50 mandalas (or: 16 is also a crowd)

My personal challenge project for this year (2019) was: create 50 mandalas on fabric squares 10 x 10 cm. I started off diligently and efficiently in February while I was on skiing vacations with my family. I could not ski due to a foot injury, so I figured I would have plenty of time to embroider.

Turns out that after having my foot fixed, I also lost interest in my mandalas… (maybe creating mandalas is forever linked to hurting in my brain now…) 😉

Now: what to do with 16 mandalas? Too little for a wall hanging or some wearable art or home decor, but also too many to just throw away… So I ended up putting them on cards!

Here is some eye candy (meaning my failed effort of creating 50 mandalas – I still like some though):

“Allegories” – an accidental art quilt project

When it comes to the sewing machine, I am certainly NOT an advanced user. I can sew straight lines, shorten some curtains or mend jeans – but I am not good with interpreting sewing patterns or creating intricate wearables… I am more of a “try and error” gal. So making a quilt was definitely not on my mind!

But that is what I finally chose to create: a freestyle art quilt. But first of all, while I have been visiting Venice last year, I admired the decorated windows of the houses and took some pictures for inspiration. Back home, I edited the photographs and had them printed on fabric. Then, I began to stitch onto the pictures, emphasizeing elements and adding further items as I went along. After three pictures were worked on, I realised that the heart symbol was a recurring object and thus decided to incorporate it into all window portraits. The heart and other symbols turn the pictures surreal; and each window opens the way to another allegory…

Let me explain the individual works a bit:

“Snake bite” 2018

“Snake bite” is an allegory of temptation. The heart is tempted and failed to resist. Thus it was bitten by the seducer.

“The catch” 2018

“The catch” is an allegory of possession. The heart is possessed by a hunter, probably someone with power (the bait arsenal).

“Flying the tightrope” 2019

“Flying the tightrope” is an allegory of frivolity. The heart is ready to take great risks. This mentality can give the mind wings. But it can as well shatter the heart.

“Growing pain” 2019

“Growing pain” is an allegory of growth and – more universal – evolution. Tiny heart-buds are blooming. The balcony is entered through the window of youth and left through the window of seniority. All development comes with growing pain.

“Aerating” 2019

“Aerating” is an allegory of self-care. Not only the outer layers are to be held clean and fresh, also emotions (good AND bad) need to be cared for and not neglected. Only thus can the heart recharge.

“Ying and Yang” 2019

“Ying and Yang” is an allegory of opposites and commonalities. Sun and moon, heart and brain – they compete against AND complete each other. They often stand opposite yet still on the same balcony.

“Escape” 2019

“Escape” is an allegory of emotionality. When windows are closed by reasoning, emotion has it’s own life and can still escape the rationality.

“Freed” 2019

“Freed” is an allegory of salvation. The body might be tortured, but the soul is freed.

Back to the process of creating the quilt: After having finished the eight window portraits, I machine sewed fabric scraps losely together for the background of the piece. I then handquilted them properly in Boro style. This took hours, I can tell you! But it is a very calming work and I like doing it. The fabric scraps are all upcycled; I collected them as leftovers from other projects, as pieces of once loved clothing or I was given them by friends. In this particular piece, I wanted to include all the colors of the color wheel to show the rainbow of all possible emotions and situations life holds.

The next step was fixing the window portraits on the background. And then I watched a bunch of Youtube tutorials to learn how to batt and bind a quilt. My result is rather crippled (don’t look at the backside of the quilt…) but at least I could use up some old cloth and random pieces of batting for it! 😉

I am fairly pleased with the final piece; it speaks to me in many ways. I like symbolism and surrealism, and I like the colors, and I think my work transports the messages I wanted it to transport.

Labelling my niche

My main medium is stitch. First bone needles were found in the Upper Palaeolithic and so this medium is pretty old I would say. 😉 With my medium, I create both art AND craft objects. Textiles themselves are considered ‘wearable’ and thus it is difficult to draw a line between crafting and making art when creating with them… (Interestingly, the English language does differentiate between ‘textile art’ including crafted objects intended for use and ‘fiber art’ excluding them. In the German language, there is only one word for both: ‘Textilkunst’.)

Anyway… in my case I really like to pursue both paths: the one of the ‘craftsmen’ and the other of the ‘artists’. In fact, in my very own personal opinion, you can not have one withouth the other!

For the ‘crafts’ part of my creating, I don’t face many restrictions; I simply create design objects or wearables or stationary or whatever else comes to my mind and try to sell it in shops and at crafts fairs.

For the ‘arts’ part of my creating, there are some obstacles: In order to be able to have my pieces listed by galleries or to apply for open art calls etc., I need to label my work. And oftentimes, you can only choose between ‘photography’, ‘fine arts’ and ‘graphic design’. Well, sorry – I create art that doesn’t fit in your drawers! The founders of the Society for Embroidered Work (SEW), Cat Frampton and Emily Tull, wrote on SEW’s website: “The fight to get embroidery recognised as an art form has been a long one with roots mired in misogyny and it’s got a long way to go yet. (…) We hope that at a very basic level, having a society behind them, artists will be able to face the comments (‘embroidery is not art, it’s just a craft’) and the misunderstandings (‘Victorian ladies stitching idly’) with a straight spine and a steady eye. (…) As a society we can work on getting, at the very least, a ‘textiles’ box to click when applying for open call exhibitions.” I am a proud member of SEW and appreciate Cat’s and Emily’s effort to put a spotlight on our medium. (Thanks, guys!)

But to my knowledge, I along with my stitchy friends still have to decide on a label that fits into the art worlds common cathegories. So let’s quickly google a few of these:

Mixed Media

Wikipedia says: “In visual art, mixed media is an artwork in which more than one medium or material has been employed.” Ok, I can adjust to this label, but still would love to distance my work from assemblages or collages…

Quilt art

Wikipedia says: “Art quilts use an art form that uses both modern and traditional techniques to create art objects. Quilt art generally has more in common with the fine arts (than it does with traditional craftswork).” Nice – ‘it has more in common with the fine arts’!… But have you ever seen an art quilt in a museum?? Neither have I.

Fiber art

Wikipedia says: “Fiber art refers to fine art whose material consists of natural or synthetic fiber and other components (…). It focuses on the materials and on the manual labour on the part of the artist as part of the works’ significance, and prioritizes aesthetic value over utility.” I like this label probably the most. But most galleries don’t look for fiber art.

So… what label does suit me and my niche? Art quilter? Fiber artist? Mixed media artist?? When applying for art calls, I generally choose ‘mixed media’. Simply because there is such a label. But I promised myself to abstein from putting a paint smudge on my work solely for the purpose to make it ‘mixed media’! If I experiment with mixed media, then I do it for experimenting and because I like it. Not just for the label. Because you see: although it is important to be able to actively participate in the art world and to be engaged in the art community, labelling my work is not essential for my creating. In the end – and also at the very beginning – I am just someone who loves to create with her hands and her heart!

How it began

In my other blog post (“Hommage à mes grands-mères”) I wrote about how I was informally taught needle arts by my two grandmothers before I went to school. With this article, I would like to tell you how my interest in fiber arts further developed.

I loved school in general, and this included the “arts and crafts” lessons of course. I think it was in second grade when we were assigned to embroider a small picture and could choose between a few patterns. I asked my teacher whether I was allowed to come up with my own pattern and she said yes (well done, Mrs H. ;-)!). We had a picture book of cats at home that I used to read to my little sister, and it had a nice drawing of a young cat in a red shoe on the cover. I loved this cute picture and copied it onto fabric. I then embroidered the outlines and filled the forms in simple manner (I only knew three types of stitches back then) and gifted the finished picture to my mother for her birthday. I don’t have a photo of my embroidery but I found a photo of the original drawing:


So you see, I always liked textile techniques. But in my teenage years and my twenties, I was more interested in the fine arts and experimented with drawing and painting. I had several Salvador Dalí posters hanging on my bedroom walls and was fascinated with how the surrealists translated psychological conditions and emotional moments into surreal paintings… I still love the surrealists to this day, and I think this appreciation shows in my work.

During the third trimester of my first pregnancy (I was 30 years old), I was on strict bedrest for 6 weeks. I lived in America at that time and sent my husband to the craft store to buy a cross stitch kit for me so I could at least do something creative with my hands. I stitched a winter scene with grey wolves and thus came back to working in fibers. I immediately fell in love again with this medium and ever since, I haven’t stopped creating with thread and fabric!…