Thursday, August 29, 2013

Does the Back Matter?

It seems that the topic of the condition of the back of an art quilt comes up regularly in textile art online forums.  Some folks argue that if the back of a painting doesn't matter, why should the back of an art quilt be of consequence?  Why do the "quilt police" care about the back of a quilt?

I'm going out on a limb here to say that the back of an art quilt does matter.

I know -- art quilt heresy.  

Here are two reasons I think the back of an art quilt matters:

1) The back is part of the whole.
For painters, the back of their art is some sort of substrate.  It's a canvas, paper, a piece of wood, or a piece of stone.  There really aren't that many options.

However, we art quilters have tons of options.  There isn't a standard "backing fabric" that comes in a few basic colors.  No, we can choose not only the look/color/print of the back, but also the type of fabric we choose to use.  Because of all our options, I think we have to be thoughtful about the choice we make for the back of our piece.  Personally, I believe I would do my art a disservice if I chose a backing fabric like this:

for a piece that looks like this one the front:

I'm making a whole package, not just a front.  A quilt still requires a front and a back, otherwise I believe it's art cloth.  Therefore, I believe the back is an integral part of the entire piece.

What did I choose for this piece, you might ask?  I selected fabric I had monoprinted that had a look I thought was complimentary to the front. Because the monoprinted cloth was a smidgeon too small, I needed to add in another section.  I thought it was important that the back have some relationship with the front of the quilt, so I chose to piece in a bit of the yellow fabric that I'd already used.  Here's the back (pre-sleeve):

2) Looking at the back is one way a buyer can evaluate a piece before buying.
I know there are lots of artists out there who quilt their quilts and then put a backing piece on to cover up most of it.  

I get it; I've done it.  There have been times when the thread I've used seems only to have wanted to make an appearance as part of a knot.  I've covered up the muck in an effort to make things look clean.

However, if we want to be recognized for taking care with how we create our work -- I think most of us DO want to be viewed as careful, not sloppy, artists -- and if we want possibly to sell our work, then I think it behooves us to put forth some effort to make all parts of our work our best.  Stitching is integral to our art form, both as a design element and as a way to make all the parts stay together.  I think it's fair for a buyer to take a peek at the back to take a guess at how long his investment in our art might last.  If something looks like it's going to fall apart because of slipshod stitching, then I can't fault the buyer for choosing not to lay down his hard earned cash.  The back might just be important to a buyer.

I also wonder what a buyer might think if he/she sees a clean front, but a sloppy back.  Does it give the impression that we are skilled at our craft or still learning?  My mother used to say the house wasn't clean if everything was piled in the tub behind a closed curtain. Similarly, is a quilt well made if the artist didn't take time to make the whole piece as carefully as possible?

I think there's a solution for those who don't want to have the buyer take a peek at stitching: mounting work on canvas.  It still looks professional and polished, though I imagine large quilts might be tough to put on canvas.

I think that those who use hand embroidery as a design element and as a way of securing their quilt are somewhat exempt from all this because it's just about impossible to make scatter stitching look pretty on the back.  However, I also believe that more practice will result in neater machine stitching if that's what you do.  Not all of us will bury our threads to have a pristine back; I've done that on some small pieces and does it take a LOT of time.   Most of us will still try to secure our stitches as we sew with small stitches or back stitching.  If we do, we might get a few thread nests on the back, but the nests will appear less frequently as we do more work.  I've certainly improved over the years and I'm certain my experience is not unique.  

I'm not suggesting that we try to manage our stitch count or never have a thread pile-up show up on the back of our quilts, but I do think it's a good idea to consider the back when presenting the whole; to put effort into our entire piece, as opposed to hoping no one looks. I say give your quilt's backside a bit more love.  What do you think?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Almost Wordless Wednesday

Here, on the river's verge, I could be busy for months without 
changing my place, simply leaning a little more to right or left.
-- Paul Cezanne

Monday, August 26, 2013

New Work - Thistles

When I rearranged my studio, I took down almost all the pieces that were hanging on my design wall in various stages of completion.  By the time I finished cleaning up, I decided only two pieces were to remain.  A few days ago, I stitched the binding onto one of them.

I've been looking at this quilt for (gulp!) more than two years. For what it's worth, that's how long it also takes to get an MBA or to build the Eiffel Tower. 

It started as an experiment; I wanted to try out Transfer Artist Paper (TAP) on colored fabric and also determine how easy it was to cut out sections of an image from the whole. After that was done, the cloth with the image transfer sat around for a while.  What to do next?

Months later it appeared that the ugly fabric I'd created while learning how to screen print was a good match for the TAP picture. While doing the printing I wasn't even thinking of the TAP image but here it was, a perfect fit.  Snip, snip, sew sew, and a small top was born....

... only to gather dust on my design wall.

Still, I really liked the little piece and couldn't put it away, even when I was cleaning up.

I managed to find time just this past week to finish it up.  I did some simple quilting and still had leftover fabric for the binding.  At long last, Thistles is complete.

When I showed the finished piece to my youngest daughter she said, "FINALLY, Mom."

Yeah, it took me a while.  On the other hand, I'm glad I waited until I felt I was ready to move onto the next step.  None of this was complex or difficult, but it's fun to look back on this process in retrospect.  I learned a few things:

 -- sometimes, experiments are worth keeping. At times I had considered purging both the TAP image and the screen printed fabric from my stash because they didn't turn out exactly as I'd envisioned them in my head;
 -- sometimes, you have to wait until you hear what's next and you have to be open-minded enough to listen.  I had actually considered pairing the screen printed cloth with the image a few times, but consciously kept dismissing the idea as stupid.  My subconscious knew better.
 -- sometimes, if there's something intangible asking you to keep thinking about a quilt, that's okay.  Taking your time is just fine.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Quilting Arts Gifts

I'm thrilled and honored to report that I have an article in Quilting Arts Gifts 2013/14!

I'm so excited to be represented in a magazine that includes projects by the likes of Natalya Aikens, Susan Brubaker Knapp, Lynn Krawczyk, Susie Monday, Carol Sloan, and Elin Waterston.  What a line- up!

My article shows how to make holiday door hangers with chimes to help you ring in the holiday season.  You can find it on page 74, in the Holiday Decor section.  The project uses Transfer Artist Paper (TAP), watercolor crayons, and paper towels as its main design ingredients.

There's my name in print -- woo hoo!

The issue is available now in quilt shops and bookstores.  But if you simply can't wait to get your hands on a copy, you can purchase and download the issue by following this link: .  

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Kimonos in New York City

If you're in New York City and love fiber, I hope you'll stop by ArtQuilt Gallery NYC  to see Kimono Inspirations.

The "kimonos" in the exhibition were all made by members of Fiberart Northeast, the fiber art group which I am so happy to be a part of.  You may remember that last year, our group made totems as a special exhibition for the Northern Star Quilt Guild (NSQG) show, an annual local quilt show.  This year Jane (Davila), our fearless leader, suggested that we make pieces inspired by the shape of a kimono for NSQG.  Twenty-six members of the group stepped up to the challenge and made all sorts of amazing pieces, ranging from ice-dyed cloth to intricately pieced silk.

Lucky for us, the owners of the ArtQuilt Gallery NYC happened to see the exhibition and expressed interest in having our kimonos hang in their space during August.


This past Saturday, many of our members gathered at the gallery to ooh and ahh over our kimonos in the gallery.  They were hung beautifully and looked absolutely great in the professional lighting and clean space.  We were all so excited!

On the outside, looking in
Looking in from another angle
Checking out some of the kimonos
Top row (artists) from left: Carole Hoffman, Renee Fleuranges Valdes,  Nike Cutsumpas, Nancy Mirman
Bottom Row (artists) from left: Vivien Zepf, Norma Schlager, Barbara Sferra

A sampling of the art
Top row (artists) from left: Nike Cutsumpas, Nancy Mirman
Middle row(artists)  from left: Barbara Sferra, Andrea Shedletsky
Bottom row (artists) from left: Carolyn Spiegal, Donna Chambers
After getting our fill of looking at the work and shopping (the gallery is connected to City Quilter, a quilt and fabric shop), many of us went out to get a bite to eat.  We laughed and thoroughly enjoyed each other's company.  It was a great end to the day's outing... and I can't believe that I can now put a New York City gallery on my exhibition resume!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


I'm thrilled to report that Blue Chair with Tea, which made its debut at the OSilas Gallery in the Summer ARTiculated exhibition, has been sold!  I was told the good news today when I was planning to pick up the piece at the end of the show. The gallery manager shared with me that a gentleman bought the piece because his daughter is particularly fond of sunflowers and he purchased it as a present for her.  It's an amazing feeling to create something that someone wants to buy with their hard earned money.

Bon voyage, Blue Chair with Tea.  Go make a girl happy.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Belated Reveal

My Latitudes Quilt group had their collective reveal on July 31st.  Oops!  I posted on the group blog, but somehow forgot to update you all here.

Our theme for the past two months was memory and I thought a great deal about it.  As part of my process, I asked my mother to send me pictures of the two of us together, hoping that one of the pictures she sent could be recreated for this challenge.

As it turned out, it was the combination of the note she sent and the photos she selected that led me to this piece.  My mother sent pictures from a family vacation.  In her note, my mother wrote, "Do you remember this wonderful day on the dunes?"  Well, if you saw my face in the picture, you'd know that I had a completely different feeling about the day and hence, a completely different memory of it.

Not looking too excited, am I?
That got me thinking.  Two people may share some of the same facts of an event (dunes; summer vacation; Mom, Dad, and me), but our emotions, circumstances, and biases can tumble up those facts into a completely different recollection.  As time goes by, our memories often become more of a collage, as opposed to a clear picture, of what happened.  Let me reference the following from documentation from the New Jersey criminal court system, describing in-court instruction for witness identification:

Human memory is not foolproof.  Research has revealed that human memory is not like a video recording that a witness need only replay to remember what happened.  Memory is far more complex.[1]   The process of remembering consists of three stages: acquisition -- the perception of the original event; retention -- the period of time that passes between the event and the eventual recollection of a piece of information; and retrieval -- the stage during which a person recalls stored information.  At each of these stages, memory can be affected by a variety of factors.[2]   

[1]            State v. Henderson, 208 N.J. 208, 245 (2011).
[2]            Id. at 245-46.

With all this in mind, I decided to created a piece that tried to visually represent the passage of time on memory. Acquisition, retention and retrieval  -- three different elements of remembering -- are braided together to create our personal memories.

The letters are colored in with water soluble wax crayons.  I chose a font with letters that aren't entirely whole to represent the tiny gaps we sometimes have in our memory from the very beginning.  To help me get the braid -- and colors -- right, I first braided three different ribbons together and tried to draw them.

I tried to include dimensionality to the coloring on my piece, but that didn't show up as much as I'd hoped.

I swirled all the colors together -- and let them bleed into one another -- at the bottom of the piece to represent how all the pieces of our memories get smooshed together.  Sometimes, elements of one part of our memory gets mixed up with another.  Did it really happen in that order, we might ask ourselves.

I think the negative space in the quilt is a bit unresolved.  I contemplated all different sorts of quilting for the white: echo quilting, meander quilting, a braid-like pattern, and more.  I couldn't settle on any one idea.  I worried that the quilting on the sides would compete, in some way, with the primary focus of the braid.  I didn't want any other "strands" to mess up the idea. At the moment, I think the quilt looks a bit unfinished.  I'd welcome any thoughts you have.

To see all the fabulous quilts from the group, please look at our blog.  Our next theme is the sound of silence.  I don't have a clue what I'm going to do for that one.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Almost Wordless Wednesday

“But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.” 
          ― Arthur Conan Doyle, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Studio Shake-up

At the start of the summer, I tried to do a bit of advance planning to organize my thoughts and time.  I was hoping that, armed with a spreadsheet filled with deadlines, I'd do a better job of getting things done.

I feel like I'm scraping by by the skin of my teeth.

I have checked a few items off my list.  I created Blue Chair with Tea and Blue Chair in Bermuda, and submitted them to Summer ARTiculated.  I was thrilled that Blue Chair with Tea was accepted.  I submitted to SAQA's Silver exhibition; I was not accepted, but I'm glad I pulled something together.  I tried to create something for Quilting Arts "Hands" reader challenge, but that didn't work out as planned. (More on that in another post.)  Despite all this, I still didn't feel like I was getting done all that I wanted to get done.

So I decided to rearrange my studio.

I have a veritable billion other things to do, and this was NOT on my list, but it felt so right to shuffle things up a bit.  I don't have a huge studio space and that limits my options, but I am so happy with what I did.

To start, I cleared off my design wall.  All those projects that were looming in front of me, waiting to be worked on, made me feel anxious.  It was a little overwhelming, and not so inspiring, to see the evidence of all the art left undone and waiting for closure.  I stored finished projects, too.  (My design wall had become my de facto storage space.)  My design wall became a design wall again, ripe with possibility as opposed to space burdened by clutter.

Next, I decided to move my sewing table from its spot in front of the window to the space in front of my design wall.  That seems like a downgrade in real estate location but actually, this is so much better.  My window faces west and every afternoon I had to close the shade because the sun shines in and blinds me.  It's no fun to sit in front of a window that you can't look out of.  Now, the sun shines in from my left and helps light my work space.  It doesn't create a shadow because I'm right-handed and, since the design wall doesn't perfectly line up with the window, I'm not blinded.   Even better, I have a lot more room.  I had very little space with my table in front of the window; my chair banged into the wall behind me, and I felt very cramped.  Now, I can push my chair in and out with ease AND  I can see my "to-do" spreadsheet and work with all my inspiration photos right in front of me.

To give myself the room I needed for my sewing table (actually, an old kitchen table), I moved a small desk and my ironing board to the wall with the window.  I hate to iron but now, I can amuse myself by looking outside.  Ironing seems to work even if the sun is muscling through the window panes; I tried it already -- somehow the sun isn't as blinding when I iron as when I sewed.  There's plenty of room in the alcove-like space to iron.  And,  the room looks so much more spacious and the lighting works better for me, too.

There's even room for one or both of my dogs to join me without being underfoot or getting tangled in the iron cord, as was always a possibility when the ironing board was in front of my design wall.

I am so excited about these changes and my time in the studio feels fresh and new.  Sometimes shaking things up is a very good thing.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Eco-Dye Update

I'm still here, though not exactly in the blog-o-sphere.  I had a chunk of last week taken up by food poisoning.  I'm just fine, but yech!  It's amazing how many things can pile up on the to-do list after just a few days.

So now, I'll get you caught up on some of the art things that have been going on around here.  Let's start with my eco-dye experiment.  You may recall that I first tried to dye fabric with red cabbage and then, when that failed, I tried to dye with flower petals.  That didn't work out as expected either.  Though disappointed with my results, I decided to chalk this up to experimentation and rinsed the fabric to remove the vinegar scent that still lingered.

Big mistake.  What little color there was just leeched right into the water.  I didn't even know there was that much color left in the cloth!  At that point, I figured I might as well just wash the fabric in Woolite and start over.

After rinsing and hanging the cloth to dry, there wasn't a lot of color left; you had to squint to see it.   I took it to my ironing board so that it might be smoothed out and serviceable again.  And look what happened -- color reappeared!

This is much more subtle than I expected from the experiment -- I had originally hoped for pinks, blues and yellows to explode across the fabric, but the delicate nature of the cloth is really growing on me now.  I might even have an idea as to how to use this piece.

I brought the cloth to my fiber art group last night and asked why they thought the color had disappeared down the drain.  I got lots of good suggestions and from all this, one thing is clear: I need to conduct more experiments.  I'll keep you posted.