Saturday, December 27, 2008

Why a quilt?

When I was in York (UK) last September, I visited the Quilt museum there. It’s a new museum in a lovely old building (St Anthony’s hall) – a building I’d walked past a hundred times as a child but never been inside.

The Quilters’ guild of the British Isles have done a super job of converting the interior into 3 galleries, shop, meeting area and loos (of course!). One of the quilts I saw in the show was quite mysterious and intriguing – it was painted and dyed with lots of nice stitching on top! So I asked for the maker’s book as a Christmas/ winter solstice gift: The Painted Quilt by the Kemshall ladies.

It’s always hard to get right back into creative work in the studio after a rambunctious holiday (!) so I thought I’d begin with a nice cup of tea, my feet up and dip into my new book. ( I am actually in the studio so this definitely counts as creative work!)

The Kemshalls begin their book by answering the most frequent question posed by the NQL (non quilt lover) when seeing a quilt with a lot of surface design: “why a quilt, why not a painting?” The Famous Critic had also asked that same question: “Can you justify the medium?”

I think there are a lot of answers to this question. The Kemshalls give answers that ring loud and true. They state that dye or paint on quilted cloth behaves quite differently from canvas, or paper or wood or any other rigid substrate. There is something unique about the effect that cannot be achieved in any other way.

And it's true! Stitching on the cloth creates amazing surfaces…and you can add stitching at any stage in the process. Pauline Burbidge (who also had a stunning piece in the museum) frequently paints the quilt surface after stitching… pigment applied lightly with a brush held horizontally (as in dry brush work in watercolour painting) over an uneven surface (which those poor painters on canvas rarely have!!) skims and colours the highlights, leaving the valleys in the base colour. It’s an amalgam of the rubbings (on coins etc) that we loved to do as kids, plus paint and colour. As quilters we can control so many more elements than a flat surface artisan!!

The detail above is of a quilt called Castle Loch - I painted disperse dyes onto textured papers before transferring the colour to the fabric.

I have several times completed a piece and then overdyed the whole thing:

The quilt above was green and brown originally and I overdyed it blue - much improved.

Nobody asks painters why they paint on canvas rather than paper, or linen rather than wood, do they? The painter chooses the surface that is technically appropriate for the work and sets to! I think as long as quilters are stitching into the surface – are making the best use of the amazingly versatile medium that we have – no further justification is necessary.

And one should always keep a little questioning in the back of the mind: what else could I make this fabric do? What would smaller, bigger, looser, tighter, thinner, fatter, open or dense stitches do? What would happen if I layered? Or cut through layers? Patched or distressed? Painted, dyed or discharged? Did techniques in reverse order? Tucked or pleated, cut holes in it – what else could I do??!!!

Think (horizontally only!) and Play.

And if you have been, thanks for reading!


PS - Please check out the blog store for price reductions!

And Check out Small Art Showcase for new work from several artists.


Libby Fife said...

I too have that book, The Painted Quilt. It was exactly where I got the idea to use a cosmetic sponge and acrylic paint on the quilt after I had done the quilting. The effect was wonderful and nothing I would have ever thought of.

From your comments and my own current thinking I got the idea that, why not?

Thanks again-great post!
Libby Fife

Clare Wassermann said...

Thank you for a great post - I must visit the museum one day. I have had the Kemshall's book in the last week and love it. It's encouraged me to go back to some sketching again after a long time away from it. I bought some of Linda's hand dyed fabric this week too - very nice. They live 3 miles from me isn't it a small world!

jpsam said...

I have recently been playing with disperse dyes but never thought of using textured paper. What a great idea. I have been using synthetic fabrics. Do they also transfer to cotton, do you know? Thanks for another interesting post.

Deb Lacativa said...

Great post, Elizabeth!
Thanks for reminding me. I've always given the rather lame answer that I like the feeliness of the whole operation. Shuts folks up quick enough but not all that explanatory.

It's a studio day here and I'll be bringing out the textile paints for the dampened damask as I promised m'self. Stay tuned.

Deb Lacativa said...

PS - I have put in my "order" with the Librarian here in Gwinnett to add "the Painted Quilt" to my tax funded collection.

Kyra said...

The Painted Quilt is lovely. I've been to England, but never to the Quilt Museum. Thanks for showing a photo of it.

Best, Kyra