An Embarrassing Omission

April 6th, 2021

There must have been a good reason, but I really don’t remember why I agreed to make a quilt for an exhibition+auction that some womens group was holding to support a worthwhile charity. Perhaps it was on my mind to make it at the time …. I do know (1) someone must have asked very nicely or compellingly (2) and at the time I was totally infatuated with the ceramic art retrospective exhibition we’d just seen of iconic Uruguayan painter and ceramicist Jose Gurvich. He did a lot of couples/Adam and Eve/lovers, and while I can’t remember why I chose a The Tree Of Life format, which is so different from inspirations before and since … I do know I started with this hand painted version, which I ditched, a good decision probably … anyway it is gone and not subject to reappraisal. (I think the snake’s pretty elegant, though)

Arbol de la Vida, version 1, painted background.

The Tree of Life, or Arbol de la Vida…. version two. I began a draft blog post at the time, 2005, and was diverted and it remained as a draft until today. At the time I felt I could become hooked on fusing, but I’ve not done much since, until recently. Whatever original deadline I was given, it was brought forward at the last minute by three days, so that the comfortably do-able became a frantic, last-minute miracle. Maybe that was why I resorted to the fusing – anyway that worked, though the quilt was not sold to my reserve price, and is in the back of a cupboard somewhere. Another thing I totally overlooked when compiling my illustrated catalogue a couple of years ago!

Arbol de la Vida, 2005, approx 1m x 1.25m. The Gurvich influence is plainly visible!

Looking Back

April 5th, 2021

I recently prepared a Lightning Talk for the virtual SAQA Annual Conference which begins in a week’s time – there’s still time to register. My talk, A Journey Through Landscape, involved a lot of critical and some nostalgic review of works I wanted to show in the short time allowed for the 20-slide presentation. My talk’s theme is around the role, the influence Landscape has always had on my textile art through shapes, lines, colours and textures. Yet I do nothing pictorial, it’s all abstract. Anyway,preparing the talk took me into some memory nooks and crannies, and I found a draft of something I was preparing to post several years back but evidently didn’t, so it being relevant to the ‘Looking Back’ thing, I tidied it up and here it is.

Because of Mike’s work as an exploration geologist, we twice had the fortune to live in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, heart of the gold mining industry in that state. In the late 60s the Nickel Boom, we were among the thousands of people who flocked there from around the world.As all booms do, it faded, and we followed opportunity north in 1975 for a few years, but returned to Kal in 1981 as a gold boom was on, and left in 1987 to go off to the USA. We loved both our times there.

In 1985, perhaps, Australians began hearing a lot of talk about events being planned at national, regional and local levels to help the nation celebrate the Bicentenary of European settlement during 1988, the Bicentenary year. One major year-long event was a travelling expo of “Australia”, organised to visit all parts of the country during the year. The organisers planned display of double sided banners to be mounted above the entry to the expo.

These double sided banners had a large single letter on one side, and a design on the other reflecting something about the region where it was made. To be made to specific dimensions, the design had to be submitted and approved, after which it became a community project in local hands with a group leader who liaised with the Canberra people.

The Goldfingers Embroiderers and the Patchwork Pollies formed a group to carry out the big project, led by quilter Margery Goodall. The The City of Kalgoorlie Boulder is the main centre of the huge gold mining industry in Western Australia’s Eastern Goldfields.  Even after 128+ years’ continuous gold mining, large quantities are still produced in the city and surrounding region, and new resources are still being found. For the pictorial side the obvious choice was something to do with gold and its history there. We settled on a traditional medallion-style design featuring a soft sculpture of the Golden Eagle Nugget the largest found in Western Australia, at Larkinville, 97 km south of Kalgoorlie Boulder. My version is shown here with yours truly standing in front of that side of the banner on the day of the official handover. 

October 1987. Margery Goodall and Alison Schwabe in front of sides of the quilted banner.

Located near the edge of the Great Central Desert, a desert landscape colour scheme throughout was determined. Our assigned letter was H, which we decided to work in traditional crazy patchwork, as it would lend itself to lots of community participation, an important one of the project’s goals.

I offered to free machine embroider buildings and headframes typical of historic Kalgoorlie in the medallion, as I had plenty of experience with FME. Someone suggested perhaps I could make a gold nugget for the center of it, and I blithely agreed with that great idea, having no real idea how I’d do it but aware I’d have to make my own pattern and works out how to make one… I’m an experienced procrastinator with a finely tuned sense of just when I need to cut that out and get on with it 🙂  So, after weeks of procrastinating and agonising over the folly of offering to make such a thing, and faced with a fast approaching deadline, I finally got down to experimenting with samples, naturally.  It was probably turning over in the back of my mind for weeks, but once I focused under pressure, the Golden Eagle Nugget took me about a day to figure out and make.  I found a picture of that famous nugget, drew a rough shape and used that to cut out the gold lame, the brassiness of which I toned down in places with brown paint, layered that with batting and free machine quilting to give the ‘lumpy’ surface texture. I then sewed around the edge and stuffed it a little before sewing it shut – like a little pillow. I ran some little stay stitches around the edge and did a few circular gathers on the underside to help it ‘sit’ properly on the surface.  Phew! I was hugely relieved and still just a bit proud of the result of one of my most inspired projects, ever.  Below the eagle is a little fme pic of the main street water fountain statue of the prospector Paddy Hannan whose discovery of gold nearby led to one of the most fabulous gold rushes the world has ever seen.  What a joy to wander back in time through these photos, enjoying the memories and demo of the proven value of making samples whenever entering uncharted territory! 

People were impressed with the expo, but being in the USA that whole year, we just had to take their word for it! i sometimes wonder how all those banners fared in their year of touring. though from the top photo they seem to have been sheltered from rain, no doubt they had lots of sun shining on them over the year – I think they probably faded quite a bit. I don’t know where they’re stored, either, though I imagine possibly the National Library. I’m sure they wouldn’t have been cut down into blankets for a cats home or something …


April 4th, 2021

In the last few weeks I’ve prepared a set of 20 power point slides on my own work spanning 40+ years. It’s for the upcoming online SAQA conference, from April 15th to 25th. This exercise reminded me again that with a few notable exceptions, my own colour palette is based on the natural and earthy colours of landscapes.

In the previous post, I commented “Some favourite mixed media stitch artists pinned there include Helen Terry, Roberta Wagner and Debbie Lyddon.” to which I would add Dorothy Caldwell, Rieko Koga, Penny Blevins and Christine Mauersberger. I’ve been thinking about this list, and realise that what I particularly like about all of these hand stitchers’s textile art comes down to two things – (2) a small repertoire of favourite stitches appears in most of their works, and (2) usually each artist uses a very limited range of colours. It might be my aging eyes, the effects of the pandemic, or nothing in particular, but I’m finding I easily lose interest in works of the currently popular 100% unrelieved hectic, saturated, full rainbow spectrum colour schemes unless plenty of black, cream, white or other neutral predominates.

In 1978, I was highly privileged to be in a 4-day embroidery workshop taught by the late Constance Howard, the legendary British embroiderer, at Mt Isa in the far north west of Queensland, Australia. When her teaching tour to all Australian state capital cities sponsored by the Crafts Council of Australia was announced, the sharp-eyed secretary of our local embroiderers group, Ailsa, spotted a six day gap in the itinerary between Brisbane and Darwin. She immediately contacted the organisers, pointing out ‘The Isa’ is really remote, but half way along the flight route between those cities, with two flights in and out per day. She pleaded our case on it being a remote mining town yet having a strong embroiderers group in it; and we were thrilled when they agreed. The class filled immediately on word of mouth, with couple of out of towners travelling nearly 1000 kms by road to join in. It was fabulous, intense, and we soaked it up. One thing we learned was how to devise colour schemes from close observation of natural objects. Looking at a found object like a shell or a leaf, like little kids we cut out snippets from old colour magaziness to match every minute varation of our object’s colour changes. We sorted and glued them to A4 sheets of heavy white and black paper. In Nature, there is really no such thing as a ‘green’ leaf, or a ‘brown’ stone’.

This is the kind of idea behind the hugely popular online colours scheme resource Another interesting website is an interactive colour wheel with colour schemes presented as balanced with major and minor colours in different proportions – especially useful if not working from Nature itself.

L – La Cueva, a portion of my 1998 quilt inspired by my cave ceiling photo, R
Colour snippets matching all colours variations in cave ceiling photo

From recent posts, my followers already know my recent art is in response to the deadly pandemic we’re living through. In nature, some creatures use colour on their bodies as a warning of danger to their predators, a phenomenon known as aposematism In my 2020-21 works I’m using neon threads in the hand stitching as a ‘warning’ or statement of the danger Covid-91 brings to all of us.

Browsing On Pinterest, As You do …

March 31st, 2021

On Sunday morning I spent a little time browsing over a second coffee, procrastinating just a little before returning upstairs to work on Pandemic Pattern 5, the current work in progress (WIP) There are still about half a million stitches to go 🙂

PP5 – WIP: stitching coffins coronavirus style.

Well, really, the browsing was triggered by updating my SAQA contact information, which then meant updating my social media info, including Pinterest. One of my collections is contemporary hand stitch, and that prompted me to follow one of the daily links that Pinterest emails me. I generally scan them quickly before binning them, keeping one or two aside until my next browsing session, which is often on a sunday morning.

My eye was caught by a delicious sounding collection – Little stitch sketches – pinned by someone called carlacorbinart, where I found lot of small stitchy things of various mixed media compositions and some possible samples. Most were delightful. Some favourite mixed media stitch artists pinned there include Helen Terry, Roberta Wagner and Debbie Lyddon. My eye was particularly taken by a striking image of what I think is not stitchery but a painting or print: “Ngapa Jukurrpa (Water Dreaming) – Mikanji by Rosie Nangala Flemming”. I certainly pinned it, and have begun following carlacorbinart’s pins.

I’ve often said that I tend to see lines as ‘stitches’; and this inspiring image really set me thinking about adapting this approach as textural stitch/applique in the surface design of a Pandemic Pattern series work …

Pandemic Pattern 5 – Sample Making

March 19th, 2021

As Pandemic Pattern 4 is now completely finished, ready for photography, I now turn to the next in this series. For several months I’ve been wanting to make another work responding to the haunting images we first saw on our screens early in the pandemic. These are in front of us again. As I write, across the border in Brasil, the Manaus variant P.1, is ravaging the population of that country and bringing hospital system to the point of collapse in many areas. Again we’re seeing rows and rows of freshly dug graves in hurriedly cleared jungle or expropriated fields. Uruguay has a rather porous dry land border with Brasil, and with new case numbers rising alarmingly here, the government has just put into effect an emergency vaccinate-everyone program in the towns and cities along the border, hoping it will be strong enough to control the southward spread into this country.

Coffin shaped leather, needle punched and hand stitched with metallic – not dramatic enough. Orange metallic? Much better.
Left – hand stitch neon, good look. Also some machine stitching in metallic thread, blah. Right – topstitched neon, just so-so
Progress – I think that instead of busting my boiler to precisely align every stemmed french knot, that a wilder look is more appropriate. The method is to machine baste each coffin-patch and when stitched, remove the machine thread – so easy with Skala.

I unexpectedly found some perfect fabric in my cupboard that I’d totally forgotten about. You could ask did I really forget it was there, or was it that when my mind was seriously focused on those rows of graves that I need to say something about, that this fabric leaped off the shelf and demanded to be used as the perfect background? Either way, I’ll need to be cutting several hundred grave shaped pieces of leather, and might even use the frog skins! It’s going to take me the rest of the afternoon to get enough to start. Well, there’s a pandemic on, anyway.

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