Improv – The Art Of It

May 18th, 2019

This week I am guest artist on Jen Broemel’s blog, The ART of IMPROV.
As Jen’s guest #27, plenty of interesting artists preceded me. Answering her challenging questions about how I make my improvisational art, I thought more deeply about what I do and why I do it. Each time I write seriously about my work helps clarify things I know but find I have not put into words as often or as well as I could have.

I’ve written on improvisation on this blog previously, and although I haven’t dwelt on it, obviously my approach to the act of quilting my art is improvisational, too. Normally the quilting needle in either hand or machine, just wanders, finding its way:

This detail of Ebb&Flow 8 has it all – well except glitter – quilting in the ditch, machine quilting in toning thread for texture alone, and highly visible hand quilting in a thicker contrasting thread.

I never draw out a ‘quilting plan’ though I have had three quilts (bed quilts, family) quilted on contract by long arm quilters. The overall quilting on those was guided by the computer+longarm operator using the design motif, scale and threads I selected. Though I prefer the engagement of doing the quilting myself, these days the bod refuses to even consider hand or machine quilting a king or queen size quilt !

Machine quilted (1 ‘invisible’ multi filament thread (2) with silver glitter.

I frequently quilt in the ditch (non-quilters – along a seam) so that functional quilting holding layers together does not show, but other quilting is meant to be visible, and I often use thick, contrasting thread; and I definitely favour ‘glitter’.

Paint Plus Hand Stitch

May 8th, 2019

For some years now, all kinds of digital processes and media have made inroads into the pretty discrete world of quilt making; patchwork and/or applique with hand or machine quilting. It’s an artform with a significant heritage, strongly tied to domestic production of warm bedding. The most common fabric was always cotton, and whether new or recycled fabric, cottons have long been affordable and worked up well by hand or machine.

These days many textile artists and art quilt makers produce quilted constructions as wall art for display only, a freedom inviting use of non-traditional materials. I myself have used vinyl, leather, mylar, shadecloth, sail canvas, scraps of antique undergarments, nylon tulle and nylon organza. Besides traditional quilting threads, I’ve quilted with some pretty unusual threads, including parcel string, waxed nylon twine and fine ribbon. Since the early 80s I have dyed fabric, and frequently stamped, splattered, sprayed, painted, and spread fabric with palette knife, before taking up needle and thread.

Detail – On the Edge Of The Golden Mile

Today I found this nice clear detail of a stitchery inspired by standing for the first time on the western edge of the very early stage of the Kalgoorlie Super Pit and looking across to what was left of the Great Boulder Mine. In our early days in Kalgoorlie in the Nickel Boom we lived up on the mine’s park behind the Fimiston post office. The daily blasting at the end of each shift except sunday’s afternoon shift always reminded us that beneath our house on the park, and a large part of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, was the huge underground system of actively mined workings which, after about 90 years’ continuous mining included a lot of empty stopes! Rock falls and cave-ins punctuated our daily lives, and though not necessarily on the Great Boulder itself, were very disturbing to feel happening down below, somewhere close! Before our little corner of the city became swallowed up by the pit, the houses and buildings were all moved off the mine or demolished. The pit is now extensive and tremendously deep. and this c.1986 stitched panel is holds some wonderful memories of our early days in Kal, above all capturing my feelings the day I took the photo that inspired this stitchery. This was probably the same day that Mike and I were standing where we’d been ordered by mine officials to stand so we could be safely out of the way while a blast was set off some distance away. We were all pretty shocked as rocks and stones flew over our heads! As far as we know, no heads rolled that day, though they should have!

Paint+stitch details from ‘Sunburnt Textures’, and ‘Out Back of Bourke’

Landscape has always been part of my inspiration. Back in the 80s colour and texture were my focus, and for that, paint+stitch combined perfectly.

Ideas From Pinterest

April 29th, 2019

The sharing of creative ideas is one of Pinterest’s best features, and I’m a fan. I don’t visit or pin every day – but on a sunday morning I often find a bit of browsing+writing time, as I do today. And another thing about Pinterest is that one thing so easily just leads on to another, meaning you can spend hours just browsing around. Like any other artist, I am always interested in technical ideas to think about using in my own work.

I love hand stitchery, and the resurgence in popularity it has enjoyed in recent years as a highly flexible technique for fibre artists and mixed media makers. Scroll down my contemporary hand stitch board to find this image of a stitchery by Marisa Ramirez that I pinned a while back. While I don’t care for her colour scheme, I was intrigued by (1) that stitched, appliqued circular shape looks like firm plastic – do I like it? not really, but will remember it some time, probably. (2) the patterned segment at the bottom of the pic (to which my first response was ‘hand stitch’) was probably stencilled with red-brown paint with a thin masking tape resist. Whether I’m correct or not doesn’t matter – it’s the pattern and its potential that strike me most. To show why, I did this quick line sketch with jottings to show how I begin to explore possibilities:

From a pattern of lines to – hand stitch, netting, knotting, macrame, knitting, machine stitch, applique, stencilling, free crochet, couching, marker pen drawing

From my lines and shapes board I selected this image of a beautiful set of ceramic pieces. Beside the image: “We design and make garden wall art made from ceramic. Our wall art is suitable for interiors and exteriors and handmade in Marbella, Spain. ” Absolutely. I could live with this, and have just the very wall! On their website this and other customised wall sets are shown installed, and it is worth spending a little time looking at other parts of their website. I wish they were just down the road from here, as Marbella Spain is not on my travel list in the near future. However, having seen it, I’m sure I could take one of my own designs to a ceramic firm here in Montevideo. There are design elements in this that I have long used myself – wandering lines, inserts of pattern and texture, segmented shapes including arcs, and of course, glorious gold!

Ceramic tile set by G.Vega from (with permission)

On another Pinterest board I post hole images I find. Holes have always intrigued me, and I once wrote: To every hole there is a foreground through which the viewer can see a background which might be up close, or stretch into the distance.  I know this is totally basic, but still something to think about. I love lace in its broadest sense; I wear several pairs of earrings and other jewellery with holes as the decorative element; and over many years I have made some art some works with holes revealing something behind :

Post Apocalyptic Lace, 2009. 40cm x 140cm: Full view right, details left and lower right. Burned holes in nylon organza sandwiching fabric segments.

Untitled, irregular shaped wall quilt photographed against cream-yellow wall. circa 1997.
On The Golden Mile 1986, stitchery, overall approx 30cm x 30cm

So, to summarise, Pinterest is like that folder, scrapbook album, drawer or shoebox filled with bits cut from magazines and catalogues!! All creative people save such things, and today we can do it digitally. The financial and environmental cost of keeping up via paper magazines is huge if you must keep up that way. Today, however, we can sign up for digital editions of papers and magazines, google online catalogues where available, and instead of clipping paper we can save text and images in so many ways. Pinterest is a great way to gather visuals. Our computers range from desktop to our pocket-sized phones, many of which have cameras. On our actual phones or using laptops and desktops, we can put images through photo editing programs, some of those even within phones and cameras themselves. Of course, that barely approaches what those filters and lenses can produce in the hands of a skilled professional photographer.

Small Museum, Big Potential

April 16th, 2019

Another Kansas City museum we visited earlier this year was the Garment District History Museum. It’s currently located in the 800 block of Broadway, in the heart of what was the garment district of the city, but in the coming year will relocate to larger premises in a city cultural park with other museums, but I just couldn’t retain those details as I found myself being rather too generously informed by a female docent with and encyclopedic knowledge garnered over decades of close involvement in the historical society.

Every museum visitor has a slightly different reason for entering and looking around – we always split up and explore museums as individuals, each enjoying our own self-focused approach at our own pace, just sometimes circling back to make sure someone doesn’t miss something special. To me, visiting a museum is a blissful, almost private personal experience. Many good museums, large and small, have wandering knowledgeable docents and security supervisors of whom we are aware, but they keep a discreet if watchful distance, and just sometimes we hope they’ll be able to answer a question or direct us somewhere relevant. I eventually had to escape this lady saying “That’s all so interesting, thank you very much; and now I’d just like to quietly choose and photograph some things to post on my blog.” … walking away before she could renew her invasion of my space. I don’t know why others in our group weren’t paid as much attention as I received, perhaps I was clearly more interested in the garments!

Some wonderful gowns are on show. They would be so much better displayed without the distracting background panels, but that will change, I am sure when the museum moves premises. Below is a detail of the sleeve of the gown on the left.
This figure-hugging deep blue velvet gown, was originally worn as a wedding dress. Sleeves and collar feature devore work in art deco motif style, it was all bias cut, so hung beautifully. Stunning, dramatic.
Green is my favourite colour, and this magnificent gown is by Dior, from his 1947 New Look’ collection (which I appreciate so much more now having seen the Dior exhibition a couple of months after this museum visit) Featuring cinched waist, fuller padded hips, and neckline and sleeves lined with stiffened net for shaping.

Essentially we spent a couple of interesting hours in the two parts of this very interesting museum. Despite the docent’s strong recommendation, I skipped taking a closer a look at the giant needle and thread sculpture which I could see perfectly well from the entrance … it could have been a great photo op., though, maybe next time.

Seemingly just slung on a display rack recycled from a disappeared department store !! There was no date on this hat or any of the others on the rack, from various eras in my 65+years of fashion memory. I always loved these hats from the mid to late 60s. Mum and a couple of wedding guests wore similar ones to our wedding in early 1969. It’s tempting to say ‘tea cosy’, but really it’s an ornate pill box, originally popularised in the mid 60s by Jackie Kennedy.

What is currently on show is just a tiny percentage of the city’s huge collection of garments and accessories, hardly surprising considering that Kansas City’s garment district in its time was second in size and importance only to New York City’s. Quoting from the museum’s website “The Kansas City Museum has one of the largest and best represented collections of clothing materials in the Midwest, including couture gowns, day dresses, uniforms, overalls, shoes, hats, buttons, and everything in between,” Kansas City Museum Director of Collections and Curatorial Services Denise Morrison said. “Additionally, the Museum collection includes examples of many kinds of quilts and coverlets. The enhanced programming opportunities are endless and will strengthen the Museum’s educational impact. We look forward to partnering with other museums and academic institutions to serve students and scholars.”

The amalgamated collections of the city and the society will benefit greatly with the application of modern display methods and well designed educational materials.

From what we saw, this is a typical historical society museum, where so often enthusiasm to share and educate generously outbalances good display principles. ( for example, the backdrop to the green dior gown is so unnecessary and quite distracting) However, hopefully in the hands of experienced curators it will soon be presented in more space using modern museum exhibit standards and techniques, where so often ‘less = more’

Gramado, Brasil, In September!

April 13th, 2019

Recently I was delighted to receive an invitation to teach at The International Festival of Quilt and Patchwork in Gramado, Brasil, the largest such event in South America. Although I have never been to it during the 20+ years it has been running, some of my quilts have gone there for exhibition. I always love teaching people my way of making patchwork without using patterns; that freehand organic-looking patchwork, which since the late 80s has become something of a contemporary tradition, spurred on in part by the Modern Quilt Movement.

When we went to live in Denver Colorado, a neighbour took me along to a local quilt guild meeting, I took some construction classes in american patchwork, joined a bee, and became hooked. While I was there, that great american quiltmaker, Nancy Crow, came to Colorado to teach a 4-day workshop on colour and design in quilt making. At the beginning of her workshop she taught us lay aside our rulers and pins and work freehand as a faster way to get through all the exercises we needed work through. It can be used to add strips and inserts, organic wavy, circular and arc shapes, all of which can add complexity to a design. Though I’ve modified some of her directions, and developed skills and ways of working beyond what she taught us, basically I’ve been piecing this way for about 30 years now, and am always happy to pass on what I know. The one-day classes will be:

(1) beginner improvisational patchwork, learning the basics to enable this level of freehand piecing:

Improvisational piecing beginners learn how to achieve such repeat units.

(2) advanced improvisational piecing, where students learn more complicated levels of making patchwork freehand:

Advanced improvisational piecers learn how to achieve such repeated units in their own designs

I have started taking lessons in Portuguese with view to being able to do the commentary to my demos in the language most students will be speaking !!

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