Though many of today’s traditional quilters are pushing the boundaries and using new, unusual techniques to make their work with, most hold tight to the basic tenants of quilt making. On the other hand, a lot of art quilters, or those of us who make quilts as art, are constantly pushing the boundaries as to what a quilt can be. We tend to make our work from our own hand-dyed, hand-painted, hand-created fabrics. We explore the use of found objects, embellishments, mixed styles of stitch, and more as we push the limits of what a quilt can be. I love nothing more than someone walking into my gallery, pointing at one of my quilts and asking me, “What is that?” They aren’t wondering about the pieces’ subject matter, rather, they are trying to reconcile in their minds just what type of art they are looking at.
This piece is called “Swirly Tree” and it began as a piece of hand-dyed canvas which was layered up with some batting and a cotton backing. The trunk and major limbs were added to the background first using a hand-dyed cotton jute which has a loose but heavy weave. After the trunk was stitched on through all of the layers, I then thread-painted on the smaller, thinner branches and limbs and quilted the negative space. Next I ripped a bunch of strips of fabric to use for the swirl foliage. Each swirl was free-motion stitched down as I formed it by twisting a ripped strip of fabric and coiling it loosely on the surface.
The last thing I added was the bits of thread along the bottom to look like colorful roots. I had gathered up the threads when the fabrics frayed a bit as I ripped them. After the piece was complete, I stretched it around stretcher bars, covered the back with tag board, and added a hanging apparatus (a professional gallery mount).
Personally I don’t find this piece to be very “artsy fartsy” as my more traditional quilt friends would call it. Probably because the subject matter is so rural. But this next piece is very abstract and most people, quilters included, don’t easily recognize it as a quilt. But, it is. It too began with a base layer of hand-dyed canvas which had a layer of batting and cotton backing placed behind it. Then I added a layer of blue-green hand-painted Lutradur which was topped with about a two-inch-thick layer of hand-dyed silk hankies (raw silk fibers) which was in turn topped with hand-dyed cheesecloth. The silk fibers and cheesecloth were manipulated into the non-objective dark shape that you see in the photo and pinned in place, then some very, very heavy free motion quilting was done. The quilting in the silk/cheesecloth area is all circles, some very small and some quite large. Wherever I wanted to place a large circle, I would first use the tip of my scissors to rip a small hole in the cheesecloth then I would enlarge the hole with my fingers pushing the silk below the cheesecloth toward the edges of the torn hole and neatening up the circle’s edge as I did so. This also revealed the layer of painted Lutradur beneath. Then I would heavily quilt around the edge of the ripped circle and move on. The heaviness of the stitching caused the cheesecloth and silk beneath it to bunch up in ridges so I simply accepted those ridges and used them as a design element.
Once all of the stitching was complete I took a heat gun to the Lutradur, melting the hard edges into soft curves and burning through it in the holes to reveal the canvas below. I then quilted the background area and came back into the center of the circles with some fabric paints to add some depth to them. All in all, it’s a very strange and unusual piece. It is gallery mounted and everyone who sees it feel the need to go in for a closer look to try to figure out how and what it was made with.
As I said before, I am an artist whose base medium is fabric. It is likely that some of you proclaim the title of traditional quilt maker because you love the history, techniques, and stylization of age-old quilts. Others of you may more closely resemble a contemporary quilt maker because you like to push tradition’s limits with new piecing and applique techniques, and use lots of Batiks and fabrics that follow the current trends in their designs, colors, and stylizations. Others of you may feel that your quilting style is more attuned with the “Atomic Era” and call yourselves modern quilters and fill your stash with gloriously colored solid fabrics in every tint, tone, shade, and pure hue.
And still yet, there are those of you who proudly proclaim the title of art quilter because you make art for the wall using fabric and stitch. Regardless of the titles we claim, most of us came to quilting because of our love and fascination with sewing, fabric, color, and design, and it is that love that gives us all the title of “Quilter.”
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