Thursday, December 2, 2010

How Long Did That Take?

This is probably the question I am asked most frequently. I wish I had a good answer, but I don't.  The best I can do is to say that it is hard to calculate because I rarely work on one thing at a time.  Here's the truth:

There is the time daydreaming about what the piece should look like and refining the concept in my head.  There is the actively-not-thinking-about-it period, which usually involves working on something else until I feel ready to start.  There is the going to the fabric store and considering what I might need.  This could last days or even weeks, but I don't count it in my "how long" estimate.

The day I start pulling out fabric is the real Day 1.  The best first days involve loud music and an empty house.  I enjoy pulling out fabrics I might want to use, tossing them on my work surface, seeing how they work (or don't work) with each other, changing my mind -- basically making what would look like a big mess to anyone else. 

Red and pink living together peacefully in the drawer

Sometimes I get stuck right away; there is a color that doesn't work or something feels off and I can't quite figure out what to use.  What to do? Walk away, for as long as it takes for the answer to come to me.  This could take a while.  I usually work on something else in the meantime.

Then there is the construction of the quilt top.  Again, an empty house and loud music are bonuses.  This is where it becomes even more difficult to track my time.  Everything will be coming together and then the screeching halt.  That fabric I really wanted to use isn't working, or the design needs I do what I can, walk away, and work on another piece.   I might return sporadically for months before the piece feels finished.
Detail from Chief Osei, in progress
Chief Osei and I parted company about two years ago.  This piece is based on a picture I took in Ghana when I worked for the African Development Foundation.  (The people in this village named me Adwoa Osei and made me queen mother. I might be married to this guy.)  I was unhappy with the foliage I had put in the background, so I took it all out and tried something else, which I disliked even more and removed as well.  The solution would not present itself and the Chief hung on the design wall, unfinished.  Eventually, his reproachful gaze got to me, so I covered him up.  I can still feel the unspoken plea...

Once the top is completed and layered with batting and backing, it is ready for quilting.  I can usually give a pretty good estimate of how long this phase takes, because I try to get it all done as quickly as possible.  Even my largest, most complex pieces take less than one week, quilting up to six hours a day, but this is after weeks or months of starting and stopping in the design stage. 

That's an awfully long answer.  Maybe I'll just stick with "it's hard to tell."

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