Experimenting and Learning Through Projects And Collaborations

December 6th, 2014

On the Quiltart list this morning a member described a group project which in truth is better termed a collaboration. ¬†Whatever you call it though – this project required identification of common goals and comittment to achieving them through a group-made art quilt. ¬†What was missing from the post is any analysis of ¬†how the idea came up, how the group came to decide to carry it out, and why – what the expectations of the group were to start with. ¬†Clearly some dropped out because of technical challenges faced, and others didn’t drop out because of ¬†loyalties they felt to the group. ¬†Deeper examination before hand, though, might have meant the project didn’t happen at all and at least some of the group may not have learned what they did in the process.

Some of the real problems such projects can present are described in April’s words: ¬†“We all learned quite a bit along the way as this piece was way outside the comfort zone of all of us. I think that the piece will be quite amazing when it is completed, but it has been quite a struggle seeing it to fruition. Some people dropped out as soon as things became difficult and challenging; and others stuck with it even though they had no real interest in the project, but they were reluctant to abandon the group. It has been an interesting example of group dynamics to say the least. But it doesn‚Äôt really matter, as we are all still close friends.” ¬† You can visit the ¬† April Sproule¬† post ¬†to find out more about their project, and see pics of how it developed technically. ¬†¬†

In my early art quilt making days I belonged to a small SE Denver group we called “Quilt Explorations”, which we formed to explore non-traditional quiltmaking, and we focused on design in particular. ¬†We often set ‘themes’ for monthly individual exploration, and participation was optional, so the results were truly individual, and varied depending on each person’s interest and drive, time available, etc. The most successful theme, where everyone was enthused to produce something, was based on the b/w picture of the front end of a gorgeous vintage car given to each of us by the member who suggested the exercise.. ¬†We each took some element from that photo on which to at least design a small quilt, even if ¬†time was too short ¬†to actually make it. ¬†Everyone came back a month later with at least the design, most had started and some had completed a small quilt. ¬†After 2 months we had a collection of ¬†about 10 finished quilts. ¬†At the next group exhibition these were all hung together to show the diversity of results ¬†when people work from exactly the same initial image. ¬†I don’t still have that photo, but found this image of the kind of pic we all received:vintage car - strip lighting 2 blog


In about 1991-2 I was in love with inserted straight strips, having not yet heard of life-transforming freehand or improvisational piecing which prompted the technical experiments to achieve the curvy inset strips characteristic of my 1992+¬†Colour Memories¬†quilts. ¬†With¬†strips on my mind ,the headlights of the car caught my attention. ¬†I produced this small wall quilt about ¬†50cm sq. ¬†I called ‘Strip Lighting’


Strip Lighting


We never did a group collaboration – I doubt anyone would have suggested it as were were all clearly set along our own paths when the group came together, ¬†and such a project would have felt a diversion of dubious value from our individual goals. I have never been drawn to a collaborative project to produce a work / works of art, and maybe will explore this in a later post…. and perhaps I need to do some self examination on the matter first!


Adding Found Objects

November 25th, 2014

Sunburnt textures whole cloth blog

As per my previous post, the upper image is a detail of the quilt I’m currently working on, and more information about its origins are there – November 17th.



Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

In the first ‘Sunburnt Textures’ I added pieces of twigs and some wonderful little round pebbles with holes already in the middle, found in laterite gravel on our driveway. ¬†I won’t go into how they were formed, but they occurred naturally, and were all sized around 1/2 cm diameter, amazingly enough. ¬†The finished work was only about 25cm x 40cm.


I wanted this new work to have something of these elements.  There are no such pebbles lying around anywhere here;  but as the whole work is larger (1m w  x 1.25m h)  the 3D elements themselves need to be larger to look right.   So, I have made some elements in black to conform with the other stitch markings on the quilt.

Sunburnt Textures 5  3d elelments

Instead of wooden twigs, I ¬†have already done some button hole bars in some places, but they’re hard work with my sewing fingers still annoyingly tingly, and have blah impact, ¬†so although I’m not taking them out (Constance Howard) – I am adding to them. ¬† I’ve constructed some bias tubing with black cord inside, and will attach segments of this to the quilt to give an impression of twiggy debris lying around in the foreground. ¬†The larger black things in this picture ( 2 – 3 cm range) are little stuffed pillow forms embellished with black running stitch and stemmed french knots. ¬†I realise now they are very like tektites ¬†and if you google tektite images you’ll see they come in many small shapes and sizes. In effect they are tiny meteorites, the only objects known to have survived entry into the Earth’s atmosphere from outer space. ¬†They tend to land in several particular regions of the Earth’s surface, including Western Australia’s Eastern Goldfields region around the mining centre of Kalgoorlie. ¬†While living there we found quite a few out in the bush on salt pans and lake margins, and they’re ¬†often and easily confused with sheep droppings.¬† When NASA was designing the re-entry landing capsule for the first manned space flights, they measured the surface angles of thousands of these objects to arrive at that conical shape we remember of that craft. ¬†This I know because one of our ¬†Kalgoorlie friends had one of the largest known collections in the world, and the NASA people came and measured many of his. ¬†Unlike real tektites, these soft sculptures will be easy to attach with a few stitches. ¬† And finally the little 1/2 cm round thingies I cannot claim to have made. ¬†They are wonderful little silk thread covered buttons I bought in Cairo years ago, and they’re used in much Egyptian clothing.

silk buttons Egypt 2007

Lustrous, fascinating, light-as-a-feather and priced so reasonably that I couldn’t resist buying several whole loops of single colours. ¬†I’ve worn some of them as textile ‘necklaces’ occasionally. ¬†Of course I didn’t buy any black … that would have been just too easy, wouldn’t it ? ¬† ¬†But when a brainwave hit, I rubbed some of them over with thick tipped ¬†permanent black marker pen which worked just fine, so I have as many of those to add as I need – perfect.



Bloghopping Around The World

November 17th, 2014

Alison blog

Welcome to my blog. ¬†I was invited to contribute by Alicia Merrett UK, http://aliciamerrett-colourandlight.blogspot.com/¬†¬†Follow the link to read her fascinating post for Monday 10th November. ¬†She and I have known each other for years, and when looking at her work I have always felt Alicia’s passion for everything she does is reflected in her confident use of strong, vibrant colour.

Bloggers on this Hop are asked to consider 4 questions, which I’ve kept as headings in my post. ¬†At the end of this article I will introduce the two bloggers who I have invited to write for us next Monday November 24th. ¬†Follow their links to discover more interesting textile and fibre artists who blog.

What am I working on?

I’m hand stitiching in black a whole-cloth quilt of burnt orange silk. ¬†If you know my recent work, this might not sound like Alison Schwabe at all! ¬†But, in fact it is an older theme revisited. ¬†Looking back over earlier work occasionally sometimes sparks a new approach. ¬†It is where I found inspiration while considering a submission proposal for the 2015 “Golden Textures” exhibition in Maryborough, Victoria, ¬†Australia. ¬†Of course, the title provided an irresistible link to ¬†my original 1987 mixed media piece, ‘Sunburnt Textures’, title piece from my first solo exhibition ¬†that year.¬†¬†As part of the proposal I submitted a line sketch based on it, and ¬†here I’ve collaged the images to show the connection between old and new:

sunburnt textures  87 and sketch colleage blog

I’m coming to the end of the extensive hand quilting and surface stitch, as when completed¬†“Sunburnt Textures 4″ ¬†will measure 1.25m x 90cm.

Sunburnt textures whole cloth blog

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’m not sure that it does differ greatly. ¬†It often includes the ubiquitous modern techniques of freeform machine piecing with hand and machine quilting. ¬†I glue and fuse materials sometimes, and the Tracks works involve burning and melting for texture. ¬†My sense of colour, though, is said to be strongly individual and very Australian.

Overall it’s pretty low-tech compared with much being done in the art quilt world today. ¬†It’s located somewhere between the traditional and the more technologically dazzling innovative styles that spring from new computer equipped sewing and printing machines, new materials, chemicals and processes. ¬†This is partly due to being geographically isolated from easy access to such things, but these days you can obtain and lug around pretty well most materials and equipment if you have a mind to, so there is an element of choice, too.¬† I’m no technophobe, but have found as a result of avoiding a lot of the must-have dazzling new I have found it easier to experiment with and develop ways of working with materials and tools I do have around me. ¬†And I’ve had time to think about why am doing what I do.

Why do I write/create what I do?

Fabric and thread populate many of my earliest memories. ¬†My creativity was always encouraged as a child, so considering the ’50’s in which I grew up, it was inevitable that early in life I found the creative potential of textiles ¬†to which I have always turned and returned. ¬† Additionally, I studied geomorphology and married an exploration geologist whose work has taken us to live in many hugely different landscape environments; so its hardly surprising that my art is landscape inspired. ¬† ¬†All landscapes change over time, but Landscape has come to represent change within my life, too. ¬†At the time of making the first “Sunburnt Textures”, 1987,¬† I was a self-designated ‘creative embroiderer’ working in paint+stitch+found objects. ¬† For nearly 20 years I had been living in remote mining towns in the arid, harsh Australian Outback. ¬†However by 1988 I was living in Denver USA, and was drawn to the world of traditional American geometric patchwork. It was a wonderful cultural experience to become involved in a guild and a bee, but right from the start although it took me a while to see this, I approached quiltmaking from the point of being ‘an embroiderer’ – check out Ancient Expressions 1, for example, and the following quilts in that series. ¬†I learned to draft patterns and produce accurate piecing, but almost immediately became exposed to ‘improvisational piecing’ that contemporary piecing which after 25 years has become a contemporary tradition, ¬†I had found a very exciting way to work, and piecing fabric as surface design is still my very favourite way of making textile art. ¬†The skills I developed for curviness of line and shape were developing during the time I made ¬†the next series Colour Memories¬†quilts linking place with memory of particular colours I found I had for places/landscapes. ¬† More recent works focus on change in life¬†Ebb&Flow¬† In physical terms change leads to eventual decay of any surface of landscape and of every living thing. ¬†As I began considering the effects of change in Life, the ¬†Tracks¬†have evolved. ¬†

I believe all artists’ work reflects accumulated influences from every aspect of their lives. ¬†As our lives lengthen those influences become more complex and more deeply embedded in our artistic vision.

How does my writing/creative process work?

Writing about my ideas helps clarify my mind or consider a question. ¬† Writing is at the heart of one of the tasks so many artists say they dread – ¬†producing an artist statement. ¬† Though I think the very best statement of all is a brief, carefully chosen title, I don’t mind putting together a long and short version of a written statement for each work. ¬†To me it is no chore, probably because of the way I start and carry through on an idea.

I doodle a small pencil sketch of what I have in mind onto a blank page of a book given me a long time ago by my artistic son. ¬†I think about how I could make it, and gradually form a plan of action. ¬†I add to and subtract from these brief pencil jottings until I feel I’m ready to start by fusing, piecing or whatever other technique I’ll be using. ¬†I audition fabrics and revise them as I work. ¬†I’m prone to making lists of words to capture essences of ideas, and sometimes jot down a quotation that seems important. ¬†When it comes to writing a statement on the finished work then, the bare bones of my ideas and revisions are on that page, and its easy to assemble them into a statement. ¬†It really is the nearest I ever come to the popular notion of ‘journalling’ in a book. ¬†These notes are always in pencil so I feel free to use the eraser when revising them. ¬†In that book there are threads of many ideas, and some develop, but there are plenty are dead ends, too! ¬†Here is a collage of snippets from several pages:

Collaged sketch book pages

My other main way of writing is on this blog. ¬†It’s been running a long time now, and I think of it as my journal in digital format. ¬†I often take photos ¬†while going about my daily life, and share them as starting points for posts. ¬†Though I sometimes use my blog to inform and educate readers, more often it’s a record of things that interest me. ¬†My life has lengthened, and the influences around me have become more complex and deeply embedded in my artistic vision. ¬†Books I’m reading, observations about people, exhibition reviews, ¬†records of travels, inspirational images, sample making and experiments with analysis of their future in my work, pet peeves, issues in the textile arts – all these things and more go into the melting pot of my blog. ¬† If you and I are meeting here for the first time, I invite you to scroll through some recent posts, or wander in the archives. ¬† ¬†Feel free to contact me if you’re wondering why I have or haven’t blogged about something – but let me warn you, I don’t include my wonderful children, grandkids, cute pets or recipes here. ¬† ¬†You can find me on Facebook, too.

So, where to next week?

Clare Smith glog

Clare Smith of New Zealand ¬†is a textile and fibre artist who brings to her thoughtful work perspectives from a scientific background, adding them to a wide array of technical and design skills. Clare’s art employs techniques of ¬†textile dyeing, surface design and printing and machine quilting. In addition she teaches, writes and exhibits regularly. In 2012 she completed a¬†Graduate Diploma in Applied Art which focused theatrical costume design and production. Follow this link to her blog http://claresmith.blogspot.com/¬†to learn more about her art.

Del Thomas blog

Del Thomas of  USA  For more than 7 years Del has been making, writing about, speaking about and actively collecting contemporary quilts.  Her regularly maintained blog often reads like an action packed travelogue of places visited and exhibitions attended along trail of the art quilts she regularly acquires. Besides documenting additions to her Thomas Contemporary Quilt Collection, this blog http://www.delquilts.blogspot.com/ gives enjoyable insights into the rich and colourful life of a well known collector.

See you around – cheers!

Backs Do Matter

November 12th, 2014

A ¬†recent discussion on SAQA grew out of a member posting for advice on whether to use knots and how to hide them so they aren’t visible on the back. ¬†There were lots of good replies.

But then came the broader question of ¬†whether to even bother about neatening backs at all, since people don’t see the back of a wall or framed work, do they?¬† Some art quilt exhibitions do hang some of their works in such a way that people can walk around them, as much for maximizing available space as anything else, but the feeling is that messy backs determine that some quilts will always be hung against a wall. Period. Unsurprising, because in my possibly old fashioned view, although you can’t see it, the quality of craftmanship applies to the whole object, not just what is visible, and to this I would add that the craftsmanship should be appropriate for the overall integrity of the work.

I got it that backs do matter ever since polishing the backs of my brass Brownie and Girl Guide badges from around 8 years of age.   In 1957 hand embroidered doilies, table mats and similar items were a popular craft for girls Рmy grandmothers both embroidered so it was inevitable zs I learned from them and Mum that I became caught up this craze.

I am very proud of this first pic, showing LH the back, and RH  the front, of a doiley  I embroidered in 1957, aged 10-11. I remember loving this project, for which I chose the pre-stamped design, carefully stitched, and then crocheted the edge.

doily back and front grade 5

It miraculously survived years of my indifference to it in Mum’s linen collection where I found it and seized it up during the process of closing down her house and contents after her death, many years ago. Try to ignore the stain which I don’t plan to try to remove – washing hasn’t shifted it down the years. ¬†However the stain is a marker that proves the authenticity of my claim that the left side of this pic is the back and the exact reverse¬†of the front side on the right. The workmanship has withstood the ¬†test of time and use. ¬†I’m quietly amazed when I think of the age, 10-11, at which I produced this impeccably finished embroidery – definitely a child of a long gone era. ¬† ¬†I clearly bought the ‘backs matter’ concept ¬†very young, and they’ve continued to matter for everything I have ever produced, practical or ornamental there’s no difference to me.

Timetracks 7 copy blog

This theory on craftsmanship might seem to have gone out the window when I made this work, “Timetracks 7″, above, which made it into Quilt National 2009. ¬†But it’s consistent with other works in my “Tracks” series, which has to do with decay on every surface and is metaphorical for Life, in effect. ¬† The techniques I use there include leaving threads hanging, ripping, burning, melting, gathering, folding and more. ¬†So, neatness has no place here – as Life and decay are not tidy processes, either.

Timetracks 7 edge close up blog

The next pic is the overall back view, and the one criticism I have on this work ¬†is that the craftsmanship on the back is inconsistent with that of the object overall. ¬† For the sake of sending it off to Quilt National when it was accepted, I removed the ripped piece of fabric I’d basted on roughly and quickly on for the photography to go with my entry, and added a ‘normal’ sleeve, carefully sewn on to my usual standard. My rationale was it needed to stand up to the rigors of touring, but, really, I could have done ‘better’ -I could ¬†have made and attached a really rough-looking torn sleeve that was actually carefully attached ¬†and at the same time one not likely to give way ever¬† … and come to think of it, I might do that next time I take it down.

Timetracs 7 back features

When you look at the two detail shots below you’ll see what I mean – there are wonky lines, little pleats caught up in the machining, and, OMG – what are those swirly marks on the back in only some parts of the grid? ¬† ¬† ¬† It’s glue – I glued patches of leather onto the base fabric before covering all that with layers of ruched nylon organza and then burning through all the layers. ¬† I did agonise over applying a false back – but decided that would be inconsistent and a total pain anyway. ¬†So why did I focus on the hanging sleeve? ¬†Maybe I thought of it being for ‘hanging’ and therefore not as a part of the actual art work. ¬†Perhaps that is so, but under the heading of ‘craftsmanship’ it is inconsistent.

Timetracks 7 back detailTimetracks 7 edge close up blog

For the record

  • when hand quilting I use a knot and bury it in the layers – using my needle to wiggle a room in the weave for the knot to pass through, then close the weave using the needle tip.
  • Machine quilting – ¬†without turning the quilt over, each time I stop I clip top thread about 7cm-10cm, then reach under the quilt, find the bobbin threadsnip it to a similar length and from the ¬†top pull it up onto the front/top. ¬†Tie and put both through a large eyed needle, head back down that hole, travel them for an inch or two, bring to the surface and snip. ¬†The work of a few seconds, and all without needing to turn the quilt over ¬†or wrestle with it generally.

Sleepless in Montevideo

October 29th, 2014

Someone commented on the lively thunder storms we experience here in Montevideo Uruguay, as they ¬†roar up and down the River Plate. ¬†Tonight/this morning we’ve been having one of those, ¬†and here I am, sleepless in Montevideo.

It started just as I settled for the night, book down, light off- and as a result I haven’t slept well really – I just can’t help listening and watching!

Around an hour ago I got up for a bathroom trip, and turning ¬†on the tap for a drink of water found no water coming out. ¬†This meant the downstairs power circuit was off. ¬†In this slightly crazy house water is pumped from the water main outside the gate into the storage tank out back, and from there pumped to wherever in the house the tap is turned on or the loo’s flushed. ¬†The only way to get water while the power’s off is by bucket brigade from the tap just inside the front gate. ¬†It’s not often, and we manage. ¬†I did live in a tent for a couple of years and can manage most difficulties. ¬†I turned the power back on OK, but the howling wind and rumbling thunder, plus something banging in the wind has kept me wide awake, though the wind’s dropping now, and as I’m starting to fade a bit, I’ll make this short. ¬† ¬†Daniel and Maria are pleasant neighbours, lovely people. ¬†They never complain about our dog who barks loudly at hapless pedestrians as they pass; and we never complain about their very noisy parrot who spends a lot of time outside. ¬†I’m not going to complain about the noisy door banging in the wind as it often does at times like this, because I won’t hear it when I go back upstairs, and they too sleep on the opposite ¬†side of their house. ¬†And,there is a slight chance it it’s actually NOT from next door, but further around behind one of our local restaurants, which, at 5am has long been closed.

A few years ago I blogged a piece entitled ‘Sleepless in Perth, WA’ and one of my readers complained that that title was copyrighted, as in the movie title ‘Sleepless in Seattle’, and I shouldn’t have used it. ¬†She went on and on about it and her strident, aggressive silliness eventually drove me to turn on the comment moderation required thingy. ¬†She went away. ¬†I reserve the right to be ‘sleepless’ anywhere, even in Seattle should I ever go there. ¬†If any of you get cranky with me on this post I’ll turn that moderation app on again, OK? ¬†!!!