Is this textile art?

I have now completed 80 days of my 100 week day challenge and have created 52 small pieces of art. (Go Leah!!). They range in size from 8 x 8 inches to 12 x 30 inches and all can be described as quilts. Each has 2 layers held together by stitch (and bondaweb). They can definitely be called ‘textile’ art.

I am going to spend the last 20 days of the challenge creating small pieces using the breakdown / monoprint process that I have been experimenting with. I’m not sure about the size yet or how I will present the finished pieces. Nor have I decided whether to add stitch yet. I’ve been sampling different ideas and I am not sure if the individual prints look better with or without stitch.

Not adding stitch is pretty radical for me. And it makes me wonder whether ‘just’ printing onto textile is enough to call it textile art? Artists who paint onto canvas are not called textile artists even though canvas is a textile. So if I don’t add stitch to some of my work what should I call myself?

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Different but the same

It will come as no surprise when I say that 95%+ of the textiles I use in my work are created using breakdown printing.  Sometimes I include dyed pieces, sometimes I add a layer of print using thermofax but breakdown is my love.

For the last few years I have printed knowing that the majority of cloth is going to be cut into rectangles and used to build backgrounds for series like Ruins. Which means that I don’t think about composition when making the screens. I may choose square type shapes to embed or keep things aligned in one direction. When I print the screens I tend to place the prints side by side until I have filled the piece of fabric. Again I’m not thinking about composition. I occasionally cut out a particularly lovely section of cloth to use to cover book board but mostly the cloth gets cut down and pieced.

Handmade book cover

I love this process and expect to be using it for years but I’m also keen to find new ways to use breakdown – I love experimenting. I’ve played with printing with both thickened dye and discharge paste before batching my cloth. I’ve played with multiple layers of colour on a screen. Both gave interesting results but didn’t fit with what I was trying to achieve at the time.

And then I saw some images on Instagram by the lovely Leslie Morgan of Committed to Cloth / the Creative Studio and had a lightbulb moment. Leslie and her students were painting thickened dye on screens to give very defined shapes (often buildings) then experimenting with colour exchange when they printed off the dried screen. Wonderful stuff that got me thinking about positive and negative space and how I could use breakdown screens to create series of monoprints.

So I have been playing. And having so much fun. Watch this space ..

Small Art and working in batches

Work in batches – multiple small pieces based on Salford Gas Works

Those of you that follow my blog regularly will know that I made a very definite decision several years ago to always work in series. Doing so has helped me to develop as an artist – I spend a lot of time up front working on colour and on creating a palette of cloth but once I have that palette I am free to develop my ideas as I move from one piece to the next. And for my large pieces I do tend to get one to the finishing stages before starting work on the next. Many of my pieces are three metres wide or more. I am blessed with big print benches and a big design wall but it is not really practical to try to compose two large pieces at the same time.

Some of you will also know that I have struggled to make small art …. my ideas always want to be BIG. But with two exhibitions scheduled for 2018 I knew that I needed to stop struggling and start making. Hence my 100 (week) day challenge in which I committed to spending 2 hours each week day evening working exclusively on small art. And after 70 days I can declare the challenge a success! I am now comfortable taking the ideas, colours and palettes of cloth used in my large scale pieces and working with them on a (much) smaller scale. But, just as importantly, I have really enjoyed making ‘batches’ of work. I am half way through stitching 18 pieces that will each be 12 x 12 inches when finished. I worked on the composition of all 18 at the same time. Each piece has to work on its own but what really excites me is seeing them layed out in a grid. The common colours and repeated use of shape is very powerful and has got me thinking about the power of repeat and how I could use it in a large scale piece. Which is a good if un unexpected bonus!

I should be cleaning the bathroom but ….

Sometimes you just get into something and you don’t want to quit! On Wednesday I spent 5 hours cutting things out – which is very calming but hard on the hands. Yesterday I spent 7 hours working on a large Ruins piece (4 hours machine stitching and 3 hours sewing in ends, which is also very calming but hard on the shoulders). And today, day 65 of my 100 (week) day challenge I have spent 3.5 hours collaging and sticking things down. Which wasn’t hard on anything – it was just great fun!

Life’s bumpy road

Canal Street 1
(20 x 20cm)

It is 4 weeks since I restarted my 100 (week) day challenge and time for an update. After completing 40 days I decided to take a two week break – family stuff plus Festival of Quilts made it pretty impossible to hit my target of spending two hours every week day evening working on small art.  I was, and still am, absolutely determined to keep going however it has not been an easy 4 weeks.

Life has thrown the Higgins family a couple of curve balls. On Day 41 I left my day job. There was always a risk that it wouldn’t work out but it was still disappointing and frustrating. Having been made redundant the previous year I had made sure that I could afford to be out of work again. But the thought of looking for another job was depressing and left me feeling very sorry for myself. Then on Day 44 we learnt that my mother-in-law was seriously ill. Which put the lack of day job into perspective. Now being ‘between jobs’ is a good thing – we are able to visit nearly every day and support my father-in-law as he cares for Joan at home. People who know me will know that I don’t do ‘nursing’ but I can bake cakes, make brews, hold hands and taxi people around. And help my husband spend as much time as possible with his mum.

Being ‘between jobs’ (so much nicer than being ‘unemployed’) means more time in the studio, at least in theory. In practice, it has been really hard some days to drag myself the 30 feet from our back door to the studio but my 100 (week) day challenge is a good motivator. I will admit that some sessions have been in the morning rather than the evening but getting into the studio is good for me. It is my space, it calms me. And I am incredibly lucky to have it. So here is my update:

  • Day 41: 2 hours – started to stretch the Canal Street pieces over canvas.
  • Day 42: 2 hours
  • Day 43: 2 hours
  • Day 44: 3 hours … all spent finishing and photographing the 20 Canal Street pieces.
  • Day 45: 2 hours – stitching Kilns 5.
  • Day 46: 3 hours – finished Kilns 5 and fused the background for Kilns 6
  • Day 47: 2 hours – stitched Kilns 6.
  • Day 48: 2 hours – trimmed and added facing strips to the 6 Kilns pieces.
  • Day 49: nope, just too sad.
  • Day 50: 2.5 hours – stretched the 6 Kilns pieces over canvas and photographed.
  • Day 51: 3 hours – added accent stitching to the Bold Colliery pieces.
  • Day 52: 1.75 hours – finished and photographed the 8 Bold Colliery pieces. These will be put in conventional frames at a later date.
  • Day 53: 2 hours – getting fabrics ready to make a series of 12 x 12 inch pieces based on the Gas Works in Salford.
  • Day 54: 2 hours – adding bondaweb to fabrics and cutting into lots and lots of 1 x 3 inch ‘brickettes’.
  • Day 55: 1 hour – preparing the backings ready to build my background ‘walls’.
  • Day 56: 1.25 hours – started fusing my walls.
  • Day 57: 1.5 hours
  • Day 58: 1.5 hours … both spent fusing walls.
  • Day 59: nope, emergency taxi service instead.
  • Day 60: 3.5 hours – finished building walls, I have enough for 18 pieces of small art.

Kilns 5
(30 x 75cm)