In April, our Out of the Box quilt group decided to do a mini challenge of a self-portrait. We were inspired by a self-portrait quilt at this year’s Road to California quilt show. We wanted the challenge to be a simple and easy one, so suggested a small size of 8×10, allowing the process to not get bogged down in size, and allow the quilter to focus on the idea of the self-portrait.
As I thought about what I wanted to do, I had a decision to quilt an image of my face or be more abstract. I was drawn towards the challenge of picking a subject that embodied important elements of me. Over the course of a few days I scribbled down ideas as I thought of them: nature, the land where I grew up, my husband, my family, being outdoors, my love of botany and wildflowers, the women who came before me, and the women who are my family and friends today that support me. And in a passing moment, I glanced at a photo of my wedding bouquet, and I thought, that is it. Perfect. The bouquet was made up of flowers that my mother and friends collected from around the land I grew up on and put together. It embodied the moment when my husband and I became a family. It reminded me of the moment when all my community was together, family and friends supporting me on this life adventure. It reminds me of all the women who came before me, my mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, who also held bouquets in their hand on their wedding day.
I zoomed in to a picture of me holding my bouquet, and printed it out on a regular letter size piece of paper. Using tracing paper, I tried to capture indivudal flower petals and stems. I ignored some of the smaller more detailed flowers and stems, and tried to pick out the primary shapes. I chose to highlight the three main dogwood flowers in the middle, the yellow iris to the left, the purple penstemon in the back, and the globe lilies on the right. From the tracing paper, I transferred the shapes onto fusible webbing, and then ironed that to various colored fabric, and cut out each petal and stem shape. I moved and arranged the fabric pieces until I liked their composition.
Two other nature themes I am passionate about and love are water and oak trees. I sketched several different scenarios with both, and settled on a circular quilt, with a wave pattern spiraling around the outside. I freehand drew the first wave spiral, then traced a smaller wave inside that so I could have two different colors. I transferred these two circles onto fusible webbing, and cut out two blues. I then placed my fabric flowers into the middle of the waves. Since I had focused so much on the shape of individual flowers, I felt the bouquet overall looked flat. I cut a few more random stems, and a few leaves for the dogwood flowers, and added these to the mix. It was exactly what the piece needed, and I knew my composition was complete.
Next, I quilted all the raw edge applique by stitching around the outside of each piece of fabric with a similar matching color. This took forever! Each little piece, I would wind a bobbin of matching thread, rethread the machine, stitch, change colors, repeat …
When our Out of the Box group gathered to share our self-portraits (which were amazing by the way, with their intimacy and creativity!), I shared my frustration over the endless changes of bobbin threads. And my world was rocked when several of the group asked why I bothered to change my bobbin thread at all! Why I bother? Don’t you have to? Apparently, not! Both Marilyn and Margaret left their bobbin thread one color, while only making the color thread changes up top. Brilliant!
Here’s Marilyn’s self-portrait, left is back and the right is the front. You can see how she changed color several times on front but kept the same light beige color for the back. Amazing! We did chat about how your machine stitch tension probably needs to be good, so you don’t see the bobbin thread color in the front, and if the contrast is too much you might need a darker neutral color in the back. Otherwise, I can’t wait to give this a try! I think it is interesting how our minds can get stuck in a “this is how you have to do it”, even though nobody probably ever said to me “you have to always match your bobbin thread” …. This is another great example of why I love the collaboration with our quilt group. Gets our minds and creativity out of the box!
I really enjoyed this project in that it challenged me to take an idea and translate it into an image. It encouraged me to reflect on how I see myself, what is important and meaningful to me, and how I want to portray myself to the world. Nature. Family. Community. Color and fabric!
And so on this Mother’s Day weekend, I want to thank my mom for raising me to be the woman I am today. And to all the women in my life, friends, aunts, grandmothers, great-grandmothers … I am who I am because I had you in life. Thank you.