All posts filed under “Still Lives

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Quilt no. 020: there is an ocean in my soul where the waters do not curve

If I could have chosen where God would hide his heaven,
I would wish for it to be in the salt and swell of the ocean.
Carried by the currents to all continents’ shores.
Reaching into depths where the sun’s light has never shown.

Quilt no. 020 by Shelby Marie Skumanich: Medium Shade Close Up

While piecing this quilt in the summer of 2016, I wrote: “I haven’t touched salt waters of the ocean for a long time. I dream of its depths on occasion, the way light filters down until it is blotted out by the blackness. I dream of being swallowed whole by the powerful waters, my weightless body pulled down, watching the sky above grow dark through a watery lens. I dream of this, surrounded in waking life by high, dry country as far as I can see.”

This quilt is titled after lyrics from The Ocean by band Against Me!, a song that is part meditation, part daydream about what happens when your internal life and your external life do not match. I cannot say that I relate to Grace’s experience of being a transwoman and I would not dare to claim that as my own. But I have found a lot of solace and understanding of myself in the way she has written about her life. I’ve related to the shame, guilt, desire to hide, to be someone else she often expresses in her work.

Quilt no. 020 by Shelby Marie Skumanich: Stitching Details

While I have been a fan since I was an awkward, orange haired punk, I revisit her music on occasion, finding my love of that music as voracious and all consuming as it was when I was a teenager. When I worked on this quilt, I used her music as means to blot out the external world through large Seinheiser headphones. I spent 75 hours over the course of 6 weeks sitting at my sewing machine, feeding bits of fabric under the presser foot and trimming pieces to be the right size. I was trying to stop myself from drowning, pulled down by something I couldn’t name.

Quilt no. 020 by Shelby Marie Skumanich: Close Up

If Quilt no. 021 is about anxiety, this quilt is about depression. Composed entirely of seemingly disparate scraps, I was taken by the idea of using tiny pieces with minor variation to create dense areas of dark and light. I built this quilt. I started with two rows of light and two rows of dark and filled in between them two rows at a time. Viewed from afar, it looks like black or near black solid fabric. Up close, however, the variety of the fabric adds texture and visual interest. The darkness always creeping up into the light, the light always filtering down into the darkness, the in-between muddied and chaotic.

Quilt no 020 by Shelby Marie Skumanich: Askew View

Quilts are a means to make composition with color and value, a way to explore  the possibilities of surface. This feels very different than the way I was formally trained to make work, in photography. With photography, I was always seeking outward, looking into the world, hoping to find a reflection of myself. With quilts, they are born nearly whole from my internal life, looking into myself, finding my own mirror.

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Quilt no. 017: Redux

I started Redux about a month after I finished Quilt. no 016, back in August of last year. I waded through several issues with several sewing machines, put several quilts in front of it in the hand quilting queue and then spent about 6 months hand quilting it. To say it’s been a long haul for this one is an understatement. It’s my first finish for 2016, despite the fact that we are well into June.

Quilt no. 017: Redux Corner Detail

Being so far removed from the process of piecing the quilt meant that I struggled to write about it, especially since I didn’t take very many notes while composing it. I wasn’t really try to express anything through this quilt; simply trying to parse out what makes the Floating Squares score so successful and how to extend that beyond the basic instructions.

I set myself the technical challenge of working with printed fabric that was originally cut for another project. I avoid printed fabrics in general, as I tend to see fabric as palate of paints and I have a hard time figuring out how to use prints in a way that makes them my own. This printed fabric, shweshwe from 3 Cats by DeGama Textiles, was a generous gift. It felt quite special and I wanted to show it off. To highlight the fabric while keeping with my personal aesthetic, I paired it with white, gold and indigo solids. Safe choices for me but reasonable, since I was exploring something new.

Quilt no. 017: Redux Stitches

I was thinking about scale and value; each “block” has a light, medium and dark fabric, each of which vary in size. As a result, there were many different sizes and shapes of blocks and I used indigo to fill between the blocks while assembling the quilt. I hand quilted it, closely stitching in the indigo to create texture and to further push it into the background. I loosely echo quilted the squares to make them float into the foreground. The binding was pieced from leftover blocks to ensure the visual movement is uninterrupted. The batting, 2 layers of vintage feedsacking I had hanging around, was probably not the best choice for the quilting pattern and technique but it does lend a nice drape and heft to the quilt.

Quilt no. 017: Redux Corner Detail

All of this came together to create a composition that does not let the viewer’s eye rest. The eye bounces around the quilt, unable to pick a spot to land on. It has several distinct patterns that emerge from the piece, depending on what fabric is seen as the primary value. By using such varied blocks, the quilt block is removed from the notion of the traditional quilt grid and assembled into a quilt that is self-similar but unpredictable.

Quilt no. 017: Redux Yellow Square

Redux also set the stage going forward; I found something in this quilt that felt important to continue exploring. I like the lack of central focus, a big change from my previous quilts.While the quilting is simple, it stretched my notion of how the quilting lends to stronger cohesion of a finished quilt. I have always been compelled by using lots of disparate pieces and figuring out how they fit together to make something bigger. This quilt gave me framing for how to do that moving forward.

Quilt no. 017: Redux Away

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Quilt no. 014: Denim Scrap

Quilt no. 014: Denim Scrap Quilting Details

My last finish of 2015, Quilt no. 014, feels like an obvious but useful metaphor for this past year: start in one place and end in a different, unexpected place. I started piecing this quilt in February while we were living in the mountains, surrounded by pine forests and snow drifts six feet tall. I finished it while living in a small apartment in a small city in northern Colorado, surrounded by things like modern conveniences and paved roads.

Quilt no. 014: Oblique

My approach to composition and piecing has changed pretty significantly. I’ve moved away from central composition, from minimal color schemes, from quilts that feel emotionally removed. I have been more compelled towards making that feels a little more urgent, more complicated, more layered, more reactive. The pieces that I have been working on the last few months are wildly different than this quilt.

Quilt no. 014: Quilting Details

No. 014 was made from 1.5″ wide scraps from no. 013, which I didn’t get to photograph before handing it off to it’s new owners. The first incarnation was actually suppose to be a rag rug, which is part of the reason the strips are so tiny. I also wanted to include as much of the details from the pants, including hems, pocket details and worn areas. It ended up giving this quilt serious texture and variety.

I chose the yellow thread as a nod to the traditional yellow linen thread used on jeans. The quilting design compliments the piecing, without mimicking or overwhelming it. The back is a bright red brushed twill. I skipped the batting to save my fingers while hand quilting; it made stacking the fabric on the needle a breeze. It’s quite large, 76″ x 76″, and as one can probably imagine, it’s got serious heft. Despite this, it’s remarkably soft and pliable. It makes a great noise when unfurled and snapped in the air.

Quilt no. 014: Denim Scrap Detail

It’s not a fine quilt by any stretch of the imagination. Very few of the points match, the hand quilting is a bit sloppy and I didn’t even square it off, for fear of trimming off quilting knots. It won’t be in any shows. It might spend part of its life hanging in my living room to make the space less generic. It would probably make a great picnic or beach blanket.

Quilt no. 014: Denim Scrap Corner Details

Like the year this quilt was made in, the details are less than perfect but from far away, it’s a pretty good one.

Quilt no. 014: Denim Scrap Wide