It’s easy to have a vision when you follow in the footsteps of a someone you admire, but for women entering male dominated fields there is often no obvious precedent to follow. Instead, they must forge their own path and ‘be what they can’t see’.
Lately I’ve been working with ways to juxtapose elements that are traditionally seen as either male or female – if you’ve been following along on my social media you’ll have seen aluminium, spray paint and plastic sheeting used to create flowers – and this quilt, Be what you can’t see, continues that exploration into how we assign gender to art and craft.
Right now there is a trend to sell items for children (t-shirts, decorations, even water bottles) with vague and somewhat stereotypical words or phrases on them and for girls they are often surrounded by flowers. The meaning behind the words is considered less important than the overall design, and my work borrows from this aesthetic – while at first glance the words are innocuous, there is a deeper message to be explored.
In my day job I work in Careers Advice, where we struggle to help students build a clear vision of their future lives. Much of what we do involves showing them case studies of people in a variety of roles, but we often struggle to find stories of females in male-dominated professions (even now). For me, ‘vision’ is more than just sight, it is an idea of where one is going, and a belief about what that may look like.
This quilt was a joy to make from start to finish. The clean white background allows the flowers made from some of my favourite (and most hoarded) fabric to shine.
I started with a hand drawn sketch
And then took that sketch into a digital file. The digital file allows me to audition colours and move things around more quickly than I can on paper.
The original sketch had different wording, which was also easy to change digitally.
Creating the design in fabric
Once I was happy with the design, I printed it to scale, chose a background fabric and got to work creating my flowers and letters.
I use raw edge applique in just about all my quilts. I admire people who have the time and patience to use needle-turn or any of the other applique methods, but as my quilts don’t go in the wash I can get away with raw edge and in a lot of cases I feel like it gives the quilts a different finish which I love.
I use some silks, a couple of wool fabrics, some furnishing fabric scraps and a cotton I’ve been saving for something special.
I used the Cricut machine to cut out the letters:
And then cut the flowers and started assembling the quilt:
I don’t often ‘pre-sew’ pieces into place (I use fusible paper-backed adhesive instead) because I like the stitching to be uniform across the quilt, so I sandwich the layers before any stitching is done. For this quilt, I secured the flowers, then filled in the rest.
My Bernina 720 has served me well for years and gives me even stitches without the stitch regulator. The line around the outside of each flower allows them to ‘pop’ from the background and keeps them from becoming stiff, as they may do if there were multiple lines of quilting inside.
Once the flowers were secure, I used a ruler to create a series of straight lines inside the centre circle. These pipe-like shapes help define the circle and contrast with the hyper-feminine quilting outside the flower wreath.
And once inside the circle was complete, I repeated the flower pattern for the quilting outside the circle:
The rectangular ‘buttons’ on the letters draw from shapes we see on machinery, in engineering, or even on robots. The rectangular shapes are intended to trigger subconscious associations with the machinery we associate with male-dominated professions.
And that’s it! I’m really pleased to let you know that Be what you can’t see has been accepted as part of Vision 2020 which will premiere at the Australasian Quilt Convention 16-19 April 2020 and tour until July 2021.
You can see my quilt and the 39 other wonderful quilts that make up the exhibition at the following places:
Australasian Quilt Convention
Melbourne | 16-19 April 2020
AQS QuiltWeek 2020
Lancaster – The Nook, August 5–7
Grand Rapids, August 19–22
Charleston, September 30–October 2
9 November 2020 – 15 January 2021
You can find out more about the exhibition here. I’m honoured to have been selected.