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Ellen Anne Eddy
Author of Thread Magic: The Enchanted World of Ellen Anne Eddy Fiber artist, author and teacher
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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Musings: Art outside the Box:Other People's Stuff

 As someone who's dyed fabric for over 20 years, it's almost unthinkable for me to use someone else's fabric in an art quilt. It's almost like putting on someone else's underwear or using their tooth brush. It feels very strange and wrong somehow. I'm used to the definitions I get from what I do in a dye room. I can create a whole world just in the dyeing and then embellish from there. I play with quilt fabric for my own entertainment, but usually what I do is make myself aprons. I quilt with hand-dye.


And I would have said that was written in stone if I hadn't gone back to making baby quilts. One of the ministries we do in my church is make quilts for babies and shut ins. I swore I would never do that kind of quilting again. Of course, that kind of quilting is only a little bit about blankets. It's about caring for people and learning how to give to people. It's about building community. It's a whole other art form, and absolutely vital. We forget that in our mothers' time so much of the world ran on what we called "service organizations". In a world where people are struggling to make things work with two jobs, volunteerism is almost impossible. But it covered a great deal of need, in giving to the community and in being able to have something to give. Both those states are a vital ying/yang of basic human existence. We give, we take. Hopefully we live in a balanced world where both of those things are possible.


So I found myself finishing a quilt for a lady with a brain tumor. We'd shopped specially for that quilt. Lots of Kaye Fasset, an amazing cat fabric, and some contemporary abstracts. I showed it to a friend. It was nothing but  nine patches. The people I'm working with have some pretty limited skills. We tend to keep it simple.But she said"You're fabric's doing the work for you here." She was so right. With fabric that pretty, who cared? The lady loved it. She's been taking it along with her for her treatments. That quilt is busy doing it's job.


That being said, how much of our art is totally ours?Certainly when we use commercial fabric, it's easy to forget that there's a designer in a back room who it really belongs to. It's their art. But what we choose to do with it is ours.


Ever since the first calicoes and Jacobean prints came from India, we've redefined, reworked, undone, redone and embellished other people's art into our own. I don't often use other people's fabric. But I do look at photos for anatomic information about animals I draw. All art is derivative. It all comes from somewhere. Perhaps the question is, are we honest enough to fess up to saying from where? I won't use calico. But I do find I have a weakeness for brocade. And when I'm done with it, it doesn't much look like what I started with


So the next time you see an amazing piece of fabric that is the work of someone else's hands, celebrate it. Buy it. Cut into it. It's only fabric. It only bleeds in the wash.

1 comments:

Virginia said...

I have a similar problem in doing portraits. When I ask to use someone as a model, they typically expect that I will give them the piece when I'm done. Even though I took the picture, aren't they the true owners of their own image? I'm not sure I've found the answer. (By the way, I used to hate calicos also and I only used my own hand-dyed fabrics -- but when I lost access to a wet studio, I found marvelous life in calicos & love finding unexpected uses for them in my portraits. Who knew?)
Where are the lines? I sometimes wonder myself.
Thanks for the thoughtful posting -- good food for thought.

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