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.
Although it has been a busy week I have not done any stitching and so have no new work to post. Instead of not writing a blog this week, I decided to revisit a ten-year-old piece. It is called Wedding Dress and marked my debut as a member of the South African Fibreworks group of textile artists when it was exhibited in 2010 at the Fibreworks VI exhibition at the ArtB Gallery in Cape Town.
Ten years later and the group’s eleventh exhibition, FIBREWORKS microMACRO, opens this Sunday at the Tatham Gallery in Natal at 11h00. The exhibition is both virtual and live and if you would like to visit it via the internet please visit the Tatham Gallery website on 6 December to get the link.
The piece has a rather personal story behind it. It was made in the year of our 25th wedding anniversary after I decided I had to either use the silk scraps from my real wedding dress, or throw them away. I began by joining the large triangular pieces left over from the cutting of the dress’s wide skirt and then moved on to joining the smaller scraps. The replication of the dress happened organically when I discovered the negative shape of the original bodice amongst the scraps.
Here is the artist’s statement for the piece, which is still valid after a decade:
A statement about recycling and renewal, meditation and memory, nostalgia and nurture. Scraps of raw silk are hand pieced and layered on a backing of melkdoek [muslin]. This is in turn laid and stitched onto a quilted cotton counterpane. Silk and silver thread and old, fine crochet cotton hold the layers together. The creams and whites provide a canvas for a pair of hand beaded red shoes.
Having taken it out of storage and looked at it with fresh eyes, I am tempted to add a few more stitches and refashion it a bit.
This may end up being my last post for the year. If so, best wishes for the season.
My friend Laura Bruno Lilly wrote about the monthly kantha samplers I have been making during this strange year in a post called Pandemic Potpourri V and it was nice to be reminded that I had sung the praises of the simple running stitch (which is the basis for the various patterns that one can produce using this stitching style).
That said, I am glad to be on the home run of this self-imposed challenge to make a sampler per month during 2020 (or MMXX, with thanks to Laura for alerting me to this alternative convention for writing the date). November’s sampler is rather smaller than its previous monthly companions! I have an idea for December and plan to make a bigger piece as I enjoy the quiet time leading up to Christmas.
Any guesses on what I was up to this month with my stitching experiment?
Last week I mentioned that I was plotting and planning something with the extra templates given to us at the Elongated Hexi class that I attended. Here’s a photograph of the start of a hand-pieced Skinny Elongated Hexigon quilt. I am not planning to finish it any time soon as the patches are rather small. It is a marvellous way of using the scraps and fat quarters that have been given to me by my quilting friends, near and far.
A few weeks ago I attended a morning workshop with Yolande Bowman of Pied Piper Quilt Shop (my LQS) and learnt a clever way to hand piece hexagon shapes. She showed us how to join the patches without using paper templates, as in the English Paper Piecing (EPP) method. I have fallen in love with Yolande’s method and finished the piece started at her Elongated Hexis class. It is designed to be a cushion cover and measures about 50 cm square.
The class was great fun with lots of quipping and swopping of fabrics. I started off using browns and muted autumnal shades from my stash. My neighbour’s selection was beautifully bright and, after she gave me the orange piece to brighten things up a bit, I boldy cut some shapes from an Australian fabric that I had brought along. This was my first fussy cut experience. (For any non quilters who may be reading this, fussy cutting is when one carefully cuts around a shape or image so that it can be showcased in a block, or in this case, shape.)
Yolande’s class sample was so beautiful that I did not even try to emulate her clever arrangement of tones and colours. And her stitching is perfect too!
She kindly gave us bonus templates for a mini hexi and I am plotting and planning something for that. But first I must finish quilting my ‘brown study’. I have been using the left over threads from my Garden of Deliqhts quilt and am enjoying the slow stitching.
I have been gardening like crazy after some days of welcome rain. (I won’t bore you with the photograph of the potatoes I harvested this morning, even though I am so proud of how beautifully they grew.) As a result I am a bit late with my post this week and nearly skipped it altogether. But I am glad I did turn on my computer, because I found an invitation to an upcoming Fibreworks exhibition for which I have submitted work. Here it is and I am proud to say that the bronze flower in the centre of the bottom row of images is my work.
The word delight has a lovely lilt to it and an equally lovely meaning — to take or find great pleasure. And it was was with gleeful delight that I learnt this week that my quilt Garden of Delights has won third prize in the South African section of 20th annual Brother Quilting Contest.
This means that the quilt will travel to Japan for the international leg of the Brother competition. It will be in good company with the other prize winners and finalists in the local competition.
When I finished the quilt I could not resist writing about it in a post called On Gardening so I will not repeat myself about the enjoyment I got out of making the quilt. Last year I entered a quilt called Turkish Delight and it was chosen as one of finalists and also travelled across the oceans to Japan.
At the beginning of October Laura Bruno Lilly wrote a post called Family Travels MMXX. The symmetry of the date in Roman numerals caught my eye. MMXX for 2020 so much neater than MCMXCIX for 1999. (Hereby hangs another tale. If you would like to know why 1999 was not marked as MIM, click through to this website.)
At the time of reading this post I was pondering on what to stitch for my October kantha sampler, so thank you for the inspiration, Laura. Your use of this numbering system has also given me an idea for the November sampler, so a double thank you.
It is a long, narrow piece and was difficult to photograph. I used the kantha stepping stitch to form the letters and had fun working out how to stitch the acute angles. With three Xs I got lots of practice in negotiating the cross-over with my needle and thread. I started stitching from the middle of the cloth and so the second M was the first to be stitched. You might notice that it looks different to its companion M — this is because I had not yet found my rhythm and the length of the individual stitches is a bit too long.
While stitching this there was plenty of time to think about the use of Roman numerals. They were part of my education. The bigger numbers ( L for 50, C for 100, D for 500, and M for 1000) are not as familiar as the smaller numbers which are instantly recognisable to my brain. I was surprised to find that this is not the case anymore and suspect that this ancient numerical system is no longer taught to children. I write under correction. Google tells me that it is still taught, but scantily. While hunting and pecking on the internet I came across a useful article written by Paul Lewis on the use of Roman numerals in modern times. He notes that:
Roman numerals are still mostly used for the copyright date on films, television programmes, and videos, for example MCMLXXXVI for 1986 and MMXX for 2020.
They are also used to show the hours on some analogue clocks and watches. Here, though, the four is almost always depicted as IIII not as IV.
Intel, the computer chip maker, called the new version of its Pentium processor launched in May 1997 the Pentium II. The next version was Pentium III. But in 2000 Intel unveiled its latest chip as the Pentium 4. Maybe Intel thought that Pentium IV was too difficult for people to cope with.
They can be used for the preliminary pages of a book before the main page numbering begins.
Sporting events are often numbered using Roman numerals. The Athens Olympics in 2004, the 28th games in modern times, were called the Games of the XXVIII Olympiad, showing that it is the 28th games of the modern era since the first in 1896. In the USA the American football championship is called Super Bowl. The 54th game on February 2020 is called Super Bowl LIV.
Monarchs are usually numbered in Roman – e.g. King Edward VII of England, Louis XIV of France. Popes are also numbered using Roman numerals so the late Pope was John Paul II, followed by Pope Benedict XVI. However, it seems that the current pope is simply called Pope Francis
This form is also sometimes seen in naming eldest sons in American families where successive generations bear the same first name. The first time it happens the son is called Junior or Jr. In further generations Roman numerals are used.
Roman numerals are used for paragraphs in complex documents to clarify which are main sections and which subsections so II.3.iv.(5). They are similarly used to show the volume number of periodicals e.g. vol.VI no.5.
The first and second world wars are often referred to as World War I and World War II or even WWI and WWII.
Roman numerals can be seen on public buildings, monuments and gravestones, sometimes when the inscription is in Latin but often just to give the date a certain gravity.
Before the 18th century they were widely used for the publication date on printed books. Since that time they are still sometimes found on the title page, usually on specially printed or luxurious editions.
Up until the eighteenth century Roman numerals were used in Europe for book-keeping even though the Indo-Arabic numerals we use today were known in Europe and widely used in Europe from around 1000 AD. There are said to be two reasons for this.
Adding and subtracting are very easy with Roman numerals.
Indo-Arabic numerals can more easily be mistaken or forged – a 0 can look very like a 6 or an 8 or a 9 or be turned into one by a single stroke.
Although simple arithmetic may be easier with Roman numerals, multiplication and division, fractions, and more advanced mathematics are difficult and the lack of a zero is a particular disadvantage. So Indo-Arabic numerals slowly replaced Roman ones in everyday life.
In her latest newsletter textile artist Lyric Kinard writes about the six-month slump brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Her words struck such a chord that I quote the first paragraph of the newsletter in full:
I ran across an article last week that talked about the six month slump. It was written by an individual who has spent his life with a humanitarian organization working in war zones and refugee camps. He said that no matter which place, which time, which situation, that month six was where everyone hit a slump of exhaustion, depression, and sometimes hopelessness. He didn’t have a solution, other than to tell you that you aren’t alone. It’s normal. And that you just have to power through and that – the hope and determination WILL come back.
Lyric Kinard, 26 October 2020
She goes on to offer some remedies, one of which is to commit to doing something. So I took myself to my sewing machine and stitched a cushion cover — something small and manageable.
And after it was finished I felt better. This is not the first time I have cut out motifs from decor fabric samples and appliquéd them onto a plain background by using overstitching. I must credit textile artist Anne Kelly for the idea. She overstitches her fabric collages and I learnt this trick from her when she gave online workshops for Stitch Club. During the workshop she demonstrated on the same Bernina 1008 that I use, and I watched closely as she changed the stitch settings to her signature stitch, which is a diamond patterned overlocking stitch. I opted to use the simpler wavy zig-zag stitch, partly because I did not want to be too much of a copy cat and partly because my second sewing machine, a really old Bernina Record with metal innards, does not have the diamond shape overlocking stitch. I prefer to use this more solid machine for the overstitching as the machine works hard to close stitch over the layers of the motifs, the background fabric, and the batting beneath that. Here’s an in process photograph.
The most difficult part is arranging the cut-out flowers and foliage. Once happy with the pinned-up arrangement I start the machine overstitching. Here one can switch into neutral gear as all that needs doing is to guide the foot in a more or less straight line, and to make sure that there is no puckering of the motifs.
I got a bit carried away when photographing the cushion cover, so here are some shots that show off the bright flowers of the Cineraria annuals that obligingly seeded themselves from last year’s plants.
Seeing as I am writing about my new-found techniques of close overstitching by machine, here is a recently finished machine stitched, layered work. Offcuts of decor fabrics provide the backdrop for a stylised tree made from gold commercial braids and canopied with ‘bird’s nest’ silk threads. It is called Tree Pose, after the yoga position where one tries to stand tall and find balance. It’s a tall, skinny quilt that measures 100 x 36 cm.
Often a WIP (work in progress) can go cold on one. That’s probably why this acronym has become part of quilting lore. It is also probably safe to say that all quilters have at least one WIP languishing in a drawer or box. I am too scared to count how WIPs I have, but I can say that this week one of them got completed.
Some of you may recognise these stars, as I have twice before written about them — in July 2018 after completing a workshop with Doortjie Gersbach on how to piece 13 different large stars and then a year later I posted a photograph of the pieced quilt top. I did sandwich it and started to hand quilt around the stars, but other projects got in the way and this quilt again went cold on me.
Having recently finished a set of quilts that were handstitched I felt drawn back to my sewing machine. This WIP sprung to mind after I saw a post on Instagram of an organically quilted work. Unfortunately I did not note the name of the maker and apologise for not crediting the source of my inspiration. I used my walking foot and stitched in wavy lines, starting from the centre of the quilt and stitched from top to bottom and then back up again. It was more relaxing than straight line quilting as one does not have to concentrate on keeping the lines evenly spaced. This method is also referred to as wavy line quilting. I am pleased I have discovered it.
First I practised on one of the star blocks that had not been included in the quilt. I did quilt the entire piece and the photograph of it half-stitched is to show the effect of the wavy quilted lines.
This gave me courage and so I boldy sewed black lines over the stars in the quilt top. But first I hand quilted around all the stars to stablise the quilt. This is another method that I recently stumbled on — a combination of hand and machine quilting, where the hand quilting obviates the need to tack or tension the quilt with pins.
The quilt before it was machine quilted (left) and the quilt when it was halfway through being organically quilted by machine.