Monthly Archives: September 2016

Another Perspective on Art Quilts

Quite by chance I came across the text of a talk Jane Dunnewold gave in 2011 at the Form/Not Function art quilt exhibit. I was looking for examples of work by Ellen Oppenheimer and followed a Google images link to Jane’s now inactive blog.

2011 was the year I decided to attempt original designs and leave the harbor of quilt patterns and blocks. I began by sewing together scraps left from a paper piecing project and composing them into a design. I was reading Jean Wells’ book, Intuitive Color & Design, at the time.

Nothing Gold Can StayBecause making this quilt gave me such joy I decided to continue on the art quilt path. The joy came from the thrill of making it up as I went.

But, back to Jane. She came up with six categories in which to group art quilts which I think stand up well. I urge you to read this if you read no other part of her talk.

She points out that art quilting is dominated by women and has evolved its own organizations and venues for shows. Then she asks, “Have we created a textile ghetto by being willing to develop our own venues?” She also notes that a male quilter said men get involved in an area when there’s money in it. Cynical, yes; true, possibly.

I spent some time studying the following statement Jane makes:
“And what about the charge that art quilters don’t take critical analysis seriously? There is a palpable tension between the desire to welcome newcomers/beginners non-judgmentally and the reality of the importance of refining standards of excellence, so that collectors will take art quilts seriously.”

I find myself back to the same questions I raised in my post about is it art? I don’t think anyone changed his/her mind after reading that, but it’s reassuring to know I’m not the only one with such thoughts.

I believe that if you want to gain mastery of any artistic medium you need to hear informed opinions of your works’ strengths and weaknesses and work to enhance the former and address the latter. I’m part of an art quilt critique group that has become more show and tell than critiquing, in part due to the very different skill levels of the participants.

Here some of the responses to Jane’s post that made me think. I don’t know if I agree with the comments but they echo perspectives I struggle with:

-I really welcome your comments because at last I am hearing things that are critically analyzing the issues. Especially whether art quilters are willing to enter the fine art mainstream using fine art parameters. Like the basics of good composition, knowledge of the elements and principles of art and making reference to the history of art in general. [emphasis added by me] It seems we need to embrace all aspects of art and be willing to abandon some of the traditional formats and techniques in order to be truly creative with this medium.

-I continue to be put off by the plethora of articles and books on the market which approach art quilting as if it were merely a trendy, ‘quick and easy’ craft project, step-by-stepping the art form into a kind of homogenized eye candy. I came to this discipline from a painting/print making background. Certainly there have always been similarly simplistic ‘how-to’ publications about those media but they don’t irk me like the art quilt articles – not sure why. Probably has to do with my fears that my standing as a professional artist is compromised by association with the concept in the banner of many articles “you don’t have to know how to draw/be an artist to make this” (art quilts).
Lack of critical standards and guidelines for what constitutes original vs. derivative work make me squeamish about identifying myself as an art quilter; I feel less limited with the identity ‘fiber artist’, and terming the work I make mixed media textiles.

-I think every media will have its large pool of neophytes and a few masters. Perhaps it’s more a product of our predominantly female mind-set in this genre that we want to see ALL our sisters regarded as Masters and are loath to admit that any one of us, let alone the majority, are really more like amateurs.

You have identified that many art quilters do not have an art education. I suspect that this is why we are not taking the art world by storm — the majority have not been trained to see museums and galleries as venues to actively seek out. We grew up in, and are afraid to leave, the comfort of the quilt-specific womb we’ve created. [emphasis added by me] You’ve also pointed out that a good many of those who do have an art education, have garnered a degree of recognition in the greater art world. I propose that the proportion of those who try and succeed is similar to the ratio in other media. We are just so close (via forums like QuiltArt, SAQA, and our self created venues) that we miss their entrees into the art world because we are too focused on the larger numbers who stay close to home.

Neither Jane nor I (most assuredly not I) have the answers, but I’ll be mulling these issues as I strive to create art that can take its place in the larger art world.




Filed under Art quilts, Commentary

September At The Lost and Found

…edges, that is. Our master class theme of the month is lost and found edges.

My submission: This month’s sketches were done in pencil and crayon. I was drawn to moody landscapes from photos.

Sketches 1 and 3 feature snowy scenes where edges come and go as tree trunks, buildings, and roads cross snowy fields bisected by fencing. Sketch 1 shows overlapping fencing while sketch 3 shows the scene through the fence. The color schemes could be in grays and blues, or changed to something quite unrelated to snow.

Sketches 2a and 2b are meant to show a mysterious, somewhat menacing nighttime urban scene where street lights cast strange shadows; and a light in back of fencing (?) casts faint stripes of light on the buildings, sidewalk and street. The values would be darker than I put in my sketch, but I found it hard to color over gray. I was thinking about de Chirico’s architectural paintings as I sketched.

Elizabeth’s response:


Sketch 1

Snow scenes are perfect for lost edges, as the snow drifts over objects and light values spread from one thing to another…also at the beginning and end of the day, the trees and their shadows become one object….the bottom of the fence  dissolves into shadow
In the sketch above, the one thing I’m not sure of is the building on the left…it adds a lot of weight to the left and I think distracts from the beauty of the man made geometry of the fence versus the natural relaxed geometry of overlapping branches.  Just put  your hand over the bld and I think you’ll see that you don’t need it.
As with anything using perspective, be sure you have the angles right….


Sketch 3

I do love the color scheme…BUT we shouldn’t be thinking color till the shapes and values are worked out.  Remember that rounded things like tree trunks with a side light gradate gently from almost white to very dark.  I like the idea of the landscape beyond, but keep it very soft…your highest contrast of values is actually in the background at present so I’d soften that dark line and also slightly darken the road/river…so that you can keep the real dark and light in the trees.  Also at present you do have some very dark values…but they’re towards the edges of  the piece – my eye keeps going down to the LH corner for example…
I like the line quality – the little squiggly branches…remember to lose them too!


I like de Chirico’s mysterious empty spaces too…and lighted windows onto an empty dark street definitely is evocative…but I wouldn’t have the door quite so central.  At present it’s a black hole right in the middle….put it a little to one side, and further up or down…and then connect it with shadows to the base of the building.  With a night time scene you have lots of opportunity for deep shadows hiding edges…go for it!!

Conclusion – I’m going with the urban street scene, but it’s developing s-l-o-w-l-y. Here’s as far as I’ve gotten.

mean-streets-startI need to work out the direction of the shadows, which means figuring out the light sources.


Filed under Art quilts, In Process

Making Do With My Experiments

Last week the fabric bits I’ve altered in some fashion spoke to me. They said they wanted to be part of my make do efforts.

My September master class assignment was lost and found edges. To avoid doing my sketches (more on them in another post) I decided to cobble together some of my created fabric bits to improvise blurred and sharp edges. I also added some old triangles and diamonds to my mix of possible materials.

I ended up with two pieces composed at the same time. Hey, piano players use both hands at once, so why shouldn’t I? My works share common colors, but have a different feel.

The Emerald Isles was developed around diamond blocks left over from an old storm at sea quilt. I surrounded them with fabrics I had printed, painted and dribbled paint on. I’m not kidding – some of the fabric is an old sheet used as a drop cloth.


The core of Second Growth was a piece I created using Sherrill Kahn’s book “Creative Mixed Media.” To that I added other printing experiments, plus painted tissue paper. It began much larger, but I decided the top didn’t work so I cut it off. Then I added the blue and yellow outer strips and called it done – for now.

second-growthI have several other pieces to quilt before I get to these, if I get to them. Sometimes a few months in a drawer helps clarify what a piece is best used for. It may need to be part of something bigger or it may need the circular file.



Filed under Art quilts, In Process

I’m A Centerfold

Thanks to the alertness of a friend, I found out that my quilt “In The Clouds,” is shown in Machine Quilting Unlimited’s September/October 2016 issue, as part of an article about  SAQA’s Concrete & Grassland traveling exhibit.


By chance the magazine opens to the photo of my quilt simply because it’s where the ad insert for a magazine subscription is. Well, my quilt makes a much better centerfold than I would.

magazine-in-the-clouds There’s also an informative article about on-demand digital fabric printing services.


Filed under Art quilts

I See Three Themes

I had some time to kill at the dealership while my car was being serviced, so I looked over the 430 small art quilts on offer at SAQA’s annual auction. The dealership seemed proud of its free wifi service so I put it to use.

The online auction runs from  September 16 to October 9, with quilts divided into three sections. Each artist donated quilt is 12 inches square, per the rules. Bidding on each section runs for a week, and the prices go down each day from the starting price of $750. I think any quilts left are offered for sale in the SAQA store.  Proceeds go to SAQA programs.

No, I didn’t make an auction quilt. For one, I have trouble working at that size to make anything worthwhile. For two, I don’t think I’d handle the ignominy if no one bought my quilt. Pity purchases by close relatives don’t count.

As I examined the pages of quilts I began to see some patterns in the subject matter. I decided to note the number of quilts with three subjects: birds, flowers/foliage, and trees. By my back of an envelope calculations 23 quilts featured birds, 29 featured trees, and 39 featured flowers or foliage. That came to 91 quilts or 21% of the 430 auction quilts. Birch trees, poppies and crows were especially popular.

hebert-messenger conrad-a-walk-in-the-woods miller-poppies welsch-lakeside-birches

ba16-mauann-t ba16-weinao-t

I suspect that abstract quilts were also well represented, but I zeroed in on the big three because they are used so often in art quilts. I’ve noticed the same subject choices in my master class. And yes, I’m also guilty of using foliage and trees. I draw the line at birds and flowers, however.

My lesson learned was to think twice before choosing overused subjects, unless I present them in a fresh way.



Filed under Art quilts, Commentary

Doing Things By Halves

If I had to choose the most versatile fabric arrangement for a quilt, I’d plump for the half square triangle. The possible arrangements are endless and half square triangles (HSTs) are pretty easy to make. I’m to talk about different ways to make them at my guild this month so I’ve been reviewing the possibilities.

Here is the quilt on which I learned to make HSTs – hundreds of them. It was part of a class through the now defunct Quilt University.


The most basic construction method is to slap two squares together with right sides facing, draw a diagonal line from one upper to the opposite lower corner, and sew a quarter inch away on each side of the line. Then, cut along the line and you have two HSTs. It’s a great way to use up lots of 2.5 3, or 3.5 inch squares. Permutations of this method include the use of a piece of marked plastic to line up your square so you don’t have to draw the line.


If you want to make more than two HSTs at a time you have several choices of method. Which you use depends in part on the shape of the fabrics you have to work with (squares, strips, rectangles) and the number of fabrics you want to use. Here’s one quilter’s comparison of two methods.

If you have 5 inch charm or 10 inch layer cake fabrics, then put your two fabrics with right sides facing each other, sew a very scant quarter inch around the outside perimeter, and cut two diagonal lines from upper to lower corners. You’ll get four HSTs with outside bias edges. It’s up to you whether you’re comfortable working with that.

For long strips, match up the same width strips right sides together and sew a scant quarter inch along the top and bottom edges. Using a ruler with a marked diagonal line, put the ruler on top of your strips so the diagonal line is at the fabric edge, and make two diagonal cuts from top to bottom. Again, the outside edges will be on the bias. I found this technique at Like Flowers and Butterflies.

strip hsts

If you want to work with squares sized to your HST needs, try the Magic 8 method shown on Craftsy.

For rectangles of fabric, put right sides together and draw a grid of squares on the lightest fabric. Then draw diagonal lines through the corners so each drawn square is bisected by a diagonal line – just one line per square. Sew a quarter inch away from the diagonal lines in a continuous seam and cut the HSTs apart on the horizontal and vertical drawn lines. This is the method I use most frequently. You don’t need to cut your rectangles to a particular size, though it helps if they’re the same size.

HST drawnThe most perplexing aspect of all these methods is how big to cut your pieces to make the size HSTs you need. Some online tutorials don’t talk about this. My rule of thumb is to go oversize. For the grid method I draw my squares half an inch larger than the size I want for my HST. In the example above I drew a 3 inch grid to get 2.5 inch HSTs. The layer cake method gave me 6 something inch HSTs, not a useful size for most projects. The strip method gave me HSTs that were an inch larger than the 3 inch strip width, though I think that varies with strip width.

I know some quilters sew accurate HSTs. I don’t, so I go big and trim down. There are many charts that show how big to cut fabric for HSTs. Most feature adding 7/8 of an inch to the desired finished size. Since I know I’ll be trimming anyway, I just add 1 inch and skip finicking with that 7/8.

Akron AmishFor Akron Amish I used trimmings from snowball blocks.

LabyrinthLabyrinth helped me use up lots of fabric squares.

About that trimming – some quilters trim their blocks before they press open their HSTs.  (See #2 in this post for how.) The key is to put the diagonal line of your ruler on your sewing line. You can use a small square ruler or a specialty one. I don’t do this simply because I don’t have those rulers. Here’s a blog post from A Little Biased that shows the method I use.

Of course, you can skip all of the above and use triangle paper. You can buy it already marked or print your own.

I haven’t made many HSTs lately, but I have a container full of them that were byproducts of other projects. Once I get them trimmed I’ll be all set. If you really want more on HSTs you can look at my triangles board on Pinterest.



Filed under Techniques

The Lands’ End Quilt Contest Quilts

To continue my gleanings from the Library of Congress Quilts and Quiltmaking Collection, I’ll share state and national winners I liked from the Lands’ End Coming Home contests held from 1992 to 1996. Most of the winning entries were show quality and demonstrated sophistication in materials and patterns.

According to an essay about this contest, “[i]n 1992, the Coming Home Division of Lands’ End Direct Merchants teamed up with Good Housekeeping magazine to sponsor an ‘All-American Quilt Contest.’ From the entries received, judges selected both a first prize winner from each state and a national winner. The contest was repeated in 1994 and 1996, under the theme “If Quilts Could Talk.” The 1994 winners were invited to submit short essays about their quilts, and in 1996, all entrants were invited to do the same.”

Dixie Haywood Dawn's Early Light Lands EndDixie Haywood is a master of the pineapple block, which she shows off in “Dawn’s Early Light.” It won best of Florida in 1992.

Therese Inverso Arabesque Lands End New JerseyTherese Inverso’s “Arabesque” won best of New Jersey in 1992 with a block she designed.

Coming Home Lands End Oklahoma“Coming Home,” Oklahoma’s 1992 winner by Charlene Kimball is completely different from the others I like. I can’t tell if it’s original or from a pattern. It’s kind of the opposite of the famous Saul Steinberg poster of NYC.

Linda Harshbarger Lands End AlabamaLinda Harshbarger won the 1994 Alabama contest with her original “Seize The Day.” I was taken with the asymmetrical placement of the sun.

Karen Smith Glowing Coils Lands End 1994 Judges ChoiceKaren Smith devised a paper piecing variation she called “Glowing Coils.” It won judge’s choice in 1994.

Marcia Lutz Victorian Kaleidoscope Lands End GeorgeMarcia Lutz designed “Kaleidoscope” to win the 1992 Georgia contest. It’s not my usual style, but I appreciate the attention to detail.

There are many more quilts to gaze at here.


Filed under Commentary

My Tax Dollars At Work

Note: This post had an accidental premature release. It now has pictures.

Thanks to my husband I found a government program I’m happy to fork over my tax dollars for – the Library of Congress’ Digital Collections. He stumbled across “Quilts and Quiltmaking in America, 1978 to 1996” while looking for something completely different.

The collection is described as follows: “Contains 181 segments from recorded interviews with quiltmakers and 410 graphic images (prints, positive transparencies, and negatives) from two collections in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress: the Blue Ridge Parkway Folklife Project Collection (AFC 1982/00) and the Lands’ End All-American Quilt Contest Collection (AFC 1997/011).”

I’ve been browsing the state and national winners of the Lands’ End quilt contest from the early 1990s. Many are traditional quilts, but a few are a bit edgier. I’ll show some of my favorites in my next post, but here I want to focus on the quilts from the Blue Ridge Parkway Project collection.

They represent an earlier period (up to 1978) and a different aspect of quilt making. Some were made to sell in craft shops but others were made for use or pleasure. The quilters lived along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina. Many were born before 1920 and learned to quilt with materials they had at hand. Some used polyester fabric which was widely available in the 1960s and 1970s as cotton was more expensive. Whatever you may think about quilts made with poly, they wore like iron.

All but one of the quilts shown below were made by Carrie Severt of Alleghany County, Virginia. I think her style is a precursor to the modern quilt movement, though I don’t think she was trying to make a statement.

Carrie Severt Star quilt topHere she is on her front porch with a quilt top and her laundry.

Carrie Severt Nine Patch Variation with BarsA nine patch variation with bars.

Carrie Severt Alleghany County VASeveral quilts with this block are shown in the LOC collection. It looks like a complicated drunkards path.

Carrie Severt String QuiltThis string pieced quilt could be entered in the next QuiltCon. I love how the dashed line fabric gives a sense of movement.

Elizabeth Smith Flower GardenI am sure Elizabeth Smith’s Flower Garden was hand pieced. I love how the pattern is occasionally obscured by the color choices. And that bright orange ruffled edge! Ms. Smith was not afraid of color.


Filed under Commentary

August Is A Done Deal

For once I actually finished my master class project of the month, plus I almost finished my bonus project. As you may recall, or not, I went with the blue/green print of my old nickname, Jo.

Here’s what I sent in:

I’ve gone with the blue and green blocked out quilt, which I call “It’s All About Me.” After umpteen trial arrangements, I settled on the attached. It finished at 21.5 inches square, a serious shrinkage that came about as I struggled with proportions. To get more of a fade effect I covered some of the printed areas with white organza. I used four thread colors in the quilting. It still needs to be faced, but I held that off in case I want to add more quilting.

August2016 JMM final

My bonus “OK Make Do” quilt is mostly finished. I incorporated your suggestion to list ways to make do with handwritten notes around the edges. I asked friends for ideas. I plan to finish the edges with leftover binding, natch.

August JMM final Make Do

Someday I’ll make the black and gold JO quilt with fading/missing letters. I started to collect different black fabrics for the blocks. I decided that differences in sheen and texture would give more interest.

Elizabeth’s response:

it’s so light and delicate.   The colors, imagery, stitching and treatment all work well together…to give a sense of water and an endless horizon.  Who would expect that it began with text?!  So cool that a textual inspiration can lead to such an atmospheric landscape.

[Re: OK MAKE DO] This is fun and I think you’ll have people stopping and reading all the way round with bent over heads!!!  always good to get your viewer thoroughly involved with the piece…
I think the striped fabrics work very well and carry us through unifying the quilt.  It’s interesting…and it works well…I like the little selvedges do…you did “make do”!!


Filed under Art quilts, Completed Projects