Saturday, January 8, 2011

Titling your quilt

About a year ago I sent a message to the Quiltart mailing list asking for advice on how to decide on a title for a quilt. I received a bunch of replies and just now got around to organizing some of them to share here. I asked for permission from the people who shared the following insights, to post it on my blog.

From Toni Mitt,  Under the dining room table :

Giving your art a title is really personal, I think.
I used to do oil paintings, and rather than give them a title relating to the subject itself, I referred to the time when the painting occurred.  For example, I did a painting of my daughter leaning against a wall at Disney World.  I called it October 13th­the date of the picture I took.  I’m sure t confused viewers, but it was my own little inside joke.

That said, I also think a lot of art pieces kind of name themselves.  I often think of a title right along with creating the piece itself.

Here’s an essay about this subject by Robert Genn, who writes “The Painter’s Keys”, an artist’s newsletter.  I learn a lot from him.


 From Corky, Fiber Thoughts : 

As for names - usually one comes to me as I'm working on the quilt. Once I posted a photo of a quilt on my blog and asked for suggestions.  The name that quilt ended up with wasn't one of the suggested ones but it did evolve from one of the suggestions.

From Delores Hamilton
Rarely do I start with a title, although I have been tempted at times to create something based on something I've written or someone else has written.  For example, I recently wrote to another QuiltArt member about a quilt I made from remnants.  After telling her where the remnants came from (boxes of stuff leftover from a dry cleaner's that does alterations), I wrote, "After the remnant rampage...." and then thought, wouldn't "Remnant Rampage make a good title for a quilt"?  

If you ever read Dave Berry's columns when he was still writing them, he'd frequently come up with names for Rock bands.  I would read them and think, "What a great title for a quilt."

Sometimes when I'm making a quilt, I come up with a title before I finish it.  For example, I made a king-sized quilt to replace the slowly disintegrating one on my bed, and when I had about half of it constructed, I pinned it to my design wall and then sat on the floor looking at it.  It was filled with wild colors and I kept thinking about how it made my heart sing.  Bingo!  "Wild Thing; You Make My Heart Sing," by the Troggs.  In fact, I've used song titles for several of my quilts.

But look back at the paragraph above.  Do you agree that "Slowly Disintegrating" could be a title, assuming the content of the quilt in some way exemplified it? 

Typically, there is some part of a piece I've made that calls to me: a certain color, a fabric that elicits an image or emotion, the main idea behind the quilt, and so on--"Magenta Magic," "Illumination," "From Joy to Sorrow and Back," "A Square in a Square Squared."

However, most often I don't think of a title until I finish a quilt.  I pin it to my design wall or across from my sewing table (a different room), and at some point, something comes to me that triggers a title.  For example, I made two narrow pieces independently, but when I put them next to each other on the design wall, I realized that they flowed together.  "Flow" is the title for the resulting diptych. 

If you're muttering to yourself at this point about how easy it seems it is for me to come up with a title, my friend Floris could empathize with you.  She usually can't think of a thing to title her quilts.  So, she sends me photos, either when the top is done or the quilt completed, and I send her back a list of words that the quilt makes me think of.  She's fond of one- or two-word titles, so I try to keep my suggestions short.  Occasionally, though, my weird sense of humor gets triggered and I send her off-the-wall ones, too.  Sometimes she uses just part of one of my suggestions, or my suggestions make her think of something else.

I offer this service to a number of quilters.  You are welcome to join that group.  It's free, but if, at any time, you find my suggestions unhelpful, then you can choose not to send me photos.  A variation to this is to post your piece on your blog and ask the entire list to offer suggestions.

In the meantime, your idea to add "#5" to your "Miniature" title is fine.  In fact, one QA member suggested that if you work in a series that you should begin the numbers around 4 or 5 so that if you enter the quilts into a juried exhibit, the jurors will think you're heavily into make a series.  

A guy in my critique group facetiously suggested "Untitled, I," "Untitled, II," "Untitled, XVII," etc.  

As a final suggestion, look for words as you read or watch TV.  Search through your music and DVD collections for titles (titles are not copyrightable, so you're safe in conscripting any song or movie title).  For me, I'd need to write them down, knowing I'd never remember them.  Or, if there are certain words that you love (I'm a writer; I fall in love with words), write those down, too.

From Jamie Fingal, Twisted Sister: Artwork by Jaime Fingal:

This is what I do to find a title for my abstract quilts.  Most of my titles are a play on words, since I do enjoy having fun in my work.  I pin my art quilt on the design wall and start writing on post-it-notes and pinning them next to my piece - sort of a brainstorm session with myself -
1) what is the main focus of the piece?
2) what shapes?
3) colors?
4) what does it say to me?
5) what was I thinking about when I made it?
6) is there movement?
7) does it remind me of a song?

Then I go an do something else, and usually I can come up with a name while I am doing another project.  I walk by the board, sit down and see all of the notes that I have written.  And all of a sudden it comes to me.  My latest piece on my blog  when I first posted this, I had no idea what the title would be.  But since the main focus is a square and the piece had alot of movement - it is "Square Dance."
Anonymous (this writer didn't reply to my request for permission, but I thought it was interesting):

I used to rely on a poet/friend to help with this, but she has moved and no longer available.  One technique she suggested is to make LOTS of little slips of paper with words on them.  Put them into a container and pull out two or three.  Keep doing this until something hits you as "right" for the piece.

I have also resorted to using Bablefish (internet site) where you can put the word in as English and ask for it to translate it into another language.  This could be problematic as we all have read pretty silly translations of directions, etc. which only vaguely tell you what to do in English.

Alyson B. Stanfeld sends out a weekly newsletter which includes things she writes about on her blog. In June she wrote a piece on 5 Reasons to Title Your Art.

I also did a simple google search for how to title artwork. I'm sure that with different keyword searches I would find more. Here are some of the interesting links that came up:

How to Title Your Work of Art  
This one will choose a title for you! The Abstract Art Title Generator




  1. All great ideas. I find that the quilt usually tells me it's name while I working on it.

  2. Wow - I had no idea titling could be such a problem, lol! I usually title my pieces, but it's mostly something obvious. Well, I don't work in abstract much. I'm not clever, so the obvious works for me, lol.


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