Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Form, Not Function 3

First the good news.  I fell in love with this piece by Judie Huss on display in "Form, Not Function: Quilt Art at the Carnegie."  It's black cotton, discharged, and then densely hand stitched. 

Judie Huss, Study in Black and Grey

It's relatively small  -- maybe a foot across -- and the low contrast makes the work hide until you get close to it, but what a punch it has when you stop and look.

Being a sucker for letterforms, or shapes that look like them, I was particularly drawn to the small motifs appearing in places on the quilt.  And the texture is beautifully controlled, with only a few areas unquilted while most of the work is covered with tiny (about an eighth of an inch) stitches.

Now the bad news.  The presentation of this work detracted significantly from its impact.

I cropped the full-view photo as much as possible, so you wouldn't be as distracted as I was, but you can still see that the work was stitched so densely that when the stitching stopped, it left loose, almost ruffled areas around the edges.  These were wrapped around stretcher bars to finish the work.  But it was impossible to wrap them tautly enough to get rid of the bulges.

The treatment did indeed make the focal area of the quilt nice and flat, but those baggy edges looked like spinach in the teeth of the beauty queen.  In addition, the stretcher seemed to be the wrong size for the piece, leaving wider margins at the sides than at the top and bottom, and crowding the piece lengthwise. 

When you stitch this densely, you're bound to have loose fabric on the edges, and it's not always easy to figure out how to deal with it.  In this case I might have cut the extra an inch or so outside the stitched area and folded it under, or perhaps torn the edges as close as possible to the stitching.  Then the central piece could be mounted on a stretcher covered with a separate piece of fabric.  And I would have chosen a larger stretcher, so the piece could breathe easily in its space.

Back to the good news -- it wouldn't be too hard to unfasten this piece from its stretcher when it comes home from the Carnegie and start over.  With better presentation, this piece could easily be best in show the next time it goes out in public.


  1. This edge problem on small, densely stitched pieces is what led me to experiment with attaching this type of work directly to a canvas with matte gel medium under and over the work, taming the wild edges. Convincing fiber venues to hang the piece (as any painting on canvas) has become a new challenge.

  2. Dense machine quilting also causes those ruffled edges. I've removed and reapplied borders after doing the dense stitching in the center. Adding alot more machine stitching in the borders, in a thread that disappears visually (smoke monofilament or black thread on a black border), also works. But machine stitching may not complement this particular piece, so cutting or turning under may be the best solution. You've given me other ideas of how to unruffle my edges.
    -Connie in Alabama

  3. You said "I loved the piece!" So why did you tear it apart with your criticism? Were you asked to critique it? Did you get permission from the artist to photograph it? Did you get permission to post it on your blog? Did you buy it?
    My mother always taught me that if I could not say something nice about someone/something, to keep my mouth shut!
    How would you feel if similar comments were posted about your blog? And you should probably know that Judie Huss died on August 4, 2012.

  4. Caryl -- thanks for commenting! Let me respond to your points in order.

    1. I didn't think I tore this piece apart with criticism; I thought I pointed out a flaw that kept it from being near-perfect.

    2. No, I wasn't asked to critique it, except that public art exhibits are always subject to the comments of art critics.

    3. No, I didn't get permission from the artist to photograph it or post the photo on my blog, nor did I get permission from any of the other artists whose work I showed. Again, work hung in public art exhibits is always subject to photographs, unless the venue prohibits it.

    4. No, I did not buy it.

    5. If similar comments were posted about my blog, which happens every now and then, such as now, I would first be happy that people are reading, and second be happy that they were engaged enough to leave a comment. When you write for the public, as in a blog, you open yourself to exactly the same kind of fair comment that applies when you exhibit your artwork for the public. It goes with the territory.

    6. My mother never taught me that. We come from a family of journalists and realize that if you restrict yourself to nice comments you don't have much to put in the newspaper.

    7. I am very sorry to hear that Judie Huss died. I liked her work a lot.

    8. I don't bother to comment on work that is mediocre; that's unfair and cruel. Only when a work is strong enough to be worth constructive criticism would I ever mention flaws.

  5. One thing that I really like about your blog posts, Kathy, and critiques of works, is that you are straight out into the open. You don't hold back with criticism, but you also know how to praise when something really strikes your attention. I think an attitude of "only say nice things, or keep your mouth shut" is a very difficult way of maintaining an adult-style of discussion about things. I'd rather have your journalist approach of looking at things from various sides. Much more mind-opening to a reader who can then build his or her own opinion about things. I fully agree with your judgement of this quilt - the stitching is great, but edgework is important, too. Keep up your outspoken comments, there are lots of us out here who like them that way.