What I do

Flaming Eyebrows, detail art quilt

This post was originally published on Michele Foster's www.quiltinggallery.com. Check out the post and comments there, as well as great guest spots from some wonderful quilters.

Angels, saints, sinners, strange beasts. fire eye-browed women and prickly landscapes step out of the air and into my work. I can’t help it. These odd characters and scenes aren’t predetermined, they just happen. I don’t use patterns, rarely make sketches, refuse to pin, never measure (except at the very end), sometimes I don’t even worry about the back of my quilts and the knots and snarls that bedevil us all whether we admit it or pick them out or not.

Let’s get one thing straight here at the start. Some of you are traditional quilters. You are the backbone of the interest and the audience and most of the quilt store customers and you are skilled! I am not. A quilter really. Nor am I really very good at quilting. But I think I make good art. That happens to be made of fabric. And stitched, and usually three-layered.

I intentionally make contemporary textile paintings (see Lisa Call’s blog for her ideas about that) and they are quilted (free motion) and they are also fused.

Intensely interested in pattern and color and texture, paint just doesn’t work as a medium for my ideas, and, as an artist, it is my path and passion and calling to get my ideas out of my head and into the world in the best available materials. I began sewing at a young age, but the precision required by my home-ec teacher (and that dates me, right) was an unwelcome discipline and an unnerving challenge. So I went into theater and visual arts and then later became an arts and arts-in-ed educator, museum designer, writer and teacher (there’s even a new book for parents and grandparents who want to encourage creative kids, see www.newworldkids.org), but I kept coming back to cloth.

My personal revival came in a surface design course at the Southwest School of Art and Craft in San Antonio (where I now teach in the fibers department) and in a discovery that I could actually learn to paint and pattern and design fabric. Then I had to figure out what to do with the stacks of stuff I was making and I discovered art quilts. Among those who have influenced what I now do: Jane Dunnewold, Sue Benner, Leslie Jenison, Kerr Grabowski, Rayna Gillman, Lisa Call, African textiles, Mexican embroiderers, Guatemalan weavers, limestone layers, the Art Cloth Network, the International Quilt Festival (where I also teach) and lots more.

I told you what I don’t do much of in the first paragraph. What I do do: journal and observe, listen to my dreams, follow my obsessions, pile up cloth and look at the colors together, mull over design elements and sketch, sketch, sketch images, doodles and private marks then turn them into thermofax screens for printing paint and dye, improvise dyed fabric using Kerr’s methods of deconstructed screen printing, iron WonderUnder or Mystifuse to every piece I like, sometimes piece together long rows of 5’ strips and other background fabric, then start cutting with a vague idea of what it is that is speaking to me. Then I free-motion stitch the quilt, possibly even go back and print another layer of imagery on top of it all. Sometimes I mount my work on wooden frames, sometimes it just hangs on the wall.

And yes, someday I really do want to make a bed quilt. But I am terrified of the binding. And the basteing. I read you so that I will have the courage to try someday!

For those who comment here, or on my blog during the rest of the month of February, you’ll be entered into a drawing for a free copy of that book on creativity (it’s even good for grownups who aren’t around kids): New World Kids at www.newworldkids.org