This impressive quilt was just one of many on display at the Australasian Quilt Convention, held at the Exhibition Building, Carlton Gardens, April 5-8, 2018.
It is the largest dedicated quilt event in the southern hemisphere and again I used it as an opportunity to catch up with my “quilter” sister, Cate, who came down from interstate for the event, and our younger sister, Rita joined us.
The event is a wonderful celebration of creativity, craft, and community with international participation and recognition.
If you tell stories with a quilt (as many people do), express yourself through hand-crafted clothes and gifts, or adorn and decorate with embroidery, then the convention was the place to be. And, if the day we attended was anything to go by, the organisers will be thrilled with the numbers!
I’m writing this as President Trump and his allies, UK and France, are bombing Syria and so have chosen the above quilt to showcase first.
Each beautifully stitched panel expressing sentiments dear to my heart. If only quilters and writers had political power…
The quilt maker’s statement will resonate with others, I’m sure:
Every time I hear the news it is filled with atrocities and cruelty… it bruises my shadow. I want to tightly shut my eyes, like a young child wishing not to be seen, in the hope they do not exist… but they do. perhaps shining a light on it through the graffiti of tomorrow will prompt us to see… to discuss… to understand… and to bridge the chasm of disinterest and inaction. By adding one reasoned, empathetic voice to another we will steadily erode the borders between us and achieve what we seek and can earn… a Peaceful World.
What Do Borders & Bridges Mean To You?
This challenge was one of several given to quilters here and abroad and one Maria addressed.
Quilters from the USA also exhibited quilts responding to, and exploring, two fascinating opposites – Turmoil and Tranquility.
A group of South Australian textile artists explored the hashtag symbol. They interpreted the theme in textiles. “Originally, a typewriter key symbol for ‘number’, the hashtag is now widely used as a means of connecting targeted audiences on social media platforms.’ (Another ‘topical’ topic!)
The Van Gogh Cherrywood Challenge, Dutch Gallery Tour, also came from the USA. The latest exhibit a predominantly blue swathe of exquisite quilts inspired by Vincent’s life, many of his artistic motifs, and even some fun play on titles and his name.
There was an exhibition Met In Melbourne, from eight Australian textile artists who had dinner at the AQC in 2016 and decided to create ‘pieces of/for 8’ – choosing to make quilt panels focusing on a concept of words ending in “ate” as their theme. (Grab your dictionary – concatenate, undulate, ameliorate, rotate, migrate, pomegranate, decorate and ornate.)
Like the variety of responses in writing class to prompts and triggers, the quilters didn’t disappoint. Their thought-provoking, inspirational, and brilliant interpretations, whether of word, theme, or concept absolutely delightful.
Another quilt maker asked, “Is this Paradise?”
I looked from the tour bus and saw them, Syrian refugees, huddled on a street in Athens, mattresses bundled under tarps. They all had a look of abject misery, here in a place barely able to support itself, let alone provide them with the future they had risked so much to find.
With this thought in my mind I scanned the Internet for more information about borders and bridges, there were so many stories of people crossing bridges and unmanned borders from war torn lands throughout all the world. Did any of them find their Paradise?
I liked quilt maker Jeannie Henry’s declaration that “Borders and bridges are artificial constructs created by man but ignored by nature.” Jeannie and a couple of other quilters used bridges bordering Victoria and NSW, or over the Murray River as subjects.
Linden Lancaster declares, ” I grew up in the border town of Echuca… spent many hours on the river – a scruffy, suntanned girl – swimming, fishing and riding my bike up and down the goofies with friends. Sometimes we would construct cubbies in the shadow of the bridge when the river was low. My first kiss was under that bridge, bridging childhood into adolescence. Forty years later, the painted graffiti of first crushes are still being proclaimed from the bridge pylons and framework.”
Shirley Drayton trips down memory lane too, ” The Echuca Moama Bridge… originally a road and rail bridge with the Fruit Fly Inspection a stone’s throw from the bridge, to stop the fruit from coming over the border from NSW, to prevent the spread of fruit fly. Mr Ron Hicks (my uncle) the fruit fly inspector… The cars had to stop and wait for the train to come across the bridge. Cattle were taken across for market day at approximately 6.00am, again cars had to wait until all stock and stockmen were completely across.”
How Writers can be Inspired
In my writing classes, particularly Life Stories at Godfrey Street, I’ve given Crossing Borders as a topic and ‘burning bridges’ – something most of us have done in our lives. However, many of the quilts focused on a sense of place, not just for the Borders & Bridges Challenge but even those addressing other themes.
“Place” (or setting) is a great writing topic to make a lesson around – not just for a memoir. A sense of, or focus on, a place can trigger all types of creative writing.
There were many fascinating interpretations of the Bridges & Borders topic. The quilts created were striking – geat for inspiring a writing class, especially poetry.
Topical issues, whimsy reflections, emotional reminiscing and gut-wrenching observations. Quilters love words too – some even incorporate them in quilts.
Marriage equality is the bridge across the heart of human love and understanding. Negative emotions and thoughts make up the sea of negativity that border this act of love.
Fear of or caused by sexual assault causes restrictions and confinements in lifestyle and thought. These borders are internalised, held within the model, stitched in text. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements are exciting bridges, for the first time ever women are being heard and believed. The onus is starting to be on men to change – and not on women to curtail their lifestyle, to dress conservatively, to not provoke. Stitched into the background are words of empowerment and hope. This quilt can be hung either way up. the model in bridge pose or flying through the sky, free.
‘Bridge To Extinction’ highlights the conflict between humans and nature. Koalas create borders within their eucalypt habitat. Logging in Southeast Queensland forests shrinks these borders and threatens their survival. Using dyes, printed text, paint and stitch on fabric, I wanted to turn the dry words from the newspaper into imagery that couldn’t be ignored. As human ‘progress’ destroys its habitat, the koala escapes on a log bridge to wasteland. I reflect on the irony of providing koala bridge crossings whilst fragmenting the bushland that serves as their only food source and home.
…conceptually linked to the theme… by its very title. The borders are the empty husks of the gumnuts on the right, symbolising youth and as such empty of knowledge and the full, flowering gumnuts on the left, symbolise old age and being of wisdom and experience. The bridge is represented by the birds arching in full flight across the sky, connecting one side to the other and symbolising the flight of time between youth and old age. Leap from one side and trust that your own momentum shall carry you to the other side.
Kathryn Harmer Fox
P.T.S.D. is an insidious and debilitating disorder. Every part of your life is affected. Enduring workplace harassment and bullying led to devastating consequences for me. I was told to ‘build bridges and get over it’. Physically and mentally I was unable to cross the border from NSW to VIC for several years. My career was shattered. I learnt to mask emotions in order to function. Emotionally and creatively I felt dead for several years. the theme resonated immediately for me. The image flashed into my mind and stayed there. Creating it was cathartic. I am a survivor – speak up about bullying.
“Taken from a photograph of my daughter and granddaughter as they gaze out across the sand towards the open ocean. The sand is the border between land and sea. My daughter and granddaughter bridge the generations as they hold hands sharing the moment. They do this often in a silent communication of their shared love for the beach.”
A great display of heartfelt offerings with memorable and thoughtful designs produced by deft hands and artistic minds.
Van Gogh In Stitches
The Cherrywood Challenge was in Australia from the USA for the first time and the exhibit displayed textile art inspired by Van Gogh’s life and masterworks. It was an extensive tribute to the much-loved artist.
Participants from all over the world with 200 out of 450 entries selected. The quilts will travel throughout the world. Participants win fabric prizes, receive extensive exposure and have their work published in a book.
Not surprisingly, there is a growing interest in the Cherrywood Challenge and I think it is appealing to a younger audience than is usually associated with quilting. The next theme being Prince, the musician – cherrywoodfabricsbigcartel.com
Tradition Versus Technology
There were plenty of traditional quilts on display but I overheard a couple of older ladies lamenting the introduction of “too much technology” – for them hand stitching still the mark of a good quilter.
There may be some resistance to technology, a fear it is ‘overwhelming’ what many proudly boast as a craft were needlework and handmade were the keys to excellence.
Others were ecstatic about the new sewing machines, embroidery attachments, printers that process photographs and material, computerised design and stencil cutters and numerous other offerings from the stall holders, teachers and workshops at the convention.
The digital divide is everywhere – those that embrace and those that resist.
It may be a case of move over or adapt Baby Boomers if you don’t want the Millenials to needle you! Times change – and often for the better…
And in case you wonder where you fit in, here is a potted version of The Atlantic’s explanation – believe what you will:
- Greatest Generation, 1930-1946 – they fought and many died in WW2 for ‘our freedom’.
- Baby Boomers, 1946 – 1964 – freedom from fear because the war was over and relaxation of sexual mores means the name is self-explanatory.
- Gen X, 1965 -1984 – because it fits a nice 20-year time span, spoiled, apparently they think they’re ‘cool’.
- Gen Y, – mid-70s to mid-2000s – but considered a made-up generation, so really fake – skip to Millenials…
- Millenials, 1982 -2004 – the digital natives who apparently want it all.
From a Baby Boomer With Millenial Daughters
I like traditional quilts and know how much time, effort, and expertise is involved – I’ve observed my sister and had many discussions with her and listened while she has explained in great depth the intricacies of various methods of applique, patchwork, dramatic designs, embroidery, paper-piercing and fussy cutting techniques.
However, she belongs to a quilting group that is open to new methods, technology and new ideas – caring, sharing and learning a great philosophy.
I have two creative daughters totally comfortable with new technology and pop culture.
Below is a minute selection of traditional quilts on display – there were even rows of the ‘Best in Australia” with award winners from every state.
I love the inclusion of non-traditional articles and adaptations. We met a young lass who loves cosplay. She was promoting sewing machines with attachments that did specific embroidery and lace effects.
We chatted about cosplay and I mentioned some of the memorable costumes I saw when I went to a convention in Sydney a few years ago.
Her anime costume a gorgeous pink layered dress with rabbit ears headgear. She wore the dress recently as a volunteer at the Children’s Hospital at Easter and attends events and does other promotions when she has time.
The dress took several weeks to make and has over $400 worth of material. A marvellous example of dedication to popular culture using centuries-old crafts.
There were two other costumes on display – one a la Jane Austen and one from the Lord of The Rings.
While I was engrossed in reading the stories behind the quilts my sisters met up with a writer and academic who has just published a book Towns and Trailblazers.
Rita was particularly impressed with Jen Wulff ‘s research of local women from the 18th, 19th or early 20th centuries, some renowned, others unknown.
‘Each trailblazer and her town have inspired a quilt block which combines to create an Australian inspired textile providing a tangible connection to places and the women remembered.’
The quilt blocks relate to the far North West coast, through to the Red Centre, across to the East Coast and down to Southern Tasmania. Short stories about the women, quilt templates and construction tips are included in the book, which Rita, bought.
Jen is a quilter too and ‘greatly values the lasting friendships made through local quilt groups and she hopes her recently published book increases awareness of both quilting and the role women had in shaping Australia.’
The Melbourne Exhibition ‘8’
“To link together, to unite in a series or chain.” Quilter Lee Vause drew inspiration from childhood games: Scrabble, Barrel of Monkeys, Snakes and Ladders and Twister.
Using thread and free motion stitching, quilter Raylene Richardson decorated face shapes emphasising different facial elements.
Showing wonderful use of texture and design and manipulation of materials, ‘Ornate’ is self-explanatory, but for ‘Migrate’ the quilter chose feathers and fish to represent the large migrations that occur in nature.
Our world is constantly turning, slowly spinning and rotating around the sun. Inspired by the marvels of the natural world Brenda Wood is fascinated by the way the sun peeks over our horizon in the east and we catch ‘the trails of its warmth and beauty, until each evening we rotate away from its heat and light…’
Sunlight travelling through our atmosphere scatters colours, stronger beams during the day than in the evening – depictions of the varying strength of colour in sunrises and sunsets represent the concept of rotating.
Instead of an adjective, quilter Sally Westcott chose a noun. The pomegranate is beautiful to eat, cook with, and to paint and draw. She enjoyed exploring its texture, shape and colour.
Internationally, award-winning, Melbourne based Neroli Henderson chose the word ‘ameliorate’ – the process of making something bad or unpleasant better. Her panels “focus on the vulnerability of the female form, and its power and ability. Creating personal, explorative works such as these helps to ameliorate the past. An artistic catharsis. These pieces seek to take memories of physical pain and loneliness and transform them into moments of beauty.”
I wonder how many people have heard of Neroli ( eiloren.com.au ), quilter, writer, editor of Textile Fibre Forum magazine (2014-16), a group owner of the popular Facebook Textile Arts group, and an artist ‘who combines art quilting techniques and materials with traditional media and digital approaches.’ She believes ‘in the use of textiles and stitch as a valid fine art medium and can often be found using this traditional “women’s work” to create feminist, political, and other social commentary based artworks.’
As my first image implies – I can’t imagine a world without art – in all its forms!
Kim Boland’s chosen word ‘undulate’ transformed into four colourful and charming panels. “Undulating, curvy, wave-like lines, found all around us, are peaceful and calming.”
Her depictions: blue ocean waves, rolling green hills, red desert dunes and yellow fields of canola. Specifically shaped pieces portray the movement of air and water across flowering fields, sandy dunes, grassy fields and ocean waves.
Carolyn Sullivan’s Retrospective
Mairi Neil (a found poem from AQC 2018)
Australia’s climate captured
cool and hot, clear and misty
searing heat, sleet, and storms
flat plateau country and
eucalypt and deciduous forest,
garden parks and deserts of
thousands of kilometres…
changing environment evoked
and expanded on cloth canvas
lovingly dyed with colours
of plants from Aussie desert and bush.
into earthy and warm
tree trunk tracks of insects,
lichen, leaf and fungi patterns,
depictions of diversity –
native animals, trees, birds,
and beautiful grasses…
hand stitched close, straight,
the vastness of the landscape
and love of country
honoured in every stitch.
There was another evocative reflection of the world by quilter Gillian Travis which if I was talented with a needle, on any level, I’d love to do! She has created quilts from her travels to exotic, and not so exotic, places like Uzbekistan, India, Sri Lanka, Guatemala, South Africa, Europe, Israel and Jordan.
These quilts focus on people and place and beg for stories to be imagined and written!
Observation and attention to detail important for quilters, photographers and writers. At the convention, you could do a course on turning your favourite photograph into a quilt and intrepid traveller Gillian’s work offered walls of inspiration.
Journeys In Stitch
Turmoil And Tranquility
“Presented by the Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA), this museum-quality exhibition features quilts created specifically as art pieces. Work brought from the USA explores two fascinating opposites…”
Again, what was fascinating was how each artist interpreted the words and I loved reading the stories behind the quilts. Just as we become comfortable or can relate to particular stories or genres in our taste of books, so too how the artists depicted the theme is influenced by our ideas of what the words could mean.
Sometimes what the artist was trying to do resonated more than the finished piece, and at other times little explanation was required.
Jill Kerttula from Virginia chose the turmoil of a woman’s first pregnancy: ‘physical, emotional, cultural, and mental changes and challenges, both internal and external.’ Jill used sketches from ancient medical texts, copies of cards her mother received and original images to portray turmoil and angst.
Jennifer Day from New Mexico chose Donald as her subject for Tranquility. He has ‘led a life full of twists and turns… his adulthood serving his country in the French Indonesian War in 1956 – almost 70 years ago. He later served in Korea, and in another war that he will not talk about. He has had cancer numerous times and is still fighting lung cancer.’
Jennifer took a photo of Donald as he sat in the window of an old barn in New Mexico. She captured the light of the setting sun gracing his face and “his expression leads us to believe that he is content. At age 86, I believe that he is satisfied with life and that his future holds promise.”
I was charmed by this quilt, by the subject matter and outlook of the artist and my photograph does not do it justice – each strand of hair is stitching – the artistry seamless connectivity in this work truly impressive.
Carol Capozzoli from Connecticut captured the insidious spread and effect of cancer. “From the first pathological cell division, turmoil begins… (it) spreads to surrounding tissues and possibly other body parts. With a diagnosis, the turmoil spreads to the person’s emotional and spiritual being, and to those close to the person.”
A CANCEROUS TURMOIL
Lots of the pieces celebrating nature or the seasons understandably focused on tranquillity. Judith Roderick from New Mexico chose the endangered Whooping Crane.
“There is something very compelling about a human-sized, ancient bird who has been on the planet since the dinosaurs. the Whooping Crane, one of the two North American Crane species, is the world’s most endangered crane with about 600 now in existence. This quilt was hand-drawn from some of my own photographs. It reflects my hope, intention, and prayer that they may continue to grace our skies and landscapes for ages to come.”
Illness is probably the most common disruption many of us experience and as our population ages, statistics reckon more of us will be living longer and coping with Alzheimer’s.
Diane Born from Oregon seemed to reflect from personal experience when she wrote, “That fine, immaculate woman is now mismatched and muddled. She withdraws from loved ones, snarls at children. plaque invades her brain, erupting in tangles, robbing her of memories. She mutters and mumbles, rarely smiles. paranoia stalks her, evident in mood swings, delusions, and apathy. Her sewing, hand or machine, fragments and disintegrates. Brain waves slow and falter, losing a rhythmic pattern. the lady vanishes into the disease.”
My father succumbed to dementia. It too was slow and insidious and painful to watch. Occasionally, flashes of the father we knew and loved appeared – the effect on the person and their family is indeed turmoil!
Another piece that resonated was by Michele Lea of Ohio. who admits to constantly searching for peace and tranquillity.
“Trying to find a place of light, rather than focusing on the cloud of darkness that looms over me, is a daily ritual. I suffer from chronic mental depression, which is a disease with no cure. More than 40 million people suffer from it and suicide is an ongoing threat for those of us who want to escape. The image of me floating, with butterflies draping over me as a blanket, is tranquillity. For me, it is an end to torment – a place of safety and peace; my original home where I could join my creator and become whole again.”
It is a reflection of the times and the pervasiveness of the 24-hour news cycle that the turmoil of the world refugee crisis is never far from our screens or minds. Sandy Gregg from Massachusetts observes:
“Since the beginning of time, people have left their homes to begin lives as refugees for a myriad of reasons, including war, discrimination, crop failure, and religion. This piece represents borders crossed, obstacles faced, and the turmoil that these brave people face during their travels.”
Another quilt that appealed to me used vintage postcards (collecting postcards a hobby of mine) and image transfer a technique I’d be tempted to use if a quilter.
Patricia Kennedy-Zafred from Pennsylvania is doing a series portraying women from all over the world with ‘strikingly varied concepts of beauty‘.
The images are of Japanese geisha who ‘despite the typical connotation, true geisha were highly trained in dance, music and various forms of art.‘ Their calm facial expressions ‘part of their allure, as their rigorous training was designed to create a presence of subtlety, strength, and grace.’
I have to feature Donna Deaver from Idaho who although we are living on separate continents, we have a similar way of relaxing and finding that elusive tranquillity.
“I have a deep love of the sea. It draws me in an unexplainable way, calling to me when I least expect it. Even though I no longer live by the ocean, I feel at home whenever I return. One of my favourite times of the day is early morning when the beach is empty. Listening to the infinite rhythm of the surf is a form of meditation.”
Believe it or not, the images featured are only a tiny selection of what was on offer at the AQC 2018. I’ve written about some that caught my eye, or touched my heart as a writer and haven’t done any justice at all to the array of fabrics, threads and techniques the artists applied.
Suffice to say the convention has lots to offer to those not expert or involved in the art of quilting, and from what I’ve observed the few times I’ve attended it is only going to expand and become more eclectic.
If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read and seen in this post, I hope you attend one day, you won’t regret it.
Having firsthand knowledge of the quilting community via my older sister I know they have a sense of humour too and I love the self-deprecating quilts like this one – the three women are staring at the latest super duper sewing machine and asking “But does it make the coffee?”
After this marathon writing effort, I’m heading to the kitchen to make a cup… but will leave you with one of my personal favourites from the convention with a message for all those who struggle to achieve their dream…