Sunday, 8 December 2013

Rainbow quilts: an adventure in pure colour

Everyone loves rainbows.

I'm fairly confident no one would contradict that statement.

As a child and into early adulthood my recurrent dream was of  being irresistibly drawn to try to touch a rainbow while at the same time fearing its other-worldly power. In the few dreams where I was able to put my hand into the colours without the mirage evaporating as I approached, a shock, like electricity, thrilling but terrifying, would pass through my body. Even now, sometimes a photograph like the one above, or a real view of the end of a rainbow, from a passing car perhaps, can magic up the same tingling enchantment and frisson of fear.

It was with a similar, but far less visceral, mix of emotions that I accepted the commission to make two rainbow quilts - excitement, with a touch of anxiety. Because let's be honest, images of rainbows, like sunsets and kittens, can easily sink into kitsch and cliche. Some of my favourite exceptions are by Sir Peter Blake, of Sgt Pepper's fame  - among his rainbow designs is a multi-coloured floor that cheers up the waiting area of a clinic at University College Hospital, which I discovered with delight a few weeks ago  - and the iconic album cover of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon.

(I pondered the significance of album covers being a factor in both choices, and decided that Pop Art has it right: perhaps it is foolish to try to add to nature's rainbow. Instead, the only way to go is to subtract - reducing the rainbow to sharply delineated bands of pure colour.)

I drew up a few designs, but the two that were chosen were both "charm" quilts - meaning that each square is a different fabric. I confess I hadn't thought through the implications when I submitted my ideas, but quickly came to the realisation that I would need to supply 48 "little boy" fabrics and 88 "little girl" fabrics. What a challenge. But what fun. 

And of course the challenge didn't stop there.  Each fabric had  to be in a predominant red, orange, yellow, green, blue or purple. And they had to go together; those with a slight grey, brown or even pink tone were ruthlessly rejected, however lovely in themselves. And then there were the "maverick" fabrics: ones that I didn't expect to fit in but, because of their bold colours - bright turquoise and a wavy red and yellow stripe -  were essential to make the whole sparkle. 

Small-scale dots and stars had to be balanced against larger designs, whether Superman or a full-blown flower. And talking of flowers,  in many ways the little girl's quilt was easier, although I needed twice as many squares, because so many fabric designs rely on flowers to bring in colour. There are far fewer checks, stripes, spots, dots, dinosaurs, cars and animals with which to make a boy's quilt. (To save me going off on another full-scale rant, check out my earlier posting on men and flowers.) 

I don't wish to appear as if I am complaining. It is easy and seductive to over-intellectualise one's work, but making rainbows has allowed me to revel in pure colour. Designing a child's quilt magics me back to the child that dreamed of walking among rainbows. And that has been a pure joy. 

The quilt "tops" are now complete, and I shall let The Beast loose over the next few days. See the finished quilts in a future blog posting...

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