I have made several quilts on the theme of Freedom and Liberty over the past few years and have just completed another for the group 12 by the Dozen. I didn't set out with that intention, but this recurring theme emerged from my research into the work of the textile artist Jean Lurçat. (Find out more about Lurçat and his work here.) Initially I was not drawn to his work at all - at first glance it appeared to me to be chaotic and confusing - too much to take in. But after some (slow) research I began understand what I saw now I like it very much.
Here is a very small selection of some of his tapestries to give you a flavour of his work ...
I have also created a Pinterest board with lots more of Lurçat's work, including his paintings and ceramics. Click here to see the board.
If, like me, you are new to Lurçat's work, one of the first things to know is that much of his work is in tapestry, a somewhat unconventional medium in modern times.
From Medieval times, and up until around the end of the 15th Century, the artistry of tapestry was highly prized. Enormous tapestries graced the walls of great buildings, forming part of the architecture they decorated. They served to keep the place warm as well as conveying messages and having their own decorative features. However, from the 16th Century and the beginnings of the Renaissence, painting and sculpture pushed out other forms of art and tapestry came to be regarded as somewhat 'oldschool'. If tapestry was to survive it needed to look more like a painting than a traditional tapestry, The result was that in 1773 the French state run Gobelins weaving works raised the dye palette of wool for tapestry from 20 (twenty) to an incredible 14,400 possible tones. Hence, the cost of producing wool in this many variations went through the roof and Gobelins reached the point where they were having to dye 1,456 pounds of wool swatch to get 44 pounds of tapestry. It was untennable; the upshot of this was that the price of creating a tapestry (that wasn't exactly on trend anyway) became impossibly huge and largescale tapestry production all but stopped.
In around 1915 Jean Lurçat began exploring his art. One of the pieces of art that captivated him was the incredible piece of Medieval art known as The Apocalypse Tapestry (click here to find out more). It was this set of tapestries which set him on the path to becoming one of the modern day artists (along with William Morris) aclaimed for their role in the revival of contemporary tapestry.
The issue of producing so many different colours to create tapestries led Lurçat to conclude "you do not get the subtleties of Bonnard even with 14,400 tones (of wool)" After much thought he set about devising a tapestry colour palette using a "scale of pre-arranged colour" that would hopefully bring tapestry creation back into the realms of feasability.
His success in this quest means that all tapestry now, more or less, follows Lurçat's system of limitation of colours. He used just 5 shades each of red, blue, grey and ochre, four shades of green and six of yellow plus one black and one white, making thirty-two in all; quite a difference from 14,400!
To satisfy my own curiosity, I decided to make a colour study of my own using Lurçat's work. By looking closely at his work I was able to see how cleverly he used colour to make his work almost 'glow'. I then used it to create my own collction of fabrics using what I discovered.
Lurçat's Design Process
Whilst researching Lurçat's work online I also came across a few images of him designing his enormous tapestries at his atelier. Like many people I find it very interesting to see an artist's process. It also helped me to understand the scale of his work.
A few other interesting facts:
The weaver of Lurçat's designs (he was not a maker himself) had to follow strict design guidelines and was to have absolutely no artistic freedom in the creation of the piece. Once Lurçat presented his design, the 'carton' (translated into English as 'cartoon' which is the drawn 'pattern' ) was to be faithfully recreated to achieve exactly what Lurçat had envisioned as the end a result. In essence, it was a non-interpretive code in which the weaver would have no question as to what the designer required.
Additionally, Lurçat mades it very clear that the idea of fashioning a tapestry after a painting, especially one that had originally been painted with no intention of becoming a tapestry, was misrepresentative and disrespectful to the art form. (He would probably, therefore, not be happy about what I did next!)
Lastly, he was adamant that each tapestry should be embedded with content; it should thrive as a partner to architecture and therefore be invariably large scale and designed and thought of as being forever connected to the architecture it was designed for. "I want to remind you that Tapestry knew its proudest moments in a time when a style of extremely grandiose architecture reigned supreme".
For my small quilt (sorry M. Lurçat) I chose several recurring motifs from his work: the sun medallion, butterflies and cockerel. Many of his artworks, tapestries as well as his pottery, have variations of these motifs deeply embedded into their narative. More specifically I was attracted to two of his works that focus on the theme of Liberty: one he created in 1943 and the second in 1948 (see below). They were his response to a poem of the same name, written by another famous French artist, Paul Eluard, (You can read the poem in English and French here.)
I am sure it is a coincidence, but this unusually vibrant yellow colour is very similar to that which I used in my two previous quilts focussing on Liberty - perhaps that is what made me notice them?
I find these two tapestries striking - so much so I wanted to recreate my own 'Liberty' piece along similar lines. Using fused applique pices from the fabric selection I made earlier I created a medallion motif and sectioned it in a similar way to Lurçat.
This is my interpretation of Lurçat's 'Liberte'; my newest version of 'Freedom' using motifs familiar to dwellers of the 21st century: White poppies symbolising pacifism, an olive brach of peace and butterflies, free to go where they choose. The sun's rays represent optimism for a brighter future, but the barbed wire, still lingering, is ready to spread its pain. And at the top, instead of Lurçat's French Cockerel I have placed a dove, flying high over a rising sun.
It is a bit of a different quilt for me - but I have really enjoyed finding out more about this quite different artist and trying something new. I feel it may be the beginning of something. I'm not quite sure what yet, but time will tell.
As a final thought, earlier this summer I was very kindly taken by my friend Liz to the Grayson Perry exhibition in Bristol. He too is working in tapestry on a grand scale, telling contemporary stories. Whilst I thought they were impressive, they did not have a great effect on me at the time. It is only now I am seeing them from a new perspective.
Thanks for reading.
Following on from my last blog, this is the second of my 16 inch square quilts made in my 'Works inspired by artists' series for the group '12 by the Dozen'. This time the artist chosen was Wilhelmina Barnes Graham, chosen by Linda Bilsborrow, and what a great choice it was. You can find out more about her by clicking here.
Below is a tiny taste of her work.
The inspiration for this next quilt comes from my study of her drawings, and in particular, her 'Line' series. One of my favourites is titled 'Music of the Sea' which you can see by clicking here. I find the simplicity of this work fascinating. Simply by the repeated use of hundreds of thin lines Barnes-Graham was able to capture enormous energy and movement in her drawings and is a perfect example of 'rhythm' in design terms. That is what I wanted to explore.
As I wanted to create a portrait again I chose a sketch I made several years ago of a man I once knew named Paul.
Taking this drawing as a starting point I drew several new versions of Paul's face, concentrating on using only thin lines to mark the contours of the face. The progression below shows what I did. I deliberately did not use as many lines as Barnes-Graham as I wanted to leave space to add more lines with the quilting stitches later. I must say, it does remind me of a map!
Once I was happy with the drawing I made a series of mono prints by reversing the image and drawing onto the back of a piece of white cotton fabric that was laid onto a sheet of glass covered in oil based printing ink. It is a technique I love to use and have described several times in the past. (Click here for a recent blog post describing the technique)
As I had a lot of ink on the plate I decided to make several prints. One of the early prints was especially dark and the lines lost much of their definition (too much wet ink on the printing plate) so I ended up turning the fabric over and using the back of the print which was much more subtle.
Once the ink was fully dry (about 4 days) I used Markal oilsticks and a dry toothbrush to add hints of colour to the fabric. I used turquoise, Wedgewood blue and muddy grey colours, similar to those Barnes-Graham used in 'Sea Movement' (see image below; click here for more details of this piece) Once it was dry (another few days) I free motion quilted further thin lines with black thread, echoing and enhancing the lines already in the drawing .
He looks quite a sombre old man, don't you think? I am not entirely happy with the bottom left corner of the piece, I think I got it wrong when I added that diagonal line coming up from his chin area. I also don't like the dark grey shading I added in the very bottom left corner, continuing from his jersey. In an attempt to understand better what I had done I decided to make a second piece to address the problems, which you can see below.
It is mostly similar, but the colours are a little more vibtant, the lines thinner and less dark and the bottom left corner has been tidied up, I think it is a much better version - and he doesn't look so glum either.
I am happy to say that 'Old Man II' is currently on his way to New Zealand (via South Africa) to be part of an exhibition by members of '12 by the Dozen' at the National Quilt Symposium in Auckland, 1st to 6th October 2019. Further details can be found by clicking here.
Many thanks to Rosemary Rush for organising this fabulous opportunity for us.
For my next blog post I will share the third and latest quilt I have made, inspired by the work of German artist, Gabrielle Münter, chosen by Uta Lenk.
Thanks for reading.
This copper quilt is driving me mad! I don't think I have ever spent so long over the development of a quilt as this. For once I I had too many ideas and I decided to explore all the possibilities, which has all taken time:
copper used for electrical wiring, circuits & microschips;
copper fixed to the hulls of ships to reduce the amount of fouling and thus make them faster, so slave ship owners would loose less of their 'perishable' human cargo;
copper mined in Cornwall and refined in South Wales, forming the backbone of the economy for the south west until cheaper copper was found elsewhere;
the little known copper-age, ( about 4500 B.C. to 3500 B.C.) where copper metal was worked on a relatively large scale in part because it is found in "large pure ingots in a natural state" in many different locations around the world;
Copper used in medicine as an antiseptic to sterilize, cure eye ailments, help with immunity and TB treatment, give relief from arthritis and as a contraceptive .....
The list goes on, but I wanted to research each of these ideas before I narrowed down my options.
Happily, today, I made a final decision and brought together my refined ideas to form a resolved design. It is a huge relief!
I finally decided the narrative for this quilt would be the Roman goddess Venus, who, in Western classical tradition, is the most beautiful of all goddesses and is the living embodiment of fertility, love and sexuality. Her birth and subsequent life story is inextricably linked with the island of Cyprus, ancient home of the metal copper.
Venus is also known as the 'Alchemical goddess', because she alone had magical powers that could cause both gods and mortals to do as she wished. One thing I rather like about Venus is that she does not fit the image of a 'vulnerable' woman as do many other goddesses, and in classical times was never victimised or made to suffer because she was a woman. She was mother of Cupid and many, many others; she cast spells which resulted in mortals and gods falling in love and conceiving new life; she turned a statue into a living woman for Pygmalion; she inspired poetry and declarations of love. Whole goddess cults grew around her, (some still continuing to this day) focusing on fertility and love. Such was her popularity and power, even Julius Caesar himself declared her an ancestral relative.
During the Renaissance Venus's popularity as a 'sexual' goddess made her a subject of great interest and depictions of her became the classical nude figure. What is interesting to me is though, is how, over time, such depictions have gradually transformed the notion of 'Venus the revered goddess' into a simple nude female sex object. This change is what I decided to explore with my quilt.
I have decided to call this quilt 'Goddess or Sex Object?' and have used Botticelli's painting of Venus as a starting point.
I have kept the quilt top in two parts, to reflect this dual view of Venus and have cut into the quilt to create a large venus symbol. To join the two sides I have created something 'appropriate' - I hope people can figure out what they are supposed to be!
This is how the quilt currently looks.....
It still isn't finished as I have more to work on at the top of the quilt, but I am finally happy with the direction it is going.
Thanks for looking.
And so I finally got there. I have been thinking about this for so long now it seems like it is an old idea, but this week I have finally got it 'out'. The beginnings of a piece of work on copper, element 29. It is that shiny, reddish metal that was probably the first ever metal to be worked my man.
The oldest metal object found to date in the Middle East consists of a tiny copper awl dating to around 5100 B.C. The artifact was unearthed in Tel Tsaf, an archaeological site in Israel located near the Jordan River and Israel's border with Jordan.
In my research into this common place metal I have learned some very interesting things......
Anyway, with this and more buzzing around inside my head I got out my sketchbook and started to mess about. Here are a few of the pages:
Although copper does not readily corrode as much as iron, its surface does oxidise when exposed to air. The oxide layer, unlike rust on iron which flakes off, remains on the surface of the copper in a beautiful green layer known as verdigris. This is the colour I decided to dye the fabric for the copper quilt.
The best verdigris colours came from a recipe using turquoise, bright blue and golden yellow procion dyes. The rest of the greens will probably end up being overdyed again transformed into something for another quilt about lead!
Using some of the symbols from my sketchbook pages I made some print blocks from foam and lino and printed onto the green fabrics. I also used a monoprinting technique to create other thin lines and marks, all which have some connection with copper. You can see some of the results below. The fabrics have been cut into strips and pieced in a similar way as the other alchemy quilts I have made.
And these are two long strips I have stitched together, alongside the original quilt which was the first in the series which has just returned from a trip to China (I wish I could have accompanied it!).
As for what comes next, I am not sure. I obviously want to add stitch - I have some thin copper wire I would like to try - and I am also thinking about using copper leaf and copper shim, but as to how - that remains to be seen. I think some experimenting is in order!
Thanks for reading.
Autumn has arrived here in New Zealand, and it is beautiful. This is the tree just outside our house; I don't think I have ever seen such vibrantly coloured leaves.
Walking among the fallen leaves, I can't resist picking up handfuls and throwing them in the air then watching them tumble down like confetti.
Just for fun I decided to collect some of the most brightly coloured specimens and spend the day playing around with them. These are just a few pictures.
First I just spent time looking at them closely, arranging them in different ways.
I took photos and played around, creating layers using GIMP - the free version of Photoshop. It is so easy to experiment in ways that would be so difficult to do without such software.
Then I moved on to working in a sketchbook with acrylic paint, a fine black pen and a craft knife
And finally I stitched a few bundles of leaves together. Whilst they are soft and supple it wasn't too difficult. They are now under a heavy weight to try and keep them flat whilst they dry out. I have no idea what will happen to them!
I have no plans for any of this,but sometimes it is nice to do something for no good reason!
Thanks for reading.
I am still working on my sulfur quilt and as I have been working in creating the fabrics I have been thinking about the life the carusi must have endured. Sold to the mine owners or workers for an agreed number of years, what must they have thought of their lives as they hauled heavy loads of sulfurous rock from deep underground up to the surface? They often lived, ate and slept somewhere in the mine, having no proper home to return to. For many boys their only escape from this dreadful life was to be rescued by being called up for military service.
The artist Onofrio Tomaselli created this painting in 1905 after staying for some time with Baron La Lumia, a wealthy sulfur mine owner, and witnessing at first hand the fate of the carusi. The painting was exhibited in 1906 in Milan at the World's Fair and was a tribute to 19 carusi who lost their lives in one of many terrible accidents at La Lumia's sulfur mine in Gessolungo, which occurred in 1881. I guess it shows that there were, at least, some people with a conscience at the time.
(Source: Davide Mauro (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)
For the fabrics, I dyed lots of yellows as you would probably expect. Starting with lemon and golden yellow fiber reactive dye I added very small amounts of orange, rust, bronze and chartreuse to create interesting mottled backgrounds. Onto that I monoprinted shapes, words and other marks that help tell the story of the carusi.
The fabrics have turned out to be very interesting - I added very dense print marks, which may mean the quilt will end up with very 'busy' look, so I will have to be very careful when positioning the different pieces.
Planning ahead, I decided to check out how the straight quilting lines would look over the young boy's face, so I made a small trial piece. Although it may seem like an extra step, I prefer to try out important design features to ensure I am happy with the effect before moving on with a design. I have used this simple but effective straight line quilting pattern on the other quilts in this series, so I was keen to continue using it, but not if it comporomised the overall look of the quilt. Happily, I think it works well.
As I have no plan for this small sample I have entered it into that SAQA 2017 trunk show. I hope it arrives in time!
I am now in the process of positioning the fabrics on the design wall to create the quilt top. I usually take a quick photo of several different variations and then look at them to see what works and what needs to be changed. Somtimes a layout just falls into place, but when it doesn't I find this really helpful.
I'll let you know how it develops in my next post. Until then, thanks for reading.
One week on and here it is - the finished quilt 'Dragon's Blood'.
I don't think I have ever made a quilt so quickly and enjoyed the process so much. The hardest thing about the whole project was choosing the title! It is my entry to the SAQA challenge 'Made in Europe'. (Dragon's Blood was the name often given to red pigments by the Romans - no matter what their source!)
I am so pleased with how well it came together. As most of the preparatory work had already been done in my sketchbook it was just a matter of cutting the fabrics and playing about with them on the design wall to work out the best arrangement of textures and colours.
The other thing I am really pleased with is the cotton sateen fabric. The photograph doesn't show nearly how beautiful this fabric looks. It is the first time I have worked it and I am completely in love. The cloth is soft and easy to stitch, yet firm enough not to stretch or distort and has the most delicious sheen. I wish I had started using it years ago!
I mentioned in the last blog post that it is a follow-on piece from a quilt I made a few year ago, called Chrysopoeia. Now 'Dragon's Blood' is finished I can show you them both together.
The large silver symbol on the new quilt is one of the many symbols used to represent Mercury - both the planet and the rather unusual silver-skinned metal. (I have always been fascinated by the symbols the Alchemists used to represent the chemicals they knew of).
Mercury is a relatively rare metal, whose use has long been irreplaceable in a variety of technical, chemical and industrial processes. It has only ever been produced in substantial quantities by a small number of mines worldwide, the largest of which is in Almadén, Spain. Almedén has the largest reservoirs of cinnabar (the ore which yields mercury) in the world and in 1937 60% of the world's mercury came from its mines. Competition from China means that the mines are now closed, but Almadén has become a World Heritage site on the strength of its past.
As well as being the major source of metallic mercury, cinnabar has another use. When ground into a fine powder it makes the intense red pigment known as vermillion and was embraced by artists during the Renaissance. True vermilion isn't a uniform shade, as it varies from a brilliant orange-red to a duller, bluer red, depending on the consistency of the cinnabar grounds — the finer the powder, the more brilliant the hue.
With this in mind I decided to use fully saturated shades of red for most of the quilt, even though I knew that would make it pretty intense!
As I continued to work of the design of the quilt I made the decision to continue to using Alchemists symbols as marks on the fabric. I chose the following as the main symbols and made the marks using the mono print technique with black and silver textile ink.
For the final part of the design of the quilt I wanted to incorporate something of the story of Alexander Calder's mercury fountain. Calder was commissioned by the Spanish Republican Government to create a piece for the 1937 World Exhibition in Paris. Although highly toxic, Calder chose to use mercury to create a kinetic sculpture to welcome visitors to the Spanish Pavilion. The mercury in his fountain had a double significance: acting as the driving force of the piece, and also paying tribute to the people of Almadén who suffered greatly at the hands of Franco's fascist troops during the Spanish Civil War. Among other works, the World Fair Spanish pavilion also contained Picasso's iconic painting Guernica and Miro's painting 'The Reaper'.
'Mercure Espagnol D'Almadén'
After the exhibition Calder donated the Mercury Fountain to the Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona, as a mark of his friendship with Miró. It is now displayed behind very thick permanently sealed glass to ensure the poisonous mercury vapors never escape.
So, that is this quilt finished, and for my next one..............sulphur. You can probably guess - it is going to be yellow!
Thanks for reading.
I met a lovely group of very accomplished traditional quilters this week. We spent a great morning together eating cake, swapping stories and sharing our work. It was a pleasure to see such beautifully made quilts. It always makes me smile, but the world over, quilters always seem to ask the same questions...
'How long did it take to make?'; 'Where do you get you ideas?' and 'How do you turn the ideas into quilts' being the top three that seem to get asked most often.
A quick Google search brings up lots of videos, online courses, tutorials, books, and tips for those who would like to make the transition to designing and making their own work. If you want to get technical you can get into the detail of good design and like many other quilters I have written a book about it. One of the main things to do is to stop wondering about it and take the plunge. Try something small and don't worry if it doesn't work out. But that still doesn't answer the question, does it?
So, here is one quick and easy technique to at least get started, and once you have started it will all seem a lot easier!
Find something that you like. It might be a picture, a cushion, your auntie's old tea towel, or maybe a quilt that has particularly caught your eye. It can be anything. You aren't going to make a copy of it - so no need to fret about copyright. (However it might be polite to ask the permission of the original maker if you think it appropriate.) This is going to be your inspiration and you are going to look at it carefully and ask......... 'what if ?'
To demonstrate what I mean, here are several quilts made using the quilt 'City of Roses' (a quilt I made several years ago) as the starting point and the 'What if ?' questions that I asked.
What if................ I changed the colours?
This is a pretty straightforward and not terribly original, but it is a good place to start this explanation.
(note: if you are only changing the colours of a quilt then you really do need to ask the permission of the original maker, as it is a copy). So, instead of green and pink I chose blue & purple and peach & pink. Already it is starting to look different. (I will be teaching this quilt and many options for altering it at Midsomer Quilting on 3rd July)
What if.............................. I modified the shape of the flower motifs?
In my sketchbook I tried several different ideas for the rose shapes. There are lots of different variations that could be made. I stuck with roses, but I could have easily changed the type of flower to something like a daisy for a really different look.
I decided to change the way I cut the spiral. Instead of a simple straight edged spiral I made the edge bumpy.
What if ....... I changed the way I put the flowers onto the quilt top?
Instead of using raw edge applique I thought about how else could I put flowers onto the fabric. I made a lino cut stamp and also experimented with Derwent Inktense pencils and mono printing
What if............. I add some leaves?
Just a few little green leaves add enough contrast to help define the rose shapes on the busy background. They act as visual cues to say 'we are flowers' and stop the rose spirals from appearing as a big scramble.
What if....................... I changed the background?
As you can see from the quilt below I made quite a few changes to the background. You can read more detail about how I made this quilt in an earlier blog post by clicking here, but basically I cut the quilt into 3 and inserted panels of white fabric in between. On the white fabric I wrote a message with dye to tell the story I wanted to convey.
At a glance this quilt looks quite different from the original, but if you look more closely you will see it shares many similarities with 'City of Roses'. There are changes to the size, colour, overall shape of the quilt, as well as a slight change to the flower motifs and the method of adding the flowers. All this has contributed to making this a new and unique design.
What if...................... I simplify the quilt?
Instead of having 3 central panels - how about making it smaller and just having just one? Alternatively how about making it larger and having 5?
What if ................. I change the colour of the text?
Rather than have black and grey, what would it look like if I had black and rose coloured text?
The answer turned out to be YUK!! Oh well, sometimes these things happen and when they do you get to try another 'what if ?' to solve the problem.....
What if ................. I change the colour of the white outer fabric?
To quieten down that bright pink writing that was now shouting out I tried painting some weak blue and green dyes onto the fabric. It calmed it down a lot and I like the new look.
What if .................. I change the position of the band of appliqued roses?
To be honest, this happened by accident, but is nevertheless another good example of a 'what if !' When I fused on the flowers I did not notice I had the quilt upside down, but rather than pull them all off I stood back and looked at the quilt to see whether I liked it or not. I liked the new position - so they stayed and were stitched down.
Do you notice that the central panel isn't completely square in this one? That would be another good avenue to explore -perhaps trying a parallellogram or trapezium shape instead of the square.
What if............... I added a big extra border?
The blue outer border made me wonder whether another border might look good - giving a much more traditional look to the quilt.
Looking at it now I am thinking what if I extend the flowers across the blue border? I might lay a few on to see how it looks.
What if.............. I took the text away and replaced it with some quilting lines instead?
For this one I free motion quilted thorny rose stems and leaves and then added a little colour with Derwent Inktense pencils. It has given a light and delicate look which I like very much.
What if................ I change the quilting pattern?
Instead of the straight line quilting I used a micro stipple to fill the gaps between the leaves. I think this one might be my favourite!
That pretty much explains how I approach the whole 'What if' idea, and it has yielded some interesting results.
Thanks for reading.
I started this quilt back in October 2015, and it is my piece for the French biennial exhibition 'Quilt Expo en Beaujolais 2016'. The theme of the challenge was 'La Liberté'. From the moment I read those words I knew immediately what I wanted to create. Several years ago I made a quilt with the same title - albeit in a different language. That quilt is called 'Freedom' and was my way of telling the story of the end of Apartheid when Nelson Mandela made his now famous 'Long Walk to Freedom'. It is a quilt that tells the end of a dreadful story, but is a celebration of the triumph against the odds. That made it an emotionally easy quilt to create.
This new interpretation of the same theme, 'La Liberté' comes from a very different point of view and has forced me to consider many things as I made it.
At the time, October 2015, the UK TV news was becoming more and more filled with stories of refugees and the repercussions of the disturbing events which had been unfolding in Syria since April 2011. The problem for Europe was that now these issues were spilling over borders and into 'our' lives. If you remember, daily we saw the very disturbing pictures of tens of thousands of people arriving into Europe by all means possible: by boat, truck, rail and even literally walking across fields. It was such a terrible thing to watch and I could not even begin to imagine what it must be like to have to leave everything you own, everything have worked for, and just walk to who knows where - just to be safe.
A lot of things happened as I made the quilt - some of which made me doubt whether I would, or even should finish it. I wondered if I was trivialising the whole terrible situation with the piece. I felt guilt that I was sat in my comfortable studio whilst someone's dead child was washed up on a beach. I felt angry that in our times ordinary people, just like you and I, are being forced to abandon their everyday lives because of the terrible actions of governments - either appointed by the proletariat or by themselves. It seems that as the human race we are determined to ensure we self destruct.
And then the events in Paris happened and I stopped work on it completely.
After several days I looked at the quilt again. I thought long and hard about why I had chosen this subject for this quilt and decided that, despite those terrible events, the lives of the people whose story I was trying to tell had not changed. For so many reasons, those people were still searching for freedom. Their reasons for abandoning all that they had were still the same. They were leaving wherever it was they had come from because they could take no more. Whatever your personal views, and I know this is a very emotive subject, I think nobody can deny that this is a human tragedy of monumental proportion.
After much thought and consideration I decided to continue with the piece. When it was finished I contacted Monique Bonnet, the French organiser and explained my position and my reticence over submitting the piece. I explained that I did not wish to make the events in Paris seem any less important than the story of those the quilt portrays. Monique was very understanding and told me to submit it.
Much has happened in this story since then. Very little of it good.
One of the things that this quilt forced me to consider is why I make the work I do and how other people react to it. I have made several quilts now that have been very well received, but each is about something seriously negative. I do not consider myself a negative or depressive person (quite the contrary) - but you might think so from the quilts I am currently creating. I have come to discover that currently I make my best work about things that upset me personally. I wonder if that is healthy? I have decided it is. Probably like most people, I detest injustice and suffering, and I feel pretty powerless to do much about it. We see much on the TV news, although there is a lot of bias in what we get shown. Photographers capture hundreds of images which 'tell a thousand words'. Journalists write daily, and in literature authors write books. In all these media there is time for the authors to develop the narrative. The story they are telling can unravel slowly and challenge the reader to contemplate different issues. As a quilt artist, with a single still image, the story has to be told in one shot. That is my challenge. By making work about those things which concern me gives me the opportunity to vent my distress. I try not to add my personal views to the work , (I do not believe in imposing my beliefs on others) but rather I try to portray things the way they are, confronting the silence and allowing others to reflect on the piece. My aim is for the piece to give rise to discussion and debate. When things are not openly debated and discussed it allows those things to carry on, usually for the worse. There is a famous quote, which it turns out is very difficult to attribute (see here) which sums up this whole problem.
"For evil men to accomplish their purpose it is only necessary that good men should do nothing."
It has taken me a long time to figure out my position - maybe I am a bit slow on the uptake.
I would like to express my thanks go to Margaret and John Pratt for sending my the good news that my quilt won a ribbon, and to Uta Lenk for sending my the photograph of the quilt hanging in the gallery. It was a lovely surprise.
Thanks for reading.
"Take the time to smell the roses, my dear, before they fade away"
Over the past few weeks I have been working on creating some fabrics to use for another new quilt for the 'Words of Wisdom' series. The inspiration for this quilt came from a conversation between two ladies who were waiting in the checkout queue at the supermarket. It was a long line, and they were having quite a melancholy chat about how time really does seem to fly, especially as we grow older. I was stood behind them and somehow became involved with their conversation. We chatted for quite a few minutes until it came to their turn to pay.
Although they were busy packing their shopping into the trolley one of the ladies turned to me, and with a sigh said "Take the time to smell the roses, my dear, before they fade away." How right she is.
When I came to design the quilt based on these poignient words I remembered a quilt that I made quite a few years ago, also based on Roses. It was part of my South African 'Destination' series, more of which you can see here.
This is that quilt - it is called 'City of Roses', and refers to the city of Bloemfontein. I enjoyed making it very much, as at the time I was experimenting with dyeing my own fabric and piecing free cut curves, and learned a lot about how to make both processes easy.
For the new quilt I decided to look back at this one and use it as my starting point.
Starting with the background I chose the same technique as I did for the original quilt. This time, however I wanted to add lots of interest to the fabric. I did a little work in my sketchbook to explore different ideas and did a few trials on a selection of fabrics.
Rather than just using a simple spiral to depict the roses I decided to make it a little more elaborate. I made a printing block from lino and experimented with different types of paints. The sample above are acrylic paint and Markal oilstick on a piece of organza.
I also experimented with mono printing - spreading acrylic paint directly over the surface of a glass topped table and drawing spirals into the wet paint.
This is the piece of fabric I ended up with. It is a mixture of mono prints, block prints and black lines made with thickened dye which I 'drew' using a squeezy bottle. At this stage it is looking way too busy.
For the second piece of fabric I wanted to use some of the words spoken by the lady. There are a few options for writing on fabric, and wanting bold text I decided to try out writing with thickend dye. I mixed up some manutex and some extra black dye, put it into a squeezy bottle and did my best joined-up handwriting! I later added some further text with a pale grey fabric marker to contrast with the black text.
From all the trials these are the two fabrics I have decided to go ahead with.
Laying them on top of each other like this immediately showed me that the frame of words idea was not going to work, so I took the plunge and chopped the floral fabric into 3 large panels. I then experimented with a few different layouts - horizontal, vertical and a mixture of both. I also wondered about cutting the fabric into even smaller pieces - but in the end I decided to go with option 3 below.
I also decided to knock back some of the vibrancy of the floral fabric by layering it with a large piece of organza before quilting. I always like the softening effect this can have, and in this instance I liked the way it made some of the less prominent flowers begin to fade into the background.
Returning to the original quilt for inspiration, I added yet another layer to the quilt - this time in a horizontal band across the top third of the quilt. Looking at my sketchbook pages there were lots of options for rose shapes - and again, after trialling a few , I chose to echo the shape I had already cut for the lino printing block to maintain a sense of continuity throughout the quilt.
From the photo above you can just about see thet I chose straight lines for the quilting - I felt this quilt was busy enough already, without adding any addition linear detail. And this is how it has turned out. I am going to mount it on stretcher bars when I get back to the UK - so no conventional binding or further finishing is required. I am calling it finished!
'Unfolding Stories 2'
I belong to a great group called 'Contemporary Quilter's West'. Between June 24th and July 5th we shall be holding our second group exhibition, 'Unfolding Stories 2' at Rook Lane Chapel in Frome. It is beautiful venue an I think our work will hang beautifully there. The group is incredibly talented and I am proud to be a member and I hope to have some of the quilts from this series selected to hang in the exhibition.
The exhibition will be on during the Frome Festival so if you are in the area at that time it would be lovely to welcome you to the Chapel.
Unfolding Stories 2
June 24th to July 5th 2016
Rook Lane Chapel, Frome
Thanks for reading.