I have finally reached the point when I can begin stitching on this piece. Getting the top together was challenging and fun, but the top, alone, is a flimsy, lifeless thing, in need of texture and substance. Now the real work begins. I layer and pin baste, getting it ready to go under the needle. My machine is readied—cleaned, oiled and fitted with a sharp new needle.
A man, looking at my work one time, asked about the "special" machine I must use for quilting a piece. He speculated that it was some computer-driven wonder that one programs to "do all the work for you." I think he envisioned placing the layered fabric under the needle, pushing a button and walking away, leaving the machine to do its magic. Not even close. I use a heavy-duty, strictly mechanical (not digital) machine for quilting. It does nothing but straight stitch. It has an extra wide opening to accommodate the bulky fabric layers I push through it and it allows me to drop the feed dogs—those saw-toothy runners that ordinarily push the fabric in a forward motion. When the feed dogs are dropped and I use a free-motion foot, I can, with my non-computerized hands, guide the fabric forward, backward, side-to-side to create the paths and patterns the stitching takes. It is a bit like drawing by moving the paper under a stationary pencil.
The stitching is slow and laborious. Hard on one's back and shoulders, but, at the same time, meditative and rhythmic. I don't plan or mark the patterns I stitch ahead, so it become an ongoing improvisation, a conversation between the fabric and me about what the composition needs. It feels a little reckless and iffy to just make it up as I go, but also totally absorbing and the sense of time falls away. And when I finally stop, stretch my stiffened back and stand back from the work, I see that it is coming to life. That's what the stitching does.
I have many hours of this ahead of me.