Quilt Memoir by Dwayne Wanner PDF  | Print |  E-mail

dw blanet 1

Hinkle’s Horse Feed  - denim, flannel, cotton  60 “ x 72”

The validity of early childhood memories are always questionable but those enhanced with texture such as the rough surface of a quilt made from old coveralls and woolen coat fabric can almost certainly be considered authentic. For me the memory of crawling into bed and pulling the heavy quilts over me is one of the most pungent and tactilesensations of my life. I can still smell the wool in the coats and feel the scratchy textureson my skin. The sense of security and stability not to mention gravity provided to a sixyear old on a winter night on a Saskatchewan farm is unforgettable. Although we did not know the word recycle we certainly threw nothing out. All old clothing and it was well worn and really old, along with feed sacks and flour bags were made into “comforters”. For indeed that is what the assemblage of scraps provided, a warm and thick layer of comfort against the cold.

 Not only was the finished product a source of comfort but the making of the quilt was a source of entertainment, learning and confidence building. I can still remember my grandmother watching carefully as I cut the squares. For squares was all we cut and they had to be straight and true. She would cut the first one and then pin it over the fabric as a template for me to cut the next one. There were no rotary cutters. Only a pair of shears sharpened just before we started the cutting. In the winter we worked by kerosene lamp which meant limited working time .A guy could be proud of a pile of cut squares at the end of the evening.

 Although nostalgia bathes these memories in a warm glow the reality of a tough life on a Saskatchewan wheat farm could not be denied and eventually my parents moved to the city. We did bring some quilts with us but soon we had blankets and the old quilts were abandoned along with the harsh memories of a hard life. I still visited the grandmothers and on later visits I graduated to threading the needles for them as their eyesight diminished even with help of electric lights.

 dw Silk Road # 1

Silk Road # 1 Cotton, upholstery ends , coat fabric  72” x 72”

Too many years later when consulting a tailor about making a special jacket the site of the scraps on the floor brought back these memories. I had a sewing machine for home repairs and pant hems and went home from the tailor shop with the scraps and tried to sew some scraps together. Old pieces of blue jeans, curtains and other pieces were soon joined .However this looked nothing like the quilts of my memories. Looking for help I approached local quilters but soon discovered that the traditional styles had taken hold and the creations of that genre would never fulfill the expectations of my memories. It was not only the mental anguish and severity of the rigid patterns with their strange names like Drunkard’s path and Storm at Sea that drove me to question the validity of my memories. The modern quilts were gentle textureless surfaces that evoked no feeling when rubbed against the skin of one’s arm.

With a little help from the tailor I did learn to make a nice Japanese jacket but the attempt to restore the quilting memories left an empty and disconcerting feeling.

 dw Silk Road # 2

Silk Road # 2  Denim, coat material, suede strips 72 “ x 72"

My wife , Judy. and I often visited friends in Washington area and made a point of seeing as much as possible at the national Gallery , the Smithsonian and the other great galleries and museums. Although these sojourns were rewarding there was none quite as enriching as the  day I saw the quilts of Gees bend. From a distance I mistook them for abstract paintings , a strong interest of mine. When I saw that they were not  paintings but quilts and not any quilts but variations on the  very comforters of my childhood.  It may be too bold to call it a vision. No light shone down , no Tolstoyan epiphany rose within my  breast and certainly no John Williams score filled the air that day at the Smithsonian. The inner piece that those comforters had originally instilled was restored. Over the next few years I sought out the quilters and followers of Gees Bend style. There were others although some did not  acknowledge the source.

 DW Detail of quilt  “ Flanders Skies”

Detail of quilt  “ Flanders Skies” 24”x24”

When  the National Quilt Museum at Paducah called for juried entries with an equestrian theme my response was “ Hinkel’s Hose Feed” which was hung next to the pictorial  appliqués and  landscapes as a small  reminder of origins.

                        It occurred to me that other places and people must have had such “ spontaneous” quilts. Pictures of caravans on the silk road  brought images  of camel drivers  bedding down with such quilts just as  we did on the farm. The odds and ends of dark and textured fabrics became the silk road series. Each quilt I made seemed a little more exotic that what grandma made but the spirit and the tone of farm patchwork was there.

 Le Soleil

Le Soleil  - Dupioni silk, cotton 60” x 60 “

 No longer fearful that my seams did not line up or that I had no back to back triangles I plunged ahead using the same early materials   and gradually incorporating more cotton. Although still recognizable quilt forms both chance and experiment intervened and the quilts began to lose their rustic character.  The more I looked at abstractionist and expressionist paintings the more they looked like quilts. As I cut and sewed whatever seemed to fit the inherent abstraction of these assemblies became self evident. The serendipity of the pieces and the colours would carry me to a crude significance of form . Having gone that far one could see that minor adjustments of pieces and tones would silence the anxiety.

          As assembly technique overtook functionality the hidden aesthetic of those rustic quilts became to emerge. As the trepidation of working with finer fabrics diminished the colour and fluidity of the quilts rose to levels that I would not have imagined as a child cutting up old shirts and coats. I would like to think that Grandma had some inkling of this.

After Mondrian
 After Mondrian - cotton, machine quilted

for more information on Dwayne Wanner visiti his website D.F. Wanner  Contemporary Art Quilts


Cacophony -cotton, upholstery fabric   36" x 30 "

Dwayne Wanner

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