Sunday, August 29, 2010

Use It or Lose It

Are you one of those people who can’t look at a woven plastic vegetable bag or a sturdy cardboard garment tag without considering the artistic potential it might contain? I confess that I am one of those. I spend an inordinate amount of time collecting castoff relics that other people just throw in the garbage. But there’s good reason for such behavior.

Since 2003 I have been making a serious effort to add recycled items to most of the quilts I make. These recycled elements might take the form of plastic milk jug stoppers, wine corks, and discarded orange “weedeater” cord. I have even used melted plastic bags to construct quilts. But my favorite junk takes the form of natural fiber.

If you use fabric for anything, you can usually glean some recycled fibers when you handle it. When I buy new fabric to make quilts or garments, the first thing I do is wash it. (You need to remove that possible formaldehyde, you know.) If the fabric was cut from the bolt, especially if the cut was uneven, you will be rewarded with a wonderful little bundle of tangled threads. Cut this off while it’s wet and form it into a small nest until it dries. Instant embellishment!

Wash your new fabric in loads of similar colors. When you take the fabric out of the dryer, check the lint filter for a cool glob of colorful lint. (I even find myself searching out fuzzy fabric to wash.) Lint can be captured under tulle on a fabric surface. Or if you’re into fiber sculpture, the pigment for your sculpture medium is free!

My other favorite recycled fibers come from ripping fabric. I use a lot of evenly woven cotton fabric in my work, and the best way to get a straight line is to rip it. In a quilt with a lot of strips, you will find an amazing amount of threads result from ripping the fabric. I save them all, unless the color is muddy. And if the fabric is some that I have hand dyed, you can bet that I’m not going to let one speck of that gloriously colored thread go to waste. These threads are also wonderful for embellishment and for making fiber vessels.

Other crazy recycled artist types are out there. The Atlanta art show “Not Biodegradable” is on display at whitespace gallery through September 4th. One of the artists is Mireille Vautier, who creates her artwork by embroidering on plastic bags. It sounds wonderful! Stop by and see the show if you can.

Whitespace is located at 814 Edgewood Ave., Atlanta, GA 30307. The phone number is 404.688.1892. Gallery hours are Wed. – Sat.11 a.m. to 5 p.m.  You can see some of the work on these websites: and
If you want to see ingenious ways to recycle garments, check out the fun at

Happy recycling!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Energy in Motion

I recently wrenched my knee and have been going to my chiropractor. He’s working on my spine a little each day to restore the proper flow of energy in my body. Now, you may or may not believe that particular theory, but it’s undeniable that energy is of huge significance in the world and in ourselves. This made me think about different types of energy and how they affect us as artists.

I remember as a teenager helping to build a float for a school parade. We had a short time to accomplish this, and it seemed an insurmountable task, stuffing crepe paper into thousands of tiny holes in a wire armature to create the huge, looming figure of a bear. But my classmates and I kept the flow of energy going by laughing and joking until the task was miraculously completed.

As the chairman of an arts group putting on our first art show in our town, I worked with my small committee until we were so exhausted that we didn't know if we could keep going and get everything done in time. But we relied on each other’s energy and support to keep going, and we did. The energy that we got back from the 300 or so guests who attended the opening kept us going long after the event.

In a wonderful youtube video, Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love gives a speech about the perception of artistic inspiration as a sort of disembodied divine energy that comes to a person endeavoring to do creative work. Here’s the link - It’s definitely worth viewing. This energy comes to different people in different forms; you may find yourself identifying with some of them. It’s something fun to think about.

If you’ve been watching “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist” on Bravo TV the last few weeks, you will have seen all manner of creative energy at work – from the most positive to the ugliest and most negative. There was a true showing of “artistic temperament.” It was gratifying to see that the person who seemed to radiate the most caring and loving energy toward every other person was also the artist who won.

As artists, most of us work in a solitary manner. But the energy we need to keep creating often comes from others who are making art, too. Getting together with friends who share our art is imperative. Doing a sort of cross-training exercise by viewing types of art that are outside our own discipline is also a great way to be inspired. That’s why it is such a good thing for SEFAA to have a booth at the Georgia Quilt Show in October. Not only will the quiltmakers gain from it, but so will the knitters, weavers and silk painters. It should be a wonderful sharing of artistic energy!

If you would like to share in a more concrete way, please donate some spare “fat quarters” of fabric (cut 18” x 22”) to sell at the SEFAA booth. Our Fiber Arts Alliance is itself a wonderful sharing of creative energy. Remember to share SEFAA with everyone you know!