Throughout history, artists have created quilts that express messages, thoughts, and feelings.This practice of communicating through quilting continues robustly today. Riane Menardi Morrison’s article, ‘Designing Representational Quilts,’ is an exploration and primer in creating quilts with a message, or a representational quilt. She gives concrete ideas and prompts to create quilts that will represent one’s own personal narrative.
Begin by identifying your message. What do you want to say? How do you want to portray your story? Morrison writes that, “In your own work in designing representational quilts, consider what theme or idea you want to approach, and then decide if you want to represent it literally, abstractly, or somewhere in between.” This can mean using words to say precisely what you want or, more abstractly, a shape, color, or pattern to convey a feeling or provoke a thought.
As you begin to form your message, Morrison suggests six ideas to use in a representational quilt:
First, create shapes. Morrison demonstrates shape with Andrea Tsang Jackson’s quilt, “Everyone’s Got An X.” The quilt is a large minimalist pattern of only four colors: a large X dominates and fills the pattern, one stripe a solid bar superimposed over a second stripe of four parallel stripes on a dark solid field. Jackson said “An ‘X’ is fitting for many life events: the arrival of a baby (everyone has an X chromosome), the Roman numeral X for a 10th birthday or anniversary, or--in contrast--the end of a marriage.” In addition to the powerful use of the X-shape, Jackson’s quilt has impact because the message of the X can be translated personally in multiple ways.
Second, structure. Will your quilt work better as a block-based quilt or as a whole-cloth composition? Think about scale, materials, and construction.
Third, color. In art and in life color has always conveyed messages. Red is love, passion, and power. Yellow connotes friendship and playfulness. Blue feels cool and calming. Whether representing moods or politics, “Color can set the tone (literally) for the energy in your piece, and can have a huge impact.” How you use color in your quilt can add a deep source of symbolism.
Fourth, make your quilt. Take that idea bouncing around in your head and put it into a quilt. Create meaning through the fabrics and the techniques you choose to assemble your quilt and your message.
Fifth, quilting. “Quilting is a great opportunity to add another layer of meaning to your work,” says Morrison. Quilting can add movement and texture. Should you hand or machine quilt? How precise will your stitches be? Consider spacing and direction of the quilting rows. How you stitch your quilt can enhance the message.
Finally, share your work. The only way for others to hear what you have to say, to experience your quilt’s message, is for you to share it! Whether you feel self-doubt or perhaps the fear that someone might not like your message, sharing can be daunting. Morrison encourages, “Meaningful quilts often deserve to be celebrated and can inspire others.” Don’t be afraid to add your voice to the mix of other voices around you. You have something to say.
By following Morrison’s prompts to create your own representational quilt, using a little creativity and careful technique, your message will resonate and inspire others.
‘Designing Representational Quilts’ by Riane Menardi Morrison is available in our Well Said issue. -- Get Yours Today!
Riane Menardi Morrison is the author of the book, Inheritance: Minimal Quilts for the Modern Home. She can be found online at www.riane-elise.com and on Instagram (@riane.elise).
by Brittany Bowen Burton