Saturday, June 28, 2008

Contrasts help procrastinating quilter persist!

As long as I persist in doing Something on the design wall and desist procrastination, I will make progress – or so I tell myself!!! When we’re young we think all we need is talent and we’ll make our dreams come true, but time makes it clear that a more necessary requirement is persistence. Because I’m such a procrastinator – and there are so many diversions (the internet being chief!! – the procrastinator’s dream) – I wouldn’t get anywhere without some rules.

My summer rule is to work upstairs in the study (warm sunny with South and West facing windows) in the morning, and downstairs in the dye studio (whose windows face mainly East) in the afternoon. The rooms are different, the light is different and the pieces I'm making in them are very different. Upstairs is a soft busy rooftops piece. It’s based on a memory I have of hanging out of the attic window of the old Victorian house in England.

We lived in town and I was always looking for trees – I loved to climb them and thought living in a tree house would be wonderful. I would count up the few trees I could see and be glad for each one. The colours in the constant drizzle were soft greys and brown with slashes of bold orange tile roofs.

I like to blur the edges, hint at details and put the sections together like a jigsaw puzzle.

Downstairs, I’m in such a different place and mood – simple, elegant, high contrast, black and white and scarlet. The piece is the 12th I’ve done based on a few photographs of half timbered medieval buildings – the elegance of the strong ancient beams is both stable and hopeful.

If you want to get there, keep on putting one foot in front of the other – even one step a day (which is sometimes the best I can do!!) will get you nearer the goal.

.................and if you have been, thanks for reading! Elizabeth

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Five at once!

I usually work on more than one piece at once – today I counted up and realized I have 5 different pieces “in progress”!

There’s a small piece I’ve been completely stuck on for months and it just sits in a corner of the design wall – I‘m waiting for it to pull itself together and finish itself!! So far…not much has happened.

I have one piece that is finished except for whipping down the binding…but…I hate the colours and I’m contemplated just overdyeing the whole thing!! I did do this once before and it was magic – but mainly because I had had some gold pigment on the piece that didn’t stand out at all until I overdyed the quilt blue whereon the gold just “popped” as it didn’t accept the dye. (see the picture above). But the current piece doesn’t have any gold…though I could maybe brush a little on…hmmmmm

Then there’s the piece where I chose the wrong quilting pattern and “being in the mood” quilted away merrily listening to my favorite CD of the moment (“Morimur” (for the curious!)) and then realized the quilting was totally deadening the image. You have to be very careful with an all over pattern – it can pull a piece together but it can also blur it into a stew of clothy nothing! Since my arthritic fingers protest mightily at holding cloth tightly while I pick out stitches, I’ve had to enlist the aid of a friend for that disaster.

Then there are my upstairs piece and my downstairs piece!!

At this time of the year it’s just too hot in the afternoon to work in the upstairs studio (above), so I also have a complete set up (machine, design wall, cutting table –“ the full catastrophe” –) downstairs in the cool basement .

It’s interesting that the downstairs piece is bold and cool – the 12th in my black/white series based on half timbered buildings in my home land, England. Upstairs I have a fairly delicate detailed piece with (surprise!) lots of orange roofs gradually being arranged on the design wall.

So – whatever I’m in the mood for – I’ve got something to work on!! Well…at least...I should have!


Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Opening

The Opening
Material Matters: Quiltmaking in the 21st Century
Columbus Museum of Art
June 20-August 31, 2008
The Opening of this show was the busiest that the Museum has ever seen!! I heard it said that between 800 and 1000 people were there on Thursday 19th. I was lucky enough to be one of them!! The juried show was organized jointly by the museum and Quilt Study Design Symposium. Thirty nine artists were represented, some with one piece some with two.
I couldn’t get very good photographs as you might expect with such a large crowd! But there are a few above. 22 of the 39 artists were able to attend. It was an exciting night with the quilts looking truly at home in a museum setting. There were a number of extremely large pieces including Barbara Watler’s 4 part tree piece – approximately 10 ft high and 20 ft across – all finely machine appliqu├ęd. Rise Nagin had a gorgeous filmy installation that filled half a gallery and you could walk between the layers. The museum has printed a handsome catalogue though some of the images (including my pieces, sadly) were not reproduced well.
After the Opening, the artists were invited to a private party for yet more gossiping and analysis!! We went back the following day also to get a really good look at the quilts. Whenever I visit a museum show I always choose 3 or 4 pieces to “take home” and my choices this time were a minutely and sensitively stitched piece by Pamela Fitzsimmons, the Australian artist. She had manipulated and coloured silk with natural dyes and rust and t hen stitched a simple pattern echoing some of the surface textures of the Australian deserts.
Mary Ann Jordan had a beautiful bold dye painted piece that gave a 3D effect with the spreading of the dye. One of Dominie Nash’s Stills from a Life was so lively and clean and clear – a breath of fresh air. Bob Adams had a discharged piece with variously coloured machine quilting that was rich and surprising as you took a closer look. Those were the 4 pieces I’d take home!!!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Material Matters: Quiltmaking in the 21st Century

Tomorrow I'm off to Columbus, Ohio. I've been lucky enough to be included in: Material Matters: Quiltmaking in the 21st Century: the show is up from June 20 to August 31, 2008 and is at the Columbus Museum of Art. The Museum website describes the show thus:
"This exhibition presents works constructed by thirty-nine international contemporary quiltmakers. From the basic description of a quilt (layers of fabric held together by stitches), these artists have pushed technique, concept, and style in new directions. Many of the quilts challenge the traditional concept of a two dimensional pieced object in both their sculptural presentation and use of unconventional materials. On the leading edge of such innovations are the quiltmakers applying surface design techniques to their materials, making their art form personal from its inception."

I would like to clarify and deepen their description: while quilts using sculptural presentations or unconventional materials do challenge traditional concepts, I think the really important changes from tradition are much broader. To me, the most momentous break from tradition is that each contemporary quilt is made as a single piece of art - designed and made one time by one person in the same way that a painting or a drawing might be. Traditional quilts were nearly always made to a particular pattern -though some quilters clearly used much more imagination than others.

Using “unconventional materials” can so easily be a gimmick - quilts made from wood, animals made from bushes, clothes made from paper etc – it is important to be sensitive to the medium itself and to justify it. To simply make a quilt from something other than fabric doesn’t say much – unless the entire meaning of the piece relates to the substitute.

The other important difference from traditional quilts is that many makers of "art quilts" do dye/paint/print etc their own fabric. This makes each piece so much more individual since you don't recognize the same fabric that you have in your closet!!!

However, while I love and breathe surface design (see yesterday's blog), it can be a trap that leads the quiltmaker into thinking they are being a lot more innovative than they actually are. Simply putting pretty pictures onto fabric and then stitching a backing to it is hardly a challenge to a strong traditional quilt!! The bold designs of the traditional quilts that have stood the test of time will beat such spineless efforts every time! The pretty printed picture or the gorgeous hand dyed cloth should be the starting point for the quilt, not the end in itself.

The Material Matters Members Opening will be on Thursday, June 19 at 5:30 pm;

I look forward to seeing you there! If they allow pictures, I'll be taking them and will post them when I get back home...meanwhile above are pictures of the two quilts I have in the show (and do check out my website where you’ll see many more!)


Monday, June 16, 2008



Inspiration can come from every sense – and also from every thought and memory. Today on my morning walk I saw the light edged grasses in the meadow at the end of the street. The owner lets all the wild grasses grow up and there are many different colours and shapes and fronds…all backlit early in the morning. What a quilt that would be! (Please scroll down for pictures, I havn't yet figured out how to get the photographs where I (as opposed to Mr Blogger!) want them to be!)

I walked by the sycamore tree down by the pond and its distinctive woody smell reminded me of a long ago walk in a sycamore grove in a London park – I’ve completely forgotten which park or who I was with but I remember the long line of trees, the sycamore smell and the shapes of the leaves – another quilt!!

The sharp amazingly loud call of the wrens as I came back down the drive reminded me of the shibori background I’ve put into several quilts – I like that edgy contrast between the sharpness and the soft roundness of the wren – can you see the contrast in the quilts? I hope so!


Saturday, June 14, 2008

Screen Printing

Screen Printing

It’s like magic!!! When you slowly lift up the screen…and look to see what wonders appeared with a few swooshes of the squeegee!! Even though I seem to be making solid colour (well solidish!) quilts right now, my dyeing heart is still firmly in screen printing.

There are so many different possibilities and so many inspiring stimuli out there!!

Above and below are examples from my recent experience.

First is a picture of the waves in south Carolina…..and next my first attempt to imitate some of those lines and movements…

I definitely want to try this again with one of my really big screens (I’ve a 40” square one and a 50” by 25”).

The images also remind me of the wonderful Moroccan rugs currently on show at the Cavin Morris gallery.

The third picture is a deconstructed* (Kerr Grabowski) screen inspired by the bird netting I’ve had to drape over just about everything in the garden – thanks to those dratted deer who ate all my beautiful flowers (and leaves!) that I could see through the studio window.

If only we could turn deer into energy!!


*Deconstructed basically means you turn the whole thing on its head and do it all backwards and you get amazing results!!! Instead of putting the thickened dye on the cloth you put it on the screen - and of course, not infrequently if you're me, on yourself!! (contact me if you're interested in a workshop on temporary screen printing using dye).

Friday, June 13, 2008

When is an Art Quilt boring?

Have you ever been to a quilt show and felt like you were seeing nothing new, nothing interesting, nothing challenging and engaging? Nothing fresh and real?

Obviously people have different points at which they can be bored, but human beings are definitely wired for novelty!! An appreciation of something different and new makes sense as a survival characteristic – we survive by spotting what is novel and Art moves forward by creating new images, sounds, sensations. Mozart was described as continually trying for a balance between what was comfortable and what was new and interesting. His survival really did depend on that.

Some artists jump so far forward into new uncharted waters that the result can be difficult and uncomfortable but they are the pioneers. Their work can lead us out of endless circular repetitions - though I don't deny some of the tracks are too rocky to be useful!! (and by the way I adore mixed metaphors - they are the only way to go!!) The way up from the comfortable recliner always requires effort - research suggests that while our attention is drawn to the new, our actions tend toward inertia (Thaler and Sunstein).

Think of all the examples from art , from music, from designer clothes where the creator has taken a new direction. Philip Guston changed his paintings dramatically in the 1960s because he feared they were becoming the epitome of “intellectual desiccation”. It may take some time to become comfortable or admiring of the "new look" but without the challenge we are doomed to a parched and mawkish sentimentalism.

Sometimes when I look at popular art quilts I worry that we are all playing it too safe. Is it time yet to eschew the excessively sentimental, to abhor weak overly pretty solutions and rise to the challenge as Mozart, Hirst, Guston and many other artists have?


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Ueland and Zorba: the full catastrophe and the inspiration.

I’ve been reading more in the Brenda Ueland book (If you Want to Write) particularly about inspiration – and the finding thereof. She feels that it’s something that slowly creeps up on you when you’re in a dreamy mood. Sometimes I like to walk in a kind of loose relaxed flowing way trying to drop all sensory barriers and letting all the sensations (visual, aural, tactile etc) enter and be appreciated in their “Full Catastrophe”. I don’t take Zorba’s line to mean negative things – but rather to appreciate the totality of it all – everything – the complete panoply. Sense everything!

Above is the view from my sewing machine – I do seem to spend a lot of time just gazing out of the window, but according to Ueland this will welcome the Muses! As you can see I finally got this small nameless piece off the wall and onto the sewing machine….

I need a name for it..the piece is about “the light on the edge of the buildings where they are seen against the water beyond”…but that’s too long to fill out on show applications!!

Perhaps someone can put that into as memorable a phrase as Zorba’s!


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Eschew cliches! Avoid them like the plague!

I'm finding it difficult to get back in the groove after a few days in the above idyllic setting!! It's South Carolina.....a reasonable drive from Georgia.

I think it was Hemingway who always left work at a place where he could start writing again immediately he returned. It’s fun to come back to something and see if it still looks (or reads) like you thought it did!! And the piece I left pinned up on the wall (amidst a great deal of clutter I'm ashamed to note!) to “mature” while I was away doesn’t look too bad (“not too bad” is an Englishism which means “hmmm this may be just right!” ).

However, I always worry that a piece is too “smooth” – I find I prefer art that is more personal, even if it’s a little bit wrong and has rough corners sticking out all over the place! If it’s too smooth and polished off and complete, it has no freshness. Brenda Ueland (If You Want to Write) emphasizes “breaking through the shell of easy glibness to what is true and alive underneath”; Mia Michaels (If You think You Can Dance) looks for dancers whose performance is honest and genuine rather than the over-rehearsed shallowness of the competition style.

Furthermore, My New Year’s Resolution was To Take Risks! Without some recklessness and boldness, only trite solutions can occur. I’m inspired by painters like Mary Newcomb who use simplification to draw the eye to “surprising essences”.

I look again and again at the piece pinned up on the wall hoping that I have achieved an elegant and enigmatic economy. It's based on a drawing I did of the view of St Ives in Cornwall from the rooftop cafe of the Tate Museum. We never did get a cuppa tea!! but the view made up for it. I vow to take more risks with the next piece!!


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

How to recognize seduction

As usual I’m working on several pieces at once…sometimes this is because one piece is at the sketch stage, one is at the design wall blocking out stage, one at the handstitching stage etc…I find that getting away from a piece by switching to working on something else helps to give me a little more perspective and distance.

Here's a detail of the piece on the design wall....

It’s so easy to get seduced by one little bit and not be able to give it up even though it clearly doesn’t fit in with the rest of the piece. Here is an example from today – I like the clarity and boldness of the two black/white/blue window shapes.......

….. but they really don’t go with the soft mood and colours of the rest of the piece…
.so here in image B they’ve been removed (as well as that looming triangle!)– I hope for the better!!

And this is my current piece that is being handstitched while watching telly and
drinking a little libation to the quilt gods!
(yes, drinking not pouring!
definitely not drowning!)).

I am trying out some white scatter stitches
on a black background –

they look like little shards of glitter in the midnight air…

is this going to be one of those seductions?


Monday, June 2, 2008

Sell the baby??!!

When I was first asked to sell a quilt I was quite taken aback!! What? Sell my baby – especially since said baby had just won a prize….but as I thought about it, I realized that these babies were not doing much being rolled up in a closet! Even though they were rolled on those wonderful noodles the pool companies invented for quiltmakers (seriously I wondered why noodles were in the seasonal fun section of the drug store together with buckets and spades and floating devices!). It would be so much better if the quilts were hanging on a wall giving pleasure to people and I had the money to go buy more dye, more white cloth, a better sewing machine, thread, art books……

So then it was necessary to determine a price. The next time I was in a show, I worked out the square foot price of each piece…the range was large from $100 to $800 psf. I considered where my work fell in terms of quality but also decided to calculate the cost of everything I used to make the quilt, and how many hours it took me to make it. If I paid myself a minimum wage, the figure came out at $150 psf.

So that was where I started…I’ve been kind and given myself a small raise each year (without having to have the yearly evaluation where you are extremely nice (if not sycophantic!) to the boss in the hopes that this may help!!!) so now I’m at $200 psf which feels about right.

Quilts sell from a variety of places (shows, galleries, websites) to a lot of different people. I love to meet or hear from the new owners and know that my piece is bringing a little joy and pleasure into their homes or workplaces. Quilts are better out of the closet!