Drawing with fabric

Several years ago I picked up a book called Free-Style Quilts: A No-Rules Approach by Susan Carleton. I loved the photographs of her undersea scenes and promptly got started on a 30″ x 48″ panel of a complex undersea scene of my own. That one is still in progress, but in the meantime I’ve made several smaller quilts using the same technique. It’s a little like raw-edge appliqué, but more flexible and with much more detail possible in the compositions because you don’t have to stitch down the entire edge of every piece in the quilt. Susan Carleton’s book explains it step-by-step and includes a ton of beautiful photographs to inspire you.

I’ve completed some small quilts with this technique, including a pair of very simple undersea scenes:

small quilt showing a fish and some underwater plants
Fish Window I, 7 7/8″ x 5 7/8″ (March 2016)
small quilt showing a fish and some undersea plants
Fish Window II, 7 1/8″ x 5 7/8″ (March 2016)

Here’s what they looked like while I was working on them:

constructing two small undersea scenes
Fish Window I and Fish Window II in progress

I also made a series of wallhangings featuring geckoes, like this one:

wall hanging of a blue gecko on a black ground
Celestial Gecko, 14″ x 22″ (December 2016)

It’s a fun and versatile technique, though it does take time to create a composition. I like the exploratory nature of this kind of quilt. Instead of starting with a pattern, cutting all the fabric, and putting it together, I start with an idea and maybe a sketch or two. Then I choose fabrics for their pattern and color combinations and start cutting out shapes to see what emerges.

Back in my art teacher days I had a book that quoted Henri Matisse describing his cut-paper collages as “drawing with scissors.” I always think of that when I’m working on one of these pieces. I don’t usually draw the shapes onto the fabric, and I only occasionally make a paper pattern for a shape; mostly I cut freehand, drawing with scissors and fabric. It’s quite meditative.

Right now I’m working on my largest project of this type so far, excluding my unfinished underwater landscape… although this one may end up being larger than that, when all is said and done. I’m still in conversation with it. Here’s what my worktable looked like this morning:

Table covered with sketches, scraps of fabric, and an in-progress quilt
My worktable this morning

This one has been interesting to work on. Unlike the fish or the geckoes, I didn’t have a solid plan from the start. So I’m letting it develop and show me where it wants to go… so far it’s changed direction twice, but I don’t mind. Even when I tossed out a whole section that wasn’t working, I didn’t mind. It’s all part of the process.

Today I filled in the blue area in the middle of the right side of the photo. You’ll have to wait a bit to see more, though 😉

What about you — have you tried this method? Would you?


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