TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Monday, March 31, 2008

Prairie Point Madness

Several years ago I was at a folk art show in Georgia when I found a little doily that intrigued me (photo above). I bought it and always just loved having it. I like texture and color, pushing myself to explore what I can do with fabric to create new effects. I worked with clay for three years and I think I miss the plasticity of the medium and keep trying to make fabric replace the enjoyment I found in hand building with slabs.

The little doily finally pushed me over the edge into prairie point madness. I thought, "Oh, wouldn't it just be so cool to make this into a rug?" I figured out the technique: fold, fold, fold and fold again, sew long links, zig zag them into place on a backing. Start with the outside row and work inwards. Seemed easy enough. Like most projects I undertake, I underestimated what would happen when you have several hundred pieces of fabric that have been folded over and over joined into one piece. Well, you end up with something really heavy and hard to manipulate.

I gave up on the rug for a couple of years and then finally finished it. I put several layers of batting in the middle, quilted it with my Bernina (with great difficulty), and listed it on Etsy. (It just sold!) Whew!

OK, so it's all a learning process, right? How about something smaller? A hat might be cool! Going 3d was different then sewing on a flat surface, so this had a learning curve, too. After months on Etsy, this one just sold a couple of days ago.

There's a reason my little old piece was a doily. Deciding to stop trying to be so "creative", I decided to try one, too. Aha! Much better result! Here we are truly on to something attractive:

The problem is always the time factor. This centerpiece is made of linen remnants. I made it about twice the size as my old collectible and it took quite a bit of time.

I noticed that cuffs were a big item on Etsy. How about a scaly cuff? Much smaller, faster to make, interesting result:

I used coconut shell discs and seed beads to secure the points in place. I used ultra suede as a backing and lining, which made it pretty thick. The button hole was very hard to make and looked horrible. But, it sold, too.

Finally, I made a series of pillows with smaller centerpieces than the larger one I had made. Yes! Another winner!

Is it madness? Perhaps a virus? I don't know, but I sure like these prairie points and look forward to exploring other ways I can use them. They remind me of some Japanese fabric origami techniques I have seen, but most people don't make them this dense. As my little vintage piece attests, they do have a historical tradition here in the United States and I am happy to contribute to that record!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Suzani Fever

I still remember the first time I saw a Suzani. I was managing an artisan co-op in Chicago (Fourth World 1988-1992) and this guy from Afghanistan walks in with a bag full of textiles and dresses. I think I got dizzy, then warm, then flooded with happiness. That's what a suzani means to me, the translation of happiness into embroidery.

Suzani actually means needle and refers to larger tapestries made by Uzbeki women. Many are wedding canopies or decorative textiles traditionally used to decorate yurts and nomad dwellings. Girls are taught embroidery at a young age, and as in many other cultures where embroidery thrives as a cultural expression, a woman who excels in the art achieves status in the eyes of her peers. Urban Uzbeks have also appreciated the art and helped spur the art into a cottage industry that continues to thrive to this day.

The photos I have in this article are of suzanis I have for sale in my Etsy shop. Most are from the 1970's and 1980's, but I have older ones in my own collection where the stitches are tighter and denser. The Uzbek palette gives preference to a burgundy red with white, gold and other colorful flowers, but suzanis can be found in almost any color. Older ones traditionally used silk threads on silk fabric. Most of the affordable suzanis we find easily today use silk, cotton threads on cotton fabric. I have seen some using acrylic threads used as well. The common denominator are the large floral mandelas that dominate a piece. The backs are embroidered almost as heavily as the front.

Larger suzani are often made by several different women. They will draw out the design and then each work on a strip, joining them together when finished. Thus, one piece might show different skill levels and materials. Sometimes the pieces don't match exactly. Every now and then you see one where someone decided to go off on their own with wild colors or an erratic change in the design. This individuality and apparent lack of concern for the overall design of the piece gives it an organic quality, almost like a garden that is alive and fertile. There is a tradition in some Chinese embroideries where a mistake is purposefully incorporated into the tapestry so that the artist will not get too inflated with pride. The women of Uzbekistan do not have to worry about that! They are too busy growing their wild flowers to philosophize about imperfection.

I think that the main reason I felt feverish when I saw those first Suzanis was that I know how to embroider and I understood the time, effort and life that went into those pieces. I grew up in Brazil (1962-1980) and have always had a desire to make things. My parents were very supportive and nurtured those talents. We each got an allowance which I spent on my stamp collection and art supplies. Those were the days when Brazilian girls also prepared things for their dowry chest. The middle and upper classes sent their girls to private lessons in piano, embroidery, oil painting, and so on. I was sent, too. I had lots of different teachers in private homes who taught the crafts of the day. My most valuable ones were with my embroidery teacher. But, I was scared of her. She was a Spiritist, which spooked me. Small, boney, with a brittle personality, a bit on the mean side, our classes were fear-filled sessions for me. Still, she taught me the art of the needle. We worked on traditional Portuguese embroidery, the fine pale, pastel, silky, small floral work that is beautiful in its own right, but not what I am drawn to. When I saw those Suzani, I saw my spirit let loose. I saw how the needle can come alive. I saw sunshine and flowers. I saw a safe place. I was hit with Suzani fever.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

Wallpaper Purse: Candywrapper Weaving Technique

I made this!!!

Dimensions: 11" wide x 7" high x 2" deep, strap 12"
Metric: 28 x 17 x 5 cm, strap 30 cm

I worked at Home Depot for awhile and while I was there, they got rid of their wallpaper department. They were going to throw away their sample books, so I asked and got as many as I could carry. It's gorgeous, thick paper- a shame to throw away. I debated for awhile what to do with them, then remembered these folk art purses I had seen made out of soft pack cigarette wrappers, mostly made by prisoners. I had always wanted one, but they are usually a fortune, so I decided to try my hand at it.

I had no idea how they were constructed, but after some research online, I found a couple of blogs that had helpful instructions:

Wrapper Purses has detailed photos on how to fold and construct rows of woven paper which are then sewn together into a purse. She used potato chip bags. Candy wrappers are also a popular choice. Here is one of her rows and her finished purse:

Mylinda's instructions were very helpful, but there are some tricks you learn as you do it that are hard to describe online. If you want to try this technique yourself, her blog is the place to start.

The Purse Project also had helpful information. Barb Lawrence, of San Diego, has the following great drawing that shows the folding process clearly:

She also lists several organizations and businesses marketing purses made using this technique and has some great photos of purse examples. Between these two blogs, you should be able to make your own purse.

Like all good things, making a purse like this takes time and lots of it! I'm estimating mine took about 40 hours. But, there was a learning curve there, too. It's a mindless operation for the most part, a good way to keep my hands occupied when I was too mentally fatigued to do something that needed some thinking. I sat in the kitchen folding and folding while I listened to a book on tape.

The wallpaper worked well in the sense that it folded easily, was sturdy, didn't crack and was pliable. The problem is the thickness. Although I think the purse resulted in a gorgeous product, it's not the best functional piece in terms of weight.

I have not seen any other examples that used beads. For my piece, the beads added texture, depth and really finished it off. The white ones are carved ostrich egg shell and the dark ones are coconut shell, both from Africa. They are held in place by clear glass seed beads.

Inside of purse:


I had it listed on Etsy for a bit for $250. But, I took it to my monthly fiber art meeting and my friend, Pam, fell in love with it. She is a long arm quilter, so we traded for a quilting job that I needed completed. I would like to try a couple more variations on this technique, now that I know how to do it.

One of our group members also suggested that flat wall pieces could be made using color to make an image, rather like a cross stitch pattern. That would be an interesting experiment!

Note: This post has been the most searched of all the ones I've written. I'm now working on my second purse, made out of dog food paper bags. It's coming along nicely, but taking forever! The paper is much easier to work with than the wallpaper as it is thinner and has the coating on it which makes it slick. I will post an article on it when it is finished.

This wallpaper purse ended up as an exchange for a quilting project I needed done. If you are interested in one of these, they will be in the $300 range.

Update November 2008: See my dogfood purse, "Snow":

How about you? Have you made any? Leave a comment with your progress or questions!


Friday, March 28, 2008

Ralli Quilts

Once again I have fallen in love... Oh, woe is me! I've known for a long time that quilts have had a long tradition across Asia and Africa, and I knew that the Sindhi women made quilts, but I didn't know about Ralli quilts until a couple of months ago. Since then, I have been buying them from a Pakistani dealer. They arrive dirty and smelly. I machine washed a couple of them, and lo and behold! They held up beautifully! So, now they all go through the machine after arrival.

Most of the quilts I have been getting seem to be from the 1970's or 80's. Many are silk with some cotton blends and are completely hand assembled. Some are complex patchwork designs, while others have a whole cloth in the center with a wild border around them. Color choices are often bizarre and unrelated (at least to my palette). All are twin size, perfect for the sleeping cots they use in the region. They are usually quilted vertically, although some will have variations.

There is usually another layer of fabric between top and back, serving as batting. Quilting threads are normally a thick cotton.

An example using a whole cloth in the center:

This one uses a batiked cotton as the whole cloth:

This X pattern seems to be a favorite. The first is newer and the second is estimated to be from the 1950's:

Here's another older one, all cotton, very nicely stitched:

Here's a strange one. The brown fabric is silk and the five squares are appliquéd on to it:

The backs are as interesting to me as the fronts. They often use the floral cottons that were imported from Russia and China, but will also have remnants pieced together without much apparent consideration for design.

Are you hooked now, too? There is a nice site with further information on the history of these quilts: http://www.ralliquilt.com/history.html They sell quilts made by local women as a way to help them earn income. You can support them directly there.

I just ordered a book on Ralli Quilts which will hopefully arrive soon.

Click on the book and it will take you to the Amazon review. Well, that's about it for today. I have my ralli quilts for sale in my Etsy store if you would also like to own one. They are beautiful as wall tapestries, but can be used gently as any older quilt.


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