Process - Art Quilts
Each piece that I create, whether it is for a client commission, a design for an upcoming exhibition, or just exploring a particular concept in general, involves a different process. The one aspect that ties all my work together is that they are all made out of 100% cotton fabric. This fabric can be commercially printed fabrics, my own hand dyed fabrics, or recycled clothing and material found at farm auctions.
This section will show a few examples of part of textile artist Jean M. Judd's process in constructing various pieces, and is not meant to be a tutorial, just a glimpse into one art quilter's way of constructing a piece. There are no right or wrong ways, and each artist has a process that works for them. Many are able to draw out complex designs with ease, and quickly replicate them in fabric. I am not one of those artists. I've been told many times to stick with fabric as my art medium, as my art quilts are fantastic. My stick figures drawn for young children need explanation quite often, and I have a difficult time translating what I "see" in my mind onto paper.
Art Deco #2 is a diminitive piece that is 12"x12". It is completed now and will be one of the art quilts featured in the Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA) Reverse Auction to be held September 10, 2009. You can see the finished image on the Exhibition Openings page. It is constructed from the left over pieces from Art Deco #1, which is currently featured on my Works in Progress page. The leftover pieces from Art Deco #1 were cut up into these strips and laid out on the cutting table. They were sewn together by machine into one panel of fabric.
As you can see, the order of the strips has changed since the process began, and the fabric panel has been cut apart on the diagonal and another color has been introduced. This thin strip was sewn into the panel where the cut was made. It is not appliqued onto the top as some of my other pieces, such as the Stained Glass Mosaic series.
At this point, a second thin fabric strip has been added to the fabric panel and I am in the process of cutting apart another area using a diagonal going in the opposite direction of the first two cuts. Many art quilters now are cutting "intuitively", which means they are using their rotary cutter without the aid of a ruler. This technique makes for some very unique quilt designs, and is something that I am working on adding to my design process. For now, I still need the "safety net" of the ruler. My general perfectionist personality, still won't let things not be orderly, straight lines, etc. I admire those quilt artists who have gotten over this hurdle, and are on to more discoveries.
Here is the final design with the additional thin fabric strips added. As you can see, I am slowly moving away from my seams matching up perfectly where the final thin strips were added to the piece. This is a huge stepping off point for me. I had to restrain myself from taking it apart numerous times and shifting it just that bit to have the machine-like perfection that my mind demands. I've been known to take out hand quilting stitches that were not lined up as perfectly as I thought they should be. Loosening up and letting things go is something I need to strive for even in my day to day life. Maybe it needs to start with my art, and it will flow over to my life in general.
Each piece that I design and construct also has in common the fact that they are completely made by myself. I do not have assistants in my studio, nor do I contract out the actual piecing or hand quilting done on each work. Each one is entirely done by me from the initial design on paper (or in my head), until the final stitch and signing of the work.
Designing my art quilts usually starts from the inside center of the piece, outward. A design wall as is shown in my Studio section on my website (see navigation bar on the left), is an absolute must for me so I can see where I am at, and where I need to go from that point. Sometimes I need to let pieces sit and develop on the design wall, so they may hang on the wall for a few days or a few months. Inspiration can hit even when not in the room with the piece. I've been known to quickly start digging for a scrap of paper while on a car trip, and writing notes about a piece hundreds of miles away. My husband is very used to this now and just says, "So, another solution to an art quilt. Do we need to end the trip early so you can get back into your studio?"
This piece, Twirling Leaves #2, started with three piles of squares that had been in a box of fabric purchased at a farm auction in the early 1990s. The center of this piece, with the exception of the blue fabric, consists of these fabric squares. The process began on January 19, 2009. The fabric had all been cut into squares by an elderly lady using a pair of pinking sheers. They were intended to be 4 1/2 inch squares, but ranged in size from 4 3/4 inches down to 4 3/8. I trimmed all the squares down to a standard 4 inch square and removed all the triangle edges. The The squares were laid out into the spiral design and black fabric squares were added around the spiral. To make the design "square", olive green leaf fabric squares were added as the background.
A background border of the olive green leaf fabric was added to the piece. At this point, the piece measured 57 inches wide by 53 1/2 inches long. A template was cut that was 3 1/2 inches square and offset lines were drawn on the template. The template was laid on each seam intersection of each square. Using a white chalk pencil and an ink pen (for the light fabrics), the template was drawn around. These drawn lines were then used to cut the entire quilt top apart using scissors. These squares were then sewn back together and the resulting new top is shown below.
Here is the piece sewn back together in it's new state. This technique is the same one used in Fiesta Pinwheels, Royal Pinwheels, Twirling Leaves #1 and the commission piece, Heavenly Monet. The size of this piece has now changed to 38 1/2 inches wide by 36 inches long. The cutting process has made for bias edges on every square so care must be taken in the sewing process to not stretch the pieces out of shape. The images shown have not been altered, and the work is shown hanging on a felt design wall. More care could have been taken to get the piece to hang straight when laid against the felt, but this is a working studio and that is not a prime concern when working on the piece. The piece is put up and taken down many times during the process.
Two final borders have been added to the piece and it is now hanging on the design wall along with the fabric that will eventually be the binding for the piece. The size of the work now is 48 1/2 inches wide by 46 inches long. The next step in the process will be to put the quilt top onto an unbleached muslin backing and thin batting, creating the quilt sandwich. The hand quilting process will then begin. The design process for the hand quilting will develop as it is being done. More photos will be added here along the way, so check back to see the progress. The hand quilting is the longest part of the process, so this will be continually changing over the next few months. My goal is a completion date sometime in the fall of 2009.
I receive many emails and questions from clients and other art quilters about what materials I prefer for my work. Each fiber artist has their own likes and dislikes. What works well for one, will be the exact opposite for the next artist. I prefer to use polyester batting in my work because I achieve the best consistency with my hand quilting stitch. Using cotton batting for me is more difficult to stitch through by hand and my stitch length is longer than when I use the polyester batting. I also feel I get more depth to my quilting when using the polyester instead of the cotton batting.
For hand quilting, I prefer YLI 100% glazed cotton quilting thread, Coats & Clark hand quilting thread (glace 32% cotton/68% polyester) and Signature 100% cotton glaced hand quilting thread. All three threads are made in the USA. I have tried other hand quilting threads, but they are not as tightly wound as these are, and can fray in the eye of the needle and weaken the thread.