It’s been a long time since I properly shared my quiltmaking process, and I receive regular emails and messages asking about this so I thought I’d write a blog series again.
Every new artwork begins with lots of drawing. Even before the drawing begins, though, I like to think about my subject matter. I like working with a theme, to creative a cohesive body of work. I see ideas for quilts in everything so selecting a theme also helps me to focus on something. I consider several things in choosing a theme. My worldview is important. I am inspired by God’s creation, and how everything works and fits together in it. The laws of nature, botanical and zoological interrelationships, and the God-given role of man in the natural world all stimulate me to further explore new ideas and designs in my textile art.
I also want to work with subject matter that speaks to me personally and is available to me in my immediate environment.
I currently have two themes happening in my artwork. My botanically themed artworks highlight the beauty of the plants and trees that are ‘everyday fare’ for us here in Australia. There is so much beauty in the details of each tree, for example, in the veins that produce pattern and texture on a eucalyptus leaf, and the huge variety of colour to be found on a single plant.
My childhood-themed artworks, although not quite as popular as the botanical pieces, are my current favourites, perhaps largely because they are more challenging for me. Observing children at play, these artworks aim to capture a sense of childlike wonder. As a mother I am privileged to observe that awe of little children discovering for the first time things which we as adults have long since taken for granted. Observing small children notice budding flowers, snail trails, ripening fruit, textured leaves, floating bubbles, dripping rain and pencil marks on paper for the first time is a wonderful reminder of just how special these ordinary things are. I hope I can retain some of that wide-eyed wonder myself, and continue to express it in my work.
Having decided (perhaps broadly) on a theme, I do a lot of sketching. This time is fun, but can be frustrating. I never know how long it will take to develop several quilt designs I am happy with. I am thankful to be living in the age of digital cameras, as I like to take hundreds of photos of my subject matter, from all different angles, as a reference throughout the whole design process.
At first I draw without too much intent, familiarising myself with the subject matter. Then I will start developing my ideas, trying various alternative designs, and stylising my drawings so that they lend themselves to the style of quilts I like to make (specifically, to machine piecing). This process takes place in my visual diary, which is an important record to me. I constantly refer back to original ideas and inspirations as recorded there. By the end of this stage, I have a collection of all kinds of sketches – photorealistic (for familiarisation of subject), line drawings (with piecing in mind), quick thumbnail sketches, bold marker drawings (for developing overall layout without getting bogged down in detail), simple design layouts, as well as detailed line drawings with the quilting in mind.
I find quick thumbnail sketches very useful for working through a bunch of potential designs for a given artwork. When I’ve settled on a design concept that I like, I draw it up more completely.
The final step in the drawing process is to convert my sketched design to a pattern for piecing. This pattern shows all the cutting/seam lines for the final artwork. In other words, each white space in the sketch represents a separate piece of fabric.
Stay tuned for the next step in my artmaking process soon!
Here’s an overdue post to let you know that I hope to teach at Quilt Symposium Christchurch 2017 in October. As some of you know, my teaching engagements are few and far between at the moment (due mostly to my prioritising family time here at home), so this is a rare opportunity!
I’m listed to teach two workshops.
The first is ‘Designing Your Own Pieced Botanical Quilt’, with more details available here. This is the workshop where you come armed with a bunch of photos of a plant that you like, and you create your own quilt design based on those. We also work through the basics of beginning to piece your beautiful botanical art quilt. This includes fabric selection; creating a working pattern from your quilt designing, cutting out the quilt, and making a start at piecing the bits together. Phew! That’s a whole lot to cover in two days. I’m going to work you hard!! This a crash course designed especially for all of you who have asked many times for a workshop to cover my quiltmaking process.
The second is ‘Enriching Your Quilt with Hidden Imagery‘. In this two-day workshop, we work through ways to enhance your free-motion quilting. I love to use the quilting process to add another ‘layer of interest’ to my art quilts. I like the quilting to help in telling the ‘story’ of the quilt. Together we’ll work through a number of ways to do that. In the workshop, we work through a bunch of samples, to equip you to apply fantastic quilting to your future quilt projects!
If you’re going to Quilt Symposium Christchurch, I look forward to seeing you there!
Didn't they all do a great job!?
And I also have to say, hats off to school teachers! This one lesson a week left me exhausted! I don't think I could do this full time!
It's always a good feeling to complete an artwork, but it's also feels great to get stuck into new projects. In the past couple of weeks I've started cutting out my newest batch of art quilts – a set of sixteen banners for a Perth school. Yes, sixteen. You might remember the banners I made a couple of years ago. These are a similar idea.
The title of this post says 'commencing', but actually, this project began late last year with the consultation process. We've emailed back and forth for several months to come up with suitable designs and to fine tune them to the client's requirement. This is the first time I have completed this stage completely without face-to-face meetings, and am pleased to experience how well it can work this way!
This is obviously a big project, so I've broken it down into tasks to complete each day or week. For example, I can reasonably cut out one banner per day. I'm counting on piecing one banner per week, although I have to wait and see whether or not that turns out to be too ambitious. Loosely scheduling tasks like this helps me to make continual progress on a project that could otherwise be overwhelming or all-consuming.
I have a few more days of cutting out ahead of me, and then I'm looking forward to starting the piecing.
I like to try and limit the range of techniques that I use in my textile art. There are so many different and interesting things that I could try to incorporate, but I'm fairly certain that it's better for my creative endeavours to limit myself to a few. Just like it's sometimes creatively stimulating to stick to a limited colour palette or in a limited time frame. The saying that 'necessity is the mother of invention' comes to mind. There's a challenge in expressing what I want to express with the few techniques at hand, without reaching for new techniques. There's also a place for mastering several techniques well, rather than many techniques poorly. And of course, limiting the number of techniques and processes I use also helps to limit the range of equipment and supplies that I need.
Here are my five favourite techniques:
I began dyeing my own fabric even before I settled on machine-piecing as a signature technique. Initially, I had two reasons for this. Firstly, I figured it to be cheaper to dye my own range of colours than to try to source it from patchwork shops. Secondly, the range of colours generally available in fabric shops is quite limited. I like to have more than twenty assorted greens at my disposal when making a eucalyptus quilt. Another thing I really like about hand-dyed fabric is the unevenness of the colour. Commercial solid cottons are rather flat-looking by comparison.
Machine-piecing is what I consider to be my most important technique, if I can put it like that. It's what makes my work different to the work of many appliqué artists. It also imposes great limitations (or maybe challenge is the better term) on my artmaking. The physical challenge of piecing together very tiny or tightly-curved pieces of fabric limits how small my images can be, or the type images that I create. Sometimes that frustrates me, but it also forces me to extend myself, and to keep trying new ways to make the machine-piecing work for me (finer lines, tighter curves, smaller scale or alternative styles of drawing). Sometimes an image or idea is better portrayed with pieced outlines, as in Trike, and other times solid blocks of colour works better.
Machine-quilting doesn't hold quite the same excitement for me as the piecing does, although getting started is always the hardest part. Once I've started, it's usually an enjoyable process. I always start by ditch-stitching over all the seam lines. Then I decide where to add extra quilting in the form of doodling, pictures or text.
Not every artwork I make features screen-printing, but I always love it when I am able to incorporate this technique into my quilts. Like hand-dyeing, it is a surface design technique, allowing me to manipulate the fabric even before cutting and stitching. Where possible, I like to use designs that enhance the story of the quilt.
Of these five techniques, hand-embroidery is the one that I have most recently incorporated. When I don't machine quilt the whole quilt heavily, I often like to add some had stitching. Usually a simple running stitch, but other times, seed stitch, unconnected chain stitch, chicken scratches, crosses and more (pardon me for not knowing the official terminology!) I use stranded embroidery thread for this, and I love the interest and texture that it adds to the artworks
Do you have a go-to technique or set of techniques for your creative endeavours?
I mentioned last week that my third challenge quilt is a flop… Here are the gory details…
After Eucalyptus Extension 1 and 2 I wanted to play a bit more with the colours of the next quilt. There was some discussion on this post about background colour. Thank you so much for the well thought out responses I received to that post!
Choosing background fabric for my eucalyptus quilts has always been an issue. Earlier on I always used a range of sky blues. But after working on eucalyptus quilts for a could of year, I got a bit sick of all that blue. Nowadays a natural cotton linen blended is my go-to background fabric. Ellen is right though – varying the background colour could really liven up these quilts.
So I decided to pick something out of my comfort zone. I thought about brighter, prettier colours – lemon yellow, coral, pink – but really struggled to commit to those. So (here's where I made my big error) I chose a muted (as in, take a lovely red and add brown to it) 'pretty colour' as a safer option. Maroon.
And to break up the maroon I screenprinted a blossomy design on some of the pieces. And as I stitched it all together, I knew in my stomach that I was wasting my time. High school uniform memories came flooding back every time I sat at the machine:).
The other thing I wanted to try with this challenge quilt was to incorporate some blossoms added as an extra layer between some of the pieced sections. (I have a new machine which cut these out for me – more about that in another post). Because I really wasn't enjoying this quilt, I didn't go to too much effort to find the right colour for these, and it shows. I know better for next time (and I'll try to use felt next time, I think.
I know I mentioned earlier that I was wasting my time, but really, this was part of the learning and developing process. Neither of the previous two challenge quilts really excited me either, but working through and eliminating things that don't work is helping to bring me closer to new work that I love.
I guess that when I started this challenge, I expected to see gradual changes and steps towards a slightly new style of botanical art quilts. Instead they seem to be lurching all over the place. The great thing is that the disappointing result this time has really made me thing about what I do and don't want to see in these quilts.
Here's what I do want to see:
– hand-dyed fabric
– screen-printing (optional)
– artworks that capture something of the beauty of the plants
– artworks that have a contemporary feel to them
– neutral background
Here's what I do not want to see:
– artwork that has a 'cheap and nasty', or slapped-together feel to it
– maroon backgrounds
I spent some time putting together a mood board to help clarify the kind of feel I am after. I've referred a lot to botanical art in it. Check it out here. (One of my favourite high school assignments was making a herbarium from plants collected in the local bush). Now I've full of new ideas, and very excited to tackle the next challenge quilt!