In a recent Zoom chat with fellow SAQA members on the problem many makers of art quilts find in having our/their work accepted as ‘Fine Art’ in the Art World. In that discussion, we talked how the associations conjured by the word ‘quilt’ evoke memories of familiar protective, warming, comforting bed covers, ie quilts. Historically bed quilts were always and still are pretty exclusively designed, made and used entirely within the home, a setting largely organised and run by women. The result is that many modern art quilters, including myself, feel the word ‘quilt’ comes with some heavy baggage of historical perceptions that don’t necessarily apply today. I know if I tell someone that I’m an art quilter, it is very likely they immediately think of bed coverings, and very few of my works have ever had that dual role potential.
Some art quilt makers find ourselves deliberately avoid using that “q’ word as we speak and write of textile art, fibre art, layered and stitched textiles, fabric art, mixed media, wall hangings, 2D wall art, and so on. I’ve actually settled on ‘textile artist’ as being the closest coverall term for what I do:
- my creations involve woven fabric, that is, some kind of textile, as the major raw material of a work.
- I love repeat pattern units in grid layouts, and my minimalist abstract designs bear strong influence from traditional geometric patchwork which I got to know while living in the United States over 30 years ago.
- I machine piece my freehand cut fabric shapes to produce improvisational patchwork.
- I hand applique raw edged fabric or leather shapes with mostly very simple hand stitch.
- I sometimes fuse fabric and other materials together.
- I sometimes laminate shapes of woven and non-woven materials between plastic sheeting and use the result as something to be appliqued to a base fabric.
In Spanish there is a delightful umbrella term for any 2D textile hanging on a wall, made using any technique, including but not limited to, weaving, embroidery, knitting, crochet, macrame, patchwork, and mixed media – whether it is quilted or not. This word is ‘tapice’, and as I currently live in the Spanish-speaking world, that suits me just fine!
For growing numbers of modern fibre textile artists, the process of designing and producing a quilted textile work often involves digital devices at some/several stages of its production, which can include contracting out part of the process to a commercial printing firm if the artist can’t carry that out in their own studio space. Does this mean the work is less ‘artistic’ because one or more parts of the production process have been handled by some technician?
Also, today many quilters sew their textile art entirely by sewing machine, a growing number of which are computerised and programmable. Though this mechanised needle and has been around since the mid C19, the fact that modern machines can be programmed to do certain tasks means that the artist’s hand may be removed from some part of the actual process – so does this make what we do less artistic? Art quilt makers who produce their art professionally generally have some kind of dedicated studio space, which may be distinctly separate from their home, but many more, including myself, count themselves lucky to have a dedicated room or two of their own within their home, or even having a studio in a converted garage space. This means many or even most of us still produce within the ‘domestic’ arena, making the women’s craftwork thing difficult to shake off, even though (1) a significant number of top art quilt makers are men, and (2) many male and female artists do have separate studios away from their homes. Is what you make less ‘artistic’ if you work at one end of the dining table to produce it?
And, finally perhaps it boils down to a simple thing: the other day on a FB page dedicated to people like readers of this newsletter, someone pontificated that a quilted textile with a fabric border/frame around it is ‘craft’ – a true art quilt has a faced edge. As I’ve ripped, hacked and burned edges of some of my pieces down the years, I don’t agree with her edict! But, does the fine binding on my little piece above render it ‘craft’? or at least make it less artistic?