Thursday, July 30, 2015

My fabric dyeing world

Nearly 100% of the instances when I try to describe what I do (to non-craft people) in my Rags Paper Stitches business result in the comment, “Oh, you tie dye T-shirts.” No, I do not.  The following picture shows an assortment of repurposed vintage damask table linens and doilies that I snow dyed last winter with a four color blend.

I recently made the decision to phase out my small stash of commercially printed fabrics for a number of reasons.  One, if I am to earn a living off of my own dyed fabrics, I should use what I make.  Another reason, the commercial print designs, nice as many of them are, are someone else’s design.  I have lost interest in incorporating someone else’s work in mine; I know that is expected with commercial fabric, it is just not me anymore.  I enjoy creating my own colors and patterns through dyeing fabric, plain and simple.  I still use solid colors of fabrics not readily available for me to dye, and I use a fair amount of cast off clothing to add texture and pattern I cannot achieve through my own dyed wares.  

The most succinct way I can think of to describe my craft is “art cloth.”  Much of my fabric gets dyed in solid colors, but I also make a fair amount of blends, using two to four colors in one dye bath.  The colors do not get added all at once.  The fabric might get scrunched, folded, and rearranged with each color addition.  I sometimes use ice or snow in my dye process to achieve stunning effects with color blending.  Then there is my own special “end-of-the-day” technique that uses all of the colors that I’ve mixed for a dye session – anywhere from 15 to 25 in one large piece of fabric. 
There are many more dye techniques I haven’t tried yet, not to mention further surface design by painting, stamping, screen printing, etc.   

Now back to that tie-dye thing.  There are some wonderful surface pattern effects that result from tying fabric in certain ways – shibori, for example, and vastly different from what the psychedelic crowd did to t-shirts.  Fabric dyeing is not solely 1960s era t-shirts.  I do not sell t-shirts at the county fairs or Grateful Dead concerts.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Quilt National Thoughts

At a recent Studio Art Quilt Associates  Ohio meeting, I was requested to give my thoughts on the symposium at the Quilt National opening in late May (held at the Dairy Barn Arts Center in Athens, Ohio).  At long last, here are those thoughts.  Please keep in mind that this is my take on the events of the day, and my recollections have gotten a little fuzzy in the weeks since the symposium.
Juror’s Panel Discussion

To me, it sounded like the most important criteria that the jurors were asking themselves was: do they want to come back to the quilt and look more at it?  They were looking for quilts that hold a viewer’s attention, ones that they would want to revisit more than once.  I imagine that the revisit factor could come about by different means – how did the artist do something (technique) or a message the artist wanted to convey.

Another important juror factor was connecting the artist’s statement about the work to the work itself.  I thought that the jurors were looking at images without any accompanying information or identification, so this was intriguing to me.  Personally, I don’t go for art of any media that has to be explained to me.   

There was an active discussion about the size of works accepted to Quilt National.  The jurors acknowledge that there were small art quilts that were “little gems,” but for the venue of the show, they wanted works that took advantage of the spacious exhibit hall.  To me, that still wasn’t a good reason why small works were consistently absent from Quilt National.  Good art is good art, regardless of size.  So, what I took from that discussion was at least at Quilt National, size matters! 

Marvin Fletcher lecture – I skipped his talk, I wanted to spend more time looking at the show. 

Selected Artists’ Panel – Four artists discussed their work and thoughts on their process, to some extent.  It was sort of interesting to hear their thoughts, but I didn’t really get anything out of the lectures.  I didn’t take any notes during the panel.  I feel like I should ask myself what I would want to get out of an artists’ panel discussion, or out of the symposium as a whole.

My overall thoughts on Quilt National:

Innovation is always claimed as a crucial criteria of acceptance into Quilt National, after viewing this edition of the show, I am wondering if the art quilt world has reached a plateau on innovation.  In my opinion, there were thirteen quilts out of eighty-four that were strongly influenced by the same artist/instructor.  Is that innovation?  Yes, those thirteen quilts had strong design merit, but the overall similarity left me a bit befuddled.  This was only my second Quilt National, and I noticed a couple repeat artists that had very similar works in the show in 2013 and this year.  I would expect any individual artist to continually grow and evolve, not stagnate.  There is a difference between having a distinct, identifiable style and essentially repeating oneself over and over.  Yes, the jurors are different each edition of Quilt National.  My point is that some things are no longer innovative.  There were other repeat entrants that clearly evolved from two years ago, just enough that it took a while to make the connection between their previous Quilt National entry and this year’s entry.  That’s what I like to see.

I’m certainly not disappointed that I went.  I most enjoyed the camaraderie with art quilters from around the world, most of whom I did not know.  It was refreshing to not have to explain or defend my chosen art medium.  I left the symposium feeling that I am on the right track with the things I am making, and I feel like I could hold my own at this level in a short time as I get better with technique.