Elegance and constraints

The other day I found this image on the Quilt Museum website, and added it to one of my Pinterest boards:Canadian Red Cross quilt

The accompanying text explains that it’s an example of a Canadian Red Cross quilt; these were sent over from Canada to Britain in their thousands during the Second World War as donations to the war effort. The intention underlying these quilts was to produce an item whose function was, simply, to keep people warm in difficult circumstances. Accidentally, though, it manages to achieve elegance and beauty. The quilt is made of rectangles and squares of suiting wool. Because no two pieces are the same, it is thought that the fabric comes from a sample book. The quilt is tied with pink and blue wool, probably because that is what came to hand at the time, and, as the description points out, tying is a quicker method of quilting than stitching. So, in summary, it appears that this piece was put together quickly, out of whatever materials serendipitously presented themselves, and its focus was on function, not ornament.

Isn’t that interesting? One of the big challenges, it seems to me, about creating or designing anything, is to establish constraints of materials, colours, shape and so on. Where there is a superabundance of materials available, which is the case for many of us, how do you go about making these choices? I’ve been thinking about this in any case, because of the Matthew Harris course that I wrote about a week ago, but this Canadian quilt has helped to focus my attention on the matter still further. Some of the most striking and lovely examples of textile art (e.g. the Gee’s Bends quilts, and Japanese boro work) are the result of the use of scarce and precious resources in the form of rags. In my own recent family past, rags were used routinely to make rugs, and jumpers were unravelled when worn out with the better elements of wool preserved for making into something else. It’s not always the case, of course, that accidental elegance will result; in most cases this probably won’t happen. But sometimes it does, and then something wonderful is created.

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