Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Jane Dunnewold, One Artist's Evolution, What Matters?

CQA Meeting September 10, 2011
by Lorraine Edmond

A full house of enthralled artists attended the September CQA program to hear speaker Jane Dunnewold. Jane is well-known nationally and internationally for her artwork , her teaching, and her writing, especially the influential books Complex Cloth, and Art Cloth. She is now serving as the vice president of the Surface Design Association and will become the next president.

Jane began her talk by noting that this is a fortunate time to be involved in the surface design movement because there are so many techniques and tools available to us now. She also suggested that we learn some “guerilla tactics” to overcome the tendency for others to isolate us in the “fiber ghetto.” (Apply to shows that accept “mixed media” even if they say specifically “no fiber,” redefine your work as a “construction” instead of a quilt if that will make your audience see it differently.)

Next, the audience was treated to a large collection of images going back 25 years or so, (all of which looked like they could have been 21st century pieces, however.) Jane began by showing a collection of her photos of clotheslines from around the world to illustrate that she was always drawn to textiles and fiber due to their role in the legacy of women. She explained that she was “attracted to the basic necessity of fabric,” and that translates into her studio work.

Her earliest work included collaged paste papers and solvent transfers on silk. Even decades later, she insists “I’m still basically low-tech.” Other early work included a quilt made from old dish towels along with sandpaper and screen cloth. Her first quilt in Quilt National was called “Baby Quilt” and was composed of solvent-transferred baby photos and bordered with birthday candles that she lit to form an uneven burned edge.

Jane believes that we find techniques we’re drawn to and we know that we love them, but only later may we find the thread of meaning that begins to assert itself. “We think we’re bouncing around, but we’re really filling up the toolbox, deciding what to keep and what to discard.”

At some point, she decided to focus on cloth, on layering, on wet processes. This immediately resulted in issues of presentation—how to show the work so that it didn’t look like a curtain.

After some years of doing this work, she began to feel “strangled” by art cloth, and wanted to move into new work. She found resistance from galleries and others, but she persevered. At this point, she spent a year listening to the Tao Te Ching (Stephen Mitchell translation) and making lists of every visual image that came up. Those images were turned into tools to use for the next series of work. The series grew to 14 pieces and was shown in Santa Fe just two days after Sept 11, 2001.

Like most artists, Jane says she has long dry periods when she wonders if she will ever make anything again. She spends considerable time collecting images and symbols before plunging in to new work. And then, sometimes …. “you just gotta get a new tool!” In her case, a recent example was a needle-felting machine (or two). “You work with it until it distills into what you are meant to do with it—if you sit around thinking about what you’ll do with it, you’ll never do anything.” Other times, you plunge into a new technique, as her recent work with soy wax exemplifies. It’s the rare artist who is not seduced by new tools--see Jane’s work with digital imagery printed on fabric at for several examples in the Sacred Planet series.
After some time spent on the digital printing path, she returned to her roots—starting with plain white fabric. She believes it is helpful to provide limitations in order to structure the work—a limited color palette, a specific shape or size or materials or techniques—any of these can work. Jane chose to work with black, white and gray, silk fabric, some paper, simple organic images, and using some sand-embedded screen prints. She worked on 5 pieces a week, as she had 4 months to make work to fill an exhibition space with 290 running feet. The result was 48 pieces in the Etudes series. After the first twelve, she couldn’t stand the black and white restriction, so she added pieces of a quilt to the work. Color continued to insert itself in the form of deconstructed clothing and hand stitching. As the series progressed, the pieces simplified—she said she was really “settling into it” by number 40!

Visit Jane’s web site ( to see examples of her work. The Sacred Planet, Visual Poetry and Etudes series all have their own galleries of images. She also has lists of resources and a generous collection of .pdf files on a variety of topics that you can download.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Lorraine Torrence; Finding Your Voice

CQA Program August 11, 2011

By Melodie Bankers

Lorraine Torrence, speaker at CQA’s August meeting, is well-known as a quilting and creative clothing teacher and was one of the earliest members of CQA. Her students can quote at the drop of a hat her most frequent sayings: “Make visual decisions visually” and “Color gets all the credit but value does all the work.”

Lorraine offered the following advice on how to find your own voice as a fiber artist:
1. Do what interests you and what feels right. No one else has your same perspective. There is no absolute answer – we all bring our unique perspectives to art.
2. Do something more than once rather than just dabbling with this and that. You need to try a technique or design several times to discover if it is your voice. Stay true to your own creative spirit.
3. Look at your work critically and from a distance (example: use a reducing glass).
4. Don’t get hung up with details. Start with a skeleton.
5. Don’t get easily discouraged if things don’t work the first time – keep trying. Learn how to “fail well.” Use each non-success as an opportunity to lean. Remember that for a baseball player, batting 300 is excellent – that means the ball player hits 30% of the time.
6. Experiment with different styles. Lorraine demonstrated that she has worked in different styles and with different techniques throughout her career with a trunk show of numerous quilts featured in her various books and garments made for several international fashion shows.
7. Sketch! Keep a visual journal - record words and keep pictures that inspire you. Go back to these when you get stuck. Your journal can be the source of inspiration even years later.
8. There is value in the work of different people. Learn to be the best you can be using your own voice.

Lorraine concluded by reading “The Bedspread,” by Sylvia Fair, her favorite book. Two sisters with equally valid approaches to quilting create their shared bedspread. Maude is careful and precise while Amelia’s style is liberated and joyous. The end product reflects both voices.

Showcase continued the theme with: “What makes you You?” Some highlights of the comments of the various pieces shown include:
  • Try to find a technique that supports your vision.
  • Look at other sources of inspiration, not just fine art – for example, an iron gate, or the book, “Earth from Above."
  • Take being a beginner seriously.
  • There is art in roadside rubbish.
  • Learning from others’ comments is OK – students have copied art in museums to learn from the masters for centuries.
  • Be intentional in your work.
  • Do the unexpected.
  • Backgrounds should be critically important to the piece.
  • Evaluate what cloth does that paint doesn’t do.
  • Let go and have fun.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Elin Noble - inspiring creativity

Post by CQA member, Lorraine Edmond

Elin Noble spoke to a standing-room crowd at our July 9 CQA program, where she dazzled us with her clamp-resist dyed fabric, her variegated thread, and her finished work, in the form of both art cloth and quilts. Elin has been dyeing fabric for about 30 years, which included a stint as the lab manager for ProChem. As a result of being asked the same process questions over and over, she wrote the popular and award-winning book “Dyes and Paints: A Hands-on Guide to Coloring Fabric,” which is now in print once again.

Elin talked about her sources of inspiration— her travels, her awareness of the “theatrical quality of light,” and reflections through windows that illutrates what she calls “different kinds of the same reality.” Her current work uses carved wood blocks as clamps for resist, and some pieces are the result of as many as 38 steps of dyeing and resisting, clamping and re-folding. The result is fabric with a luminous quality that seems to glow even when seen across a room.

About ten years ago, Elin began making small quilts to use as teaching examples, and about three years ago, she began a series of whole cloth quilts. This year, one of her Fugitive Pieces quilts was included in Quilt National, where it also won a juror’s award. And if that isn’t envy-producing enough, you should see the pictures of her gigantic studio, which she shares with her husband, who is a sculptor. She now works on a long arm quilting machine, which makes it easier to do her intensive threadwork, especially on large pieces. She has a 16-foot-long work table as well as a separate dye and discharge room, with its own ventilation system, so she can work there year-round.

Marbling fabric is another interest, as is vat dyeing and working with degummed silk. Elin is no stranger to the Pacific Northwest (many of us have taken classes with her mother, Maurine Noble, over the years), and this time, she is in town on her way to teach at Coupeville, at the Pacific Northwest Art School. I am sure I’m not the only member of the audience who had a serious temptation to follow her right over there after such a tantalizing peek at her work.

You can see more of Elin's work as well as her teaching and exhibition schedule at