My “garden quilt” has, as is befitting, been a long time in the making. But now it is finished and, unlike a real garden, will not need to be cut back, trimmed, or (hopefully) weeded. I have been rereading poems by Andrew Marvell, who wrote in the 17th Century, and his style has affected my writing. So please forgive the odd flourish and convoluted sentence.
The reason for rereading Marvell was to trace the origin of the phrase “nature’s mystic book” which had lodged itself in a recess of my brain. Google would have been much quicker, but not as much fun or as edifying. The reason for tracing the phrase was my search for a title for the quilt. After conferring with my trusted co-quilters, I have settled on Nature’s Book.
And now for a bit of background. The garden that inspired the quilt exists. It is a public space at the National English Literary Museum in Grahamstown, South Africa. In that space is a sculpture Page by Beth Diane Armstrong (http://bethdianearmstrong.com/), who was commissioned to make it. The garden is indigenous and is alive with birds and plants and, apparently, a snake. The sculpture sits comfortably amongst the thorn trees, aloes, proteas, and other local plants.
Another glorious phrase by Andrew Marvell is “Annihilating all that’s made / To a green thought in a green shade” (from “The Garden”). This garden is not a typical English country garden, but it does inspire many “green thoughts”.
The technical background to the quilt is that it was made by stitching down strips of torn fabric. This is a very short description of the hours that went into the making of Nature’s Book. Here is the long story for quilters who want to know the technical details. I wanted to depict the layers that hide and nestle in a garden and to hint at the stories that gardens hold, so I chose to weave rather than piece the fabric. I learnt the technique from Jude Hill’s enchanting Spirit Cloth website (http://spiritcloth.typepad.com/spirit_cloth/) and used a lot of hand dyed muslin from a workshop I did with Angie Franke (http://www.angiefranke.com/) a long time ago. First I tried a sample piece where I stitched through the woven layers, batting and backing in one step. It didn’t work. Too bulky. So I started again. This weaving method gives you three layers – the weft, the warp and the backing onto which you stitch and stabilise the strips. I thought this would be solid enough, but was wrong. So, I then sandwiched the woven top with a fairly thin synthetic batting and a backing cloth and started quilting. That didn’t work either. Too thick. So I unpicked the few rows of quilting I had done and re-sandwiched the piece with cotton batting. That worked! But it took a lot of stitching to get the quilt to lie flat.
To return to Marvell and his inspiring phrase “Nature’s mystic Book”. It appears in his long poem “Upon Appleton House” in the last line of stanza 74 (of 97). So I did quite a bit of reading before a came upon it. This was a good, refreshing experience. For instance, I found that stanza 71 is an apt description of what I was trying to stitch into this quilt:
Thus I, easy Philosopher,
Among the Birds and Trees confer;
And little now to make me, wants
Or of the Fowls, or of the Plants.
Give me but wings as they, and I
Straight floating on the air shall fly:
Or turn me but, and you shall see
I was but an inverted tree
(An inverted tree was a widely used metaphor in the Renaissance (footnote to the poem). Watch this space – my fingers are itching to stitch an upside down tree.)
To end, a musing on the word Nature. It is another BIG word and books have been written about what it is, or isn’t, in the human imagination. Here’s part of the OED entry: “The inherent or essential quality or constitution of a thing; the innate disposition or character of a person or animal or of humankind generally.” Indeed, it is a very big word.