After thousands of miles of travel across Nebraska, it is the water and the grasses I think of most often, so the water is the only color on the front of the Terrain Squares, and the grasses are referenced with a stenciled graphic on the back.
I see my stitching as another form of drawing and I use the same vocabulary when I stitch as when I draw: searching contour lines, varying in weight, eccentric hatching, and a decorative scumbling for the lakes and rivers.
My stitching is informed by my memory of traveling up and down, over and around the landscape. My stitched lines carve through the height of the quilted stuffing, containing and bounding it. The rivers, lakes and low-lying land are subdued with hatched rows, much as a field is cultivated by plowing.
I find an area to stitch using the topo software to find a section I’ve visited. I zoom into the area at the largest scale and then magnify that even further and print out this area at 28” x 28” (the scale of this map is now 1” = 596 ft). I trace the contours of the topo map and stitch the first topographic lines “blind” through this tracing paper, battling the thickness of the batting, the stiffness of the stenciled backing and the fragility of the paper. I remove the tracing paper (an exasperating process which takes much longer than the stitching) and then further develop the terrain with hatching. Certain contour lines are stitched seven times to emphasize them, and I must use hand-basted guides so that I don’t lose my way in the maze of beige lines on a beige ground.
For the backs of the squares, I made an 8’ x 8’ drawing of Nebraska grasses, an imaginative grouping which has more to do with memory than botany. I’ve divided this graphic into sixteen 24” squares and the back of each quilted Terrain Square has one of these sixteen areas, chosen at random. Each grasses fragment is stenciled onto the gray backing fabric (organic hemp and Tencel) using fabric paint. My UCARE student, Sylvia Cox, helped me with the stenciling process.
I embroider the water with blue thread on top and white thread on the bottom, so that the rivers and lakes become “ghost rivers” and “ghost lakes” on the back combining with the stenciled “ghost grasses” and with the contour lines in unexpected and unpredictable ways.
The squares fasten together with a system of tabs and buttons so they can be arranged in any order. My UCARE student Abby Rice helped me with the button sewing (40 buttons per quilted square).
Topo map for Section 35
Traced topo map
First level of stitching
Grasses graphic (8’ x 8’)
Printed grasses for stenciling
Sylvia Cox, UCARE student, stenciling grasses
Terrain Square, Section 19 (detail of back)
Tabs and buttons
Abby Rice, UCARE student, sewing buttons