Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Creating an Art Quilt Collage about Agnes Chase

I am delighted my quilt Grass Made It Possible will be included in the new special exhibition, A Better World, premiering at the International Quilt Festival in Houston in October and traveling to several venues through 2022.

I'm eager to share the quilt with you, but also to share the story about how it came about.

The call for entry asked artists to make a quilt inspired by someone who made a positive impact in the world. Wonderful! I can get behind that... except I don't really make quilts about people. This would be a challenge to find and harness some seed of inspiration that would allow me to make a quilt that will fit my personal style, but also the requirements of the theme.

I began by doing some research and making notes about women scientists looking especially for someone who worked with plants since I like botanical imagery.

I came across Mary Agnes Chase who studied grass and was a suffragist. Aha, a good possibility.

I texted my daughter Claire for her thoughts.

I found tons of pictures and scans of her reports, journals and letters in the online archives of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.

I copied this bit about the "mule with a most agonizing trot" that she rode while collecting grass in Brazil.

She traveled to several countries -- and was the worldwide expert on grass at the time.

She worked at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History into her 80s.

I continued searching online and found a book she authored that included several of her original sketches of grasses. I thought they might be perfect inspiration for a quilt, so I ordered the book.


My friend Helen contacted me about some upcoming classes I'd be teaching. She was eager to study with me. I told her I thought the Sacred Threads weekend would be perfect. She could take some workshops plus see a wonderful quilt show. She quickly signed up. I was delighted she'd be there!

We've been friends for a long time! Here we are in Sunday School together in about 1977. We're in the back row. I'm wearing the plaid dress and Helen is wearing the pink dress.

My mom and I attended Helen's graduation when she received her doctorate in Divinity recently.

In another email to Helen, I mentioned that I was also excited to be teaching in the DC area since my daughter Claire would be interning at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History this summer. Here's Claire with her advisor and some of the tiny flies she is researching.

Are you sitting down? Here's a bit of Helen's email response.


Can you believe it? Me neither. So of course, I had to make a quilt about Agnes.

I started by pinning lots of fabric to my design wall.

Using the sketches in Agnes' book for inspiration, I began creating patterns for grass shapes and cutting them out.

Here's the inspiration for the purple grass.

I didn't take many in-progress pictures along the way so here's the finished quilt.

Knowing the exhibition is really about raising awareness and celebrating people who have made a positive impact on the world, I wanted to be sure the quilt was really about Agnes... and not just beautiful grasses. So I included this panel describing some of the many things she did, including her connection to Helen (and to me).

The quilt is titled Grass Made It Possible which comes from Agnes' writings.

"Grass made it possible for the human race to abandon the cave life..." but it also made it possible for me to learn more about Helen. I learned about myself through the creative process too -- as I always do. I learned more about the botany department at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum and had lots of fun conversations with Claire about her work there.

I am especially inspired by Agnes' dedication to connecting with other women scientists all over the world. Just as grass connects us to the earth, we are connected to each other in innumerable ways. It may seem this quilt is about grass, it's really about celebrating those connections.

Saturday, June 01, 2019

Treelines Art Quilt -- The Whole Process

My family and I took a wonderful trip to the Netherlands last summer. One of my favorite things was the bus ride from Amsterdam out into the countryside. I was entranced by the lines of trees. 

I've zoomed in and cropped this picture so it's blurry, but you get the idea. 

Here's another. The cows too!

This was the beginning of my inspiration for a new art quilt collage. Another bit of inspiration was my desire to enter the "large appliqué" category at the Quilters Guild of Dallas annual show which requires quilts be at least 72 inches on one side, but not all sides. Aha. I could made a long narrow landscape design. I took those two parameters and got to work on some sketches.

I put some strips of fabric up on the design wall.

I tried some other fabrics and began cutting strips of trees including big round trees #1 in blue.

Then I tried some other fabrics and cut some more trees including big round trees #2 in aqua.

I knew I wanted to break up the trees with a wide house-like shape similar to the barn in the top photograph. This would be a great place to incorporate some handwriting as a surface design pattern. I tested some pens and colors.

 The writing is intentionally illegible, but I think it was mostly stream-of-thought about our time in the Netherlands.

With the addition of the green barn and big round trees #3 in red, I eventually arrived here.

There are lots of problems with contrast in this composition which meant I needed to shop for some alternatives. I brought swatches with me.

After lots of time at the design wall, the dining room table and the ironing board, I was able to move forward and began adding strips within each layer that were similar in color, but different fabrics and patterns.

One of the pieces I wanted to add was this lovely green pointy print.

But I only had a tiny bit. I sent a desperate text to Kristin LaFlamme and this yardage arrived a few days later. Yeah!

By this point, I was growing weary of working on something so wide. Because all those strips go all the way from left to right, it was tricky to move them around, get them fused together and keep everything aligned. That's part of the challenge of working with an improvisational collage technique. But I can't imagine doing it any other way.

I wanted to break up the wide strip of red on the bottom and remembered the grasses growing along the roadside in the Netherlands.

Ta Da... grasses. 

At this point, I decided it needed something else. My work is all about layering fabric, paint and stitching and this piece did not have as much paint as it could have. I mean, there's already a lot going on, but sometimes more is more.

I sketched some possible motifs to create a foam stamp.

It's a little scary to add stamped painted patterns on top of the finished fused top but I did it. I didn't take any pictures of the process though. You can see the green leafy shape in the foreground as I'm fusing the entire quilt to batting on the dining room table.

The finished fused top. Can you believe how many steps it takes to get here?! I'm glad I added the green stamped leafy motif. It visually ties the layers together.

The sun-like shape in the sky strip is a pattern I created using a hot-glue gun stencil. I wrote about this technique for Quilting Arts magazine.

I printed several copies of the quilt and began planing the stitching.

I knew the green house needed something. Eventually I decided on a ghost tree silhouette.

I created the tree pattern using freezer paper that I ironed to the top to stitch around. I sometimes like this method better than marking the design on the quilt top. Yes, the freezer paper peels off eventually, but it's easily reattached. Pins helped the process too.

After finishing the hand embroidery, I fused on a backing and added free motion machine quilting.

It did hang in the Dallas Quilt Show in the large appliqué category!

I am also delighted to say that it has been juried into an upcoming Studio Art Quilt Associates global exhibition called Connecting Our Natural Worlds which will premier at the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum in Tuscon, AZ in October.

I recently had Treelines and some of my other work professionally photographed.

Treelines, 30 x 80 inches

I love how the ghost tree silhouette turned out.

The yellow fabric with the blue raindrops was created using the rolling prints techniques I demo'ed in this video.

 See the tiny snippets of the black and white stripe? They are my suggestion of cows.

Thanks for scrolling through all those pictures! I hope you enjoyed a peek into my process.

Oh, by the way, the big round trees in blue and aqua and several of the other rejected trees from this project have already made their way into other quilts. Scroll through my Instagram and see if you can spot them. 

If you're intrigued by my process, you may enjoy my book Art Quilt Collage: A Creative Journey in Fabric, Paint and Stitch.

I've also created a workbook called Head, Heart and Hands: Developing Your Creative Voice which includes lots of ideas, inspiration and thoughts about how I arrived at my unique style and process.