There's something to be said for being in the right place at the right time in your life. My week at the Quilt Surface Design Symposium (QSDS) was everything I needed and more. I hardly know how to put it in to words. It was a learning experience on so many levels. I learned techniques and I learned about myself. I gained courage and insight, reconnected with my tribe, my art and my first love...fabric. (Although this first image is all paper, but I'll explain that later.)
The class was Crossing Borders with Els Van Baarle and Cherilyn Martin, her friend and colleague who is well known for her quilts which are richly embroidered often using fabric by Els. The class description appealed to me for obvious reasons: "Two materials, two teachers, two visions. The emphasis of this class is on an experimental approach to surface design working with both fabric and paper. Working with combinations of wax and paint, embellishment and stitchery."
The bonus and unexpected benefit of having 2 teachers is getting feedback from 2 professionals. We teased them because they would sometimes contradict each other, but actually, isn't that the greatest lesson - that there is always more than one solution, and that art is individual and personal? It was also beneficial to have a non-American perspective. I spoke with Els about how location can effect an artists use of color and design. It was the simplicity with which Els makes such strong visual statements and her use of color that drew me to Els work, and the use of stitch that I wanted to learn from Cherilyn. Along the way I was also introduced to batik, dyeing and block printing as a means to create fabric that furthers a vision.
Of course you have to know what your vision is and what you are trying to convey. I went to class as a blank slate, holding in my mind the wisdom of Rilke, "If the angel deigns to come it will be because you have convinced her, not by tears but by your humble resolve to be always beginning; to be a beginner." I jumped right in, following the exercises that Els and Cherilyn asked of us. Begin with a line, one that describes your life journey or one found in a photograph from a journey. The life journey line I created was very descriptive of my present situation - one step forward, two steps back and looked something like this ~ ZZZZ ~ and I hate angles, so I quickly abandoned that line in favor of the one from a photograph I took in Italy. It's the red stitched line in the first photo and in the block print of the second photo.
I kept adding dye, paint and batik to that one piece of fabric (2nd photo) without much thought or plan in mind and then it dawned on me...be a beginner, but don't forget what you know.
Once I realized that, I was able to create with confidence. I wanted simple, subtle, uncluttered work. The block print line was too large, too busy. The layering of color and pattern too chaotic for my vision. I would learn how to integrate scale, pattern and color, but not in a day or two. I could quickly absorb techniques, but the manipulation of them to further my vision would take time. I knew that, and I was not discouraged.
We were given an assignment mid-week. Using the fabric and papers we had created, we were asked to create either 3 small pieces or a sample book. I chose the 3 small pieces: one all fabric, one all paper and one a combination of the two. I asked if we were allowed to use commercial fabric in our pieces and was discouraged from doing so. After all, it was a class about creating your own fabric and that IS my goal from now on, but this one piece needed what I did not have time to make. I ended up using the commercial fabric and in my critique, Els said that it was very subtle and did not detract from the overall piece (below).
I was hesitant to add stitching to each piece. Hand-stitching is something that I have been wanting to incorporate into my work for years, but other than utilitarian stitches to hold the fabric in place, I wasn't sure how or where to begin. The all paper piece (top) was complex enough to support a bold stitch line, but I thought this piece called for delicate subtle stitches. I was right. Cherilyn agreed with me that the work had a simple, naive quality (what I was working for) and that the small utilitarian stitches were right for the piece, that embellishment was not called for. Again, the lesson was reinforced: to trust what I knew and to trust my vision.
My paper/fabric piece came together rather easily, using my dyed fabric and a batiked paper towel (the grid). But it really sang when I crowned it with the hand-dyed silk organza piece I traded for with Kathie Briggs a former student and now a classmate. Again, a simple red stitched line and some subtle anchoring stitches in the corners was all it needed.
We were to work on all three pieces simultaneously and have a common theme in the series. Mine turned out to be the square and the red stitched line.
This report would not be complete without mention of my fantastic roommate, Becky Heavner, a wonderful woman that long time friend and fiber artist Diane Herbort fixed me up with. Diane is also the QSDS historian and was a most entertaining addition to my first QSDS experience. Becky and I had a lot in common and kept finding more similarities throughout the week. She is a talented illustrator, sometime quilter and now embarking on a degree in landscape design. Mucho talent. My QSDS experience would not have been the same without her. I'll be back next June.