Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Broken Dishes

One of my favorite things about the American quilting tradition is the naming of patterns.  I once slept under a beautiful deep blue & white quilt of scintillating triangles, and the pattern name was Delectable Mountain.
There is so much imagination and intention in the block names, and they pass down hints about the life truths of our quilting ancestors.  Piecing a quilt block takes a lot of time and attention, and it would be impossible to make a whole quilt of a certain block without giving ample thought to the symbolism of the pattern.  So I believe these names carry layers of depth in them, emotional meaning as well as literal, figurative references.  For example, Storm at Sea not only reflects the dynamic interaction of sharp angles, like ocean waves and flapping sails, but would embody a woman's fears for the safety of family members out on the sea, and her hopes of their safe return.  Many of the names carry a a connotation of danger, but the act of piecing the block exerts control over that fear: the regularity and persistence of the cutting and sewing emphasizes that things can be resolved, organized, peaceful, and calm.
I'm thinking about all this because I'm making a Broken Dishes quilt.  This is one of my favorite patterns (and names,) and the design motif is universal, showing up in textiles from Africa to Asia, from barkcloth to patchwork to silk embroidery.  It's very basic, the alternation of negative and positive in a criss-cross shape, and there's so much potential for strong design.
The name seemed rather pessimistic, though, since I'm making this for married friends.  Making a quilt that shows a broken state did not seem right.  However, the quilt block inherently contains its own reparation.  In the perfect regularity of the shapes, the faithful repetition of a pattern, there is the conviction that what is broken can be repaired.  These are not random fragments of destruction, but pieces that can be put back together, pieces that fit.
This is a feeling I often get while quilting: that I am putting something to right, fixing and repairing in a microcosmic, metaphysical way.  My attention to the cutting and piecing brings a focus on the recipients of the quilt, and my mental energy is going toward protecting, supporting, and encouraging them.  I do believe it works, and so I need to keep working on this one.

4 comments:

ashayne said...

Beautiful! The color progressions are so interesting, especially when you squint at them. Makes me want to quilt so much!

Kel said...

awesome! You are such an amazing quilter. I'm still in awe of the dragon fly quilt you did awhile back. Anyway, these are beautiful! I can't wait to see them in person!!

Tracy said...

Thanks, Kel - and Ann!
I'm enjoying the fabrics in this one - their variety makes up for the endlessness of the repeated triangles...(getting into the slog phase, to be honest.)

Laura said...

Another post with magnificent pictures and essential information, this time concerning quilting. Thank you! Quilting is one of the best crafts one can imagine, and its long history proves its durability and acceptance. Thank you.