stitchings and musings on the art of quilt making by Mariss Stevens
My love affair with fabric and thread began in 2001 when I was shown the delights of quiltmaking by the Quilters of Grahamstowns (QUOGS). Since then I have honed my stitching skills, first by making bed quilts and then arts quilts. I have produced more than 100 quilts, from small to large, sombre to bright, and much inbetween. Houses and then trees have caught my imagination as subject matter. I am a member of the South African textile art group, Fibreworks. I have exhibited locally and overseas and have held three solo exhibitions in my hometown.
Summer is in full bloom in this part of the world and to celebrate here are two more appliquéd fabric flowers. They are destined for my proposed Brash Flower Garden quilt and were stitched to mark the months of September and October.
In my real real garden there is an African daisy (Osteospermum) plant which has sentimental associations and which blooms profusely almost all year round. It is particularly abundant in spring and this is why I chose to make a textile representation of it. In keeping with the simple form of the daisy, the stitching is not elaborate. I constructed the flower in my go-to method of layering the petals on the backing fabric and machine stitching around the edges, before beginning the hand-stitching (cum quilting) which gives the flower its depth.
During October I visited the Western Cape and saw many beautiful proteas during walks on Table Mountain and in the Somerset West area. There were also fabulous floral arrangements of proteas at a family wedding. So it was the obvious choice of flower for my October block. Ha! Then I discovered what I had let myself in for. The protea is not a flower which lends its to being ‘flattened’ so that it can be stitched in a two-dimensional representation. My quilting friends failed to identify my fabric flower when I asked them to guess what it was!
For the inspiration and guidelines I used this image of the Protea magnifica from the book Proteas of the World by Lewis Matthews, paintings by Zoe Carter (Durban: Bok Books, 1993)
You may have noticed that I used the same fabric circle for the centres of both the September and October flowers. But for the protea I added a wide section of plain purple fabric and also blotted out the white circle of dots on the original fabric with a black Inktense pencil. Then I stitched the centre closely to emulate the velvet-like texture found at the centre of the protea. Instead of perle thread I used dark purple woolen tapestry thread for the centrall part of the flower and white woolen thread for the outer band.
Here is a close up photograph of the stitching at the centre of the flower:
And here are photographs of the back and the front of the block after the petals had been appliquéd into place, followed by the finished flower to show what a difference the hand stitching makes.
This is a draft cover for a fabric book that has a triple function. It will not only hold examples from the workshops I did during the South African National Quilt Festival, but also the memories of those marvellous five days, and it will serve as a kind of a workbook that I can refer to when I want to repeat methods that I learnt.
If I may say this — I think it is a brilliant idea.
The cover is 11 inches square and contains the logo that graced the paper goodie bag I found on my bed in the hostel. I cut out the design and appliquéd it onto the fabric for the cover, along with a logo from the quilt festival catalogue. In both cases the paper is strong and my sewing machine zig-zagged through it with ease. The badge comes from the goodie bag I received when I registered. (Yes, I got two goodie bags, containing thoughtful, handmade, useful gifts. What generosity!)
After three weeks of travelling and visiting friends and family, I arrived home this week and am happily settling back into my sewing space and familiar routines.
Above are the examples I made during Sue Cameron’s one-day workshop Magic with Fabric, laid out on my work table at home. During the class Sue showed us how to create texture with (mostly) synthethic fabrics. We layered, stitched and burnt textiles; we folded and inserted prairie points into cotton squares; we felted chiffon and yarn; we made chenille by layering and cutting fabrics; and generally played happily with the enticing fabrics and yarns in the provided kits and from favourite bits and pieces we had each brought along.
This array is now stitched into the first signature of the book.
Watch this space for further developments.
Feast your eyes
The fibre art group exhibition DiVERSiTY is on show at the Rupert Museum in Stellenbosch until 29 January 2023. It was mounted in collaboration with the National Quilt Festival and curated by Dal Botha. There is an online e-catalogue.
There is another online delight of South African fibre art. The group Fibreworks recently launched a virtual exhibition titled Passage.
At a workshop with Elaine Barnard titled Kawandi and Godhari Quilting, I learnt something of this ancient utilitarian form as I assembled and stitched a small sampler of bright scraps, held down by white running stitch. This was one of the six classes I took during the South African National Quilt Festival in early October.
Elaine Barnard is not only an inspiring textile art teacher, but also a world traveller who has visited India many times. During the workshop she shared her knowledge of Indian customs through stories of her travels as generously as she shared the fabric from saris, which we used to add authenticity to our samplers. We were a large class of enthusiastic quilters learning a new form of stitching, and she patiently showed us the way. It was not easy to change tack and use thick crochet cotton, threaded through a very long needle, and to work from the outer edge inwards. It was also not easy to coax small pieces of sometimes slippery sari fabrics to lie flat and be stitched down with turned-under edges.
But it was fun and inspiring. It was also humbling to realise that what we were doing for fun is done out of necessity by extremely poor women who use every scrap of old and found cloth to make whole cloths, or godharis. During the class I also became more aware of how ancient this form of stitching is.
The following background information comes from the stories Elaine told during the class and from her useful information booklet:
The term godhari refers to the quilt itself, while kawandi is the method used to make it. A kawandi style quilt differs from other godhari quilts. The quilts are stitched by a group of women, usually one woman at each corner. The threaded needle is handed from one woman to the next as they stitch around the cloth, from the outer edge inward.
First they lay out the backing, then they add old saris and bits of old cloth as batting. Then they stitch down the surface patches, each with the edges folded in, using a long length of thread and a long, thin needle. Their only tools are a needle, thread, fabric and a cutting implement — sometimes they don’t have pairs of scissors and use blades to cut the fabric, or simply just tear it. Imagine making a quilt with no thimble, no pins, no design, no sewing machine, no rulers, no iron, no frames. The Sidi people who make kawandi quilts possess none of these tools.
The construction is the opposite of that used for traditional quilts.
“Where we plan and construct every move, kawandi quilts are made intuitively and without any preconceived ideas. It’s just the women and a heap of fabric and the magic of creating something beautiful by pulling the next fabric from the heap and sewing it into the quilt.”
— Elaine Barnard
The makers of kawandi quilts are the Sidi people of Karnataka, India. They are descendents of slaves from south east Africa. They arrived in India in 628 AD and are mostly Muslim. Some of them escaped slavery and established communities in forested areas. They are separated from mainstream society and live in poverty in isolated areas, small villages, or at the edge of larger towns. Many work as day labourers or seasonal migrant workers. Some women remain at home to make quilts that provide comfort and warmth to their families.
And so we set about emulating this method during the workshop. A kawandi-style godhari traditionally has a folded cotton tassel, called a phula (flower) at each corner. Once we had prepared the backing cloth by folding in the edge, we placed these at each corner, and then began stitching down the patches, each with their edges folded back.
Above are in-process photographs. This was as far as I got during the one-day workshop. The close-up on the right is to show the effect of the stitching. I spent a happy, slow week finishing the sampler. It struck me that I have made a kind of a collage. It started with that beautiful sequined design that resembles a roof. The house (or small temple) shape then emerged as I stitched.
While quietly stitching I had the idea to collate all the examples I made at the various workshops I did during the Quilt Festival and construct a small book as a memento of the lovely time I had. So, I have started a smaller kawandi-style quilt, which will better fit into the proposed book.
This is in its early stages of construction, but gives a nice graphic portrayal of the process of making a kawandi-style quiltlet. It is 9 inches square. Note the folded triangles at the corners to make the flowers. I stitched down the folded-in edge of the backing to make it easier to handle. How do the Sidi women manage without pins? I certainly couldn’t.
To end off, here is one of my favourite quilts that was on show during the National Quilt Festival. The maker is Elaine Barnard and it won first prize in the Wall Quilts: Art Pictorial (Masters) section.
There is too much to say after spending five exhilarating days at the South African National Quilt Festival held this year in Stellenbosch from 5 to 9 October. So I will concentrate on the highlight. I am very proud of my good friend The Artist who won prizes for all three of the quilts that she entered in the show. She got Best of Show: Wall Quilts for her work titled Invitation; first prize in the category Wall Quilts: Open and Judge’s Choice for Cherry Pickers; and third prize for Faraway in the category Wall Quilts: Art Pictorial.
Catherine Knox aka The Artist caught in action at a workshop during the National Quilt Festival. She balanced her prize-winner’s badges on the name tag lanyard with aplomb.
The photograph was taken during Diana Vandeyar’s improv hexi class.
My photographs of her works, sporting their winning ribbons, are not perfect. For better images please take a look at the Prize Winners Catalogue.
Her description on the accompanying label:
“A gleeful response to the freedom and space of my new happy place under the mountains”
“Repetitive machined mark-making taken to a frenetic extreme creates a new mid layer, calming the base of fabric patches. The hand-stitching creates a more emphatic top-layer for the bird and branch forms.”
“An ode to Father Sun and the escape that beckons from our silent spaces…”
It is more than obvious why I have referred to Catherine as The Artist in previous posts. How lucky I am to have a friend who not only makes magnificient work but is also generous in her sharing of ideas and advice.
The above were the only photographs that I took at the quilt exhibition. But the photographs of all the winning quilts are shown in the catalogue mentioned above. Here is the link once more.
Last week I posted a photograph of a completed quilt that I called the Mystery Quilt because I did not want to give away a surprise. Its real name is Asta’s Quilt. I gave it to her when she visited the quilt festival and was overwhelmed by her response. It was made with fabrics that she had previously given to me. Here it is in its real home:
*The title to this post is misleading. It was not because of gambler’s luck that Catherine won these prizes.
This week’s post is going to be a short one because I am very busy packing for the classes I will be doing during the National Quilt Festival. I can’t wait! The festival runs for five days and I have signed up for six classes (some of them are half-day ones), so I am in for an immersive quilting experience.
The quilt show itself is always wonderful and I will be spending the lunch breaks looking at the array of quilts that will be on display.
My version of this year’s mystery quilt designed by Diana Vandeyar and run by the Good Hope Quilters’ Guild is now quilted and bound. It was a wonderful challenge and I wrote about the process of piecing it in a previous post.
As you can see from the photograph it is not closely quilted. I chose to hand quilt alongside the seam lines and hope that this shows off the beautiful design. The outside edge is machine quilted with a walking foot.
The reverse side of the quilt and an in process photograph of stitching down the binding one sunny afternoon on the couch.
Is it possible, I wondered, to adapt the principles of slow stitch so that the work can be done by machine. I was in need of a challenge to distract myself from the vagaries of life and decided to give it a try. This was the result.
There are a few strands to the back story of how this piece evolved.
A year ago I saw four remarkable textile works by Angie Franke Weisswange that made me look at old denim in a new way. The series portrays African woman practising the craft of beading and the works were part of the Out of the Blue exhibition at the GFI Gallery in Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth). Angie told me that she had used worn denim clothing to make her works of art (each one is 90 x 60 cm). The construction method is denim appliqué, free motion stitching and beading.
Angie recently made another denim-based work called Look and Learn and kindly gave me permission to show a photograph of it.
At the Out of the Blue exhibition I bought this postcard-sized work by Angie and hung it in my work space. Even though the fish are completely absorbed by one another, I think they may have been whispering to me about the lovely denim from which they are made, because I could not bring myself to discard a pair of denim work pants that were literally beyond mending for a third time. I also noticed how surprisingly soft the fabric had become through wear.
The second strand to the story is my recent preoccupation with slow stitch. I have read and savoured Claire Wellesley-Smith’s book Slow Stitch: Mindful and contemplative textile art and it is this book that led me to set my sewing machine at its lowest speed to construct the patched background of Working Cloth (pictured at the start of this post). This is ironic as she advocates hand stitch as part of the slow process. However, I decided that the decor samples I had in stock were just right for the background and it would have been too difficult to sew them by hand onto a backing cloth of canvas.
In the book Wellesley-Smith discusses sustainability, the environmental impact of the textile industry, and the wastage of discarded textiles caused through, inter alia, the fast fashion industry.
All of the above led to the making of this somewhat strange work. I sewed the patches onto the canvas backing by working from the outer edges inwards in a square spiral stitch line. This is the method used for the making of Kawandi cloths by hand and I though I would give it a try by machine. It worked well (to my surprise) with only a few puckers at the turning of the corners. I found it easier to deal with many pinned patches by working from the outside in, rather than from the middle out (quilters will understand this strange sentence). I then made a sandwich with batting and a second piece of canvas and machine quilted the patched background with straight line quilting and a heavy duty needle. The edging is half inch strips of denim (the good bits from the reverse side of the jeans) zigzagged into place. The final step was to machine appliqué the trouser front onto the background.
This is not quite the end of the story. There was a pile of strips of leftover decor fabric, backed with the paper used in the construction of the decor sample books. I stitched them onto two smaller canvas backings, paper and all, and then machine quilted the pieces.
They are quite small (40 cm square) and are works in progress. The doilies are machine appliquéd onto the quilted backgrounds. This time I used half inch strips of the canvas to edge the pieces.
To end off, here is a quotation about wear and tear.
Mended things hold hisories, and these are narratives of time. The patina that is created by the wear is often unseen in museum textiles where you mostly find the best-preserved (or least used) items. However, repairs show an emotional acknowledgement of the fragility of the material world and this is a powerful statement.
This week’s post is about a happy Saturday spent stitching together around a table. Six enthusiastic people arrived with bundles of scraps for a hand stitching workshop. The aim was to make either a needle roll or a book cover. The fun of it was to select small pieces of cloth, arrange them onto backing cloth, pin them down and then secure them with running stitch. This took up the day as it takes time to cover a 6 x 13 inch area with rows of running stitch.
The stitchers went home with almost completed tops and instructions on how to add the inner layer of cotton batting which will serve as a bed for the needles (or the backing of the book cover).
Taken towards the end of the day, this photograph gives an idea of what happened around the table during the class: hands busy stitching, or taking time to inspect the layout of the chosen patches. There was a feast of threads and fabrics to choose from. While we stitched we swopped ideas and stories, and shared fabrics and thread. Everyone settled down to their stitching quickly and easily and I was reminded of the joy of running stitch, of how the simple in and out movement of the needle flows along and calms one in the process.
At the end of the day we laid the six pieces out alongside one another. They are all different and I felt proud to see these beautiful, individual pieces that were produced during the class.
A new page
I have added a page for my exhibition sequence to the website. It took a while to construct and I am glad that there is now an online record of it. Here’s the link.
A while ago the artist, Claudia McGill, who is one of my blogging friends, kindly sent me high resolution images of some of her postcard artworks after I had enthused about two of the cityscapes in her etegami series. She explains: “I drew on the tradition of etegami to guide me, doing a loose interpretation by illustrating a haiku (written by me) rather than including a simple phrase, but I stuck with the idea of mail art, spontaneous art work, and something pleasant that a person would like to receive in the mail.” [my italics]
I certainly did like receiving these images through electronic mail. She slipped in a third image that I (arrogantly) feel was made especially for me.
While I sometimes have to make the hard choice between hand stitching or knitting of an evening, I am very glad that I learnt to knit as a child. My mother was a keen knitter and taught me not only to knit, but also how to knit and read at the same time. Recently books have been published on the psychological benefits of knitting which is said to reduce anxiety, promote calmness and well-being. I suspect women through the ages have intuitively known this, but that perhaps the practical benefits of producing warm clothing was more important.
A good thing about hand knitted jerseys is that they don’t wear out, and if they do spring a hole, are easily mended. My knitting needles had thus become idle. Then I became a grandmother and rediscovered the delights of knitting. Apart from the physical activity of the clicking needles and the growing garment, there is also the weaving of a connection with the intended wearer of the garment. It gives me great pleasure to see my grandson in one of my jerseys.
This liquorice allsorts jersey is currently on my knitting needles and is possibly the most challenging piece of knitting I have ever done. It is knitted from cotton and I am finding it difficult to make the shapes neat because of the constant changing of the colours. The front is looking better now that I have had some practice.
Fairisle knitting is not new to me, but I always carefully choose patterns where only two colours (strands of yarn) are required at a time. Then one can loop a strand over each hand and knit away smoothly and evenly. This method was also taught to me by my mother.
I first knitted this fairisle pattern when our girls were toddlers and it was nice to repeat it for the next generation. While in the realm of nostalgia: my mother knitted a liquorice allsorts jersey for my daughter when she was small, and so this pattern is also being repeated, at her request.
There is a lovely blog called Knit With Helen with great tips and tricks and patterns. Thanks to Helen I knitted a very useful wash cloth (don’t panic — I won’t show you a photograph) by following her clear instructions. I have also knitted beanies in various sizes, using a link to a free pattern from her blog. In one post she sings the praises of a good pair of knitting needles, and I can’t agree more. I have one pair of really good knitting needles and I enjoy using them so much that I have knitted myself a range of headbands — partly because the gauge of the needle (2.75 mm) works welll and partly because it is a way to use up the leftover double knit cotton from which I have made the baby cardigans.
Each time this image comes up on one or other of my feeds I chuckle. Apparently his name his Seth and he is on Instagram @dudewithsign. Just to be clear, I am not about to confuse the two, but am going to show you images of a poncho I recently crocheted. It was also a nostalgia trip because I made my first one back in the 1970s. It was very bright and I thought I was the bees knees when I wore it.
To end off, here are Claudia McGill’s cityscapes that I mentioned in the first paragaph. Thank you Claudia.