ELAINE QUEHL, Quilt Artist, Teacher, Dyer, Designer

Monday, May 30, 2011

Photos of the PAQA-South Show

Lyric Kinard has posted pictures of the "Movement" show put on by the Professional Art Quilt Alliance-South on her blog. This is the show that I was a poster girl for! Enjoy the show.

Another Show for Standing Ovation!

Further to my blog post of May 15, in which I announced that "Standing Ovation" had found a show ( Infinity Gallery's on-line International Fibre Art show) I am pleased to announce that "Standing Ovation" has also been accepted into the "Art Quilts at the Whistler" show at the Whistler Museum of Art in Lowell, Massachussetts. The show runs August 10 - September 3, 2011.

Quilt Canada 2011

Wednesday I made the 7 hour trip to London, Ontario to attend Quilt Canada. I was feeling a little disequilibriated (is there such a word?) when I left, but 7 hours alone in my car with great music did wonders for my equilibrium. Wednesday night began with the Opening/Awards ceremony. I had a blind date to attend with my on-line friend Jackie White. Jackie lives on Manitoulin Island, Ontario, and is the comedian of the Canadian Quilters Association. You will know her from the humourous article she contributes to each issue of the Canadian Quilter Magazine. She also accomplished the amazing feat of having four entries juried into the National Juried Show!
On Thursday I was up at the crack of dawn to teach my Flip and Sew Curves class. Here is a photo of most of my class near the end of the day, along with the works they created up to that point. Students came from all across Canada.
Friday was my day to see the shows. That included the Invitational show, the National Juried Show, and the show of FAN (Fibre Art Network of Western Canada). Unfortunately I have few pictures because this is one juried quilt show where photographs are not allowed. The only two photographs I was allowed to take in the juried show were of my own works and they were taken under the supervision of a show volunteer. I was pleased to find Sun Temple hanging immediately inside the front door:
Here I am with "Forgiveness".
I would have loved to include photographs of two of my favorite pieces here. The first is called "Morning Meditation" by Carol Goossens of New York City. I have tried to find a website or blog but she doesn't appear to have one so I haven't been able to contact her to share a photo. Carol won a ribbon for Best Representational Quilt. My favorite quilts in any show are usually not the same ones chosen by the judges, but this is one case where I think the judges got it right. One of my other favorites was "Seasons Song" by A. Joyce MrcKinnon of Thunder Bay. She has been exhibiting in Canada for many years and I am a great fan of her work but alas she does not have an on-line presence either. I did manage to capture a photo of Vivian Kapusta's piece at the FAN show and got her permission to include it here.
I really loved the texture on this piece and the directional background. I felt like I was walking into the world of Emily Carr.
I headed over to the merchant mall to check out the wares, and managed to capture a photo with Anita Zobens of Cotton Mill Threadworks. I've met up with Anita at several shows I've taught at now, and she asked me some time ago if she could borrow some quilts that had been quilted with Superior Threads. No problem! I happen to love Superior Threads. Here we are with my quilt "Luscious".
Friday night I was back on duty for "Meet the Teacher Night". It was well attended by folks from all over Canada and hopefully this will lead to one or two teaching bookings.

After leaving Quilt Canada on Saturday I headed up to Ailsa Craig to attend the Quilts of the Netherlands show. I had been hearing glowing reviews of this show and they were right. I was pleased to find a good number of art quilts displayed, and really enjoyed the different aesthetic from that found in North American quilts.
From there I headed to the Grand National Quilt Show in Kitchener. I had two works in this show. I think my favorite piece was the grand prize winner, "Aglow" by Anna Hergert. At this juried show photographs are allowed. I am always blown away by Anna's work in person. She uses sheers very effectively and their full effectiveness has to be seen in person!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

See You at Quilt Canada!

I'll be heading off tonight for my trip to London, Ontario for the Quilt Canada Conference. Even though I've been making quilts since 1996 (15 years!), I have only been able to attend two Quilt Canada Conferences in that time. Canada is a BIG country and the conference moves around each year. The last time I attended was when the conference was held in my own city, Ottawa, in 2006. This will be my first time teaching there. I'll also be teaching at next year's conference in Halifax. As I travel and teach frequently throughout Ontario, I'm sure it will be a wonderful few days of meeting up with old and new friends and acquaintances. Watch for several of my works around the show. I have two pieces in the Juried portion of the show and one in the Invitational (teacher's) show. At the merchant mall, I also have two quilts hanging in the Cotton Mill Threadworks booth, and one in the Greenwood Quiltery booth.
Hope to see you Friday night at Meet the Teacher night. There promises to be prizes, and one lucky winner will walk away with a bundle of my Spring Parfait hand-dyed fabrics (pictured above).

Monday, May 23, 2011

I'm A Poster Girl!!!

Yes, here at the age of 49 (and soon to be the big 50) I find myself having the pleasure of being a poster girl. I just learned this morning that PAQA-South (Professional Art Quilt Alliance-South) used an image of my work "In the Act" on the poster they created to advertise their annual juried show. The theme of this year's show is "Movement". The show runs until July 24 at the Durham Arts Council in Durham, North Carolina.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Textile Arts as Womens Therapy

Dr. Ann Collier is a Faculty Research Fellow in the Psychology Department at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. She has a contract with Jessica Kingsley Publishers to write a book entitled Weaving Lives Back Together: How and Why to Use Textile Arts and Handcrafts in Therapy with Women. Ann found my work on the internet and was intrigued by my artist statement in which I state that my quilts serve as metaphors for my inner world and the human condition. Ann has been researching how women use textile arts in their daily lives to cope with life. I had lots to say about how my quilts helped me cope with my mothers alzheimers and subsequent death, the loss of my job, and even body image at an earlier point in my life. Ann will be using her interview with me, as well as two images of my work, in her book. One of these images is from the body image series I worked on in my early days as a quilt artist. This piece is titled Femmes FAT-ales (2003), and is a celebration of women in all shapes, sizes and colours.
The other image chosen to appear in Anns book is Standing Still, a piece I made in early 2008 after leaving my day job. You have probably seen this one before!
Standing Still (and Act 3) are currently on display at the Grand National Quilt Show at the Joseph Schneider Haus Museum in Kitchener, Ontario until September 13, 2011. Standing Still is also one of 3 of my quilts included in the book 500 Art Quilts and was juried into Art Quilts at the Chandler at the Chandler Museum of Art, Chandler, Arizona in 2008.

Ann has a website called Dr. Shrinks Fibers. She is conducting her second research study into the role of handcrafts in womens lives. If you would like to help with this project, please visit her site, click on Research and follow instructions to fill out her survey. Nice for us textile enthusiasts to support research that is about us!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Importance of Good Presentation

Since I make fairly large quilts, I don't often frame or mount them. In fact, until recently I was a bit of a hold-out on the whole framing and mounting issue. Quilts are textiles after all, I said, so why do they have to conform to the same standards as paintings in order to be considered art? Do sculptors frame their work? No! The first time I walked into a gallery show of art quilts in the US I felt as though I had come home! Many of these shows, in fact, do not even accept framed work!
Over the last several years, however, I have come to realize the importance of an appropriate frame or mount for small works. This gives them presence and ensures that no one mistakes them for potholders. This past week was surely a lesson for me on the importance of a good framing job. Since I prefer to work large, I sometimes don't take my small works seriously, but when my friend Meredith Filshie saw "Meditation", the small work pictured above, she wanted to own it. A deal was made and the work became hers. Recently my local fibre arts group, Out of the Box, hung a small show during the show of the Ottawa Valley Quilters Guild. I was scrambling about with teaching and deadlines and didn't really have any new small pieces to contribute. Meredith offered to submit the work she had purchased. While I had put the work in a small cheap frame, Meredith saw that there was greater potential. She took the piece to a professional framer and that changed everything. My little piece "Meditation" won Viewer's Choice in our show (meaning it received more votes from viewers than any other piece in the show). I think half the prize goes to Meredith for realizing the importance of a good framing job and making it happen.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

New Wardrobe Addition

I confess I used to be a clothes horse a long time ago in another life. This year I kinda set the challenge for myself to go an entire year without purchasing anything to wear on my body. I say "kinda" because I wanted to leave open the possibility that I could purchase an item if it was something I absolutely had to have. Haven't seen anything like that this year, but I confess I haven't set foot in a woman's clothing store in 2011. I made it a little past 4 months with no purchases, until this past week when I picked up the neatest white jeans jacket at Walmart for $25. I don't shop at Walmart much. I don't care for stores that are the size of a warehouse and I worry about all those people who were paid next to nothing for the goods they produced that we so cheaply purchase and that we so cavalierly throw out. I know this is a contradiction when I shop for classroom dyeing supplies (cups, spoons, plates, etc) at Dollarama!!! However, this jacket fit perfectly, was nicely constructed, and I had visions of turning it into a piece of wearable art with dyes and soy wax batik. After bringing the jacket home, I realized I also had a casual black jacket hanging around my closet that I had bought for $8.00 on a sales rack at Winners about 8 years ago. Wouldn't it be fun to discharge it with bleach? Yipee, an evening of creating a few new wardrobe items on only $25! What better way to distract myself from the studio and from preparing for the next 3 days of teaching. Well that was last Thursday, and as it turns out the once white jacket didn't turn out so great. I think I can still salvage it but it will likely be something different from what I envisioned. I am, however, VERY happy with the discharged jacket. It seems these days that most black cottons (most of which are produced in China) discharge to an orange colour, but I was delighted as I watched this one turn to a lovely taupe colour. I don't know if this information will help, but this jacket was manufactured in Bangladesh, so maybe that accounts for the nice colour it discharged to. I folded the jacket down the middle, then fan folded each side, then bound it with plastic twine. Tossed it into a solution of 50% bleach and 50% water. It only took about 5-10 minutes before the bleach had done its work. After a rinse, a soak in Anti Chlor, and a wash, I have a new jacket for only the cost of a bottle of bleach. What do you think?

Rear View:
Rear detail view:
Front view:
Front detail view:

Standing Ovation has Found a Show!!!

Pardon my excitement, but I am so totally delighted to announce that "Standing Ovation" has found a show!!! It was one of 32 artworks selected from 160 entries to Infinity Gallery's on-line International Fibre Art show. You can view the entire show on-line at the links I've provided above. "Standing Ovation" will also be on display at the Invitational Show of teacher's work at Quilt Canada/Quilt Ontario in London, Ontario from May 24-28. You may recall that I blogged (Understanding Juror's Decisions) a couple of months ago about the four entries I made to Quilt Canada's National Juried Show, of which two were accepted and two declined. "Standing Ovation" was one of the declined pieces, but still remains my favorite piece of the four I entered, and that is why I submitted it to the Invitational Show of teacher's work instead. It is particularly gratifying for me to have this piece appreciated at an art show, and a wonderful lesson on why we should never let a rejection get us down.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

SAQA Virtual Gallery & Benefit Auction

My piece "Vagabond Song" was selected for this month's Virtual Gallery on the SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates) website. This month's curator is Kathy Lichtendahl, and she has named the show of about 20 pieces "A Walk at Dawn". Vagabond Song was inspired by the most amazing tree I encountered on an autumn photography trip in Vermont. The title is inspired by one of my favorite poems, of the same name, by Canadian poet, Bliss Carman: "There is something in the autumn that is native to my blood, touch of manner, hint of mood, and my heart is like a rhymn with the yellow and the purple and the crimson keeping time".
Click on the Virtual Gallery to see all the works in the show.

I am also delighted to be back in my studio for a few days this week. Yesterday I created my One Foot Square for the upcoming SAQA Benefit Auction. I donate a piece to this auction each year. There are already donations from other artists in the on-line gallery, where you will find more information and details about the auction. Proceeds go toward SAQA's exhibitions, education, outreach and show catalogues. I am really enjoying working with the new colours I've dyed to represent end-of-season hostas. Here is my piece, still unquilted. I am thinking about shading with some artist pencil in the lower right corner.
Hmmm ... it occurs to me that both of the above photos are a little out of place given the gorgeous spring weather. Not to worry, I will be back one of these days with some spring inspiration!

Monday, May 9, 2011

A New Day and Feedback Welcome

It is a new day! I’ve decided to put my HST woes in perspective. Not a single customer complained about having to pay HST on the hand-dyed fabrics they purchased this past weekend at the Ottawa Valley Quilt Guild Festival of Quilts. The show was well-attended and a resounding success for me and many other vendors, and I sold at least 60% of my stock. My store is very picked over, but I’m lying low today as I’ve caught a virus and have lost my voice completely. I need to rest it so I’m ready for three days of teaching starting at the end of the week. I also had a chance to informally interview potential bookkeepers at the show, and am happy to say that I will be hiring a bookkeeper this year. I do everything in my business (except for some of the ironing), but I am going to give over the one job that will suck the joy out for me. I have no formal training in bookkeeping or accounting, although I carried out such tasks in day jobs I’ve held, and was even allowed to manage budgets in some jobs (pretty scary I think!!)

I just returned from the UPS store where I shipped my quilts to the National Juried show and Invitational show at the upcoming Canadian Quilters Association’s Quilts Ontario conference. The young man that works at the UPS store, and frequently handles my packages, is always working to get me the best deal, and I was really touched today by his concern that I would have to pay $93 (two boxes, one for the National Juried Show, the other for the Invitational show) to ship my work. He was stunned that this cost comes out of my pocket. I, on the other hand, know that this is what it costs and don’t resent it one bit. It is money well spent. I believe that getting your work out there leads to teaching bookings. Well that and “word of mouth“ recommendations. On the other hand, my UPS friend reminds me a bit of me, and how apologetic I sometimes feel when I ask for teaching and lecture fees, when I price my quilts and hand-dyes, etc. In my creativity coaching training lesson this past week, we talked about cultivating certain qualities in our clients, the kind of qualities that contribute to a successful career in the arts. Qualities mentioned were: assertiveness, single-mindedness, passion, curiosity, desire, enterprise, effort, and self-promotion. I think I have all of these qualities, but fall down in the assertiveness department. I may be assertive about some things, but I do have a very hard time stating my prices without apology. I am working on this!

This brings me to something I would like to start a discussion about. I love to discuss things and hear other viewpoints. A boss of mine once described me as one of those annoying people who can see all sides of a situation. Here is the situation. Twice I have been contacted by the same person who wants to purchase a pattern to make my “Kissing Joy” quilt (photo below).
I do offer the pattern for one of the poppies (the lower poppy) for sale when students take my “In Full Bloom” class. I haven’t even developed the second (upper) poppy into a sellable pattern that others would be able to read. Putting patterns in a sellable form so others can understand them is painful for me. I work from patterns that would be considered “fly by the seat of your pants” to other people. I am not particularly interested in selling patterns in any substantial way. My philosophy when teaching is to try to encourage students to find their own voice and creativity. When I teach this class in the one-day format, I always include information about how I create my design and how students can make their own pattern to produce their own original work, even though they begin by working from my pattern. It is my philosophy as a teacher to share everything I know. I know many won’t go beyond working with my pattern, and I know often this is simply because they don’t realize the largeness of their own talents. They doubt they can, but I don’t doubt they can. I know they can.

I typically only sell my floral patterns in conjunction with instruction. The writer has assured me she can make the quilt without instruction, in-person or written, since she is an advanced quilter. Here is my dilemma. I try to show my work in art shows as well as quilt shows because I believe that original art quilts are art just as work in other media is considered art. Although sale of quilts constitutes only about 10% of my income, showing my work in galleries and museums establishes their value as art and I can charge art prices for them. I am not willing to sell my work at craft prices. I’ve spent far too much time on them and the time to create them is precious to me. I would rather keep them than sell at low prices. So, my concern is that if numerous copies of the full “Kissing Joy” start appearing across Canada it will devalue the original ”Kissing Joy” should a collector want to purchase it. Wouldn’t a collector be upset to find that it isn’t a one of a kind anymore?? Just because I teach a class called "In Full Bloom", am I obligated to sell any of my floral designs? What do you think? Is this a place I need to practice my assertiveness?

By the way, here is a quilt a student made from one of the 4 patterns offered in my "In Full Bloom" class. Jennifer brought it to the show on the weekend for me to see. She did a great job with her values, and she has inspired me to make something pink.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Last Chance at These Prices

Increasing prices are all around us, so you probably won't be surprised by the news you are about to read. The price of my hand-dyed fabrics has remained the same for quite some time now. Because of increased demand for both my fabric and my workshops, and because cotton, and the water, electricity and gas used to produce hand-dyed fabrics have all increased in price, I am at a point where I have no choice but to increase my prices. This weekend at the Ottawa Valley Quilters' Guild's Festival of Quilts will be the last opportunity to purchase my hand-dyes before my prices increase. After the show, there will be a price increase of 11.5% on the items I currently produce. Some items (such as single coloured hand-dyed fabrics) will likely be discontinued, as these can be produced by anyone. I expect I will produce fewer pieces, carry a smaller inventory and focus on more exclusive items.

In the United States where commercial fabrics run about $8 - $10 a yard, a nice hand-dyed fabric costs between $24.00 and $26.00 a yard. In Canada where a commercial fabric runs about $18.00 a meter, I definitely need to increase my prices from the $26.00 a meter I have been charging. After filing my taxes this past weekend I was forced to face the fact that there was little profit margin on my hand-dyes after utilities and labour were taken into account. Every piece of hand-dyed fabric is handled through at least six highly laborious processes: 1) measuring and ripping/cutting the fabric to size and pre-wetting it; 2) dyeing the fabric, 3) rinsing and washing; 4) hanging on the line to dry; 5) ironing, and 6) cutting, bundleing and labelling.

I would like to thank the many customers who have supported my business over the past 8 years and hope I can count on many more years of support. I would like to also remind you that I have numerous dyeing classes scheduled this year (visit the Teaching Schedule of my website) at very reasonable rates so there is every opportunity to learn how to dye your own fabric should you wish to keep costs down.

Finally, I would also like to mention that, even though my prices remain the same this coming weekend, I am now forced to charge HST on all sales.

Hope to see you at the show!

Monday, May 2, 2011

What Price Success?

This post follows the good news about my article "A Surprise Career as a Quilt Artist". Most of the time I am very happy with my choice in careers, and most of the time I am upbeat in my posts, so I apologize that today I am not going to sound so happy. I also apologize that there are no pretty pictures to go with this post.

I have actually been feeling rather stressed the last two weeks. Why? Taxes were looming, I was busy and left them too late, and had to do the work myself. I filed my taxes this past weekend and learned that my gross income has now reached the level where I am required to register for HST (harmonized sales tax). In Ontario a gross income of $30,000 or more means you have to collect HST on all services rendered and all goods sold. It also means you can claim back all the HST you paid out on items purchased for your business.

I have always felt that we should not discuss our incomes publicly, but I think I am going to make an exception here because I think it is OK to talk about it when you have a point to make and if your income is low;-)). On the one hand, it is a wonderful thing that my business has grown to this point, and that I’ve actually managed to make my living doing what I love for the last three years. Although I am not a high earner, I feel I have been successful given that I am able to get by doing what I love. But, today I ask, what price success? My reward is that I get to do a boatload of work to track and remit HST on everything I do and sell when my NET income is far below my gross income. It seems like such a lot of work for so little.

This brings me to some things I want to say about the realities of being a quilt artist and teacher, and some of these things may actually offend some readers. I have conversations with people regularly that demonstrate to me that some do not understand that this is more than a hobby to me. This is my career. Last week I was asked by someone how my husband feels about me gallivanting around the country? My response was "I am not gallivanting, I am working". My husband is happy that I have a job. I have had people ask me why I am working so hard and when I am going to slow down and take some time off. I remind them that when I had a conventional job I got anywhere between 2 weeks and 6 weeks vacation, depending on where I worked and my years of service. I am my own boss now, and if I want to go away for a week, I can do so as long as I have no professional commitments at the time (i.e. teaching, lecturing, shows, etc). I do take a few weeks of vacation each year, even though I may still do some work during them. When you have your own business there is always something to do.

I used the word "professional" to describe myself a few sentences ago. I have never particularly liked the word because it sounds hoity. I am not using it to describe my behaviour, but rather to communicate the fact that I do what I do as a profession, making my living from being an artist, teacher and dyer. I am proud that I am able to do this, and I am willing to sacrifice some things to be able to do what I love. I don’t usually comment on other people’s career choices, but I certainly receive comments on mine. A while back I was on a teaching trip and was billetted at the home of two retired teachers. The husband of the quilter decided to tell me that he thought it must be a horrible job doing what I do, to which I replied "I love what I do". His next comment? "Well you can't possibly make much money". Well maybe not as much as a high school teacher, but I may be just as happy (OK, today I'm not).

For most people making quilts or art is a hobby. This may be why there are some who don’t understand why I work so hard and push myself so far. I do belong to a professional association, but there are a huge number of members who have become quilt artists in their retirement. They may have a pension to support them now and don’t need to push themselves the way I do. At 49, I have to be successful at what I do or I will quite simply have to go and find a regular job. Finding some success as a quilt artist can be a lonely thing. You have different interests than learning the latest technique. You might want to talk about the challenges of travelling so much, about how to price teaching, what shows to enter, etc. Where is my community to talk to? Who can I call today to talk about their experiences with HST? Is there another quilt artist and teacher in Ottawa who is charging HST?

I am not looking down on hobbyists. However, I think that because quilts and art are viewed as a hobby by many, and particularly because quilts are viewed as a woman’s thing, is what contributes to some individuals and groups not understanding why I charge the rates I do or why I charge mileage. In what other business would someone travel across the country to teach for $400 a day and in what other business would they not expect reimbursement for travel? I need a car to do my job. If I can't afford to buy another car on the day mine wears out, it will be a sign that this business is not viable. Why would I travel without reinbursement? Would you? I am also worried that the extra expense of charging HST to groups is going to make it less likely they hire me.

That, my friends, is my whine for the day. I don’t want to whine too much because I really do love my job most of the time, and everyone is going to tell me to get a real job if I don’t like things the way they are!! This too shall pass. If you have comments or opinions to share I’d love to hear them.

A Surprise Career as a Quilt Artist

Back in February Kit Robinson of Machine Quilting Unlimited magazine wrote and asked me to be the “In the Art Studio” fabric artist for the July, 2011 issue of Machine Quilting Unlimited. This involved writing an article of 1500 words and submitting a number of images of my work. I was thinking about what angle I wanted to present in my article and decided to name it "A Surprise Career as a Quilt Artist" because I was remembering that a career counsellor had suggested I try to make a living as a quilt artist back in 2003. I did not take her seriously at all. The article traces my journey to where I am today (more on that in my next blog post). Machine Quilting Unlimited also featured my quilt "Opening Act" on their Jaw Dropper page back in their November 2009 issue.
I subscribe to this magazine because, as a machine quilting teacher, I need to keep up on trends related to machine quilting, but also because it features wonderful articles about some of my favorite artists like Jenny Bowker, Betty Busby, Nancy G. Cook, Deidre Adams, Carol Taylor, and many others. This magazine is subscription only, but you can also order back issues from their website.