Quilt No. 120
Over the last year or so I kept seeing fairy creatures everywhere. This hadn’t happened to me since I was five, and my dad and I worked our way through “Fifty Famous Fairy Tales,” one story at a time. I still have the book’s alarming illustration of a green-ink line drawing of Rumpelstiltskin seared into my brain. The artist certainly captured the rumpel, not to mention the stilt and the skin! Fairies are once again popular. They’re in gardens where they have houses, furniture, flower pots, or just humble doors backed up against tree trunks. They grace t-shirts and cupcakes, make their appearance in calendars and continue in their unbroken stint as popular Halloween costumes.
So I thought -- wouldn’t it be fun to do a quilt with a fairy on it?
I looked at lots of pictures of fairies in Google images. They certainly were plentiful and elegant. Once again the lush illustration style popular in the early 20th century story books caught my eye. So many enticing fairy creatures to choose from!
I’m also rather fond of quilting frogs, so when I found Ida Rentoul Outhwaite’s 1922 painting with both a frog and a fairy, I knew it was the one. The fairy was particularly beautiful, so gentle with her captivating pink dress and gauzy wings. And the frog! He was the quintessential frog that we all dream of – plump and green with an essence of royal frogginess that hinted at a princely lineage.
|Ida Rentoul Outhwaite's Original Artwork|
I was in fact, so enamored with Outhwaite’s artwork, that I completely took leave of my senses, forgetting the rules I have about things that I don’t quilt: hands, faces, feet. There’s a special subcategory of frog hands and feet that I particularly like to avoid, having previously driven myself to the brink of insanity while trying to needle turn the fabric to make slender frog fingers. It was just like childbirth. I completely forgot how wretched it was the first time around, leaving myself open to repeating the suffering. And in terms of suffering, the frog and the fairy did not disappoint.
Their genesis in fabric was long and dizzying in its repetitiveness. I became a card carrying resident in the land of Do-Over. At one point I was calling the quilt The Six Faced Fairy, a much needed bit of levity that took me through the six tries it took to do the fairy’s face. Her arms took four tries, and her hair, dress, and legs a mere two attempts. Only her wings were nailed on the first pass. What I learned (re-learned) from this was that my rule about no faces, hands, or feet, is completely valid. However, I didn’t think Ms. Outhwaite would have approved of me adding galoshes and mitts to her fairy.
I like to name a quilt early on in its creation, but this one remained nameless until after it was completely finished. Nothing came to mind other than the utilitarian “Frog and Fairy” possibility. Ugh. I didn’t even know their names or their story. Observing them, it’s clear that they are embroiled in a situation. A question is being asked, or a plea is being put forward, or maybe a controversial point is being painfully explained. Yet, despite having birthed them from the fabric fragments in a drawer, I could only guess at the topic of their debate.
I needed to find out more about these two characters who had eaten up six months of my creative life. The illustration is from the story book, The Little Green Road to Fairyland. It’s an Australian book written Annie Rentoul, and illustrated by her sister Ida Rentoul Outhwaite. Ida’s illustrations were so captivating that the stories were crafted around them, not the reverse which is the usual case. While very popular in Australia and England, I don’t think any version of the book was released in North America.
According to the combined international listings in the online WorldCat catalog, only one library in Canada has a copy, (none in the U.S), and that library is over 800 km from where I live. Considered a rare book, it seemed unlikely they’d be willing to mail that out on interlibrary loan. Purchasing a used copy of this almost 100 year old book was also out of the question at a cost of over $US 200. Sadly, no copies are scanned into Project Gutenberg. I was going to have to get creative if I wanted to dig up the name of that frog!
Wouldn’t libraries in Australia have a copy of the book? I looked in the online catalogs of their national and state libraries, and they did indeed have the book in their various collections. On the website of the State Library of South Australia, located in Adelaide, I noticed that there was a form I could fill in to ask a reference question. Bonus - international requests were accepted! And what could be a more important international question than the names of this frog and fairy? I filled in the form and sent them a photo of the quilt so they would know which illustration was of importance to me. After two weeks and plenty of breath-holding on my part, my answer arrived. The frog is named Kexy. Disappointingly, the fairy has no name, and is simply referred to as “Fairy” but the location in the book places them at Old Tranquility Farm. I had my answer and my title They became The Pond at Old Tranquility Farm; Kexy and the Fairy.
I still don’t know what their debate is about, but since they refused to reveal it in the six months we spent locked in mortal quilting combat, perhaps it’s too personal and I shouldn’t pry.