Posts Tagged ‘free motion quilting’

I’ve been slow. Summer in Milan can have that effect as routines break down and everyone leaves for vacation. I actually finished my Chenrezig art quilt/thangka two weeks ago. Here it is:

Chenrezig art quilt thangka

Chenrezig art quilt thangka

This “thangka” is a unique combination of traditional and new, eastern and western techniques. I drew the figure of Chenrezig (that’s his Tibetan name. In Sanskrit, it’s Avalokiteshvara.) several years ago while studying thangka drawing in Sarnath, India with Alex Kocharov. Chenrezig embodies all the fully awakened compassion of the enlightened mind and is the deity closest to my heart. In China, he takes the feminine form of Kuan Yin. In Japan, he is Kannon. The Dalai Lama is a living manifestation of Chenrezig too.

I pieced this figure in the traditional Tibetan fashion, using pure silk satins and gold-patterned brocades from Varanasi. He’s seated on a deep blue and violet lotus, inspired by this traditional Tibetan poem found in Sogyal Rinpoche’s book, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying:

Avalokiteshvara is like the moon
Whose cool light puts out the burning fires of samsara
In its rays the night-flowering lotus of compassion
Opens wide its petals.

After the figure was pieced, the nontraditional aspects of this thangka began to emerge. I suggested the nimbus of glowing light around the body with a transparent metallic-effect synthetic organza, machine stitched with radiating lines. I cut the head nimbus from a beautifully patterned cotton scarf remnant purchased from the Etro designer outlet in Milan, Italy. Chenrezig’s immediate background is a deep, variegated, blue of hand-dyed (not by me but by a woman near Munich in Germany) cotton sateen, quilted in a pattern echoing the outlines of the form. Surrounding this central block are six quilted blocks of cotton fabric from the US. I arranged these to form horizontal bands of color reminiscent of some of the oldest Tibetan applique thangkas where sky and ground are represented by three graduated horizontal bands. The six sections also imply the six realms of sentient beings — the forms in which we can take birth, or the reactive filters through which we can see our experience and react to it. Narrow strips of red and white cotton separate these blocks as Chenrezig’s bodhicitta permeates the worlds. The sun and moon are quilted in the dark sky above.

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Today I stitched some pieces of what will become the background for my Chenrezig. I’m very excited about this piece and don’t know whether to call it a thangka, a quilt, or something else. The figure is purely traditional. I used the traditional piecing and applique techniques I was trained in by Tibetan masters in Dharamsala. I created the drawing myself while studying how to draw within sacred proportions with Alex Kocharov in Sarnath many years ago. I have a special love of and connection with Chenrezig as a meditation deity, the representation of fully enlightened compassion and of our own potential.

And this Chenrezig will become part of a cloth wall hanging more similar to a contemporary art quilt than a traditional thangka. It’s an adventure, an experiment, which thrills me with a sense of risk and daring but also feels lovingly respectful of this Chenrezig figure I’ve created.

So today I was quilting. And since I’m still so new to quilting, the work was accompanied by a bit of fear of screwing up and curiosity about what technique might work best. While building some skill over the past months and waiting for some fabric to arrive, I’ve brainstormed design ideas which have changed multiple times. Now I think I know what I want the piece to look like, but bringing that vision into physical reality is something else.

My biggest discovery for the day was my love of free motion quilting, the life of the stitches, creating a rhythm of motion and breathing. One section, in particular, is long and horizontal, with long, rougly parallel lines of stitching running its length. In my practice pieces, I experimented with a normal presser foot and a walking foot — feed dogs up — as well as with a darning foot in free motion — feed dogs down. Because I had difficulty stitching smoothly at the long edge in free motion, I did the first few and the last few rows with the walking foot. But for the rest, I played joyfully in free motion. I have to say I like the subtle (well, at least as subtle as I can manage) irregularity of the stitches. I like using my breath to guide and time the movement. Here are some pictures of my results:

green quilting

turquoise quilting

purple quilting

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