Looking Back From Quilt National 23

September 25th, 2023

As documented on the Dairy Barn’s website one of the jurors of the first Quilt National exhibition (1979), Gary Schwindler, wrote “American quilt making is now at a stage of experimentation and development as it prepares to take its place as a major form of artistic endeavour. This notion is supported by the variety of media employed and the number of directions indicated by the artists represented in QUILT NATIONAL ’79.….There has also been an increased interest in industrial materials and processes for artist purposes and a willingness on the part of “serious” artists to explore and enter into modes traditionally excluded from the status of “fine” art.” Further down that website, under History and Philosophy comes: “The works in a Quilt National exhibit display a reverence for the lessons taught by the makers of the heritage quilts. Many of the works hold fast to the traditional methods of piecing and patching. At the same time, however, the Quilt National artist is intrigued by the challenge of expanding the boundaries of traditional quiltmaking by utilizing the newest materials and technologies. These innovative works generate strong emotional responses in the viewer while at the same time fulfilling the creative need of the artist to make a totally individual statement.

That was a bold mission statement, and since my first appearance in a Quilt National (1993) the face of fibreart has changed enormously, so that what techniques and materials were deemed extraordinary back then have entered the textile art mainstream. However, I’ve always understood those words to be one of the main things QN jurors look for, and therefore have entered works that I felt went some way towards that ideal. They have influenced me to experiment a bit with technical ideas or consider using ‘different’ materials. I myself have never won any of the most innovative use of the medium awards, but I am proud of my works selected in 1993, 1995, 2005, 2007, 2021, and 2023, because in their time they were different, original, and well within the scope of Quilt National’s search for creativity and innovation in contemporary art quilt making.

These are my QN pieces, in order of appearance:

“Ora Banda”, 1992, 127cmh x 150cmw
LHS: “Obiri”, 1994, 70cm x 50cm (irregular shape photographed against black)
RHS: Colours in this detail are more accurate.
“Timetracks 1”, 2006, 109cmh X 94cmw
Timetracks 7″, 2008     74cmh x 99cmw      
“”Pandemic Pattern“, 2020, 72cm x 94cm      
Abstract Landscape Textures”, 2022, 190cm x 95cm

“Abstract Landscape Textures” was selected for Quilt National 23. I was unable to travel up to Athens OH to attend the opening last May, and my Exhibitor’s Copy of the Catalogue took several months to reach me here in Montevideo. So when ‘everyone’ online was discussing the exhibition, talking about the opening itself, the awards, and posting pics of attending exhibitiors pictured with their works, I had little to refer to or contribute to the discussion! But even so, there seemed less discussion of this year’s collection as a whole, and so far online I haven’t yet found an actual review or critique of the whole exhibition, either. I hope that once the collection comes down and is divided into the three touring groups that go to regional galleries and museums around the USA and several other countries, that more review articles will appear.

From what post-opening discussions there were, I had the impression that QN23 was a bit ho-hum, a view confirmed when I opened the pages for a good look at everything, including careful reading of the jurors’ statements and gallery director’s introduction. Of course, there’s no substitute for seeing the exhibition in real time, is there, but with the exception of John Lefelhocz’s beautiful work (“Like Words That Shape Poems…Like Notes that Shape Music” ) nothing leaped off the pages as ground breaking in technique or materials – and goodness I miss those close detail images that used to be included in the QN catalogue! There was nothing controversial, and it all seemed pretty safe to me. I even felt several people had studied with the same Big Name workshop teachers, and so yes, I am suggesting some works seemed more derivative than original. The two award-winning pieces I really did like were Cecile Trentini’s “Puzzled” (Most Innovative Material award) and Judith Martin’s “Under Drifting Stars” Handiwork award. The other award winners may have been spectacular, but the catalogue failed to show me that – detail shots of at least the award winning works would have been helpful. And, of course, the jurors can only select from the submitted entries!

Knowing some of the artists and their works, I felt the colour printing in the catalogue was a bit dull. But another angle is that perhaps these days there are many more high quality, equally prestigious calls for ‘the best contemporary quilts’. I will always try to have something to enter for future QNs, but several makers I know feel QN has lost some of its prestige, and there are probably some newer makers who know little of this biennial exhibition’s historic role in the art quilt world.

New Life For A Beloved Textile

September 14th, 2023

In a previous post, “A Packable Souvenir From A Previous Life” , I described a Bima Wear caftan I bought over 45 years ago in Darwin, and which I wore for many years. Eventually I guess caftans went out of fashion, or maybe I just needed to wear something different on the occasions for which it had been so suitable, like informal drinks and BBQ gatherings. (It also doesn’t fit me well any more! )I could never send it to a thrift shop though so I brought it back from Australia last time we were there just months before the pandemic.

Anyway, we have just had a 2-week visit from our daughter Anna, who lives in southern New Jersey, only blocks from the coast, so she’s used coastal colours featuring blues, greys, white, and sandy colours in her living areas. On her last day here, she asked if she could have it, but after trying it on it wasn’t quite the kind of garment she’d ever wear. However, she felt it was iconic and even used that word for it, because she must have seen me in it hundreds of times. After a bit of brainstorming though, we agreed that the fabric, with those screen printed Big Birds / aka jabiru could make wonderful cushions, or better still a table runner! As I unpicked all the seams and hems to get the maximum use of the fabric minus the wear lines, I marvelled at the sturdy hand stitching still intact after all the countless machine washes…. which I’d never noticed, I guess because I’d never had to repair a section of the hem!

Cutting into the beautifully screen printed fabric just as little as possible to maximise the use of the printed area, it worked out really well, I think –

Jabiru table runner, 2023, ~1.8m x ~40cm, recycling the print border of a Bima Wear caftan c.1977.

As I worked on it the quite soft but clearly durable fabric it reminded me of early school uniforms Anna had in Mt. Isa, and the name Prestaline kept coming into my mind – so I checked online, and Prestaline is still being made in Australia, recommended for uniforms dresses tops etc – so I’m pretty sure that’s what the fabric is – a polyester/rayon blend, which fits with the feel and durability of the now former-caftan, and which I used several times for garments for myself back in my dressmaking days. Good to know I’ll be able to visit this beloved piece of re-purposed textile occasionally.

“In Fourteen Hundred And Ninety Two…

August 14th, 2023

Columbus sailed the ocean blue” go the famous first two lines from a children’s poem on American history of which I first learned while we lived in USA, 1987-94.

Probably in 1991, before the quincentenary of the discovery of what became known as The New World – the Americas, Quilters Newsletter Magazine announced some competition or call for an exhibition to go in their pages to help mark this huge event in modern world history. I don’t remember the exact details of it, however I clearly remember making my entry, which unfortunately was not selected:

“In Search Of The New World” 1992, 130cm x 130cm

Last week I realised that although this quilt was listed in my ‘master list’, I hadn’t noticed a photo of it anywhere for a very long time. Since then I have been searching, knowing it has to be in my computer somewhere – and eventually just an hour ago I found it in an external hard drive I haven’t accessed for years. Please share my joy! One possible reason for not finding it is I didn’t have the title exactly right in the search – duh. Anyway, I immediately re-saved it into this computer, and now it will probably pop up somewhere just because I’m no longer looking for it…

Detail “In Search Of The New World”, machine pieced and quilted.

I was a bit disappointed when my work was rejected, but I’d already had acceptance and rejection experience so took it philosophically. When the selected ones were published later that year, I saw there were some some much better ones than this one.

Now looking at it, I know the shiny blue fabric said ‘water’, and the earthy coloured strips said, to me anyway, ‘earth’. If you look carefully, in the detail shot you can see spherical shapes representing the round earth, (as many at that time still believed the Earth to be flat) but now I see those spheres were way too subtle, but it’s an interesting idea I might revisit some time. Probably the horizontal strips of fabric should have had some green in them, to suggest ‘land’. Plus the strips themselves were perfectly straight edged, not at all land like… I had not yet learned the basics of improvisational cutting and piecing, but If I’d known them then, those strips might have looked more like islands in the blue, and been more appealing. The best features of this landscape+history inspired work are the wonderful cerulean blue polished cotton furnishing fabric, and the inspired freehand watery machine quilting pattern.

Innovative Irregularity In 1993 …

August 11th, 2023

As so often happens when I’m looking for something in particular, although I haven’t yet found the thing I was looking for, I did come across a couple of older pieces I’d quite forgotten about, like this one, “Forecast Cooler, Windy”.

“Forecast Cooler, Windy” 1993, 98cm x 98cm, irregular edge, photographed against black.

I made this nearly 30 years ago, in 1993, while we were living in Denver. In that part of the country as the end of summer gives way to the Fall, leaves turn mostly yellow-browns as colour fades from everything except the evergreens in their dark to smoky greens. As the season advances and the weather becomes colder, it becomes quite windy, blowing the dry leaves to the ground.

Having recently learned the basics of improvisational cutting and piecing, I had begun to insert or reverse applique strips into backgrounds of freehand pieced designs – here signifying air movement across a vague suggestion of ‘Landscape’. The Bernina machine I had at that time had embroidery stitches that were programmable to either just keep sewing until you stopped them, or to have the machine stop after completing just one motif, so that was great to embroider individual motifs in gold metallic thread, scattering them across the quilt’s surface like leaves blowing in the wind. Machines like mine were being used to give some wonderful machine quilted textures as quilters explored their potential, producing relatively innovative stuff, with ‘art quilts’ still being a fairly new thing. What was really innovative in this work, to me, was the irregular shaping of the quilt’s edge. There was very little irregularity in edges then as not too many people had worked out how to use serious shaping on the sides and along the tops of quilts in such a way that the shaped bit didn’t flop forward, so any shaping was pretty modest by today’s standards.

Art quilt exhibitions were still relatively new, too, but rapidly spreading. I’m not certain, but it is very likely I made this to enter into a local art quilt exhibition like Front Range Contemporary Quilters, as Colorado textile artists were right at the forefront of these developments, which already included Quilt National, Visions; and most quilt guilds by this time had some art quilt sections in their members’ exhibitions. Wherever I entered it, I remember feeling I had to note on the paper entry form that the edges were deliberately irregularly shaped and that the quilt hung flat against the wall – I feared someone would see the image as incompetent workmanship 🙂 Within the next 2-3 years I’d produced several works with far more extreme shaping along the top, such as “Waterweave”. As I remember it, the Quilters Guild of New South Wales, as part of their effort to promote all forms of quiltmaking, traditional and art quilts, asked me to design an irregular shaped quilt with instructions to make it and finish such edges, to be a chapter in a book compiled by various art quilters in Australia… something like that, but the detailed factual info is in storage in Aus, along with my copy of the book, sigh.

Planning diagram and finished art quilt, Waterweave , 1996, 110cmw x 130cmh.

The link in the text just above the photo has some ideas on how to finish irregular edges – email me if you need further help. Of course these days, quel horreur – some people are just leaving torn or raw cut edges, without any binding or facing at all!

Stripey Things

August 3rd, 2023

At their best, social media can provide wonderful communications with people you’d never normally come across in your daily life or your travels.

Take this example – on Instagram I’ve been following @stripeypebbles for some time. This UK woman, Julia Sugden, picks up/collects striped pebbles on nearby beaches as she walks, takes them home where they accumulate. She photographs them wonderfully, and after that I’m not sure what she does with them, but if she just rolls them around in her hands, places them on the table or window sill where the light catches their shapes and lines, or plays knucklebones with them – whatever – that’s pretty well what many fabriholics aka’ ‘quilters’, do with their fabric stashes! She also takes wonderful shoreline photos but I did have a feeling she draws or paints them, too, but I looking around her sites I couldn’t see reference to that. Today Julia commented she was taking some back to the beach, as they’re threatening to overwhelm her studio. I know plenty of traditional and art quilt makers whose studios could be said to be ‘overwhelmed’ by their stash of fabrics, too, and no, honestly, I’m not one… but I’ll write about that some other time.

Like me, she likes stripey things, and a photo she posted a day or two ago really reminded me of a favourite brooch I bought at an art/craft fair years ago. It’s so ‘me’, and has been aired quite a bit lately as, since the passing of Queen Elizabeth II I’ve made an effort to wear pieces from my minor collection of brooches more often.

Black ceramic brooch with gold strips design, ~3cm diameter.

Another thing about this photographer/collector is that she often posts her daily haul in what I think of as a 9-patch format quilt block – 3 rows of 3 squares of fabric, with play between two colours or light v dark values:

A very non-traditional use of the 9-patch – in this case hand appliqued squares.
A sample using the 9-patch layout..

The Nine Patch is really my favourite traditional quilt block from the brief time I spent making a traditional quilt (Flying Geese) when I joined a quilting bee for the cultural experience, and stayed on with that group, even as my own quilt making moved into the wonderful world of ‘art quilts’. Many others in that group were also veering off into the non-traditional fibre art, plus writing, hand dyeing and marketing fabric, book publishing, lecturing on legal issues and teaching. A very creative group of people, this was so far were the hardest group I’ve ever had to leave, anywhere – but I digress.

My regular readers know that much of my fibreart is based on pieced or appliqued strips and stripes as in these examples, but there are heaps more some of which you’ll find if you scroll back through older posts here.

Detail of Ebb&Flow 12
Ebb&Flow 8, detail
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