Broken Shapes

When piecing quilt tops, there are many factors that go into the decisions made by the quilter as they place certain colors or fabrics in specific locations. With geometric tops based on squares or rectangles, the total visual impact may not become completely apparent until after the quilt is finished, but a common result is contrasting shapes and patterns giving some quilts an extraordinary sense of visual movement. The eye bounces from one shape, color, or pattern to another particularly when they are juxtaposed.


The makers of each of these quilts pursued such a strategy as they created their tops. All the squares in the Beasley quilt were pieced with fabrics cut in strips and placed diagonally, essentially creating a sense of triangles within the square. The individual fabrics were dispersed throughout the quilt, which leads the eye to move around the top, seeking out various repetitions. By moving the strips from top to bottom and left to right in the squares, the artist further confounds our eyes and creates a surface that seems to visually expand and contract. The Center Medallion quilt (ca. 1930) provides an abstracted visual equivalent to a pattern such as the Lone Star,with a vibrant central shape positioned in a larger rectangular setting. In this quilt the maker has established a ground of rectangles of varying dimensions, and set the oval medallion made of irregularly shaped blue, red, and yellow fabric on the dark center, creating a diamond-shaped negative space in the middle. The effect is very modern—the medallion appears as an object emerging from the dark void of space.


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