Category Archives: Books

Quilts As Narrative

Before most of the population was literate visual art was used to tell stories. Think of the stained glass windows that illustrate the Bible in cathedrals, and the like. Quilts have been used to convey social messages for many years – family events, historical commemorations, and commentary on current events.

Ninety-seven quilts that tell stories of the African American experience in what became the United States are in the recently published book, And Still We Rise: Race, Culture and Visual Conversations. Carolyn Mazloomi, who curated the commissioned quilts, also organized the exhibit sponsored by the Cincinnati, Ohio, Museum Center, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, and the Women of Color Quilters Network.

The quilts in the book are arranged by chronological order of the events depicted. The first quilt commemorates the year, 1619, the first African slaves landed in Virginia. The last quilts depict two events from 2012 – the killing of Trayvon Martin and the enactment of voter ID laws in 11 states.

I’m interested in how well quilts can get across their message while being aesthetically appealing. Given that personal bias, the following quilts in the book were most appealing to me. I noticed it’s hard to integrate text and photos with patchwork. Some of the quilts reminded me of school bulletin board displays. But if it provides the viewer with new information then I’d say the quilt was successful.

Valerie Poitier "240 Million African Slaves Ago"

Valerie Poitier “240 Million African Slaves Ago”

Michael Cummings "Harriet Tubman"

Michael Cummings “Harriet Tubman”

April Thomas Shipp "An Open Book To Freedom"

April Thomas Shipp “An Open Book To Freedom” (Uncle Tom’s Cabin)

Lauren Austin "We Hid In the Woods and Swamp"

Lauren Austin “We Hid In the Woods and Swamp” (Rosewood, Florida)

Linda Gray "Plessy v. Ferguson"

Linda Gray “Plessy v. Ferguson”

Helen Murrell "We Are All Warmed By The Same Sun"

Helen Murrell “We Are All Warmed By The Same Sun” (Tuskegee syphilis study)


Viola Burley Leak "Katrina Wreckage and Tears"

Viola Burley Leak “Katrina Wreckage and Tears”

The curves in the photos are due to the book pages, not the quilts.





Filed under Art quilts, Books, Quilt Shows

Mixed Media Roundup, Part 3

I don’t want to keep you in suspense, so I’ll say right now this is the last installment of my mixed media book reviews. I saved techniques books written by Jane Davies and Sherrill Kahn for last. Why? Mostly because I’ve been dipping into their techniques and needed the time for paint to dry.

Though her book Adventures in Mixed Media (2011) focuses on small scale and 3D work, most of the work Davies shows on her website is larger and painted. I concentrated on the fabric chapters – fusion fabric and fiber and paper quilts and cloth collage, and skipped chapters on making books and boxes, ornaments and shrines, and even dolls.

Given the sincerely earnest messages of some mixed media pieces, I appreciated the lightheartedness of the projects shown below. I hope you can read the text on these pages.

Cleavage purse Jane Davies

Jimmy's Closet Jane Davies

But let me feature the technique I’ve been trying out – fabric paper. I’ll show you my attempts in a future post.

Adventures in Mixed Media Jane Davies

Sherrill Kahn spent many years teaching art in schools, and the techniques she presents in Mixed-Media Master Class (2013) reflect that. Most are easy to master and use low cost, often creatively reused materials. Here are some of the items I’ve used to print on fabric based on Kahn’s suggestions.

printing tools

Like Davies, Kahn works on paper as well as fabric, and some of her techniques wouldn’t work well with fabric. She presents lots of ideas, so if you don’t like one, flip forward a few pages and you’re likely to find another that suits. After all, the book’s subtitle is “50+ Surface-Design Techniques for Fabric &  Paper.” Be aware that she uses paint washes a lot to tie together her printing, so you shouldn’t be surprised if your efforts need that touch to make them look good.

Unlike Davies’ book, Kahn’s is organized by types of techniques: resists, textures, rubbings and printmaking.  The descriptions of materials you can use to create surfaces is better than the usual and the most expensive material is probably matte gel medium.

Here’s a sample set of pages.

Kahn sampleHere’s one of the sample fabric projects from Kahn’s book. The techniques used are listed at the lower left. Many of the projects done on paper are more luminous.

Kahn sample project

I’ve tried the following techniques: making fabric cord, Inktense pencils on fabric, crayon resist, masking tape resist, stenciling with oil pastels, wet into wet paint on pole wrapped fabric, rubbings with assorted objects, fun foam prints, rubber band prints, styrofoam plate prints, and hair gel thickened paint. Some of my experiments were better than others, but I may have to buy a copy of this book.

One footnote. I have no idea why the term “mixed media” is hyphenated in one book and not the other. I assume it’s due to the editorial practices of different publishers.



Filed under Art quilts, Books, Fabric Printing, Inspiration, Project Ideas, Techniques

Mixed Media Roundup, Part 2

Compilations of techniques are popular for mixed media books. I looked over The Cloth Paper Scissors Book by Barbara Delaney, and The Mixed-Media Artist by Seth Apter. They expose you to many different artistic styles and show possibilities you may never come up with on your own. On the negative side, they skim the surface of techniques. Four pages just isn’t enough explanation if you’re totally new to a technique.

The Cloth Paper Scissors Book contains articles previously published in Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, so if you subscribe to that, you may already have the articles. Contents cover printmaking and surface design, journals and bookmaking, collage and assemblage, mixed-media stitching, and encaustic, metal and jewelry. Many of the articles focus on paper, but I think some could be done on fabric as well.

I concentrated on the stitching and surface design articles, as journaling, book making, etc., hold no appeal for me. In fact, the journal/book making aspects of mixed media often raise my hackles. The creations seem so self-absorbed, and require so many pricey stencils, stamps, inks, spray paints, etc.

Here’s an example of what I dislike in mixed media. Badly drawn face, a few big stitches, a button that doesn’t relate to anything else, and a piece of wretched “poetry” that references angels. It needs only flowers, and heart and key charms to complete its twee-ness.

twee art example

I liked Dorit Elisha’s use of stitch in this collage based on a screen print of an old photo. I believe the base is heavy paper, with fabric raw edge stitched on top. The zigzag stitch adds variety.

stitched collage Dorit ElishaThis book is best for browsing. Once I found some artists of interest, I went to their websites for further information. I also put a library hold on the latest issue of the magazine.

The Mixed-Media Artist by Seth Apter features several artists’ responses to prompts such as below the surface, imaginary worlds, and the face I show the world. One section focuses on 30 artists and their self-portraits. Each was asked to list 3 things they’re inspired by and 4 things on their studio table. Most responses were material objects, with a few surprises such as “the caramel aroma of fallen leaves in October” as an inspiration; and “uncertainty” as one of the items on a studio table.

In A Portrait Or The Likeness of a Man Will Ashford

Interleaved with photos of work (and there are lots) are responses to an online artist survey and some descriptions of specific artistic processes. The survey responses didn’t do much for me. I saw them as padding, and would have preferred more “how I made this” information.

The Chairman Trudi Sissonss

The best parts of The Mixed-Media Artist are the artists’ explanations of what inspired their work. Trudi Sissons created The Chairman (above) in response to the prompt long-term memory. As she explains, she was deeply affected by reading “Wherever You Go, There You Are.” The author of that book encouraged readers to pick a board of directors to serve as their internal advisors, and Trudi named Vincent van Gogh as chair of her internal board. Through photo imaging software, she melded parts of van Gogh’s paintings with a graphite drawing. I’ve talked before about copying famous art, but this piece samples it to create something new.

Like the Cloth Paper Scissors Book, The Mixed-Media Artist is good for browsing, but it’s less helpful for techniques. I had no doubt I was looking at the work of serious artists rather than crafters. It’s worth looking for at your library, but I wouldn’t purchase it just for myself.




Filed under Books, Inspiration, Project Ideas, Techniques

Mixed Media Roundup, Part 1

Now that my arm problem appears to be “shoulder impingement” (doesn’t that sound like a traffic offense?) I realize I need to change the kind of art I make for a while. No more quilts that involve lots of pieces and cutting and sewing. And no more quilts larger than about 40 inches.

My response has been to gather information about other art techniques that are similar to quilting but are considered more surface design or mixed media. Besides, I always welcome a chance to take in some eye candy. I visited my library and hauled off several books about surface design. Some are already back on the library shelves, but some I’d like to share with you.

mixed media books 1 (2)Today I’ll go over Reclaimed Textiles by Kim Thittichai and Sew Wild by Alisa Burke. The former book has crossed the pond so the artists, materials and resources pertain to the UK. I have no idea what the US equivalents are to solufleece and bondaweb. That said, the book features some seriously inventive artists who reuse waste, including plastic bags. I’d love to take an experimental textile course from Kim and plan to take a closer look at the projects on her blog.

Orange Lace Dress by Judith Hammond

Orange Lace Dress by Judith Hammond

All that lace is melted supermarket plastic bags. And how about these cunning repurposed satin bridal shoes decorated with felt and tulle by Helen McKenna?

Yellow and Green Shoes Helen McKennaI have no idea how wearable they are, but they look great and, according to Kim, show the influences of South America, Frida Kahlo, and the Day of the Dead on Helen’s work.

Reclaimed Textiles has a few projects, but I’m using it more for the possibilities it presents. I don’t know if I’m ready to make fabric by ironing several plastic bags together, but you never know.

Speaking of plastic bags, they’re just one of the materials Alisa Burke uses in Sew Wild. This book leans heavily to the DIY craft side of mixed media. The two main sections cover surface design (painting, printing, resist, discharge) and stitching techniques. There are a dozen projects that I think would appeal more to teenage girls than to me. They feature lots of raw fabric edges and what Alisa calls messy stitches.

Rosette Pillow Alisa BurkeHere’s her version of an art quilt.

Alisa BurkeThe DVD included with the book shows the various processes nicely. It seems Alisa has produced online classes about her techniques, which can be accessed on her website. I think this book would be helpful to someone just beginning to experiment with mixed media techniques, but I find the work somewhat slapdash and there’s little design guidance.

On the next leg of my trip through mixed media land I’ll feature compilations of work by mixed media artists.


Filed under Books, Fabric Printing, Inspiration, Project Ideas

Gwen Marston’s “Minimal Quiltmaking”

I did meet Gwen in California last year and can say she is shyly elf-like.

Original Post:

Gwen Marston has been recognized for many decades as an influential quiltmaker. She developed her style early in her career or, as art quilters like to say, found her voice. Amish and what I call primitive quilts have been huge influences on her work. She quilts much of her work by hand.

Gwen’s most recent focus is minimal quilts. These are featured in her latest book, Minimal Quiltmaking. This is a process oriented book that articulates an approach to quilt design, not a quilt pattern book.

By minimal Gwen means quilts that have been stripped to their essence – sparse shapes done in solid colors. She divides her chapters into hard edge, minimal color, and art inspired quilts.  While she features many of her own quilts, she also gives space to quilts made by others in a minimal style.  This is helpful as it shows other quilt personalities.

Gwen’s process is partly intuitive, but not improvisational. She often begins with a traditional basic form – medallion, log cabin, strippy – and builds from there. She also uses pencil and fabric sketches. While she may begin with a plan, she believes one should remain open to opportunities that present themselves during the construction process.

As Gwen points out, designing a minimal quilt is hard, and it gets harder when you set limits such as using only one color or only pale neutrals.

gwenmarston Minimal in NeutralsMinimal in Neutrals by Gwen Marston

gwenmarston TurquoiseTurquoise by Gwen Marston

In the two quilts above, you can really see the difference in texture created by hand quilting versus machine quilting.  The neutrals one was hand quilted, and I just want to run my hands over it. You can see how much hand quilting adds to the piece below as well. I can’t believe I’d be advocating hand quilting, since I do only machine quilting, but there it is.

gwenmarston Medallion IIMedallion II by Gwen Marston

Minimal Purple Kristin ShieldsMinimal Purple by Kristin Shields (above) is an example of a hard edged quilt that combines hand and machine quilting. That may be the way I end up going on some quilts I have in process.

To get to the bottom line, is this book worth spending $24.95? The answer may depend on where you are in your quilting journey and what inspirational resources you already have. If you don’t have many, the photos are well worth the money. And if you want examples of stunning hand quilting, you’ll want the book for the last chapter alone. If you already have lots of quilt calendars that feature glorious old quilts or books of Amish quilts, you may want to borrow rather than buy this book, though I hope you’ll have the chance to spend some time browsing through it.


Filed under Books

So You Want To Sell Your Quilts

Another blast from the past. I wish I had found more insights to offer, but all I can suggest are personal websites and exhibiting your work. I want to note this post focuses on selling already made quilts, not commissioned pieces. Please let me know of any other paths to selling your work.

Original Post:

Many folks in the quilting world sell quilting services – hand and machine quilting, fabric, patterns – but fewer have set out to sell their quilts.  I know only one or two quilters who actively market their quilts and they are art quilters.

So, where would you go to sell your quilts?  There aren’t many places that sell just quilts.  New York City has a quilt gallery and towns in and around Amish communities often have quilt/fabric stores. Of course, those stores feature Amish quilts.  Luckily, the internet has opened up a vast marketplace, unfettered by your geographic location (unless FedEx, UPS and the like don’t serve your area.)  Unluckily, that vastness makes it hard to reach a likely audience for your quilts.

Since business people are quick to spot opportunity, websites that specialize in crafts markets have popped up. They serve as go-betweens, offering a “store” to display merchandise, web links for purchasing items, and other accoutrements of trade.  This can be a great boon to individual craftspeople who don’t have the expertise, time, and/or resources to do all that from scratch.  Of course, there are fees involved when you list your items, even if they don’t sell; and more fees and/or a percent of the sale price when you sell an item.

I’ve been learning about crafts e-tailing through Selling Your Crafts Online, by Michael Miller.  Since I don’t plan to start selling my quilts I skipped much of the fees information and the step by step instructions for setting up accounts, and concentrated on the online marketplaces. If you’re considering online selling this book seems like a good place to start, especially if you don’t want to create your own website. Some of the business and pricing strategy seems like business 101, but it never hurts to restate the obvious.

Like most crafters I knew about eBay, the behemoth of the business that sells any and everything, and Etsy, which is handmade crafts oriented.  However, Mr. Miller introduced me to Artbreak, Artfire, Artful Home, Artist Rising, Artspan, Bonanza, Craft Is Art, Crobbies, Funky Finds, Handmade Artists Shop, Handmade Catalog, Hyena Cart, Made It Myself, ShopHandmade, Yessy, and Zibbet.  Talk about A to Z!

eBay has page after page of quilt listings, but the offerings range from old quilts to ones made yesterday, with quilt tops and supplies thrown into the mix. Unless I were cranking out lots of similar baby quilts I wouldn’t use eBay to sell my quilts. Etsy lists many quilts in all styles and price ranges, though you’re more likely to find modern style quilts there.  I think Etsy is a better fit for many quilt makers, unless they create high end art quilts.

Only a few of the other sites listed quilts for sale at the time I checked them out. Artful Home displays gallery quality art and contemporary quilts. Craft Is Art has a few quilts for sale, mostly wall hangings and table runners. Handmade Artists Shop offers quilts that are craft, not art, oriented; as does Handmade CatalogYessy had a strange mix of quilts, many from one maker.  There sure are a lot of people trying to sell their crafts.

Time for me to have a cup of tea. I’m exhausted from that shopping trip, and I didn’t even take off my slippers.

11/15/2014 UPDATE

A reader of this blog has suggested that folks may want to check out the web services offered by Shopify, an e-commerce service, to sell their quilts. I have no experience with this outfit, so I can’t give any opinion. I do see that the basic charge for this service is $29 a month, plus a per credit card transaction charge. You can try it out for free, according to the website. My personal take is you’d want to compare costs with other online sales services to see what might work best for you. You’d need to have enough inventory to justify a recurring monthly charge for a “shop.”


Filed under Books

“The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters”

I’ve been vacillating about reviewing this book by Sherri Lynn Wood as I admired parts, and became extremely impatient with other aspects. Other quilters have responded much more positively to this book (see Fresh Lemons Quilts for an example) so be aware that responses vary wildly.

Wood improv handbook cover

It’s another modern quilt focused book about freeing your work through improvisational quilting. Lucie Summers (“Quilt Improv”) and Alexandra Ledgerwood (“Improvising Tradition”) have written recent books on the topic.

Wood’s take on improv is to divide different types of improv into scores (as in musical) that correspond loosely to squares, string piecing, flying geese, curved piecing, etc. She devotes a chapter to each, showing how she made a quilt for each score. I like that she includes quilts made by other quilters to interpret the scores. You can see many of them on Wood’s website. She also gives a lot of guidance for techniques to deal with the fallout of ruler free improv work; the pleats, the lumps, the gaps, the overlaps, etc.

You read that right – ruler free. Wood’s approach derives from Nancy Crow and the Gee’s Bend quilters. Crow doesn’t permit her students to use rulers but trains them how to cut by eye. The Gees Bend quilters lopped off and added fabric to make pieces fit and didn’t worry about squared off edges.

Anyone trained in classical quilt making with precision points and lots of ruler use will shudder while reading this book. Wood celebrates all the by the seat of the pants make-dos that are drummed out of new quilters. That may not be a bad thing. Too often quilters get so focused on the technical aspects of their work and following the pattern they forget about the fun of just in time decisions and building a quilt to suit themselves.

However, these improv techniques can be dangerous (joke!) in the hands of quilters inexperienced with making independent design decisions. Wood studied with Nancy Crow and has made quilts for many years, so she has developed a sense of design and color.

The improv round robin quilts featured in one chapter were clunky and awkward to my eye.  I know that’s judgmental, but I don’t believe every improv quilt is great or even OK. It takes far more effort than is apparent to make a good looking improv quilt, and I think that half of the improv quilts I’ve made don’t hit the mark.

I mention this only because quilters new to improv shouldn’t get discouraged at their initial results. It’s always fun to cut up a “failure” and reuse it.

Wood gives helpful advice on beginning improv work, though I winced at some of her word choices. Here’s her synopsis for the strings score: “curate your fabrics, set limits for three distinct string sheets, define your patchwork procedure, create a composition with the string sheets.”  (Sorry, I have a knee jerk negative reaction to curating anything. Can’t I just pick my fabrics?) Actually, this is similar to The Parts Department used in “Freddy and Gwen Collaborate Again,” which was published in 2009. This review by Dining Room Empire captures the flavor of Gwen Marston’s and Freddy Moran’s approach.

Lovers of fine quilt construction will gasp in horror when they read the techniques section of this book. Wood shows how to take a dart in a quilt top to remove a bump. Personally I thought I would do that in some circumstances. Same with darting across curves. I know, I know. If you constructed your top correctly you wouldn’t have to resort to such methods. Wood is definitely not a strict constructionist. One of her quilting references is “Accidentally On Purpose: The Aesthetic Management of Irregularities in African-American Quilts” by Eli Leon.

Wood’s method of wedge strip piecing on a curve is about the only technique I’m inclined to try, mostly because I’ve already done a lot of her other techniques by accident or design. I have issues with the finishing methods given here for binding. I just hate overlapped binding ends because of the lump created.

My larger issue with Wood is her application of new-agey concepts to quilting. I’m to nurture an improvisational mind, journal, center myself before I start working, be present, and cut from my core. Not only are my knees jerking, but my eyes are rolling. Personally, I find such stuff pretentious, but I understand these terms may appeal to many. Quilting is a big tent with many roads to it.

Since pictures speak louder than words, here are quilts created by other quilters for this book that appealed to me. From the top they are “Burning Love” by Mina Kennison, “Indigo Bloom” by Latifah Saafir, and “Letting Go” by Drew Steinbrecher.  Each shows a well developed design and color sense.

Score for Modern Block Improv Mina Kennison Score for Bias Strip Petals Latifah Saafir Score for Get Your Curve On Drew Steinbrecher



Filed under Books, Modern Quilting