Color and fiber work is a process of exploration and discovery for Susan Antell.
She has spent a good deal of time studying the dye process for both cotton and wool fabrics. When I met Susan almost three years ago, she had recently finished a booklet containing detailed dye recipes for cotton fabric. Dyeing A Color Wheel With Fiber Reactive Dyes. Methodically experimenting with dye to create new hues for her art projects, Susan’s color formulas produced gradations from a base hue. For Susan, while she enjoyed the surprise element of ‘what came out of the dye pot’, she really wanted to understand how to replicate color choices.
The examples of Susan’s work shown in this story emphasize the differences in dyeing with wool and cotton fibers. Two quilts in cotton and two quilts in wool and used in different ways. While each of these pieces has similar elements and technique, the overall style couldn’t be more different. Art quilts, all, they represent the natural world on a large scale; universal infinity of journey and exodus.
The subject of the cotton pieces is close and personal such that the viewer knows it by name. A butterfly; a monarch. Susan personalizes the story by sharing snapshots of her childhood on the Southern Minnesota prairie; how she and her sister jubilantly ran through the tall grasses celebrating the oncoming spring. As an adult, her art asks thoughtful questions about the disappearance of the monarch and its sustaining milkweed plant. What is the potential impact on the larger natural cycle? At the same time her quilts are joyful and reflective.
Using the Hubble space photos as inspiration for her wool quilts, Susan sought to recreate the immeasurable season of time in deep space. Unknown, unnamed. The properties of the wool fabric complement this abstract concept. The loft and lack of reflective qualities of the fiber gives depth and softness drawing the viewer into each piece. Here, fabric is used as a backdrop for embellisments as the beads and embroidery are used as a point of reference. Below is Susan’s interpretation of a far distant nebula and Aurora Borealis.
Wool and cotton have differences in texture and cellular composition which is why they absorb color differently. Wool is a protein based animal fiber and cotton is a plant based fiber. The color in the wool quilts is intense and deep and draws the viewer into the middle of the view. The cotton fabric is dyed piece by piece to represent each part of the composition. The cotton fabric highlights the elements on the surface—appliqué is very appropriate. The use of beads and dimensional piecing emphasizes the outward reflection of cotton’s harder surface. Both are a great choice of fabric for the subject matter.
While color work plays a dominant role in Susan’s creative expression, she really enjoys all phases of project planning her work. Beginning with a ‘bright idea’, she then breaks the project down into steps she follows to get the work completed. While the sewing, stitching and dyeing processes of her art are relaxing, she also feels very comfortable moving the steps around to accommodate the demands of completing the project.
Susan, a former teacher, lives in the Twin Cities and teaches color theory and fiber dye workshops in the Textile Center’s dye lab. Her work has been included in several exhibits at the Textile Center and is currently in the “20 for 20” exhibit in the Textile Center’s Joan Mondale Gallery. The exhibit is open through October 25, 2014.
[ale_button url=”https://midwestfiberartstrails.org/event/20-20-celebrating-textile-centers-20th-birthday/” style=”orange” size=”small” type=”round” target=”_self”] “20 for 20” Exhibit at Textile Center [/ale_button]