From notes taken during her presentation to the Quilter's Guild of Dallas, October 2, 1997.
Judi Warren received her MFA in Printed Textiles but has only been quilting since 1981. Saying that she wasn't very good at applique in 1981, she reminisced about sharing a room with applique teacher Helen Kelly. Working on a project she described as looking like "a brillo pad wrapped in rubber bands" Judi says she approached Helen for some advice and asked "Take a look and tell me what I'm doing wrong." She says Helen responded with "How much time do you have?"
Since that episode Judi has practiced her skills. Her latest endeavor includes a book on fabric postcards.
"Even in an increasingly high-tech world we still send postcards" Judi says of the fabric postcards she makes by piecing, applique, and using Wonder-Under. They are quilts to be held in your hand rather than slept under, to express what you feel and think. Postcards explore themes of nature, history, travel and architecture. They act as sources of inspiration and enable us to transform and recreate our world in our quilts, to make a personally satisfying fabric representation of our experiences.
Judi feels that the postcards should capture the essence of a place rather than be a photographic copy. "We are quiltmakers, not cameras," she says. To this end she wants us to look at postcards and pictures for inspiration, and material to be interpreted, rather than slavishly copied.
In choosing materials for our postcards, we must take a fresh approach to looking at color and value, and the properties of the patterned fabric. Choose your fabric for content, look at it for what it reminds you of and what it could be interpreted to be.
Judi got started making fabric interpretations of favorite postcards through her fascination with antique cards and their messages. Initially, she chose cards with panoramic scenery, and made fabric collages designed to display the postcard in the center. She extended the color and the patterns in the picture into the surrounding fabrics. Then she thought "Why not make the cards with fabric?"
Not trying for a "real" picture postcard, Judi looked for fabrics that had the right scale, color, and pattern to become expressions of the most important parts of the images. A watery blue-green fabric became sky. A strip of fabric with small orange dots became a row of red-roofed farmhouses because, Judi said, she's "not going to applique the tiny bits." While it was tempting to use small pictorial prints in some places, Judi felt they added too much detail, in an unbalanced manner, to the more abstract effect she was trying to achieve. A student likened the fabric postcard to haiku poetry: a brief wording to express in fabric and idea or thought.
Another obstacle Judi faced was recognizing that what works well in a 5x7 inch piece does not translate to a 5x7 foot piece. The scale of the fabric print changes, and what might work wonderfully in the smaller piece will get lost in the larger one. Judi reminded us that we are making "a postcard, not a poster." To make a larger scale representation, we'd need to select different fabrics that are in keeping with the overall scale of the finished piece. The fabric selection, she stresses, is the most crucial step.
Developing the layout for your postcard takes a little bit of time, and maybe some trial and error. Judi suggests that we look and choose among several possible fabrics, and try different ones in a mock-up to see which will best express the colors and composition of the original. She said that after you "spend half an hour on the floor searching for the postcard, you know you've found it."
Begin with a photo of a place you know and love, and think of your postcard as a fabric diary or a gift of memories shared. Your fabric should echo the composition of the picture in terms of perspective, distance and values of light and dark. Let your fabric express the subtle tones of earth and sky as you take your inspiration from nature.
Frequent themes in postcards that are easily reproduced in fabric include the meeting of water and earth, such as at beaches or lakes, and along rivers. Sunsets and trees also feature in postcards, and can be captured in fabric. Architectural surfaces can be created from carefully chosen fabric fragments to become stores, glass windows, pavement, and dappled sunlight. Since very few fabrics will reflect photography exctly, your fabrics should suggest textures.
Judi's construction techniques vary from card to card, and within a piece as well. She appliques many of the fabrics into the composition, but also likes to use Wonder-Under. "It was invented for a reason and I think we should use it when we need to." Judi often uses it for applying very narrow sections of tree branches. She also suggests using both sides of a print in order to achieve the effect of varied lighting on greenery, and the use of machine embroidery to add details.
As a challenge project, fabric postcards can be a creative change. Judi says your group should agree on the card to be used, and then make individual fabric postcards of their own. As an example, Judi showed slides from a group in San Francisco who produced a range of expressive postcards from their individual stashes. As the last picture she'd choose because of it's strange perspective and composition, the original image of the Golden Gate Bridge had a variety of "difficult" architectural details and backgrounds.
The mechanics of the image got lost in favor of personal perceptions, however, and the group produced a series of unique interpretations in fabric. Each quilter saw a different area of the card to highlight or translate in an original manner, using couched threads for the bridge structure and even painting on some details.
Finally, Judi discussed the assembly details that make your postcard look and feel like a real card. The finished fabric card should be flat, with no lumps or bumps. In some cases this means careful seam allowances and stiching. Use a white fabric for the back of the card, ironed on to a stiff interfacing to give the card the firmness it needs.
While the front of your card will be artistic, the back of it needs to be literary, while still reflecting the feel of a real postcard. An important part of the back of the postcard is the stamp, which can be an innovative use of fabric. Stamps can be suggested from pictorial fabric, with the edges pinked or cut in half circles to resemble perforations. Made from printed fabrics with botanical or geographical themes the stamps can suggest travel themselves.
A message and address on the back of the card is the place to record your thoughts or memories, include a message to a friend, or comments about the scene that inspired you. Other details can be airmail stickers, cancellation stamps, and even carefully printed descriptions of the scene portrayed on the front.
Remember that your fabric postcard is a method for you to record a favorite place in fabric. It is a project that takes only a few days, not months. It will allow you to recall a special place, time, friends or just say "Wish you were here."
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