Thursday, June 26, 2014

Deborah Gregory explores "Nature's Influence" with CQA members

Deborah Gregory addresses the June 14 CQA meeting

For someone who says she's "not from a crafty family," Deborah Gregory has created a body of work that shows that she's made her own mark, through study and practice, to easily elevate craft to the level of fine art. Deborah, a long-time member of Contemporary Quilt Art Association (CQA), displayed the wide range of her fiber art at the group's June 14 meeting.

"Sea Circles II," one of Deborah's earlier quilts
Deborah grew up in Gloucester, Mass., with water, marsh and tide flats as her constant view, and the salty, watery smell, she said, was "just right." Possibly coincidentally, possibly by design, she ended up living in Seattle where "the water smells are just right!" Her career following a degree in Psychology comprised 20 years of social work where, she added, "Unfortunately you don't see a finished product." However, the tools she employed in her profession have helped her to be intuitive in her creative work.

One of Deborah's earlier, more traditional quilts

Once retired from social work, Deborah first focused on making clothing, then discovered Block Party Quilters, a traditional quilt guild in the Seattle/East Side area, and later joined CQA. Like many "newly hatched" fiber artists, she loaded herself up with classes in a wide variety of techniques, e.g. Lorraine Torrence's design classes, shibori, painting, collage, 3-D, etc. Throughout this exploratory period, she came to learn that "You have to be able to yield control and let the fiber work it out."

Three quite different events or occurrences happened in the early 2000s that sharpened her focus. First, her daughter died, in 2002, after a four-year fight against cancer. During this period, Deborah sought comfort in working in her studio.

"Genesis," one of the first pieces using landscape netting

Then, at one point, Deborah was intrigued by rolls of landscape netting she kept seeing on her walks on a path through a Bellevue greenbelt near her home. This was the fibrous net of the type highway departments use to control hillside erosion. Deborah "acquired" a yard or so of the netting and, using it as a resist, found that it slowly disintegrates when bleached and reused in her favored discharge process. Both the netting and that slow, deteriorating characteristic became the foundation of many of her subsequent series of art quilts. "I use this decomposition as a metaphor for nature's cycle of growth, flowering, decay and regrowth," she says.

"Passages," Deborah's piece in "Visual Verse." Netting based, this one introduces color.

Finally, in 2003 Deborah took part in a CQA-sponsored exhibition titled "Visual Verse," a show of works created by members who were paired with poets to produce companion art/poetry pieces over the period of a year. Her participation in this exhibit helped set her compass for her future work.

One of Deborah's more extensive series is "Choices and Pathways," and she has just completed her 21st piece in this group!

"Choices and Pathways IV." The central motif of this piece became a theme in a number of subsequent pieces.

"Choices and Pathways XI" sold promptly, even though Deborah had originally felt it was a failure-"too much black"!

Diptych "Choices and Pathways X" in preliminary stages.

Diptychs "Choices and Pathways XII," left, and the finished "Choices and Pathways X," right.
Another series is titled "Cycles," where she intends to complete a piece for each month of the year.

"January II" in the "Cycles" series. Commercial fabric, pole-wrapped, bleached with dishwasher soap.

"May" in "Cycles" series. Pole-wrapped, discharged, over-dyed several times in sections.

"July" in "Cycles" series. Same fabric as "May." The small round white spots are the results of water and bleach "blops" from an uncleaned spray bottle!

A third series is "Rest in Red," where several pieces are in the traditional kimono shape.

"Rest in  Red II." Hand-dyed with discharged "leaves"
"Rest in Red III," a commission for Fine Woodworking display.

In addition to doing discharge work with the netting, Deborah incorporates both blue- and brown-printing in her pieces. Though similar, the latter involves using a silver nitrate solution painted on the surface of fabrics. In blue-printing, she either mixes or buys the solution (ferrous, cyanide, iron), then paints it on fiber or fabrics in a dark room. Once the solution is dry, she exposes the treated material to the sun or a UV light, then rinses the piece to see the final design that emerges. During a residency in the Southwest, Deborah experimented with just tossing the blue-print fluid onto fabrics rather than painting a design, but she found the sun there to be so strong that the pieces were over-exposed. Further, the tossing method wastes a lot of the solution.
"Release Contain," a dyed silk back with blue-printed design and a layer of silk organza.

Deborah has tried painting at several times during her artistic journey, but found that she's much more comfortable with collage and fabric 3-D work. She sometimes includes a netting in her collage works, but this time it's the much finer florist's netting that she will "distress" with a heat gun.

"Pathways III" collage

"Ancient Walls" collage. Hand-dyed (wine-colored) fabric background, canvas front with paint, paper, fabric and silk-screened work.

"Blue Garden VI" collage

Many of her 3-D pieces are bowls, a format she's been experimenting with for some time. Using a balloon to form the basic shape, she will layer on blue-printed silk organza ("rayon collapses!"), occasionally lining the piece with layers of wool. She has used a variety of stiffeners in the bowls, including liquids, but has found no one better than any other.

"Sea Bowl" of blue-printed silk organza, with distressed edges, loose threads.
More recent experiments in 3-D work include her "Floats," where three loose layers of blue-printed silk organza are hung from a specially made, acrylic and metal wall-mounted frame. Deborah confided that she was able to trade one of the "floats" for a week's vacation in a palapa in Mexico!

One of Deborah's pieces will be included in a NorthWest Designer Craftsmen show at the Whatcom County Museum this fall. For more information about Deborah and to view the full range of her extraordinary work, see

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