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Art quilts and graphic design – Mary Ann Tipple

When I wanted to go to art school in 1968 my father told me I would never make a living as an artist.

I looked into graphic design, put myself through art school and upon graduation I found a job as a keyliner with a magazine publisher. Keylining was the art of putting down strips of type, drawing outlines for the photos, dropping in ads, etc. It was fine handwork, type was coated with wax and rolled down firmly. Sometimes an exacto knife was used to fix words by cutting out letters and fitting them back together. As the pages were completed, they were stacked in order till the magazine was complete and was sent to the printer. It was like piecing blocks together and sending the top out to be machine stitched. One of my jobs was finding photos for ads. I learned to find images that evoked the desired emotion to sell the product. I found this fascinating and at home did collages using photos from magazines.

The Conversation by Mary Ann Tipple

The Conversation by Mary Ann Tipple, ©2012

I discovered art quilts on a visit to Quilt National in 2001. I wanted to be an art quilter, an art quilter who used photos and cloth. I knew about Jean Ray Laury and the technology of digital printing but I wanted big photos! I solved this problem after a class with Fran Skiles where I learned to take Xerox copies and massage them into cotton duck with massive amounts of gel medium. I have one piece that incorporates 27 11 x 17 xerox pages to make a seven foot tall quilt from a photo of my mother but the cloth was so stiff that stitching was near to impossible. In 2011 I discovered the world of large digital prints directly to cloth. Since then I have been exploring the world of stitching to enhance the content!

I think my work in graphic design has influenced the content in my art, how to send a message or evoke a feeling.

Art quilters have begun to use photos with an artful purpose. I think of work by Nancy Condon, Patricia Kennedy-Zafred and others as fine examples of the use of photos in art quilts.  Often those choices are enhanced by our experiences in the commercial world of advertising and journalism where content is the key to success. The use of digital cameras, scanners and programs like Photoshop and Illustrator to add filters, layers, color changes and size enhancement has added to the content in a positive way. Nancy Condon has commented “I am very taken with the capabilities of layering in Photoshop. After spending a lot of time experimenting with various transfer methods (some of which were toxic), I began using my own small printer to print on fabric as soon as the technology became available. When I was able to print very large photographic images on cloth, I was very excited by that process. I think we are at a point with photo imagery in quilts where we need to develop more sophisticated ways of using the capability.”

Our Ladies of the Mountain by Nancy Condon ©2010

Our Ladies of the Mountain by Nancy Condon ©2010

Mary Ann Tipple

Mary Ann Tipple

Mary Ann Tipple is a resident of Elyria, Ohio. Her mother taught her to sew at a young age. Her interest in art started in the fourth grade when she decided art was the best part of the day. She began making collages in high school. A graduate of Cleveland’s Cooper School of Art with a degree in graphic design, she has worked in ad agencies as a designer and print production specialist. Now retired, she makes art quilts, mixed media pieces and paper collages. She credits her growth in her textiles to classes at Quilt Surface Design Symposium. An interest in improvisation comedy led to two years of classes with Second City, her love of humor shows in her textile pieces!

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Art Quilts — A primer

By Kathleen Loomis

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Little Fish in a Big City by Kathy York, QN2011

Every exhibit of contemporary art quilts has its quintessential moment of confusion as somebody walks in the door, looks around in bewilderment, and announces, “But these aren’t quilts!” No doubt this person was expecting fabric constructions big enough to fit on a bed, perhaps with traditional block designs, maybe even quilted by hand. This newfangled stuff, which you would never put on your bed, just doesn’t fit the definition.

Looking at the wide variety of works that have been accepted in past Quilt National exhibits, you may share some of that confusion. The rules are pretty vague: “the work submitted must possess the basic structural characteristics of a quilt.” That generally means multiple layers of fabric, held together with stitching, with some kind of visual design on the layer facing the viewer.

There are as many ways to accomplish that objective as there are stirrings of the quilter’s imagination. Let’s take a whirlwind tour of some of the possibilities.

First, a visual design.

Traditional quilters generally relied on two methods to make their design. They might sew pieces of different fabric together in patterns (called piecing) or they might sew a piece of fabric, cut into a shape, on top of a base fabric (called applique).

Our Dads at War by Mary Ann Tipple, 2007

Our Dads at War by Mary Ann Tipple, QN2007

Contemporary quiltmakers still use those methods, but they also have a wide range of other ways to get a design onto the top layer of the quilt. They might draw onto a background or use printmaking techniques, with paint or dye. They might print photos or other images or text from a computer. They might allow bits of metal to rust onto their fabric or bury it in the garden for six months to become stained.

Where the traditional quiltmaker would sew her appliques by hand or machine, today’s quiltmakers might use glue, staples, snaps or Velcro. And the bits of stuff applied might be paper, wood, buttons, beads or metal in addition to fabric.

Earth and Soul by Pat Owoc

Earth and Soul “To Go” by Pat Owoc, QN1999

 Second, multiple layers.

The traditional quilt is made of a top, a back and a middle layer of batting (usually cotton or wool for warmth). Today’s quilt might use kinds of fabric never seen in traditional practice: netting, chiffon, felt, canvas, knits, nonwoven interfacings, landscape fabric, plastic. One or more of the layers might be paper, plastic, hardware cloth, screening, wood, even metal.

Third, stitching to hold the layers together.

Traditionally, quilts were held together with a dense network of hand-stitching, although many makers were thrilled to use the sewing machine as soon as that invention became available. Today’s quiltmakers might stitch by hand or machine, or they might use fasteners such as staples or rivets. Reprising the traditional whole cloth quilts, in many cases the stitching itself provides part or all of the visual design.

No longer intended for the bed, today’s contemporary quilt art has no prescribed size or shape (although Quilt National sets a maximum of 100 inches to a side). Most quilts are still two-dimensional and hang flat against the wall, but many have 3-D elements sewed into the fabric or applied to the surface, or are hung on armatures that extend from the wall.

With this vast range of possibilities, it may be either surprising or comforting that so many of the Quilt National works are still so traditional in form, if not in their visual imagery. Most contemporary quiltmakers choose to make their art in the quilt form because of their love of and respect for its long and rich heritage, and the very choice of this process is an integral part of the art.

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