At play in the garden of stitch

Three weeks, three pieces, three inspirations. My weeks have been full of obligations and distractions so I haven’t been able to concentrate on much of anything in my studio. The distractions were also inspirations. So my art shows it.

Those who follow my work will know that I tend to avoid patterned fabrics. Since my focus is on the stitching I like a background that is open and structured. This piece is exemplary of that technique.

Whispered nothings, Paula Kovarik.

These detailed stitch drawings bring story to shape. In this case the story is about the media and how we get our news. The texture that develops can add another layer of drama.

Detail stitching both by hand and machine betray my tendency to believe that more is, in fact, more.

But what now? After a workshop with Pamela Allen I did some hand stitching. This time patterned fabrics were part of the composition — foreign territory for me. I am not a patient hand stitcher so I started machine stitching after awhile.

Patterned fabrics add a sense of mystery to this composition. Stitching adds texture.

This one will stay on the board for awhile until I have the patience to stitch on it some more.

And then I spent a few days with Maria Shell building a community quilt with some folks in Memphis. Her fabrics added a sense of joy and energy to our community quilt that challenged my vision of how things go together. I mined the garbage can to come up with some scraps that I could experiment with on my own.

The scraps are ironed onto a navy blue background.

Added some stitching

And some more stitching.

Then some more stitching. I want to call this “We don’t know what’s down there” because it reminds me of a National Geographic special on the ocean that I watched last week.

I’ve been so happy to have the time to work on these experiments. And happier still to have the opportunity to learn from other artists. Thanks to Michael Brennand-Wood, Pamela Allen and Maria Shell I have a new box of toys to play with.

No turning back

I had the privilege of spending a week at a Shakerag Workshop with Michael Brennand-Wood this past week. It was partially an escape from Memphis and the quilt festival that has entangled my spare moments and partially a way to peel back ossified habits and open up new space in my brain.

It worked on both accounts.

Fungi is an assemblage of quilt pieces, wire structures, wood, stitch and felt—A study in growth and emergence.

First, let me praise Shakerag Workshops. This place is a magical oasis in the hills of Tennessee that brings serious artists (both skilled and unskilled) and teachers to play with each other. The atmosphere is educated, welcoming and full of joy. And the food was from the gods. Go there. No, really, go there.

Michael’s class was called Random Precision: 3-Dimensional Line, Stitch, Structure and Light. We used drills, saws, glue, paint, thread, nails, twisty ties, wires and our thoughts to explore space, light and structure. Michael talked about building artwork physically but also conceptually. We considered the push and pull of dark and light, hard and soft, and structured and unstructured bits. It was a joy. And, it will change the way I look at my own work.

I have been eager to explore 3D qualities with my stitching. Through quilting I can build or deconstruct a flat surface that speaks to my fingers. The traveling thread becomes a narrative element that translates my thoughts. Now I will explore how that thread can build space, encapsulate ideas and stretch the boundaries.

Meek is a bundle of threads and wires.

Eek celebrates stitch and fabric by offering up samples to consider.

These figures and assemblages spoke to me. They tickle my fancy and release the prankster within. They breathe life and rhythm into my space.

Thank you Michael. One of the most generous teachers I have had.

Quilt National 2019

My piece, Disruption, will debut at Quilt National tomorrow in Athens, OH. The Dairy Barn is a treasured space for art quilts and art quilters. I have met some inspiring folks there, seen some inspiring works. I wish I could be there this weekend during the opening festivities. It would be great to get to meet some of the first time artists and catch up with the artists I have met before.

Meanwhile my work will speak for itself. It’s a little raucous. A lot anxious. Ragged on one side and dark on the other. Not sure if the folks at QN will hang the piece away from the wall so that you can see it from both sides. If not, and you are there, ask them to show you the dark side. It’s full of stitch.

The piece is made with a quilt top I pieced then printed with a steamroller. — yes, the same machine they use to flatten roadways. I was given a 4’x8’ wood panel to carve. It was inked, placed on the road and covered in fabric, paper, a felt blanket and wood panels then rolled over with the steamroller. More about that process here and here.

My best to all the artists who will be celebrating this weekend in Athens. I’ll have to wait to see the show some other time.

Disruption, 90” x 40”, 2018, Paula Kovarik

Disruption, the dark side, 90” x 40”, 2018, Paula Kovarik

On expectations

Recently my son unearthed my case of Barbie clothes from the attic and brought them to me. I don’t remember playing with this doll. My memories of early adolescence are og building forts and planning getaway destinations.

My Aunt Emmie provided most of the clothing for this doll with her expert knitting. I’m amazed at her skill now though I don’t remember admiring that skill then. We took it for granted. She had a thing for pink.

All the essentials of a 60s girl were there: swimsuit, cocktail dress, wedding dress and housedress. The clothes gave us a map of expectations. I can see by the rat’s nest of hair that dear Barbie went through some tough times. She ditched the three piece red knit outfit for a mini-skirt and tights. I don’t see any professional clothes or workshop gloves. There is no briefcase, no computer. Yet there are two aprons, one practical with a matching chefs hat and one frilly one to greet her husband upon his return home. I do love to cook.

Barbieclothes.jpg

It’s a box of propaganda that made sense to the executives at Mattel at the time. I’ve heard that Barbie has evolved over time with scuba gear, ski togs and business attire. But she was not evolved while I grew up.. We tried on these women’s uniforms to suit society’s norms. We told these stories to each other through dating games, house play and dress-up. We learned how to walk in heels, put on make-up and wish upon a star. There is probably a version of this narrative out there for girls under 16 to this day.

I’m glad I didn’t follow that pathway. I’m glad that I grew up during a time of questioning authority — a time when women fought for equal rights, a time when civil discourse turned to difficult subjects. The subjects are getting even more difficult now. Our planet, our rights, our nations, our health….all at risk.

So when I look at this little box of expectations I am thinking about how we’re still swimming up stream in a one piece suit, constrained by expectations, overruled by rulers. I think we might need to add some armor to the closet. We’ll need resilience and a fierce belief in each other. We’ll need to put on our big girl pants and stand up, move forward and speak out loud.

Now where did I put that rotary cutter?

STITCHED, a celebration of quilting in Memphis, TN

In the past several months I have been actively engaged in planning a festival of quilt art here in Memphis. It has taken more of my attention than I had first assumed. So I haven’t done much work lately. The year of planning is over. The festival opens on May 10.

Nervous? Yes. Have I covered all the bases? Have I welcomed as many people as possible into the circle? Have I achieved the goal of presenting the ART of quilting to Memphis? Soon we shall see. And, though I have some doubts, worries and regrets, I am also very excited, grateful and motivated.

The BLUE show is a regional quilt challenge sponsored by Crosstown Arts. We asked artists, quilters and makers of all sorts to create quilts that are three layers, stitched, 24” x 24” and predominantly blue. Over 180 people responded with 230 quilts.

The BLUE show is a regional quilt challenge sponsored by Crosstown Arts. We asked artists, quilters and makers of all sorts to create quilts that are three layers, stitched, 24” x 24” and predominantly blue. Over 180 people responded with 230 quilts.

One thing I learned this past year? There are lots of people with lots of ideas out there. Our main challenge has been honing in to the ideas that were both doable and unique. So we ended up with these:

  • We have taught children how to quilt.

  • We have invited artists to experiment with the quilt form. The community has contributed over 230 blue quilts to the BLUE show.

  • Local artist, Greely Myatt, is installing three of his metal quilts in the atrium.

  • Masterworks: Abstract and Geometric is coming into Memphis for a period of three months. Martha Sielman will introduce an eager audience to the world of art quilts on May 11.

  • A fiber installation from Pat Pauly, Genesee, is being installed in the next two weeks.

  • The Memphis Area Modern Quilt Guild has donated a beautiful quilt to a local healthcare provider that focuses on people with limited access to health services. They will include it in their annual fund-raising efforts.

  • We have created a video showing quilt stories and quilting techniques.

  • Workshops in May and July will be focused on people who have never quilted before.

  • Local guilds and community members will come together on June 8 to share their quilts at the longest Show-and-Tell in history.

  • And, today, the interactive quilt wall will be installed..

The interactive quilt wall gives people an opportunity to experiment with pattern and color. Each of the 96 squares have magnets on the back of them and can be moved around to create new patterns.

The interactive quilt wall gives people an opportunity to experiment with pattern and color. Each of the 96 squares have magnets on the back of them and can be moved around to create new patterns.

It’s been a year of planning, coercing, nail-biting, sourcing, encouraging and teaching. I had some amazing people helping along the way. And now we open on May 10. Only 18 days away.

Come to Memphis. We are celebrating our bicentennial AND the art of quilting. The Stitched festival opens on May 10 and will continue to July 28. If you are here on June 8 bring a quilt to share with our audience! Good food, good music, good people and good quilts. What could be better?

And then I can go back to work. I miss that work. Everyday.