Inspiration From The Earth’s Crust, 2

March 19th, 2024

My fascination with the Earth’s crust stems from my teens, when I began studying landforms and landscape characteristics of the earth’s surface and the processes that produce them. I married an exploration geologist whose work required me and our young children to accompany him on excursions to many different physical environments, so it’s hardly surprising that much of my textile art reflects that knowledge and those experiences.

Many of my artworks could be described as a diagram in fabric and thread. My diagrammatic approach to designing springs from the hand drawn diagrams we had to use in physical geography papers to illustrate our answers way back in the pre-computer days of the 60s. And, doing a diagram first has long been the principle method I use to plan an artquilt –

Section of the planning diagram for Purnululu 7″ (2015) beside detail.

In my previous post, I mentioned that Mike and I ‘see’ any given landscape differently, and I’m very aware of what on the surface might be quite subtle clues to what lies beneath and would show if you could slice through it like a loaf of bread. Fortunately, there are such ‘sliced’ surfaces in nature revealing linear patterns resulting from pressures within the earth’s crust, pushing layers of sedimentary rock into ‘wrinkles’ over millions of years as cliffs frequently expose such surfaces. Man himself has created countless road and rail cuttings slicing through hills and mountains revealing those patterns too. It’s a process that continues to this day .

I’m currently in the quilting phase of a new work, about 100cmh x 125cmw simply inspired by a normal fault line through layers of rock. It appears as just some kind of line, but it speaks of a dramatic point in the ongoing drama of movement within the Earth’s crust at this location. At many such points of conjuncture important mineralisations occur that can be economically important.

I’ve used the techniques of over stitching (couching) of pieced fabric strips (scraps) that I just love working with at the moment, here chosen for their earthy colours. I put the fault line in first with hand and machine stitch,

The diagonal white basting lines are temporary until the quilting’s done.
Placement of the strips to form the rock strata design.
Detail of the couching/oversewing of the segmented patchwork strips.

I haven’t settled on a title for it, but as I am only about 1/4 of the way through the quilting, there’s plenty of time to settle on one, and I add to a list of possibilities whenever I think of another 🙂

Inspirations From The Earth’s Crust

March 11th, 2024

This is the most dramatic picture that leapt off my computer screen this week. I just can’t stop smiling at it. No one knows for sure how it was formed, and discussion online ranges between it somehow being deliberately split by some unknown ancient civilisation and a product of erosional processes. When you think of it, if you cropped the photo it would look like just another vertical cliff face somewhere, but the photo in full begs the question ‘how come this bit of vertical cliff was left behind after such an extensive erosion process in that area?’ I’m very interested in both fields, neither extreme seems convincing, and the answer doesn’t matter much to me, so I’m not theorising here. I’m just intrigued by the drama of these two massive blocks of stone appearing to be balanced on relatively small pedestals or plinths.

The Al Naslaa rock, Saudi Arabia, (source Wikipedia)

We all live on the Earth’s crust of course, but not everyone has more than a passing interest in the familiar features of the landscape around them, and I’d suggest ‘the weather’ occupies more time per day in human minds. Also, most people live their whole lives in the area in which they were born and raised, without direct experience of other parts of the Earth with different mega shapes and textures. My early interest in physical geography probably began with the different sunday drives and school holiday road trips that our parents took us on as we grew up in the Australian state of Tasmania. In our childhoods we learned about the economic activities in various areas, they took us to see things like a power station under construction. We travelled on trains – air travel was rare and expensive. My parents knew people who lived on sheep farms, ran diaries, apple orchards and fished commercially. Dad’s best mate ran a furniture factory so we learned a bit about wood and forests during our travels. Dad’s brother was an industrial chemist who was involved in a paper mill which I did see in operation long ago. A friend of his took ours and another family underground in a silver lead zinc mine he managed. Tasmania is pretty rugged, with mountains and plateaus in the centre, and the western side of the island has particuarly inaccessible hardwood forest covered mountains and steep sided river valleys. Moving to the Eastern Goldfields of Western Australia with my exploration geologist husband was my first encounter with very flat expansive semi desert regions and the sparse vegetation that results from low rainfall. It was one part of the huge culture shock of the totally new experience of living in a goldmining city, Kalgoorlie. Mike’s work in 70s and 80s took us the other parts of the Australian Outback, each with distinctively different landscape types, and our love of camping and road trips took us through more really remote parts that mobile phone coverage has rendered less ‘remote’ these days. When we were young, far Outback tourism was too difficult for most people outside mining and pastoral companies to undertake, but these days modern fourwheel drive vehicles and highly sophisticated camping gear enable many to undertake trips to places that we were fortunate to experience nerly fifty years ago courtesy of some of Mike’s employers, and what I call our Tent Period took us to the Northern Territory to live in a tent camp, in an area that has since been gazetted Kakadu National Park. In the 80s we spent 6+ years in Denver CO and visited many of the most famous national parks and monuments in the United States, many of which are based on extraordinary geological features. In further travels in Egypt, France, England, New Zealand, Chile, Southern Argentina Uruguay and The Falkland Islands, either employment or recreational tourism related, physical geography has always been interesting to me.

My geologist husband ‘sees’ the lines and shapes of and landscape as the surface results of the powerful tectonic forces acting beneath the Earth’s crust. I ‘see’ the lines and shapes of plains, mountains, lakes, valleys and mesas as results of the eternal erosion and deposition cycles through wind, water and temperature variation, and sometimes as a result of human activity, as in these next pics. Digging into the Earth’s crust to extract minerals is one of the most interesting human activities, and has always been tied to our family’s economic well being. So it’s hardly surprising that has been an inspiration to my art on several occasions –

An opencut mine in paint and stitch. It is just possible to see small trees and possibly buildings or heaframes on the distant surface. c.1987 Approx. 18″ x 24″
“On The Golden Mile” 1987, approx. 16 x 24in. Paint+ hand stitch.
“Hannan’s Reward” 1993. 100cm x 140cm Machine pieced and quilted.

We see/read the same view of the Earth’s surface in different ways, and I have always found landscapes a rich source of inspiration for my embroidery and contemporary quilt designs.

Important Landmark Works, 1

March 7th, 2024

In making textile art I tend to stick to the low tech ways I’ve used ‘for ever’ – those basic hand and machine sewing skills that I learned when young. Despite amazing on-line opportunities today that mean you can take a fantastic course without leaving home and carting equipment and supplies around, I’m not as interested in studying with certain Big Name Teachers as I used to be. I’m no longer seduced by dazzling techniques that require either digital technology skills and equipment, or that require me to roll up my sleeves and get into dying fabrics to do artistic things with. Don’t get me wrong – down the years I have learned a lot of interesting stuff in very inspiring workshops with some fantastic teachers, but through building on that learning and fusing it with what I’ve done before, I’ve learned much more, too. And, in what may or may not be age-related, I quite often re-visit past works and re-read some posts on this blog, a process that sometimes reminds me of something I need to re-visit, and sometimes I find an old topic that suggests a whole a new approach. Perhaps the pace of the modern world and the terrible state it is in right now has made me a bit change resistant in one important area I can still control – my own passion for making art with fabric and thread.

Over thirteen years ago I wrote in a blog post about this quilt:

Heritage Quilt, 2005, ~90cm x 189cm

Yet it is an important work, because it took me into the “Desert Tracks” works that followed, and will probably be added to over time. It is a work focused on those aspects of the traditional ancestors of modern art quilts that appeal to me and appear repeatedly in my own work â€“ blocks/units, repetition, and hand quilted surface patterning.” Those words still hold, and I eventually bestowed the unexciting title “Heritage Quilt” on it because of its connection to traditional quilts of the past, and its importance in shaping much of my subsequent work.

This next quilt, Strip Lighting, marks the beginning of at least 15 years when machine pieced strips, or inserts, became the principle surface design element in my work. Principally about 1cm or about 1/2 inch wide, they began as carefully measured straight strips cut with the rotary cutter.

“Strip Lighting” 1990, 66cm x 59cm            

I maintained that width for a long time, even as they gradually became increasingly curved and began to vary in width. After about 2007 the widths ranged from barely a very narrow 1/16″ wide and on up, while I also learned to handle more pronounced curves. Bushfire 4 and Ebb & Flow 14 are two favourite complex examples of this development:

“Bushfire 4” 1999, 150cm x 200cm.
“Ebb & Flow 14”, 2009. 225cm x 100cm

There are many more, though, and a downloadable PDF on my website lists most of my works in chronological order, although strangely when I looked today Strip Lighting somehow wasn’t listed but I’ll fix that soon – no system’s perfect!

In the last 10 years or so I have used many more non-traditional materials with my favourite techniques; at other times resorting to applique, fusing and certainly a growing amount of hand stitch over that time, and that brings me to Pandemic Pattern, made in that scary period of the pandemic before we were able to get vaccinated.

“Pandemic Pattern”, 2020, 72cm x 94cm.

I simply cut and pinned strips on the fabric, one or two at a time, and oversewed them with machine sewing thread (about 1000m of it all up) I then added fusing to the process to make it easier, and my way of working became very rhythmic. A great stress reliever during the covid pandemic, as all the work I made in that time depended heavily on hand stitch, and certainly made me realise how much I love to stitch using fine thread to make repeated marks on fabric.

And, as I love metallics, I took this a bit further with Bush Colours – overstitching with gold was a natural development. The strips here were built from sewing together related scraps of fabric

“Bush Colours” 2019, 30cmsq.

Here’s my SAQA 2024 Benefit Auction piece for the online auction later in the year. I usually make it early in the year as it often serves as a sample for a major work to come. My current project is in a different colour scheme admittedly, but definitely builds on new experience gained in this one –

“Spirogyra” 2024 12″sq. 2024 SAQA Benefit Auction quilt.

Dividing geometric shapes into sections by inserting contrasting strips was an effective technical way of adding colour and complexity. As my interest in landscape moved from colours and textures (pre-1989 embroideries) through to lines and shapes in art quilt arena, I also found strips a good way to ‘draw’ the shapes of landscape, and some time soon I’ll write another post in this series to sketch the development of how I’ve depicted abstract landscapes.

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 🙂

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.”

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