A while back, I received an e-mail from a prospective client asking if I’d be interested in creating a wall quilt from a logo she had already commissioned from a graphic designer. She was building a mountain home – a dream home, really – and was celebrating this event with artwork. I don’t usually create art quilts from other people’s designs, but I met with her, liked the design and the client, and took the job.
Lesson 1: When a door opens, you don’t have to go through it. But it’s a good idea to look through the open door to check out the opportunity.
The logo artwork was a line drawing with a basic color palette. The client wanted the resulting quilt to be prominent in her new home. She wanted it to be big – 9 feet by 9 feet big. I work in a small studio with no room for a quilt that size to hang during construction. We settled on 6 feet square, which still felt like a monster size. In fact, I needed to construct a portable design wall to accommodate the project, but it was doable.
Lesson 2: Don’t be afraid to negotiate. Negotiation isn’t a dirty word and it doesn’t always mean that someone’s trying to take advantage. This negotiation helped me set limits and contributed to the overall success of the project.
Working within the color palette, I gathered fabrics. Too many fabrics, really, but it was good to have choices. I spent a lot of time collecting, auditioning, and selecting fabrics from a wide array of sources. I used commercial cotton, batiks, raw silk, and rusted fabric. In art quilt class yesterday, one of my students was talking about a recent quilt and said she had been a slave to one of the fabrics, changing every other fabric to try to make the piece work but clinging to this one special fabric. Finally, she realized she had to jettison that one problem child fabric and the piece came together. Her experience sounded familiar. The fabrics for the borders and corners of this piece – the browns and greens – gave me fits. I had one or two fabrics that I thought were perfect and I clung to them. In the end, I had to give them up and that helped break through my quilter’s block.
Lesson 3: Make decisions but be open to changing your mind. Not all decisions are good ones, and you may not be as stuck as you think you are. Just because something looks great in one context doesn’t mean it will work well somewhere else.
This quilt was the hardest wall quilt I’ve ever made. I could go on about how the circle in the square layout gave me heartburn or how the miles of handmade bias binding took forever to make or how moving the piece from the design wall to the sewing machine caused the pinned pieces to shift, forcing me to hand baste every piece in place. All of these things are true, but every project brings challenges. So what made this piece so difficult? Fear. When I take on a project, it never occurs to me that I might not be able to successfully complete it…until I’m knee-deep in alligators. This piece was bigger than my typical work and that made the challenges seem insurmountably bigger. I was in an almost constant state of fear that I would not be able to complete this art quilt as I had envisioned it. If you know me, you know that I’m a bit of a perfectionist. Usually, that works for me, but not for this project.
Lesson 4: Work hard and trust your instincts. If you’ve honed skills over decades of education and experience, trust that you have the tools to identify problems and that you will find a way to resolve any issues. Get out of your own way and do the work. It really will all work out.
When the quilt was completed, my husband and I took it to the client’s newly completed mountain home and installed it. Through the entire ride to the client’s house, I worried. Would she like it? Would it be good enough? Would it hang flat enough? Would the rod I chose fit with the rest of the house? Would, could, should. When it was time, I unrolled the quilt on the floor and held my breath while my client took her first look at her new art quilt. I needn’t have worried. She was happy, I was happy, and I felt myself release more tension than I knew I had been carrying. We crouched around the quilt as I pointed out special fabric choices and showed her where I had made quilting decisions to commemorate aspects of her house and its construction. She was interested in as much information as I could give her and I was bursting at the seams to share every detail.
Lesson 5: Outcomes are often much worse in your imagination than in reality. I had imagined the worst. What if she hated it? What if she didn’t love the colors I used? What if, what if, what if? In reality, she loved it. We artists are a fragile bunch, at once proud of our work and fearful that no one will like it and, by extension, us. I’m not sure how to change that in myself, but I hope my awareness will help boost my confidence.
I’m working on a new commission now for a different client. When it’s completed, I’ll post about this art quilt of three generations of wedding gowns. For now, let me say that I’m keeping an open mind through the process, trusting my instincts, and trying not to worry about how the client will react. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.