Monthly Archives: January 2018

Artistic Endeavors – “Fray”

Occasionally I dip my toe into academic publications. My latest foray is “Fray: Art + Textile Politics,” which The New York Times chose as one of the ten best 2017 books about art. I saw the word textile in the title and put in a library request for it. I won’t review the book, which “explores textiles and their role at the forefront of debates about process, materiality, gender, and race in times of economic upheaval.” That’s too much academic talk for me, but it’s not surprising as the author, Julia Bryan-Wilson, is a Professor in the Department of History of Art at the University of California, Berkeley.

The publisher’s summary is at the end of this post, in case you want to find out more about the author’s thesis. You’re on your own if you choose to read the details of her arguments. With the exception of her discussion of Chile’s arpilleras, it was beyond me.

See the source image

Instead, I want to concentrate on some points the author makes about the acceptance of textiles in art and what kind of bridge exists between craft and contemporary art. The former issue exercises me on occasion, especially when I see almost no mention of fiber art in art related news media such as Art Daily.  In a year I’ve noted two such mentions – a Sheila Hicks exhibit and a piece by Robert Rauschenberg made of silk panels, though there’s been plenty of coverage for various installations and performance art.

So, why the blind eye to textiles? I want to quote from “Fray” and add my comments.

In recent decades, textiles have provided a unique challenge to these divisions [fine art, non-fine art] as more self-trained crafters are absorbed into the art market…the institutionalization of the Gee’s Bend quilts, which are now displayed in art museums alongside abstract painting and sculpture, is the most striking exception to the still generally intractable separation of objects not originally created for museums from the self-appointed realm of contemporary art (p. 6)

Bryan-Wilson talks about craftivism, which started in the early 2000’s as a leftist, antinationalist, or innovative handmaking movement to buy handmade items and boycott the mass produced products of big box stores.

…this is one of the most paradoxical aspects of craftivism – just as in [William] Morris’s day, when his fabrics became upholstery for the wealthy – which is to say that so much of the purported handmade revolution is really about individualized niche shopping, a way to guarantee the value and originality of a bespoke purchase. (p. 27)

Bryan-Wilson talks about the special relationship that handmaking has to ‘slow time’ as it “helps practitioners more fully inhabit, and decelerate, the present moment. ” (p. 261-262) I’ve seen many blog posts about slow stitching and I’m sure you have, too.

There’s a paradox in the business of selling time consuming “slow time” crafts on platforms such as Etsy. It’s hard to make a living wage given the time and material demands of such crafts. (p. 263) This thought echoes recent blog posts about Etsy’s way of doing business, which is now undergoing even more changes to raise its stock price.

Textiles are unique among art forms in that they move between high and low, between functional and artistic, but they

continue to be underrepresented within contemporary art history. These legions of hobby quilters, sewers, and weavers are in some measure responsible for the current academic and art-world interest in textiles, but … their actual work is often considered too mundane, uninteresting, generic … to itself cross the threshold of institutional visibility. (p. 33)

Bryan-Wilson talks about how different spheres of textiles – hobbyists, self-identified artists – are often in contact and inform each other.

…widespread interest in craft among everyday or amateur makers helps impel art – critical and art-institutional attention. Just as fine-art photography as a genre evolves under constant pressure exerted by the collective expertise of snapshot photographers, textiles as a field draws strength from a wide pool of self-trained makers who not only make up much of the audience for museum exhibits but also contribute to robust discourse around these techniques. (p. 273)

The surge of interest in crafts since the early 2000s has led to exhibits of some fiber artists like Sheila Hicks. While such shows might be a step in the right direction, many have tended to be highly formalist in nature, erasing the highly contentious…context in which many of these textile-based techniques first made their appearance within contemporary art. (p. 273)

I wish I could tell you Bryan-Wilson has some solutions in mind, but I found none in my admittedly hit and miss perusal of her book.

In closing I’ll suggest you read Barbara Brackman’s blog about quilts in an economic context. Her inaugural post talks about the romantic and nostalgic concepts about quilting planted by writers such as Ruby McKim, Nancy Cabot, Marie Webster, and Ruth Finley.

Brackman says: “Every one of those authors painted a false picture of the past by ignoring the economic and commercial aspects of women’s needlework at which she herself was succeeding admirably.” I’m looking forward to Barbara’s rants.



From the publisher:

In 1974, women in a feminist consciousness-raising group in Eugene, Oregon, formed a mock organization called the Ladies Sewing Circle and Terrorist Society. Emblazoning its logo onto t-shirts, the group wryly envisioned female collective textile making as a practice that could upend conventions, threaten state structures, and wreak political havoc. Elaborating on this example as a prehistory to the more recent phenomenon of “craftivism”—the politics and social practices associated with handmaking—Fray explores textiles and their role at the forefront of debates about process, materiality, gender, and race in times of economic upheaval.

Closely examining how amateurs and fine artists in the United States and Chile turned to sewing, braiding, knotting, and quilting amid the rise of global manufacturing, Julia Bryan-Wilson argues that textiles unravel the high/low divide and urges us to think flexibly about what the politics of textiles might be. Her case studies from the 1970s through the 1990s—including the improvised costumes of the theater troupe the Cockettes, the braided rag rugs of US artist Harmony Hammond, the thread-based sculptures of Chilean artist Cecilia Vicuña, the small hand-sewn tapestries depicting Pinochet’s torture, and the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt—are often taken as evidence of the inherently progressive nature of handcrafted textiles. Fray, however, shows that such methods are recruited to often ambivalent ends, leaving textiles very much “in the fray” of debates about feminized labor, protest cultures, and queer identities; the malleability of cloth and fiber means that textiles can be activated, or stretched, in many ideological directions.

The first contemporary art history book to discuss both fine art and amateur registers of handmaking at such an expansive scale, Fray unveils crucial insights into how textiles inhabit the broad space between artistic and political poles—high and low, untrained and highly skilled, conformist and disobedient, craft and art.


Filed under Books, Commentary

I Follow A Pattern

And why is that so earth shattering, you may ask? Because for 7, going on 8, years I have made my quilts up or altered the original source so thoroughly it was unrecognizable. However, when I came across Victoria Findlay Wolfe’s Cascade quilt in her newest book, “Modern Quilt Magic,” I knew I’d have to follow the directions to have my version work.

Here’s her version.

I cut out the templates from plastic, hauled out my purple and its buddies scrap bin, traced the templates, and started cutting. There is lots of bias in each piece, so gentle handling is the key. As Victoria says, you need only pin in three places before sewing the units together. It also helps to match the registration marks piece to piece, and to mark them to begin with, of course.

When I got to the light fabrics area I had to break into stash, which of course generates more scraps, and explains why scrap bins never get emptied.

My version of Cascade, which I’m calling Church Windows per my husband’s comment, is smaller than Victoria’s. There is a limit to my purple fabrics. I don’t know if I’ll quilt this one myself or send it out. It’s quite bias-y though I’ve stay stitched all the edges.

“Modern Quilt Magic” focuses on partial and set in seams projects, and gives thorough explanations of the processes. You can see a video of some of the techniques here. I appreciated the line drawings of the quilts that you can try out colors on before cutting up your fabric.

I wonder what this pattern would look like in horizontal stripes or diagonal colors? I’d better break out my colored pencils.


Filed under Books, In Process, Modern Quilting

Artistic Endeavors – Color Generator

You may already know about color generator tools, or have a favorite one, but I found the Color Palette Generator for a hex color palette a fun way to pass a cold, snowy afternoon. What’s a hex color palette, you ask?

According to Dan’s Tools:

Digital color can be represented in a number of ways. The most common ways to represent color on the web are via a 6-digit HEX number, RGBA, and HSL (Support for HSL was added in CSS3).

  • Hex is a 6-digit, 24 bit, hexidecimal number that represents Red, Green, and Blue. An example of a Hex color representation is #123456, 12 is Red, 34 is Green, and 56 is Blue. There are 16 million possible colors.
  • RGBA is similar to Hex in that it has 24 bits for RGB color, bit there is an additional 8 bit value for transparency.
  • HSL stands for Hue, Saturation, and Lightness. The values are based on a position from the center of a color wheel. The value for Hue is from 0 to 360, representing the degrees on a color wheel. Saturation is the distance from the center of the color wheel. The L stands for Lightness, which represents the preceived liminance of the color.

So, in a nutshell, it’s a six digit number for a specific RGB color used with digital design. I gather it’s useful for working with PhotoShop. You can get a color map of about 1500 color chips from Spoonflower.

If you don’t care about all that, but want to identify the colors in a photo, paste in your photo on the Color Palette Generator and see what you get. Here’s one of my results. You could use the six digit number on each color chip to match colors for printing fabric.



Filed under Commentary, Techniques

First Finishes of 2018

Frigid temperatures have discouraged me from gadding about, so I’ve been busy in my work room and have two finishes to show for it. You’ve seen them before in their unfinished states, but I trust they are now done, or done enough to suit me.

“Not Quite Nancy” is the last of my Nancy series. It took a lot of time to quilt as I decided to do crossed curving lines a half inch apart. Never again.

I decided I like it best with a horizontal orientation. It’s not my favorite of the series even though its boldness is in my wheelhouse.

Another series carryover from 2017 is “Bloodshot Bullseyes,” one of my three responses to an Ohio SAQA challenge. I created eight curved piecing quarter squares with scraps and sewed them to felt.

The ribbon on the sides has been lurking in my trims box for a few years, so I was delighted to put it to work. I also did a bit of beading in the bullseye centers. Beading is right up there with dainty embroidery in my most disliked embellishments list. That is, I dislike doing them. When other people do them well they’re lovely.

I have at least two more tops to quilt (more of the bullseye series) before I can really dig into new work. In the meantime I’ll be working to improve my photography skills or at least my equipment. I’m waiting on the lights now.


Filed under Art quilts, Completed Projects, Modern Quilting

Artistic Endeavors – Soldier’s Joy

Since I’m on a mission this year to look for inspiration in art, I thought I’d share my finds with you. I can’t promise one every week, but I’ll try. First up is the recent “War and Pieced” exhibit that features quilts made of military fabrics by soldiers during wartime, principally the 19th century.  Military fabrics then were scraps of wool felt from uniforms.

War and Pieced installation at the American Folk Art Museum (2 Lincoln Square).

The use of wool felt allowed makers to butt pieces together without seam allowances. The felt pieces used are extremely small, some no more than one inch square.

Artist unidentified, Soldier’s Mosaic Stars Quilt (Found in Germantown, Pennsylvania, late 19th century), wool, 77 1/4 x 62 3/4 in (Collection International Quilt Study Center & Museum, University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

It seems hard to believe that soldiers had the time and inclination to take on such large projects, but I have to recall that 19th century warfare was different than today’s. The bright colors used for uniforms were to help soldiers identify the locations of their own troops, not to conceal like today’s camouflage outfits. The painting below seems to indicate that sewing helped some convalescing soldiers while away the time.

More photos are at the exhibit’s website. Hyperallergenic has some lovely large photos of select pieces as well.

Annette Gero, an Australian whose collection forms part of the exhibit, has published a 2015 book, “Wartime Quilts: Appliqués and Geometric Masterpieces From Military Fabrics,” which traces a history of war quilts. I don’t know who carries it in the U.S. Amazon certainly doesn’t.

While I’m thrilled that these quilts are in the spotlight, the 1970s feminist side of me thinks, wouldn’t you know it, the big ticket exhibit features quilts made by men.

The exhibit, which was at the American Folk Art Museum in New York City, just closed, but you can catch it next at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum, University of Lincoln–Nebraska from May 25–September 16, 2018.


Filed under Commentary, Exhibits

Sometimes I Give Away Scraps

Recently I had the novelty of giving away scraps of fabric rather than accumulating them. A local theater costume designer wanted to make a cotton patchwork dress for a character named Scraps in a play called “Talking With.” He asked me and another quilter for donations as he doesn’t use colorful cottons.  With them he created a full skirted dress and headpiece.

The mob cap is attached to Raggedy Ann yarn hair and a plastic mask covered with fabric. As you can see, the costume shop is jam packed with stuff. I was happy to donate some of my fabric as this designer has given me many scraps, mostly of sparkly, shiny fabric.


Filed under Everything Else

A Practical Design Book

I’ve carried on about how important design is in quilting, especially in original quilts.  In previous posts I’ve noted quilt specific design books such as Elizabeth Barton’s “Inspired To Design,” Joen Wolfrom’s “Adventures In Design,” Sandra Meech’s “Connecting Design To Stitch,” and Jean Wells’ “Intuitive Color & Design.” Then, I came across “Create Perfect Paintings” by Nancy Reyner and realized that good design transcends medium, duh! So why should I disdain a resource just because the word quilt appears nowhere in it.

The book’s blurb says, “As a painter, your two main objectives are to draw the viewer to your work and to sustain their attention long enough to create a meaningful viewing experience.” I inserted quilter for painter throughout the book and learned a lot.

With the exception of about 20 pages (out of 144) very specific to mixing paint colors and applying paint, the advice Reyner gives works as well for quilters as for anyone who creates original art. Again, from the publisher’s description, “This solution-based guide offers ways to identify and overcome the common problems faced by all painters in every medium. To create the perfect painting, analysis and editing are critical.”

While Reyner gives helpful advice about creating art, for me her book is valuable for specific ways to analyze my work and fix what’s wrong. She gives a 10 inquiry self-critique method to help you evaluate and improve your work. The usual suspects are there – value/intensity/hue, focal points, design and movement, etc. – but I haven’t found other design books that use digitally altered paintings as examples and show specific steps to fix issues. It’s amazing what a difference a red flower and an upper right detail make in the painting below.

One type of inquiry that has puzzled me is what Reyner calls hot spots, areas of a work that carry “strong viewer expectations,” such as corners and edges, the center, and sky and ground. She cautions against locked corners, where forms or objects are placed directly into corners and along edges. The viewer’s eye will use these to make a quick exit rather than travel around your work. I had been told by an artist to keep my diagonal lines away from corners, but I had no idea why. Now I do.

This altered painting by Pierre Bonnard shows what happens when forms are shoved into the corners. Showing, not telling, seems to help me get it.

In case 10 steps are too much, there’s a 4 step critique shortcut: finish the statement “it’s too ___ (insert adjective here,) figure out the adjective’s opposite (that’s the solution,) choose best techniques to carry that out, and keep an unequal ratio between the opposites. Fifty-fifty ratios and 100-0 ratios lead to boring work. There’s also a critique quick list and pairs of opposites to help you get started.

Beyond specifics this book offers timely (for me) advice such as “Take the necessary time out from painting quilting to periodically think about and clarify your intentions.” I find it all too easy to get swept up in the creative flow. I forget to step back and think about what I’m trying to convey and analyze my progress toward that. One of my goals is to develop a broad intent for each work as I create it – a mood, a feeling, a memory, an impression, etc.

Reyner closes her book with a short section on critique groups. Quilters I’ve been around tend to skirt actual critiques with broad statements like “that’s great” or “love the colors.” I understand no one wants to hurt someone’s feelings, and it’s hard to know if your thoughts are being solicited for an honest critique or simply praise. However, comments by others in a critique group can give you clarity, inspiration and a broader viewpoint, even if they do nothing more than identify problems. I think Reyner expresses well what should be the spirit of a critique:

Each person has vastly different work than the next, and it doesn’t matter whether you prefer that type of work or not. It only matters whether you think that artist has succeeded in doing what they set out to do.

I added the emphasis to remind myself that whether or not you like someone’s work is immaterial to a critique.

I’ll leave the rest of this book for you to make your own discoveries. It resonated enough with me I bought a copy. I consider it $21 well spent.


Filed under Books

The End of A Scrappy Year

Each year I try to look back at what I had hoped to accomplish with my quilting, what I actually did, and how I feel about it. After Elizabeth Barton’s master class in 2016 I was eager to get back to improv, so I began 2017 with three improv pieces drawn from my scraps. One of those is shown below.

Getting Brighter

Following that palette cleanser I returned to some work I began in 2016 and finished a few serious pieces.

Mean Streets

A Grand Day Out

My dyeing/painting workshop in June left me with a better understanding of more sophisticated ways to dye than the plastic baggie method, but I realized that it helps to have an end product in mind. Flinging dye on fabric takes you just so far. Score one for Elizabeth Barton. I used the least appealing of the fabrics I made in two tops which haven’t yet been quilted. The rest of my fabrics await the right project.

Next, I began my Nancy (Crow) series and have almost completed four pieces. I certainly had planned nothing like them, but they grew out of a short play session on Nancy’s way of piecing. Too late I remembered the caveats about working with all solids and what a pain white fabric can be. I think I have solid fabrics out of my system for a while, and out of my scraps.

Nearly Nancy

Throughout the year I made what I call sketches and challenge pieces, like Baby’s In Black for a Beatles’ song challenge.

You can see all my finished work for the year on the “My Quilts – 2015 On” page.

I concentrated on using what fabrics I had on hand, though of course I bought new ones, especially larger pieces for backs. (Hello, I’m Snarky and I’m a fabric addict.) Hancocks of Paducah has great sales (like $5 a yard) on fabrics ideal for second fiddle status.

When I got tired of sewing I pulled out stencils, stamps, and paints, and added more surface layers to cloth. This can lead me to projects designed around the cloth, rather than the other way around. It’s great fun, but may not result in work that transcends its media.


Right now I have three designs in process for a bullseye quilt challenge. I didn’t expect to finish them in 2017, but that’s OK.

In mid December I made a pillow cover out of brightly printed scraps as an antidote to all those solids. I used up most of my 1.5 inch half square triangles that were bonuses from snowball blocks. So I ended the year as I began – with my scraps.

On the minus side of 2017, I spent a lot of time on a large improv piece that to date is a failure. It uses many fabrics I designed and is an attempt to interpret a Paul Klee painting. I think I can improve it, but haven’t yet figured a clear path forward. The background structure is in place, but it needs more – of something. It looms large on my 2018 to do list.  Aside from the Klee piece I made no attempts to begin a serious piece that aspires to be art. Also, I didn’t follow through on my resolve to sketch out my work in advance. It happened for a few pieces, but not that many.

I like to see 2017 as a year of synthesis between detailed planning and winging it. I naturally work improvisationally because it’s just fun, but have realized a piece needs the backbone of a plan. Lack of a plan was the downfall of my Klee piece. So lately I’ve been creating improvisational units as a starting point, then developing a plan to use the units. I resist detailed plans because once the piece is all planned out I often have no interest in repeating it in fabric. In my mind it’s done. It’s why I haven’t pursued quilt design software. Maybe I’ll do a plan for every other piece in 2018.

For 2018 I want to work more with photographs, and will be taking an online course in using Photoshop Elements. After all, I need to put my weekly photos to use. I don’t have many big carryover projects, so I need to get busy devising some.

In surface design, I want to play with gelli plate monoprinting and cyanotype printing. Last year’s birthday bounty included a pack of cyanotype treated fabric squares, which I want to print with crocheted and tatted pieces I’ve inherited.  That project will have to wait for milder weather, but I can begin the monoprinting any time, or any time after I clear off my work table. I have a stack of fabrics that need more oomph, so they’ll be my first victims experiments.

I plan to spend more time looking at art in general, rather than confine myself to quilted art. So many museums have put their collections online it’s easy to ogle art from home. Of course it’s not the same as seeing work in person, but it’s better than nothing. My local art museum offered a year’s free membership, which I signed up for, so maybe trips there will spark ideas.

Some housekeeping is in order in 2018. I need to find new homes for my work. My husband and I negotiate which of my pieces will hang in our home. He’s a traditionalist and dislikes bold, dark work. There’s just so much room under my bed. I may even take the drastic step of pitching my failures, or perhaps I’ll just cut them up.

Speaking of displaying my work, I’d like to exhibit it more in non-quilt show venues. It may turn out that national art quilt exhibits aren’t interested in my work. The competition is keen. There are many art quilters far more technically accomplished than I am, and their work is more refined. At the local and regional levels, aside from shows organized by small groups for their members, not a lot of possibilities are out there that I know about. I have to decide if I want to take on the organization of such an exhibit for area art quilters, or even if there’s interest in such exhibits.

But enough about me.  I’d love to hear from you about your accomplishments in 2017 and plans for 2018.




Filed under Commentary