Sunday, August 07, 2011

Catching up and thoughts on art quilts

I have been slowly working away on the blue quilt but I was away for over a week as I went to the Nebraska State Quilt Guild Convention in Kearney.  I was teaching three classes there and had a great time.  It takes a couple of days to get ready to go, including shipping three boxes of surface design things and ordering some more to have shipped directly there, getting everything packed, etc.  One day is spent getting there and resting up, then the next three days were busy teaching. Then, on Sunday early I flew out of Kearney, headed back to Denver and then on to Oakland and home.  As I get older it takes longer and longer to get over the jet lag, even if it is only two hours worth.  Going from East to West seems to always be harder.

I haven't been able to spend much time in the studio this week as the week was taken up with various family things....taking my dad out to the exchange to get his cigarettes, babysitting a couple of times, sleeping, unpacking, etc. 

When I did get down there, I was doing some sewing on the blue quilt but also doing some picking out of sewing because I wasn't happy with the way a couple of things were going.  Still have picking out of stitches to do.

But then, I looked down at the floor and saw an orange piece of thread under the wheel of my chair. I tried to pull it out but it was stuck so I turned the chair upside down and started cutting and pulling thread out from the five rollers of the chair and this is what I got:
There was  a large piece of tulle caught under there also.  I had to really work at it for some time and there is still thread in the rollers....

But, I also wanted to share some thoughts about the "rules" of art quilting versus the "rules" of traditional quilts.

I talked about this in my design class in Nebraska...there are many reasons why certain rules exist in the world of traditional quilting...for instance, seam allowances are pressed to the side and not open, because quilts used to be pieced together by hand stitching so there was only one thread and pressing the seam open would put too much stress on the thread.  So when we begin to machine quilt we just followed the same rule...Edges must be straight, piecing correctly done, corners matching, know what I mean.

Then art quilting began as a new direction in quilting.  For many years art quilts were judged and compared to traditional quilts and the expectations were the same of both...stitched mitered corners is one that always gets me....why they need to be stitched I have never understood. But judges mark the piece off if it hasn't been done.

In my class one of my students was telling me about trying to make art quilts and that she pieces or appliques everything.  I suggested she might want to fuse and she was somewhat horrified, feeling that fusing might be cheating.  Thus began my discussion about the difference between art "quilts" and traditional quilts.

Art quilts are made for the wall, not to cuddle up under, to fondle or to keep you warm. They will not be washed.  Thus, many of the rule of traditional quilting just aren't necessary.

Use any method you want to attach fabric or anything else you want to put on your art....staple, fuse, pierce, skewer, hand sew, machine sew, glue, whatever you need to do to help you create your artistic statement. Put your heart in to what you are doing and let your voice come out.  You do not need to always use bindings....facings work if you want a finished edge, straight stitching along the edge to keep it all together works, zig zagging the edges works, satin stitching the edges works, putting a hand running stitch along the edge works.  Mounting your work on paper is great, or on canvas stretched on stretcher bars or other fabric, hanging with a sleeve, mounting on plastic, mounting on a panel, what ever works to show off your work in the best manner for the style of work you have created. The work doesn't need to have three about just two?  or one?  oh, but then that becomes something else....fiber art or textile art.

The "rules" we do need to pay attention to are those of composition and design.  The elements of design help us to describe what is happening and to understand why it is happening....not working out the way you want? Turn to the elements and principles of design to try to figure it out. Let your voice be heard.  Say what you want to say in a manner that will be convey what you want your audience to hear. Interact with the audience, after all, art does not exist in a vacuum but needs to be responded to, to have a dialog with others, to convey your message, to cause people to stop and look and look again. The eye needs to move around the piece and find surprises and interesting little intersections along with places to pause and relax.

We also need to understand the difference between a "study", a "sketch" and a finished piece of work.  Many times I have seen what I would call a study hung as a finished piece of art.  I think the UK patchwork people fully understand the difference and keep many studies and sketches in their sketch books rather than showing them...a study which looks closely at a part of something, seeking to understand how it is all put together rather than creating a piece of art. A sketch is a quicker little jotting down of what has been seen and is not a fully finished piece of art. That doesn't mean that sketches aren't great but they are what they are. Rough, thoughts on going, unfinished, searching for understanding of the subject.  The finished piece should show all of that...

I have found that so many people in the "art quilting" world have come to art quilts via quilting.  They have a good understanding of putting it all together but not necessarily the understanding of how art is put together. I have seen work that artists in other mediums have done with fabrics, trying to make an "art quilt".  They get the art part but not the craftsmanship of the quilting or putting it all together. I read several art magazines each month and keep an eye on what is showing in galleries across the country and over seas....every once in a while fiber slips in but it is always called a painting...I have seen some stitched, gessoed and painted and hung on the wall with nails nailed through the piece but they are indeed art and the way they were put together is all a part of what makes them.  They are judged by art standards and not quilt standards.

If we want to be taken seriously in the art world, we need to leave the comfort of the quilting world and enter art can easily be entered as mixed media or textiles or fiber.  Some shows are exclusive to watercolors, or paintings or sculpture, where this work might not fit although I have questions about watercolors on fabric as opposed to paper....unless the rules specifically say it must be on paper....then we need to apply for that show.  But don't expect to get any judges' comments back because that doesn't happen in the art world. On the other hand, they won't care if you have stitched down the miter on your binding corner either!

So tomorrow it is back to problem solving on my blue piece and a week spent in the studio....what fun!


Unknown said...

just wanted to say thanks - am sick in bed but hve just read your blog and the paragraph about art quilting - follow your heart and throw out the rules - has really made me feel better. I love your work

Diane Perin said...

Liz, you have summed up exactly how i feel about the relationship of art to art quilts to quilts generally. And the difference between quilt shows and art shows and galleries. Well said and I really do agree.

Gerrie said...


Janet said...

Great post here, Liz. It pretty much sums up why I don't even use the term art 'quilt' anymore. It's art and it's made of fiber.

As long as someone remains wedded to all the rules and regs of traditional quilting, it will be difficult for them to break through the fine art barrier.

Perception is reality and when the word 'quilt' is used the perception is that this is not fine art, it's craft.


Anonymous said...

Great post Liz. Growing & stretching as a quilter is one of the things I try to help my students through. Beginning to see the options and how helpful they can be is essential in developing as a quilt maker, whether art quilting is the end goal or not.


Judy said...


Thoughtful discussion on rules verus rules, many thanks for some brain food.

Wen said...

Excellent points. Recently I emailed something with the word art quilts in it. The person, who is not in the fiber world, responded with " How would this feel on a bed "
My eyes widen! Folks not in the fiber world delete to the word 'quilt' as bedding. It doesn't seem to matter what word you put in front or behind. I really feel a new term would be better. What do you call your work? What does that term mean to someone in the non-fiber world