Sewing: forging rings

one of the weird things about JRR Tolkien’s epics is his use of the word “forge” with regard to rings. a ring is usually made through a combination of casting and welding — casting involves pouring molten metal into a mould, to form a strip of metal; that strip is then rounded and welded (or brazed) into a ring.

But forging? Forging is something else. Forging means taking a billet of metal and hammering or shaping it on the anvil with repeating heating and quenching. It implies a process of melting metal to fuse it to other pieces and elongating and narrowing pieces by a combination of sweat and heat and effort that strengthens and warps and changes the raw metal to a beautiful and shining ring. Solve et coagula indeed!

Tolkien describes the process of forging the rings of power (as I remember it) as being work of great subtlety and care, requiring deliberateness and focus. And so it is with making rings in quilting. There’s repeated applications of the iron (heat) and sewing machine (cooling) with precision and care and deliberateness. It really is more like forging than casting — dozens or hundreds of steps per ring, not a pour-and-bend technique but a specified process of building-up from smaller components.

This pattern, called a Sunburst, consists of repeated pieces in three shapes. When three pieces are assembled (after being carefully ironed), the result is a peculiar little arc of a circle. When sixteen of these assemblies are put together, they become a circle.

Or a ring. This process involves three ironings per assembly, two stitchings per assembly, results in forty-eight ironings and thirty sewing per ring. But then, there are two additional stitchings per assembly to form the ring, seventeen times— thirty-four additional stitches. So, sixty-four stitch lines, total, per ring — and sixty-five or so ironings.

And we haven’t touched on the cutting of the individual pieces (an average of six precise cuts per piece of fabric), which amount to three hundred twenty-four cuts per ring. And we haven’t yet talked about the creating of the backing of the ring or making it an appliqué to attach to something else.

We’re approaching five hundred steps per ring. So, each ring is clearly a forged thing, and not a casual construction: not a casting and welding, but a formidable process of separation and connection, done with order and precision and care.

And it’s totally a process into which malice and horror can be injected. It is also a process into which beauty and order can be impressed. Not for nothing is one of the more-famed quilt patterns of rings called the “Wedding Rings” pattern.

But you should never assume that a pattern of rings is simply a forge-and-forget thing. It carries a deep magic that no one should ever forget — a magic of patience, discipline, care and deliberateness.

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