It happened by chance that I began to make trees from textiles. One day, while tidying up after finishing a quilt of appliquéd stars, the pointy leftovers suggested that they could become leaves. And so I made my first of many trees. That first tree has since been converted into a cover for my ancient back-up Bernina sewing machine.
Now that I have dredged up a photograph of it, I am a bit sorry that I refashioned it because it started a chain reaction. Recently I finished a task of posting the photographs of all the quilts I have made onto a Pinterest page. This reminded me of just how many trees I have stitched. First Tree ( left) was made in 2012, followed soon after by Gold Tree #1. I remember the pleasure of the making of this second tree. The foliage is from a lurid piece of gold and black evening fabric that transformed beautifully into exotic fronds and filigree.
Next came Four Seasons – four individual small tree quilts where I experimented with different foliage, at the expense of the trunk and the bark which were made from gold lamé and are quite flat and textureless.
During that year we had a memorable trip to the Richtersveld – a semi-arid region in the north eastern part of South Africa, stretching into Namibia. It is an ancient and mesmerising land with strange, hardy vegetation. The Quiver Tree or, in Afrikaans, the Kokerboom is particularly fascinating and I was inspired to make a stitched representation of the tree.
And so my tree stitching adventure continued. Here is a photographic record of it.
A series of small tree quilts in 2012. I was on a roll that year!
Crumpety Tree and Gold Tree #2 in 2013.
Three small quilts in a series called Shadow Trees, and a larger piece, Tree and Labyrinth in 2014.
Tree for Hannah and Wedding Tree in 2015.
Green Tree with Birds in 2017.
This week’s musing : why this almost obsession with stitching trees? I tell myself it is because they are easy to construct and do not require sophisticated drawing skills. But it is more than this. As a girl one of my favourite books was Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree. The idea of a magical world in a tree caught my young imagination. At that time I also climbed trees and well remember the exhilaration of reaching the highest possible branch and the feel of the rough bark on my hands and bare feet. Then, as a young adult, J.R.R. Tolkien’s ents in The Lord of the Rings also caught and stayed in my imagination. Trees are special. Perhaps the need to stitch them is a kind of iconography?
Colin Tudge wrote a love-letter to trees. That is how one of the reviewers described his book The Secret Lives of Trees. How They Live and Why They Matter (Penguin, 2006). It is a book that is more than well-worth reading. He combines no-nonsense science with good writing and provocative ideas. For instance, he claims that “The human debt to trees is absolute” (p. 5) and goes on to argue that our brains and our dexterity evolved simultaneously – long, long, long ago when our ancestors spent some 80 million years in the trees. While up there, our dexterity and hand-eye coordination evolved because of having to cling to the branches. He concludes: “In short, without trees our species would not have come into being at all” and adds “Perhaps that is why we feel so drawn to trees” (p. 7).
P.S. The Pinterest page referred to earlier is called Quilts by Mariss Stevens.