Decision Making Along The Way

February 23rd, 2024

I often make samples, as you know – but quite often I change my mind and deviate from the general plan I had when I started something. It was therefore very reassuring to find myself reading these few words written just on five years ago by Penny Berens of , whose work I greatly admire… “Of course, as usual, before trusting my thoughts/ I did try out other background stitches./ It seems I often do that before settling!” I could have written them myself, because I am at exactly this stage with the new work I have started using the strips of strips I’ve recently assembled and fitting them into my vague diagram/plan.

I’ve begun this work, but I haven’t yet ‘settled’ into it. With several interruptions, it’s been a broken week since I began cutting across the sets of misty-fuse back strips and starting to sew them down. Two steps forward, one step back – to date I have undone and re-done differently nearly all the stitching I did so far!

See bottom row – I began by stitching with vertical stitch beside vertical stitch. That looked boring and I resewed with wider spaced often crossed stitches – livelier ­čÖé

I’ve now decided to undo and completely eliminate another, striking, feature of the work, about 1m of intertwined ‘ribbons’ stitched in this manner. This did take quite a while to do, but because it now seems quite wrong and it will have to go too!

I don’t find this a problem, at all, and yet there would be many who don’t understand this approach, and even the late great Constance Howard advised not unpicking anything, but to find something more to sew over it. I’ve occasionally taken that advice, but with due respect Constance, in this particular case that just won’t do. I feel that even when I have started on this work with a general idea, as I’m still fairly close to the start, it is worth considering options, other possibilities, to make sure I’m settling in a way that pleases me, because when I do find that sweet spot, I know I will go forward and finish the work. And, to back me up on this, I have very few unfinished works around me at any one time.

Sample note – one image in that blog post contains areas of stitch filling of cross stitches, ‘plus’ signs – and although it might just be the light and time of day in her part of the world, March in Canada – it looks to me as if many of those crosses sit on a slight, vague, bit of colour in the background – I need to make a sample to explore this interesting possible look.

How long did that take to make?

February 10th, 2024

Entries for Quilt National 25 open on May1st and close on August 30th. At this point I don’t have a single new, largish work to even consider entering, and the entry fee enables 3 works to be submitted. But I have started planning one, at least. I’ve found the earthy coloured fabric I had in mind, and this week I’ve sewn together heaps of scraps and strips in desert/earthy colours. Theoretically Montevideo and much of Ugruguay is expecting a stormy wet weekend, so this feels a good time to make a start.

These strips are at least 1m. I will cut across them to get the little segmented strips of colour I love working with.

Decades ago I used to thrive on last minute dashes to enter something on the final day of entry, and some of the earlier QNs I entered in a flurry of last minute activity were successful, for example Obiri QN95, below. I whizzed it up, had it photographed and sent the slides off all within 10 days – probably fedexed it to the USA to make sure it got there by the deadline! Certainly it was small, but it was truly improvisational and well, everything did go right, too.

Left – Obiri, 1994, 70cm x 50cm (Irregular shape, photographed against black) Detail – right, shows the true colours of the quilt more accurately.

Another example of last a minute rush to meet a deadline was my last minute decision to submit to the theme quilt category at the annual Paducah quilt show. Perhaps we were snowed in or something – but between Christmas and New Year I made the decision to make and enter something in the theme category, which in the 1991 show was ‘triangles’. I don’t know about show conditions these days, but think theme quilts needed to be at least 80inches in one direction, which is a good bed quilt size. I told the family to look after themselves because I’d be busy for a while. I machine pieced and machine quilted steadily for two weeks, had ‘Lilydale’ photographed (in those days slides had to be processed) and I just managed to get it entered by the closing date in mid January. It was accepted, but these days I wouldn’t dream of doing such big project at the last minute.

“Lilydale” 1991, 168cm x 256cm. Machine pieced and quilted.

In the first year of the pandemic, 2020, while spending a lot of time at home, and it seemed reasonable to spend many hours hand stitching a quilt while listening to long recorded books or stitching along with one eye on CSI Miami umpteenth replays, or similar. Although I came close to having a second one finished in time to enter QN21, I decided I just couldn’t be bothered staying up late, frantically stitching for another 10 days (if all went well) to finish it, and so that year I entered just the one, but “Pandemic Pattern” got in.

Alison with “Pandemic Pattern” 2020, 72w x 94cmh

Of the estimated 800 strips I’ve calculated are in Pandemic Pattern, I timed a few and found on average each took about 6 minutes to position and sew into place, meaning the surface design took about 4800 minutes / 80 hours to do. Add 50-60 hours more for planning, fabric selection and cutting, machine quilting, making and applying the bindings and hanging sleeve. The total time taken therefore was about 140 hours all up. People often say to me something like “Goodness, I don’t know where you find the patience – so how many hours did this take you to make?” If pressed I just say “I never keep count…the only important thing is to just keep going until I reach the end of the project.”

Edge Treatments

February 6th, 2024

Whenever I’m looking at textile or fibre art online, one of the things that I look for is how artists have finished the edges of their work, and I sometimes save an interesting image to my Pinterest board ‘edge treatments’.

One enduring legacy of traditional quilt making is that most art quilt makers carefully bind or face the straight or straightened edges of our quilts. These are the standard procedures for those utilitarian predecessors from which art quilts descend, and I myself have mostly bound or faced quilts, even ones with extremely irregular shaped outer edges, eg., Pahoehoe 2. That facing was challenging and a bit finicky in parts, but was worth it – because it would have been an entirely different quilt if the circular shapes had extended and then been chopped in a straight line on four edges. I have seen other artists deal with this issue by placing the whole irregular shaped composition onto a rectangular backing and then treating that as the surface design to be quilted and ultimately faced or bound – ho hum.

“Pahoehoe 2” 1996, 130cm x 120cm. Irregular outer edge and the blue bits in the centre are actually cut-outs – all photographed against a light coloured wall.

However, depending on design content and to some extent the fibre composition, I have treated some edges in other ways –

The burnt polyester organza edge of “Timetracks 7” 2008
“Landmarks” 2015 90cm x 120cm. Raw-edged base fabric of black patent finish vinyl was just cut, and left as-is.

I’ve lately been thinking about how when an artist takes up a piece of cloth and does something like cut holes in it, pleat it, paint or add stitch to it, they then put it down, figuratively and literally – it’s done, a little bit of art has been performed, so to speak, and it’s finished. To me, the question is – does it always need to be framed or defined by an edge – or can that edge be just left, with the idea that whatever the artist has done to it is just part of a continuum and then Time just moves on? That little piece snatched from a moment in time can be mounted hung, draped or worn – it’s purpose might determine some further treatment, but a lot of art is 2D and can be left. Many 3D works have ragged unfinished-looking edges, and so I am questioning the automatic formal edging of all quilted fibreart we call ‘art quilts’.

“Square Dancing” 2024 ~30cm. Ready to mount or frame …

I need to think more about this idea, but I was really pushed to thinking about it recently when I saw how one artist did some lovely improvisational piecing of units with repeated shapes and skillful use of colour. When it reached the point of finishing the edge, she got out her straight ruler, trimmed off all the interesting little irregular shapes, and placed a facing along each of the four straight edges. The result was ‘nice’, but much less interesting than it could have been.

“Spirogyra” My 2024 SAQA Auction Quilt

February 4th, 2024
“Spirogyra” 2024, 12″x12″, SAQA Benefit Auction Donation.

If I’m home at the start of the new year, I like to make two small works months in advance of their due dates for annual events later. These small works are often actually samples for something bigger I have in mind, test pieces you might say.

I was thinking of sheer fabrics, and about crossing them over each other to somehow use that pattern of sections where they cross. Then I thought of oversewing them, or oversewing any old strip of fabric and removing that fabric to leave just the stitches…. which led me to the point of stitching over two machine sewn lines – with varying widths between them – so the result was this sample , which then led me to using segmented fabric strips plus overstitching method of couching I’ve used a great deal since 2019-20.

Two machine basted lines which I initially intended to remove after stitching, but the effect was a bit blaah…
Overstitching machined lines in the same colour, though, gave a pleasing effect which I then used in this piece.

The result is the small work I will donate to the Studio Art Quilt Associates benefit auction that comes up in September. I called it Spirogyra because that is the name given to green threads of algae – all of which somehow came from the deep recesses of memory about senior biology classes in the mid 60’s, and that was a bit surprising!

Making Marks With Stitch

February 3rd, 2024

A Uruguayan friend, Laura F, visited the recent glass and textile exhibition Salonlatino Artevidriotextil in which I had a piece. Although I had talked with her about it and sent her the publicity about the works in that show, she later told me she’d instinctively looked about for one of my art quilts (tapices) that she’d always known as my art.

I met Laura here in Uruguay on my first visit in 1989, and it was the year I began making quilted textile art, too – art quilts or tapices as people call them here. I was accompanying husband Mike on a business visit from Denver CO where we were living at the time. A few years later Laura helped arrange a couple of solo exhibitions in Montevideo and in Punta del Este in the early 90s. She had never known my pre-quiltmaking persona as a creative embroiderer, but my first solo exhibition of anything was of embroidered art, “Sunburnt Textures”, Perth, Western Australia, 1987, just before we moved to the USA where I began making quilted textile art. So my piece in the show somewhat suprised Laura, as she had no idea I was “a really very good embroiderer!!”

“Sunburnt Textures” title piece from solo exhibition, 1987.
Detail – with paint+stitch+found objects.

In the last five decades I’ve read many textile and quilt catalogues, visited websites, browsed on Pinterest, participated in and attended fibreart exhibitions, met many makers and taken some amazing workshops with some special teachers. After such a long time, there are many artists whose work I instantly recognise in an online exhibition, a magazine or a Pinterest page. By this I mean that whatever they do, a certain signature aura shows up in any image of their work. Such a signature comes from how they combine different elements in a work including techniques, materials, patterns and imagery used, and the use of colour – collectively forming the artist’s style. On a more personal level, when an artist’s emotions and feelings are presented through their unique style, their voice reaches the viewer. I have always felt that the best artist statement about any piece of art is a well chosen, brief title, and whether it comes with a written statement is usually not important to me, but I find some statements can help some viewers interpret what they see a bit more deeply.

Textile artists whose work I easily recognise and really love because it always resonates with me, include Dorthy Caldwell, Emily Barletta , Carolyn Nelson , Bonnie Sennot , Roberta Wagner , Annita Romano , Marian Bijengla , but there are many more. And there are several non-textile artists whose work I adore because they make marks in repeat patterns that always make me think of texture in stitch, so I feel akin to each of them, even though I don’t know the first thing about any of their media. These are generative artist the late Vera Molnar, glass artist Giles Bettison and painter Shane Drinkwater.

Like all the above artists, I don’t do pictorial textile art, and my semi abstract works might more properly be likened to craftsmen like weavers, knitters and traditional embroiderers and more who glory in repeat patterns. My own patterns are not usually rigidly repetitive, but are more akin to the general but recognisable patterns of the earth’s surface textures and the structures within its crust, from where a lot of my inspiration comes. I’m considering signing up for a Sue Stone workshop in repeat pattern and texture when it opens for registration next. Even though Sue’s embroideries are not the kind of thing I do, at all, there’s a disconnect that might take me in an interesting direction with my own art.

Entries (RSS) and Comments (RSS).

All images and text are © Alison Schwabe
Reproduction of any kind is expressly prohibited without written consent.

Translate ┬╗