This One’s Going To Take A While …

June 22nd, 2022

Now, at last I feel mentally free to start a work I’ve had in mind for a few weeks since finding a photo I posted previously as an inspiring colour scheme. Stitching this will balance the hectic colours I’ve just been working with, and as surface stitch is so important in my designs these days, it is going to be a serious undertaking in stitch. As each of the expected 169 squares currently takes about 45-50 minutes each, from cutting the strips to the last stitch, I have plenty of time ­čÖé to think about the title. I may speed up a little as I get the hang of managing the fabric+hoop needing to be draped over the ironing board – a fabulous sewing table which I’ll blog about a bit later.

Sample strip – pieces of different sheers I plan to use in this work fused/bonded onto some of the fabric background piece. The square in a square on the left end is my plan – a repeat block design of this, one of my all time favourite traditional blocks.

It’s not just the colours – greys, beiges and just a touch of soft apricot-gold, but this photo has so much reflected light shimmering off wet sand and the water’s surface, that in that earlier post I referred to ‘shimmer’ as a key word. That is what I’ll be aiming to present in what might be titled ‘Shimmer’ once I’m done.

The first four blocks of ‘Shimmer’, are shown here in process, from fusing the strip placement to completed square within a square. I used Misty Fuse, and an unbranded yellow gold thread from China. The metallic thread used will vary with the different fabric strips being oversewn. I have some coppery metallic which I think will give just the right touch of peach pink ….

A Special Place: Ubirr – Formerly Known As Obiri

June 17th, 2022

My husband’s profession as an exploration geologist has taken us to many places around Australia, USA and several S.Amercian countries that travellers and tourists pay good money to experience.

In 1975, I and our children (one 4yo one 7months) accompanied Mike to a tent camp at a very remote dot on the map of Australia’s Northern Territory, Bora Springs, where for several months we lived with his team of field assistants, geophysicists, drillers and a cook. It was one of several exploration teams exploring for uranium in that region during an exploration boom for that mineral.

In the northern part of the Australian continent, also known as The Top End, the months of May through October are known collectively as The Dry, because while the monsoon rains are in the northern hemisphere, watering the Asian continent north of the Equator, so no rain falls in the Top End. During The Dry people whose jobs take them out into that country, including explorationists, work 7 or at least 6.5 days a week through those middle months of the year until the Wet arrives. What little time people take off they spend it out in the bush somewhere much closer than the Big Smoke, in this case Darwin, which was a difficult 5-6 hours’ drive away. We had some wonderful picnic days at water holes, lagoons and river crossings in the area, in places that no one in their right mind would swim these days because of the serious and ever present danger of being taken by a crocodile.

Up until it was outlawed in 1971, crocodile hunting had brought the saltwater crocodile population close to extinction, by which time fewer than 3000 estimated to exist in the wild across The Top End. As we were there only a few years after croc hunting had stopped, the crocs were very small and we were never in danger, probably. But today, every year several people are attacked and taken by crocs all across northern Australia, several of them tourists who don’t realise the dangers. Besides BBQ and swimming picnic days, we often went on group expeditions to local scenic attractions such as Rum Jungle, Edith Falls and Obiri Rock, all of which are located in what has since been gazetted as Kakadu National Park.

Formerly known as Obiri, the name of this important Aboriginal spiritual and ceremonial cultural site has reverted to its original, Ubirr, pronounced ‘ub-ee-ah’ . The huge impression our 1975 visit made on me has remained, and while working on a series of Memory Quilts in the early 90s I created one that attempted to capture the feeling of awe I felt there.

Image by Martin Kraft (, “MK-06997 Ubirr rock art”,

There are many wonderful images in this link of the Obiri rock outcrop which rises out of the Alligator Rivers flood plains, so that all around us was a sea of green stretching away to the coast and the Timor Sea beyond. Massive rock overhangs shelter the walls on which Aboriginal people had painted and maintained rock art over many centuries. Wiki mentions some of the art has been dated back to 40,000 BCE, but apparently most paintings are from around 2000 BCE and are carefully maintained to this day. It was my first experience of such an ancient, pre-historic place, where a rock face carried a record of human activity, cultural expressions and probably included survival information. We were with someone who was able to tell us about some of the figures and patterns there, and those pictures spoke to us of the people who had been coming to this place for a very long time.

Unfortunately this poor quality scan of the slide is all I have at the moment of the full view of this wall quilt, “Obiri” 1994, 50cm x 70cm. (Photographed against black background)
To make up for that poor full view shot, here’s the detail image. The lines, shapes and colours reflect my memories of Obiri / Ubirr; and the gold stitch represents the precious value of this and similar sites to all mankind.

“Obiri” was selected into Quilt National 95 and is owned by a private Australian collector.

Snippets, Crumbs or Patches

June 14th, 2022

Several months ago I took an online workshop with Jessica Grady though The Stitch Club. One of the ideas from that and some inspiration from another student’s sample making led to me to experiment with fabric bits, or crumbs as some in the traditional Quilt World call them. Eventually I worked out this technique which I used to make this year’s SAQA Auction quilt – titled Green Mosaic. Green is my favourite colour, and without going into the details here of how I came by 3000m or 3km, of green (along with 1500m of neon yellow and the same of neon orange) I still probably have ~1600m of this neon green nylon thread in reserve ­čÖé

Very close detail of the surface texture of “Green Mosaic”. The pieces when cut were ranged 3cm-4cm range.

I hand stitched all the little snippets/crumbs/patches onto a black fabric base, which extends beyond the patches, and after quilting it I added a fine black binding .

Following on from this little piece, for the last few weeks I’ve been working on a much larger work, basically hand sewing down hundreds more little 3-4cm pieces of coloured fabric, chosen for how they go together to give an impression of vigorous life, possibly a mottled, rather pointillist memory of various places with bright sunshine, lush greenery, bright flashes of colour of clothing or flowers, rich sounds of voices, traffic and dogs barking, and music. I’m not sure how the title came to mind but it has stuck as I’ve stitched along and continues to tell me I need to call it Caribbean Crush…. which is fine with me, as I have some very wonderful, very colourful memories of places I have travelled in several Caribbean countries, especially Cuba, Colombia and Panama. As a tourist I enjoyed dramatic landscapes and lush vegetation, beautiful beaches of course and the various cultural styles of music, historic architecture, textiles, finely drafted artifacts, art, and foods that resulted from the centuries of colonisation that began with Spain’s arrival in the late C15.

That whole process of colonisation imposed slavery and plantation monoculture onto the various indigenous cultures. Most of that history was brutal and ugly, with some negative results inevitably surviving to this day; but in that way the Caribbean is no different from almost any other part of the world that was colonised at one time in its history, of being overwhelmed by a more powerful group of people which thereby gains economic advantage via exploitation of that region’s natural resources and human potential.

Sometimes the design idea in the 12″sq. mini-quilt I make for the annual SAQA auction becomes a tryout for something more in a larger work, as was this one, which is resulting in an approximately 1m square work.

Adding a border row of dark hand dyed green fabric pieces. Also showing is the texture of the back side of the work, which will be covered by a backing piece… not that I mind people seeing the artist’s hand, of which there is plenty of the front anyway but there will be a little hand quilting, and this grassy texture really does need to be covered.

It is pretty time consuming, but is coming to the end as I near the completion of a border row of dark green and dark blue patches, stitching them down in the same way, and I’ll add a dark green facing. I will add that if It seems a bit much once completed (see my comments at the end of the previous post) – then I am philosophically prepared to remove that border row and just face the edge with one of the main colours – or I do have some neon green polyester fabric that might be a long odds contender ­čÖé Come to think of it, that might be a good backing fabric…. One good thing about working on a lengthy time consuming project is that there’s time to get through several recorded books, and time to consider the options without being under pressure to make any hurried decisions.

I have a mid August deadline in mind for photography by my wonderful photographer Eduardo Baldizan, as a couple of important entry calls close towards the end of the year.

Fine Art Or Craft?

June 12th, 2022

In a recent Zoom chat with fellow SAQA members on the problem many makers of art quilts find in having our/their work accepted as ‘Fine Art’ in the Art World. In that discussion, we talked how the associations conjured by the word ‘quilt’ evoke memories of familiar protective, warming, comforting bed covers, ie quilts. Historically bed quilts were always and still are pretty exclusively designed, made and used entirely within the home, a setting largely organised and run by women. The result is that many modern art quilters, including myself, feel the word ‘quilt’ comes with some heavy baggage of historical perceptions that don’t necessarily apply today. I know if I tell someone that I’m an art quilter, it is very likely they immediately think of bed coverings, and very few of my works have ever had that dual role potential.

Some art quilt makers find ourselves deliberately avoid using that “q’ word as we speak and write of textile art, fibre art, layered and stitched textiles, fabric art, mixed media, wall hangings, 2D wall art, and so on. I’ve actually settled on ‘textile artist’ as being the closest coverall term for what I do:

  • my creations involve woven fabric, that is, some kind of textile, as the major raw material of a work.
  • I love repeat pattern units in grid layouts, and my minimalist abstract designs bear strong influence from traditional geometric patchwork which I got to know while living in the United States over 30 years ago.
  • I machine piece my freehand cut fabric shapes to produce improvisational patchwork.
  • I hand applique raw edged fabric or leather shapes with mostly very simple hand stitch.
  • I sometimes fuse fabric and other materials together.
  • I sometimes laminate shapes of woven and non-woven materials between plastic sheeting and use the result as something to be appliqued to a base fabric.
“Trapped Triangles” 2022. 76cm. sq.
Silk triangles and threads between plastic, hand appliqued and quilted.

In Spanish there is a delightful umbrella term for any 2D textile hanging on a wall, made using any technique, including but not limited to, weaving, embroidery, knitting, crochet, macrame, patchwork, and mixed media – whether it is quilted or not. This word is ‘tapice’, and as I currently live in the Spanish-speaking world, that suits me just fine!

For growing numbers of modern fibre textile artists, the process of designing and producing a quilted textile work often involves digital devices at some/several stages of its production, which can include contracting out part of the process to a commercial printing firm if the artist can’t carry that out in their own studio space. Does this mean the work is less ‘artistic’ because one or more parts of the production process have been handled by some technician?

Also, today many quilters sew their textile art entirely by sewing machine, a growing number of which are computerised and programmable. Though this mechanised needle and has been around since the mid C19, the fact that modern machines can be programmed to do certain tasks means that the artist’s hand may be removed from some part of the actual process – so does this make what we do less artistic? Art quilt makers who produce their art professionally generally have some kind of dedicated studio space, which may be distinctly separate from their home, but many more, including myself, count themselves lucky to have a dedicated room or two of their own within their home, or even having a studio in a converted garage space. This means many or even most of us still produce within the ‘domestic’ arena, making the women’s craftwork thing difficult to shake off, even though (1) a significant number of top art quilt makers are men, and (2) many male and female artists do have separate studios away from their homes. Is what you make less ‘artistic’ if you work at one end of the dining table to produce it?

And, finally perhaps it boils down to a simple thing: the other day on a FB page dedicated to people like readers of this newsletter, someone pontificated that a quilted textile with a fabric border/frame around it is ‘craft’ – a true art quilt has a faced edge. As I’ve ripped, hacked and burned edges of some of my pieces down the years, I don’t agree with her edict! But, does the fine binding on my little piece above render it ‘craft’? or at least make it less artistic?

Ephemerality In Textile Art …

May 22nd, 2022

I was prompted to ponder this when a fellow art quilter, Julia Arden, recently asked how (a) how I attach these patches I’ve been making, and (b) if I thought the plastic would be affected by the ultraviolet light ? (coming in from outside wherever it hangs) The first part was easy – I use the same longish stitches as I’m using for the quilting to attach those patches. To the second part of her question, I responded “I have no idea if or how the plastic will be affected by UV, and following a discussion on SAQA somewhere, I have decided we are just too precious about the archival quality of what we do, and think it actually hinders the acceptance of art quilts as “art” – and considering light can fade even water colours, I’ve decided bugrit, I’m not going to sweat it, a bit of ephmerality is ok” But that exchange left me considering the whole question of material durability over time.

Now hand quilting, entirely freehand, with neon orange thread, in the alternating blank squares of this as yet untitled work.

Just recently I watched part of a zoom talk by fellow SAQA member Angie Knowles, who talked about her use of rust in her surface designs. On her website she writes “The appeal of this process is its unpredictable nature.  Parts of the process can be controlled, but mostly it is left up to Mother Nature as to the final outcome.” Someone questioned Angie about the permanence or otherwise of the rust in the fabrics, and her answer was that in her final rinse she adds sodium bicarbonate which neutralises the rust process to a great degree. She acknowledged it’s not 100% effective, but essentially slows inevitable decay process, and said that for her that’s good enough. She mentioned how fabric dyes in Europe since C16 often contained a bit of iron, and that for the most part those fabrics are still intact.

In total ignorance I’d always assumed all hand painted art on framed canvas and paper to be permanent, but recently learned even watercolour paintings can fade over time, after which I decided not to worry too much about the durability of my textile art; although I would be sorry if someone ignored my advice to place it out of any direct sunlight to protect the fabrics from fading. My policy has always been to use good quality materials, limiting as far as possible chemicals I add to the fabrics, (aside from fabric paints and dyes) I do use fusing materials like Misty Fuse, Steam-a-Seam Lite, and Stitch Witchery, and other adhesives designed for use with fabric, but mostly I baste with safety pins or hand stitch, as tailor’s tacking is very quick to do.

If there’s a particular line I want to follow in quilting, and then I’ll use the blunt end of a needle to make a temporary ‘furrow’ in the fabric. Sometimes I’ve made a line of tiny pencil dots which were covered by quilting stitches. I never use marker pens whose line fades with time or when dabbed with water, because there’s no way of knowing how the chemicals in any pen will react with the chemicals in the particular fabric I’m using. I have seen several sad cases where fabric totally disintegrated along the path of a line made many years before.

So my conclusion is that if we’re making some kind of heirloom-something and would like it to last for at least two or three generations, or even aiming for a 1000 years (like the Bayeux Tapestry…) then we do need to consider carefully what chemicals we apply to the fabric we’re using. Many fibre art calls for entry ask for listing of materials and processes, which could make a conservator’s task a little easier 200 or 300 years from now. Otherwise, though, to repeat an early comment “…. I’ve decided bugrit, I’m not going to sweat it, a bit of ephmerality is ok”

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