Wednesday, August 13, 2008

decoding & getting acquainted with antique crazyquilt items -- Part Two

It remains to be seen, but I kinda feel as tho' miss carole might be on a bloggy roll! Especially if I get right to the point this time. It ain't easy, but we can try! First I have to thank Miss Susan for the perfect tutorial re: photo placement above & within the text of one's estimable posts. After acting on one of her suggestions, which worked the first time!, I'm far more confident to share all 3,488 pixures in MY PICTURES file. Well, no, but I think I can do this now. ("I think I can, I know I can...")

We were discussing how it is possible to create a diagnostic Profile of any worthwhile crazyquilt block or full quilt [top]. The rationale is that, by understanding as many 19th- and early 20th-century CQs as we can, we'll be better able to continue to create above-average crazywork items in our own time. At least, this is one of my very personal theories. And most of what I believe so strongly is based on an often-encountered phenomenon: the preponderance of "sew-and-flip" crazyquilt piecing that we have all seen since the resurgence of this wonderful textile-arts medium in the mid-1980s. Sadly, there are too many people who believe that this is the only way to put together the patchwork for all of our crazy blocks and quilts. But it isn't.

I say this, and at the same time I have to express my profound gratitude that Judith Baker Montano has taught the world this method of making crazyquilted things. I showed this important technique to absolute beginners in the very early 1990s, and I've seen beautiful quilts and other items made in this 20th-century way. But I also have to be honest with you. The two items that I attempted in this piecing format (1991) drove me a little crazy, figuratively speaking, even tho' Marianne Fons taught the guild-sponsored class I attended exactly how to deal with the increasingly-larger and larger patches that one has to add as one pieces the last "rounds" of patchwork. I just couldn't adapt, and I couldn't get around the fact that "sew-and-flipping" doesn't look anything like the authentic [there's that word again...] original crazy patchwork. I had fallen in love with the latter format those few years before, and I guess I got stuck in my preferences, but with wonderful results, thanks be to Heaven.

Well, how's that for getting right to the point? So, I have this "Reading-the-Block" Chart for you and me -- a questionnaire, really -- that is designed to point out the most necessary things to know about a block/quilt in order to profile it adequately. The profile is the device that aids our understanding. So it needs to be insightful as well as thorough. A last thought: our answers to the questions will depend on our level of experience, the amount of time we have already invested in these pursuits -- and on our trained ability to see what we are looking at. Here's the Chart:
  1. Overall/generic TYPE of crazyquilt or CQ top -- choose one of three: a fancy CQ or a decorative utility CQ or a utility CQ
  2. Generic CQ-Patchwork Block Formats -- choose all that may apply, especially if profiling a whole quilt/top. A block alone may be defined as belonging to one or as many as four primary construction categories. Note: I have found 32 of these thusfar. (See American Quilter Magazine/Fall 2000, p. 18.) In order to see which category a block or quilt fits into, look at the entire item, and note what the quiltmaker had in mind. Does the patchwork resemble a Log Cabin block with irregular pieces? Is there a Fan in the block or quilt, and how much space does it fill? (My "Method-Three" Workbook identifies them all for you.)
  3. "Essential Elements" of CQ-Patchwork Design & Construction -- list all that may apply here. Note: there are at least 22 different applications in the cloth that can be combined to create a sizable piece of crazy patchwork. I've mentioned nine of these so far and will soon tell you a little about the remaining thirteen piecing strategies. In the meantime, how many of these can you discover or think of? Hm-mmm?
  4. Most Interesting / Eye-catching / Important "Patchy Aspect" about this item -- list only one. I assume that I chose to document this item in the first place because something about it was special enough to intrigue me, even if I cannot find anything about it that is altogether unique. This is the only truly subjective finding for every CQ item.
  5. Fabrics used -- list as many as can be identified and your best guesses for some of the "mystery patches." Also answer these questions: (a) are most or all of the fabrics solid-colored? (b) Are all, most, several, or just a few of them prints? (c) Does one type of cloth dominate the CQ item (as, for instance, velvet/een, cotton, woolens, denim, polyester double-knits, or other fibers)? If not, specify "an assortment of fabrics" as making up the patchwork.

6. The Palette -- list every "Primary Color Group" that you see. Ask: is it a successful mix of colors to your critical eye? Is there a dominant color, or are there two or three obvious colors upon which the whole Palette is based? If the Palette is not monochromatic: is one color overused? Underused? Is/are there one or more color(s) that you would not have included in the mix? Is/are there one or more that you would have included? In both cases, why? Remember when I told you several posts ago that some of the information I'd be telling you would be startling? Well, you were warned: There are actually 15 "Primary Color Groups," not three! (Or 16, if you insist on including Yellow-green among them.) It's necessary to think very differently when making textile items than we would if drawing or painting in color, so, please try to recognize and allow for the validity of my "Primaries" for the purpose of profiling your CQ things. Believe me, doing so will make a huge difference in the development of your own color expertise in a short time. My master list of "Primary Color Groups":

Red-violet, Red, Pink, Red-orange/"Rust," Orange, Yellow, Brown,

Green, Blue-green, Blue, Blue-violet, Violet, Black, Gray, and White.

Your master list might differ. Just don't make the mistake of forgetting to notice Black, White, and Gray, or Brown and Pink, as true Hues -- not merely as mixtures of other Hues, or "tints," or "shades" of something else. Only when you are ready to acknowledge the equal importance of every single Hue listed here will you be able to evaluate a textile item properly. That's my opinion, and it came about when I understood the difference between working in cloth as compared to working in mixable media -- paints and even some coloring pens & pencils, where the artist has most of the control over the coloring process and can even create new hues on the spot. (In this discussion, I won't go into the processes of dyeing our own cloth. That's obviously an option, but it doesn't have anything to do with my personal studies.)

7. Contemporary or unique Embellishments -- those not listed in No. 3.

8. Other Non-traditional Applications. Does the item possess an odd shape? Is its size unusual -- either very small or very large? How is it backed? bordered? bound?

9. Workmanship. How would you grade the piece if you were a quilt-show judge?

10. Condition Overall. Specify any level from "MINT" to "POOR." Specify all damage noted to any portion of the item, just as if you were a professional appraiser of quilted items. (At least, do your best.) Note whatever is right or wrong with the piece as you found it.

Last of all these points, if you wish, you might give the profiled/documented item a "star rating," based on whichever system you like best. This can be a lot of fun, especially if several friends have critiqued the same CQ item and get together to compare notes (literally speaking) over peach-tea-flavored Crystal Lite & Sun Chips or movie-theater popcorn. In my opinion, once again, there are very few "ten-star" crazyquilts from the dates that I'm most interested in, but I do have two favorites. One is the magnificent Tamar North Mourning Quilt in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the second is the famous, totally one-of-a-kind Barnyard Quilt dated 1920 and made by Mittie Agnew Barrier, I believe. The first of these may be found on the Museum's website; the other was first documented in Ms. McMorris's invaluable 1984 book, Crazy Quilts. These are two of my "ten-star" quilts, for they are absolutely perfect in every aspect to my artistic eye. If I can get permission to show them in a future bloggy post, I will do it in a heartbeat.

This is your post for the day, dear hearts! Off I go at 0203 hours, central-daylight time, star date unavailable. Gonna go look for more exciting photos to add to this later on, but, to be very honest with you, thinking this hard has done wore me OUT! Yes. Be well, and let me know if any of these ideas might make a difference to you some day. 'Til next time. . . . .



gocrazywithme said...

Miss Carole, I am so enjoying your posts and pictures! Thank you, thank you for starting this blog!

Willa said...

Bloggy roll is right! And you are getting the photos in great! You GO you Queen of Stitchery you!

Cathy K said...

Miss Carole, I just read and enjoyed your last couple posts! I own a vintage CQ and am anxious to apply your methods to evaluating it. But although I am impressed with the 1920's Barnyard quilt by Mittie Barrier (looked it up and then remembered it), I personally wouldn't give it ten stars simply because the colors and pattern do not overwhelm me. Colors fade, I know, but I mean that it lacks the richness and variety that, to me, are so integral to CQ's. But I'm sure that is something you've considered and will teach us - how do we get past (or do we need to?) our personal color and pattern (regimented blocks vs. freeform piecing) preferences? Are we just to "see" the quilt, or does how we "feel" about it factor in? With love and gentle hugs, Cathy K (you may want to check my blog and see the pictures I posted a few weeks ago - a one week series - of my vintage CQ.

Susan said...

The color thing has always interested me in my own study of antique scrap quilts. When one looks at them, certain colors, maybe 3 or 4 seem to emerge as *the* colors. If you try to reproduce that quilt with only those colors, though, you don't at all get that wonderful old scrappy quilt look. Then, looking again, one finds that there are a few pink or burgundy or even purple triangles here and there, and one or two other colors one hadn't noticed at first.

I hadn't applied that knowledge to the crazy quilt, but I see that it's true there, too. Thanks!

I must admit, though, I do machine piece, and I flip and sew. I also do it with curves on some blocks and sometimes piece other pieces together before putting them down on the block. It satisfies some sense of my need for order and balance in my universe. =)