TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

TAFA on Flickr!

"Push", 37 x 44", 2009 by Betty Busby 

TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List, a project I launched in February of 2010, continues to grow.  It has been a source of great pleasure and inspiration to me to welcome new members and experience, albeit vicariously, the beauty of their work.

We now have a group page on Flickr and members have been busy loading their photos.  Such eye candy!  Take a look:

As we grow, so does the diversity within our group.  We started out with a wonderful representation of art quilters, still our largest category.  But, we now have a nice selection of people who focus on weaving, embroidery, and dyeing.  Most of our members are working artists, but we also have many who work with cultural textiles, several who offer textile tours in various countries, and quite a few who are published authors and who offer workshops in their studios.  The combined talent and knowledge represented in this group is astounding!

The group on Flickr allows our members to share more of their photos and to come together as a unit.  We hope that you will visit us there, leave comments and share what you like.  Help spread the word about this wonderful group!

Our community is on facebook and we invite you to join us there as well:

Interested in becoming a TAFA member?  There is a one-time membership fee of $25 to join.  No renewals.  The fee will be going up to $40 in the Fall, so this is a good time to hop on.  Members must have a developed presence on the web, good photos, and a seasoned focus.  Visit the membership page on TAFA for more info.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Maria and Claudette: traditional and contemporary weavers share a platform on TAFA

TAFA member, Whitney Taylor, (Little Mango Imports)
works with Mayan weavers in Guatemala.
Whitney with Sovesteña in Panajachel

Maria lives in a village in Guatemala.  She weaves brightly colored fabrics which will make their way to the American and European markets.  She also works on traditional huipiles, the blouses worn by women in her village, when she has time.  Maria has been to the capital a couple of times and visits relatives in nearby towns, but mostly stays in her village and likes it that way.  She knows how to read and write, has four small children, loves to laugh, and dreams of having a new fence built around her garden so the chickens will stay out of it.

Claudette also weaves.  Her work often depicts contrasts between light and dark, using urban themes that reflect her life in Paris.  She zooms in on a car's headlight, a hand on a door, high heels on the sidewalk...  sometimes there might be splashes of red, alluding to blood or violence.  Her work is not "pretty" and it will take that special collector who will want to buy it.  Claudette has exhibited internationally and traveled around the world .  She has no children, sometimes she drinks too much, and she definitely wishes she could stop thinking all the time.

 "Big Green Barn" by TAFA member Laura Foster Nicholson

Maria and Claudette are fictional, just made up characters in my mind, but symbolic of the range of women represented by TAFA's membership.  TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List is a project I started earlier this year.   Launched in February, the membership has grown to 115 working artists and fiber related businesses.  TAFA's main mission, to provide its members with access to larger markets, has at its core an intentional agenda of bringing Maria and Claudette together, sharing the same platform and audience.  These two women have little in common aside from the materials they use to execute their craft.  Their personal interests, how they spend their time, and the goals they have for their lives reflect not only the physical distance that separates them, but the cultural expectations their peers have of them.  They do, however, share a form of sign language.  If they stood side by side with their looms, they could speak to each other and learn from each other through their threads, the movements of their hands, and the final products.  A language only weavers would understand.

Both also share in the need for a market that will support their work.  Maria might be represented by someone like Whitney Taylor (first photo), or by TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles who work with weavers in Laos and Thailand.

Traditionally, the two weavers, Maria and Claudette, and those who represent them, would have looked for their markets in very different places.  Maria does not have computer skills nor access to galleries.  Her weaving would be described as a craft and would not qualify for most competitions.  Claudette would have to put a portfolio together, have professional photos taken and either look for high end customers on her own or have a gallery represent her in doing so.  Their markets and the words used to define who they are and what they do have been as separate as their physical worlds.

 "Koch Snowflake Fractal"  
Univeral Language Series 
by TAFA member Donna Loraine Contractor 

I've worked with handmade crafts from around the world for over twenty years.  Even now, I struggle with what words to use when I describe a product.  Is it art? Craft?  Handicraft?  Folk Art?  Traditional? Contemporary?  We are struggling with these terms on TAFA as well.  The middle column has a list of labels titled "Themes and Places".  Intended as an index, key words describe the mix found in TAFA's membership.  We decided to use  "Member Made" as a way to describe a member who makes their own work.  "Cultural Textile" describes members who are representing a group.  The challenge lies in keeping the list short enough to make it usable for those who visit the site and yet inclusive enough to cover the different kinds of work represented on TAFA.

Even worse: how do we describe Maria and Claudette?  Is Maria an artist? Fair traders often refer to people like her as "producers".  Claudette would certainly have a fit if she were labeled a crafter.  The divide that has separated these two has historically come from an ethnocentric position that, I believe, is fundamentally racist, classist, and must change.  Maria might actually have better technical skills than Claudette.  What makes her work less valid in the art world?  One might argue that she lacks imagination in design, that she is simply replicating work that has been done for centuries in her village.  Yet, many contemporary weavers are not weaving powerful, moody work like Claudette's.  They are interested in the materials, patterns, look of the weave itself.  TAFA member Laos Essential Artistry has an interesting video which tries to address this tension between the artist, creativity, and the relationship to the product itself.  In my mind, we stumble in trying to perpetuate this divide:

Why racist and classist? Because if the same work were made by an American, a Parisian, or an Australian, it would be called art and, a key point here, the price would also reflect it.  I believe that we have been passive about giving credit where it is due.  We believe that it's OK for the Marias of the world to live on minimal income generated by their skill while those of us who live in the "developed" world can charge what we consider a fair wage for our work.  Sure, there are many issues that affect the price point of a weaving or textile:  materials used, intricacy of detail, age, the currency exchange rate, creativity, fame, and so on.  But, the same debate that has raged on in the quilting arena also rages here.  Quilters debate what is art or craft all the time.  So, now we have "art quilts" which have their own shows and juried criteria, separate from "traditional quilts".  And, again, definition often makes a big difference in price point.  An Amish quilt may sell for several hundred dollars while an art quilt with the same skill level may enter the market for several thousand dollars.  It's a matter of how we perceive and define our selves, our work and those around us.  But, when it comes to Maria, I believe that most of us think it's OK for her to earn less because she is a peasant, lives in a hut, doesn't have much education and should just be grateful that we are helping her by buying her "stuff".

Fortunately, things are changing for Maria and other like her.  Several global trends in these last twenty years have decreased the supply of cultural crafts.  Industrialization, war, natural disasters and migration have all affected the production of traditional arts world wide.  It used to be easy to get gorgeous, intricate embroideries from any of these villages for almost nothing.  Travelers who became small importers brought these goods to market and appreciation for them grew.  Now it's hard to find the older stuff and we have to pay more for current work.  Less people are also making the traditional work, opting instead to work in factories or as maids or in the hospitality industry for secure pay and possible benefits.  War and natural disaster have disrupted village life around the world.  As less of the vintage textiles have become available, more efforts and recognition has been given to those who have the ability to perpetuate these age-old skills.  We also see more exchanges happening between the Marias and Claudettes, increasing market receptivity by developing products that use the skills, appeal to elite markets and generate a higher ticket price.  Escama Studio in Brazil is one such example.  Low income women crochet clothing and accessories out of pop tabs:

Women like Maria are traveling more, seeing how a Claudette would interact with their work. Novica carries their purses, selling them for a couple hundred dollars each, accompanied with a photo, bio and quote by the artist.  The Santa Fe International Folk Art Market sponsors traditional crafters from around the world every year.  They are called "artists" on their website and literature.  HandEye Magazine offers a glorious exploration of materials, techniques, and overwhelming eye candy from around the world.  They make no distinction between traditional and contemporary.  It's all crazy and all good.  FiberArts Magazine always has a section dedicated to traditional cultural crafts, although their focus is on contemporary textile art and craft.  The trend moves towards inclusion and recognition.  We need this to happen in order to both preserve the knowledge the Marias have and to encourage the vision a Claudette might bring to the medium.  We still have a long way to go, but all of us can help redefine what the platform is that we share with each other.  It starts with exposure, by standing next to each other, and continues with the dialogue that is in our hands, that sign language that we can speak through our craft.  Finally, it matures when all of us can make a decent living through our work, have our basic needs met, and know that life as a working artist can happen here, in Paris or in a village in Guatemala.

 Alia Kate with Fatima
TAFA member, Kantara Crafts
works with weavers in Morocco.

Interested in becoming a TAFA member?  TAFA members all have an established web presence.  They are working artists, textile or fiber related businesses, authors, collectors, or gallery owners.  For more information, check out the Membership page on our site.


Friday, June 4, 2010

Doggie Love, a new Rayela Art dogfood paper bag

"Doggie Love" a candywrapper bag made with 
dogfood bags, by Rayela Art.

 This is the third bag or purse I have made upcycling with dogfood bags.  Until recently, I had four dogs, so I have plenty of these bags stored up, ready to transform into "art" (or craft or whatever...).  My love for these dogs has brought a lot of pain recently as one of them bit a utility man (who came into my yard without my permission...) and another has been diagnosed with lymphoma.  

Sheba bit the water man and then she bit the dust.

Sheba lost her life because of that bite and now lies planted under a little tree in my yard.  It's a horrible thing to put a healthy dog down!  She was six and had never bit anyone before.  But, she did have a kill instinct and had attacked two smaller dogs in the past and killed a cat.  99% of the time, she was a great little dog, smart, full of tricks, willing to please, and a funny girl with her own special antics.

Sheba was born in my apartment in Chicago.

Now there is Mitchie, my oldest, who was the gallery dog in Chicago.  Supposedly a boxer/lab mix according to the shelter he came from, we have had ten great years together.

Mitchie as an old dude in Kentucky.

Younger days at Dara Tribal Village.

Mitchie made the Sun Times in Chicago.  
He had a huge following of people 
who would stop in to see him.

These dogs, Sheba, Mitchie, along with Laila and Juba, are spoiled, well loved, and have been through a lot with me over the years.  Yes, I know they are "just" dogs, but, in my world they have a lot more empathy, humor and consideration than many of the people I see around me.  They give me affection and protection in an "iffy" neighborhood.  I'm sorry that the water man got bit.  Fortunately, I have renter's insurance and he will get a nice settlement from them.  But, that doesn't seem to be enough as he drags me through court, making an awful situation even worse.

 "Doggie Love", side view.

I finished "Doggie Love" shortly before the pain started with Sheba and Mitchie, so it is tied in my mind to this difficult time.  This technique is widely known as the "candywrapper technique".  It involves cutting small rectangles of paper and folding them then interlocking them together into long lines.  Those are then sewn to each other.

 "Doggy Love" detail, by Rayela Art.

 I like to incorporate beads and findings into these bags, altering the surface and adding texture.  So far, I am the only one that I know of who does this to these bags.  On this one, I used African coconut discs, Ethiopian copper and soapstone beads.

This was the first project where I also incorporated fabric.  I wanted the piece to stand upright, like a vessel, so I made a fabric bottom for it.  Normally, the sides are sewn to each other at the bottom into a traditional purse shape.  There are many other ideas I want to play with to take this technique to new levels.  The folding is time consuming, but a perfect activity when I don't want to think.  I can sit and watch a movie and fold away.  You wouldn't believe how much paper a vessel like this takes!  There are probably eight or nine large dog food bags folded up into this piece, paper that would have otherwise ended up in a land fill.

Yes, my heart is heavy with the loss of my two dogs.  But, Juba and Laila will still be with me, so I will have many more bags to use up in the future!  By the way, Laila is Juba and Sheba's mom.  I found her all torn up in Chicago, pregnant.  

Juba and Laila, daughter and mother.  (??!!!???)

National Geographic had a great article, a couple of years ago, where they examined the relationship between dogs and humans.  Because we have lived so closely together for thousands of years, we have developed a symbiotic relationship.  Dogs will look ahead to where you are pointing, while wolves don't get it.  They just stare at the finger.  If you pet a dog, it lowers both your blood pressure and theirs!  Most dogs can learn 150 words.  Smart ones can learn 300.  I will always have dogs in my life.  But, I don't think I will go for four again.  One thing I learned was that it is really hard to control a pack, especially in an urban environment.  I miss Sheba, still counting out four treats, and I know I will cry when the time comes to say good-bye to Mitchie.  They definitely do not live long enough!  I am grateful for the time we have had, for the inspiration they give me, and for all the good memories I have of them.

Bye-bye, Mitchie and Sheba!

Click here for more posts on the other bags I have made and for information on the candywrapper weaving technique. 

Oh!  You want "Doggie Love"?  It's yours for $360.  20% off if you buy it before I list it on Etsy...

 Mitchie, Juba, Laila, Sheba and me...



Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Pictorial Log: Quilt-On-The-Go by Donna Hussain

Wedding Quilt by Donna Hussain, 120”x130”

My daughter recently married and asked me to make a quilt for her as my wedding present.  How could I refuse her request?

Over a period of several months I sent the newlyweds sample pictures of quilts that I thought might appeal to them.  Their final choice was a quilt design that I found in a Keepsake Quilter newsletter (www.keepsakequilter.com). The pattern has large-scale patchwork blocks that are easy to sew. However I decided to add side extensions to the floor and a pillow tuck of my own design to the queen-size quilt. With these additions the quilt grew quite large.

To sew the quilt on my home sewing machine I chose the method of quilting-on-the-go. That is to say I would first join and machine quilt the center blocks of the pattern, then add rows of patchwork blocks to encircle the center. In this quilting method each added section, usually one or two rows of patchwork blocks, is machine quilted before adding additional sections to the quilt top.  For detailed stitching directions read How To Machine-Quilt A Large Bed Quilt On A Home Sewing Machine, an article I wrote earlier for this blog.

 Pieced quilt center ready for quilting

The major problem in sewing a large quilt is handling the bulk of the fabric and batting. I do not have a quilting studio or a long arm quilting machine.  My quilting hobby occupies half of the master bedroom that I share with my husband.  The surface for my domestic sewing machine, cutting boards, and sewing supplies is a door purchased from Home Depot that sits on table legs.  The only way I can machine quilt a large quilt is to quilt-on-the-go.

My work space

Unfortunately, I lack a large design wall, so I built the quilt design by laying out sewn patchwork blocks on the bedroom floor.  My ironing board, bed, dresser, and sewing table all helped support the quilt bulk during various phases of construction as you will see in the pictures.

Two rows added to one end of quilt center, ready for quilting.

Joined rows ready for machine quilting

Marking the machine quilting pattern

Machine quilting

Edge blocks ready for quilting
Close-up of machine quilting pattern

After completing the quilt center I added a narrow brown and blue frame to the center design. The squiggly free motion quilting pattern that I chose for the blue stripe required movement of the fabric (changes of stitching direction) while sewing, a flexibility that was possible when quilting the blocks along the edges of the quilt. 

 Fabric frame of quilt center
Machine quilting the blue stripe

Next, I added one of the sides to the bedspread.  I cleared my dresser for workspace when smoothing out the wrinkles as I bundled the back, batting, and patchwork together. Note that the bulk of the quilt center is lying on the floor.

Bundling the patchwork side blocks with batting and back.
Preparing a side for quilting
Quilting the side
Checking the look of the attached side

Once the two sides of the quilt were attached and quilted I worked on the section for the foot of the bed.  This addition has the same pattern as the sides but needed additional blocks at both ends so that the section would extend the full width of the quilt.

Preparing the end section for quilting
End section quilted

The final hurdle before completing the quilt was to add the pillow tuck. My choice of design was blue and green stripes because stripes would be easy to quilt. Believe it or not, the pillow tuck caused me more problems than any other part of the project because I failed to get the back smoothed and stretched adequately before machine quilting.  The result?  Back puckers. Correcting my carelessness caused me many hours of “reverse sewing” and stress.

Last week I presented the wedding quilt pucker free and complete with binding to my daughter and son-in-law who are celebrating their first anniversary. Their appreciation is reward for all the time and effort I spent making their wedding quilt.

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.



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