Inspiration from the county fair…
So I have always wanted to try my hand at an art quilt and found my inspiration at the Allegany County Fair in Angelica, NY. The vendors of western wear and the rows of multi-colored, pattern-stitched cowboy boots immediately caught my attention. I snapped a photo, but wasn’t sure at the time what I would do with it. After getting home, I saw an opportunity to play with color, cut, and thread.
Since this was my first foray into creating an art quilt, my focus was on inspiration and not on all the rules of proper quilting. Forget precise measuring. Forget proper seam allowance. Forget ironing. Forget perfect squaring. Forget burying threads. And forget proper binding. By relaxing my need to control of all of these factors, I was more able to enjoy the process and focus on the creative equation.
Color: I toyed with trying to recreate the colors in each boot, but that felt very forced and cluttered. So I pared it down and selected only the main color in each pair of boots. Hitting my fabric stash, I found a range of fat quarters in a range of values and with patterns that had a ‘cowboy’ feel to me; earthy wood, sky, water, blacks, and browns, and patterned bandanas. The biggest hurdle was including my red fabric that I really loved, not knowing what would become of it. But I knew it was needed so I bit the bullet and wished it well. From there, I cut roughly 2 1/2″ strips and sewed together separately the upper row and the lower row, each to be treated differently. Then came the big fun.
Cut: The boots have two dominant lines; straight lines – the height of the boots – and v’s – the tops and toes of the boots. So I grabbed my trusty rotary blade and slashed a V into the top section. From there, I had no plan. Nothing aligned so I freewheeled it. I sewed a 2”piece to a 4” piece, cut off a tail and sewed that to another side. I just slashed and sewed until it looked reasonably balanced, but much smaller than the original piece.
For the bottom section, I decided to try and cut by making diagonal strips (I called them half-V’s) and turning alternate sections. BORING! It had no character. At this point I figured the whole thing was a bust and walked away frustrated. A little later I returned and figured I had nothing to lose by revisiting it with my rotary cutter and randomly slashing and sewing until I found balance. It improved it, but now it was much smaller than the top. So I grabbed a strip of green and sewed it on to make it roughtly the same size. I was done.
I cut the top and bottom sections to approximately the same size and sewed some black strips on to represent the shoe rack. I added a layer of scrap batting and a piece of black cloth for the back and was ready for the next step.
Stiching: To mimic the idea of western stiching, I decided to use those often under-utilized decorative stitches that came with my machine and chose a thread color that reminded me of denim stitching. Here again, I just winged it. If the stitches fit, great. If not, oh well. I selected stitch patterns that reminded me of western themes for the boots and of the steel rack for the black. Surprisingly, most fit pretty well and they added dimension to straight lines in the boots.
The binding method – or lack of method – ended up adding a primitive look to the piece. Again I broke almost every rule of proper binding, with the exception of sewing two pieces together diagonally to make a long strip.
So this is my journey into art quilts. Overall I ended up liking the finished piece. I make no apologies or excuses for the blunders. I look at them as character. But I do admit, I like it more turned 1/4 clockwise, which gives it almost a landscape feel.
My biggest lessons learned are to be gutsy – I love my red in this – and to keep going even if you think you are failing. My life didn’t end because it isn’t perfect. My life is more fulfilled through expression. I can’t wait to take these lessons learned and apply them to the next one. Time to kick it up again.