TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Monday, October 26, 2009

Quilting Trends and Their Impact on Quilt Shows by Donna Hussain

When I first became a quilter in 1990 I learned how to sew traditional patchwork quilts and how to quilt by hand.  I delayed learning to machine quilt because I was told that  judges favored hand quilting and would penalize show entries that were quilted by machine. How times have changed... The photos in this post are examples of the use of commonplace machine quilting and thread play in quilts today.

Recently I attended the Pacific International Quilt Festival (PIQF) in Santa Clara, California, featuring more than 1,000 quilts.  Approximately half of the quilts were in a juried competition: the others were displayed in special exhibitions.  The artistry of the quilt makers impressed me as did their sewing skills. Unfortunately there were few quilts in the competition that were hand-quilted.

The new trend is to cover the quilt surface with machine stitches and thread play. Instead of having soft quilted patterns with hills and valleys, the quilts in the show were flattened by line after line of machine stitching, which cost them their suppleness as well. I surmised that most quilts with heavy thread decoration were quilted on long arm sewing machines. If jurors in quilt shows continue to reward quilts made using expensive high tech tools will quilts sewn on domestic sewing machines cease to be competitive?   I quilt because I value the comfort, warmth, and beauty of quilts in the past and the love that is sewn into their seams. I wonder whether these values will become passe.

Another trend noticeable at PIQF this year is that more art quilts than usual were juried into the show. There were few traditional bed quilts on display. I didn’t see a single Baltimore Album quilt.  Perhaps the reason for this shift from the traditional is that more people with formal art training are turning to fabric as their medium of expression. Their work is inspiring traditional quilters to be more innovative.  In addition, a flurry of books and videos on the topic of art quilts are currently on the market. These explain basic art and design principles, suggest exercises to implement these principles, and introduce a variety of surface techniques to use in making art quilts.

Or, maybe the surge of art quilts comes from quilters having a stash of fabric.  The making of an art quilt is a new avenue of cost-free creativity luring traditional quilters from patchwork patterns and templates.  The experimentation is fun, the commitment to a small art quilt is short-term, and our first art quilt project energizes us.  I know that I have returned home from the PIQF show with many new ideas swirling in my head for future art quilts of my own.

The increased numbers of art quilts of all sizes at quilt shows is creating new problems for show organizers.   Should art quilts be entered in the same categories as traditional quilts or should art quilts be judged against one another in categories of their own?   The quilting world is quite diverse today.  It includes hobby quilters, quilters who place their work on sale, and professional artists who work with fabric and thread. Should these three groups compete for the same prizes and monetary awards?

The use of long arm sewing machines and growing presence of art quilts at shows are hot topics among quilters.  What is your opinion on these subjects? I hope you will write your views in the comment section at the end of this blog post. 

California quilter, Donna Hussain, has exhibited in major quilt shows around the country, authored books, and is a regular contributor to Fiber Focus. Click on her name to see all of her past articles.

The photo shows Donna with her husband, Pascha.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Summer Art Project at The Williamson Art Gallery: Rag Rugging

Rag Rugging Project at The Williamson Art Gallery

by Alison Bailey Smith

The aim for the project was to produce a wall hanging for Wirral Methodist Housing using donated clothing with several tenants from the organization contributing to the creation of the piece. I decided that as the funding was coming from a housing association that a house would be a great communal theme to work on. At the same time as working on this project, I was also teaching a project with kids from 8 to 15 creating a Time Machine based on H.G. Wells' Time Machine.

Detail of Alison Bailey Smith's Rag Rugging Project

We have used a hessian backing and two different rag rugging techniques to create bricks to combine together into a house. I learned the rag rugging technique in the week before from the internet, from books , from advice from an old college friend and my second in-command fellow Oxton Artist, Janine Suggett, (we exhibit once a year in the Williamson Art Gallery, Birkenhead, North West of England). The idea of having individual bricks was to allow the women to work at their own speed, take the work away from the workshops to work on at home or to use a different technique, it also allowed the ladies to work without straining their backs or eyes. Many of these ladies remembered making rugs with rags after the war. Most of the ladies have picked up the technique easily, some had previously created rag rugs in slightly different methods and seem to enjoy the opportunity to do it again. Some with arthritis found it hard to keep it up for awhile, so tea offered a welcome break.

Assembling Alison Bailey Smith's Rag Rugging Project

I think the main benefits of the workshops were being able to sit together as a group talking and working on a collective project, providing health benefits - both mental and physical. Many of them have re-arranged plans to be there, as well as taking work away to be completed at home, contributing extra “bricks” in knitting and rag rugging.

Detail of Alison Bailey Smith's Rag Rugging Project

The concept of the house for the hanging was already vaguely in place prior to them arriving, it developed as we have discussed it to in-corporate other techniques than rag rugging, slightly faster techniques done at home. We also incorporated some of the donated clothing as appliqué (flowers from the wedding dress, some fabric as curtains), I later incorporated images of the ladies working on the piece into the wall hanging. During the workshop, one of the participants donated a fabric tape measure. I used it along with a tape measure from my Granny's things to edge a primed canvas that we put behind the door and all the participants later signed it. It was wonderful to combine everyone's memories from the clothes - political t-shirts, ties from weddings, hats from holidays, fabric from first homes etc.

Detail of Alison Bailey Smith's Rag Rugging Project

The group created everything we needed for the hanging to come together during the workshops but it took 3 more days of work to create it into the wall hanging. There were many components that needed to be attached to the backing and needed some creative thinking to get it to all work together, next time I would limit the colour palette available . The extra work was done at my house with lots of help from Janine Suggett, Cathy Warren, Sylvia Davie and Briget. Using many of my own resources at home, thread, fabric, printable canvas, sewing machine etc. Perhaps next time we could do it over 2 weeks, one to create the parts and the second to pull it together. As well as feeling very moved by all the ladies and their enthuisiasm, I also was very touched by being able to use many of my Granny's sewing things. She died in March and I asked my Dad if I could have her fabric and sewing things, she made many of her own clothes as many women did of her generation and took real care in looking after every scrap of fabric. I hope she would be proud of our project.

Alison Bailey Smith

Her work has spanned almost 2 decades and three different countries since leaving Edinburgh College of Art in 1990. The motivation behind Alison’s work comes from being the child of post war parents, Scottish thriftiness and an avid watcher of Blue Peter! Her need to re-use, re-develop and re-create can be seen in her wide use of ordinary materials with extra-ordinary results.

Although her training was initially in Jewellery and silver-smithing, she has crossed over successfully into the world of textiles, costume and fashion – evident in her numerous awards (Scottish Fashion Designer of the Year, Recycling Fashion Designer of the Year and various awards for Fibre in North America and Australasia).

Alison’s staple ingredient in her work is wire that she reclaims from old televisions, the older the better. She has found over a hundred different colours and hues of copper and aluminium wire. Lately though, due to the rate of development in technology, she is finding it harder to find the old television sets and has had to resort to buying various colours of wire! There is always a high component of re-used materials in her work - whether it is re-using charity shop finds or sweetie wrappers to get the right colour. She has become increasingly aware of how wasteful our society is becoming and has started working with plastic packaging with a range of "Junk Jewellery".

Visit Alison's website, blog, and her great collection of photos on Flickr!


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

How to Wear a Sari (Saree)

Vintage Sari

I am getting ready to list some vintage saris on Etsy and just happened to find a fun video on YouTube. Have you ever tried to manage all the fabric into an attractive and convincing Indian look? I have a hard time even measuring it out for the listings! Well, this video gives a little history on the saris (also spelled sarees) and shows you how to wear one in a clear step-by-step instruction:

I buy the vintage saris that I carry from a friend who travels to India every years. They are beautiful satins with intricate weaving, but most have a tear or stain. We buy them for the fabric, to cut them up into quilts or other garments. They can also be used around the house, draped over windows, four-post beds and from the ceiling. But, if you ever need to wear one, now you know how!

I am hoping to have the saris listed on Etsy within a week. To check my stock, click here.


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