an exhibition of textile art shown at Carinus Art Centre during the 2022 South African National Arts Festival
The title and theme of this exhibition comes from reading in general and the author Sue Miller in particular. The following perceptive comment about the function of fiction from Monogomy was the spark:
“[W]e read fiction because it suggests that life has shape and we feel …. consoled, I think he said, by that notion. Consoled to think that life isn’t just one damned thing after another. That it has sequence and consequence.” — Sue Miller
If the word “life” in this quotation is replaced with “stitching”, this text could serve as an explanation for why Mariss Stevens makes quilts. While this is rather fuzzy thinking, it is true that the word sequence is a good description of the results of repeated or recurring stitchings. The word itself also has a nice sound and shape to it.
In fine art and quilting circles the word series is used to describe a set of works with a similar theme. Here’s a clear definition: “A series is essentially a collection of paintings that when viewed leaves no doubt the same artist created them all. The theme running through the work is stated and restated in different yet interconnected ways, and the viewer can look at the collection and understand more easily what the artist is trying to convey. 31 May 2018.” (from a google search with no URL)
The preferred word is sequence which is, afterall, “a continuous series of things, a succession; a set of related things arranged in a certain order” (OED). The exhibition title sequence was also apt because there were existing works in a series, particularly the house portraits of buildings of historical Grahamstown.
Settling on the title of sequence led to focussing on the new works that were made for the exhibition. The themes of some of the recent larger works have been reflected in sets of A4 sized smaller works.
The word sequence also refers to: a liturgical chant; the repetition of a phrase or melody in musical compositions; an ordered set of infinite quantities in mathematics; a passage in a film; a group of three or more cards; a logical consequence.
Wedding Dress #1
Made from the leftover silk fabric of the original dress, this work is about recycling and renewal, meditation and memory, nostalgia and nurture. The scraps of silk are hand pieced and layered on a backing of meldoek. This assemblage is then stitched onto a quilted cotton counterpane. Silk and silver thread and fine crochet cotton hold the layers together. The creams and whites provide a canvas for a pair of hand beaded red shoes.
First made in 2010, the piece was refashioned in 2022 and given a new bodice.
206 x 117 cm.
Hand pieced and hand quilted.
Wedding Dress #2
This work is also made from the leftovers of an original silk dress and is also about nostalgia and nurture. The offcuts and trial bodices for the actual wedding dress are hand appliquéd onto a raw silk, quilted background. Rows of kantha-style stitching surround the bodice. A lace mantilla covers the main bodice and is hand stitched into place. A border of synthetic tulle along the bottom edge of the skirt adds a playful, petticoat touch.
230 x 115 cm.
Hand appliquéd and machine quilted.
Wedding Dress #3
The series continues, this time with the front section of the original wedding dress hand appliquéd onto a quilted indigo cloth background. The dress is both hand and machine stitched onto the backdrop. The embroidery on the bodice was hand stitched with silk thread 38 years ago.
196 x 116 cm.
Hand appliquéd and machine quilted.
Small Dress #1 – #5
A reduced version of Wedding Dress #3, where the shape of the outline is used for each of these smaller works in this sequence. Variations of machine and hand stitching make each of the works unique.
29 x 21 cm.
Machine quilted, except for #1 which is hand stitched
This is a meditation in hand stitch. Petals cut from a worn silk blouse and motifs from gold reproduction fabric are appliquéd onto a fabric background, using kantha-style stitching in hand-dyed perle thread. The blocking pattern accentuates and echoes the central gold motif and the petals are defined by the stepping or slant-wise pattern. The background is filled with evenly spaced, alternative stitches that follow the bricking pattern.
69 x 69 cm
This work is mostly hand stitched. Thread offcuts from previous works and motifs from reproduction gold fabric are appliquéd onto a fabric background using hand-dyed perle thread. The piece grew organically from the centre. Kantha-style stitching shadows and echoes the lustre of the solid sections of the flower.
69 x 63 cm
Started in a class with South African quilt artist, Paul Schutte, this mosaic piece grew and exploded across the whole of the background cloth. A previously pieced quilt top was cut up and fused onto the neutral background cloth, then outlined with blanket stitch by machine. The work was sandwiched with batting and a backing fabric and secured with large hand quilted stitches. It was then closely overstitched by machine in serpentine stitch.
160 x 133 cm
Machine pieced, machine appliquéd, hand quilted, machine overstitched
Orb #1 – #9
Constructed in the same way and from the same fabrics as their mother quilt, Carnival, these individual Orbs form a related sequence of smaller works.
36 x 28 cm.
Machine overstitched with a touch of hand quilting
Nine small quilts, containing outlines of trees, are arranged on a neutral, machine quilted backdrop.
112 x 112 cm
Machine pieced, hand quilted and machine quilted
Tree & Labyrinth
The background to this quilt is a hand stitched labyrinth that echoes a real, walkable one on the Hogsback at The Edge. Nearby is the Ecoshrine that has a sculpture of the Yggsdragil tree. This sculpture by Diana Graham inspired the tree-form that is appliquéd onto the labyrinthine background.
80 x 80 cm.
Hand quilted and hand appliquéd, with some machine piecing.
Green Tree with Birds
The translucent greenness of new oak leaves was the original inspiration for this work. It has had two incarnations. Oak-shaped loose leaves were stitched over the original thread-painted and appliquéd foliage and embroidered birds were added to nestle amongst the leaves.
143 x 92 cm.
A quirky, bright piece made during the Time of Covid lockdown. Commercial fabric depicting parrots in a forest was used to construct the tree and cut-outs of the birds were appliquéd to the branches. The background is machine pieced using the traditional pin-wheel quilter’s block.
156 x 114 cm.
Machine quilted and appliquéd.
Small BirdTree #1 – #11
Made from the same fabric as the mother BirdTree, these smaller trees are appliquéd onto brightly coloured backgrounds. Each work contains a lone perched parrot.
29 x 21 cm.
Machine quilted and appliquéd with some hand quilting.
R900 each (one is sold)
Waiting for the Rain
Made during the long drought, the bright houses are set against a barren background and cloudless sky. The road is closely hand stitched, kantha-style.
50 x 93 cm.
Hand quilted and machine appliquéd
The idea behind this project is an attempt to capture something of the historic richness of old Grahamstown.
The houses are all machine appliquéd onto a neutral background which is then closely hand quilted. On display are the first house portrait, made of the smallest house in town, and some of the latest stitchings.
Inspired by the spectacular African night sky in the Karoo, this quilt represents that display of stars. Shweshwe motifs are machine appliquéd onto the reverse side of a shweshwe whole cloth and embellished with machine stitching and hand embroidery.
70 x 70 cm.
Machine appliquéd and quilted. Hand quilted.