Since I started making (i.e. dyeing, printing, painting etc) my own fabric, I have come to realize this puts more responsibility on me to use the fabric well. No longer can I make pretty patterns with little calicoes because I have the excuse that was all that I could buy. Nor are my quilts limited by the used scraps of clothing or string rags that were all that were available to many of our predecessors. Many of the embroderie perse Tree of Life patterns were the result of the imported “Persian” style fabrics fashionable at the time – the fabric was dictating the design. But now our fabric can be ANYTHING, any color, any textured pattern, any graphic lines, shapes, dots, any images..and so we must choose the fabric to suit the piece with considerable intention to our reason for making in the first place.
Art can be made for many different reasons: there are at least 8 different kinds of design:
Descriptive or realistic : quilts can be more realistic like Cynthia England’s stunning landscapes, or more impressionistic like the cityscapes that I and Linda Levin (see below her City footnotes quilt) make.
narrative: I think Susan Shie’s quilts are wonderful examples of narrative quilts…they tell the stories of her life and times. Faith Ringgold’s pieces are amazing narratives.
emotive: to evoke a mood (Guernica is an obvious example from painting) or Ghada Amer’s stunning embroideries.
abstract: many traditional patterns are abstract; the quilts of Liz Axford (see below for her Mumbo Jumbo piece), Carol Taylor and Nancy Crow are largely abstract. They are explorations of shapes, balance and value.
utilitarian: a practical function, like the design of a computer or salt and pepper pots – so many of us began with the basic bed quilt..well designed to keep us warm! I made two for every bed in the house before I discovered art quilts!
decorative: formal design where the elements (line, shape, value, color, texture) are arranged creatively. Paula Nadelstern’s quilts take decorative design to incredible levels – as witnessed by her current solo show at the Museum of American Folk Art in New York.
Surrealistic: Linda Macdonald’s quilts show us what the world will be like if we don’t begin to care for the environment in a surrealistic fantastical way that is viciously attention-getting.
conceptual: Perhaps the most well known conceptual quilt piece is the one used by Robert Rauschenberg where he took a log cabin quilt, and a pillow….fastened them to a canvas and painted over them. (Sorry I can’t find a picture.) One of my first quilts was a very conceptual piece:
It is called This is Not a Real Quilt and it’s made from paper and had an image of a homeless man sleeping covered with cardboard. (I’d love to know why the Revere collection and Penny Nii have this quilt on their website!! They don’t own it – it’s gathering dust in my store room…and shedding shreds!)
Amy Orr makes very thoughtful well conceived conceptual work – making quilts from recycled materials like the metal twist ties from plastic bags…fascinating…from a distance you see a quilt..but as you get closer, you’re in for a surprise!
Though many of the examples above could fall into two or even three categories, usually the quilter has one particular reason in mind. If my intent is to make a emotive piece, for example, then I would want to determine very clearly the mood I wanted to convey: anger, gaiety, calm, comfort, awe, sorrow etc. Sherri Wood makes quilts about loved ones that have died…allowing people to put all their feelings about that person into a quilt – both loss and sorrow, and comfort. So the fabric she chooses to use are those clothes that that person wore daily, fabric that conveys their essence.
If I have something I want to communicate then I feel I should make fabric to support that e.g. a couple of years ago I was very intrigued by the myths of drowned cities. There are many stories about cities being drowned, like Ys in Brittany, because the inhabitants angered the gods by their wastefulness, sloth and greed. Greed being the deadliest sin of all. And also there is also some romanticism to the stories, the idea that you can hear the church bells chiming beneath the water….even Harry Potter visited a city under the water! So…what fabric should I use? How could I achieve that watery look? Shibori!! particularly arashi shibori where the fabric is tied to look like ripples…. see several examples from that series of quilts on my water city scapes page.
Red Morning (oh yes! thoughtfully titled too!)
On a visit to Scotland I was fascinated by the abstract yet geometric jumble of objects in my brother in law’s “shed” (actually more of a warehouse!) – I took photographs and then painted screens with the lines/shapes etc in the photos printed them up and made several quilts about the scene….
on the left: Geoff’s Shed
on the right: Please Handle with Care
Dominie Nash makes quilts about everyday domestic still life patterns (and their extraordinary unexpected beauty) – she prints her fabric from impressions of tomato baskets etc – textures that occur in the home.
Linda Levin is fascinated by the many grids that occur in cityscapes – she searches for grids from which she can print her fabric.
I feel that whatever my intent, the fabric I make for a specific quilt should be totally integrated with the meaning of that piece. And now, I’m off to make a cup of tea! If you have been, thanks for reading! Elizabeth