Deborah Boschert: Getting personal with art quilts
Deborah Boschert’s ‘About’ section on her website is as whimsical and creative as her art quilts. You’ll not only learn about her artistic achievements, but you’ll also discover she doesn’t like mac and cheese and usually doesn’t cut paper with fabric scissors.
Deborah first and foremost reports she is a self-taught artist who is known especially for her use of personal symbols. And her fans will tell you she’s also a master at using colour and composition.
We had the pleasure of interviewing Deborah to learn more about her creative process, as well as her road to artistic success. And we think you’ll find her answers both refreshing and inspiring. Especially if you, too, are largely self-taught.
Deborah’s award-winning quilts have been featured in countless quilt show exhibitions and art museums since 2003.
She also currently serves as Vice President of Studio Art Quilt Associates and is author of Art Quilt Collage: A Creative Journey in Fabric, Paint and Stitch. Deborah has been published in several magazines, including a recent three-part series in Quilting Arts. And she teaches regularly, including at the International Quilt Festival, Craft Napa and the Quilters Affair in Sisters, Oregon.
A self-taught adventure
TextileArtist.org: What initially attracted you to textiles as a medium? How was your imagination captured?
Deborah Boschert: I think it goes back to childhood trips to the fabric store with my mom. I loved perusing bolts of fabric and the astounding variety of prints, patterns, weaves weights and textures found in cloth.
But fiber and needlework is in my blood. My great-grandmother, Mabel, was an accomplished fiber artist. She did weavings, dyeing, embroidery, cross-stitch, needlepoint and more. I wish I still had the needlepoint footstool she made that had my name designed as a set of intertwined letters and was built around several coffee cans.
My father also did needlepoint, including several prayer book covers and other liturgical works.
My grandmother knit sweaters, and my mother is an excellent seamstress.
I am so thankful for the memories of watching all of them work. I think the familiarity of seeing people create with cloth and yarn made it possible for me to see myself creating in similar ways.
What was your route to becoming an artist?
When I was a kid, I loved latch-hook pillows, woven pot holders and Shrinky Dinks jewellery (a children’s craft product using plastic film). Finding my way from kid’s crafts and casual creative projects to becoming an artist has been an adventure that’s been years in the making. I think the crossover really happened when I began creating exclusively original work using techniques and materials that fit the needs of my vision.
Since I didn’t go to art school, the techniques I use most regularly were initially learned in workshops with art quilt teachers. I first learned raw-edged fused appliqué from Melody Johnson. It’s the foundation of how my work is constructed. Over the years, I’ve finessed the details of that process to fit my needs.
In other workshops, I had opportunities to explore surface design techniques and stitching both by hand and by machine. Usually, these were just one-day workshops that might light a fire of curiosity and possibility for me. Sometimes I took workshops where it became clear I wasn’t interested in using what I learned, but that was equally valuable!
From there, I’d look at examples of what other artists were doing with similar techniques and experiment with how they would fit into my own work.
I find it very helpful to self-critique my work when it’s done, analyzing what techniques worked well, which I most enjoyed, how I might use the same techniques again, or how I might alter it for a different effect.
But learning techniques is just one part of developing as an artist. As I worked toward creating a body of original work, I also needed clarity about things like color sense, themes, composition, style, and personal voice. So I looked at the artwork of all kinds and thought about what I liked AND didn’t like about a work which also informed my own work.
Lastly, an essential part of my development has been the connections I’ve made with other artists working in the art quilt medium. Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA) is an especially rich and diverse organization that offers amazing resources to its members, not the least of which are the other members themselves. I’ve learned so much from my friends.
It all starts from a seed
Tell us about your process from conception to creation
I begin with a seed of inspiration. The work currently on my design wall was inspired by lines of trees I saw during a bus ride in the Dutch countryside.
From that seed, I begin to set additional parameters for myself. They may include size, color palette, themes or deadline. I may also consider opportunities for exhibiting a new work or specific calls-for-entry at this point. I can then incorporate those requirements into the design stage.
I then start sketching very simple compositions to consider. The sketches are just a few inches, very loose and made with a black pen — no color, no specifics, no measurements.
I may also print out reference photos or do some additional research that will give me ideas to draw on that might influence the creative process. Sometimes those ideas simply serve to occupy my mind while I’m designing, but they aren’t ever clearly evident in the finished work.
Once my vision is mostly clear, I gather a ‘fabric palette’ including a variety of commercial prints and some cloth printed with the original surface design. Those fabrics get scrunched, folded, sliced, pinned and arranged on my design wall in the general arrangement of the sketched composition. This part of the design process can come together quickly or may take days.
After settling on all the right fabrics in all the right places, I finesse each shape and fuse all the fabrics to batting.
When the fabric layer is complete, I take a picture and print out several copies on which I can doodle and audition various stitched designs.
I finalize the stitch plans and begin with the hand embroidery. I then fuse a backing onto the quilt and finish with machine stitching through all three layers.
Next, the edges get squared up, and I add a fused binding or a wide zig zag with a beautiful thick top-stitching thread.
At the very end of the process, I title the work. I try to choose titles that hint at the themes I’ve explored, but also leave possibilities for different interpretations. I like titles that roll off the tongue in a unique way and that include alliteration or double meanings.
You incorporate personal symbols in much of your work. Where did that inspiration come from?
When I first began making art quilts of my own design, I made lots of house quilts. At that time in my life, my husband and were moving every two or three years for his military career.
First, I love the very simple five-sided shape that is clearly a house. But I also realized the way the houses in my quilts seemed to float in some undefined space between foreground and background could represent my unsettled feelings about all those moves.
Still, there were also things I loved about moving and living in different places. So those positive elements were represented with color, motifs and other contemporary embellishments.
Now that we’ve settled in one place, I still return to the idea that a simple shape, set in an interesting composition and embellished with other marks, stitches, and patterns can help me tell a story about my life.
But be assured these stories are not necessarily clear to the viewer. In fact, I love it when someone tells me a symbol in my work made them think of an entirely different representation that I had in mind.
The chairs in my work are a reminder to myself that being still and restful does not mean being inactive or unaware. Sometimes it’s essential to sit quietly and take in everything around me. They represent the importance of thought, reflection, and patience.
Tell us a bit about your chosen techniques and how you use them
I use raw-edged fused appliqué to construct the tops of my art quilts. I love the endless possibilities of cutting and layering with fusible webbing. This frees me up from any strict requirements for measurements and allows for a more improvisational and intuitive process rather than planning everything ahead of time.
I also love the ability to emphasize the beautiful tactile quality of cloth by incorporating frayed edges, sheer fabrics, and loosely woven pieces.
Hand embroidery is also an important element in my work. I use it to visually connect different areas of a design, add linear elements and create texture. Pulling embroidery floss through the fabric and batting with each and every stitch infuses the hand of the artist in the work. It’s an intimate detail.
The final technique is adding machine quilting through all three layers — the top, the batting and the backing. I love free motion quilting using motifs that nestle into and wrap around the shapes in the design.
What currently inspires you?
Ladders! This obsession started when I saw Martin Puryear’s ‘Ladder for Booker T. Washington’ at the Modern Museum of Art in Fort Worth, Texas, US. I’ve made several art quilt collages including ladders.
For me, ladders symbolize the movement from one place to another–physically or emotionally. But I also love the idea that what’s at the top of the ladder may be as interesting and important as what’s at the bottom.
I confess I also like ladders because they are so easy to draw. You can’t mess them up. Two long vertical lines plus several short horizontal lines and you’ve got it.
Moving into clarity and confidence
Tell us about a piece of your work that holds particularly fond memories and why?
Last year I made a quilt called ‘Glossary’ that acted as a bit of compilation of several important works I had made over the past nine years.
I had been exploring the idea of including personal imagery and how a shape can become symbolic. So for ‘Glossary,’ I set out to include all my personal symbols in one quilt: house, bowl, ladder, stones, leafy stalks and chair.
I also enjoyed using a piece of dynamic ice-dyed fabric that both forced and encouraged me to incorporate more and brighter colors than I generally use in my work. I think the color palette and the somewhat ridiculous challenge of putting together all these disparate shapes and ideas infused some humour and joy into the creative process.
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
As I’ve become more clear and confident in the materials and techniques I use, my work is also more clear and confident. It all goes together, right?
Some people say in order to develop your voice, you just have to make a lot of work. But I think it’s more than that.
For me, it’s about finding clarity in the ideas I want to explore, joy in the process and mastery of the required skills. I think maximizing everything that’s happening in my head, heart and hands result in the best work.
Looking ahead, I am sure there will be new symbols and themes I’ll need to explore. And there are certainly skills I’d like to develop. To that end, I’d really like to do a residency where I could explore dimensional work. (It’s on my list of things to consider after my son graduates from high school.)
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
Honestly? Read Jerry Saltz’ recent article in Vulture. It’s called ‘How to be an artist: 33 rules to take you from clueless amateur to generational talent (or at least help you live life a little more creatively)’. It’s a brilliant combination of inspiration, instruction, wit, truth and joy.
For more information visit www.deborahsstudio.com
What types of ‘personal symbols’ do you incorporate into your art? Let us know in the comments section below