“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Leonardo de Vinci
When I first saw my quilt “Spectator Pumps” from a distance of thirty feet it took my breath away! I’d underestimated the visual impact of these star blocks because I had been working on my quilt at close range. The strong contrast of black and white clearly divided down the center riveted my eye. I made this quilt specifically for my special exhibit The Drama of Two Color Quilts I put together for our March, 2009 guild quilt show at the Springdale, AR Holiday Inn Convention Center. I’ve long admired the dramatic pairings of two color quilts made by women in the last two centuries, and wanted to showcase some historical examples as well as contemporary examples. We displayed almost fifty quilts. “Spectator Pumps” drew a lot of attention.
Six months earlier I began thinking of making a two color quilt with sharp contrast. The strongest contrast I could imagine was black and white. I chose to work with the Ohio Star, one of my favorite blocks, using fabric I had on hand. This modified Ohio Star block is a traditional block, but this design is my original idea. The upper left section of the quilt has black stars on a white background. The lower right section reverses the colors. The five blocks down the diagonal center are each divided to create a strong diagonal line switching colors. Using my 1946 Singer Featherweight I piecing several blocks. I played with them on the design board and realized I could create a secondary block design by slicing off the plain corners where the blocks meet and by adding a triangle of contrasting color. Once the blocks are sewn the four triangles form a small square of color. This is a technique I’ve found useful for increasing visual interest in other block quilts.
The black is cut from my TWA flight attendant uniforms worn in the early 1980s. Those uniforms were designed by American designer Ralph Lauren and featured a quality year-round weight wool fabric. I valued the fabric and the uniforms. I had cut up one jacket in 2007 to use pieces of my uniform in my quilt Union Made, but still had lots more. The white is actually a cream color furnishing fabric with a very subtle swirling print chosen because the weight is similar to the wool making it easier to piece.
The actual quilting was the biggest challenge. I believed that machine quilting would have interfered with the simplicity of the design. Yet the fabrics were too heavy to do a fine quilting stitch. My compromise was to hand quilt in-the-ditch where a larger stitch would not be readily seen.
I have a working title for a quilt as I am piecing it—this is a way for me to refer to this particular work in progress. By the time I have spent all the time piecing, basting and quilting it, I usually have come up with a title I’m pleased with. Not so with this quilt. I had to stretch back into my memory bank to think of a strong personal connection to black and white. I remembered my first pair of high heeled shoes. I was about fifteen when my mother and I went shopping for this symbol of growing up in 1960. We chose as elegant 3″ heeled Spectator Pump of crisp black and white pattern agreeing this shoe could go with any outfit. For anyone who might not be able to picture this style, it is similar to the pattern of wingtip shoes worn by men. I’ve not worn a high heeled shoe in forty years, but I do have fond memories of those shoes and shopping with my mother.
Working from our passions and expanding our interests keeps our quilts fresh. I’ve heard it said that, “We teach what we want to learn,” and I learned more about how important “value” or contrast can be in designing a quilt. One of the things I love about quilting is the many avenues always available to us as quilters. Here I explored working with a limited palette, reusing a quality fabric, working with a furnishing weight fabric, and designing a block that reversed colors across the center of the block.