I am still working on my sulfur quilt and as I have been working in creating the fabrics I have been thinking about the life the carusi must have endured. Sold to the mine owners or workers for an agreed number of years, what must they have thought of their lives as they hauled heavy loads of sulfurous rock from deep underground up to the surface? They often lived, ate and slept somewhere in the mine, having no proper home to return to. For many boys their only escape from this dreadful life was to be rescued by being called up for military service.
The artist Onofrio Tomaselli created this painting in 1905 after staying for some time with Baron La Lumia, a wealthy sulfur mine owner, and witnessing at first hand the fate of the carusi. The painting was exhibited in 1906 in Milan at the World's Fair and was a tribute to 19 carusi who lost their lives in one of many terrible accidents at La Lumia's sulfur mine in Gessolungo, which occurred in 1881. I guess it shows that there were, at least, some people with a conscience at the time.
(Source: Davide Mauro (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)
For the fabrics, I dyed lots of yellows as you would probably expect. Starting with lemon and golden yellow fiber reactive dye I added very small amounts of orange, rust, bronze and chartreuse to create interesting mottled backgrounds. Onto that I monoprinted shapes, words and other marks that help tell the story of the carusi.
The fabrics have turned out to be very interesting - I added very dense print marks, which may mean the quilt will end up with very 'busy' look, so I will have to be very careful when positioning the different pieces.
Planning ahead, I decided to check out how the straight quilting lines would look over the young boy's face, so I made a small trial piece. Although it may seem like an extra step, I prefer to try out important design features to ensure I am happy with the effect before moving on with a design. I have used this simple but effective straight line quilting pattern on the other quilts in this series, so I was keen to continue using it, but not if it comporomised the overall look of the quilt. Happily, I think it works well.
As I have no plan for this small sample I have entered it into that SAQA 2017 trunk show. I hope it arrives in time!
I am now in the process of positioning the fabrics on the design wall to create the quilt top. I usually take a quick photo of several different variations and then look at them to see what works and what needs to be changed. Somtimes a layout just falls into place, but when it doesn't I find this really helpful.
I'll let you know how it develops in my next post. Until then, thanks for reading.
Something I did not realise is that sulfur is essential for all life, being one of the core chemical elements needed for biochemical functioning and is an elemental macronutrient for all organisms. Not only that, sulfur is virtually indespensible in most indutrial process known to man.
In short, we just can't do without it.
Now, before you think - 'she can't spell!' I did think about how I was going to spell the word sulfur. My first reaction was to go with the 'ph' version - sulphur. I incorrectly thought that was the British way to spell it, but just to be on the safe side, I checked. It turns out that although in the past it was the British way, now it isn't. If you are interested in such things, you can find out more about the whole sulfur v sulphur thing here.
But why sulfur? The reason for my current interest is that I wanted to continue developing the ideas I began with the gold and mercury quilts, 'Chrysopoeia' and 'Dragon's Blood'. This series is beginning to take shape and is growing in an interesting and slightly different direction than I had first anticipated.
These are the first few pages from my sketchbook, focussing on the ancient alchemists view of sulfur. Known since ancient times, sulfur is the 7th most common element on Earth and is often found in its natural elemental form (native sulfur) rather than combined in other compounds. As most of the Earth's sulfur is located deep withing the Earth's core, it is usually found on the surface at volcanic and geothermal sites.
As you probably know, pure elemental sulfur is a solid yellow substance with some interesting physical properties. When heated it melts to a dark red molten mass but when ignited it burns with a bright blue flame, giving rise to it's ancient name, Brimstone - a stone that burns.
So this quilt will be mostly yellow, with a few splashes of dark red and blue - time to dye some fabric!!
To the alchemists, sulfur was amongst one of the most important substances on earth. After gold, (their ultimate favourite), three further elements were held in high esteem; namely Mercury, Sulfur and Salt. All three together were known as the 'Tria Prima' (Three Primes) and were thought to be the foundation of all matter, and depending on the proportion of each, different materials were formed, with gold being the perfect balance of each.
As you can see, the alchemists have provided plenty of inspiring material to work on.
Moving on from the alchemists view I also looked into the modern social history how sulfur has been extracted from the Earth and once again I discovered a dark story. This time it came from the use of children as young as 5 or 6 years old, who worked in effective slavery on the island of Sicily.
Sulfur was being extracted in Sicily as early as 900 BC but it was the Industrial Revolution which marked a huge rise in the requirement for sulfur. Used for the production of things such as sulfuric acid and gunpowder, the large deposits in Sicily were the dominant global source and by 1800 Britain had a virtual monopoly on the western world's sulfur supply, mostly through the exclusive contracts set up with the Sicilian mines.
Sadly, the failure of Sicily's governors to capitilize on their mineral wealth, along with their highly impoverished economy meant people, as well as the minerals themselves, were exploited for the gain of a few. Orphans and children from desperately poor families were effectively sold to mine workers to carry sulfur ore from deep underground up to the surface. They were treated dreadfully and known as 'Carusi', the Sicilian word for 'boys'.
Along with the symbols used by the alchemists it is the story of the Carusi I have chosen to tell with this quilt.
Next I'm off to dye the fabric.
Thanks for reading.
2016 Challenge: Magic, Myth and Mystery
The Midsomer Quilting annual challenge and exhibition of 12 x 12 quilts has begun! As you probably know, this has become a regular part of the calendar at MQ. Most of the 170 quilts on display have been donated by their makers and are available for purchase by secret auction. Unfortunately I can't visit this year, but thanks to the wonders of the internet I have been sent a few photos, so I don't feel like I am completely missing out.
The exhibition runs everyday until 19th December, 10.30am until 4.00pm.
This is the sixth consecutive year that Chris, Birgitta and De have run the event and in that time over £10,000 has been raised for charity; last year over £3,000 was raised for Dorothy House, a local hospice charity.
This year's theme has clearly provided lots of inspiration. Entries have been sent from all over the world - the only stipulation is that to enter a quilt you must have some connection with the shop. This year there is also an extra treat as there are two pieces made by husbands of MQ quilters quilts from metal and wood. I have seen both of these pieces in a sneaky peek before the event, and I can honestly say they are both incredible.
Work from the Man Sheds
I know I haven't seen all the quilts in the exhibition, but of those I have seen, here are a few more that I really like. Unfortunately I don't have details of the titles or many of the maker's names, so I have left them all unlabeled.
Local places and magical hares
A selection of mythical creatures
and a sprinkle of magic
I hope you have enjoyed seeing just a few of the quilts from the exhibition - I'm sure you'll agree that it will be worth the trip to Midsomer Quilting, and you take some photos i'd love to see them!! If, like me, you can't make it though - Chris from MQ tells me that he will be putting a gallery of pictures onto their website in the next few weeks.
Thanks for looking!