After I’d seen the techniques Tina Hughes uses and style she expresses making her quilts it was quite humorous to read the definition of quilt in the Oxford dictionary. “A warm bed covering made of padding enclosed between layers of fabric and kept in place by lines of stitching, typically applied in a decorative design.” Wikipedia and the Merriam-Webster definitions were similar in their singular application of such an incredibly complex art form known as quilting. Don’t they have a clue?
Even the three layer structure of a typical quilt sandwich is being challenged by contemporary thinking at Quilt National: “The work must possess the basic structural characteristics of a quilt. It must be predominantly fabric and composed of two full and distinct layers—a face layer and a back layer—that are held together by hand or machine made functional quilting stitches or other elements that pierce all layers and are distributed throughout the surface of the work.”—Quilt National
So much talk about the structure of a quilt when the real action is what’s happening on the top! Quilters are always reinventing themselves and one of the biggest changes in quilting was to view the quilt as a canvas; as an art form to be used for the sake of creating art.
The quilt top has always been an interpretation of the maker’s world. For example, using abstract fabric puzzles such as the log cabin block to mimic the corner of a cabin with fabric ‘logs’ stacked up at right angles. And the flying geese block uses triangles stacked end on point like V-formations flying through the sky. Traditional quilting blocks have been well used for hundreds of years. And the Modern quilt movement is once again finding these simple blocks “new and important.”
While using traditional fabric blocks in new ways is a time honored tradition, it doesn’t completely speak to using the quilt top as a canvas for further interpretation of the artist’s world.
I saw this charming box of embellished quilt samples Tina Hughes made using a smorgasbord of technique and styles before I actually met Tina herself. The decorative container is whimsical, but each piece represents experimentation with technique which combined makes a one-of-a-kind visual journal. An excellent study!
The quilt canvas has become dimensional allowing the artist to layer their work creating a more complex story. Embellishment and even structural enhancements that change the weave or color of the fabric are considered techniques that fall into the overall category of surface design. (Even the words ‘surface design’ conjure up a variety of sentiment depending on which quilt group is being addressed)! To separate this type of quilting from the traditional fabric block quilts, these quilts were given a new moniker; ‘Art Quilt.’ The intended use of this type of quilt changed, too. Not to be casually tossed over the back of a recliner; but viewed on a vertical plane like a piece of art.
As a fabric artist, Tina interprets what she sees in her life. Dwelling in an urban landscape, Tina gravitates toward shape and texture reflecting the constructs of our modern world. For example, in her Roman Doors quilt, Tina uses abstraction by taking subjects from reality and presenting them in a way that is different from the way they are usually viewed. The doors are a metaphor for her work depicting ‘portals’ and she successfully emphasizes them by replicating their shape in the composition. The doors and words are layered onto the surface of the fabric using paint and printing techniques.
The doors originally came from a photograph Tina snapped when she visited the Coliseum. Tina machine stitched the background fabric (canvas) together and ‘quilted’ the layers together with a hand embroidered running stitch and cross stitch in contrast colors. The buttons as door knobs are the final embellishment.
It is said almost all art is abstract, if you consider that the process of abstraction is to draw inspiration from the shape, color and texture of objects. Or life events, as in the case the horrendous earthquake and following tsunami that overtook Japan several years ago. Tina designed this quilt as her statement about the damage to the nuclear plant. The design and the colors represent the chaos of the damage.
The smaller printed circles are the focal point of the composition. Lined up in a matrix, their order is undermined by the suggested movement of the offset blue circles and the intense green color. Tina quilted the layers using larger circles that emerge from the core, floating outward toward the viewer; radiation spreading everywhere. Tina used a combination of monoprint and screen printing techniques on the pieces of fabric to create a chaotic feel.
Taking the opportunity of a vacation in a Hawai’i, Tina brought fabric paint and hand dyed fabric to create exotic leaf prints which form the basis of this quilt. The placement of the leaf prints sets off the asymmetrical geometric shapes. She quilted the layers together with random hand stitching and used metallic thread for the machine stitching.
Tina finds texture in the constructed environment and interprets it through mono-prints. Tina is very interested in printing and has chosen opportunities to methodically explore techniques such as lino block printing and collagraphy using various materials for the imprint. She is also a part of several study groups which offer critique and collaboration while she develops expertise.
To what end does this creative spark chase? Self expression, marketable appeal or both? The variables for this type of quilting are unlimited in their possibilities for experimentation; no matter where a piece hangs on the wall. The inner voice of expression rises to the surface, to be heard and changes the world through the act of creation.
Tina lives in St. Paul, Minnesota and exhibits her work at the Textile Center.