We are often prepared to travel a great distance to experience the beauty of our natural world. Last year, in the midst of the ‘Coronavirus lockdown’, my husband and I took a bushwalk in an area of the Barmah River Redgum forest down the end of our road. Our quest was to see what wildflowers may be present. Imagine our excitement to discover a ‘Gilgai’- formed from a depression in the soil which then collects and retains water from rainfall or flood. Such a surprise to see the diversity of shape and form of the plants in such a small area. They could not all be fitted into my representation!
Telling a story through collage and stitch
Three things have brought about these pieces of work:
Firstly, last year during lockdown I did an online course with Karen Stamper (from England). This was done on paper and we were encouraged to do a lot of mark making and experimenting with different media. I liked the idea of working back and forth in the pages and continually making additions, responding to what was already there.
Secondly, over the years I have been studying works by by several other British artists Cas Holmes, Mandy Pattillo and Anne Kelly. All these artists work with ‘found’ and pre-loved fabrics and ephemera. I gradually became able to see the beauty in old and worn out things. Using them in my work has been very satisfying, not to mention cost effective and an environmentally sound practise!
Lastly, I had the privilege of helping to clean out my mother-in-laws old country home. She is 91and worked on the farm until recently. She ‘made do’ in so many ways and threw anything out! Here I had the perfect opportunity to gather a collection of materials and pay homage to my husbands family history. Many years worth of inspiration and work!
Thus was born my version of the fabric concertina book- a lovely balance between fabric collage and stitch. In this proto type I have used the combination of both machine and hand stitch. I have also used a mini-theme (kitchen) and restricted colour palette (red, cream and a little green/blue) and only used materials found from the old house.
These small projects are a perfect way to try out lots of ideas for a larger piece of work. I plan to make a series of larger textile collages about this old country home and its people.
Quite a hiatus since my last blog. My beautiful mother died and I am all at sea………
The progress on our new Church has been very slow- the continuation of the pandemic has not helped our cause. As there is no urgency for the triptych to be completed, the poor thing is languishing in the spare bedroom!
Progress to date
Cutting and auditioning pieces on my design wall. With this project I am pre-fusing the fabrics with Heatn’Bond Lite (iron on fusible). I am paying close attention to the distribution of lights and darks. There is no planned focal point. I need to make sure that my blue-violet medium fabric is dominant, so I begin with blocking that in.
This process cannot be rushed. Viewing photos on my phone really helps with making decisions in progress.
Here the blocking in is completed.
There are lots of ways to add text. I thought about stencilling or hand drawing/painting but that can a bit risky. So I have decided to stitch the words. The problem here would be to how to make the stitching stand out. I would have to use a thick weight thread and contrasting colours/values.
I also tried to fit the text in by using a computer program. Alas, my technical skills were not up to the task, so I decided to use my own hand writing (this will be more personal anyway). This photos shows the use of tracing paper to see how it will fit. I use a chalk pencil to mark the quilt before I baste it.
As you can see, my pins do get rather tangled!
The next thing is to do a small test piece to try out some quilting ideas and threads.
This is very rough, but you get the idea. In the upper left corner you may be able to just see some sketches of possible designs.
This is where I leave you until the big reveal!
I am printing designs onto to the plain pieces of fabric I dyed last time.
Compressed sponge is wonderful stuff. It is flat when you get it which means you can draw and cut out your design easily. When you put it in water is expands and can be used like a sponge (kids find this fascinating). Stamping with these gives a unique look, although some of the prints can turn out imperfect (which I like). I have cut out some shapes to use as a template. Here I have used the choir people and some birds. Again, I may not use any of this, but it gives me choices.
I have cut the sponge out carefully, so I can use both the positive and negative parts. This has not been put in water yet.
I have stamped with pearlescent fabric paints and like the way the white paint under is still showing through. I am looking for an ethereal quality with the people.
These sponge stamps can also be used with other processes such as discharging. Discharging takes the dye out of the fabric. Some artists don’t like to use this process in their quilts as it is a bit toxic and it may not be archival. I soak my fabric in anti-chlor and wash it thoroughly.
I also like to use ‘found objects’ to print with. I choose ones that might fit the theme. Here I am using an old lemon squeezer with the discharge paste.
Commercial stencils are lovely to use, but I try to limit these, as they are designed by someone else and I want my work to be original as I can. These ones look like stained glass windows.
I have also made two thermofax screens. These are low tech printing screens that can achieve very fine lines. One is a piece of music photocopied straight from my Dads copy of Handel’s Messiah (this is quite poignant as he is no longer with us). The song is “The Trumpet Shall Sound”. Viewers of the quilt will probably not realise the significance, but I will! The second one is of the dictionary meaning of the Messiah. People will not be able to clearly read the text, but will hopefully, see glimpses of words like ‘Jesus’, ‘Saviour’ , ‘promised’ when they look closer etc.
Again, this printing does not turn out perfect. I don’t mind at all….this is a hand crafted, not machine made fabric design. I will also be able to fussy cut pieces out, leaving anything too messy. Furthermore, I know that the overall master ‘window’ design is very geometric with clean lines. I want to offset this with more ‘organic’ elements. Some of the compressed sponge figures (above) are printed over the second thermofax print.
SURFACE DESIGN- layering
Dyeing and overdyeing the fabrics
Layer one is a very pale tint of the colours. I have used an open screen with thickened Procion dyes and tried to vary the saturation by adding some weak darks/complements. I want to get rid of all the white, but retain some value contrast.
Here I have added a resist to some of the pieces using some soy wax with a tjanging.
The one in the front is done with a pastry cutter.
Overdyed with a stronger solution of the same colour palette. These are lovely, but perhaps a bit busy- I may not use them. I have still plenty of plain overdyed fabric I can experiment with.
I have decided to use hand dyed fabrics for this project. I like the way you can mix and control your own colour palette and I am comfortable with the process of screen printing with thickened Procion dyes. Dyes have a lovely translucent quality and can be manipulated in a number of ways- overlaid, discharged and broken down.
To test the dyes I have screen printed them in different tones and saturations, onto cover paper and cut out swatches. I did try to use the thickened dyes on a geli print plate, which did not work.
I have tried to stick with a limited colour palette: blue, orange, and violet. But couldn’t resist trying a little yellow and red.
Next blog I will be trying out some surface design techniques with imagery.
This is where I will be planning the overall design. Some people let the process lead them to a design, which I very much admire. I don’t seem to get very far when I use this approach.
I am using the archways tracing. I will photocopy it, then enlarge, reduce, or rotate the archways. Using A4 size paper makes the calculations for enlargement easier. The photocopier is my best friend in designing.
The final design (after a lot of mucking about). The plan is to have writing along the curves and different things in the windows.
I have my own checklist that I sometimes use and is useful to think about various options before beginning a project, have a clear plan to work towards (that can deviate along the way if required) and most important of all to remember my original intent.
The most important thing is to feel very excited about the project- art quilts take a lot of time, effort and money to make. If you are not excited in the beginning, you are not going to have the momentum to see the project to its fruition.
Next week I will be working on some colour plans.
I have been collecting visual ideas. Doodling and thumbnail sketches are bringing ideas together. I have picked a few key words from my mind map which are: Messiah, choir/figures, luminosity, windows, archways, text.
I’m thinking that hue/saturation contrast will be more important than linear/textural elements. At the moment there are too many ideas and although the piece has to be interesting, I will need to give myself some sort of limitations.
Next week I will be trying to come up with a cohesive design.
I have a project has been languishing on my design wall for since the beginning of the year (2020).
I thought it could be a good way of moving forwards and being accountable through writing about it on this platform.
A bit of background
My husband and I have been part of a small country town church community for the last 30 years or so. In that time, the little church has grown and changed, with a lot of ups and downs and our children have grown and shifted away to Melbourne.
Nearly all this time we have been looking to build a church, a home of our own, rather than rent different premises.
Just last year we finally purchased a building and begin renovating. YAY! I was excited to make a beautiful large art quilt to hang in the chapel.
I have always loved the verse form the book of Job:
‘I Know that my Redeemer lives and that he shall stand at the latter days upon the earth’ Job 19:25
It sends tingles up my spine when I hear those words sung in Handel’s ‘Messiah’ and being a musician, a music theme would be very apt.
A few parameters
The piece would be hanging in the large auditorium in an area approx., 230 x 180 cm, so very large.
It would need have a lot of visual interest as people would be looking at it, week in, week out (especially when the sermon goes for too long….).
Questions to ponder
Christian imagery is very symbolic and can sometimes seem ‘done to death’. How can I represent scripture in a fresh and original way?
Handel’s Messiah is one of the best known and frequently performed choral works in Western music. How can I do justice to this?
The following is the original mind map of ideas (which I have neatened up, to make it readable!)
Stayed tuned to part 2 next week!
To see my surrounds with fresh eyes
To be still
To observe, micro and macro
To think and dream
To walk and breathe
To respond with heart and hands
SOME PAGES FROM ‘THREE CHAIN ROAD’ CONCERTINA BOOK 1