Wednesday, May 1, 2019

A Basket of Growth

As 2018 was ending, I was asked to try something artistically experimental.  I had a lot of questions, and I had a lot of ideas, but I was in.  The gig was to be a month of Saturdays spent at Philbrook running their Studio Saturdays in a residency-like situation.  Basically, I could dream up a project, have anyone who attended on those special Saturdays help me along with it, and hopefully create a unique piece of art!  Well, we did it.  Three months later, and my studio project is complete!  Here is what we made:
The numbers:
* 3 weeks at Philbrook, 2 months at my family's shop
* about 100 people contributed
* 72 flowers
* 31 words of growth
* youngest contributor 3, oldest contributor 92

And now to expand a bit (a lot) about the process, the inspirations, and the final product.  Plus a few dozen photographs, naturally.

Of course I wanted to work with fabric.  And I really wanted to make a functional quilt.  I needed it to be accessible for experienced sewists to people who had never sewn a stitch in their life.  I also needed it to represent my work as an artist.  And finally, I wanted it to be right at home at Philbrook.

I had a million ideas, many of which were things I had never tried before.  While I'm not scared of being adventurous with textiles, I was a little apprehensive about trying out something completely new with such a large project and such a large group of people I'd never worked with before.  My mind was whirring with possibilities, and I just couldn't stop and land on anything in particular.  And February, my residency month, was quickly approaching.  It wasn't until I attended a talk by the museum's director about what the museum had accomplished in the past year and their intentions for the following year that things clicked.  I walked out of that talk begging my daughter for her colored pencils, and had sketched out my vision for our project.

I kept coming back to the new cabin in the museum's gardens.  Cabins and quilts are cut from the same cloth, pun intended, in regards to their perceived bygone eras, their past necessity, and their current need for attention and preservation.  The cabin at Philbrook and the surrounding gardens were my inspiration.  And the cabin needed a quilt.  Every cabin needs a quilt.  Suddenly, everything came together for me.

The thought of making flowers out of florals kept popping back into my head.  Luckily, I was getting ready to encounter a whole garden of floral fabrics. Allow me to tell you another story within a story...

Last year, my quilt guild met at a gorgeous church called East Side Christian Church.  The building was filled with history, and my friend happens to be their minister.  When Oklahoma public schools had their walkout last spring, I took my daughter to a few days of their childcare.  While there, my minister friend asked if I had seen the sewing room in the basement.  Excuse me, what?!  All of this time our quilt guild had been meeting atop a huge room used solely for their quilting group.  You can imagine the degree to which my jaw was dropped during that tour.

Fast forward to the beginning of this year.  Our guild learned that we had to find a new location because ESCC was relocating after 85 years in their original church.  I reached out to my friend to find out what was happening with the sewing room.  He put me in contact with Esther, the head of their sewing group.  It turned out that Esther knew my family, and I knew members of her family!  We quickly connected, and her generosity helped make so much of this project possible.  They provided most of the floral fabrics that we used, and they provided the hand quilting frames that we'll talk about in a bit.  Esther and one of her daughters even joined us on the last day at Philbrook to help with the quilting!
Below is a picture of a picture of the ESCC sewing group stitching away on one of their frames that we then used.  If you believe in the transference of energy and history, then you'll understand why sewing on this frame was so important to me.  
With this project, I did A LOT of research regarding the history of quilting, quilting bees, and the evolution of social sewing.  This was a project of growth for me in many ways.

Back to the museum...

I had three Saturdays at the museum for three hours each day.  We set up a flower making station and a machine piecing station for various backgrounds.  People seemed to LOVE making flowers!  I was beyond impressed and moved by the creativity, the time, and the thoughtfulness that everyone shared.  I really do not have the words to describe it, nor do the pictures do your creations justice.

Over my time there, SO many friends and family came to stitch.  My little family came each week too.  Some had some sewing experience, and others had none.  And every bit of their work made the quilt possible, and made it that much more unique and outstanding!  It meant the world to me to have them there.  And to have had the help of so many that I had never met before!

After the first session, two different people that were not at the museum together thanked me for the opportunity to make and told me that it was something that they each needed.  That alone made the entire project worth it.  On day one.
After the first week, I worked at home sewing together what had been pieced at the museum.  This started to form the background of the quilt.  For the second week in the studio, makers continued to grow fabric flowers or stitch background while I began to hand stitch flowers onto their stems. 
We were set up directly outside of the new Making Modern America exhibit, which I encourage everyone to visit.  After the second week in the studio, I made sure to give myself time to soak it all in.  In the exhibit is an interactive wall to write memories, thoughts, stories, and such regarding labor.  The stories I saw that day were amazing.  What I wouldn't give to sit and read through each and everyone of those when the exhibit ends. That day, two of the messages that I read were about their time working on the quilt.  Insert a ton of emojis here. 
Following that session, I had two weeks to get the quilt ready for hand quilting.  I had a bit of work to do.  This involved continuing to hand sew the flowers on, and to finish piecing the background.
Finally, we were ready for the frame.  I knew that I wanted the final product to be an unconventional shaped quilt.  Why?  Why not.  Who says a quilt has to be a square or a rectangle?  The only problem was that the quilt needed to have 90 degree corners to be able to be properly stretched on the frame.  This meant that I had to build the top out enough for frame quilting.  Also, I had never used a hand quilting frame before.  Thankfully, I found some great videos on the internets that taught us step-by-step how to make it all happen.  AND I had some fantastic Program Assistants who also did their homework, and were well prepared for quilting day.

During this session, we moved locations to the Great Hall.  Most of you will know it as the entrance to the gardens, home of the original front door, land of the organ, and flanked by the grandest staircases in town.  I was elated to stitch there.

We used tape to mark off the final shape of the quilt, so we didn't stitch in areas that would eventually be cut off.  We used big stitches and lots of patience.

One of my favorite things about this day was having my mom, my daughter, and my Mimi (who you might remember from the epic caroling dress) stitch on this quilt together.  We also had the fortune of having Esther, who was responsible for us having the frames and floral fabrics, bring her sewing kit and her daughter to stitch along with us.  For me, it was a truly magical afternoon. 

Rio captured most of these photos while we quilted.
While we worked our tails off that day, there was still SO much more to do.  Thankfully, there wasn't a hard deadline for when it needed to complete, aside from my self-imposed deadlines.  My folks let me set the frame back up at their shop so I could stitch during my work downtime.  I even had a few sew days with my friends!  Stitching on the quilt became meditative, therapeutic, and a welcome break to the day.  As I got more done, I got to start rolling the edges up which was SO exciting each time it happened. 
As this progressed, it felt like the basket portion needed something more.  I decided to use some leftover small bias tape from the tree project to create a sort of cross hatch basket weaving effect.  Of course these also had to be hand stitched down, but it was totally worth it.  Plus, it quilted that particular area of the quilt in the process!
It's backed with a vintage bed sheet, of course.
Almost all of the remainder of the flowers got stitched on with the quilt on the frame.  The first round of flowers were only sewn through the pieced top, while the second round were sewn through all of the layers which, like the basket bias tape, quilted that section.

Then it was time to take it off of the frame.  GULP.  I was getting ready to head to a crafting retreat, and really wanted to take it with me to continue working on it.  There was no way the frame could come with me, and I figured the remainder of it could be done mobile.  After two months of being stretched out at work, it was released.  And part of myself was too.

At that retreat, I put the quilt in a quilting hoop and finished sewing on the last few flowers while spending time with some really wonderful people in a dreamy space.  It was also at this retreat that I trimmed the quilt to its final, crazy shape.  I was so close.
Upon returning home, I made binding out of some ombre sunshiney fabric that just seemed fitting for this piece.  Got it all stitched on, and then was left with one more decision to make.  
During the weeks working at the museum, I asked everyone who worked on the quilt to provide a word of growth.  One word that represented something that they wanted to grow over the next year.  Not everyone shared words, but a good handful provided thoughtful, meaningful, and touching intentions with the project.  My plan was to write these words on the binding, but I was SO nervous about that step!  I didn't know if it would be too much on an already visually busy quilt.  I didn't know how my handwriting would look.  I didn't know if I could find a pen that would work well.  Well, I found a pen, and I practiced writing, and I did it.  And I'm so glad that I did.  I was able to repeat the question and words around the quilt four times.  I look at it as one round for each of our four seasons.  As I wrote the words of growth, it became meditative for me.  I focused deeply on each of the words as I wrote, and felt them all.  One of my favorite parts of the piece.
At the end, I had about three inches of space left, so I signed it in my own way.  A Basket of Growth * Bifftastica + Tulsa + Philbrook * 2019

It was done.  We did it.

I delivered the quilt to Philbrook last week.  I was so nervous about that, but was so proud of what we'd accomplished together.  This project was bigger than I.  A hundred people made this happen.  I couldn't have done it alone. 

They provided a time for me to sit with the quilt while staff could come to see it in person and to ask any questions they may have.  That short experience was wonderful.  It really solidified what a deeply beautiful piece this was.  Again, I couldn't have done it alone.

There are things I would have done differently, but I wouldn't have known what those things would have been without having done them the way I did them for this.  Make sense?  I had to have this experience to grow myself.  I have great appreciation to the museum for the opportunity to learn this.  I have great appreciation for all of those that shared their time, their expertise, their support, and their hands.  I have great appreciation for the craft.  I have great appreciation for this project.

And now, the final photos, taken in and around the Philbrook cabin where the quilt will be spending some quality time.  Give the words of growth a read if you see it.  Give the flowers a touch.  Give yourself time to grow.
Until later!
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