Friday, October 17, 2014

Marjorie Fiddler, quilter to weaver

Marjorie Fiddler at CQA's Oct. 11 meeting, wearing a "vest/coat" woven of silk and linen threads.

Marjorie  Fiddler's first quilt, started when she was in college in Northfield, MN, was intended for a friend getting married. After wrestling with sandpaper templates ("to prevent them moving") and the severely limited fabric selection in Northfield in 1965, she abandoned the quilt...for more than 30 years! At the October 11 meeting of Contemporary QuiltArt Association, the Seattle-area artist told how, in the decades following that first effort, she combined her love of quilting with a subsequently discovered talent for weaving.

Out of college by the early '70s, Fiddler found herself in Boston, where an occupational-therapist friend employed at a local hospital gave her access to an unused workshop full of weaving equipment. "There was an old counter-balance loom missing some parts and pieces," Fiddler said, "so I spent the summer rounding up materials to repair the loom, acquiring fibers to weave, talking to every weaver I could locate, reading a ton of books on the craft, and so  on." Soon she was creating weavings of her own, from simple curtains to a complicated, colonial-style overshot bedspread. "Weaving is very step-by-step, and that appealed to me," Fiddler added.

In 1989, Fiddler arrived in Seattle with a year off to explore "something brand new," and the first thing she tried was watercolor classes. "I found out pretty quickly that I couldn't draw sufficiently--which was good, as I spent my time learning to blend colors," Fiddler said. Dealing with color came in very handy in her next exploration, which was a quilt-design study group. Here she learned to not second-guess herself,  to have faith in her own work and not gauge everything by how others responded to it.

From roughly 1989 until she retired in 2004, Fiddler was involved primarily in quilting. "What I loved about quilting was that the cloth comes already colored and frequently with patterning...and you can work piece by piece on a design wall," she said. "In weaving you have to decide so much in advance."
Fiddler's first finished quilt taught her a lot about scale!
Nicole McHale, left, and Bonnie  Brewer check out Fiddler's "Friendship" group quilt. All hand-quilted in a traditional  basket design, it was featured in the first show of the Assn. of Pacific NW Quilters, 1994, and traveled to Christchurch, NZ in a "sister city" exchange.
Bonnie Brewer studies Fiddler's "Batik Jewels" quilt, one of her early pieces created from fabrics a friend brought back from Micronesia. Fiddler found she liked the use of narrow inset lines..something used extensively in weaving.

"But some of the same principles basic to quilting are also critical to weaving," she adds. "Value is more important than color...a piece needs to 'read' both from closeup and at a distance. Line is another common element. I like to work on a grid, for the geometrical interaction of the lines. Scale is also important. And for me personally, I like having a limit, or boundaries...and you get that within the confines of the loom. I don't do tapestry weaving, as that has no boundaries."

Fiddler's 8-harness rug loom
View of part of Fiddler's studio and her 16-harness loom, used for yardage.
Given the freedom of retirement, Fiddler chose to return to weaving as  her creative outlet. A class at Weaving Works in Seattle in 2005 was followed by her joining the Seattle Weavers Guild. Then, through a family connection, she inherited two large floor looms--one, an 80"-high, 8-harness rug loom, the other a 16-harness loom for weaving yardage.

"Having these large, wonderful looms signaled to me that it was time to have 'a room of my own,'" Fiddler said, so the next step was rental of studio space outside of her home. "This also meant I now had something of my own space within my head....I was no longer worried about making pieces just for sale--though I do sell  pieces--but from then on, the projects were just for my pleasure," she added.
A sample of plain weave, where both the warp (vertical) and weft (horizontal) threads show.
Sample of weft-faced weave, used for rugs. Here, only the horizontal weft threads (yarn) show.

Fiddler showed images of "plain weave"--where the warp (vertical) strings are visible in the finished product--and "weft-face weave," where the weft (horizontal filler) yarns entirely cover the warp. This latter weave style is what Fiddler uses for rugs, which are her most frequent projects. She uses linen threads for the warp and 2-ply wool for the weft (mostly purchased from Henry's Attic).  Fiddler does most of her own dying, sometimes using natural dyes, but primarily using washfast acid dyes from Dharma. "Once I was concerned with consistency in dyeing, but I've learned to let it go," she added.
Vertical stripes can be done in weft-face weave by manipulating the looms harnesses.
Samples with vertical stripes.
Samples of "standard" horizontal woven stripes in weft-face weave.
Closeup of horizontal weft-face weave. The little "specks" of color come from tightly pounding down a single"shot" or thread of yarn.

Even in the weft-face weave, Fiddler can product vertical lines as well as the basic horizontal lines, by manipulating the loom's harnesses to create stripes. Non vertical/horizontal-line patterns can also be created through the use of ikat dyeing--basically tie-dyeing on a thread-by-thread basis. Sections of yarn are wrapped with some sort of resist, e.g. threads, plastic bags, tape, etc., then the yarn is sequentially dyed, first with the resist in place, then without (or vice versa, depending on the desired color combinations). The ikat process does require advance measuring in order to have the "second color" appear in the right place in the final piece, added Fiddler.
A setup for ikat dying, showing the "resist" wrapping. Inset shows a woven sample from ikat-dyed yarn.
The purplish irregular sections are ikat-dyed.
The final appearance can be changed by manipulating the ikat-dyed yarn section.
Finished section including an ikat-dyed portion.

Here, only the gray section(s) were ikat-dyed.
The irregular grayish sections were ikat-dyed.

With the experience she's gained over the years, Fiddler says she can now sit at the loom and design as she goes, without working from a precise plan or a sketchbook. The basic design principles of design she first learned in her years of quilting--and that transfer directly to weaving--now stand her in good stead.
Done in a twill weave, this is Fiddler's first piece that doesn't have top/bottom mirror image, a result of her running out of some of the yarn!
This piece was over-dyed with indigo, and again, is symmetric rather than mirror-image.
Deciding she'd not been using enough different colors in her work, Fiddler used a triad color scheme for this piece. She found she needed to change colors more often than usual!
"Reflections"--an ikat piece with both horizontal and vertical lines, somewhat designed "on the fly" as Fiddler ran short of some of the yarns and had to modify as she went.

For more about Fiddler and views of her weavings, go to

Friday, August 15, 2014

Deborah Kapoor uses ancient technique to create very modern art

Artist Deborah Kapoor at CQA meeting
Seattle-area artist Deborah Kapoor calls her work mostly experimental as she continually pushes to new boundaries. That she does this using one of the most ancient of art media--encaustic--intrigued the members of Contemporary QuiltArt Association as she spoke at the group's August 9 meeting.
The materials of encaustic: beeswax, pigment, resin (R&F Paints)

Encaustic work uses a mix of beeswax, pigment and resin that functions as paint and that can be used in much the same way as oil paints, but with the added ability to encase three-dimensional objects within the wax. Some of the earliest uses of encaustic date back to 500 B.C., and the medium was used in mummy paintings by the Egyptians around 100 A.D.

"Hot boxes" or palettes (R&F Paints)
The wax, pigment and resin are mixed and melted on top of a "hot box" or palette, and applied with brushes or spoon- and knife-like metal tools. Modern encaustic materials have an advantage over oil paints in that there's no need for solvent--they can be cleaned up with soy wax, then soap and water.

"BloodMilk"--encaustic with plaster bandage, wire, thread, book pages, onion skins, lace, Saral transfer, string, dryer sheets.
Encaustic pieces are archival--as long as they are not subjected to uncontrolled intense heat--and can be reworked at a later time by applying heat to any given area. They can crack if dropped--but the artist can then simply reheat the affected area and fix it!
"Retention of Life Force"--Encaustic,wire, paper, yarn.
"Non-Violence"--Encaustic, lace, paper
"Swinging Between External and Internal"--Encaustic, ink, fabric, ribbon

Kapoor was into painting and drawing in graduate school, then found herself cutting things up and adding stitching to her paintings. Soon she was integrating cold wax into her paintings to create layers, so it became an easy move to encaustic.
"Vehicle of the Gods"--Encaustic, dryer lint, thread, batting
Closeup of "Vehicle of the Gods"
"Inexorable Passage of Time"--Encaustic, old greeting cards

Many of her works spring out of three main themes--nature, the body, the self--each of which offers numerous paths for her to follow. Her husband is from India; that, combined with travel to India and study of Indian philosophy, has resulted in a good deal of her work exhibiting themes from Indian culture and traditions.
"Small Acts of Kindness"--Includes rubber bands in encaustic
"Village Gods"--Encaustic, paper, ink, thread
"Sense Base"--Encaustic, Satsuma peels
Back side of "Sense Base"

Kapoor takes full advantage of encaustic's ability to "hold" three-dimensional objects within the wax, and she collects and uses materials as disparate as bags of fibers, rubber bands, eye makeup-remover pads, dryer sheets, dryer lint, greeting cards, batting, "plaster bandages," plastic wrap, Satsuma peels and madrona bark in her work. She often includes prints and/or printed materials, and some pieces include hand-written mantras.
"Inner Soul"--Encaustic, thread, paper (with written mantras)
"Divine Mother"--Encaustic, felt, ink, paper, cord. Part of "Remembering" installation honoring Kapoor's late mother-in-law.

Installation of "Remembering"
"Cosmic Consciousness"--part of "Remembering" installation. Encaustic, paper, found objects, brads, cord.

"Remembering: Bones"--Encaustic, cord from pajamas

Kapoor began teaching encaustic classes at Bellevue College last year, and this winter will be teaching classes in Color Theory and Encaustic and Color. Her work can be seen at Art Exchange Gallery in Seattle, and on her website:
Students gather around Kapoor in encaustic class at Bellevue College.

For more information on encaustic history, materials and techniques, go to R&F Paints,

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Ross Palmer Beecher's "metal quilts and flags" fool the eye

Artist Ross Palmer Beecher at July 12 CQA meeting

"One man's trash, etc...." was never more true than for Ross Palmer Beecher. The Seattle-area artist wowed Contemporary QuiltArt Assn. members at the group's July 12 meeting with images and samples of her flags and quilts, which are definitely the epitome of mixed media.

One of Beecher's cloth quilts/flags.
Closeup shows presidential flags from placemats

Originally from Connecticut, Beecher was intrigued by fabric quilts as a child after her sister showed her pictures from an exhibit at New York's Whitney Museum. To create her own version of a scrap quilt, Beecher solicited fabric scraps from customers on her newspaper-delivery route. As this was in the '70s, she ended up with a motley collection including lots of polyester, Dacron, and other less-than-ideal fabrics to work with. She also determined she would make the quilt entirely by hand.

As if these materials were not challenging enough, Beecher soon moved on to creating quilts and flags from aluminum cans! Now, her pieces comprise every type of scrap material  imaginable, including license plates, pop and beer cans, spray cans, used paint tubes, candy wrappers, gummy worms, old clothing, venetian-blind slats, bottle caps, car and bicycle inner tubes, junk jewelry, silverware, kitchen utensils, cigarette lighters, snuff cans, Hot Wheels toy name it, she's used it! Some materials are discarded items she picks up as she bicycles to work. Friends and neighbors who know of her artwork will leave bags of cans on her front porch. Complete sets of states' license plates are available online if she doesn't find enough in her scrounging.

Triptych "Tumbling Dice" uses pieces of army clothing, Boy Scout patches, bullet casings from a shooting range.
Closeup of "Tumbling Dice." The small squares in the "plain" faces are mounted bullet casings.

Created from discarded cigarette lighters and parts of snuff cans. This piece was chosen by employees of the Seattle Water Dept. for permanent display in the Department's building.

Includes "head shots" from Napoleon olive oil cans, plexiglas.

Bottle caps, woven pop cans
Cut-up tin cans, a lunch box, strips from a child's wagon. 
Closeup of above; note open lunch box (black handle)

Bottle caps upon bottle caps!

T-shirt glued to cereal box and mounted with metal strips

Gummy worms, varnish, epoxy. Colors remain strong even after 10 years of hanging in the artist's window!

In using cans, she will "fillet" them to get sections that she may then use in large chunks, or she may cut the sections into thin strips that she will then weave together. She uses a Whitney punch to create holes in the edges of the materials--by hand. Heavier materials are linked by metal staples, lighter ones by 28-gauge wire.

Closeup of "quilt" featuring silverware in fan pattern. The piece is part of the permanent collection of the Boeing Co. at its Chicago headquarters.

Beecher's favorite Log Cabin pattern done in license plates
"My Palette #2" done in "filleted" spray cans and paint tubes

Closeup of "My Palette #2"

Pressurized spray cans need a different treatment to make them workable, involving gloves, a paper bag and bolt cutters: she places the cans in the bag and "pinches" them with the bolt cutters to let the residual gas escape. It's a surprise to learn that she's able to handle these unforgiving materials without a lot of slashed fingers! In using various fabrics in her pieces, often she will glue them to cardboard from cereal boxes to make them stiff enough to combine with metal pieces.

A Log Cabin "quilt" done in Hershey chocolate syrup cans that were saved for Beecher by an artist neighbor.

Closeup showing strips from chocolate syrup cans. Each block is bordered with bicycle inner-tubing,then laced with 28-gauge wire. The center "spiral" is an automobile reflector.

Even an old bedspring forms the basis of a pop-can quilt!

Coke can  "hearts" with 7-Up can backgrounds, Napoleon olive oil centers. A similar, larger version is on permanent display at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Closeup shows weaving from pop-can strips. Metal flowers (top) are from an old tin ceiling.

A bit of a pun--the letters are taken from license plates, which are typically made in state prisons.

Beecher has dedicated a 10' x 10' area of her 1500 sq. ft. house as a "studio," but admits that the construction process has expanded into her living room. Her "stash" consists of little piles of similar materials, mostly all out and exposed...she has to see it to remember what she has available to work with. Most of her pieces average 38 x 24 inches in size, with the largest being 9 x 6 feet.

A modification of Beecher's favorite Log Cabin pattern
A closeup shows the metal staples used to join heavier metal sections.

Some of her pieces are mounted on boards--depending on where the flag or quilt is to be hung or displayed--but she prefers to let them hang free as if they were made of cloth in the traditional manner.

A mandala design of Coke cans and flip-top rings

A Pepsi mandala including flip-top rings

"Wedding Band," similar to traditional Wedding Ring pattern

Closeup of "Wedding Band" shows the thin "curly" linkages Beecher cut from the rims of bottle tops.

"Rainbow" mandala of soda can flip-top rings with colander center. On permanent display at Seattle's Harborview Medical Center.
Asked about how she markets her work, Beecher responded that the Center on Contemporary Arts in New York gave her some exposure some years back. Her work was seen by a number of gallery owners, including Seattle's Greg Kucera, who asked to represent her. [Greg Kucera Gallery is showing a major exhibit of her work through August 23, 2014, at 212 3rd Ave. So.,  Seattle.] 

She also checks the internet to review calls for artists' entries. She has won an award from Artist Trust organization, and has been commissioned to produce a number of pieces of public art. (A Beecher piece was hanging in the US Embassy in Baghdad.) One piece for the Washington State Arts Commission, intended for a school in Gold Bar, was rejected by the school as some of the bottle caps in the frame came from beer bottles; the piece now hangs in the Commission's own office!

One of two quilts on permanent display at Seattle's Safeco field (one with AL team logos, the other with those of NL teams),  on license plates, with bottle-cap borders and sashing.

Created for display at an Ellensburg high school.

Closeup of Ellensburg high school piece, with full-size tractor seat (supplied by students)

Piece created for a school in Dupont, WA, with themes selected through a community/committee process. Includes tiles, oils on metal, coffee stirrers, fabrics, badges, military clothing. Each 15" square is wood-backed.

Closeup of a section  of the Dupot school piece. Note actual school supplies, book spines in upper right block.

For more information about Beecher, her work and her awards, see: .