Monday, November 23, 2009

Festina Lente

I just discovered the Slow Art Movement.  Inspired by the Slow Food Movement, an attempt to return to well prepared, wholesome local foods eaten with attention and appreciation, the term "Slow Art" may have first been used by Grayson Perry, a Turner-award winning potter in his column for the London Times in 2005, where he says:
Art-world acceleration I put down to various forces. First, we are just as prone to being sucked into the idea that fast is somehow central to modernity. To be relevant is to be broadband-quick and dressed for next season. . . . As a producer of art I feel an increasing pressure to keep in step with our 24/7 culture-on-demand society, and as a consumer I am overwhelmed by a tyranny of choice. I hereby declare the launch of the Slow Art Movement (I have not hired a PR).

Well said!  Here, here! or, to be obnoxiously current, a FB "I like this."  Obviously, Slow Art has not triumphed over the mad rush for more and for more immediately, but here and there the idea has been picked up--by a museum that had attendees sign up to spend at least ten minutes looking at each work of art or by artists anxious to let their art lead rather than being driven by outside demands, including competition with other artists to produce quickly.

In the quilting world "slow" often has negative connotations that range from "uptight" and "obsessive" to "no fun."   Freedom is equated with speed. A small rush of creative optimism comes when a piece is finished, and, in pursuit of that momentary high, the process, where the furnace of creativity is stoked and made to glow, where the deep enjoyment that comes from understanding and connecting with your work can be discovered, is ignored in the rush to completion.

Part of the reasoning behind this year's experiment is to slow down, to savor, to give myself time to understand. It is not a pursuit that lends itself easily to crowds, is probably downright inimical to them, but finding a kindred spirit here and there can be reassuring when you begin to worry you might be lost in the wilderness instead of pursuing some noble path.

On the other hand--and due to my mildly dyslexic tendencies, I am always aware that there  is another hand--there is a slowness that, I almost said becomes glacial, although even the glaciers seem to have been speeded up by our cultural demands.  But there is a slowness that is a drag on the process, like a river that is being strangled by silt.   When I cannot bring myself to make that first cut in a beautiful fabric, when I put off sandwiching a piece because I don't want to have to square it up--or see how out of square my innovations have made the piece,  when I check e-mail or read just one more QuiltArt digest instead of tackling the next challenge, I am not doing Slow Quilting; I am not quilting at all.  Sometimes my dithering is indeed a sign that as in yoga, I am rocking back and forth on my toes, trying to find my balance point from which I will launch into the next phase and the more securely I am in that balance the easier that next step will be.   But  often my dithering points to a fear of failure, a fear of messing up something that I have spent a portion of my life working on.  

Balance may indeed be crucial here, as it seems to be whenever a question of importance comes up.  I think I am more comfortable with a Latin motto that became my son's favorite Latin phrase years ago when he was in his teenage trough and looking for wise excuses to avoid doing something I wanted him to: Festina lente.  It translates as "hurry slowly."   It captures my need to keep myself moving but at the same time work with attention and care, in all the senses of that word. 

I have often been quilting the last couple of weeks to the music of Arvo Part, whose music can rise to sublime heights.  I bought one of his CDs because of a piece called "When Bach Kept Bees"--his titles can be as intriguing as his music--and I discovered that another of his pieces is called "Festina Lente."   One of those validating coincidences.

I cannot picture any movement called Festina Lente so Slow Art may have to do.  It does give hope that alternatives still exist to the McArt available at a drive-through window.  And now back to quilting.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Weddings Present. . . .

A major life event took place in our family last weekend--Emily, our oldest child, got married. And quilting is a part of this story. She and her fiance had decided on an eighteenth century wedding, since as National Park Rangers at Salem and Minuteman they spend most of their lives in the eighteenth century. Emily planned to make her own dress and those of the female attendants and, as she pointed out to me last January, the petticoats in the 18th c. were quilted. Out of some overblown feeling of maternal responsibility--or just a momentary streak of masochism--I agreed to hand quilt the front panel and got reluctant agreement that machine quilting would be acceptable on the back. (I did point out that she was not hand stitching the seams of her dress.)

Emily asked if I could model the quilting design on a petticoat owned by Abigail Adams from the textile collection at the Peabody Essex Museum. And as I studied the quilting on the original and then worked at drafting the design into one that would fit on the length of silk for Emily's dress, that web of connection with the past began to become real in my hands. Abigail Adams was a strong, capable, and loving woman, and I wondered when she wore this petticoat. Since it was made of silk, it certainly was chosen for an elegant occasion--perhaps a major event when John Adams was ambassador to England or perhaps she wore it for his inauguration. And Emily, who wore the updated version of the petticoat last weekend, has become a strong, capable, loving woman as well. And what of the unknown quilter who must have spent days with this petticoat, sewing tiny stitches. Did she laugh while she sewed? Or was she just trying to get one more petticoat done so she could feed her family that week? A cliche, perhaps, but that may be just the point, and that web developed many strands as I sat, recovering from foot surgery in June, stitching a petticoat that belonged to me and to Emily and to Abigail and to someone whose name I will never know.

In the original each of the swooping circles contained a different flower or leaf pattern. I decided on three different ones in the front and then a repeat of them all on the back in machine quilting. Emily loved the sunflower-like one on the original so I put that in the center. The design can be seen a bit better on the back, a cotton hand-dyed by the Lunns.

The second swoop I changed from a stylized generic leaf to look more like an oak leaf since I like the symbolism, and the swoop on the left was filled with a horn-of-plenty type of design.
Click on the image to make it bigger.

I made a deal with my obsessively perfectionist self that this was not to be an occasion of lamenting and self-deprecation. A master hand quilter was not making this petticoat, but just an adequate one, although my quilting did improve a lot by the end.
I looked forward to the machine quilting, where I felt a bit more competent, but I had not quilted a large expanse of silk before, and as that beautiful fabric slid under the machine needle, unfortunately not always in the direction I wanted it to, I limited myself to one four-letter word per session and kept sewing. I did take out some of the most egregious slips, but here was learning that I know I will use again, as my hands adjusted to the different feel of the fabric. The finished machine quilted side:
By the end of August my quilting was done and the two pieces were safely shipped to Emily for her to put together. The finished petticoat:

And here is the petticoat on the bride next to her new husband surrounded by the other members of their wedding party. Emily made her dress as well as the other two dresses.

Thank you, Emily, for giving me the opportunity to participate in your wedding in such a deeply meaningful way.

But is this art? I know the art police will immediately agree that it was not. It was, of course, not an entirely original design, and, worst of all, it was meant to be (gasp!) used, not hung on a wall. I might even tend to agree with them since this is far removed from the type of quilting I am doing now. But yet something in me feels that there was more than just a skill that was happening as I was making all those swoops come out the way I wanted them to. I will concede that I cannot claim mastery here, but I am still thinking about the art issue.