Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Thank You Mr. Fujita: Tornado Quilt

(Above:  Thank You Mr. Fujita.  55" x 55".  Recycled yellow vinyl triangles free-motion stitched to a synthetic upholstery fabric.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

This past week has been a whirlwind!  It all started last Tuesday after uploading images of Stir Crazy in South Carolina for consideration in a special exhibition called Quarantine Quilt.  This show will happen at the upcoming International Festival of Quilts (IQF) in Houston and it is the brain-child of curator Dr. Sandra Sider.  While on the IQF website, I couldn't help but to notice another special exhibition called The Math and Science of Quilts.  It sounded interesting but not necessarily an idea on which I might act ... until the next night!

 (Above:  Sitting on the living room floor hand quilting the piece.)

That night Steve and I watched an episode of the American Experience called Mr. Tornado.  I was expecting Steve to be really excited.  After all, Steve's undergraduate degree is in meteorology.  I didn't think I would be excited, inspired, and profoundly affected ... but I was! The program was eye-opening.  The images of destruction were horrible, but it was Ted Fujita's steadfast passion to study these forces that I found most inspirational ... especially his later research into micro-bursts and thunder storm down-bursts that led to new pilot training and advancements in aviation weather forecasting.  I feel totally grateful that airline travel is so much safer now than it was before 1975 when Mr. Fujita revolutionized this field of study!  (I am not sure how many times I'd been aboard trans-Atlantic flights before Eastern Air Lines Flight 66 crashed on my birthday, June 24, 1975 killing 113 of the 124 people on board. This was the crash that got Mr. Fujita involved in this area of research ... thank goodness!)

 (Above:  Trying to adjust the studio lights in order to photograph the finished quilt.  I'm actually standing on my work table!)

Even while the television show was still airing, my mind was spinning with an idea for a new quilt.  I could almost "see" a cyclone of yellow triangles on a black field.  Perhaps this was because the yellow vinyl triangles were still in my trash bin.  Perhaps this was because the bolt of cheap, synthetic upholstery material was on hand.  Perhaps this was because some hair-brained ideas are worth pursuing if for no better reason than the challenge of it!  By the next day, I thought to myself, "Why not try to make this piece and enter it into that science and math call-for-entry?  You have a full week to get it done!"

 (Above:  Thank you Mr. Fujita, detail.)

So, I started last Thursday afternoon knowing that the deadline for entry was in exactly one week.  The rules stated that the finished quilt had to be at least 50" on each side.  The upholstery fabric measured 58".  I whacked off a nice square and started free-motion stitching the yellow vinyl triangles onto the center.  These triangle really did come out of my trash can.  They were the parts and pieces discarded and snipped off my Quarantine Flags.  So in a sense, this pieces were twice recycled!  They were recycled first after pop-up containment pools were constructed at CoverTech when I made the Quarantine Flags.  Now, they were recycled from that installation and onto this art quilt.

 (Above:  Thank You Mr. Fujita, detail.)

Yellow triangles are perfect for illustrating a tornado.  First, triangles are used on weather maps for cold fronts. Tornadoes happen when different temperature masses of air collide.  It's quite complicated but frontal systems are involved ... and thus "triangles" would show up on weather maps!  Yellow, of course, is the traditional color for cautionary symbols and warnings of all kinds.  Think about caution tape and caution traffic lights.  Then, think about tornado sirens and shelters and the need for taking precaution!  Furthermore, wind barbs notations on weather maps are shown with a little triangle at fifty knots (and two triangles at 100 knots!)  Having my yellow triangles going in every direction indicates the chaos and destructive power of a tornado.

(Thank You Mr. Fujita, detail.)

After stitching all the triangles down using 100% black cotton thread, I stitched with silver metallic.  Then, the entire piece was put upon another piece of synthetic upholstery material.  This piece was solid black. Finally, I spent several days on my living room floor hand stitching the two layers together.  The pattern provided a guide.  I used a thin black yarn to ply running stitches in all the areas where there weren't triangles.  The last thing done was to edge-turn bind the work.  The black fabric was flipped up and hand stitched down.  Today, I shot the photos.  It was difficult because the vinyl seemed to catch the light from the overhead track.  At least my studio lights are UV correcting and the shots were managed.  Whether or not this art quilt goes to Houston doesn't matter to me.  I finished it and submitted it a full day before the deadline! 


Catherine - Mixed Media Artist said...

awesome and the "scraps" give you another dimension of when a tornado has blown through much of life is shredded producing many more "scraps"

Shannon said...

I love the way this turned out, I love the story of the quilt, and I love the use of recycled materials. I actually really like the way the vinyl is shiny and reflective, although I know that can be a pain for the photos. It's really wonderful when you get such a clear inspiration and then so effectively convert it into a piece of art!

I'm also one who did a quilt for this show at the last minute although not quite as late as you! :) I found out about it at the beginning of May when I was rushing to finish something for a different deadline. I'm a cell biologist and I've done so many science quilts over the years but none of them were big enough! I finished mine in about two weeks, even though the back of my brain kept thinking they would cancel Houston. They still might I suppose, but I too am glad to have finished it and pleased with the outcome no matter what!

Els said...

WOW Susan, what a great way to re-use your flags and snippets ! A true storm !

Ann Scott said...

You are amazing! As always the story highlights the quilt and vise-versa. I hope it show someplace people can see it up close.