Sunday, March 27, 2011

Reading about fiber art

The big conversation on the Quiltart list yesterday had to do with Quilting Arts magazine and its spinoff TV show, and whether the “arts” part of the title is still applicable.

Somebody watched a show and was unhappy at its emphasis on perfect piecing and pressing, and its choice of sappy projects. “So where did this milk toast concept of ART come from? Where did the ART magazine and technique show go to? I am so disappointed,” she wrote.

I had to agree, and my contribution to the discussion was to observe that apparently the economic realities of the publishing business dictate that you must go to the lowest common denominator in order to sell magazines and ads. In the little ballpark of quilting, the l.c.d. is that people want to say they're making "art quilts" but don't have the knowledge or mindset to actually do so. Instead they learn techniques, buy products, follow directions, and think they're doing something worthwhile.

And maybe they are!  Depending on your level of expertise and aspiration, making a project as described in Quilting Arts magazine might be just what the doctor ordered. It might teach you something new, stretch your imagination, and give you a well-deserved feeling of accomplishment.  Thousands of quilters seem to find this magazine, and this approach, appealing.  But (back to the original complainer) it probably isn't art, in the sense that it isn't very ambitious and may not be very original, and it doesn't do much for serious fiber artists.

I suggested that there just isn't enough market interest in serious fiber art to support a lovely, glossy magazine like Quilting Arts, or TV shows or even books. I should have pointed out that we do have Fiberarts magazine, and Surface Design, the magazine of the Surface Design Association, both of which set their sights higher.

We probably have to give up on TV for getting any artistic inspiration. Even mainstream art, with its much greater constituency, struggles to show up on TV without being dumbed down, gimmicked up or presented as an afterthought to biography. A year or two ago I was visiting two artist friends when a made-for-TV movie about Georgia O’Keeffe came on. We all trooped in to watch it, but gave up in less than an hour; it was so heavy on sex and so clueless on art that we couldn’t stand it.

Books, which used to be the specialized refuge of the total nerd, have also gotten caught up in the competitive jungle of the marketplace. My own library is full of interesting and inspiring books featuring prominent artist/quiltmakers, their works and their thoughts – all bought in the previous century. Many of them were bought locally, or from a vendor at a big quilt show.

Today apparently the popular quilt publishers won’t touch a book unless it has patterns. You may be able to find the occasional book with higher aspirations – Joan Schulze’s self-published book from last year and Nancy Crow’s 2006 book are excellent examples – but neither came from a “quilt publisher” and I suspect neither will be found at your local quilt shop.

So what’s a serious fiber artist going to read? As I mentioned, I like Fiberarts and Surface Design. I like the catalogs from major shows like Quilt National and Visions. I own some of the technical bibles on surface design. But beyond that, I find that mainstream art magazines and books contribute more to my artistic development than any of the “quilt art” publications.

What do you think? What do you read?


  1. This is a very interesting posting. The only magazine I buy is Quilting Arts and I also don't find it as useful as I did when I first got it. I think it has become more technique focussed. My problem is living in the far south-west of Cornwall, England where there is a vibrant art community (St Ives) but almost nobody doing textiles and certainly no art or professional quilters. So in many ways I am quite isolated. Every year I buy the posh expensive catalogues and books from groups such as SAQA and EQA that exhibit at the Festival of Quilts and I buy books through Amazon but most of them are pretty useless and now I see why - it is that l.c.d. thing again. I recently bought Jane Dunnewold's Art Cloth and that was good as I have studied at Committed to Cloth and everything I learnt there has sort of clicked into place now. But it is still technique focussed. But I would be interested to know what publications inspire people and whether I should swop my Quilting Arts subscription for something else.

  2. A recent book publication without patterns is Twelve by Twelve. Quite an engrossing account by twelve artists of their commitment to each make twelve, 12-inch quilts.

  3. I'm pleased to say that Lark Crafts embraced our project and has just published our book Twelve by Twelve: The International Art Quilt Challenge" which features 144+ quilts, twelve artists and the dynamics of an online community in 176 pages - and not a single pattern in sight.

  4. While on holiday I bought a pack of 3 art magazines. Found detailed instructions for various projects, complete with pattern sheets! Just like every quilt magazine, every craft magazine.

    Showing newcomers how to do new techniques is fine, regardless of the materials they use ... but do they really need pattern sheets?

    Judy B

  5. I've stopped subscribing to magazines, except Fiber Arts. And I have so many books that the current new ones are just updated versions of my old ones, mostly.
    Going back to those old books again can be inspirational. I also cruise the web for blogs and new work.
    Lastly, I browse the Oversize shelves at the library for eye candy books I can borrow instead of buy.
    I'm not economizing on money, I've just run out of bookshelves.

  6. I just bought the 12x12 book - really interesting. Lots of artist comments, info and great pics of their work. I'm reading it slowly to savor it.

    Have you seen Selvedge? It is printed in England and has interesting articles, great pics and unfortunately is spendy as all get-out. I really enjoy it when I find a copy though.

  7. Hi
    I think there are many people publishing their own books now and with blogs and web sites etc it is easy to publise and sell your own book. Mine seems to be selling well. "Journeys in Stitch" It doesn't have any patterns or techniques in it. I didnt want to give away any of my secret techniques as I want people to attend my classes.

  8. When my subscription to Quilting Arts runs out, I will not renew. It reads like "same old, same old". On the edgy side, Fashioning Technology. It is a DIY book dealing with eTextiles. Phosphorescent ink/LED's/photochromic conductive and smart materials. I think we will see more eTextiles in art world that includes fiber, as the products become more sophisticated and affordable. Regina Benson has included LED's in one of her spectacular fiber pieces.
    Magazines: SDA, Fiberarts,American Craft