In the US visiting grandchildren over the past few weeks, I was fortunate to be able to wangle visits to several textile exhibitions, including the SAQA NM Members’ exhibition at Santa Fe, The ‘SPUN’ and Nick Cave exhibits at the Denver Art Museum, The Front Range Contemporary Quilters’ show at Golden and, next door, a fabulous fibre exhibition the name of which escapes me for the moment but I will blog separately on it, and there were some wonderful art quilts at the Lincoln Centre at Fort Collins CO. I saw some wonderful textile art, but I was struck by the number of wall quilts I saw that clearly were not meant to buckle and roll out from the flat plane of the wall. Consider these examples are from the SAQA New Mexico members’ exhibition at the State Capitol Building in Santa Fe:
In all possibly about 1/3 of the works hung had what I think were some degree of 3-d that were not intentional, and these were the most marked cases, being forward of the wall by several inches. But don’t get me wrong – this show of SAQA NM members’ art quilts was interesting, lively, and there were some arresting works of art. I particularly liked the drama of all Michelle Jackson’s pieces but especially her ‘Adobe Shadow Dance’ and was very taken with Nancy Steidle’s ‘October Aspens’. Now the show had been up for a couple of months, and it was raining heavily for several hours the day we went, so the air was damp – I am not sure this was the only cause of this problem, though.
After seeing this exhibition I thought a great deal about whether this is really an issue, or if it was me just being picky. I talked it over with a couple of other veteran art quilters, and it bothers them, too, and so I’m putting it out here – ‘Yes, it does bother me… and if me, then possibly other members of the viewing public, too.’ If any of these works were mine, they would not have gone out in public without the issue being addressed – and we’ve all had the problem one time or another. Someone suggested younger people were involved because they didn’t start out with the same general sewing skills we oldies who grew up in the 50’s and 60’s did – and that could be. I know, there are no rules that say a wall quilt must be flat – and heavens, the wonderful El Anatsui piece that I saw at the Denver Art Museum affirms draping ‘textile’ art is fine, and I’ve done it myself, too. Regina Benson these days manages a fair bit of relief in her wall hung installations of course, and some are actually walk-through – there’s never any mistaking her intention. But these quilts I’m talking of were clearly meant to hang flat.
Many art quilts today are heavily and closely machine quilted. Technically its highly fashionable. When a wall quilt is heavily and closely machine quilted, most likely the result will not be ‘flat’ all over: such pieces tend to distort, because the quilter tends to sew mostly in the same direction, and I think it happens more often using a domestic machine rather than a long arm quilting setup. But either way, there are a couple of things you can do to improve the situation:
If an edge is not quite flat against the table, when you apply a binding or facing you can gently tighten the binding along the sections that are ‘loose’ which will draw it in a bit, and this may be enough. You might need to pin and re-pin a couple of times to get it right, but this can be enough, and is very worthwhile.
Instinct and/or experience, however, may tell you the treatment needs to be more drastic. If there are several loose sections, I have sometimes found it very successful to run several fine gathering lines of stitches parallel to the edge and about 1/2″/1cm apart. See diagram below. If you’ve already rushed the binding on, take it off. The buckled areas should be treated as separate ‘regions’ of the quilt. Using a strong thread in tones of the backing fabric, fasten one end with a knot or stitches to anchor it, very close to the edge and then parallel to the quilt’s edge, running lines of small stitches on the surface and longer ones beneath it out of sight, and leave the end hanging free. Repeat several times until you’ve covered the problem area. With the quilt flat on the table or hanging face towards the wall, gently pull each thread until the fullness is gathered in, and it won’t need much, you’ll find. Fasten off the ends of the thread and bury them.
And finally a word about blocking. A fine spray application of water is made to the quilt while it is pinned or pegged out somehow in an exact rectilinear shape, and once it has thoroughly dried it is ‘straight’. It’s a procedure commonly done to intense embroidery like needlepoint before framing or mounting, which is then held into position by that frame or mount for the rest of its life. Many quilters talk of blocking their quilts, before or after finishing – but either way, IMHO it’s a temporary technique that I would never rely on. A wall quilt can certainly be put through this process and ‘straightened up’, but it can lose its nice blocked status when hung in a more humid atmosphere for display. So, rather a waste of time and effort, IMHO.