Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Empty Cups

How many times have you heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? A plate of scrambled eggs (ok, no egg yolks [deep sigh]) with some cheese and turkey ham energizes me for the morning. And then the smell of that first cup of coffee fills the room—ah-h-h-h, yes.
         Lately in blogland, numerous artworks, quilts, and fabrics contain images of tea or coffee pots and cups that cheer us up. Here’s mine:
The shadows were created on the background fabric with thinned acrylic paint. The coffee pot and cups are machine pieced with mostly commercial fabrics from flea market clothing although there is at least one of my hand painted fabrics as well. Constructing the tablecloth with several of my grandmother’s doilies made this piece exciting for me
                                       despite it’s overall blah colors.
                                                   Here’s the back:
Can’t get more blah than that. I’m not sure if I’m jumping on the bandwagon of cheerfulness. Indeed, the central panel with coffee pot and cups was made over fourteen years ago in response to a French poem that French language teachers use to teach a past verb tense, the “passé composé.”  And so this art quilt is dedicated to a newcomer to the endangered species list: the French language teacher.
         French poet Jacques Prévert had a different take on breakfast : he spoiled it.  However, his poem serves to express feelings of abandonment in such a way as to make this the saddest poem I know. Written with simple words and short, direct sentences, it speaks of those terrible, deep feelings that we have all felt at some point in life when loved ones turn their backs on us with indifference. This is the poem in French [with my translation] that I stitched around the coffee pot.

Le Déjeuner du matin                                The Morning Meal

Il a mis le café                                            He put the coffee
Dans la tasse                                               In the cup
Il a mis le lait                                              He put the milk
Dans la tasse de café                                   In the cup of coffee
Avec la petite cuillère                                 With the coffee spoon
Il a tourné                                                   He stirred
Il a bu le café au lait                                    He drank the coffee
Et il a reposé la tasse                                   And he put down the cup
Sans me parler                                            Without speaking to me

Il a allumé                                                   He lit
Une cigarette                                               A cigarette
Il a fait des ronds                                         He made rings
Avec la fumée                                             With the smoke
Il a mis les cendres                                       He put the ashes
Dans le cendrier                                           In the ashtray
Sans me parler                                             Without speaking to me
Sans me regarder                                          Without looking at me

Il s’est levé                                                   He stood up
Il a mis                                                         He put
Son chapeau sur sa tête                                 His hat on his head
Il a mis                                                         He put on
Son manteau de pluie                                   His raincoat
Parce qu’il pleuvait                                       Because it was raining
Et il est parti                                                 And he left
Sous la pluie                                                 In the rain
Sans une parole                                            Without a word
Sans me regarder                                          Without looking at me
Et moi j’ai pris                                              And me, I took
Ma tête dans ma main                                   My head in my hand
Et j’ai pleuré.                                                And I wept.

--Jacques Prévert (from Paroles, 1946)

Such sad emotions affect us profoundly. We try to avoid them. Around the coffee pot, cups and table the vague form of a house takes shape, walls and a roof made with square pieces, apparently solid and orderly, nothing out of the ordinary. Protection. Neutral colors...
We try desperately to create order in our lives, filling them with routines and with objects like coffee pots and cups and linens. We build structures to keep out the wind and rain.
                      And then the foundations shake and the walls crack.
                                        Our world temporarily falls apart.
The two empty coffee cups represent two emptied people as well. The use of stained doilies and several satins and brocades (raw edges showing) to create the tablecloth suggests aging, fraying, and decay. A leaf pattern takes over the tablecloth, and dead leaves fall onto shaking foundations like teardrops. Empty Cups (June 2012, 43"x35"/110cmx89cm) is hand embroidered, appliquéd, and quilted, and machine pieced, appliquéd and quilted. 
I first stitched the white background with a running stitch, then embroidered the words with an outline stitch. Hand quilting was required in this part because of the serious buckling that happens when I attempt to do something that you're not supposed to do. The motto "It will all quilt out" serves me well.
           For the shaking foundations, I appliquéd beige fabric with tiny scraps, 
                added machine stitching in black, then sliced it to create turbulence. 
                 The black fabric contains machine stitching to add movement.
                                 Sometimes we must remember difficult moments 
                                to keep our perspective and to count our blessings.


Jodi said...

It's -- wow! Can I follow you around for a day or so? I want to absorb some of your creativity!

O'Quilts said...

You win the grand prize with this one! Meaning and art..cannot get much better.

Cate Rose said...

Wow...the project, the quilt, awesome!

dany said...

gorgeous piece!!!. This quilt is full of emotion and drama with these dark colors that burst on the bottom and break the serenity and calm of a quiet breakfast. Such is life!
Brava Nadia!

Sandy said...

A lovely tribute! Your quilt is exquisite!

It is so sad to see people do this to a loved one or a good friend. Life is too short. Learning to forgive is the first step. I hope people will think twice about their life after they see your quilted message.

Carole Reid said...

Hello Nadia, I seem to be falling behind in my blog reading. I was so pleased to see your post. You awe me with your quilting skills. Love you motto!

Carli The Quilter said...


I was wondering what you were working on! Now I know, lovely piece, I love your work!
All the best,

Norma Schlager said...

You put so much into one blog post that it's hard to know what to comment on. This is a beautiful piece with exquisite workmanship and such a lovely, but sad story.

ali said...

This is an amazing quilt, and I'm so glad to learn the context. I read the poem over morning tea--it made me cry. In a good way. This is a wonderful post, and your quilt tells an important and powerful story.

Unknown said...

Well. Wow.
I was talking to my dear brother this afternoon about his crumbling marriage - this work hits the center of those unspeakable feelings we would rather avoid at all costs. You put this post together with great finesse, my friend, leading me in with sweet domesticity and walloping me with truth. The quilt is amazing, especially how you have handled the lower edge. Just - wow. -sus

Béa said...

Somptueux ! Il semble fait pour moi...:(

Elaine/Muddling Through said...

It IS a very sad poem, but you have created something of beauty around it. Great work Nadia!

Rachaeldaisy said...

Your work is extraordinary! so so beautiful!

Orange Crumpled Napkin said...

Every word, every photo, you hit this one out of the ballpark. Thank you for making this quilt and then writing about it.

Sujata Shah said...

I need to read more blogs like yours.
Your work is amazing. Truly inspirational.

angela recada said...

This quilt is absolutely gorgeous! I especially like what you did with the bottom edge. There is so much to look at, that the colors don't look "blah" at all.

Your last sentence sums us life perfectly. Very wise.

libbyquilter said...

i'm so pleased that you came to visit my blog as it has prompted a visit to yours and i'm delighted to be here~!

i love it when i have to read a post twice and ponder what's been written.
your expression of 'the good, the bad and the ugly' within the simple prompt of a cup has made your needlework a beautiful act of art and has produced an interesting piece.
your sharing of the poem and your thoughts as well as the conclusion (". . . count your blessings.") have also elevated your post to art. well done~!

now, i must read and see a bit more . . .


Diane J. Evans said...

Nadia -- I see a book in your future, one in which you share your beautiful quilts and include the stories that inspired them. You are both a prolific artist AND writer, and I love the fact that you share both of those talents with all of us.


Jacky said...

Nadia....this is wonderful, amazing. Your cloth, the story and that sad, sad poem (thanks for the translation).

This piece is wonderful. It got me thinking about that empty cup...just waiting to be filled.

Jacky xox

Katie said...

Nadia, you always inspire me. i love this.

meta said...

Beautiful work!

BJ said...

Sometimes it's easy for us to hurry to get a quilt done --- to cut, to stitch, to quilt ---and then it's done...finished. But there is no story, no heart --- fabric stitched together.

With this quilt, you've experienced emotions that you have shared with everyone who views the quilt.

Thank you for taking the time to tell this quilt's story. It's simply beautiful.

Randa Jo said...

Nice response to the idea of the cheerful coffee pot.

Linda said...

Fascinating project, and beautiful. I love everything about it!

Unknown said...

Just beautiful, reminds us to take some time over our work, and not be afraid to put our heart and soul into it.

Sharon said...

So glad you visited my blog, because now I visit yours to find that yours is so beautiful! What an amazing piece of art, and your words just enhance my understanding of it. This is just stunning!

By the way, love your mosaic pieces too. You have such a good eye for design.

Bonnie Hull said...

Wow Nadia...gorgeous, sad, lively, organized random...really beautiful. Still thinking of your lively visit and LOVING my milliner's needles. Looks like you are on a roll!!! xo

Unknown said...

As a lacemaker and a quilter, I LOVE this ! Phenomenal !

Merilyn said...

You have created another exquisite piece of work!!!!!

JennyPennyPoppy said...

Hi Nadia, your Empty Cups quilt is certainly a fabulous work of art and so creative!!! Love how you brought it all together and did such a wonderful job of quilting :)

Anonymous said...

Comme toujours chez toi, je me régale du fond et de la forme... J'admire ta créativité qui est au service de l'expression de tes sentiments. Je partage l'émotion qui se dégage de ce merveilleux quilt... et j'admire certains profs de français assez futés pour profiter de ce sublime poème pour faire passer la leçon du passé composé :-)

objects of whimsy said...

that is one of the most beautiful quilts I have ever seen.
Such a fabulous technique and eye for detail.

Your work is amazing and Im enjoying your blog

Helen :)

Loryan said...

E' a dir poco meraviglioso quello che riesci a fare!
Questa è arte!
Scusami se non traduco il mio messaggio in inglese, ma dovrei affidarmi a Google, perchè non lo conosco.
Ciao e grazie per la tua visita.

blandina said...

I had forgotten about Jacques Prevert's poem that at one time I knew by heart because it reflected the sadness in my adolescent days...
Great post, great textiles, great quilts.

Poppyprint said...

This is a stunning piece. Thank you for sharing the inspiration and process - I thoroughly enjoyed all of the photos and looked closely at the many details of your work. It's just beautiful.

Gina said...

Beautiful! I have a soft spot for teapots and this one is really special.