- - - - - - - - - - - Summer 2016 - - - - - - - - - - -
Enter Your Quilt
Where carpentry meets quilting…
Quilts serve as inspiration for artists working with wood
Top: Coffee Table Bottom Left: 3x3 Wooden Quilt
Bottom Right: Quilted all by Jessica Waterman
By its most technical definition, a quilt is constructed of fabric, includes three layers—including a batting or padding— and is joined together using stitches. But just as quilters often blur the lines of what technically constitutes a quilt, many artists and designers in the non-quilting world are redrawing those lines using non-traditional materials to create works that honor quilting in an entirely different way.
This includes two artists, Jessica Waterman and Fraser Smith, who both create—in two very different ways—wooden quilts. Waterman utilizes a combination of wood and textiles to create clean, modern works and furniture pieces featuring “quilted” designs. And Smith, a sculptor, creates his “quilts” using blocks of wood, a meticulous carving process, and an acute eye for detail.
For lifelong Newfoundland resident Waterman, the idea of combining her love of carpentry and textiles came about naturally.
“Newfoundland is a beautiful place to grow up,” Waterman says. “Everyone here makes what they can out of what they have. And as a child, I was constantly seeing people quilt, knit, fix up their homes, and build things out of wood.”
As an eighth grader, Waterman discovered a sewing machine her mom had purchased from a neighbor, and started playing around with it. Without any help from an instructor, she completed her first project—a quilt!
“I still have it on my couch and use it all the time,” she says. “It has completely fallen to pieces, but I like it that way. Plus, the border is all out of whack. But, hey, it was my first time sewing anything!”
She began combining wood and textiles while in art school at NSCAD University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, after which she commenced a steady career as a costume designer on a television show for six months of the year and as an interior/furniture designer for the other six months. And one of the greatest benefits of switching off between the two types of work, she explains, is being able to bring new ideas learned in one line of work to the other.
“For me, they are one and the same,” she says of her work in carpentry and textiles. “Even though the men don’t like it when I say that on a construction site! The skills remain the same—design, project plans, cutting, assembly (whether needle and thread or glue and nails), and then the final touches of a border.”
The idea behind Waterman’s wooden quilts is basically the same as that of her textile quilts. She mixes her own colors and paints all of the wood before beginning construction. Once she has a color palette, she plays around with placement, starting with one piece and deciding what will follow.
She uses rough wood from Newfoundland to add a coarseness and interest to the piece. “This is something that I see a lot in rural Newfoundland, and something that brings a lot of texture to my wooden quilts,” she explains. “We have a great tradition of quilting here, and every time I visit a new town in Newfoundland I like to go visit their local quilting guild and see what the ladies are working on. It’s so inspiring!”
Far from Newfoundland—in St. Petersburg, Florida—artist Fraser Smith creates an entirely different kind of wooden quilt. As a sculptor, Smith carves incredibly detailed “textile” works from blocks of wood. His sculptures are so realistic, in fact, that one might easily mistake them for their textile counterpart.
Above: The Fourth Whimsy by Fraser Smith
In addition to carved wood quilts, Smith’s works include “leather” coats, clothing, hats, and accessories, all of which are constructed entirely of wood, and all of which play tricks on the eye.
“In the early ‘80s, I was carving clothing and hats. But by 1988, I wanted to try something more challenging, so I decided to try carving a quilt,” he explains. “I took a quilt, hung it over a rope, and started carving. Why the rope? I wanted to have it hanging with lots of folds and waves that would give the overall piece more depth.”
Above: Mary Kay's Sampler
by Fraser Smith
To create such realistic details in his carved wood quilts, Smith uses small burrs on a flexible shaft grinder to carve in all of the stitches and pucker the “fabric.” Then he uses small, folded pieces of sandpaper to take off the sharp edges.
Once the surface of the piece sufficiently looks like cloth, he starts to add color—first, by lightening brown tones in the wood with a special wood bleach. Next, he uses a utility knife to score a sharp line around the border of each patch.
“No wood is removed; it’s simply compacted and pushed slightly apart,” he says. “This creates a slight barrier in the capillaries of the wood fibers, which allows me to apply stains without the color spreading into the wrong ‘patch.’ I use liquid silk dyes to stain the colors of the ‘patches,’ painting it on with a small brush. As it soaks into the wood, it tends to expand the capillaries, and close the gap created with the utility knife.”
Although Smith says he has sewn a few “sampler blocks” out of actual fabric over the years, he’s never completed a full quilt. “I understand how quilts are made, and can sew well enough to make one, but I doubt it would win any prizes,” he says.
“According to Google, there are over 21 million active quilts in the U.S., and 600,000 professional artists,” Smith adds. "I’m not sure if they counted me in either of those groups, but I’m the only person that carves quilts, folded over a rope, hanging on a wall. At the time I started doing all of this, I wasn’t a quilter, and likely not a very good artist either. I wanted to do something unique, so I did it. Then again, I always says, ‘I might be the only person in the world that does what I do, but there’s probably a good reason for that.’”
To create one of his works, Smith begins with a single block of wood—either basswood for pieces that imitate cloth, or mahogany for those that will imitate leather. The block may be built from several smaller blocks, depending upon the dimensions of the
“As for the process, I use both power and hand tools to carve and smooth the piece, and use a lot of sandpaper,” he explains. “For clothing, I’ll use a model, but I never really copy it exactly. I used a model for my first two quilts. But since then, I’ve just created a design, and carved