Sewing: cutting squares

Sometimes the first part of any sewing project is the act of taking something apart.

I’m making this quilt for a family member. So I don’t want to reveal too much of what’s going on with it.  But you can get a sense of the theme — ocean and salt water and fish and mammals that live in the ocean.  The first step is to make a lot of squares.  Sixty-six squares at a minimum are required for this project.

I got a little over-enthusiastic cutting up the octopus fabric, though, so I have far more of those squares than I need.  I also have a lot of turtle squares, and a fair number of shark squares. There’s a nice mix of ‘realistic’ fish and ‘stylistic’ fish which I think is going to play out nicely in the overall design.

The overall design? Nothing fancy, really. Just rows and columns of blocks, and an interesting backing.

But as I said, the first step is cutting and separating.  In magic, and in alchemy in particular, the practitioners said SOLVE ET COAGULA — dissolve and recombine. Fabric is an essentially-alchemical substance, really: a plant is harvested and broken up/dissolved into its fibers. In this case it’s cotton, but it could just as easily be fibers sheared from a sheep.  Those fibers are separated out from one another, and have the impurities removed.  The fibers are then recombined — spun into thread.  The threads are then dissolved again, as they’re cut to standard lengths, and arranged as either the warp or the weft on a loom. The recombination goes on until the cloth reaches its final length.  In typical cotton fabric used in quilting, the resulting cotton fabric is bleached — dissolved — and recolored — combined — with the desired pattern through the use of blocks.  It is stamped with a new identity, so to speak.

And now what I’ve done is take eight different prints on the same kind of cotton fabric, and I’ve sliced them up further according to certain geometric rules.  I want my final squares to be about 5″ on a side… but I need to allow for a seam, so my squares have to start out as 5 1/2″.  Geometry! Measurement! Proportion! Allowance for hidden (or occulted) elements!

And, of course, once my pieces are sewn together, they’ll have been recombined once more.  Dissolve and Recombine…. the ancient adage of the alchemists is a reminder to the modern quilter that we’re participating in a complex dance of separation and union, of division and reattachment.

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