Post #12. On the material

Material is a BIG word. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary devotes two columns (55 cm of type, to be exact) to definitions, uses and derivatives from the word. The explanation or synonym I like best is substance, because it is a good, strong word that aptly describes the quality of a quilt. And, if I may indulge in a play on/with the word substance, its innate meaning of ‘to stand below’ hints at the solid stitched basis of the art of quiltmaking.

Before I get carried away on the wings of words, let me explain that this musing was set off by this temporary workbox of threads and shiny bits of evening dress fabrics. These are the materials I am using to make my current quilt.


This musing was also prompted by one of those ah-ha moments when reading a section on MATERIALS in the book Art & fear: Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orlan. (Thank you Tierney ( for reminding me about this wonderful book.)

They say that the materials used for making art are reliable, and are one of the few elements of artmaking that you can control. Of course it is not as simple as this. They say:

What counts, in making art, is the actual fit between the contents of your head and the qualities of your materials. The knowledge you need to make that fit comes from noticing what really happens as you work — the way the materials respond, and the way that response (and resistance) suggest  new ideas to you. It’s those real and ordinary changes that matter. Art  is about carrying things out, and materials are what can be carried out. Because they are real, they are reliable. (Bayles and Orlan, p.18)

I would go so far as to claim that there is magic in the material. How else does one explain why a certain piece of fabric will ‘jump out’ at you and why often a scrap of exactly the right material is just long and wide enough for what you want to use it for? If non-quilters reading this think I have gone a little crazy, please ask another quilter to corroborate my claim.

Next week I hope to be able to post of photograph of the finished version of the quilt I am working on and which evoked this bit of barefoot philosophising. In the meantime here are a few teasers from small sections of the quilt.

To conclude my musing on the word MATERIAL, the OED’s first definition of the word is : Of or pertaining to matter or substance; formed or consisting of matter; corporeal. And the second definition : the matter of which a a thing is or may be made, including 3. Items needed for an activity 4. Cloth, fabric. Yes!!



6 thoughts on “Post #12. On the material

  1. I do so enjoy your posts, Mariss. We share, I think, a fascination with words and I love the way you interweave this into your quilt musings.


  2. Glad you found the book re-inspirational and that “box of bits” looked very inspirational to me – I spent some time just staring at your photo and thinking those shiny bits would be fun to work with!
    Your teasers are looking yummy! Looking forward to see the progression of the piece – Happy Creating 🙂


  3. I share your affair with fabric/material, it has been an inspiring love.
    Can’t wait to see the finished piece.


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