Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Witches' Brew

I have been working with cauldrons and skillets as sources of designs for some quilts which I am making for an exhibition in Autumn 2015 in the UK. The letter Tet has a clear cauldron shape, so I decided to investigate some further connotations.

A cauldron is a large metal cooking pot, also used for boiling, often made of cast iron or copper. They often have three legs, which allows good air flow; sometimes they have a hanger. They are not used now in modern society, but it was a main cooking tool for many centuries, and in a variety of societies.  The association with cooking means that the produce of the cauldron gives sustenance to people.  We couldn’t live without food.  Eating allows us to live, and therefore to achieve our potential.

There are ancient stories that talk about cauldrons of great abundance, bottomless, capable of feeding an army.

Cauldrons, as a cliché, are also associated with witches.  Witches have a bad press, but I believe they were women trying to develop medicines and healing potions; as they were different from the common and accepted folk, they were feared and persecuted.

In Neo-Paganism, cauldrons, with their three legs, are sometimes meant to represent the Goddess in her three states: Maiden, Mother and Crone. They are also meant to represent the three main stages of life:  birth, life and death. The shape of the cauldron represents the womb of Mother Nature.

Skillets have long handles.  Some of the ones I studied have relief inscriptions on the handles. The text can be simply the name of the maker, but other times they are moral sayings, such as “Love thy Neighbour”.

My piece shows a large Tet-shaped cauldron, on a fire, cooking mankind’s potential, and the ‘steam’ coming from it writes positive statements. They are, from left to right:  YOU ARE ALIVE; THINK BIG; A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES;  REACH FULL POTENTIAL; DREAM THE DREAM.  A few other cauldrons and skillets, each with three legs, and one with a hanger, complete the picture.

18” by 18”; hand-dyed cotton, fused appliqué, machine quilting.


  1. Alicia, happy New Year! I love the story of your work, it’s so beautiful. Here in Taiwan, when parents want their children to eat more vegetables, they will tell them the story of witches - if they don’t eat vegetables, witches will come and make them drink witches' brew!

  2. That's a new kind of 'incentive' for children to eat vegetables! We don't have that here! But there is the same pressure to eat vegs - I wonder why children everywhere don't like them? Happy New Year!

  3. This is great, Alicia! I love the study you've done of the cauldrons and the analogies to potential as well as the symbolic aspects of the construction. Fascinating!