Friday, January 28, 2011

Scale drawings, thumbnail sketches, or no plan at all

Quilters vary widely in how much planning they do before they start cutting fabrics for a quilt. Sometimes a quilter who doesn't like to do detailed plans will depart from her preferred way of working to do a commission or a quilt that has strict constraints.

Our Gallery president, Eileen Doughty, has done a number of public art projects. These usually require lots of planning and coordination with the commissioning agency. For example, Eileen did a commission for the neonatal wing of a large hospital. They requested that the artwork have the four seasons, trees, lots of colors, and fit in a 5 x 14 foot niche. The glass to cover the niche was limited to a four foot width, and so the join lines had to be considered when developing the design. The room decor has 12 hues, around the color wheel. (And there was an extremely tight deadline.) Here is how the finished artwork looks in its location at the hospital:

Eileen discusses her design process for this quilt here.

I (Floris Flam) was commissioned to make a quilt for a residence. It was to hang over the breakfast table and needed to bridge the colors of the kitchen and those of the nearby sitting room. My client and I decided the appropriate size of the quilt and discussed colors that would be used, including the blues of the sitting room and the beiges of the kitchen cabinets. I visited with a collection of blue and beige hand-dyed fabrics and we picked those that were closest to those in her rooms.She didn't give me any other design constraints, so I decided to use as my starting point a collage of magazine illustrations I made some time before as a quick design exercise. Here is my paper collage:

And here is the finished quilt:

You can see that it bears only the most general resemblance to the collage, but having the collage helped me get started, often the hardest part of making any work of art.

Most often, I work without a sketch. I start by selecting colors and fabrics from my stash and begin cutting pieces and pinning them up on my design wall, a felt-covered pinable board. Here is a photo of Autumn View as I was designing it:

I've cut strips and rectangles of fabric and pinned them on my design board (I was at a quilt retreat and was working on a portable board with my pile of fabric on the table in front of it). I added and removed strips of various colors and changed their sizes as I worked, trying as each piece was added to see what seemed to be the necessary next step. When I was pleased with the design, I started sewing everything together. Here is the final quilt:

I've enjoyed this month as your blog editor and am passing the baton to Ruth Blau for the month of February. I'll talk to you again in May.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Quilting the quilt

Traditionally, a quilt is defined as having three layers held together by stitching. While some contemporary quilts veer from this tradition, perhaps using only two layers or using something other than thread to hold them together (for example, staples were required for one challenge on the Quiltart e-list), most art quilts follow this format. After the quilter assembles her quilt top, whether by applique, piecing, or fusing, she adds batting and a backing fabric and uses thread to hold the layers together. Most of the quilters in our gallery use a domestic sewing machine to quilt their work, though we do currently have a hand-quilted textile by Cindy Grisdela in the gallery. Here is a detail shot of her quilt, Hint of Lime. You can see her quilting stitches.

The quilting stitches may form a general all-over pattern that is intended to hold the quilt together without distracting from the patterns formed by the fabrics. One commonly used approach is stippling or meandering. Here is an example from a quilt by Ann Graham, Waiting for Spring, where there is an all-over scribble of stitching, much as one might doodle with a pencil:

Cindy often uses more regular stitching patterns on her quilts. Her stitching can be so regular that viewers sometimes mistakenly think that the pattern is controlled by the sewing machine rather than by the experienced hands of the quilter. She says that she quilts freehand, without any marking, using her needle to draw the designs she wants to create with thread. Here is a detail of Red Totem that shows both the patterns of her stitches and the resulting texture:

I (Floris Flam) use several of these approaches in my quilts. Sometimes, like Cindy, I use freehand geometric patterns. Sometimes I combine straight lines of stitching with freehand patterns to create a play of textures and perhaps a sense of depth. I try to have my stitches follow the patterns in the fabric if the fabric lends itself to this approach, as it did when quilting the multicolored snow-dyed fabric I used in Autumn View:

You can see that approaches to quilting can be as varied as approaches to quilt design. We are lucky to have a broad range of quilting styles represented in our gallery. Please stop by and see our current show's array of quilts.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Anna Yakubovskaya's Tropical Silk Dress

Anna Yakubovskaya's painted silk dress was also selected for special recognition by the judges of the Hot Tropics show. Here's a photo of the garment on a mannequin:

Anna says, "I was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, and because it is often cold there, there was never enough sun for my liking. It is probably because of this that I love bright, juicy, uplifting colors. The tropical theme is exactly for me!"

Anna uses the cold batik technique of painting silk. She starts with a sketch, then transfers this with pencil onto her silk fabric. The silk can be pretreated or not, depending on the dye or paint she will use. Next, she uses gutta to outline the sketch lines that she wants to keep. Gutta is a cold wax that prevents the colors from bleeding into each other wherever it is applied, thus preserving the outlines of her shapes. She can then apply the paint, achieving a look that is very similar to watercolor. For special effects, Anna may add alcohol or salt to alter the look of particular areas. After her painting has dried, she steams it to set the colors permanently and prevent their being affected by humidity.

You can see that Anna has been able to achieve the lush look of the tropics in this wonderful garment.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Ann Graham's Scenic Scarf

The judges of the Hot Tropics show selected Ann Graham's silk scarf for recognition. Ann says, "The design for the scarf originated while walking within the campus of a woman's college in the UK. I made a few sketches of lichen growing up a stone wall and some old vines that had crept along the wall. There were other elements of that walk that were sketched out but were not incorporated into this scarf. The color palette was consistent with spring in the UK - wet, green and gray! When I got home, I made a rough draft of the placement of the elements and used watercolor paints to test the various hues. I think the muted colors and chromatic grays are successful in capturing the weather that day."

Here's Ann's description of her technique: "The scarf was painted with French silk dyes (Pebeo Soie) and a water-soluble resist (Resistad) available from ProColour, a New Zealand dye company. There were no thickeners used. Using a water-soluble resist requires carefully stabilizing the scarf on a frame that is just larger than the scarf, using a resist applicator with a fine nib, and applying the resist with a steady hand! Once the resist is dry, it needs to be ironed before applying any dyes. The scarf, once completed and dried, was steamed for three hours, washed and pressed. With a water-soluble resist, the need for dry cleaning is eliminated."

This close-up of the scarf shows the detail Ann was able to achieve with this method. You can see the whole scarf on our January 12 post.

Hot Tropics––Judges' Recognitions

Monday was jury day at the Gallery. All unsold artwork from the holiday show went home to their artists and new work took its place. The theme of our new show is Hot Tropics: Warmth in Winter's Freeze. This month's judges said "Using fiber to evoke summer's heat and tropical breezes we chose the pieces to represent sun, sea and sand. Everyone worked in their medium to warm up the season."

The jurors also selected three pieces for special recognition. I hope the artists will give me some material to post later in the week, but for now, here the three special pieces:

Anna Yakubovskaya's painted silk top:

Ann Graham's dyed silk scarf:

Elida Moore's red/hot orange crocheted/knit shawl:

Please stop by our Gallery to be warmed by the tropical colors of our new show.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Beyond Cotton: Using Unusual Materials in Art Quilts

The general wisdom is that quilts need to be made from 100% cotton fabrics. While this may be good advice for a bed quilt that will need to be washed frequently, quilts for the wall can incorporate a wide range of fabrics and other materials.

One of our Gallery members, Lynda Prioleau, has used unusual items in her quilts to make her point. One example is Are We There Yet? This piece is her tribute to some of the travel that she has taken over the years. It's composed of a worn out inner sole, photo transfers of subway tickets, maps and tokens. Also included are upholstery fabrics, old ties and hand-dyed fabrics.

Lynda incorporated her love of unusual materials in her Shack series. This grouping reflects her love of old, dilapidated buildings. They were created with a photo transfer to fabric of a shack that used to sit where the Gaylord National Hotel is now. She climbed a fence to take the shot and the next day the shack was flattened. These quilts incorporate roofing tiles as well as more common materials such as upholstery fabrics, old ties, hand-dyed fabrics, and buttons. Here is Shack 1:

Another Gallery member, Eileen Doughty, used painted organza woven into hardware cloth in Element. This detail shows her use of these materials:

In Meteor Shower, Eileen used curtain lining material with colored pencil for the umbrellas. Each umbrella is from a country's flag that has a star in the design. She used Angelina, a very fine reflective fiber, to create the sparkle of the meteors.

Another material that can be used on quilts for special effect is painted fusible web (Wonder Under is a common product). In Zen Garden, I used this for the rock at the far left and for the wispy area at the lower right.

This has just scratched the surface of the materials one can find used in art quilts today, but I hope it gives you an idea of the range of possibilities.

This week marks the end of the holiday show at the Gallery. Next Monday, we will jury our new show, Hot Tropics: Warmth in Winter's Freeze. I'll be back with photos after that. In the meantime, stay warm.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Art Quilt Inspirations

Hello, I am Floris Flam, our Gallery's blogger for the month of January. I am an art quilter specializing in small wall hangings. I dye most of the fabrics used in my quilts and also dye and paint silk scarves. This month, I plan to have several discussions of current art quilt trends and techniques as exemplified by the work of our Gallery members.

We are often asked about our inspiration, the source of the idea or image behind a quilt. Often a quilt is inspired by a photograph taken by the artist. The photo may be translated into fabric following the original very closely, as seen in a quilt I based on a photo I took of an art nouveau doorway in Palermo, Sicily.

Sometimes a quilt may start with a photo inspiration, but look nothing like the original photo. I took a photo on the campus of the University of St. Thomas in Houston because I liked the angles of the buildings. I traced my photo, sliced the tracing into vertical segments, rearranged them, then based my quilt on a section of the new drawing.

On the other hand, a quilt may be based on something as commonplace as the pattern on the bottom of a foam hamburger container. Several years ago, I did a series of quilts using the geometric shapes on one of these for a series of quilts. Here's one of these:

Sometimes a quilt may be entirely nonrepresentational, with the artist working from a group of fabrics she has chosen and without a plan. I often work this way. Here's an example of this kind of quilt:

Betty Ford, another quilter in our Gallery, says that her inspiration usually springs from nature, especially remembered images from early childhood on their farm in Kentucky. Her quilts begin with a sketch, photo — her own or others' — or a painting. She collects art and photography books for this purpose and has shoe boxes full of postcards from art museums and galleries. She also makes thumbnail sketches while watching TV, clips ads that she glues in a sketch book, saves any image that appeals to her, such as napkins and greeting cards. She constantly reviews this material because some appeal one day and others another. She uses primarily hand-dyed fabric, her own and those of some other dyers. Frequently ideas come from the fabrics themselves. This quilt, Winter, was inspired by the photo of a shower curtain Betty saw in a home furnishings catalog.