Tarot Quilts

Two of Swords

In 2000, I joined a group of quilt artists online in a major undertaking called the Tarot Art Quilt Project. Our goal was to complete an entire deck of Tarot Quilts with the hope of exhibiting them together as well as publishing a deck of Quilter's Tarot cards. The quilts were to be the individual artist's interpretation of their card and were expected to contain some visual reference to quilting.

24" x 36"
Copyright 2000 by Susan Brittingham

My card, the Two in the suit of Swords, is very like the popular Rider-Waite cards, not a particularly original interpretation, however I liked the symbolism of the traditional card.

The card represents a stalemate, inaction or indecision. The woman sits frozen in the center of a path, with swords crossed in front of her in a protective gesture. The water behind her represents the rocky Sea of Emotion in which she finds herself lost. She is blindfolded, afraid to look around her for a solution to her problems.


Tarot History

The exact origin of Tarot Cards is not known. But the tarot deck as we know it today seems to have originated in 14th century Italy as a card game played the nobility. Playing cards came to Europe from the Middle East during the time of the Crusades. At a time when very few people knew how to read and write, symbolism could be found in images seen everywhere, whether paintings for churches, secular art, tavern signs or even playing cards. Tarot cards had no occult associations until at least the 18th century when the French nobility seemed to have developed a fascination with all things occult and appropriated Tarot cards as part of that trend. Because of the archetypal images contained in the Tarot deck, they were easily assimilated into use for divination.

At right, see a closer view of the figure.

The sewing reference in this quilt is lying on the bench beside her, a piece of cloth, scissors, a needle and spool of thread.

The figure was stitched using upside down appliqué by machine. This was my first attempt to include a figure in a quilt, in the past my landscapes have always been unpopulated.

Below, see a detail of the shading in the skirt. The shading was accomplished by using a combination of fabric and machine embroidery. 

You can also see a face detail. Both of these photos were taken before the figure was applied to the quilt and quilted. She doesn't look quite as crabby now that the quilt is finished and quilted. Continue scrolling for more detailed photos.

Detail of figure

The Tarot deck contains archetypal images which represent both virtues to which one might aspire and pitfalls in life to be avoided. As one examines the Major Arcana, it can be interpreted to symbolize a journey of growth and understanding, from The Fool, representing innocence and naiveté, to the final Major Arcana Card, the World, which can be seen to exemplify wisdom and knowledge. 

Modern day use of the Tarot sometimes involves attempts at divination, but many use the Tarot as a tool for self examination and understanding. The metaphors represented in the cards can be applied to one's own life and circumstances to gain a fresh view and deeper understanding, a way to focus one's thoughts.

Personally, I am no expert on the Tarot, I simply find the images on the cards both beautiful and intriguing.


Indecision --- Artist Statement

Searching the deck for a card that would speak to me, I struggled with indecision.   Finally, I selected the perfect card for me to make from those that were left.  When I went to register my choice, the card was gone; someone else had claimed it.  I looked again at the cards I might chose from, and saw the Two of Swords. It seemed the perfect choice.

Indecisiveness has always been a problem. Somehow I must have developed the notion that there was one right decision to every problem. To make the right decision would lead to all good things. To choose the wrong path meant disaster. I felt a kinship with the woman so often depicted on the Two of Swords. She protects herself by holding her swords crossed before her chest, planted firmly in her surroundings, unmoving, but blind to the possibilities all around her.

In trying to depict the card, I was caught up again in a world of possibilities. Images swirled through my head. Ultimately, I decided to use traditional imagery and symbolism in my card without making major changes other than deciding on an outfit for the figure. 

Major design decisions made, the construction of the card progressed quickly.  I constructed the background in a spontaneous way, not in keeping with my usual painstaking methods. I made decisions without agonizing, picking out fabrics and sewing them down.

Thinking about the card made me examine some things I question about myself.  Working on its construction, I began to make changes.

My second Tarot quilt is Abundance

After making "Indecision", I made a similar quilt without the figure, Winnipesaukee.

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This page was designed by Susan Brittingham
All photos and images are copyrighted 2000 by Susan Brittingham
and may not be reproduced without her written permission
Created on : 12/23/00
Last Updated : 08/20/11