Nina's Textile Trail

My OCA Textile Tales

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Supplementary Research to Assignment 5 in response to Tutor Report – Japanese Boro

Considering patchwork of other cultures, I have been looking at Japanese Boro.  I have admired these textiles in the past and included a magazine cutting in my theme book (page 18)


Japanese Boro textiles are part of a cultural heritage where need and scarcity led to garments being repeatedly repaired and patched, enabling them to be re-used for generations.  I find beauty in such work which is now seen as collectible textile art, fetching high prices.

I really admire these artefacts and their character, the subtle differences in the shades of the worn indigo-dyed cotton, the white stitching against the blues, the texture of the loose weave hemp/cotton, frayed edges, layering, lines of stitch and sashiko stitching on some.

Boro textiles are created by a practice of layering several pieces of cloth, predominantly indigo-dyed cotton, held together with sashiko stitching.  Sashiko is a simple running stitch usually in line with the warp or weft, reinforcing the fabric. Working scraps of fabric together, a stronger, heavier material is produced.

Looking at various samples of boro patchwork on and, I noted the following characteristics:

  • close rows of stitching giving a quilted effect
  • some cut/broken threads and knotted ends on the right side of the garment or cover
  • worn holes patched from behind with the raw edges of the holes stitched around in running stitch
  • the raw edge of the whole cloth finished in parallel whip stitch, blanket stitch or double/triple rows running stitch
  • most visible stitching in coarse white, blue to blue black cotton thread
  • on close inspection, tinier stitches in finer thread are apparent in some areas, sometimes in a coloured thread
  • in some cases, stitching regularly and evenly in vertical lines across the whole piece.
  • sometimes vertical stitching is limited to edges of patches
  • occasionally patches had edges folded under but predominantly raw edges
  • occasional stitched curves
  • Some futon & table covers comprised of larger strips of patched fabric stitched together


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Supplementary Research to Assignment 5 in response to Tutor Report – Gee’s Bend Quilts & African Images in African American Quilts and identified se en

Gee’s Bend Quilts

I’m looking at these quilts in relation to their composition and my final piece for Assignment 5.

Generations of quiltmakers in Gee’s Bend, Alabama have recycled work clothes, feed sacks, flour sacks and fabric remnants to make improvisational quilts creating outstanding abstract textile art.  I found it fascinating to look through the quilts on the Souls Grown Deep website and admire their artistry.

There is a more detailed explanation of the quilts and their makers here:

and some examples here:

The simpler designs are more appealing to me (bars, string pieced, blocks and strips and blocks of different sizes) and I particularly like the quilts made from work clothes, the patina of the fabric and their limited palettes. I like the movement created by the freehand cut pieces, the slightly irregular squares and rectangles, the gentle curves created by the improvised methods.   The white in the middle and right hand quilts contribute to the energy.

The quilt above on the left has some similarities to my piece, although mine is much busier.   I like the simplicity of Lucy Mooney’s design, I can now see that my piece has too many little patterns fighting for attention.  Although up close some of that detail is inviting, it might benefit from being simpler.  Looking at both converted to black and white (see below), there is less variation in tone in my piece when compared to Lucy’s which makes my piece less dynamic.  I’m also keen on the gentle curves in the quilt and although I set out to achieve a softer, less uniform look to the edges and shapes of the original pieces, the addition of the smaller rectangular pieces has detracted from the original shapes.



SIGNS & SYMBOLS: African Images in African American Quilts by Maude Southwell

Maude Southwell and her colleague, John Scully curated an exhibition of African American quilts at the Yale School of Art Gallery in January 1980 and identified seven traits that appeared to distinguish African American quilts from Anglo-American traditional forms.

They tended towards vertical strips, bright colours, large designs, asymmetry, improvisation, multiple patterning and symbolic forms.

I haven’t been able to borrow a copy of the above book and am reluctant to purchase it at this point.   I have looked at it briefly on and see that it includes several of the Gee’s Bend Quilt Artists.  There is an emphasis on symbols which might be interesting but I feel I have more than enough information to work with at the moment without adding signs and symbols to the pot at this late stage.



Additional research to Assignment 5 in response to Tutor Report – Contemporary Patchwork

I’m having difficulty determining what ‘Contemporary Patchwork’ might be in 2015.    If I had been asked to describe my wall hanging, I might have referred to it as ‘collage’, rather than ‘patchwork’.


As a textile artist, I consider some of Dorothy Caldwell and Matthew Harris’ work as a form of contemporary patchwork:

I first looked at and posted about Matthew Harris’s work on 15th April 2015.  Looking again now at his Lantern Cloth in relation to patchwork, I notice that it includes multiple squares and rectangles of fabric, with frayed edges but stitched close and small so each layered piece melts into the next.


I like this effect, lots of small pieces and layers becoming one.  There is a soft worn look about the fabric and the colours.  The cloth is printed in red and blue with slight changes of tone or width of stripe providing much visual texture and interest.  I like the use of reverse applique in this piece, the Andolan cloth and Fragments.

I posted about Dorothy Caldwell on 15th March 2015.  Looking again at her work and concentrating on a detail of ‘Meeting Place’ thinking about patchwork, I note that she too has used printed cloth with slight variations in the size of the grid used in different patches of material.


There is imperfect printing adding texture.  Tiny hand stitches secure some of the fabric whilst other pieces are freely stitched with lots of long stitches in the same direction creating energy.

As mentioned before, Dorothy Caldwell says  “The vocabulary for her work is drawn from studying textile traditions and ordinary stitching practices such as darning, mending and patching.”   Both her work and Matthew Harris’ is suggestive of such practices.

More decorative, Mandy Pattullo’s work has elements of patchwork, although she describes it as based on collage techniques.  She uses hand stitch and combines patching and piecing of fabrics, applique, found objects and vintage embroidery.

Louise Baldwin and Junko Oki also include some patching in their work, although decorative stitches dominate.

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Supplementary research to Assignment 5 in response to Tutor report – Sonia Delaunay

Sonia Delaunay

I’m looking at Sonia Delaunay’s work in relation to patchwork.

I wasn’t fortunate enough to visit the recent exhibition at the Tate but the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris of their exhibition Sonia Delaunay – Les couleurs de l’abstraction, have a virtual tour (

I read various reviews of the exhibition at the Tate which are listed below looking for details of how patchwork was significant in her change of direction, but particularly enjoyed Freire Barnes’ article in Time Out, which included the following paragraph:

“The transition from representational expression to abstraction happens quite suddenly. Paintings of overlaid discs of various hues capture the vibrancy of Paris, lit by electric light. The colours clash and pop against each other with dizzying effect. Yet it’s Delaunay’s interpretation of Simultanism – a synchronised use of contrasting colours and shapes created with her painter husband Robert – into patchwork pieces ranging from a cradle cover to an evening dress that is most impactful.”

Both the bedcover made in 1911 and the evening dress (included in the Pinterest  board above) are rich in colour and texture.   Both include triangular pieces which successfully lead the eye around the piece.  There is a range of tones in the colour used, the lighter hues contrasting well with the dark.  The dress appears to include black velvet which is a really striking contrast to the other colours and fabrics.  Its difficult to see from the photograph but shinier silks also appear to be included, the delicate creasing of the finer fabrics also in contrast to the velvet.  The bodice has a central seam and elements of symmetry but overall the garment is asymmetric.  The dress is a real statement and must have been really striking in its time, although I’m not sure I like it. I don’t like some of the colours, but appreciate I cannot tell their true nature from pictures on the computer, I’m not keen on black, gold, bottle green or fawn.  However, I can imagine that on Sonia Delaunay’s slender form, it was a sight to behold.

The ‘Blanket’ made in 1911 of appliqued fabric measuring approx 43 x 32″ is made of similar colours to the dress, but I like it more. I think there is more contrast in tone, it feels livelier, more energetic, the darker colours are less dominant. I like the balance of colour and slightly haphazard look of the piecing.

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Supplementary Research to Assignment 5 in response to Tutor Report – El Anatsui

El Anatsui

I wasn’t familiar with El Anatsui’s work and have looked at it in relation to patchwork.  It is so much more, I have concentrated on the incredibly dynamic, textural sculptures he has created by piecing together bottle caps and other found metals with copper wire.’s website, David Behringer, reporting on an exhibition at the Jack Shainman Gallery from Nov 2012 and Summer 2013 describes El Anatsui as “one of the greatest recyclers on the planet.  Dirty, rusted and smashed liquor bottle tops are transformed into incredible tapestries that sparkle like precious metals.”

One of the most fascinating things to me is that the pieces take on different forms each time they are installed.  The enormous sheets have a ‘fluidity’ and can be manipulated in many ways.  Some are designed as wall sculptures and others for the floor.  The following youtube video of Brooklyn Museum’s installation “Gravity & Grace: Monumental Sculptures by El Anatsui” shows their versatility to change state:

The artist describes his work in the following clip:

El Anatsui has worked with bottle tops for at least the last 10 years. He feels it is important to work with a newly discovered medium until you really understand it and can “get something intrinsic out of it”.

He was initially inspired by a bag of discarded bottle caps and began linking them with copper wire. He made blocks containing 200 or so tops and then arranged and rearranged the blocks on the floor until happy with the composition.  On hanging a sheet of bottle tops  for the first time, he discovered it creased in different ways which he found “very interesting and worthy of exploration”.

The art work is very textural with each small piece of metal joining another, with slight differences in angle, reflecting light at difference intensities.  Some pieces are coloured, others just shiny silver, the bottle tops are used whole, flattened or distorted, cut to leave a flat disk and a ring.  In some pieces, many rings are combined to give a chain-mail type curtain.  Tiny pieces of the same colour are massed together to create blocks, or placed to produce pattern, contrasts or harmony.  A close inspection will reveal the brand names of the beers, an overview, a completely different visual.

Some of the floor pieces are constructed with milk cans, also linked with copper wire.  These cans too are retrieved and recycled from rubbish.  El Anatsui feels that the layers of people who have handled the cans or bottle tops, from the producers, consumers to him and his workers give the final pieces a spiritual dimension.

The scale of his work is big, described as ‘monumental’ in the Brooklyn Museum Exhibition, pieces are large enough to hang on the sides of buildings several storeys high, others  suspended from high ceilings in galleries to fall in gathers on the floor.

The structures are strong.  In the following clip, his workers are seen to pull blocks of pieced bottle tops demonstrating their strength.

It has been a delight to be introduced to the work of El Anatsui and a very contemporary approach to piecing materials when compared to traditional patchwork.