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Inspiring Quilting: Elly's blog to boost your creative IQ

Archive for the ‘Art + Quilt’ Category

My Sanctuary City

Friday, April 26th, 2019
Sanctuary City, detail

Last summer, I took a collage class at QSDS–Quilt & Surface Design–from Deborah Fell.

Standing alongside my design wall in Deborah Fell’s class.

See that sprawling assemblage to the left of my hip? It started as a small abstract composition…abstraction being something I aspire to. But I can’t help myself; my work invariably calls to mind some object or scene, and I’m off to flesh out figurative or landscape designs.

This held true here: I saw buildings and began to recreate my current hometown of Philadelphia. I had a few recognizable buildings, some vague representations, the Schuylkill River on the left, the Delaware River on the right. It came together in stages, and I placed sturdy pieces of canvas or upholstery weight fabric under the expanding areas as foundations for a large, odd-shaped wall hanging.

City between two rivers…

A few months later, I read about a SAQA (Studio Art Quilters Association) call for entry: Forced to Flee. The theme resonated. As a volunteer, I’ve long advocated for compassionate immigration reform and protested against Muslim bans, the Wall, family separations, and inhumane detention centers. I decided to finish my cityscape to express pride that Philadelphia is one among hundreds of sanctuary cities in the U.S. My “city of brotherly love” (sisterly love is implied!) accepts its moral obligation to protect immigrants and refugees. City leaders and activists alike fight against detentions, deportations, family separations, and discrimination. We rise to welcome the stranger, give shelter, secure safe haven for those “forced to flee.”

Knowing the caliber of work submitted to a SAQA show, I thought I’d have less competition for a 3-D piece, and be more likely to get in. So, I traced around an oval trashcan for a pattern — cuz what better to give me elegance than a trashcan? I continued to build my city over thick Pel-tex stabilizer so the vessel would be an upstanding example. Alternately, I worked on the inside surface, using a vintage quilt fragment for its soft, comforting associations, plus emergency mylar thermal blankets of the sort that are given to detainees. I cannot express how much struggling, how much cursing, how many broken needles went into assembling this beast. It stands 28” high. To ensure steadiness without adding weights, I fashioned a spiral pathway with signs and symbols of concern and welcome: bi-lingual expressions, caution tape, keys and safety pins and zippers.

There were further frustrations as I hand-stitched the elements together. Then I had to photograph it to try and meet the demands for pixels, clarity, background, and appropriate depth of field. I managed to submit my information and images 45 minutes before the deadline.

I didn’t get in to the Forced to Flee show. I get it. Jurors receive hundreds of submissions and usually curate down to under 50 — for a cohesive, high-quality exhibit at venues with limited spaces. Perhaps my piece was too discombobulated and did not appeal to the judge. Perhaps there were no other 3-D pieces and this would have been odd man out. And perhaps my photos weren’t up to what SAQA demands for not only the judging, but also the catalog.

Rejection gave me several advantages: I really wasn’t satisfied with the piece, and was now free to make significant changes. Another SAQA call for entry beckoned: 3-D expressions. I had time to revise and polish the composition from all sides and the inside. New construction and embellishment strengthened the overall aesthetic and referenced more Philly iconography. I added more vintage mini-blocks and doilies to the inside, and crocheted an oval rug to cozy up the “inner sanctum.” I want those who see the piece to take time to walk around it and peer inside. And yeah, I’m tempted to throw in little stuffed heart-shaped pillows, additional keys, and poems of welcome…but mostly because I don’t know when to stop. What do you think? More secrets and treasures? Or enough already?!?

Happier with the piece, I took the time to hire an expert photographer — Gary Grissom — and set it up in a better-lit niche. Now I felt more confident submitting it to the other show.

More time and attention to detail and good workmanship, along with professional shots, did the trick. I got in!

Icing on this cake is the impressive decision-maker, an art professor and gallery director who is one of the finest modern fiber curators in the world. (Oh, and he’s a Philadelphian.!) SAQA’s website states, “The wide variety of pieces selected by juror Bruce Hoffman include vessels, wearables, wall-pieces, and sculptural artworks. This cutting-edge exhibition shows how textile art can expand both into the third dimension and into the future.”

This exhibition, 3-D Expression, will premiere at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan in September 2019. I am angling to see while it’s there. Aside from the honor of having my work included, I would be thrilled to study all the other works in the only way they can truly be appreciated: by walking around them and checking them out from every angle.

Meanwhile, I’m back to making essentially 2-D art quilts for a while. Oh, and shopping for a workhorse of a sewing machine that may allow for thick, sculptural work in the months to come.

Threads of Resistance, in the cloth!

Sunday, September 16th, 2018

At the same time I launched United We Quilt, a group of fabric artists called the Artists Circle Alliance put out a call for entry to Threads of Resistance.

The two shows are sisters–both expressing deep concerns for the character, policies, and actions of the Trump administration.

UWQ has been, from the beginning, strictly a digital gallery–and if you’re reading this, do consider submitting a work of your own. The only deadline is when democracy has been restored. Every day the president gives us something else to provoke anger and concern and inspire speaking up for justice, with words, deeds, and art. I’m proud of the capacity and accessibility of UWQ for doing justice to each work and its maker.

ToR, however, was designed as a traveling show. No doubt it has involved a huge investment; the managing of finances, insurance policies, and storage; negotiations and legal contracts with venues and insurance agencies; transportation coordination; and answering to the needs of everyone who submitted work and everyone involved in showing the work. The political theme made this show exponentially more time-consuming and risky. In fact, several venues were cancelled and one was shortened…I can’t help thinking it was because the booking was arranged before the producers understood how subversively “in your face” some of the content was; I assume they caved to complaints.

Yesterday, I got to see ToR at the Pennsylvania National Quilt Extravaganza. It was one among many exhibitions and competitions of quilts eliciting oohs and aahs over extraordinarily gorgeous workmanship, composition, brilliance or graphic power. Signs on the ends of the aisles of this exhibit clarified a disclaimer.

And yes, the Mancuso team that manages PNQE received complaints about gratuitous nudity, use of expletives, and anger expressed in, of all things, a quilt.

BUT. No doubt about it, ToR attracted the most attention, had the biggest crowds, and garnered the most lingering views, cell-phone photography, and conversation of anything in the cavernous exposition halls. I think many viewers were not used to seeing statement art quilts. And I give them, the often apolitical, traditional quilters a lot of credit for taking it all in and responding enthusiastically to many of the works.

I have poured over this website, and I hope you will, too. Links at the top of ThreadsofResistance.org take you to “Traveling exhibit”–those juried into the show. Even the biggest quilt shows will have space limitations for each of their exhibits, and the Artist’s Circle Alliance choose between 50 and 60 pieces–about one-tenth of the works that were submitted. However, to their credit, they decided to have every single piece that came in put on their website, under the link “The Artwork.”

Take as much time on the website as you can. Of course, as with all quilts, art quilts– really, art in any medium, an image can’t hold a candle to seeing a piece in all its tactile glory…even if you can’t touch it. What I can do here on my blog is share views of pieces that are beyond anything you can get online…let you look closely and peek under, as I did with the help of a white-glove lady.

Let’s start with this one:

Equal means Equal by Jessica Levitt

I read the artist’s statement “This quilt was created to be carried as a protest sign for The Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21, 2017.” I thought holding a quilt high in a large crowd probably meant that the back of the piece must hold some interest. And indeed it did. 

A stunning favorite of mine is Seeking Refuge by Do Palma. It’s a heart-rending response to the ongoing refugee crisis. I love how the artist used silk screen, printing and stenciling on fabric to silhouette long lines of people forced to flee. Even more, I loved how a sheer overlay added depth, obfuscation, and clouded views of these people who are forced to live in the shadows. When the delicate overlay was carefully lifted by a white-glove lady, I was able to photograph the under layer.

On the other extreme to graphic power is a really soft, subtle piece in the exhibit called There’s Something Between Us, by Heidi A. Parkes. You can see it in its entirety here. But you cannot appreciate it from a small image, nor from the statement on the site:  

“In recent years, my mother’s politics have shifted, and she has made it clear that she doesn’t want to discuss her politics with my brother or me. This election has been deeply troubling, and has raised ethical questions that I cannot shrug off as ‘just politics.’ It has created a tangible discomfort in our relationship.”

No, you have to look closely at this pale, highly textural work, and be aware that the artist has embroidered text over a  curtain that her mother made, and then hand quilted it. It takes time to discern the phrases, such as, “My mother voted for a man who bragged about nonconsensually groping young women like me”….. “If we can’t talk about this, how can we talk about anything?”…. “Grandma says never talk politics with family.”

If it’s curtains for honest conversations with loved ones, could it be curtains for democracy? Not when we stay informed, stay vigilant, speak up, persist, resist. As these artists and the Artists Circle Alliance have done.

I don’t want the curtain to drop on this exhibit.

I know the PNQE is the next to last stop for ToR. Maybe the artists are looking forward to getting their pieces back, even though these are not artworks that most of us want in our living rooms when mom or grandma come to visit. I would also put forth that individually, these are masterpieces, but all together, this show is an important piece of history. How I wish that George Soros, George Clooney, or George Stephanopoulos will purchase the show in its entirety and donate it to a museum as a permanent collection or one that gets mounted from time to time. Like Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party. It’s that good, and it’s that worth preserving.

In the meantime, permit me another shout-out to United We Quilt: Sewing Justice. If Threads of Resistance inspires you to make quilt art as a protest against the Trump administration, or as a celebration of what patriotism ought to look like, we’re eager to show your work, in the most democratic way possible: No jurying. No size restrictions. No packing. No shipping. No entry fees. No censoring. No deadline. How ’bout it?

 

From Photo to Fabric

Saturday, September 1st, 2018

Two weeks before the Disperse Dyeing on synthetics workshop at Lisa “Dippy Dyes” Reber’s house, I was invited to send in photos for transferring. So I went through recent vacation photos, architectural landscapes I’d shot in Riga, Latvia. I wanted my fabric transfers to be correctly displayed, so I flipped them to the mirror image and sent them in as Lisa requested.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lisa directed us to send our images right to Fine Balance Imaging Studios–which is located in Langley, on Whidbey Island. I have fond memories of vacationing on this charming island, a short boat ride away from Seattle, WA. Kudos for this top quality firm locating in a place where quality of life is so high. Anyhoo, their site says:

If your files are anywhere up to 20MB or so, please send us an email at theprintstudio@gmail.com your file as an attachment and instructions for your job. We’ll follow up with you within 24 hours to verify your request and provide a timeline and estimate.

Gmail user? You can send any size file through email – it will automatically upload to Google Drive and send us a link!

Alternately, Dropbox is a great free service we highly recommend that is easy to use. Upload your file and send us a link via email. [Maybe box.net will also work!]

Please do email us and let us know you’ve sent a file, and specify what you would like for your order.

At the workshop, Lisa passed out the large sheets of paper that were imprinted with pigments made for synthetic fabrics. Presumably, you could ask FBI Studios to use the pigment that was right for natural fabrics, too. Here’s Kerry, my classmate, cutting her pictures into individual transfer sheets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos were placed on fabrics, with right sides together, within the hot press. I began, using a poly-cotton broadcloth supplied by Lisa. Excellent saturation and detail!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next, I experimented with my own unusual fabrics. Below, two photos transferred onto a piece of polyester chiffon that is embroidered with little leaves or feathers. Under that, two photos transferred onto a peach polyester moire.

Here are transfers to a sheer pinkish polyester.

 

I think these will make ethereal overlays to abstract compositions which allude to the ghosts of my family members who lived in Riga and walked the same streets I did. Some were tradesmen, involved in manufacturing of paints and turpentine, so I believe they would approve.

 

 

 

 

I Dyed and Went to Fabric Heaven

Saturday, September 1st, 2018

See the work I’m doing here?

Brushing on “cool black” dye over painted and crayoned paper. Check out my last two posts here and here to find out why. My choice of dyes were squirted into ice cube tray compartments, because you only need a little. Each dye is identified with a green masking-tape tag, because really, the look of the dye is rarely telling.

The right half is the transfer of my workings onto satin polyester fabric. Then I printed a second time, resulting in the quieter colors of the left half.

 

 

 

 

 

I preferred the poly cotton–more like the natural fabrics I use in my art quilts and craft pieces (table runners, pillow covers, tote bags, etc.). Here are two printings from one crayon-and-dye sketch, but with extra dye brushed on to bridge the gap between them.

 

 

 

 

I was big into circles, and printing twice, with the second aligned. Inadvertently, I made myself a bodacious bra, huh?!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last one shows a lapse back into traditional territory–a landscape. But even like the scribblings of the other experiments, this will probably be cut up and used as components of an abstract art quilt. Although, with all my circles, I can’t help but think toward Drunkard’s Path patchwork. In any case, I found these sips and gulps of disperse dyeing quite intoxicating.

 

 

Dyeing to introduce you…

Friday, August 31st, 2018

At the workshop mid August, I learned so much from the trials–almost all successful! Just a few tribulations!–of my sister classmates. Although they experimented with lots of surface textures a la Lisa “Dippy Dyes” Reber, I’m going to share what we did using Miriam Jacobs’ techniques, which I am absolutely jazzed about. As Miriam showed us (see my last post) we worked on paper, first with fabric crayons. We placed textures under the paper and then made rubbings, adding lines or marks as desired. Day one, I worked alongside Janet, who is making a rubbing. Then, we painted  thick, liquid dyes on top. When we were done, we carried the paper and a piece of synthetic fabric over to the hot press. Kind of like using a sandwich press, but bigger, heavier, and tight enough to make the thinnest croque monsieur you can imagine. Lisa sets hers at 345 degrees and times the transfer for 29 seconds. Miriam sets hers for a little cooler, and a little longer.

   

The biggest surprise is the Voila! moment, when you get to see exactly what color that dye produced. It’s not always obvious from the paper, that’s for sure. Check out these examples from Grace, with paper and resulting fabric:

Janet quickly mastered ghosting: reprinting with softer and softer effects. Kerry was very diverse in disperse dyeing, but here’s her crayon and dye work.

   

Diana went bold, and produced a prodigious amount of work. “Hot off the press,” so to speak, she’s already ordered all the tools and supplies she needs to keep going.   

   

Next post, I’ll share my work.

 

 

 

Delight in the Dispersal of Dyes

Tuesday, August 21st, 2018

A mind-blowing bevy of techniques filled a two day workshop I took last weekend. Disperse Dyes on Synthetic Fabrics was going to be taught by two accomplished specialists, each with her own extensive repertoire. Held at the home of Lisa “Dippy-Dyes” Reber in quaint little Red Hill, PA, Lisa shared her methods for mottling, sun-printing, salt sprinkling, chain- and tube-wrapping, scrunching, photo-transfer and more. She shared her supplies–tools and liquid dyes which we could choose, referencing her thoughtfully painted chart of colors, tints, and hues.

At the same venue, Miriam Jacobs–formerly known as Mert, or Mertle the Turtle Fabric Arts, won over our attention to how she creates complex cloth, packing on a myriad of techniques including crayon drawing and rubbing, dye-painting, dye scraping, paper scrunching, heat-pressing, ghost-printing, and juxtaposing.

  

Glorious, jaw-dropping gorgeousness. In the next post, I’ll show you what my talented classmates did…and the wealth of surface designs on various fabrics that will doubtless fill my fall with quilting projects. Stay tuned.

I Fell for Collage

Friday, June 8th, 2018

Took a class with Deborah Fell from Monday to Friday last week at Quilt & Surface Design Symposium (QSDS) at the Columbus College of Art and Design. It was divine. A return to a community of artists who get off on fabric, who are passionate about purposeful creativity, generous in sharing what they know and what they have in their stash.

Deborah calls this 5-day class “Three Sisters”–Raw edge applique, foundation piecing (which isn’t piecing at all, it’s collage on a foundation fabric), and mark-making, i.e., slow, hand-stitching or quilting. My goals were to get away from the large opus magna I’ve been laboring over, and free myself up with a less is more approach. I also sought freedom from high concept, but aspired to put ambiguity into my work, so viewers might enjoy interpreting my work as they wish.

Above was my board by the end of the day Monday. Below, that’s me showing my work on Friday…as you may be able to tell, I had worked on each “textile sketch” with varying degrees of success.

No matter. I stretched, I grew, I stayed up late working in the classroom, I met my goals…some of the time, at least. Oh, and I had so much fun, with the best broads, who gave me support, interesting scraps, the loan of key tools, and unbelievably rewarding friendship, sharing their life and art stories.

Here are some of the pearls of wisdom Deborah Fell dispensed:

Embrace imperfiction.

I can quilt 10 stitches to the inch, but I don’t want to.

I was normal once. I didn’t like it.

Doubt is part of the creative process.

Think outside the block.

Plus, favorite quotes she included:

Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.–Pablo Picasso

Textiles have been a form of art, communication, survival, seduction, spirituality, expression, and community throughout history for all humankind on Planet Earth. — Elaine Lipson

Now for some close-ups of my work. Each one is still in process, and most vary from 15″-20″ on the longest side:

  

Hope to complete them all this summer, in among more pressing demands. Criticism always welcome!

 

 

 

From Painting to Quilting, and Black

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2018

Back home in the bosom of my family for the Passover seder, I took the opportunity to see an art quilt exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art that’s been getting a lot of great press, which it richly deserves. It’s comprised of new work by Stephen Towns, trained as a painter, self-taught to quilt — for this body of work in particular. BTW, you can see it in the cloth if you get to the BMA before Sept. 2.

The piece above and below, titled “Birth of a Nation,” is the star of the show. A black mammy, tenderly suckling a white baby against the backdrop of an American flag of 1777, puts slavery and white supremacy in tension with each other. A coffee and tea-dyed dress, patched with toile prints and barely clearing the bed of dirt below the quilt evokes the humble status of the Madonna-like figure.

Surrounding this installation are seven smaller story quilts; whether portrait or landscape orientation, each is about a yard along its longest edges. These works depict key moments in the life of Nat Turner’s life and the rebellion he led against slavery in 1831. My favorite one featured another mother and child: Under the cover of night, when plantation work was done, Nat Turner’s mother teaches her young son to read, or schools him in gospel. The composition proves Mr. Towns’ incomparable talent as a portrait painter…just as the materials and techniques give away his seat-of-the-pants sewing and quilting skills. Fabrics are from an old stash (perhaps his mother’s?): those of us sewing and quilting in the ’60s, and ’70s will recognize the calicos, ginghams, and synthetics, and that proud feeling when you think to add translucent tulle and sparkly beads to skies, buttons to clothing.

Titled, “Special Child,” this piece is the first in the cycle, which all show what how the facts known about Nat Turner coalesced into myth and icon: slave, keenly intelligent child, preacher man, leader of an effective slave rebellion. It’s refreshing to have the story, told so often by whites such as William Styron (The Confessions of Nat Turner), reclaimed by an African-American living and working in the Black Lives Matter era.

Stephen Towns assesses his “framed” portraits of Nat Turner and his wife, Cherry Turner, which accompany the exhibit.

Stars, moons, or suns (plus the occasional butterfly) play a role in each work of art, connecting people with the universe, and with the spirit as creator. Celestial bodies stand in as haloes, symbolizing sainthood or martyrdom. And is the red scroll below an ecclesiastical stole, or a symbol of the bloodshed already committed and also up ahead?

In each work of another series of paintings, the halo is a blue moon behind an enslaved rebel leader who has been caught. A hangman’s noose and a fist figure prominently. Click here to read what happened with these intensely powerful, provocative portraits.

On a lighter note, quilters viewing this blog post may want to look back at the story quilts and note the minimal free-motion quilting in thread that matches the fabrics flattens the backgrounds, so they recede. In contrast, large stitches that most seasoned quilters would decry as “toe-hookers” become strong design lines in Towns’s narratives. Not only do they define important features, they add naivete, the mark of the hand.

As an art-lover, I have so much respect for Towns’s cohesive works within series, for his conceptual underpinnings and iconography–sun, moon, stars, haloes, butterflies, and the gold-leaf that recalls the elaborate frames on medieval religious art (as in the “framing” on Nat and Cherry Turner’s likenesses). The piece below is from yet another series. Each work depicts a child who experienced slavery, and each work bears a title from the Lord’s Prayer.

Riveting. Heart-rending.

And yet one detail resonates most for me as a quilter. Can you guess what that is?

 

Heart-pounding inspiration, biennially

Monday, March 19th, 2018

What a privilege and thrill, every other year, to see the Art Quilt Elements show at the Wayne Art Center.

An even bigger adrenaline rush to be there at the Artists’ Reception, to be able to catch up with many friends and make new connections. To hear the makers talk about their work, is it just coincidence how many works are about the ability or inability to make connections in our country, and in our world?

Transfusion #3, by Catherine W. Smith: Lines of red fabric like a blood transfusion that flows from one body to another.

Seeking A Common Thread, by Karen A. Brown. Sharp pointed forms are filled with loud and destructive words and actions, such as pain, anger, poverty, fear…

Structurally Unsound, by Diane Savona. Assembled from Salvation Army jackets, sweaters, and the clothes of workers, and embedded with construction tools. Expresses a deep concern for our rich, powerful country that does not have the political will to maintain our roads, bridges, and railroads that allow us to connect.

Juxtaposition 1: Crossing Lines, by Karen Schulz. We are taught not to divide our art in half, but Karen achieves a dialogue, one half with the other, and strikes a balance.

Conversation, by Marti Plager. “Is it possible for opposing sides to have a conversation? Is it wishful thinking on my part that the conversation can be a civil one?

This poorly photographed collection of beautiful works and their beautiful makers pushes me to research and save up for a better camera. I only hope it pushes you to get to the Wayne Art Center, in Wayne PA, by April 28, to see these powerful pieces in the cloth!

Well Past Midnight

Monday, February 26th, 2018

A class experiment at a Quilt Surface Design Symposium back in 2006: Cynthia Corbin assigned us to make and remake what she calls a black fabric sketch–a unique patchwork block from a sketch of lines. As happens in these intensive classes, I joined my classmates staying up quite late one night, making up a patchwork block in many different color and pattern iterations. Finally, I mutinied, and created the patchwork all in black fabric, and opted to show the side where the seam allowances are exposed. Soon after, I “sketched” on the piece, using tan thread to free-motion-stitch a figure. Years later, I embellished the “drawing” with embroidery.

Another sample stuck away in a drawer—a paint-dabbled moon. And when the Studio Art Quilters Association announced a call for entry: From Dusk to Dawn, I decided to combine these UFO’s (unfinished objects) and rise to the challenge. I slapped lots of different fabrics from my overflowing stash up on my design wall, trying for a pleasing, William Morris-style feeling.

I kind of like what I came up with early on, and should have stopped there with a sketchy expression.

But no, I kept auditioning other fabrics for backgrounds, and growing out the figure to complete it. I also tried miniature quilt projects under her hand, suggesting that she, too, was a quilter.

I found, however, that the quilting projects merely increased the cacophony of prints and negated the pensive mood I was after. So I ended up giving the figure a book instead. This allowed me to connect personally with the figure and the quilt, since I often stay up all hours of the night reading. I completed the piece with that pleasantly addictive, obsessive behavior in mind.

 

I call it, “Well Past Midnight.” Ahhh, to have and to hold a book so good you cannot put it down. Along with the supreme luxury of not needing to put it down. All is quiet. You succumb to the thrall of great literature, a world of enchantment, and a fantastical bower  grows around you long into the wee hours…

Far better, this poem expresses the mood and the moment: 

Just learned my art quilt did not make the cut for the SAQA exhibit From Dusk to Dawn. I never thought it would. It’s over-labored, tries to be too pretty and figurative, at a moment when the art world and the art quilt world savors abstract expression. I totally get it, because  I know that small exhibits must be cohesive, creating a flow around the room.

For me, a call for entry, particularly from SAQA, is often the kick in the behind I need to produce work, to hone my design skills and my technical skills, too. I am glad to have made this piece, to share it with any readers of my blog, and to put it away, not look at it for a while.  I do look forward to seeing the pieces that have been accepted into this show should it come to my part of the country. Bet you will, too.