Birdworks Fiber Arts

The Goddess Series

Art Quilting Studio Magazine | Winter 2018

The Visions Art Museum asked me to prepare a solo exhibit for its Sebastian Family Gallery. This was to coincide with funny Bone, an exhibit of quilts by several well-known artists satirically commenting on contemporary life. I accept, but felt challenged because my recent work has focused on the natural world. Extending that work would neither fit nor contrast with satirical commentary.
I chose contrast – specifically in women who transcend ordinary life. For several months I research goddesses and women who transformed into goddesses. I look at ancient and modern stories from many cultures for goddesses whose imagery would translate into my style. I auditioned several visually and based on their stories. This most compelling to me teach about goddesses and women as powerful protectors, cultural warriors and thoughtful role models for being an individual and self-possessed. Five characteristics spoke the loudest: competent, confident, challenging, protected and multifaceted. The goddesses who embodied these characteristics are: Sedna-the Intuit goddess of the sea and marine animals, Fog Woman-the Tlingit goddess responsible for annual salmon spawning, Persephone-the Greek goddess of the cycles death, rebirth and the seasons, Brigit-the Celtic goddess of inspiration and fertility, and Xi Wang Mu-the Taoist Queen Mother of the West, dispenser of prosperity, longevity and eternal bliss.
Much of my work is abstract and develops spontaneously, but these quilts required planning and analysis. All were sketched to make sure the imagery worked, both in the overall picture composition and in telling the stories. All the goddesses’ stories give them human forms, so I spent many hours working on figure proportionality and the arm and hand placements. The goddesses’ hands, even where concealed, are my hands borrowed by way of a selfie. My photocopier, along with a proportion scale, made the parts fit. When I was satisfied with a drawing, I had it enlarged 400 percent on an architectural printer and printed two copies: one for reference and one to use for pattern pieces.
The Goddess Series conveys Charlotte Bird’s five mythological women, their attributes and their inherent powers. Their stories – which I summarized in an accompanying booklet1 – explain existential truths in cultural contexts. Nearly all of the stories explain the cycles of life, the seasons, or both. Several of the goddesses spend at least some time of the year int the underworld or the sea. All have genuine power and control in giving life, saving souls and sustaining their people.
• Basic sewing supplies
• Batting: black polyester
• Fabric: assorted, cotton/silk/etc.
• Fusible web (Pellon – WonderUnder)
• Grid paper: ¼”
• Interfacing: lightweight, non-woven, sew-in
• Iron
• Pencil & eraser
• Permanent marker or felt pen
• Proportion scale
• Sewing machine
• Sketchbook
• Smartphone/Camera
Research your concept. The internet is full of pictures and text that will help you develop your imagery. Think outside the box and look at peripheral ideas. Pinterest has been my go-to site for all sorts of possibilities. Keep notes and sketches of the ides you are gathering. Carry a small sketchbook with you at all times. When you have a plan, start to draw the image. If you have a size in mind, make scale drawings. Refine the drawing until you are satisfied with the overall composition. Using a fine-point felt pen or permanent marker, trace over all the lines; this is the drawing you will use to develop the quilt.
Take the drawing to a large-scale architectural blueprint copier and make two copies of the image at full size. Draw the goddesses in 12″ x 7½” rectangles on ¼” grid paper and enlarge the goddesses 400 percent for a final quilt size of 48″ x30″. Hang one of the fun-size copies on the wall as a reference. On the second copy, draw over the lines with a permanent marker. Turn it over and re-draw the lines with a permanent marker. These are templates for the quilt pieces. Trace the reversed shapes on fusible web.
Hang a full size piece of non-woven interfacing over the full-size drawing and mark the outside edges of the drawing; this will be the substrate to which you iron the pieces. Select the fabrics for the image. Audition various fabrics from your stash. When you have selected the fabrics, cut out the fusible web shapes a little larger than the outlines. Iron the futile web on the reverse side of the selected fabric and let it cool. Cut out the pieces. Remove the paper backing and assemble the pieces on the vertical design wall using the drawing as a guide.
When you are satisfied with the composition and have covered all of the interfacing, gently iron the pieces. Iron on the vertical wall so you don’t accidentally move the pieces around. When you have all of the pieces generally tacked down to the interfacing, place the top on an ironing board and iron over everything, particularly the edges. Make the quilt sandwich and pin or baste it together. Free-motion-stitch around all of the pieces, changing thread color as appropriate. Always stick around twice, which is a process that introduces intentional irregularities. Quilt from the center outward as much as possible to help keep the quilt flat. Trim and bind with the appropriate color/pattern binding. Consider facing or an alternative edge finishing.
• When I start to place pieces, I think about what order to arrange them. Do I need to overlap some pieces? For example: the figure goes in front of the background. I may cut the back pieces ½” larger than the drawn line so there are no gaps.

• When ironing onto interfacing, I reduce the temperature setting to polyester. The non-woven interfacing can pucker and distort if the iron is too hot.

• I use black polyester batting because it doesn’t “beard” like cotton batting. I like how it takes free-motion stitching, and it needles fairly easily when I add hand-embroidery stitches.

•I take prices pictures with my smartphone along the way and always at the end of a work session. The photos often pint out composition issues that need to be resolved before moving to the next step.
1 The Goddesses accompanying booklet is available for purchase. Email Charlotte for more info.
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