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 – my 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.