Welcome to the fourth installment of posts that explore the making of my art quilts recently shown at Squam Art Workshops.
During the four days this show was up, I was genuinely touched by visitors' reactions and questions. Spontaneous, often dynamic conversations with small intimate groups or individuals helped shape this unique experience. Hands down, Metamorphosis and Self Portrait received the most inquiries and "likes", as it were. For the complete story about Metamorphosis, please click here. Read on to discover how Self Portrait came into being. For the complete view of "My Enchanted Wonderland" installation, please click here.
Title: Self Portrait, 30.5" x 33.5"
Materials: A variety of silks and velvets, some hand dyed; cotton batting
Techniques: Needle-turn applique, fused applique, embroidery, machine quilting
Date: July-August 2015
To talk about Self Portrait without first acknowledging it's precursor, Metamorphosis, would be leaving out one half of the story. Metamorphosis was made in 2014 shortly after I decided to start a whole new chapter in my life. I was in my mid-forties and had recently faced a health scare (that thankfully came to nothing), during which time I found myself asking the big questions, primarily, have I done the things I want to do? My answer ultimately led me to the decision to put my financial affairs in order and allow myself the freedom to explore options for what could be next. Metamorphosis is about dreaming the dream and protecting that fragile, vulnerable space. You can read more about it in this post.
About a year after Metamorphosis was completed, I felt compelled to stitch an update to that story. Four months had passed exploring possibilities, trying on various business ideas and adjusting to an evolving lifestyle, after which another six months were invested in getting my natural dye and quilt business up and running. All the while, I was gaining clarity and confidence about who I was becoming and the direction I was heading in.
Going back to my college days earning my BFA at Alfred University, Joseph Scheer was a professor in the printmaking department. For a delightful trip down the rabbit hole, please visit his website here. His incredibly beautiful book, Night Visions: The Secret Designs of Moths, is highly coveted in my own art book collection, and it contains the moth I was drawn to for this quilt, Apantesis phalerata. Have you ever felt that inexplicable connection to something outside of yourself? Every time I opened Joseph's book to this moth, I felt a physical response - a sort of burning in my solar plexis - a connection. I had only felt that one other time, when I would stand before a particular painting by Lori Ellis, so I knew not to ignore this feeling. Click here to see Lori's incredible paintings.
You know how moths hang on a screen with their wings spread wide, unmoving for long periods of time? Well, I thought if I were to hang in one place for such a large portion of my life, I'd want to hang on exquisitely patterned silk.
So, moving ahead with a vision, I drew the moth on paper and cut it out. On a larger piece of paper, I drew a cartoon, a full scale ink drawing of the background damask pattern. I moved the moth around the cartoon until it landed where it looked most at home. Next, I traced the entire damask pattern onto clear plastic.
Next, I hand cut the pieces of just one damask unit. These became individual templates that I used to trace as many as were needed onto the paper side of fusible web already adhered to the back of hand dyed silk. These two steps are shown in the photos above.
I cut each silk shape and referred to the cartoon as I arranged them on the shot silk background. Once the entire design was in place, I peeled the paper backing from each piece and fused them all into place with a dry hot iron. Essentially, by this point, I've handled each shape four to five times.
With the background in place, I hand appliqued the moth. The forewings are reverse applique, silk on velvet. The hindwings are reverse applique, velvet on velvet, with hand dyed pink and red silk crepe de chine appliqued closer to the body. Two thin black velvet strips were cut for antennae. They were heavily machine stitched, which frayed the edges and created an ideal texture. The final step for the moth was to lightly stuff the body from the back before hand embroidering hair to resemble her real life Lepidoptera specimen.
The next stage in the making of this art quilt was the free-motion quilting that covers the entire background. I didn't have a design planned out, instead, I brought the quilt to the machine and simply decided to start by outlining the damask pattern with red thread, defining shapes and filling in details like individual leaves and small flowers. Next, I moved on to stitching groups of small and large circles with a variegated thread in warm earth tones. The circles were also a way to connect to the moth eye spots in Metamorphosis.
While Metamorphosis is about creating a safe place to dream the dream, Self Portrait is a celebration of shedding the cocoon. When this piece was finished I felt like I was looking in the mirror and this is what was looking back.
As always, please share your questions and comments below or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm grateful, and I read them all. You can also follow my natural dye works and daily life on Instagram @tierneybarden.