Tag Archives: fabric wall hanging

Good-Bye, Old Friend

Not too long ago I bought a new sewing machine to replace my old one. At the age of 24 years, its motor finally had given out.

That machine, a Babylock 6600, was purchased in 1997 from Granny’s Sewing Den in Glenside, PA, which was also my primary place to buy fabric for many years. Granny’s has been closed for some time; it was owned by two women, mother and daughter, the mother now deceased, the daughter retired. Both of them were friends to me.

Anyway, this machine was responsible for my success in the fabric part of my art career and without it, I do not think I would have gone on to to work in paper collage, or to paint. Or all the other art things I now do. I do not think my work would have progressed enough for me to make those leaps without the techniques this machine allowed me to master so that I became able to express in fabric my visions.

Here is an example of a fabric wall hanging I made with this machine. It’s called “Garden in the City”, was made in 2000, and was displayed in Philadelphia’s City Hall in an exhibit devoted to community gardens. I still have the piece.

I also made many garments for my family with this faithful friend, as well as home decor items, tote bags, dolls and toys…you get the idea. This machine worked HARD for me and never once did it let me down.

Well, after I bought the new machine (another Babylock, the Jubilant model, which is very similar to its predecessor in my sewing life), I kept this one for a while. Finally I decided that since it could not be repaired, there was no reason to keep it around.

We decided to dismantle it. Maybe I could use its parts in some of my hanging metal sculptures. I hated just to throw it out. My husband spent two or so hours taking it apart. Sure enough, I now have a box of parts for a future project.

But I am saving some just for a keepsake. Here is the assortment:

What’s in the photo? First of all, you see a tag for a cleaning; my name is written in the handwriting of one of the women at Granny’s Sewing Den. I kept it on the machine’s storage box all these years for sentiment’s sake, I guess.

You also see two feet from the machine – the metal one (with grooves worn on the bottom side from pins and the like passing under it) – and the purple plastic one. I used a lot of free motion stitching in my fabric work and this foot was purchased separately – the machine at that time did not have its own proprietary one. I do remember it was called the Big Foot.

Here is the throat plate. This is the part of the machine that lies under the needle and it’s what I looked at the most in all those years of using the machine.

And here is the plastic plate that I used as part of free motion stitching. To do free motion work, you need to disengage the feed dogs, the part of the machine under the throat plate, that move the fabric along. This machine did not allow for the feed dogs to be dropped; they needed to be covered instead. Hence this plate.

It snapped on over the open section at the top of the throat plate, where the feed dogs would have been. I could never remember in which direction to orient the plate. Usually I realized I had set it in wrong and fixed it before I started stitching. But…sometimes I didn’t. That is why you see the holes in the plate. The needle punched right through it.

I am getting older now and can look back on a lot of years that I have been doing this thing or that thing. Sewing is one of those activities that in my life extends back decades; my mother taught me to sew about 55 years ago on a totally mechanical Necchi machine that she kept until the end of her life.

I’m not a great seamstress but I was able to take my sewing skills and use them to make art, something I never would have thought of in my childhood lessons. Trial and error and experimentation and a lot of enjoyment is what got me along the path. That, and this machine.

Thank you and Good-bye, old friend.

Small House on Paxson Avenue

I have a long history with this little house, which is located not far from where I live and in an area where I often walk. I’ve always liked the look of it.

Way back when I first started doing art, I made house portraits on a commission basis. These were all hand-appliqued and quilted by hand, not too large, maybe in the range of 24″ x 24″. I used a photo of the house to be depicted, made a scale drawing, and worked from that to create the simplified version of the house.

I made some samples to have on hand for people to see at the art fairs where I exhibited, and for the store through which I also sold them to display. This house served as the model for a very early hanging made during this phase of this time in my art life, probably about 1994 or so.

Here is the simple portrait hanging I made from a photo similar to the one I just showed you – the house has not changed in all those years at all, that I can see.

As time went on, I got more skilled and able to depict more detail in fabric, and then I began to sew them on the machine, and then I taught classes in the process and even wrote out a how-to manual that I sold…and then I had had enough of house portrait work and devoted myself to other scenes and eventually other mediums. I don’t know what happened to this particular hanging – maybe I gave it away for a raffle or something like that.

Anyway, in summer 2021, I was walking by this little house and took the photo, for old times’ sake. And then I drew the house in my sketchbook. A really pleasant experience, because it made me remember the very beginnings of my art career, so long ago.

I drew this picture in pen and it’s in my 8″ x 8″ sketchbook, from August 2021.

Inner Circle

Does anyone remember this wall hanging in process? Well, now it’s finished. Here’s what I did to get to this status.

I spent a lot of thinking about how to give the piece more weight and presence,taking into consideration my skills and my eyesight limitations. I want to extend my thanks to Leonie Andrews, who took a lot of time and consideration of the piece in coming up with several suggestions. She really helped me figure out what I wanted this piece to be, from a fabric standpoint.

Because – though the images are drawn, the fact that they are on fabric makes the piece different from a painting on canvas or ink on paper.

In the end, I used skills that I am familiar with and practiced in from my days in making fabric wall hangings (my first real venture into the art world, I made and sold appliqued wall hangings from about 1996-2001 or so).

I used very thin batting and a backing for the piece, so I had three layers to work with. I did free-motion stitching all over the piece in different colors of thread that I felt complemented but did not compete with the images.

My version of this technique consists of driving around the piece as fast as possible and paying no attention to the pattern the thread makes or inconsistent stitch lengths and so on. I just try to get a nice amount of thread holding all the layers together in a way that looks good to me.

I left a few areas without stitching, or with less stitching, but mostly I really laid that thread down. I just like the flatter look for this piece.

Then I put a black binding around it plus a hanging sleeve and voila! All done.

Here are some detail photos.

Well, there you have it. The serendipity of scrawling some images on fabric to test out paints and markers transformed into something more. I named the piece “Inner Circle” because I think these creatures are all part of a tight little society that landed on my fabric.

Looking Back: House Portraits

A post in an occasional series – looking back at artworks or mediums I worked in from earlier in my artist years.

Here I show you two house portraits and tell you a little bit about these houses, why I made these wall hangings, and about house portraits in fabric and me.

All right, here is the story. In the beginning of my art career, the first thing I made was a portrait of our house in fabric. I got the idea from a book and I was inspired to try it out. It was an awful mess but I enjoyed doing it. So I kept on.

At first I did them in hand applique and later went on to machine work. I developed my own methods and refined them, and my sewing abilities improved. I began to sell them on a commission basis, with customers found either through art shows or through a local shop which displayed samples of my work.

In most cases I took photos of the building and worked from them, drawing up a picture on graph paper and using it to create pattern pieces for the building. This method was the forerunner of the technique I recently described for collage work.

I made houses, mostly – but I also did commercial buildings, a nursing home, and a florist’s greenhouse, as I remember. Here are some photos. Please excuse the poor quality – all of these works were done in the 1990’s or so and I was still using a film camera, not very well. I made the gallery small because there are so many of them – click if you want more detail.

You may notice there are two versions of one building – it’s the Valley Green Inn, a popular spot in Philadelphia, on Forbidden Drive in Fairmount Park. The original piece I made at the suggestion of the owner of the shop I referred to earlier – she sold it in the store. The other one was made as a commission, requested by someone who had seen the original and wanted me to make this version, a fall scene, as a gift for her sister who was having her wedding reception there.

Well, there is a story with each one of these pieces.

Let me get back to the original images I showed you. In 2001, I was asked by the editor of a series of quilting books by Rodale Press to participate in one of their volumes. Its theme was drafting and designing various types of quilts. My assignment was to explain how to make a house portrait in fabric, start to finish.

I was given a template for how to write up my process as well as for a glossary, tips, and suggestions. (I still have the files from this project, so I know! What a trip down memory lane). I had to come up with 2 house subjects, one a front view and one an angled view. My husband and I drove around our area looking for the perfect subjects and found them in two different neighborhoods within 15 minutes of home.

I created the drawings, did all the writing, and made the pieces, submitting them for editing and review. I remember I asked a friend to read over the directions to see if she could follow them before I sent them to the editor.

Then came time for photography of the process, the drawings, and the pieces themselves. With the editor’s help I broke the process up at points that would made good photo points. This meant I had to make several drawings, for instance, showing different stages of design. Luckily, since the book was not about construction, I did not have to show myself putting the piece together, and make several different versions at different stages.

We met at the editor’s house to accomplish this  photography task: me, the editor, a hand model,(!) and a photographer. At this session I mostly observed and handed over the right items at the right time. And enjoyed the inside view of how a book photo project was made.

The book is still available: check here on Amazon.

This project was a highlight of my fabric art career. I was, and still am, very proud to have been chosen and for the work that I did on the project, and through this phase of my art career.

I also did a self-published book on the subject in the 1990’s. Don’t know if there is still a copy in existence (though Amazon says there is). I still have the interior of the book in my files, though, I think.

All of the house portraits I made were sold or given away long ago, and I don’t have photos of some of the earliest ones I did (which is maybe a good thing). I also did a few house portraits in collage, but not many – by then I was wanting to spend more time on my own work and did not accept many commissions. In any case, house portraits are what got me firmly involved in art-making and I will always remember this phase of my work in detail and very fondly, I think.

 

Looking Back: Along the Beach Road

A post in an occasional new series – looking back at artworks or mediums I worked in from earlier in my artist years.

Here I show you a fabric wall hanging from 1999.

It’s called “Along the Beach Road” and I made it from my memories of various views of the New Jersey shore in the southern part of the state. As I remember, around this time, we did a show on the boardwalk in Cape May and took the opportunity to drive around and snap some photos. This wall hanging is purely from my imagination, though. It’s maybe 24″ x  28″ ,more or less? Or maybe a little bigger? Back then I did not keep records on these statistics as I do now.

Along the Beach Road small

This piece received a lot of attention, as I remember. For one thing, it won Best of Show at the Lansdale (PA) Festival of the Arts in August 1999.

Best in Show Lansdale 1999 Along the Beach Road small

In April, 2000, I entered three wall hangings in a juried show at the William Penn Charter School, a private school in Philadelphia that at the time had an art event to benefit the school. My work was accepted and I remember receiving very nice compliments from the judge, which really encouraged me. Here I am with my three pieces on display.

Claudia - Penn Charter Exhibit 4-00 small

 

 



To create my fabric work, I laid out a base level of canvas fabric and pinned the cut fabric pieces to it. I then machine-sewed them to the base, using either free motion stitching, (such as you see for the vegetation), or closely spaced zigzag stitching (for areas I wanted outlined, such as the roofs of the buildings). In neither case did I turn under fabric edges – they are all left raw. In this way you can see that I worked as I later did in paper collage.

Like pretty much all of my fabric work this piece was sold long ago. But I do have many good memories of it, as you can see, and it was art that I was proud of making.

 

Looking Back: Garden in the City

A post in an occasional new series – looking back at artworks or mediums I worked in earlier in my artist years.

Here I show you a fabric wall hanging from 2000.

I worked in this medium when I first started making art. I constructed appliqued fabric wall hangings, at first using hand stitching and later switching to free-motion machine stitching. My fabric work spanned the time frame from about 1995 to 2001.

This piece, Garden in the City, was made for an exhibit as part of Art in City Hall, Philadelphia, PA. I submitted an application to participate, was chosen, and was assigned a community garden in the city to portray. My location was Glenwood Green Acres in North Philadelphia.

I went out to the garden in June 2000 to take photos. The location was in a neighborhood that had been in decline for some time. It was a typical Philadelphia scene – factory building towering over streets of small rowhomes originally built for the workers. At this time, the factory in the photos was abandoned and the garden was on the site of another factory that had been demolished. The Amtrak rail line goes right behind the garden.

I created the wall hanging over the fall of 2000 and it was exhibited in early 2001, January, I think. Philadelphia’s City Hall is an enormous building in the middle of Center City and is a landmark location for us here. Now most of its functions are handled in more modern surrounding buildings, but City Council still meets there.

The exhibit area had large cases on two different floors. My artwork was about 30″ x 40″. I was also just starting to work in paper collage, and I included two collages with the fabric piece. I can”t find photos of them or I would show them, too. I do remember that one of the collages featured the lovely cabbages you see in a photo above.

Here is the piece:

Garden in the City small 2000001

Philadelphia has many community gardens and Glenwood Green Acres still exists. The surrounding area is changing as redevelopment amends the area but this garden looks pretty much the same 20 years later, from the pictures I can find.