Ephemerality In Textile Art …

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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