Theme and Subtext

Pick up any book about art and you’ll find a discussion of theme and subtext. Regardless of the medium, artists are admonished to define that which informs the work. The creative process itself can be reduced to exploring the impulse to express the inexpressible through theme and subtext. At least that’s the theory; practice – not so much, not in my studio.

The beginning

The beginning

For the latest Challenge project, I tried working with theory. You can’t grow as an artist if you don’t stretch (and that doesn’t include stretching your hand to the chocolate stash when things aren’t going well at the sewing machine). The theme is the color of music. I started one project already, but found a collection of fabrics which reminded me of 60s music. The fabric cried out for attention. (Neither project is likely to be finished by the deadline, so this isn’t bragging, it’s confessing.) I put two fabrics together and thought, “Self, do this as a row quilt, and let the fabric speak to you.”

I sat at the sewing machine, waiting for the fabric to tell me what it wanted. The entire collection kept silent, and I got bored, and then I noticed how many pieces had dots or circles. Circles led me to cycles, cycles led me to action-reaction, reaction led me back to 60s music and all of a sudden I had my subtext.

Another row, with separator strips

Another row, with separator strips

In row two, I took some pieces I had cut long ago to make fan blocks and re-purposed them for an exploded wheel.

Play along and tell me you see the exploded wheel

Play along and tell me you see the exploded wheel

As an author, I’ve discovered that some readers can find subtext where I thought I was just writing myself out of a corner. Playing with subtext in my quilting gives me a new appreciation for subtext in my writing. Since the series Ann Anastasio and I have going is about quilters saving the world from alien invasion, you never know when the characters are going to recreate on the page what I found in my sewing room.

Luck and wisdom!

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