Category Archives: Books

Artistic Endeavors – “Fray”

Occasionally I dip my toe into academic publications. My latest foray is “Fray: Art + Textile Politics,” which The New York Times chose as one of the ten best 2017 books about art. I saw the word textile in the title and put in a library request for it. I won’t review the book, which “explores textiles and their role at the forefront of debates about process, materiality, gender, and race in times of economic upheaval.” That’s too much academic talk for me, but it’s not surprising as the author, Julia Bryan-Wilson, is a Professor in the Department of History of Art at the University of California, Berkeley.

The publisher’s summary is at the end of this post, in case you want to find out more about the author’s thesis. You’re on your own if you choose to read the details of her arguments. With the exception of her discussion of Chile’s arpilleras, it was beyond me.

See the source image

Instead, I want to concentrate on some points the author makes about the acceptance of textiles in art and what kind of bridge exists between craft and contemporary art. The former issue exercises me on occasion, especially when I see almost no mention of fiber art in art related news media such as Art Daily.  In a year I’ve noted two such mentions – a Sheila Hicks exhibit and a piece by Robert Rauschenberg made of silk panels, though there’s been plenty of coverage for various installations and performance art.

So, why the blind eye to textiles? I want to quote from “Fray” and add my comments.

In recent decades, textiles have provided a unique challenge to these divisions [fine art, non-fine art] as more self-trained crafters are absorbed into the art market…the institutionalization of the Gee’s Bend quilts, which are now displayed in art museums alongside abstract painting and sculpture, is the most striking exception to the still generally intractable separation of objects not originally created for museums from the self-appointed realm of contemporary art (p. 6)

Bryan-Wilson talks about craftivism, which started in the early 2000’s as a leftist, antinationalist, or innovative handmaking movement to buy handmade items and boycott the mass produced products of big box stores.

…this is one of the most paradoxical aspects of craftivism – just as in [William] Morris’s day, when his fabrics became upholstery for the wealthy – which is to say that so much of the purported handmade revolution is really about individualized niche shopping, a way to guarantee the value and originality of a bespoke purchase. (p. 27)

Bryan-Wilson talks about the special relationship that handmaking has to ‘slow time’ as it “helps practitioners more fully inhabit, and decelerate, the present moment. ” (p. 261-262) I’ve seen many blog posts about slow stitching and I’m sure you have, too.

There’s a paradox in the business of selling time consuming “slow time” crafts on platforms such as Etsy. It’s hard to make a living wage given the time and material demands of such crafts. (p. 263) This thought echoes recent blog posts about Etsy’s way of doing business, which is now undergoing even more changes to raise its stock price.

Textiles are unique among art forms in that they move between high and low, between functional and artistic, but they

continue to be underrepresented within contemporary art history. These legions of hobby quilters, sewers, and weavers are in some measure responsible for the current academic and art-world interest in textiles, but … their actual work is often considered too mundane, uninteresting, generic … to itself cross the threshold of institutional visibility. (p. 33)

Bryan-Wilson talks about how different spheres of textiles – hobbyists, self-identified artists – are often in contact and inform each other.

…widespread interest in craft among everyday or amateur makers helps impel art – critical and art-institutional attention. Just as fine-art photography as a genre evolves under constant pressure exerted by the collective expertise of snapshot photographers, textiles as a field draws strength from a wide pool of self-trained makers who not only make up much of the audience for museum exhibits but also contribute to robust discourse around these techniques. (p. 273)

The surge of interest in crafts since the early 2000s has led to exhibits of some fiber artists like Sheila Hicks. While such shows might be a step in the right direction, many have tended to be highly formalist in nature, erasing the highly contentious…context in which many of these textile-based techniques first made their appearance within contemporary art. (p. 273)

I wish I could tell you Bryan-Wilson has some solutions in mind, but I found none in my admittedly hit and miss perusal of her book.

In closing I’ll suggest you read Barbara Brackman’s blog about quilts in an economic context. Her inaugural post talks about the romantic and nostalgic concepts about quilting planted by writers such as Ruby McKim, Nancy Cabot, Marie Webster, and Ruth Finley.

Brackman says: “Every one of those authors painted a false picture of the past by ignoring the economic and commercial aspects of women’s needlework at which she herself was succeeding admirably.” I’m looking forward to Barbara’s rants.

 

 

From the publisher:

In 1974, women in a feminist consciousness-raising group in Eugene, Oregon, formed a mock organization called the Ladies Sewing Circle and Terrorist Society. Emblazoning its logo onto t-shirts, the group wryly envisioned female collective textile making as a practice that could upend conventions, threaten state structures, and wreak political havoc. Elaborating on this example as a prehistory to the more recent phenomenon of “craftivism”—the politics and social practices associated with handmaking—Fray explores textiles and their role at the forefront of debates about process, materiality, gender, and race in times of economic upheaval.

Closely examining how amateurs and fine artists in the United States and Chile turned to sewing, braiding, knotting, and quilting amid the rise of global manufacturing, Julia Bryan-Wilson argues that textiles unravel the high/low divide and urges us to think flexibly about what the politics of textiles might be. Her case studies from the 1970s through the 1990s—including the improvised costumes of the theater troupe the Cockettes, the braided rag rugs of US artist Harmony Hammond, the thread-based sculptures of Chilean artist Cecilia Vicuña, the small hand-sewn tapestries depicting Pinochet’s torture, and the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt—are often taken as evidence of the inherently progressive nature of handcrafted textiles. Fray, however, shows that such methods are recruited to often ambivalent ends, leaving textiles very much “in the fray” of debates about feminized labor, protest cultures, and queer identities; the malleability of cloth and fiber means that textiles can be activated, or stretched, in many ideological directions.

The first contemporary art history book to discuss both fine art and amateur registers of handmaking at such an expansive scale, Fray unveils crucial insights into how textiles inhabit the broad space between artistic and political poles—high and low, untrained and highly skilled, conformist and disobedient, craft and art.

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I Follow A Pattern

And why is that so earth shattering, you may ask? Because for 7, going on 8, years I have made my quilts up or altered the original source so thoroughly it was unrecognizable. However, when I came across Victoria Findlay Wolfe’s Cascade quilt in her newest book, “Modern Quilt Magic,” I knew I’d have to follow the directions to have my version work.

Here’s her version.

I cut out the templates from plastic, hauled out my purple and its buddies scrap bin, traced the templates, and started cutting. There is lots of bias in each piece, so gentle handling is the key. As Victoria says, you need only pin in three places before sewing the units together. It also helps to match the registration marks piece to piece, and to mark them to begin with, of course.

When I got to the light fabrics area I had to break into stash, which of course generates more scraps, and explains why scrap bins never get emptied.

My version of Cascade, which I’m calling Church Windows per my husband’s comment, is smaller than Victoria’s. There is a limit to my purple fabrics. I don’t know if I’ll quilt this one myself or send it out. It’s quite bias-y though I’ve stay stitched all the edges.

“Modern Quilt Magic” focuses on partial and set in seams projects, and gives thorough explanations of the processes. You can see a video of some of the techniques here. I appreciated the line drawings of the quilts that you can try out colors on before cutting up your fabric.

I wonder what this pattern would look like in horizontal stripes or diagonal colors? I’d better break out my colored pencils.

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A Practical Design Book

I’ve carried on about how important design is in quilting, especially in original quilts.  In previous posts I’ve noted quilt specific design books such as Elizabeth Barton’s “Inspired To Design,” Joen Wolfrom’s “Adventures In Design,” Sandra Meech’s “Connecting Design To Stitch,” and Jean Wells’ “Intuitive Color & Design.” Then, I came across “Create Perfect Paintings” by Nancy Reyner and realized that good design transcends medium, duh! So why should I disdain a resource just because the word quilt appears nowhere in it.

The book’s blurb says, “As a painter, your two main objectives are to draw the viewer to your work and to sustain their attention long enough to create a meaningful viewing experience.” I inserted quilter for painter throughout the book and learned a lot.

With the exception of about 20 pages (out of 144) very specific to mixing paint colors and applying paint, the advice Reyner gives works as well for quilters as for anyone who creates original art. Again, from the publisher’s description, “This solution-based guide offers ways to identify and overcome the common problems faced by all painters in every medium. To create the perfect painting, analysis and editing are critical.”

While Reyner gives helpful advice about creating art, for me her book is valuable for specific ways to analyze my work and fix what’s wrong. She gives a 10 inquiry self-critique method to help you evaluate and improve your work. The usual suspects are there – value/intensity/hue, focal points, design and movement, etc. – but I haven’t found other design books that use digitally altered paintings as examples and show specific steps to fix issues. It’s amazing what a difference a red flower and an upper right detail make in the painting below.

One type of inquiry that has puzzled me is what Reyner calls hot spots, areas of a work that carry “strong viewer expectations,” such as corners and edges, the center, and sky and ground. She cautions against locked corners, where forms or objects are placed directly into corners and along edges. The viewer’s eye will use these to make a quick exit rather than travel around your work. I had been told by an artist to keep my diagonal lines away from corners, but I had no idea why. Now I do.

This altered painting by Pierre Bonnard shows what happens when forms are shoved into the corners. Showing, not telling, seems to help me get it.

In case 10 steps are too much, there’s a 4 step critique shortcut: finish the statement “it’s too ___ (insert adjective here,) figure out the adjective’s opposite (that’s the solution,) choose best techniques to carry that out, and keep an unequal ratio between the opposites. Fifty-fifty ratios and 100-0 ratios lead to boring work. There’s also a critique quick list and pairs of opposites to help you get started.

Beyond specifics this book offers timely (for me) advice such as “Take the necessary time out from painting quilting to periodically think about and clarify your intentions.” I find it all too easy to get swept up in the creative flow. I forget to step back and think about what I’m trying to convey and analyze my progress toward that. One of my goals is to develop a broad intent for each work as I create it – a mood, a feeling, a memory, an impression, etc.

Reyner closes her book with a short section on critique groups. Quilters I’ve been around tend to skirt actual critiques with broad statements like “that’s great” or “love the colors.” I understand no one wants to hurt someone’s feelings, and it’s hard to know if your thoughts are being solicited for an honest critique or simply praise. However, comments by others in a critique group can give you clarity, inspiration and a broader viewpoint, even if they do nothing more than identify problems. I think Reyner expresses well what should be the spirit of a critique:

Each person has vastly different work than the next, and it doesn’t matter whether you prefer that type of work or not. It only matters whether you think that artist has succeeded in doing what they set out to do.

I added the emphasis to remind myself that whether or not you like someone’s work is immaterial to a critique.

I’ll leave the rest of this book for you to make your own discoveries. It resonated enough with me I bought a copy. I consider it $21 well spent.

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“Walk: Master Machine Quilting With Your Walking Foot” Review

I have always been a fan of the clunky looking walking foot attachment for my sewing machines. I began to use it for sewing long seams to prevent the top fabric from being pushed ahead of the bottom one. Then, I found it helpful for lines of machine quilting. Jacquie Gering has elevated this humble accessory to front row status for fairly complex machine quilting in her Craftsy classes and now her book, “Walk: Master Machine Quilting With Your Walking Foot.”

Many of the quilting designs Gering lays out are simple to accomplish. Her chapters on lines, gentle curves, and decorative stitches show what you can do with no or minimal marking. You do need to pay attention to the distances between your lines and the distances on your walking foot. She helps you figure out the latter in her Walking Foot 101 chapter.

Then, if you want to get fancy, Gering walks you through (ha, ha) marked curves, using the reverse button, and turning designs.  Some of these designs require stitch counting and careful marking.  She tackles designs like orange peel, clamshell, braided curves, and nested diamonds. For such designs I think you’ll need to keep your wits about you, so you can’t do what I often do – zone out and sew. This link to a post written by Kathie Kerler, one of Gering’s workshop students, shows some class samples.

Gering covers much of the same material in her Craftsy class, Next Steps With Your Walking Foot. I’ve taken that class and find the book a useful companion to it. The book includes more designs, especially straight line point to point ones. It has lots of photos of stitched samples (easy to see white stitches on black cloth) and stitching diagrams. However, the class shows how Gering deals with marking, sewing the designs, and handling quilt bulk. It includes some curved designs not found in the book.

Gering’s complex quilting design below involves lots of marking and patience. As Gering says frequently, it’s a walking foot, not a running one. I don’t know if I’d tackle a big quilt like this one; maybe a pillow.

Helpful takeaways from the book:

-After you layer but before you pin your quilt sandwich press it on both sides to make sure there are no wrinkles. Pressing also encourages the layers to stick to each other. Gering presses her cotton batting before use to get rid of wrinkles. I spray my batting with water and run it through my dryer on low heat to relax it.

-Play with the setting on your pressure foot to eliminate puckering where quilting lines intersect. Lighter pressure may eliminate those tucks.

-As you stitch, look at where you’re heading, not at your needle.

-Use textured painters or masking tape whenever possible to mark your stitching lines.

-Even utility stitches on your sewing machine can make interesting quilting lines. Gering uses the blind hem stitch on some of her quilts. Try out those stitches on your machine at different widths and lengths, and keep notes of the results.

Whether this book will resonate with you will depend in part on the style of quilts you make. Gering’s quilting designs have a modern sensibility and work well for the large spaces and angles of such designs. I don’t know how well these designs would work on a traditional quilt pattern. I’ve used Gering’s approach on several quilts such as “Winter.”

Other quilters have also addressed walking foot quilting designs. Leah Day has videos on walking foot quilting. Melissa Marginet has a book on walking foot quilting that promises dozens of designs. Of course you can find several free videos online as well. If you’ve tried these or other walking foot quilting resources I’d love to get your feedback. I go to great lengths to avoid free motion quilting.

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A Few Small Repairs

Every blog reaches the point where it needs some new drapes and slipcovers as the old have gotten a bit shabby. I’ve begun that process here by deleting one feature – books about quilting that I like, and adding another – quilts I’ve made by type.

I own lots of books about quilting, even after giving away many of my books about traditional quilts and patterns. I make a point of looking at quilting books as they’re published, mostly by borrowing them from my library. However, I think that fewer books about quilting are being published, and that trend will continue. AQS will no longer publish new books, and I’ve noticed fewer titles on offer from other publishers. Some of the books that do get published, many focused on modern quilting and craft sewing, strike me as lean on content.

The availability of digital patterns and loads of free stuff on the internet, especially YouTube videos of techniques, make it so easy to do without books. Then, there are online classes from Craftsy, creativebug, and others. Of course, the classes impact the quantity of  in-person teaching available, as well.

The upshot is I realized I hadn’t added any books to that section of this blog in a few years and very few readers looked at it, so I felt it was time to retire it. You can still read reviews I’ve written by clicking on “books” under Topics. I plan to continue reviewing books of potential interest to me and my readers.

Now to the addition. When I began this blog I grouped photos of my quilts by years. Recently I thought about what types of quilts I’ve made over the years, and decided to sort my quilts by type. Turns out the majority are improvisational and graphic. Of course, my categories are a bit arbitrary as some quilts could fit more than one type. And another person would sort them differently.

I’ve kept the rest of the pages, including tutorials. I like to have tutorials I use a lot in one place. From my site’s stats it seems many people look at that page. Every so often I check to make sure the links still work, so I hope there’s not much link rot.

I’d love to hear your opinions as to what parts of this blog are helpful and/or interesting. Since I began it as a journal of my quilting experiences, I don’t cover topics I don’t care about, and it is indeed all about me and my opinions. I’ve made it public in hopes that others might learn from my experiences, especially from my goofs. One great, unanticipated, result of making my thoughts public is meeting my readers through their comments. Many thanks.

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Graphic Inspiration

I find it helpful to look at inspiration books that range farther afield than quilting. My latest non quilting book read is Graphic: 500 Designs That Matter, published by Phaidon. It’s a small but thick book divided into the images themselves and a timeline of all the images with more information about each.

The earliest image is from 1377, though most designs are drawn from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The most recent image is dated 2011-12. You’ll want to fasten your seat belt for this ride. The book sets a land speed record for ground covered. Just plunge in as there’s no readily apparent organization scheme, other than the editors’ perception of similarities between facing images.

About a quarter of the designs do nothing for me; about half intrigue me; and the rest give me ideas for quilt designs. I want to feature a few that I can see using in a quilt.

The curved diagonal lines and arrows combined with transparent overlays give movement and depth, and would make a great modern quilt.

I love the paper doll quality of the men’s suits – just cut out an appropriately scaled fabric. Detail is used sparingly in the men’s faces and hands. Definitely a design for raw edge applique.

This magazine cover could work well for narrow strip piecing (no curves) in subtly different shades. I like the NYC contained within the staggered BIG.

While a bit hard on the eyes, this logo for the Olympics in Mexico is a great quilting design inspiration. The break the X and I provide is a welcome relief.

I think the different ways these letters are drawn would work up well in bias tape of varying widths. You’d have to make up the rest of the alphabet, but that could be fun.

While not so immediately applicable to quilting, this design appeals to me for its Escher-like changeover from male to female legs.

I couldn’t resist this ad that features RCA spelled out in Morse code. Shades of my “Connect the Dots” quilt, below.

I’m sure everyone who looks at this book will choose different favorites, but that’s part of its appeal, along with the reasonable price of $25.

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Bewitched But Bewildered

I’ve read a lot of quilting books over the decades. I’ve looked at books on patterns, techniques, and design; plus picture books of quilt collections. I’m not a novice at extracting sense from such books.

However, my attempts to understand Wen Redmond‘s “Digital Fiber Art” have foundered. It’s as if I signed up for intermediate Spanish, thinking the six words I already knew would be adequate preparation. Instead, I’m catching the sense of about one sentence out of seven.

Redmond’s forte is printing digital imagery on fabric, paper, and other more unconventional surfaces. She assumes, rightly so, that her readers will know their way around Photoshop or other photo editing software. After all, the book’s title includes the word digital. I’m a novice there, though I have grand plans to take a course.

Where she loses me is there’s no overall step by step instructions or any supply list. I desperately need an introductory chapter that says here’s what I’ll cover, here’s what you need to get started, and here’s some fancy stuff to try. I now know something about the importance of pre-coats and post-coats but I have a hard time putting that information into context. I haven’t a clue about what kinds of fabric work best with this approach – she mentions organza, canvas, duck, cotton, but says nothing about the pros and cons of each. I’d also like to know how basic I can go with the raw materials and still have the potential for a decent outcome.

Even if I understood all aspects of the process, I gather printing my own digital fabrics would be costly. Redmond herself uses an Epson Stylus Photo printer. That will set you back at least $300. The various pre-coats and other supplies run $25 per bottle, if you want to prep your own fabric.  Cotton pre-treated fabric starts at about $83 for a 17 by 35 inch piece. Then there’s the pigment ink, which costs about $20-25 per cartridge. You can see how the costs could mount up. Mind you, Redmond isn’t shopping at Joann’s or Michael’s, but is buying professional grade materials.

There are copious examples of her work and some of the steps that went into each piece. They are great illustrations of the fertility of her imagination but I got confused. I never figured out if some of the interesting base effects shown are meant to be photographed and digitally manipulated, or be a substrate to be printed on.

Redmond is obviously expert at these techniques and produces some amazing art. However, for me her book is like watching a slide show at warp speed with no context. I keep wanting to say, back up a minute. Until I get more digital editing expertise under my belt and am willing to invest $1000 or so, this book will be borrowed from a library and not purchased. I need to start at digital fiber art for dummies.

However, I do recommend this book if you just want to take in some lovely eye candy. I think you could dumb down some of the ideas for printing on a humble inkjet printer, but just don’t expect the results to look like Redmond’s.

Trees Singing – Wen Redmond

Amazements of Tender Reflections – Wen Redmond

 

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