Quilt No. 89
I may not have exactly been to the desert on a horse with no name, but I must say it feels good to be out of the rain. And it’s been a long journey from the desert to the ocean with its life underground – a journey of almost a year, in fact. A few other quilts have passed Horse in the queue, going from conception to completion while Horse waited in the background – waited for cacti, waited for a mesa, waited for the dye to dry on yet another piece to be used in the desert floor. Waited on a technique that would yield anemones, waited on a seahorse, waited on a starfish, waited... and wondered... would there ever actually be a horse?
I learned a few things from this quilt. One was patience. If a design element isn’t working out, the best route after executing multiple failures is no route at all. Eventually a solution will present itself, in its own time. I learned that you can actually wear out something you’ve added to a quilt by endlessly folding it and scrunching it during the quilting process (the Agave plant at the foot of the cacti had to be completely replaced after the first one frayed into oblivion). I learned that keeping all those little scraps of dyed material was actually worth the effort. I learned that organza, like velvet, should be added to my list of banned substances. Organza is like just about everything else in life that adds a lot of flash. It’s kind of hard to be sure if enduring the exasperation is worth it. In this case, I would have to say yes.
And I learned one other thing. Eventually there will be a horse. But you have to look for him. And because the horse owns the quilt, he can afford to orchestrate things from behind the scene.
Thanks to Dewey Bunnell (of the band America) who wrote these haunting and intensely visual lyrics back in 1972. From what I’ve read, a rainy stint in England had him thinking about the Arizona/New Mexico desert near the Vandenberg Air Force Base where he lived as a child. If “horse” was a code word for heroin, it was probably the brain child of someone else’s imagination.
The sunset was painted with (what else!) Setacolor dyes. The whole quilt was built up on a white cotton background using needle turn applique for larger objects and fused raw edge applique for smaller items such as the seaweed near the fish, the anemones, the sea shells and some of the plants. Heavy gold thread or wool was couched along horizontal cliff and desert floor lines to harmonize them with the sunset - or sunrise - depending on your preference.
Organza was used in a layer over the ocean floor, and for the starfish, as well as the white wave that separates the desert and the ocean. It was also fused in layers to make the tentacles for the sea anemones. One grouping of seashells was placed beneath the layer of organza to make them fade into the ocean floor. Pink flowers and a few Agave leaves were also placed under the organza to give a reflection of their desert counterparts.
A very small amount of beadwork was added to the quilt – on the starfish, as bubbles for the fish, and on the hand embroidered seahorse. Small pink and white polished “gem stones” were added to the seashell cluster on the left.
Most of the quilting and outlining of fused objects was done by machine with gold, red, or copper metallic thread. Microtex sewing machine needles made the quilting possible. While metallic thread needles almost worked, the thread inevitably frayed and broke, since the quilt is many layers thick in places. After I switched to a Microtex needle, the machine perfectly executed anything I asked of it. In order to machine quilt close to the heavily stuffed saguaro cacti, I removed the free motion foot and used the needle with no foot. It was scary, but some people climb mountains or jump out of airplanes or wrestle bears - I machine quilt without a foot. Now we’re even.
The horse makes his appearance in the photo below.
Here are Dewey’s lyrics in his own handwriting.