Lines = Seams = Lines

August 5th, 2019

Interesting marks, lines and shapes are all around us. I find plenty of them inspirational, providing as they do ideas for my quilted textile art. To me, the patterns made by lines are more important than the colours I end up working with. Line and shape come first, followed by colour and texture, which I rank together.

The joining of pieces of fabric patches, along lines or seams makes patchwork. In the 90s I learned how to make patchwork freehand, and it has remained my favourite surface design technique. It’s not difficult, just a totally different way of working compared with traditional patchwork. It’s made without using pattern pieces or making measurements, though rulers and quilters’ shapes are optional – there are always options. Basically, you just cut and sew as you go, often one seam at a time, following the few technical guidelines to produce an individual design in a nice flat quilt top ready for quilting by hand or machine.

Working this way is known in the quilting world as improvisational quiltmaking, and is widely used today in art quilts and in Modern Quiltmaking, which has become a big thing in the last decade or so. Google improvisational patchwork, and you’ll find many examples. The Modern Quilt Movement attracts many improv makers, and that whole group of quilters work in light bright colours with lots of white or other pale neutrals, and heavily machine quilt their quilts.

However, the technique itself can be applied to whatever colours you love working with. It’s one of my pet aversions to see photos of a group of students from a class all holding up something the same thing as the person standing next to them; so for that reason I don’t provide fabric kits. I have students make their own fabric selections at home before coming to the workshop with fabrics they love. I suggest that about half a pillow case of fabrics is more than enough to work with in a one day 6 hour workshop, where much time can be better used if those fabric choices have been made before class.

I’ll be teaching two classes on this technique next month at the 22nd International Festival of Patchwork, Gramado, Brasil. Whether teaching this technique and its finer points to beginners or advanced students, my goal is always to show how they can use it to piece together their own pattern of lines they’ve found somewhere. Quite a number of my quilts will be there at the festival, on exhibition and as class samples. I’m sure some students will copy one of those patterns using their own fabrics, which is fine, because just by doing that they will be learning a great deal. But I’d like everyone to go away knowing that they can diagram up some simple lines for themselves, choose some fabrics, and start cutting and sewing to develop their own ideas.

Using a simple photo editing program on the computer, scan a shell, crop sections of the pattern, then play with colour ideas. Someone always says they can’t draw, but no one has to!

Studio Archeology 1

August 4th, 2019

Tucked away in a long forgotten photo file I came across this and a couple of other gems this morning. A small piece, maybe 30″ x 30″ (it’s in storage, I can’t check) it’s the result of one of the projects I undertook as a member of a group of experimental quilt makers while I was living in SE Denver CO., back in the late 80s early 90s.

Not having a work visa but having a strong interest in fibre arts, in addition to joining the Embroiderers’ Guild of America, I turned my attention to the craft of traditional American patchwork and quilting. In a deliberate move to learn more about the world of quiltmaking, I joined a local quilting guild, Arapahoe County Quilters, in 1988, and though that group joined a quilting bee, then called the Friday Block Party. We met every friday morning and quilted and gossiped together until lunch time – and sometimes took ourselves out to lunch after that. It was great fun, and that group was one of the hardest I have ever had to leave, anywhere.

When I joined this lively group of keen, very skilled quilters, everyone was making traditional bed quilts and wall quilts; and our group projects were traditional mostly, too. At this time, the late 80s, several Colorado artists working in the quilted textile medium were becoming prominent on the national non-traditional or Art Quilt scene. In addition to the high level of creativity in Colorado, several major travelling exhibitions appeared. Piecemakers, a very experimental group started up in Boulder, and the Front Range Quilters formed around this time, too. Art quilts were attracting a lot of attention, and some of us in The Friday Block Party became keen to develop our own designs and learn some of the non-traditional surface design techniques that we could see others were acquiring and teaching.

A small group of us formed and experimental group to share and learn. We met monthly, and called ourselves Quilt Explorations. Each month we had an assignment of a design idea or concept to explore and if possible make something out of that idea, and when we met the following month we discussed and critiqued each other’s efforts.

Which brings me to this little piece. I really can’t remember what I titled it, though by this time I was an experienced exhibitor of mixed media art, and routinely named my fibre art works. But I can tell you a few things about this project. We were to develop an original design based on something from traditional quiltmaking. I took two traditional patterns, the Diamond In A Square, and Amish Bars, which seemed a good idea at the time! The bright bars were made of an Australian fabric designed by the late indigenous artist, Jimmy Pike. It was hand quilted in bright orange-red thread, and now that I look at it, it’s barely ‘innovative’ at all, though perhaps thirty years ago it was a reasonable leap from ‘traditional’

An early art quilt project done while I was a member of Quilt Explorations group, Denver CO. Untitled, c.1990 Approx 30″ x 30″
Detail of hand quilting patterns definitely inspired by traditional N.American quilt design.

I can’t say this quilt ‘led’ me anywhere on a creative path, but it represents a stage of breaking out of the traditional mould, ‘in transition’, you might say, and therefore important. Though I had actually only made one traditional quilt, a Flying Geese wall quilt and some patchwork blocks. The Friday Block Party had a scheme that each member in turn would ask for a particular block from the other members. and a month later we’d hand them all over to her. When my turn came around, I requested Dresden Plate, and still have the blocks I’ve never put together- and my excuse is they’re in storage, though I’d like to at least get them out. Over the next few years the whole bee became more original design focused, some of its members going on to be art quilt makers, others finding niches in teaching, writing and fabric dyeing. By 1992 we’d changed our name to “Over The Edge Quilters” which was a lot closer to the mark of describing our group’s character.

I will write again soon on very early pieces in the next of what will be an occasional series.

Quiet But Busy

July 30th, 2019

Here is this year’s 12″ donation quilt for the annual SAQA Benefit Auction , in which I participate every year. The auction money raised helps fund the programs and activities of the Studio Art Quilt Associates organisation, many of which I find very worthwhile. I’ve been a member for many years, and as my geographic location prevents me from being hands on at events, contributing to the annual auction is something I can do from afar.

Ebb&Flow #30, subtitled ‘Crotons’ after a FB friend’s comment on the colours.

Although I have not made anything new since mailing that in at the end of April, I have been pretty busy. I mentioned earlier I’ve been invited to teach at Gramado this coming September, and apart from learning some basic Brasilian portuguese, I’ve spent quite a bit of time revamping the beginner and advanced freehand (improvisational) workshops that I’ll be teaching, with help from my wonderful portuguese teacher Moira Riccetto Blanco, who is learning a great deal about improvisational patchwork along the way! Of course, I’ll be demonstrating the basic construction steps. But I will also have powerpoints for each class that cover/reprise those basic techniques, with some ideas sources, along with references to my own work. Moira’s watching that my very brief captions make sense. The PPPs will be shown either on demand or in a loop once everyone gets sewing – it all depends. Bearing in mind that a picture is worth a thousand words, and that I enjoy assembling PPPs, this has all been very absorbing.

In addition to being invited to teach, I am being featured as a master quilter through an exhibition of 12 of my own quilts. So, of course I expect some people will want to talk to me about them, and I’d like my answers to make some sense ­čÖé

As each class is only 6 hours, I don’t want students to be laboriously taking notes, instead I want them to be learning by doing. I know people usually love to start to make something and if possible finish it in such workshops, and while ‘finish’ might not be possible in such a short time, I’m sure everyone would rather sew than take notes! I myself have no trouble listing a few key words and doing a quick diagram, but not everyone can manage that while they’re listening or watching.

The beginners’ class is on day 1, and the advanced class is on day 3. On every day, the festival program will feature many workshops, and demonstrations, plus exhibitions and the razzle dazzle of a vendors’ mall featuring new fabrics, books, notions and demos. I myself could be blown away as ‘they’ tell me Brasilian fabrics are marvellous. Each student will receive brief aide memoire notes of the workshop in their own language (portuguese, spanish or english) with pics and/or diagrams of what was covered. Wanting to inspire with the thought that undulating lines are everywhere in nature, I collaged a set of sand ripples with my 2008 SAQA auction quilt, which came out as a really lovely background to some very brief text –

Sand ripples + the image of my 2008 SAQA auction quilt turned on its side. The natural world is full of undulating lines that can form unique patchwork designs.

A Question On Landscape

July 2nd, 2019

A quilter recently contacted me asking if I teach landscapes. My answer to her included these comments: My freehand patchwork technique is wonderful for landscapes, and your question makes me think again about much of what I have done … I have much experience with landscapes using many techniques, and would be happy to teach a whole workshop, about how fiber artists can make “landscapes” … I never teach everyone in the class to do the same … always encouraging students to follow their own intentions with the techniques that I can teach them to achieve this.

Landscape has always been at the core of the inspiration for my art. When I began to seriously express my creativity through colour and textures of landscape in the 80’s, I did this through stitch+paint+found objects. The world is made up of is made up of and infinite variety of landscapes, all of them to some degree dotted or dominated by streams, rivers, lakes ponds, parks – including but not limited to deserts, beach fringed coastlines, rugged high mountains, extensive icy tundra, tropical rainforest clad ridges and valleys, man made farmlands, highways and backroads and, of course villages, towns and cities. Below are some details from my ‘creative embroidery’ phase, but really, my art has always been mixed media even if dominated for years by patchwork and quilting, p&q.

Colour+texture in paint+stitch

Over the time I have been making quilted fabric works, my interest in landscape has shifted from shape+colour+texture to the current shape as a result of processes by wind, water, temperature change and the activity of Man as agents of shaping landscape we see around us today.

Landscape in various techniques and materials

My p&q phase began in the late 80s and has never ended, while the many sewing and construction techniques I’ve learned down the years are always ready to be considered for inclusion in a new work. While much of what I do comes under the much of my art today fits under the umbrella term art quilting, it is definitely ‘mixed media’ too.

For pieced designs, a.k.a. patchwork, I sew the pieces of fabric together by machine to make a surface design. I also use my machine to sew free machine embroidery, fme, and free machine quilting, fmq. In addition to those, I also do surface designing using any of the following – hand stitch, hand quilting, needleweaving, beading, stencilling, hand painting, hand drawing/mark making, monoprinting, spray painting, stamping, burning, machine applique, couching and more. Materials I use vary, but a favourite is cotton, plain, hand dyed and printed with small textural and striped designs. I have made quilts using appliqued leather. I made one from vinyl with appliqued mylar shapes. I have used nylon and silk organzas, and sometimes use lame or other glittery fabrics.

A Gift Of Handmade Paper

June 14th, 2019

A couple of years ago here in Montevideo, Mike and I spent a delightful day with Sue Dennis and her husband Bob. They were on a South American cruise, and meeting up with us in the city of Montevideo was their shore activity that day. What a good combination – two textile artists with supportive, congenial husbands who both just happen to be geologists with some experiences and acquaintances in common? Sue and I first met years before, teaching at a quilters’ gathering in Mt. Isa, a remote northern Australian Outback mining town, where we’d each lived at different times.

The time flew as we did a short guided tour of the city with some suitable craft gallery visits (some distance from the port, they might never have got there …) before settling into lunch and a few wines at the mercado del puerto, right near where their ship was docked. We were sorry when the time came for them to head over to reboard their ship, and I was touched when Sue gave me a couple of gifts as a thank you, as if one were needed, for we thoroughly enjoyed it all. One gift was a piece of Sue’s own hand dyed fabric, in these greens. She’d have had no idea green has always been my favourite colour! I have used about 1/4 of it in various projects since, and at the rate at which I use colours and prints I’ll be dipping into it for a while to come.

A hand made paper book – in which to collect thoughts, writings, quotations or sketches.

The other gift was a book of sheets of handmade paper. Such artisan made books are prized as artist diaries, trip diaries, as displays of collected momentos, special quotations – all kinds of special things. I’m not a big writer of diaries, and my regular readers know this blog is the nearest I believe I’ll ever come to keeping an artist’s or visual diary. I’m sorry to confess this 15cm x 10cm, 28-page hand bound book has languished in it’s protective cellophane packet since, and in the last couple of years has come ‘to the top’ several times, as it did just yesterday as I tidied up a corner of my workspace. No, don’t get over excited – it was more a shuffle of stuff with a bit of feather duster work, I didn’t actually throw anything out, which would have made what I did more effective.

When the book appeared, I took it out of its cellophane bag, checked the maker’s sticker on the back, confirming it was not Sue’s work (I’d have been surprised if it were) and for the umpteenth time pondered how I’d really love to do something with it, but felt hesitant to start writing/drawing something on it in case I then felt I’ve spoiled it … stupid thoughts like that. Writing that sentence reminded me of various quilt makers I’ve known down the years who’ve bought some absolutely gorgeous fabric that they are never quite able to cut into, but hang onto with good intentions for years and years. It was perhaps because this little book did go through my hands and mind yesterday, that when I read a interview article on the work of British artist Claire Benn this morning, it occurred to me that it would be very exciting and entirely appropriate to remove the binding and treat each individual sheet of paper as a stitch surface.

I’m a big fan of hand stitch from way back, particularly what I call the Glorious Straight Stitch which was the subject of a series of posts back in 2013 I’m sure I have some natural coloured threads that would be lovely on such lovely thick textured paper. I’ll just have to think about this a bit longer, and for the moment I put it back into it’s protective cellophane bag…

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