So far my goal to not buy fabric is holding up well and I’ve been patting myself on the back for my restraint. I don’t count fabric I’m given as that’s simply recycling. Then I look around my studio and notice that I have substituted mixed media supplies for fabric accumulation. Oh dear.
It began with paint and a bit of glue. I already had fabric paint, but I got serious about decent acrylic paint for gelli printing. Since different collage artists use different glues I added several types to my stash to see if I liked them better than matte medium. Then of course I needed different types of paper (sulfite, mixed media, watercolor, bristol.) Followed by markers – Posca, india ink, Stabilo; I had inherited colored pencils and an assortment of drawing pencils, but found I needed markers that could work on different surfaces. And speaking of surfaces, I learned about white, black and clear gessos; and what they could do. Then came good watercolors and good watercolor brushes. Supply accumulation was somewhat easy on my purse as my family was happy to give me Dick Blick gift cards and I was happy to use them. Also, a friend generously shared her extras with me.
By this time I had swapped a small chest of drawers for rolling supply carts, and built up a stash of collage papers. Some are paintings and prints that aren’t works of art but are starting points for more work. Others are old books and music scores to print on and children’s board books to use as journals. I scrutinize all our mail for collage possibilities.
I found there are whole classes devoted to creating collage fodder. That’s one area I don’t need help with as fodder creation is the easy part. The good thing about paint and collage is that the work goes fast; the bad thing is it can go wrong really fast. Of course painting or pasting over such areas is easier than ripping out seams as long as you let the paint dry enough.
My latest mixed media forays attempt to blend fabric with paper. I enjoy all the work on paper, but so far I don’t think the compositions are as strong as my fabric work. Of course I haven’t been at it as long.
Bloomin’ is defined as “just a casual swear word” by The Urban Dictionary, and I used a few while quilting Rhody. As I recounted in an earlier post, I have been developing an impressionistic floral piece made with fabrics I had dyed, painted, and printed.
My original plan called for an undulating circular walking foot quilting design in several thread colors. Then, I decided to create the illusion of leaves around the edges. I had already reached the limits of walking foot quilting on the circular part, so I knew FMQ was the only way I could do leaves.
It turned out there was a lot more edge area to quilt than I had thought, so the FMQ went on for a few days, to allow my shoulders and temper time to recover. I tried several thread colors and weights to emphasize the leaves more, but I declared it was good enough when I found myself quilting the same leaves more than twice. Of course I managed to catch a bit of the excess backing fabric in the quilting, but the facing will cover that up. Only you and I will know about it.
I used seed stitch and french knots to give the flower center texture. It was backed with fusible fleece and satin stitched to the already quilted top.
Here are detail shots, plus a view of the back. As always, the back was made with whatever fabrics I had that were large enough. I pay attention to nice backs for working quilts, but not for wall art.
Of course the really boring chores – facing and hanging sleeve – remain. The fabrics are measured and cut, but sewing them on will await a time when I get stuck on my next new project and need thinking time.
The Artist as Quiltmaker show, held every two years at Firelands Association for the Visual Arts (FAVA) in Oberlin, Ohio, was one of many casualties of the pandemic. It was supposed to take place in 2020, but was postponed until this year. I drove over to see it with a friend just before the show closed and was glad I didn’t miss seeing it in person. You can view the entries online, but as with any visual show, you can’t get a sense of scale unless you stand in front of the pieces. And size does make a difference as some of the pieces are large.
Many of this year’s entries don’t fit the “three layers held together with stitching” requirement typical of quilt shows. And some don’t have 90 degree corners. In fact, a few approach sculpture. I was glad to see a broadening of the concept of a quilt, but hope such pieces don’t languish in the quilt ghetto of the art world. They might have better luck being called something else.
Some of the pieces that intrigued me follow.
While not groundbreaking in form (it even has a binding) “Blue Ice” captures the majestic quiet of ice bound parts of our world. The artist has kept the quilting simple, but uses a few changes in thread color from black to blue effectively.
Modern quilting influence is evident in the piecing and lighthearted fabric choices, but the curved edges and trio of hanging drops are more arty. And, look ma, no four inch hanging sleeve.
Materials used include “reclaimed vintage quilt and army blankets, army suture cotton dated 1953, cotton, linen, wool, silk, satin, felt, buttons.” The curved red lines are hand chain stitched embroidery. I found it an intriguing meld of old with new to reimagine the original materials.
The online photo so doesn’t do this work justice. It’s by a quilter renowned for working with large scale templates and pieced curves. Recently she has switched to digitally edited photos printed on cloth. From what I could see, only the outer mitered border is pieced. I’ll quote the artist here: “In 2019 my husband photographed a 135’ dive by one of the cliff divers of Acapulco at four frames per second. He combined the twelve shots of the three-second dive into one time-lapse composite. Using my digital drawing program, I added traditional Storm at Sea blocks to the corners of the digital image and designed borders that extend the colors and patterns of the photo that fade to black. The center panel, borders, and binding fabric were digitally printed and pieced. I quilted the center very heavily with matching threads to enhance the textures of the rocks.” The quilting is exquisite.
Only one layer of cotton canvas dyed with plants and a few organza appliqued pieces are used. The subtleties of the images left by the plants are best seen in person. There is hand quilting on the appliqued parts, but a traditional quilt judge would throw this piece out of the judging.
Pieced and quilted, but the shape and uneven edges elevate it from a typical abstractly pieced quilt. It’s almost like dress pattern pieces were used to create it.
The artist applied a digital editing filter to a photo, had it printed on a cotton/linen blend, and then hand embroidered it. I don’t know if it has more than one layer. I was intrigued with the combination of digital manipulation and hand embroidery.
Here the blue/purple ribbons come free of the quilt’s surface and curl around themselves. The red glyphs give a pop of color. While the quilting isn’t up to the standards of other entries, I enjoy the 3D effect. I guess I have some quilt police DNA after all.
I hope I’ve given you a taste of the show’s diversity. Please take a few minutes to browse all the entries. The detail photos are great for closeups.
I know I’m not the first creator to feel the finishing touches of a work are the hardest to do. After the heady rush of creation and then the sometimes frustrating sewing, ripping out, redoing, and quilting steps, the last bits of edge finishing and hanging sleeve making can get put off. Sometimes they can be postponed a long while. As for labels, I write the quilt’s title, my name, and the year of creation on the backs. I admire beautifully embroidered labels, but done is better than pretty.
I have been forcing myself to do those last bits within six months of finishing a piece. Some of my earlier work has never been displayed because I never made a hanging sleeve. Over the years I’ve forced myself to fix that defect, but there are still some pieces without sleeves. They may stay that way as they are large works, and I can rationalize that they are lap quilts and don’t need sleeves.
Over the past two weeks I have totally finished three quilts. Two had been quilted months ago with binding strips cut, but left hanging in the closet. The third I managed to get faced within a month of quilting it.
I chose the darker fabric for the upper left triangle as it better reflected my mood following current events. All the quilting was done with my walking foot.
The other two quilts were made in Florida last winter. After I did basic walking foot quilting and bound them, I washed them to get a lovely crinkly texture.
Both continue the month theme for what is now a quartet of quilts. Most likely I have enough scraps to make eight more, but I may fill in the remaining months with other already made quilts like “January Blues.” Now I have only seven more months to go.
Speaking of finishes at long last, I want to share a photo of a years-in-the-making Dear Jane quilt. Jackie Vogel, its 92 year old maker, is proudly showing it off.
Sadly, Jackie has had a stroke and most likely will sew no more. Her family shared her fabrics and sewing supplies with local quilters, and I hope to put some of the fabric to good use. My visit to her overflowing sewing rooms convinced me to either finish projects or give away what I know I won’t get to.
It seems you can’t escape people posing for selfies wherever you go. Most selfies show a fish eye lens view of their subjects, often in carefully rehearsed poses. I have run into this celebration-of-self behavior at restaurants, museums, hiking trails, and tourist attractions. I even saw one mother trying to take one of herself and her child on top of a wild buffalo in South Dakota. The buffalo didn’t cooperate.
But my snobbishness was brought up short when I realized that artists have been producing selfies for centuries. They’re called self portraits. One of my favorites is by Elizabeth Louise Vigee LeBrun, an 18th century French portrait painter. I love it because it is by a successful female artist from a time when such creatures were as rare as unicorns. Then there’s such panache in her hat, though her hair looks a bit unkempt. Finally, she proclaims her calling by showing her palette and brushes.
I am not someone who takes selfies, in part because I hate to have my picture taken even by myself, but I needed one for a Wanderlust class exercise. We were to paint self portraits using the three primary colors plus white. To give us a start, we were to take a selfie, posterize it to get the main blocks of values in our face, and trace the outline of our face onto paper or canvas.
At first I thought I’d skip this exercise, but then I changed my mind. It didn’t require butterflies, birds, or inspirational sayings, so it stood out from many other assignments. I duly took a selfie, posterized it in PhotoShop Elements, and transferred an outline to watercolor paper.
Then I began to mix skin tones from my four paint colors. My initial doubt turned to amazement when I saw how to do that thanks to teacher Christa Forrest. In fact, after a while my paint palette looked like I had been smearing it with makeup samples.
The first passes were crude, with uneven skin tones.
Once I was satisfied with my skin, I added collage paper to the page bottom and coated everything with clear gesso. After that dried I used colored pencils to fine tune details. The gesso gives enough tooth to grab the pencil lead and add texture.
I spent more time on this exercise than on any other ones to date, but the teacher broke down the process and made it doable. To judge from the work posted in the course forum, I don’t think as many students did this exercise compared with others. As was noted in last week’s discussion about classes, sometimes you learn more when you reach beyond just having fun.
In the week since I wrote about the Map Play class I took with Valerie Goodwin, I read two posts about art classes. The first by Jane Davies responds to a student’s comments that she wanted to play and have fun at a workshop and then had a meltdown when she was asked to dig deeper.
Making art IS about play and it IS fun, but that is not all it is, usually. If you are always playing and having fun, with no angst or frustration, and you are also generating images that really speak to you, that you find compelling, then that is just GREAT! Congratulations. Most of us also have moments of frustration and occasional meltdowns or at least self-doubt. Learning how to navigate these skillfully is part of the process.
The second, Chris’ Quilting Universe post, Am I Addicted to Taking Classes?, reviews all the quilt related classes Chris has taken and the work that resulted from them. She has taken a wide variety of classes, ranging from year long master classes to online multi-lessons to one shot workshops.
Do you take classes to learn a process or leave with a product? Do you want to learn to make art like that made by the instructor? Do you want a two hour class at a quilt show or a five day immersive course? Do you want a deep dive into one teacher’s methods or a potpourri of many teachers’ approaches?
A further permutation is in-person versus online classes, and a distinction between live online and prerecorded. An additional nuance with any online class is the amount of interaction possible with the teacher and other students. I have taken classes where I had access to videos with no interaction, to videos with a class blog, and to videos with some sort of proprietary discussion forum. Some classes use Facebook.
These are very different animals, and I believe one’s expectations should reflect the differences. For example, I took a three hour Zoom class on sewing paper collage with David Owen Hastings. I learned a well explained technique that required a minimal amount of supplies. All interactions occurred during the class, with no subsequent followup.
I also took Elizabeth Barton’s year long master class that required a deep commitment to developing designs and executing them each month. While the students could and did comment on each others work, the main focus of the class was improving our designs through Elizabeth’s critiques, which were copious. Each month we developed sketches in response to a theme, chose one to turn into a quilt, and then made the quilt.
Right now I’m taking a year long set of mixed media classes called Wanderlust. The classes are loosely organized around basic art supplies like gesso, acrylic paint, modeling paste, etc., but each instructor pretty much presents her own thing. (I have yet to see a male instructor.) While I have learned a lot about materials and techniques, I find some of the instruction to be overly focused on “playing and having fun” and what I call greeting card art. To me the missing element is learning to evaluate your work. With so many instructors and students, comments on anyone’s work is pretty much limited to “great,” “nice,” “how sweet,” etc. It’s hit or miss whether the instructor comments on student work.
Such an approach is great if your goal is to play. I have to say I had hoped for less overlap of techniques and more building on previous techniques. Again, that’s probably not doable with so many instructors. I have learned there are as many ways to glue paper as there are teachers.
This week I’ve reflected on all the quilt/art related classes I’ve taken thanks to Jane and Chris, and decided that the ones I benefited most from were process related, with a critique/feedback component. The absolute worst class I ever took was on paper and cloth marbling. All the students shared one container for marbling and we were to take turns. Let’s just say there were some interpersonal issues. I figured the two fat quarters I marbled cost $25 each, and they were ugly. I won’t try to name the best class I ever took as there are too many candidates.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with art classes, both in person and online. Do you have any recommendations for outstanding classes/teachers?
It’s hard to say goodbye to a friend who is moving many hours away. I know, it could be much further away, with visits possible only by cross country or ocean trek. Still, the easy spontaneity of living a mere 20 minutes from each other will be gone.
Since we are both arty types of course we gave each other handmade farewell gifts. I created (with the help of Shutterfly) a book of my friend’s photos she had shared with me. In return she created a mixed media piece she called “Expecting to Fly.”
And it was accompanied by a handmade card.
Thank heavens email and Instagram make it easily possible to continue to share our artistic journeys. Alas, they aren’t so good for seeing shows in person and talking over each piece. I’ll miss you P.
Today’s topic came to me as I wandered the aisles of my local Village Discount thrift store looking for bargains. Once I got over my surprise that used bras were on offer, I checked out the men’s extra large shirts. There’s lots of material in a $2 cotton dress shirt.
I didn’t go home with any shirts, but I did remember Sue Benner’s piece made with shirt cuffs which I saw at Quilt National 2017.
Sue shops in thrift stores, and even finds uses for garment parts like shoulder pads. If you were around in the 1980s you may recall that most women’s clothing had big foam pads sewn into the shoulders.
It was a short step from that memory to a trawl for other fiber artists who work with cast off clothing. SAQA Journal helped me along with an article (2022, Vol. 32, No. 1) about Susan Avishai, who transforms shirt collars, cuffs, and other parts to often ethereal work.
Denim is a favorite clothing material to recycle. I’ve written earlier about Ian Berry, and have always loved the Gee’s Bend quilts made from old jeans.
A new to me artist, Jim Arendt, said that he simply asks people for their old jeans, and hasn’t bought materials in some time.
You can enjoy his talk on rules for creating art on YouTube.
While the artists above cut up clothing, their work doesn’t feature paint on surfaces. Los Angeles based Aiko Hachisuka prints and paints on second hand clothing she bundles together in large foam stuffed lumps which the art world calls soft sculptures. I’m not a big fan of her work, but I’m intrigued with her way to use discarded clothing.
I have done my small bit to repurpose clothing in work like Damask and Denim and Shirtsleeves.
My husband tells me we have a coupon worth 50% off at Village Discount, so maybe a return visit is in the works once I figure out a project made with men’s shirts.
As I’ve mentioned before, I am going through my oeuvre to decide what to keep and what to toss. Yes, I throw out quilts, especially small ones that have brought me no joy. Others I look at with an eye to fixing them up.
Here are some examples of tops that I had to decide whether to finish.
Finally, I had thrown out the piece below, when I realized I could mess it up with gesso and paint, guilt free.
I realize that when looking at my work, as Jamie Wyeth said in a 2014 interview, “All the inadequacies jump out at me. … I don’t really finish a picture but it gets to the point of diminishing returns, and I just say, enough.” However, sometimes saying enough means saying goodbye cruel world.
For some years crafters and quilters have extolled the virtues of slow hand stitching. They say it’s a soothing meditative process that will relax you, make you appreciate the process, and be mentally restorative. The implication is it will make you a better person.
My latest attempt to reach such a zen-like state was sparked by a free online course called Stitch Camp taught by Gwen Hedley on textileartist.org. We began by making random marks on two pieces of white/off white cotton with two contrasting colors.
Gwen used twigs to apply paint. My first deviation was to skip the twigs as the ground was snow covered. We were to use diluted acrylic paint. My second deviation – I used textile paint that I watered down too much and it made blobs. We were to mark one piece of cotton heavily and the other one lightly, then cut up the cotton however we liked, rearrange the pieces in a way that connected the marks, and hand stitch the pieces together. My third deviation (do you see a pattern?) was to zigzag my pieces by machine and to make two rearranged pieces from them. They were still ugly.
Then, we were to use hand stitches to emphasize the connections between the sewn together pieces. After I backed the pieces with fusible fleece, I began to do elementary stitching in red, navy and off white threads. After what seemed like days, I had stitched two long lines, done seed stitching, running and back stitches, and loose satin stitches. I added small bits of fused fabric. (Gwen did small hand sewn applique additions. Deviation four.) The awful looking piece still looked awful, and the only thing I was meditating on was a toss to the waste basket.
I figured the piece would become less ugly only if I embroidered over every speck of the surface. That wasn’t going to happen. Every stitch I made annoyed me more as one of my fabrics had a very tight weave that was hard to pull the needle through. The process didn’t make me calmer as Gwen (who stressed this was about process not product) had confidently said I’d feel. I saw many ways the ugliness could be eased, but none involved thread.
Out came the paints and Posca markers. I painted two layers of paint over the piece I had embroidered to help the contrasting colors meld more. I got creative with markers on the unstitched piece and found that process calming.
It’s not that I don’t get the tactile pleasure of hand stitching. I enjoyed embroidering my felted wool squares because the colors were bright and wool felt so good to sew. Lots of small pieces to embroider are a better fit with my limited hand stitch attention span. I could finish one square in 15 minutes. However, when my starting point is ugly and stitching is a struggle I am not going to persevere with a project that seems endless. I don’t think my path to process nirvana is hand stitching. The fault is in me, not the instructor. In fact, I could happily fall asleep to Gwen’s soothing voice. I guess Stitch Camp did have some meditative qualities for me.