning with the idea of repeated “blocks”, although the “blocks” quickly became other shapes than squares. The lines of the seaming quickly began to explore the visual impact if you deliberately did not make the corners meet (a rigid requirement of traditional piecing).

Freehand drawing of the lines of seams quickly followed. If you were drawing curves, what kind of curves, and what was actually sewable. If using straight seaming, what variety of sizes of pieces made the most visually interesting results. And what happened with combining straight and curved? The old traditional concept of quilt borders could be explored and the “borders” broken apart and adapted as necessary as a part of the overall quilt composition.

©2004 Ruth B. McDowell