Browsing In Pinterest – Carolyn Nelson

December 6th, 2021

If we still lived in Colorado today, it is possible I would know Carolyn Nelson personally through our passion for hand stitched textile art, and I’m sure I would have seen her work in exhibitions there and be familiar with the evolution of her beautiful textile work. As it is though, I only discovered it through browsing on Pinterest the other day by pinning the image of one of her works and following the link to her website,

Soliloquy II, Carolyn Nelson 2015. 24″ x 36″ With permission.

After studying art and then becoming an art educator, designer and dollmaker, Carolyn says that when she reached her mid 50’s, she finally felt she’d found her own voice as an artist. Her outline of that process is beautifully written and well worth reading.

Certainly my eye was caught by the strong reds of the piece, but closer inspection showed that the surface marks are stitches forming the word ‘YES’ repeatedly stitched in silk, hundreds and possibly thousands of times. Carolyn says people have commented on her levels of patience: “People often ask about my “remarkable patience.” I do not have patience, I have grit. The only way to see my ideas is to make them. There are, by now, predictable stages of work — imagination, anticipation, frustration, doubting, denial, ripping out, restarting, tedium, and finally, often after months, a burst of energy near the end when I start to believe in what I am seeing.”

Detail, Soliloquy II

This work is testament enough to her determination to carry out large intense areas of hand stitching, but equal and possibly more stunning examples exist in her works conveying swirling, capricious movements of air with layers of straight stitches of hand dyed silk threads over hand dyed silk fabrics, in rich surfaces of colour and texture – see Gallery 1 , Stitching Light.

New Work: Now Quilting

December 3rd, 2021

Much of my fibre art builds on interpretations of traditional repeat patchwork patterns – those basic geometric shapes arranged into blocks set in grids. In the late 80s we moved to Denver for a time. Always a keen stitcher, and not having a work permit, in addition to joining the Embroiderers’ Guild of America Colorado Chapter, I began learning about making patchwork quilts – that very American of textile arts. I also joined a book discussion group to focus on reading and discussing American literature – I was all in for the cultural experiences 🙂 A new neighbour introduced me to the Arapahoe County Quilt Guild in SE Denver. I took what turned out to be some really useful classes at a Quilt The Rockies Symposium – Seminole patchwork, Flying Geese Quilts, and one on the simple math in drafting patchwork to any size you wanted. I joined a quilting bee for the cultural experience, in what turned out to be a stellar group. It was a wonderful time in my life. Retaining my bee and guild involvements, I also joined an experimental art quilt group and began making my own original designs. From the very first I had success in some prestigious juried art quilt exhibitions, and also exhibited solo. The Front Range Contemporary Quiltmakers group formed while we lived there. It was amazing how many highly creative, innovative textile artists were (and are still) in that state.

I have frequently used simple shapes, particularly squares, as units of design in grids:

Divided squares using freehand cut strip inserts.

The traditional Nine Patch block, formed solely of squares, is one of my favourite blocks, though interestingly I have never made any kind of quilt using that design. In my previous post I wrote of how I’ve been following the small squares surrounded by stitch that so excited me during the recent challenge I took part in. Here is the whole piece, showing the design loosely inspired by the Nine Patch block, featuring 432 hand appliqued fused silk organza squares:

432 x 1.5cm silk squares fused and stitched down.

Besides showing in detail how the squares have a lovely texture, this also shows the first quilting, in which I’m really still auditioning the yellowy-green neon thread. What I mean here is that I’m prepared to pull out these early rows if the effect isn’t what I envisage, but I need more rows and some crossing them, too, before I finally decide.

Detail of stitched squares; the first yellowy/green quilting in the sashing area.

While the jury’s still out on that, I’ve started quilting in and around the groups of 9 squares, and absolutely love the way it enhances the little squares’ texture – they really pop up from the surface. This is due to the heavy nylon thread which doesn’t flatten down even when ironed.

Orange quilting around and between the 9 squares of each group.

Of course the whole thing would have been quicker if I’d stencilled the shapes 🙂 but that’s something to think of for the next one. This tapice, wall hanging, wall quilt is not large, and will probably be about 30″ x 40″ when finished. One of my Stitch Club friends asked the other day about how I was going to finish the edge – my answer was that I have a lot of time to think about that, too!

Silk Organza Squares, Continued

November 22nd, 2021

Moving along with the grid structured, raw edge appliqued squares design I showed in the previous post, after finishing nearly half the rows (29/64 ) I decided that I needed to make more of the pattern of nine squares in each ‘block’ or unit; the 9 Patch block being one of my favourite traditional blocks, and it’s permeating my thinking about how the work might be titled. Knowing the extra work that would be involved, a few days ago, with a heavy heart I decided I simply must remove half the little squares in every finished unit and replace them with a different colour before continuing on with the next 35 units in two colours.

Note how bright the additional orange is. I also added a burgundy and another light yellow.

To increase the complexity a little, I added 3 more colours to the palette, including a fairly strong orange silk organza which positively glows under the neon orange thread. I’m now fully caught up and moving ahead from the halfway point.

This final photo is of a section of the back of the base fabric onto which I’m applying the little ~1-25cm squares. Each square is fused into position, surrounded by two straight stitches per side and an X in the centre. Each group of 9 sits comfortably within the spring loaded hoop that holds the fabric firmly in place while I sew with stab stich motions.

My stitching ‘pattern’ on the back!

Each square looks the same on the front given the sort of free form imprecise, organic, nature of my stitches, but interestingly, on the back there’s clearly no fixed pattern of which corner my needle goes to next. It might be interesting some time to sew a border or even a filling on the front, working it from the back, for example.

After The 100 Day Thing

November 13th, 2021

It ended on Wednesday 10th, though I had made and posted my final 3 samples the weekend before, so essentially, by the monday I was free and keen to start something new. This photo shows the whole collection of 100 mis-matched ‘drink coasters’ 🙂

The whole 100 drink coasters collection – stored in great recycled food boxes.

I have quite a bit of sheer fabric that has always lured me to experiment, but I’ve made only a handful of sheer/transparent works. My stash of sheers is mostly black, white, cream and taupe nylon organzas, but there are some coloured silk organzas, too, left over from a Chungie Lee workshop I took at Fibreswest years ago.

Many modern watercolour paintings (eg Laura Crane) have struck me with their likeness to layered organza, so I fused a few bits of nylon organza, fiddling with that concept, and I like the idea of thread trapped under or between layers of sheer fabrics. I’ll play more with that sometime, but it didn’t all gel enough to take me into a new work using it, not just yet, anyway.

A bit grainy, but fiddling with layering sheer fabric and some thread trapped under it.
A few of my personal favourites

Sifting through my sample collection just decidng where to focus, I realised that the little square surrounded by stitch with a cross stitch in the middle was something that made quite a few appearances in the last couple of weeks of the challenge. I have always had a thing for grids, rigid or more informal; and repeat motifs laid out in grids are the stuff of traditional patchwork. I carry them forward in the way that every artist is influenced by everything they’re seen, done and made before. I only had a short time in the world of traditional quilt making, but that influence is very strong to me. The little repeated square made less plain with added stitched borders and a cross in the middle has become something of a personal motif, and it was telling me ‘do something with it, so I began this new work yesterday.

Detail of new work in progress – fused silk on cream cotton, polyester thread.

These squares are rhythmic and fairly quick to do, and I’m sure I won’t run out of the thread I’m using, as there must still be at least 1400+m on the cone. They’re about ~1.5cm, and at this scale on cream, the metallic thread I thought I’d use just wasn’t powerful enough. I auditioned all my neon threads, and I’m happy with this orange, which is adding a gorgeous cast where I’ve sewn, and that will increase when I get into the quilting. I’m liking how it adds texture that doesn’t flatten down even when ironed – it’s a thick thread, of the kind of gauge used for heavy duty outdoor upholstery, back packs and luggage – and being polyester it’s quite springy. Of course, I bought it for being neon orange.

When I’m further along, I’ll show some detail of what I plan to go with these groups of squares. I never show full views of works in progress, nor of finished ones, either, until they’ve been exhibited and/or sold. I’m feeling very excited about this new direction – an interesting development from the last 3+ months spent in exploring through sample making.

My Favourite Landscape Block

November 8th, 2021

I go back to this little basic block time and time again. I was a geography major, and much of what I had to present 55 years ago was in basic diagram form, and this is a really basic, diagrammatic way of saying ‘landscape’. Today a student would most likely illustrate a paper with digital photos.

Gold lame segments ~4″ sq., metallic machine stitched between nylon organza .

I have used this little abstract landscape block many times down the years, and though I last published this little sample in 2014, from various ‘clues’ in it the photo, I’m sure I actually put this one together several years before that.

In 2006 I made Timetracks1 with hand appliqued gold leather segments (Quilt National 2007)… and there are several others, plus many more with curvy lines that also say ‘landscape’.

“Timetracks 1”, 2006, detail. Grid squares ~4inches..

I put coloured segments of organza between layers of cream organza and, in the immediate aftermath of a workshop with Chungie Lee on the Korean wrapping cloths, Pojagi, that’s how I constructed these blocks, oversewn with gold machine stitching. Sorry the pic’s a bit grainy.

I’ve gone down this memory lane this morning because, as quite often happens, I came across that little sample while looking for something else. Today I’ve got a bit of time, and in my stash have a couple of metres of gold lame, many metres of black, light grey and cream nylon organza, and several miles of lame thread…

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