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Calligraphy Pillow

Olivia DiPerna

pillow 1.JPG



Growing up, my grandmother was an amazing seamstress and I remember watching her sew quilts and show me her spreads of hand-dyed fabrics. With both of my parents being professional artists, I had access to many wonderful opportunities to explore and create freely when I was a kid.


Sewing was always a hobby, whether it was sewing my ballet pointe shoes, sewing pillow cases, or sewing duffel bag gifts. Looking at the practice papers that I had been doing calligraphy on, they reminded me of a quit pattern. So initially, this piece was meant to be a quilt, as an homage to my calligraphy and to my grandmother.

I chose the poem 《送友⼈》by 李⽩ as a reflection of college and meeting friends and then parting ways and also as a reflection of many things in life.

The quilt consists off three layers of fabric, muslin, quilt batting, and then a black cotton. I started by measuring how many squares I would need for the poem, keeping in account space needed for signing. I then measured out the grid pattern and marked it lightly in pencil on the muslin.

Initially I had planned on using the sewing machine to stitch together the quilt, but I wasn't getting the negative and positive gaps in the running stitch that I wanted to replicate, so I ended up hand sewing everything. I sewed the cross-bars and the inner markings of the grids with standard red thread using a standard running stitch.

This process itself took about 3 days for me to complete and each line took about 30-40 minutes to sew. 

Next I stitched the bold, thick red lines of the main grid frame. I used a thicker embroidery thread for these lines and a modified running stitch. Instead of stitching in a continuous line, I would go one stitch and double back on it so that there was no negative space in between each stitch. This process went much quicker than the previous lines, because I was able to make my stitches a lot bigger, covering more surface area with each stitch.

Before I started painting on the quilt, I made a mock up of what the poem would look like on the quilt. This practice is done on the normal practice paper, for which this project is modeled from. I took inspiration from 智永's Regular Script, because of its bold lines that I thought would show up really nicely on fabric. (I messed up the order of the characters at the very end, it should read “班⻢” not “⻢班”).

I then did test strips of fabric to see how the muslin would respond to the calligraphy ink. Calligraphy ink alone was too watery and actually resisted by the muslin fabric, but I liked the texture and the color of the muslin, so I didn't want to change the fabric. I ended up with a 1:1 ratio of calligraphy ink to matte black fabric paint. This gave the ink enough structure to be applied to the fabric, but with still enough fluidity to be applied smoothly.

Then I just went for it and started painting on the quilt. I didn't premark the characters, that way I could still preserve the principle of calligraphy in which each character has its own life once put down. Given the materials I was using, I wasn't able to do each stroke in one go and had to build upon it bit, so by not pre- planning the characters was my way to stay traditional to calligraphy practices.

I used two brushes, a cheap calligraphy brush and a typical painting brush that I cut to shape the way I needed. Since the ink mixture was no longer super watery, the calligraphy brush couldn't absorb the ink and instead the ink would sit on the surface like typical paint. The calligraphy brush was used to get the initial stroke, then I would use the detailed brush to darken the stroke and fill it in.


I made my seal out of linoleum, which is used by print makers for linocut prints, and stamped it onto the fabric. I used traditional Chinese calligraphy stamp ink, which doesn't dry down like normal ink and stayed a bit waxy in a way, so I went over the seal on the quilt with some red fabric paint and a fine brush to prevent smudging.


I then realized that this "quilt" wan't very large and couldn't ever be practically used - and I still had the raw edges of the fabric sticking out - so I decided to turn it into a pillow. This would conceal the raw edges really nicely and potentially give the piece a practical use. (Lower image is the backside with all of the back-side stitching still exposed).


I also sewed in a zipper so that the calligraphy could be removed and hung if I ever wanted to. The inside is stuffed with poly-fill and an actual filler pillow.

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