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 !!

Clear Vinyl !

April 4th, 2019

Previously I mentioned I’d brought back some clear vinyl sheeting from my recent visit to Colorado. Look, it’s probably available here in hardware stores, but I haven’t been scouting around for it. The minute I saw it in Denver, I just knew I needed some, because I had been asking the store assistant if they had any faux black patent leather. Those two clauses are related only in that these are both non-conventional materials for an artist of layered quilted fabrics or fabric-like materials. They had no faux patent leather that I discovered and then used in ‘Land Marks’ 2016:

Land Marks 2016

Land Marks, detail – faux patent leather/vinyl, mylar backed ripstop nylon

but said they did have some ‘other vinyl things’, so, drawn irresistibly as a moth to a flame, I went to look, and found this clear vinyl. There were various weights. I chose the thinnest – wisely or not – it is heavier duty than cellophane, but thinner than the stuff used in a see-through makeup bags or one of those tote bags with colourful inner liners.

On Pinterest one recent morning, I clicked a link to someone’s work and though I looked hard just now, I just can’t find it again. Anyway, it was a small fibre construction, a sample I think, and sewn between two clear layers of clear vinyl. Seeing that spurred me to my first experiment with this terrific new stuff – I am so vulnerable to anything shiny!

I learned: (a) I need to find a way to control the evenness of the stitch (paper beneath it prolly) and (b) this has interesting potential as a ‘quiltmaking’ material. (c) Try hand stitch too.

I was reminded of the exhibition of Montevideo artist Lilian Madfes’ 2011 show in which I photographed this work:

I love this very innovative work – it’s not large, maybe a bit under 1m sq., and Lilian was very surprised to hear me say that I regard this as a perfect fit into the definition of ‘a quilt’ in the art quilt world today: “An art quilt is defined by SAQA as “a creative visual work that is layered and stitched or that references this form of stitched layered structure”. The word “references” allows for a broader understanding of the art quilt that welcomes growth and development of individual style.”

That’s all got me thinking, and again trying to mentally get past the visible hanging rod and sleeve thing that I’m perennially stuck on about hanging sheer textile works. (Eyelets? Sleeves?) My view is, if you can’t display them well/effectively, you shouldn’t bother making them at all… Or is that just being so narrow minded as to stifle creativity? Afterall, I could make a heap of these things and put them in a 3-ring binder … it wouldn’t be the first work I’ve presented in a binder:

Mixed media pieces pre-1987. Hand and machine embroidery.

A Packable Souvenir From A Previous Life

April 2nd, 2019

In downsizing from our now-sold house in Perth Western Australia late last year, we made many decisions to ditch (throw into the bulk rubbish removal bin) donate (piles of things went into special donation boxes for delivery to St Vincent De Paul) or keep (boxed up for storage until we buy another place) During the packing by a removal company, we each pulled a couple of things out of the packing ‘line’ to bring back to Uruguay. As a packable souvenir of a previous life, my caftan is a particular treasure.

I remember the day I bought it in a small shop in a Darwin NT arcade. The shop was a new venture and there wasn’t a great deal of stock, but the screen printed large bird totally grabbed me as being different and feeling very Australian; I immediately knew I simply had to buy this. I’ve worn it hundreds of times probably, though it has spent the last couple of decades languishing unused in our house in Perth Australia. Honestly, these days it’s a bit snug around the hips and the upper arms … but I would never ever throw it away, and it’s place in my textile collection is assured.

Tiwi Designs caftan, bought in Darwin, N.Australia, 1976.

These large screen printed birds, storks, are known across northern Australia as Jabiru; however, similar-looking but stockier true Jabiru storks are native to central and south America. This similar bird (but I think nicer, more elegant looking) is more properly called the Black-necked stork – and anyway is known to the Tiwi as the big bird, a simplified version of which is Tiwi Design logo.

Remember, it is years since I actually lived in my own country, so this Tiwi Design caftan prompted me to look up the brand to see how the company was doing, if indeed it it was still ‘there’. I found a lovely website about the art of the Tiwi people on Bathurst Island, just off the city of Darwin, in the Northern Territory.

When I read that fabric printing has been done on (Bathurst) Tiwi Island since 1980, I wrote to them, saying basically ‘I think it was earlier, actually’, and asking permission to publish a pic or two in this post. It was a bit earlier: daily newspapers in 1978 announced that the then Prime Minister’s wife, Tammi Fraser, had had several garments and outfits made up incorporating Tiwi Design printed fabric, to wear at appropriate times during overseas visits.  I always thought that was great, and imagine it was a helpful boost to Tiwi Design’s continuing success.  These days you can take a day trip across to the islands, see the printing being done, and learn something of the history and culture of the people living there.

After many years of being exploited by the tourism industry in particular, and generally having their legal copyrights blithely ignored, Australian Aborigines these days are right on top of the whole issue and have worked long and hard to educate the general public and successfully pursue those who breach intellectual property laws. I asked for and was given permission to use Tiwi Design website images, and my regular readers might not be surprised to find this is one I absolutely relate to:

Fabric available by the metre from Tiwi Design includes this design, though I am not sure who designed it – I particularly relate to its timeless, landscape-y quality. (Image from Tiwi Design website, reproduced with permission)

The Art Of Repairing

March 23rd, 2019
Ceramic bowl repaired using the Japanese kintsugi technique.

When this ceramic bowl broke, instead of being discarded, it was beautifully repaired using an adhesive or lacquer infused with powdered gold. This repair technique is Japanese, and known as ‘kintsugi’. The break lines are highlighted rather than camouflaged, serving to demonstrate the bowl’s importance to its owner. The changed appearance becomes part of it’s history as a functional object. I didn’t learn of kintsugi until some years after I posted about a wonderful exhibition Mike and I saw in Paris in 2007, at the Musee du Quai Branly. Rewording a bit, I’m going to write about Objets Blesses: la reparacion en afrique again here – because it made a huge impact on me. Unforgettable.

The title of the exhibition translates literally as “injured objects” which of course they were: they were broken and then repaired. On show were artifacts collected in several African countries by French colonists, traders, missionaries and explorers. Made from many different materials – wood, iron, precious metals, ceramic, leather, stone – every object in the exhibition had been repaired. None of the objects blesses were repaired using the kintsugi approach of course, but the array of repair techniques was fascinating – apart from images of pieces in the exhibition here on this page I found a wonderful Pinterest board here that I’ve been following for a while.

An impressive array of techniques were used in these repairs, and despite the mending process changing each object’s appearance, these repairs had all restored usefulness of these valued household tools and vessels, weapons, and religious and ceremonial objects symbolising community offices and powers.

Really interesting ridge pattern formed by repair work becomes an additional surface design.

My grandparents survived the Great Depression, where millions of people lost everything suddenly or gradually, and had to mend, make do or go without. Our parents lived with severe shortages and rationing of everything during World War 2. Inevitably, we baby-boomers were ingrained with the values of mending and making do, wearing something out before throwing it out. Thrift was necessary and virtuous. Today, with over 7.5billion people needing, expecting or requiring stuff, all imposing huge stresses on the Earth’s resources, at last there are signs that many people are making real efforts to avoid unnecessary wastage of the planet’s resources by recycling, upcycling and repurposing, though there’s so much more to be done and practiced daily.

One sad reality in the western world is that so much stuff we use cannot just simply be repaired at home if it breaks, and often can’t be affordably fixed by a qualified repair person, either, making it often much cheaper to just buy a replacement for the broken thing. Lots of footwear comes into this category, though I nearly always buy leather, which does last and is nearly always repairable. Of course, worst of all are electrical appliances and digital things like phones and TVs which feature built-in obsolescence, and we suffer frequent model changes that ensure that parts quickly become unavailable. Because of my upbringing this sticks in my throat.

Until I saw this really impressive exhibition, I hadn’t given any real thought to the activity of repairing something. But seeing these objects’ repairs, and reading about them, impressed on me that we repair things that are important or useful to us. We value their usefulness as daily household or work related items; we value objects which symbolise culture, politics, history or religion; some things we value because we simply find them pleasing or beautiful in some way; and sometimes objects are valuable because our ancestors owned and used them.

Repairing produces scars or visible marks, but that’s a very different expected outcome from the process of restoration, in which repairs are done as skillfully as possible to create the impression the object has been returned to its original appearance and function. It hadn’t occurred to me these are not really interchangeable words!

I don’t recall exactly, but think photography might not have been allowed, which would have been one reason I bought the catalogue; but the other would have been “Why the heck not, anyway?” Having bought two additional large suitcases in Cairo to contain textiles we’d acquired in Egypt, including two large Tentmaker hangings , we already had twice as much luggage as we’d set out with just a few weeks before !!

Gold in the lacquer highlights the break lines, producing additional surface design patterning – kintsugi.


Improvisation – The Art Of It

March 16th, 2019

This week I have been putting together some images and answering interview questions for a guest blogger appearance on Jen Broemel’s instagram site  in the last week of this month. I just love being asked questions about my work, so thank you Jen – I will let everyone know the day it goes up.

The questions included some thought provoking ones, and I answered them before looking at Jen’s own work or any of her blogging – just to be sure what I was writing was just my thoughts and experiences tinged by no one else’s. I sent a couple collages of quilts made in the improvisational style of piecing I have been doing for 25+ years now, alongside the sketchbook diagram I often as the kind of ‘recipe’ to make each. This one won’t be in the article – the image for ‘Kimberley 1’, an irregular shaped piece photographed against a black background is not really good – a bit grainy”

Kimberley 1, 1995, alongside the sketch/plan – showing my planning process – to which is added only the live auditioning of fabrics.

Now that I’ve sent her my material, it is fun to go into the site and see how other respondents handled the same queries about their work. Take this week’s artist, guest #24, Brian Phillips, from Austin TX. I was taken by his comment – “Silence and I don’t get along.” With his favourite music genres playing in the background, he paints on salvaged materials, mostly wood. the size of the salvaged material essentially determines that of the painting. Sometimes in the presence of a thrilling material/fabric I have found this, too! A few years ago I bought the remainder of a roll (only about 1 1/2 yds, unfortunately) of vinyl faux patent leather. Simply put, it grabbed me. Cutting a little strip off the end to experiment with, I used the remaining c.95% in the one work, Land Marks and if I ever see that stuff again, no matter the colour, I will buy some.

I was really hoping to find some of it on my recent visit to a very large fabric store in Denver CO. They didn’t have it, but they did have some clear vinyl sheeting which urged me to part with US$2/yard for a total of $10 worth of exciting potential; and some thrillingly sheer polyester organza – yes I’m still mentally on that sheers thing. I haven’t had time for any experiments yet, but hopefully will this coming week.

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