Category Archives: Commentary

Victoria Findlay Wolfe’s “Playing With Purpose”

I’ve been aware of Wolfe’s work ever since she won first place at an early QuiltCon for her deconstructed double wedding ring quilt. She began her career as an artist, but branched into quilting. Over the past several years she has designed fabric, opened a quilt store, taught classes, written books, and become an active presence on social media. With her most recent book, a retrospective of her work, I learned she also managed to make the 125 quilts shown, mostly since 2008, in addition to all her other activities. And these are mostly large quilts, easily 80 by 80 inches. My guess is she’s made at least 100 more quilts. She does have many of them quilted by others, but even so…

Most of her work is exuberant and lively, with lots of color and scrappy fabric. She often references traditional patterns, but will put a twist on them. Sometimes she serves tradition straight up. I’m showing a few quilts from the book that were new to me.

Wolfe tried out different styles before settling on what is now her signature. “Cheap Hotels” from 2010 uses a more minimalist approach without a block structure. It stands out in the book because there’s nothing else like it.

“Stripes, Plaids, and Polka Dots” is reminiscent of Gwen Marston’s work, with its bold zigzag border treatment. The stars and sashing are made with Wolfe’s 15 minutes of play technique, while the subdued stripes and plaids of the squares give all that busyness room to breathe. The different sizes of the background yellow/beige squares lend a casual air, while the polka dots capture the eye and direct it around the squares.

“Summer of Stars” works due to the ombre fabric surrounding the center star. I’d love to get my hands on some of it.

The following two quilts are great examples of how fabric choices and placement can change the look of a quilt. It takes an eye for abstraction to discern such possibilities.

While I don’t like every quilt in this book, I appreciate Wolfe’s willingnes to always try out an idea and use lots of different fabrics. She doesn’t let fear of “ruining” something stop her from pushing further. Her philosophy is: “You have to make ugly pieces and then learn from them. You have to make something that is just so fabulous that you look at it and think, Wow! I can’t believe I did that! For myself, the failure and the successes are equally valuable.”

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Filed under Books, Commentary

Nick Cave – Treasures From Tchotkes

I caught the recent Nick Cave exhibit (Nick Cave: Feat.) at the Akron Art Museum on its next to last day. Much to my surprise, I was won over by his sparkly, glittery, tawdry junk shop filled pieces. It’s too bad I missed the community performances held as part of the exhibit.

The work on display seemed to fall into three categories: stationary 3D wall and floor pieces, sound suits which Cave wears for performances, and whole room installations. The work was created from 2010 to 2019. A video made for the exhibit showed Cave shopping for tchotkes at thrift stores, the construction of some pieces by a small army of workers, and clips of performances.

This detail of a large wall sculpture highlights the ceramic birds Cave likes to use. The base is a crocheted afghan, over which several layers of stuff are mounted. Cave said he uses bird statues because they were viewed as art in his childhood home.
Detail of metal tin lids from a sound suit.
Sound suit covered with thousands of buttons. Workers do the sewing.
Another sound suit that features bowls made with plastic beads and large safety pins. Such bowls were popular with crafters a while ago.
Room installation of painted bamboo curtains. I found the images showed up more clearly in photos than in person.

Here’s what Cave said about his work:

This work speaks to craft but exceeds the notion of craft. The materials allow people to connect personally, because we can all identify with objects that have surrounded us in our homes at some point. In that way, the work can be nostalgic, and there’s that moment when you realize you’re in a shared language with the people around you. The found objects bring out all kinds of personal history. They also raise the question of how we honor domestic crafts like crochet and needlepoint, which are becoming less and less a part of our day-to-day lives. I like celebrating these practices and things that have traditionally brought beauty into our lives.

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Filed under Commentary, Exhibits, Inspiration

Next, Please

After many years of making quilts I find myself in a strange position. Right now I have only two unquilted tops, and one of those I may change, so that leaves just one. As for UFOs, none come to mind though maybe one or two small ones lurk hidden in the bottom of a drawer.

So I have no excuse not to get cracking on new designs. The time has come to work up all those drawings and inspirational photos I’ve saved. I’m starting with a photo of a puzzle by Rex Ray that I saved many years ago. A recent BluPrint class on bias tape applique by Latifah Saafir jogged my memory of that photo, and I decided to develop a mash up of that puzzle and bias tape.

Rex Ray Rallenta puzzle

First, I pulled together a pile of fabric possibilities because, for me, fabric almost always comes first. I wanted to use black and white prints for the curved shapes, with black bias tape edges, and backgrounds in bold solids.

Then, I developed a rough sketch from the Rex Ray puzzle and some rough dimensions for the blocks.

Next came practicing the bias tape technique. I had already signed up for a discounted trial of BluPrint so I could watch Latifah Saafir’s class on bias tape applique. Her technique seemed sensible so I tried it out on a sample block.

Let me note here that I dislike BluPrint as I’m constantly bombarded with ads that encourage me to purchase stuff from them, there’s no interaction possible with the instructors (you could chat with the instructors and fellow students on Craftsy, see this link about this), and the bias tape applique class isn’t listed as one of the “own forever” classes. I have an email in to BluPrint about that.

Latifaah has you begin stitching the bias tape on the inside edge using a zipper foot and moving your needle position. The cupping of the outer edge is supposed to happen. That gets fixed with lots of steam and ironing.
I’ve added an inner shape and more bias tape. I don’t like the shapes or the line you can see on the bias tape where the edges don’t quite meet. And let’s not talk about the fabrics. But that’s why you do a practice piece.

It seems I’m capable of using this technique and I think it has possibilities for my design, so all I need is yards of black bias tape and some shapes. Then, the fun of matching up my fabrics will begin.

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Filed under Art quilts, Commentary, In Process, Inspiration, Project Ideas

Missing Gwen

Not many quilt artists span the quilting world from traditional to modern and minimalist in their work. Gwen Marston did. She took her cues from the traditional folk art quilts she studied, but breathed new life into the form.

Two weeks before her death I looked at her book, “A Common Thread,” that shows over 60 quilts Gwen made and selected for this volume. It contains few words, just photo after photo of quilts made from 1976 to 2015. Here are my favorites.

So playful with the exuberant center panel and curved borders, and then the sawtooth edge
Love the casual placement of the berry clusters and the idiosyncratic roundness of the wreaths.
Those pops of turquoise and the one orange dagger!
Utterly simple, in fabrics I don’t like, yet there’s such movement in the strings.
This quilt captures stillness, and the hand quilting is sophisticated in its simplicity.

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Filed under Books, Commentary, Inspiration

Staying Relevant – Afghan War Rugs

I was shocked to see how current events have been incorporated in the ancient female rug weaving traditions of Afghanistan. Planes, tanks, guns, and helicopters show up as handwoven rug motifs. I gather this style began during the Soviet invasion, and continues today. I’m dismayed to contemplate that these might be the longest lasting artifacts of the U.S. presence in that country.

There’s lots more information at warrug.com, including links to specific motifs and exhibits of these rugs.

Bus with tanks and rockets

Grenade in middle

Helicopters, tanks, bullets, and Kalashnakovs

Tanks and cars

Weapon inventory

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Filed under Commentary

The Square Deal Falls Apart

I think the term square deal gained popularity thanks to Teddy Roosevelt who said, ” When I say that I am for the square deal, I mean not merely that I stand for fair play under the present rules of the game, but that I stand for having those rules changed so as to work for a more substantial equality of opportunity and of reward for equally good service.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Square_Deal

The words fair, honest, just, and equitable are used in many definitions of the term. However, my square deal began with cut squares of leftover fabric, ranging in size from 1.5 to 2.5 inches. I have bags of them, thanks to Bonnie Hunter’s scrap system, and I felt a need to put them to use.

So, I started sewing squares together, mostly into nine patches. Then I mashed those combinations together, filling in with strips where edges didn’t meet, or whacking off bits that hung over the edge.

To calm the chaos I divided the squares into four sections, separated by striped strips, and added a golden striped section beside each of the sections. That looked too tame.

I decided to deconstruct the connected squares and have them escape into the golden section. Just one or two looked lonely.

After consultation with an art quilt group I created many escapees, and padded them with batting. All the edges were turned under and stuck down with starch. I went through many arrangements of the squares, including squared up and crooked. Before I made my final choice I quilted the piece with a grid of different colors.

Crooked won out as I thought that better suited the idea of seams coming apart and squares flying off.

My quilt’s colors are bright and cheerful, yet I fear the outlook for the square deal in our society isn’t so optimistic. Would that our current president proposed a program like Teddy’s.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday.

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Filed under Commentary, Completed Projects

Two Come Home, Another Goes Out

Forgive me if I treat my quilts as my children. I like to send them out into the world, to be viewed (and enjoyed I hope) by others. Last week “In The Clouds” came back to me after three years on tour with SAQA’s “Concrete & Grassland” exhibit.

“In The Clouds” is hanging on the far left at the Festival of Quilts in England.

In The Clouds

It traveled to China, Ireland, and England with the exhibit. It’s too bad I couldn’t go with it.

Another work that came home this week was “Sur La Table” which was in a regional art show. It was one of two fiber works in the show. The rest were paintings, prints, photographs and 3D works.

“Rococo” is the latest work I sent out. It will be exhibited at the Mid-Atlantic Festival of Quilts in Hampton, Virginia, from February 28 to March 3. I’ll have it back by mid-March, a mere month after I mailed it.

Why do I exhibit my work? If I spend lots of time designing, making and finishing a piece that I think turns out well I enjoy the ego boost (I’m being honest here) of having it chosen for public display. Many of my pieces I wouldn’t consider submitting. They’re too idiosyncratic, derivative, or off in some way. Of course, pieces I love others don’t; and pieces I shrug at others think are great. I’m still trying to get “Mean Streets” shown somewhere.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday.

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Filed under Commentary, Completed Projects, Exhibits