I have been intrigued with collage quilts for some time. They can be just magical and amazing works of art. I remember how much fun it was to do collages during art classes when I was in primary school. Ripping up colourful magazines and gluing them back together to make beautiful images that can be completely new and unrelated to the images that made them.
While there are heaps and heaps (and heaps!) of quilters out there doing simply magnificent work, I’m going to focus on a few of my favourites: Jenny Bowker, Susan Carlson, Laura Heine and Christine Lethan. Each of them brings different gifts to the quilting community.
Jenny Bowker is Australia’s premier collage quilter and was honoured in 2018, receiving the Order of Australia for services to Australia-Middle East cultural relations and for her role in preserving traditional crafts. She also won Best in Show last year at the Sydney Quilt and Craft Show!
Her art quilts are beautiful reflections of the people, places, culture, and her experiences in the Middle East and beyond. Many of her quilts embody the intersection of traditional patchwork piecing, applique, and collage techniques – bringing multiple dimensions to her work.
I think her portraits are arrestingly beautiful. The one above was of Madgy Badrmany, a Bedouin guide in the White Dessert and friend of Jenny Bowkers’ and her family while they lived in Egypt. She describes the inspiration for this quilt as a sandstorm that had blown up while they were on a camping trip. Her use of diamonds to portray the blowing sand and sky sits in such beautiful juxtaposition above the organic shapes of the rocks, sand and figure.
Her series, “Earth, Air and a Memory of Water” are landscape quilts that encapsulate a trip across the Sahara. She describes each piece as having, from the top down, the sky, a charcoal drawing of the desert below reflecting the colours of the day they drove across it, a grid of crosses, and the earth they walked on and the things they found on it.
When I first saw the images, I was intrigued by the crosses. Again, a more traditional quilting element combined with more organic/artistic elements. Her description relates the crosses to the maps they followed along the way, I assume marked with meridians of longitude and parallels of latitude. She reflects that they represented the way that they ‘continually compared what we saw to what we knew—contextualizing what we saw to fit in a western construct.”
This quilt, using kaleidoscope blocks, is just mesmerizing. I love the way that her use of fabrics and blocks frames the central image of the rocks and makes the surrounding earth and atmosphere shimmer. I highly recommend having a browse through her website and blog.
Susan Carlson is simply amazing. When I learned that she would be teaching at our own AQC, I rushed to the site (in December) only to find registration was already full! RATS! She has produced some of the most stunning animal collage quilts as part of her “Specimens” series. The first one of hers that I ever saw was the MAGNIFICENT “Crocodylus Smylus”.
This quilt is an homage to Australia’s saltwater crocodile. Susan Carlson writes that she was “awed and inspired by the shear size” of this amazing animal that averages 20 feet (6 meters) and is the world’s largest living reptile. She even nicknamed it, Stevie, after the late Australian wildlife personality, Steve Irwin.
The size of the quilt equals the grandeur of the animal…. It is 21 feet 6 inches (6.55 meters) long and 70 inches (1.77 meters) tall!! To put this in perspective… that is longer than the long wall in the large classroom at CQW.
In 2016, she had an exhibit “Specimens” at the International Quilt Festival in Houston. She wrote the following text as an introduction to the catalog that was created for the show (and available on her website link above):
With these quilts I hope to help the viewer see all creatures- great and small- with fresh eyes. Unlike those of a scientist, my specimens are not ‘lifelike.” A pink rhino, a polka dotted dodo, a much larger-than-life-size golden toad: the liberties I take, the choices I make are intended to provoke a response. Typically, I hope to invoke a sense of wonder. I could have made my saltwater crocodile any size I wanted. It would have been much easier, trust me, to make it smaller. But I chose to make it twenty feet long because that is what is truly awesome about this species. The size of the quilt is the point.
In some ways, my images are simple. The compositions are basic, simple profiles displaying as much of the animal as possible, often mimicking the posed figures in museum cases. In other ways my images are complex. Seen up close, the sheer number of pieces of fabric used makes for a density of color and texture. That, too, is part of the point. Each of these creatures is easily recognizable. Because we think we know them, our familiarity may lead us to dismiss them too easily. It’s only when we look closer that we understand how unique each is and how irreplaceable.
However, political or social or environmental statements are not the main point of my quilts, or let’s say that the statements are of the most obvious kind: our world and its inhabitants are at risk. I make quilts because I love fabric for its color and texture. I make quilts of animals because I’m an unabashed animal lover. That’s it, really. If my “Specimens” can speak to others at a tactile level and encourage them to look at animals at a deeper level (make people more aware of these animals), then that’s a good thing, I think. I think that’s enough.
Here are some of the quilts in the exhibit.
One of the things that I really love about Susan Carlson is her generosity in sharing her processes on her blog. I really like the one where she goes through the process of creating “Fructos” her fruit bat. She sources the inspiration of Italian Giuseppe Arcmboldo who created portraits made up of images of fruits and vegetables in the 16th Century.
Following his inspiration, “Fructos” was created from fruit and vegetable patterned novelty fabrics… down to its banana toes and lime for an eyeliner!
I could spend hours on her website as she has really lovely and insightful descriptions of her processes. Following the details of the process she described for making one of her sons, I tried my hand at making a collage of a Salmon (my son’s name, Brayden, derives from a Gaelic legend of the Salmon of Wisdom). I think it turned out pretty well!! She also offers an online masterclass!
Laura Heine is another collage quilter that has an amazing repertoire of patterns and kits available for purchase. While Susan Carlson is more about expanding your own ideas more freely, Laura Heine offers patterns and instructions so that quilters can explore their creativity in a more bounded manner to create an image that she has developed.
Her images are incredibly varied, ranging from sea creatures like a seahorse or octopus, to farmyard animals, and even “old blue” the old time pickup in the field.
She even has a “how to” video on her website that includes some of the fundamentals. One of the most useful things I learned through her site was to use Karen Kay Buckley Scissors when cutting fabric for collage quilts. These little beauties have micro serrated blades that prevent the fabric from fraying. These are really lovely, especially when cutting little bits for some of the designs. They were prefect for cutting out my little mermaid for the Octopus Garden quilt I did.
If you really like these quilts and want some hand holding to get you started, I just met the fabulous Veronica Appleyard at the Craft Alive Show in Penrith a few weeks ago. She is offering two day workshops to work on three of Leone Heine’s designs at Fernadale or Campbelltown this year. The workshops are featuring these designs:
It has been so inspiring to write this week’s blog…. I’m SOOOO tempted to start a new collage project…. But I still have these UFOs I need to finish now that my photo is on Annette’s Wall of Commitment (Shame????).