Understanding the textile world

Posted by Agnes Iley , Monday, July 23, 2012 7:55 AM

The question of textile art, design or craft seems to be cause for constant lively discussions. When is something art? Is it the eye of the beholder that decides or the heart of the creator? I guess for the longest time it was the eye of the beholder after all, that eye decided what we could see in museums and galleries. But with the new media everyone can show their work in one way or another.

To me the difference is imagination. I can be totally in awe of the impeccable skills of a craftsperson, but what makes it art to me is the originality of the design and the innovative way those skills are used. Of course there is a fine line (or a big gray area) between the two. The first example that springs to mind is my favorite designer, the late Alexander McQueen. I own a pair of pants by him, they are beautifully cut and impeccably finished a perfect example of a great design, but art they are not. But when I look at his famous bird dress, not the most wearable thing in the world, I feel like I am looking at an amazing artwork. So is he a designer or an artist? To me he is both, not everything he made was art and not everything he made was design and I think a lot of artists cross that line quite regularly. The fabulous art quilter that starts to sell patterns, becomes a designer, but also remains to be an artist.

It’s always a fun subject for discussion, but at the same time I don’t particularly care about the outcome. To me art is both in the eye of the beholder and in the heart of the artist. And when those two meet that’s when the experience is magical.

I had a long think about which artist to pick, there are so many artist that are inspiring for so many different reasons. But I then I thought I wouldn’t go for the obvious.

Susan Shie


Susan Shie is an art quilter, but not in the traditional sense. Her pieces are paintings on cotton, covered in writing with airpen and then quilted. She calls her work “soft paintings”. Her pieces range from pastel in colour to very colourful and bright. Her smaller wall-hangings are painted with a paintbrush, for the larger pieces she uses an airbrush. Her images are quite na├»ve in style, but this is counteracted by the written thoughts. Her quilts are very far removed from anything I do and compared to my work very bright and cheerful. But the thing I really admire about Susan’s work is the loose and free way that she works. Where I plan and am meticulous about transferring designs. She draws freehand, paints in a very freely, overlapping colours, letting colours flow and finishes her piece with freehand writing. The writing doesn’t just show us her thoughts, it also gives the piece movement and shading. I know we all got our own way of working, but I would love to be able to work this freely once. Her work also reminds me that I really need to use my sketchbook more!

The second artist I choose is the absolutely opposite of Susan Shie and her obsession with detail scares the living daylights even out of me!

Lisa Lichtenfels

Lisa Lichtenfels is very famous in the art doll world and her work has exhibited in museums all over the world. Her soft sculptures are incredibly life-like. So much so that legend has it that a person who saw Lisa put one of her child figures in the boot of her car called the police and reported a kidnapping in progress. The sculptures vary in size, from 25 inches to life size. Lisa sculptures start with a wire skeleton that is incredibly precise, all the main bones in the human body are recreated, next she adds muscles by accurately recreating them in batting. Over this a layer of body-fat (also batting). And finally several layers of pantyhose to create the skin. Her precision and eye for detail are absolutely amazing. She has also been a great influence on my soft-sculptures. When I started to create 3-dimensional figures from textile, I started like most people with a pattern and I was working in cotton. But I got increasingly frustrated. I couldn’t create the emotions I wanted. I realized I had to use a different and stretchy material and could no longer work with patterns. Lisa’s sculptures where the first ones that proved to me that it could be done and although I chose a different way of creating “flesh and bones”, there is so much I have learned from her work. And I can only hope that one day my work will be as amazing as hers!


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