But I Don’t Work With Wool…

The call for entries to the biennial juried art quilt exhibition Art Quilt Australia 23, is now open, and this year, the organisers, Ozquilt Network and the exhibition’s sponsors The National Wool Museum, have made a major change in entry conditions. It’s always been possible to enter two quilts of whatever materials you like, but this year if you want to enter a second one, it must be of wool, with at least 60% of both front and back surfaces being that fibre.

Given the main sponsor of the exhibition, I think it’s a good change, because the exhibition opens every second time at the National Wool Museum in Geelong, Victoria; the winner of the Wool Award award is acquisitive; and the prize money is considerable. Past AQAs I’ve seen in person have included relatively few wool quilts compared to other art quilts in which the most common fibre used is cotton. So I’m sure this move will encourage more of us to make art quilts in wool to enter this year.

Anyway, it worked with me !!

But I had to really think about why I rarely work with wool of any kind. What do/did I have against wool? It’s a wonderful natural fibre, and I was brought up wearing wool for warmth in Tasmania. We valued our woollen garments and blankets, and learned how to care for them properly. I did a lot of dressmaking in my younger days, and know well that wool doesn’t press down as flat as well as cotton, so I think that’s why I’ve never really considered using it for art quilts.

I guess the answer lies in the path I travelled to become a maker of quilted textile art – art quilts. Before living in the USA 1987-94, I had been an embroiderer, and had just been invited to have my first solo exhibition of creative, interpretive embroidery. It was very landscape inspired, mostly combining paint with stitched textures. The long story continued with learning American patchwork, joining a quilters guild, going to some construction classes and joining a quilting bee for the cultural experience, while at the same time actively participating in The Embroiderers Guild of America. One time I spray painted some fabric intending to embroider on it, but the result of the painting was disappointing, and I’d have ditched it if a fellow artist hadn’t suggested I include it in an art quilt. It sounded a good idea, so I made one and called it Ancient Expressions, It was juried into and sold from the first art quilt exhibition I ever entered. With that encouragement plus all I learned about patchwork from my traditional P.W. friends, I’ve continued to make art quilts, favouring cotton as my go-to-fabric for art quilt making. My techniques have changed a lot, though, and with hand stitch and raw edge applique predominant at the moment, I am now interested in making at least one art quilt using wool.

I decided to make this a recycling exercise, which is not an entry requirement. Here in Uruguay people do still wear a lot of wool, and they also pass on clothing they’ve finished using. I felt it wouldn’t take long to come up with some interesting fabric pieces I could save from the landfill, and so put the call out to my friends.

Pieces of the black wool coat pulled apart, ready to wash. Many pieces have things like buttonholes, darts and belt loops, but a lot of larger areas will be useful.

Within 48 hours, Virginia had turned up with two donated wool coats, one black and the other red. I’ve unpicked the black one, washed all the pieces in the machine and dryer to give a wonderful result. I wasn’t sure about the red one, but now that I’ve thought of several possible ways to use it, I will unpick that, too. It’s only 50% wool, though, so I’ll have to augment that with whatever I put on it.

Shortly after that, Maureen arrived with an armful of 100% merino machine knitted wool samples from a garment manufacturer relative. I may not use any of the dark browns** but the several shades of grey and cream will be good, and I’m thinking about how to use them. I could cut them into sections, but I could also unwind them and knit or crochet elements to place on the front. The thicker ones easily separate out into 4×2 ply, easy to use for stitching – so whatever I do will have hand stitch on it! There’s still time for some other wool fabrics to turn up between now and mid-late April, when I’ll probably be ready to start making it.

Some of the machine knitted pure wool samples I was given.
This lacy stuff joining different sections is mostly cotton/cheaper threads, but I was able to wind into balls the single wool thread in much of it – divine to stitch with.
Perhaps I could attach some crocheted wool elements…
I could also knit some elements to attach….

** What I don’t use of these samples I’ll pass on to a friend who organises knitters to produce 10″ wool squares from leftover and donated wool, and then arranges for them to sewn up to make blankets for needy people. Hundreds if not thousands are produced each year, so the wool won’t go to waste!

2 Responses to “But I Don’t Work With Wool…”

  1. Margaret says:

    If that merino is 100% wool — i.e., not blended with a synthetic — you should be able to wet felt it fairly easily (merino is particularly easy to felt and is used to make pre-felt that serves as a base for wet- and needle-felting), and can still quilt through it. Alternatively, if you have access to an embellisher for machine needle felting, you can needle felt it — and include other fabrics (not synthetics but cottons, linens, silks, like sari silk ribbon, cheesecloth, fabric strips, yarns…Enjoy!

  2. Alison says:

    Both the red and black wool coats I’ve unpicked are blended fibres – the red 50% wool and the black 70%; and further, I think both might have been brushed somehow after being woven – ie the weave is not very visible, almost like loose felting, anyway. From what little I know of felting, my arthritic hands wrists and shoulders wouldn’t really take to well to it. However, I do use a lot of hand stitch in surface design, and will happily continue on that path for this work.

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