Making the cut


shelley fabricAn inability to cut into certain pieces of material seems to be a common affliction for those working with fabric. Actually, an inability to make a first, decisive move on a piece of any sort is a common artistic and literary conundrum. I've been puzzling over this one because, like many people, I have a small library of uncut fabric, unpenned blank books and untouched art supplies (paper, paints, etc.). I actually think that I may have figured out why it can be so difficult to start.

It has to do with a whole bunch of things, the primary of which are a fear of committing an act that can't be undone and a recognition of the simple beauty intrinsic to the object on which you are about to commit that irretractable action.

Let's face it, starting can be difficult. Making the leap from an idea to a physical manifestation is huge. In between somewhere is a vision or ideal that accompanies the anticipation of the emotion that comes when things click in your mind. You know how it will feel when the idea and process fuse into a vision and you try study after study (or outline and synopsis, if you're writing) in the hopes of working through to that point. When finally you have something worthy of finalising, you're faced with the daunting task of brutalising a perfectly nice piece of fabric, a clean sheet of watercolour paper, or a canvas of whatever sort. "Is it worth it?" you ask yourself. "Can I improve upon what's in front of me?"

I think that, at least insofar as blank books and fabrics go, it has to do with recognising the intrinsic beauty of the item you're about to transform. A piece of painted or dyed fabric is a finished product of beauty in and of itself. To change it requires an affirmation that the importance of the vision of the artist supersedes the beauty of the fabric itself. This, in turn, requires self-confidence and assuredness in both one's mental image and the ability to faithfully execute it.

ferns fabricSo to a certain extent, a really good piece of fabric acts as a measure of the worth of your project. If you can bring yourself to cut the fabric, you have a project that is at least more spectacular than the raw materials involved and you have self-confidence in your ability to begin the piece and work through whatever obstacles might come your way. If you can't cut the fabric, your subconscious may be telling you something.

Blank pages in a blank book or a new, touched set of watercolours do the same thing for me as a piece of fabric. Pens aren't difficult, as you don't change them visibly by using them, but other materials always cause me to pause and think about the worthiness of what I'm about to do to them.

For those of us who paint our own fabrics, there is also a recognition that, for a special piece of material, the  fabric itself is a work of your own hand. Because you know that it's unique and you have a good idea of how it ranks among your own painted works, you value it all the more. By transforming it into a greater work, you are effectively destroying one vision and replacing it with another. I think that's why I have such difficuly in cutting some fabrics. They seem almost complete to me, for whatever reason.

sunrise fabric

As I've gotten better at what I do, my collection of fabrics that can't be cut has actually lessened. I still have difficulty with come pieces, though. The green-blue ferns piece above is one of my earlier works and I like it so much by itself that I can't bring myself to cut it. I've had umpteen ideas for it, but none have been strong enough to bring on the scissors. The sunrise at right has only recently acquired a project, but, as you can see, it's still whole. The piece at the top of this entry was a gift from a good friend to whom I taught fabric painting and who has since started to produce fabrics professionally. If it wasn't bad enough to have a piece of gorgeous, unique fabric… now it has to be imbued with meaning too. Sigh. It does, however, have a tentative plant that I'm working through.

I may only quilt the ferns piece, so as not to change it too much. The sunrise is going to form the view through a church window, hopefully having a stained glass effect. The piece above from a friend…. I'm still working on. The window idea was one thought, but it seems to me to be more of a fire… possibly a bonfire of some sort. I have it pinned up in the studio for inspiration. The real question is, how on earth do you sell something with which you've wrestled this much? 


One Comment Add yours

  1. Carol Dean says:

    I would have a very, very difficult time cutting into the first piece you have posted. It’s beautiful. Period. (I have a few “untouchables” in my own collection; one is hanging on the sewing room wall as testiment.)

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