String, Felt, Thread: The Hierarchy of Art and Craft in American Artby Elissa Auther spells out the bias of the art establishment. She explains how an artist who started as a sculptor and transitioned to textiles will be perceived as more artistically valid than someone who evolved from quilting to textile art. It's the sort of book I can't read at bedtime because I will not be able to sleep, just lie there seething.
After reading it, I sewed it. If you haven't read it, please consider this piece a wearable book report. It is a textile argument, constructed on top of an old tuxedo: a formal argument, both in logic and dress.
Maybe because I had recently seen a show at the Metropolitan Museum on ceremonial clothing, I knew this had to be a garment. I googled 'ceremonial garments' and that got me started (I found a great image of Prince Charles, which explained what all his badges and medals represented).
A very nice lady had given me this old, gray woolen jacket, seen here with my banner. Over the years, I've built up a collection of thermofax screens with directions for crochet, mending, knitting or information about archaeological textiles. I printed these words on dyed cloth, and sewed together various patchwork bits.
Then I found the perfect old tuxedo jacket at a garage sale - it even fit me! The gray jacket was out - the tuxedo was in. All I had to do now was sew on all the bits and patches that I had created.
Lots of medals, awarded for DETAIL, SKILL, DESIGN, BY HAND, STITCHES (embroidered onto an old girl scout badge for sewing). The epaulets are impossibly over-the-top: I just kept making them thicker and thicker and used parts of old leather work gloves to finish them off. I had to have them. With all this business about concepts and legitimacy and hierarchies...I wanted to add some indication of the actual WORK involved.
The embroidered letters read "Oh my - there's a concept embedded here!" Couldn't help being flippant.
Formal Argument, displayed on a dress form with a black tuxedo shirt, was featured in FiberPhiladelphia 2012, where Elissa Auther (who wrote String, Felt, Thread: The Hierarchy of Art and Craft in American Art) was the keynote speaker.
My son was living in Japan when the tsunami struck in 2011. After seeing aerial views of the tsunami damage, I opened my collection of Japanese textiles. Japan has a very polite culture: everything is neatly wrapped. In this piece, objects (including ceramic shards which I dug out of the mud at low tide at the Mayajima Gate) are tightly wrapped, too, each in separate bundles. The blackened sections have been ripped open, representing the emotional devastation to a rigidly structured society. Part of the border is made from an old saki bag, found at a Koyoto temple flea market. On the right side, you can see where the tsunami has broken through the saki bag border.
Almost all materials in the top layer are natural textiles found in Japan (even the ‘streets’ are made from old Japanese textile bundles). The light sections are natural color; the dark sections are the same materials, but dyed. There is heavy felt batting to hold all this, and a cotton backing. The top layer was entirely hand sewn (some machine sewing on back).
Each section is a separately constructed package: a piece of felt, wrapped in cloth, with a found object, all carefully sewn into a tight bundle. All the packages were arranged, and sewn to the top and felt layers. The edges have been left raw; the hanging rod has been sewn into the back.
I’m aware that my art has a too-tight, severe aspect. Perhaps, like Japanese gardens, I try to create miniature controlled worlds.
This is an aerial map showing the tsunami damage (the dark areas). I used Photoshop to get more contrast, then drew white lines to help me visually grasp the layout of the roads. This was the starting point for my design.
In this detail, you can see the individually wrapped 'packages'. Some of the tsunami-damaged ones (dyed black) have been cut open, with the wrapped item removed. In the undamaged, lighter section, I wrapped keys, coins and ceramic shards. In the damaged area, I used (and cut out) old key-plates and keys (not from Japan) to denote the homes that were lost.
Almost all the fabric in this quilt came from a tiny shop in a small town, found on a previous visit (the rest came from temple flea markets).
If you're reading this, I can assume you have some interest in textiles. So you can imagine how I felt walking through a low wooden doorway into this quiet sanctuary of cloth. Every piece was undyed, natural materials. Not the 36" and 45" wide rolls we have here - most of these were the metric equivalent of about 18" wide. The owner didn't speak English, but I've always had a knack for charades, and I bought a lot of cloth. This was the stock I used when I started my tsunami quilt.
This is the back of the piece. It has photos of the textile shop, the saki bags, the aerial map, a cloth bundle* found at a temple flea market, the Mayajima Gate and some of the shards I found there.
* In the past, parts of Japan experienced severe poverty. Women would mend any torn clothing, and save every scrap of handmade fabric. The bundle I found had the sort of scraps that would be saved, including 8" pieces which had been stitched together from other, even smaller pieces.