Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Swirl of Inspiration keeps Helen Remick stitching


Helen takes Fibonacci on a joy ride in her quilts that spiral, move and shimmy, reflecting her own gleeful abandon when it comes to mathematics and material! She breaks down the how to of her quilts for us and makes it all seem so easy, of course.

I'm particularly drawn to her yoyo quilt which surprises me because I have never been a fan. But then most of the yoyo quilts I've seen were made of 1930s fabric scraps and pastels to boot. Nothing wimpy or faded about this quilt named after a real yoyo move: Forward Pass. I really like the way this quilt designer thinks.

Please welcome Helen Remick! -- Dawn


Inspiration for design can come from many sources.

On a trip to France, I found myself fascinated by staircases. I loved the dynamic of line of spiral staircases, seemingly spinning in upon themselves. In the Arc de Triomphe, I photographed the swirl up and down. The shot up, at the underside of the steps, looks a lot like the swirls on a sea conch. (See first photo) I've accumulated more staircase photos on my blog.


My online search about spirals produced a wealth of information. Many mathematicians have studied the nature of these curves and their mathematical properties, in written history beginning with the Greeks. The mathematician now most closely associated with spirals is an Italian known as Fibonacci. In 1202 he published a paper on the relationship of a series of numbers (now known as Fibonacci numbers) created by adding two numbers to create a third, adding the second and third to create a fourth: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, etc.


If these numbers are represented geometrically, the result is a spiral of rectangles, which can be connected to make the "perfect" spiral. (See illustration)

The pattern occurs naturally in many places, including sunflowers and sea shells. Rectangles with sides the length of consecutive Fibonacci numbers were said by Greek mathematicians to be in the Golden Ratio, a concept still used in art. (source: Wikipedia) The Fibonacci numbers remain an area of interest to mathematicians: see for example the web page of the Fibonacci Association.

I found the web page of Ned May, an artist/computer whiz in Virginia. He has created the Custom Fibonacci Spiral Generator, which allows one to make spirals from any square image. I was hooked; I spent hours seeing what happened to various geometric figures and simple quilt squares.

But now I had to find a setting for the spirals.

The Museum of the American Quilters' Society (now the National Quilt Museum) New Quilts from Old Favorites contest for 2006 was Dresden plates. I set to work. After a bit of playing, I settled on a flying geese variation  (See graphic).


Ned's program produces images that will print on 8.5" x 11" paper. With this as a start, I drafted a much larger image and extended the "rays" out considerably. The result was Spinning Out Spinning In 1. (See photo of quilt) My Dresden plates are angular, and in the final design, three of the plates are spinning out of their place - or are they coming back from an adventure?

The quilt was not completed in time for the competition. Sometimes a quilt is just not ready to make its final appearance at the time of external deadlines.


To date I have incorporated spirals in six other quilts. The spirals vary in number of rays and what is "spun." Spinning Out Spinning In 4 is based on the triangle pattern. {See photo of Rose of Sharon quilt).




In Spinning Out Spinning in 5 I spun the Sawtooth pattern (See Sawtooth pattern above).


And in Burgoyne and his Spin Doctor Shade the Facts until they no longer square with the Truth, I spun the traditional Burgoyne Surrounded square. (See Burgoyne Square above). (Burgoyne also failed to make its first deadline.)

In 2008 I decided to explore yoyos, using the names of yoyo tricks as inspiration for the quilt designs. The quilt pictured at the beginning of this blog is the first in this series, Forward Pass. It features a spiral, this time of circles.

All of the quilts can be seen on my web page.

I use a variety of methods to construct the spirals, all based on the "whatever works" principle and my love of hand work: if there are two ways that might work, and one involves hand stitching, I am likely to choose the latter.

I freely mix and match methods and fabrics. In Spinning Out Spinning In 1, the spirals and Dresden plates are paper pieced. The spirals are hand appliqued to the background plates, and emphasized by hand couched perle cotton.

In Burgoyne I used Dupioni and other silk, a synthetic in the piping, nylon netting, hand and machine piecing, hand applique and fusing. Most of the circles are hand appliqued, with the smallest "squares" in the center fused. I recommend against using Dupioni for hand applique; the slubs in the fabric guarantee imperfect needle turning.

For the center portion of Spinning Out Spinning In 5 when the pieces would have been smaller than I wanted to work with, I printed the pattern on the fabric; I repeated this printed motif in an outer portion of the quilt.

Many of the quilts in my yoyo series are made with synthetics-- often sparkly. I get the sensation of making a prom dress in a more age-appropriate format. The yoyos in Forward Pass are made of sheer synthetics with cotton prints fused inside; they are hand-gathered and stitched to the background fabric. Arthritis prevents me from hand quilting any more, but I will continue with hand piecing and applique as long as I can.

A similar mix of techniques informs my design and drafting. I sketch out my designs, although usually incompletely. I start the spirals using Ned's program, but then transform them through extension and changes in size beyond what his pattern produces.

At some point, most designs end up in an actual size paper rendition. I change the resulting designs freely. Even though I have no formal training in art or drafting, I like the feel of putting pencil on paper. Recently I have been doing more design work on the computer; this was necessary, for example, to do the fabric printing on Spinning Out Spinning In 5.

I had to retire before I had enough time to learn the basics of Illustrator software. Now I just need to practice, practice, practice. Hmm, that is the same answer for improving my machine quilting.

As I look back on my work, I see clearly that I work in overlapping series almost like a musical fugue or jazz riff. My first quilts are red, black and white -- as is my first spiral quilt. Magenta - green makes an appearance in spirals and comes back in yoyos. The first yoyo quilt includes a spiral. Orange and blue are added to the mix. A favorite Islamic design forming stars with four, five, six, seven and eight points is about to make a reappearance in a yoyo quilt.

The animals in Walking the Dog are getting ready for a starring role in Raining Cats and Dogs (here's a sneak preview of their performance). (See last photo)

I know that spirals will continue to find a place in my quilts, I just never know when.

3 comments:

Kay said...

I love this work. The quilts are so striking, and I particularly like anyone whose attitude is "whatever works".

Jean M. Judd said...

Helen's article and spiral quilts are just wonderful! I am drawn to the graphic images as well. I have visited Ned's site on many occassions too and have been storing the ideas for a later date.

Continued Success, Helen!

donna said...

Helen's use of math, history, art, yo-yos, traditional and contemporary quilting is awe-inspiring. I have known her for 35 years and she never ceases to amaze me! Donna Stringer