Last fall I took a journey into the Decew Falls conservation area, close to my home in Pelham.  My objective was to capture suitable imagery for my new-found passion for sculptural quilting.  Line, shape, colour, texture, light and ultimately form served as inspiration in this piece.  I have for the last year been searching for a printing company who could accurately render my photographs on quilting fabric with no limit to size and at a reasonable cost.  This spring I found such a company “Design Your Fabric” located in Mississauga that I cannot speak more highly of.  I would recommend them to anyone interested in this pursuit.

I worked up a small 8 x 8 inch sample of one image to see how the end result would look and was pleased enough to go BIG – 80 x 110 inches.

 

I was excited by the prospects of beginning work on this image, although slightly overwhelmed by the size and time it would take – still, no longer than some of my former projects.  I estimate around 50 hours to complete.

As with other quilting projects, the subject necessarily dictates the technique.   The photo itself is ambiguous to read.  It is heavy with shadows and light, thus creating projections of shapes and colours.  This is what I particularly liked about this photo.

My aim is to project to the viewer the texture and dimension of the image. I began here with the sumac leaves aiming to create the feel of the slightly jagged edges. At times a straight running stitch for outlining is all that the image requires.  Working up the branches, especially the heavier ones requires some form of trapunto (back stuffing) technique – whether without stuffing or with some degree of rigidity.  My earlier attempts at giving these branches a rigid form were not satisfactory which sent me to my reserve of fabrics.  I found a piece of old ironing board underlay which did the trick – never throw anything away!  Deciding what to leave unquilted for a distant background effect was also an aspect of the decision making.  I am presently working on my first sumac bud.  I always find this type of texturing a lot of fun.  I call it my free-form smocking technique.

I am now just over 3 weeks into the project and thinking ahead to the next quilt and further pieces.  My aim is to complete 20 quilts.  My thinking is evolving as I see this dynamic of colour and form in nature and perhaps the way in which we see it juxtaposed against a human made landscape.  This part I will keep hidden for a while yet.

The process of creating a raised surface continues from one area to another, dictating the technique that will provide the texture and profile that I feel will most compliment the photograph.  I don’t know why I feel this necessity to take the illusion of 3-D into the ream of the “real.”  I have challenged this concept before asking the question “what is real?”  I am moreover mesmerised by the process and am completely transported when engaged, this despite the neck cramps and worse.  I try to get up and move periodically and try not to work more than 5-6 hours a day at the same task.

The final stage involves cutting and pinning the surface area, which is now fairly warped, to a background which is exactly rectangular to the narrowest measurement horizontally and vertically.  The extra surface area is pinned down to create more dimension.  Areas such as the feature sumac are back padded to add the amount of height/dimension that looks right.  There is a lot of perspective correction and decision involved here until all comes together in a way that looks natural and pleases the eye.  The completed surface is now sewn down by hand in just enough places to hold firmly.  The perimeter is sewn down exactly along a drawn line.  I must admit that I am quite fussy about the exactness of measurements and angles of the corners.  I expect the viewer to appreciate the work itself and not be distracted by skewed borders.

At this point I am leaving the work for a while to start my next project, but have purchased a lovely heritage blue that works with the sky to create a fairly narrow border that extends the sky background of the quilt.  I will post when that is completed.

 

The same call for entry allowed up to 3 submissions.  I had much earlier begun to make a conch shell as part of my Cuban exploration.  More and more I felt this piece way sympathetic to Costa Verde and should also be submitted.  I had a little more to complete and had photographed the process from its start.  My submission statement  read:

 

Along the north-eastern coast of Cuba “fossilized” conches litter the fine white, crushed shell beaches.  Bleached, battered and pitted by both natural forces and acid rain, conch remains can be found in all sizes.  I have cradled, admired and studied these forms, but at the same time must ponder the question of rising sea temperatures, their changing chemical composition and the premature death of these fascinating mollusks.  Medium:  Tussah and noil silk fibre fused using wallpaper paste, wire support framework, cotton quilt batting, seed beads, and fibre fill.  Technique: Sculpted clay maquette, hand formed silk sections stitched together and “repaired” with silk fibre, quilted and beaded.

I was inspired by one of my shell collection examples and began by sculpting a clay version of the piece.  I have found that the self-hardening clay available a our Dollarama stores is excellent for this purpose.  The clay holds its form well, is not overly messy and dries within a day or two if needed.  This series also shows that the sculpture is about 4 times the size of the shell itself.  Some of the conches that we have seen are actually this large, or even larger.

Once completed and allowed to dry overnight, I took a small piece of rough coral and hammered the surface to texturize the clay, emulating the acid pitting of the shell itself.

To prevent the clay from discolouring the silk fibre used to create the fused sculptural form, I have found thin plastic wrap a useful material for covering the wet or dry clay.  Applying the film to this form was very difficult, and in some tighter areas I gave up trying to get the plastic to stay in place.  I ended up removing the plastic layers and applied the silk fibres directly to the clay in the tighter areas of the inner spiral.  This resulted in clay adhering to the silk back which had to be wiped off, as best as possible.  A coating of shellac over the dried surface might be a better and easier option – for next time.

When I first envisioned this project during the summer, I had pictured a series of conches, arranged in a large spiral installation.  Because of the work involved in just this one sculpture, I have not yet repeated the process.

Once the outer layer of tussah and noil were formed, they were allowed to dry – only a matter of a few days.  This “skin” was spliced to allow for removal.  Before all sections were joined, I decided that the larger areas required reinforcing.  I had some fine florists wire which worked.  The wire was stitched to the quilt backing. Silk fibres were used to cover the seams and to add more texture.

I should have marked the sections and their joining points before removing, as putting the puzzle back together was a lot more of a mind teaser than I had expected.

Still, the silk form was eventually stitched back to its original shape.  The shell itself had fine particles of sand embedded in the etched surface.  I felt that some beaded enhancement might add to the sculpture.  Talking this idea over with my artist friend Barbara, confirmed my feelings.  Beading with a selection of clear, white and copper seed beads provided the illusion of fine grains of sand. I continued beyond the inner spiral to the outer surface as well, following the inspiration of the conch itself.

While beading, I attended to finer details of the form itself, enhancing the tight curl of the spiral point and shaping the bottom of the shell, as well at the outer flap.  I also added quilting stitches to further enhance the acidic pitting of the conch.  However, despite the wire support, the shell did not hold its form as well as I would have liked.  I decided to open a small section and to fill the inside with fibre fill.  Once this was completed and the seam repaired, the sculpture’s form was much improved.

This work is very much a matter of composition, just as much as any sculpture or artwork for that matter.  Balance of form, colour, line and texture, as well as light and shadow, are all integral and important.  It takes time from start to finish, to find that point of satisfaction.  Still, next time could always be better!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The prospectus for SAQA’s call for entry read

Show Concept:
Water – it’s everywhere! The majority of the earth’s surface is covered by water, and more than half of the human body consists of water. But water also plays an essential role in our survival.
Cultures have thrived based on their proximity to water, and crops survive or fail, based on rain or the lack thereof. Every living thing depends on water to survive, and life hangs in the balance when shortages persist.
An overabundance of water in its varied states of rain, snow, and hail may bring death and destruction in the form of tsunamis, hurricanes, or blizzards.
Religious ceremonies, such as baptism, ceremonial baths, and cleansings, have elevated water as a key component in many of mankind’s most sacred rituals.
We are also drawn to sources of water for recreation and relaxation. Vacations at the beach compete with the thrill of watching glaciers calving. As one of our most precious commodities, water also serves as a source of power.
This exhibition encourages the artist to interpret one of the most vital, desired, powerful, sacred, and enjoyed resources on earth in their own unique, individual style, whether abstract, graphic, or 2
representational.  Closing date November 30 – I made the deadline!

I had read the prospectus for this exhibition and had that in the back of my mind when I read an article in SAQA’s fall journal.  Six printing companies were compared for the quality of their “direct to garment” printing. I wrote to Dee Dee Davis of Decor Print www.decor-print.com and had a very professional and friendly reply.  The result of my correspondence was this reproduction on cotton broadcloth, which I intended to turn into an art quilt.  I have included here the finished work but will take you on a journey to reveal my process.

I pondered the amazing reproduction for several weeks before starting.  I knew that first I would work on the background.  The Caribbean waters have been a fascination to me in terms of colour (warmth is another that played into this exploration).  The rock itself was deserving of a different treatment, but at this time it was still in the formative stage of my imagination.

I had some shimmering tulle that lent itself to this application so decided to cover the background water and to sculpt around it to show various areas of shadow and the highlights of the wave.

I used my sewing machine to follow the waves lines and to hold the tulle in place. This was a relatively quick section to work up. I began to cut away several areas of the layered tulle, allowing the shadows to take on their depth and bringing forward the water droplets of the “splash.”  This was a more intricate area that was deserving of handwork and took several days to complete.

Although I didn’t actually work all the water at one time, I have grouped the photos to show various aspects of this portion of the process.

The rocks I decided would be all hand quilted.  The various life-forms (dead or alive) and the crevices were extremely exciting discoveries and deserving of a sculpted application.  I was truly amazed that our camera had captured such detail from this distance.

The back of the work, shows a rock form being back stuffed in the trapunto method.  The opening is stitched closed to hold the stuffing in place.  From time to time I will also compact the stuffing by stitching through the bulk to reduce the profile on the front of the work – as needed.

The actual quilting process involved working back and forth between the rocks and the sea, constantly monitoring and controlling the amount of surface area being pulled in.  The end result would have to be perfectly rectangular, although I couldn’t say exactly what the dimensions would be.  I have in the past worked on a project where the end size was critical.  I allowed about 1/3 more cloth and ended up devising a way to take up anything extra (which I have discussed previously, and will again in this blog).  If an area is pulled in too much, it is a simple matter of cutting some non-essential stitches and spreading the compacted surface.

I had an idea that I haven’t used before in my work.  If you can shrink cotton, why not use this method to reduce surface area.  The machined area of the water was less pulled in than the sculpted rock surfaces.  Using a wet sponge I dampened the water surface and pressed the surface that met with the rock edges to “sculpt” the piece more than it already was.  I also use the shrinking technique to minimize the crevices of the rocks which I intentionally left without much quilting to create a darker and deeper illusion.

I also used stitches to pull in the perimeter of the quilt where this was needed – especially in the darker areas and where the sea surface met the edge of the piece.

Backing

As with all my previous quilting projects, backing is the essence of finishing the work for presentation.  The stabilizing interface is essential for not only maintaining the intended dimensions, but allows for more 3-dimensional sculpting.  The above images show the process from pinning to stitching down.

I had decided that a plain white border might suit this work, extending the white of the splash around the quilt.  I also decided to do a mitred edge, not that difficult but measuring is very important.  I used the selvage waste from the cotton broadcloth reproduction itself to keep the conformity of the work.  The entire frame/border is sewn together then laid out for stitching to the quilt.  I meticulously measured, pinned and hand sewed the frame to the quilt following my drawn on guidelines.  Still, I had to resew a couple of sections that were not “perfect” enough. A sectioned piece of polyester quilt batting was used to provide a slight dimension to the edge.

I used cotton sheeting to add the final finished backing that would also contain a horizontal pocket for the hanging rod – my usual skirting board substitute.

Each seam was hand stitched and layers of batting and seam allowance stitched down to ensure everything stayed in place.  I finally stitched through all layers around the inner border to hold everything together.  This is the essential last step for vertical hanging/display.  The rod will be inserted and eye screws put in place with a hanging seine twine alternative to wire.

The quilt itself was completed and measured 33” wide x 25” high; however, I was not convinced that it said what I intended as I began the numerous drafts for my statement:

Costa Verde, Cuba (photographed in 2015)

Over time I have photographed the pitted limestone rocks of north-eastern, coastal Cuba.  Eroded by natural coastal factors and acidic rain, their crevices provide habitats for a myriad of sea life-forms, while others are pockets entrapping but skeletal remains.  Together, they cling tenaciously enduring wind, wave and tidal forces. We may gaze and admire; but, overshadowed by the rising temperatures and changing elements of these luring, blue green waters, life hangs precariously in the balance.

There was one element that I felt was needed.  There was one dark crevice in the rock that begged to have something inserted.  I also felt that my work deserved at least one “interpretive” change from the photograph itself.  I decided to make a piece of brain coral using a technique that I have explored in recent works, that of fused silk fibre.  Previous blog postings explain the technique.

I used a previously made brain coral that had been left in it’s unfinished state. The form was opened and flattened and then dampened to enable the ridges to be roughly manipulated by hand.  Once dry, I was able to back with cotton batting and begin the stitching.  Short lengths of cotton yarn were used to hold the ridges while I stitched through the layers – the same technique that is used for piping a corded edge.

I was not satisfied with the look of the brain coral pattern and kept coming back to a small piece that I had which nicely pulled forward a small section in the reproduction just above the crevice that I intended to use as a housing. Once the patterns were completed the edges were pulled back and stitched in place.  A backing was added to finish the piece as a small sculpture.  I needed to secure the silk fibre that had been added along the ridges, and give the coral some detailed definition.  Small stitches with quilt cotton seemed to work nicely.

The piece was placed in the intended crevice.  I had extra surface area here and was able to pull up the cloth around the perimeter and further enhance the surrounding rock formation.  The coral was placed inside where it will be permanently fixed.

Costa Verde, Cuba Quilt
Costa Verde, Cuba Quilt