35 years of textile samples, part 5: weaving, intaglio & miscellaneous

And how about all of those other areas of experimentation? I was once a weaver and a spinner, and I first learned to print and dye textiles because  as a student, I was printing large etching plates on canvas. From there, I wanted to alter the surfaces on which I printed, and I started weaving. I was living in a geodesic dome in the lovely countryside surrounding Bloomington, Indiana, where I went to school. We hoisted the 300 pound Kessenich loom up a ladder and into the dome. We were crazy kids. In one of my first dye baths there, the water turned clear. That’s never happened since. It was a good thing, too, because we didn’t have running water. The pump froze and cracked during a wickedly cold winter. I was discovering how in love I was with the world of fiber.

two samples of handwoven fabrics, tie dyed and screen printed/handpainted, by Astrid Hilger Bennett


Handwoven, screenprinted fabric using Procion MX dyes, by Astrid Hilger Bennett
Printing on wool, samples from a workshop, very nice, thin wool, by Astrid Hilger Bennett
Intaglio (etching) samples printed on different fabrics, by Astrid Hilger Bennett
Intaglio (etching) plates printed on silk, cotton, in a “book” by Astrid Hilger Bennett
stitched, woven bands, no dyeing, by Astrid Hilger Bennett
More stitched, woven bands, no dyeing, assembled by Astrid Hilger Bennett



35 years of textile samples, part 1: early screen prints

Sample Mix

The day began with a search for a larger container to store fabric teaching samples. It ended with a journey through 35 years of creating fabrics.  I had already edited through these samples in previous years. It’s  a convenient time to do more. Consolidation and simplicity are freeing.

So many studio directions I’d forgotten about! Pathways through handwoven and warp painted textiles. Through silk screened, handpainted pears that I was quilting for a commission on the day I delivered my first child. Playing with cassava resists. Discharge. Silk painting.  Clamp resists and shibori. Odd little paintings and stitched, painted canvas. Pigment-printed cottons, and a few fabrics stiff with residual sodium alginate (not good.)

In recent years, more a mastery of layered fabric images and color, which you can see in the pieces on my website. Glad for that. In the several posts that follow, I describe a selection of samples and their techniques.

Early pear screen prints
My first official screen print (1975, top image), using two screens and Lacquer film stencils. One labored to carefully cut only one layer from the stencil, which was then adhered to the screen using awful, smelly, toxic solvents. Use too much solvent, and your screen would dissolve. This was my first introduction to modular design. Britex fabric paints on whatever fabric was available. The Pear screens were used to create a public art piece, Pears at Play, then purchased for Indiana University-Gary Library. The last image shows screen printed interpretations of drawings made while traveling around the United States for 6 weeks in 1976.
First screen prints
First screen prints
Sample book of early screenprints
Eraser print studies, 1975. These were used to explore the concept of modular design and registration for screen printing. We HATED this assignment, but now I value the knowledge I gained.
Fish screen based on minnow drawings while supervising a 3 year old,  1988. Screenprinted using ProFab fabric paints by ProChemical & Dye. Background colors applied as thickened Procion MX Dyes.
Screen prints for table cloths, 1991, with Pro-Fab fabric paints and thickened Procion MX dyes
Pear screen prints on linen
Crow screen print, used on canvas bags, 1992. Heat setting these Pro-Fab Fabric paints is vital. At left, a properly heat set sample. At right, one that was not heat set.

ICON Gallery Exhibit, plus a night in Fairfield

Work by Astrid Hilger Bennett, Icon Gallery, Fairfield

Contemporary Art Quilts of Astrid Hilger Bennett, Carol Coohey, BJ Parady and Judy Zoelzer Levine is featured exhibition at ICON Gallery in Fairfield, Iowa. What a wonderful installation: clean, light-filled and spacious, the best installation of my own work I’ve ever come across. This is ICON’s first-ever art quilt exhibition; exhibit dates are October 7 to November 12. ICON is located at 58 Main St. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Friday noon to 4pm, Saturday 1 – 4pm, and by appointment. For more information, contact ICON Gallery by phone, 641.919.6252.

“Curators Wendy Read and Karen Harris have brought four of the best contemporary art quilters in the region to ICON Gallery,” says ICON Director Bill Teeple. “If you are used to traditional quilt making in Iowa, this will be an eye opener. It contains the visual and conceptual impact of a contemporary painting exhibit.” My personal opinion is that the Midwest is rich with exceptional art quilters. We appreciate the compliment, and curator Wendy Read, also a SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Association) Iowa Representative and Karen Harris did a great job balancing styles of work, which makes for a conceptually strong show. What follows are images more from my own section of the exhibit; the work was divided up by artist into different mini-galleries. By the way, Carol Coohey, BJ Parady and Astrid Hilger Bennett, are all members of the Surface Design Association, and all four of us, including Judy Zoelzer Levine, are members of SAQA. For a more detailed look at images in this post, be sure to click on the image and watch it expand.

Looking towards the gallery with Judy Zoelzer Levine’s Body of Evidence, Contemporary Art Quilts, ICON Gallery

more from Judy Zoelzer Levine’s Body of Evidence, ICON Art Gallery


left to right: BJ Parady, Carol Coohey, Astrid Hilger Bennett & Director Bill Teeple in front of a work by Coohey, ICON Art Gallery

Astrid with her work, Icon Gallery, Fairfield, IA

Carol Coohey is a newer, talented fiber artist living in Coralville, Iowa,  who has recently really found her own voice. This collection of work, entitled Voices, is powerful and was developed using many surface design techniques inclduing drawing, discharge, screenprinting and painting before quilting. Carol explains, “My most recent work focuses on the rights of girls and women, especially in the Middle East.  To make my collage paintings, I use un-gessoed cloth as the foundation.  I draw, paint and print on cloth with dye, discharge paste, ink and acrylic paint.   I spend half my time teaching and conducting research on violence at a university and half of my time creating art.  The themes in my research often carry over into my artwork.  Earlier in my career, I worked as a graphic artist and an art therapist.

In the Voices Series, I focus on how policy and culture affect the lives of women and girls living in the Middle East.  I explore universal themes, such as the right to an education and the influence of culture on girl’s and women’s decision-making. Stylistically, I’ve drawn on graffiti street art which has become a form of political protest in the Middle East during recent years.”

Illinois artist BJ Parady works primarily on silk and recyled fabrics, creating smaller pieces where marks made by stitching are important. She interprets Midwestern landscape. “My art reflects the microcosm in which I live—where the tall grass prairie used to be. I am inspired daily by the big skies, the reflection of light on water, the remaining remnants of native plants. I have come to embrace the idea of abstraction—capturing the essence of a moment rather than a literal depiction of a scene that could just as easily be photographed.”

Judy Zoelzer Levine’s Body of Evidence series is composed of 25 art quilts interpreting the female human form. A Wisconsin artist, Levine created these works over a span of many years.

Astrid Hilger Bennett approaches her pieces as she would a piece of music, using painting, monoprinting, screenprinting and other techniques to make large scale, abstract wall art. For more information on  her work, please check out the gallery and other pages on this website.

Contemporary Art Quilts, ICON Gallery

Bumping into The Fabric Workshop in Philadelphia

In mid-February, I attended the Buyers’ Market of American Craft as a buyer for Iowa Artisans Gallery.  As we prepared to leave, we discovered our flight was canceled and rescheduled for late in the day. What to do in this lovely city? Our answer was to meander, walking the streets in ways we’d been unable to do prior to this point. Next thing I knew, I was literally bumping into The Fabric Workshop and Museum, a stone’s throw away from the Convention Center, where I’d attended the show for 15 years.

The Fabric Workshop! I’ve been reading about this venerable institution for more than twenty years. Articles have always pinpointed the Workshop’s focus on screen printing, and I’ve been an enthusiastic screen printer for years. Naturally, I’ve always wanted to visit.

The Fabric Workshop was founded by Marian Stroud in 1977, both as a place to train apprentices in the field of textile design and to work with mature artists interested in fabric and unconventional materials. A Decade of Fabric and Art  celebrates the 10th Anniversary of the Center. This publication points out the 1960s connections of major artists like Alexander Calder, with the making of fiber art pieces, tapestries in Calder’s case. This precedent led Stroud to invite artists like Louise Nevelson, Robert Morris, Robert Kushner, Jun Kaneko and Ned Smyth into the Workshop early on. 150 artists in all were served during the first decade.

As a screen printer, I gasped with pleasure at the long tables and deep space of this printing studio.

The Fabric Workshop refined its mission in 1996, adding Museum to its name. Artists are still offered the chance to work as Artists-in-Residence with unconventional materials, not all of them fabric or textile-related. The screen printing areas serve at-risk youth in Philadelphia schools, as well as high school-, college- and postgraduate-level apprenticeships. Current artists in residence at the Workshop are profiled on the website.  The Workshop is housed on several floors of a building, with exhibition halls, screen printing production studios, administrative offices, and conservation facilities for its 5500 objects made by 400 participating artists. It also houses a museum shop where screen printed items are sold in addition to books and other goodies.

During my visit, I viewed New American Voices II, an exhibition of contemporary sculpture, installation and wall works by Robert Pruitt, Jim Drain, Jiha Moon and Bill Smith. Vastly different in concept and execution, these works will challenge anyone looking for a more traditional approach to fiber art. I was especially drawn to the work of Robert Pruitt. His website does not do his contemporary work justice, so I won’t cite it here. I am not able to share images of those exhibits with you.

By becoming a contemporary art center, the Fabric Workshop has invested in its future by insuring two grant-funding streams: contemporary art, plus under-served populations. I hope that it continues to capitalize on its roots in fiber art in its appeal to artists, providing them a truly unique opportunity to make works not otherwise easily made. If you’re in Philadelphia, don’t do what I did and wait 15 years to visit this inspiring and provocative place.

interesting way of preserving samples
a wall display shows images from early years
Screen, test piece and drop cloth
The Fabric Workshop & Museum is located at 1214 Arch St in Philadelphia
the front window of the building showcases items fabricated from FW&M fabrics, for sale in the Museum Shop
My $12 purchase, a bag with two interesting sides, a difficult choice with so many patterns to pick from
The Fabric Workshop and Museum is located at 124 Arch Street in downtown Philadelphia. For contact and membership information, please visit this link.

Chicago road trip: Lillstreet Art Center + SOFA

Here’s an introduction to the textiles studios at Lillstreet Art Center, which is now located on Ravenswood Avenue in a former 3-story “gear shop.” It’s a lot like a re-purposed 1930s junior high school space. Lillstreet started out about thirty years ago, strictly as a ceramics facility on Lill Street, featuring teaching space and studios for ceramists. The move to Ravenswood coincided with an expansion to a facility with metalsmithing, lampworked glass, printmaking, painting, textiles and kids’ art classes. Ceramics is still the main focus. The facility also includes a sales and exhibition area, plus First Slice, a great cafe with great food and profits going to support homeless youth meals.  I have been eagerly following Lillstreet Blog for some time, enamored with its focus on screen printing. Here you’ll find pictures of this facility, introduced by head of textile area Camille Canales.

SOFA is the Sculptural Objects Fine Art Exposition, this year paired with INTUIT, the outsider art museum plus galleries. Major collector galleries exhibit at SOFA, and one has the opportunity to look at work commonly found in American Craft and other magazines. I hadn’t been in several years, and the level of creativity is always astonishing. I also sat at the Surface Design Association information table, which was located in front of the Corning Glassblowing Demo booth, very informative, very impressive and great theater.

Below: the sewing workshop at Lillstreet- Camille is my guide.  
Camille is using pins to secure a runner to a table, in preparation for later screenprinting. I encouraged her to work as she answered questions- this was a time free of students in the dye and print studio.





Screenprinted curtains (above) and clothing (below)


It’s rare to have a workshop with so many fabric screens. I was in heaven!
Below, Camille’s screenprinted embroidery sampler, upon which students then practice certain embroidery stitches


above: pattern pieces. 
below: menu at the Cafe Slice. It’s time now to order pies for Thanksgiving! I purchased various pieces of pie plus their squash soup to take to my overnight host and good friend, and everything was super tasty.


Above: re-arranging jewelry displays in the Lillstreet Studio gallery. 
Below: I followed the many bike routes on my way back to Oak Park, through Wrigleyville.


Historic stained glass from Chicago producers, stunning examples of old and new, inside the corridor on Navy Pier. Very worth seeing.






Above: I had seen so much art at SOFA, that when I stepped outside, I was struck by the materials, color and textural contrast of this light post base. 
Below: SDA Area Representatives Linda and Darcy


Above: SDA President Candy and friend and fellow volunteer Ann attending tothe SDA informational table at SOFA, with the swatch collection

Above: a fantastic grouping of photos of Utah plus oversized ceramic sculpture by fellow Iowa City resident Gerry Eskin.  Below: stepping out towards my car, surface design is everywhere…

Iowa SDA-SAQA-IA Artquilters Meeting

Iowa is a big state with a small population, smaller than the Twin Cities in Minnesota. Our Surface Design Association (SDA) and Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA) are small enough that it makes sense to pool our resources and meet together in different locations in central and eastern Iowa. I held an earlier meeting last February at my home, and this time Carol Coohey shared her home and inspiring studio with us. Nineteen women attended from the Des Moines area, Elkader, Grinnell, Guernsey, Oskaloosa, Fairfield, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City/Coralville.

Karin Gundlach explored the issue of what kind of finishing presentation is most appropriate to art quilts and fiber art in general, especially smaller pieces. She posed several questions in an online SAQA forum and received a wealth of technical responses, from mounting on a protruding cloth-covered or painted “frame,” to shadow box framing, to armatures. In general the consensus was that framing or mounting of some kind helps to set these pieces off and relate them to their environment. Some participants shared pieces in which presentation was discussed.

Kris Grover shares her ideas for studio design (above), with Amanda Murphy discussing lighting (below)

Kris Grover, former University of Iowa space planner and mixed media artist then shared her Studio Design Challenge, where she converts a small 10 x 10′ bedroom-type space into a functional studio. She shared drafts of this presentation, done on her laptop with many images included. This was a very interesting presentation that we could have spent more time on; Kris had many ideas for finding simple storage units at janitor supply shops and places like Cabellas. One idea was installing a simple overhead bike rack to hang three dimensional works from while they’re in progress. Then
Amanda Murphy, a lighting consultant for Light Expressions and a mixed media artist working three dimensionally with concrete and felt, shared ideas and answered questions for adequate lighting.

Lastly, we had a tour of Carol Coohey‘s impressive studio space. Not grungy like mine, but airy and clean. She does deconstructed screen printing in the way that Kerr Grabowski does, but adds her own spin and has recently started doing regular screen printing. One look at her extensive wall of fabrics, all hanging from a cork strip rail, and one can’t help but admire her grasp of this process.

Carol Coohey with her wall of deconstructed screen printed fabrics

After the meeting, participants split up, some attending Dianne Day’s show at Arbor Gallery, some going to central Iowa City to visit Home Ec Workshop, Prairie Lights Books and Iowa Artisans Gallery, and some home. An interesting, enlightening time.

Necessities Vests!

My friend Connie Roberts is a professional artist who makes carved wooden whistle sculptures. She and I have collaborated for some time on thematic vests containing appropriate whistles. Our most popular has always been the Necessities Vest, made to order for male or female wearers, a piece that occupies a display stand during times not worn as a conversational art theater piece. Connie usually makes dozens of whistles that are visible and hidden on these vests.

 My contribution is to dye and print the cotton fabrics for vest and lining, plus pockets and trim. I designed the pockets and patterns and construct and sew the vests. When they’re sewn, Connie and I get together to trouble-shoot placement, drill a few holes etc. Her whistles are by far the most entertaining part of these Vests, but what follows are photos of how the vests themselves come into being.

hand-dyed, monoprinted & screenprinted cotton fabrics using procion fiber reactive dyes
flaps, and lots of notes

the old workhorse Janome sewing machine
It helps that it’s still porch weather
Connie’s buttons are a hoot. They do not whistle.
OK, so my part is finished…
Connie and her drill. Trying to keep the sawdust off of the fabric. Placing whistles.
Whistles similar to what we have in our vests.

A New Year: scraps + art cloth

Time to return to painting and printing, but first, taking advantage of opportunities the new year provides: completing partially finished pieces. Shown above: works on cotton broadcloth (left) and a cotton-hemp mix (right). Hemp dyes beautifully; the effect is a bit like linen, which screenprints nicely.

Then, art cloth. I am screenprinting using dyes instead of fabric paints. Procion fiber reactive dyes bond at the molecular level with the natural fibers they are applied to. This results in a soft “hand” to the fabric and good wash-fastness. Dyes are transparent and create wonderful effects when layered. Even the best fabric paints (I use Pro-Chem’s Pro Fab fabric paints) leave a stiffened fabric, and it’s difficult to achieve the transparency I like. My last real burst of screenprinting involved fabric paints to make functional items like tea cozies, table cloths, napkins, and yes, wall hangings. Predating my art quilts, this was 15 years ago. Now I’m eager to try some of my three dozen screens with thickened dye. What follows is a sequence of printing over two days, 2.5 yards.

This is really an interesting combination of colors, but the white will look untended when finished, so I move on with more monoprinting over the screenprinting

the finished fabric, heat set, washed and dried

Time for a Handkerchief…handmade, of course!

Being a regular dog-walker and outdoor person, there are many occasions when a good old fashioned handkerchief would be just the ticket. Launder once a week or sooner if you like. Took the quest to heart and searched for some women’s handkerchiefs and found that they are simply unavailable in local stores. So, I decided to make some, — a great way to share a little eco-conscious gesture with friends, family, and those who want to make the purchase at Iowa Artisans Gallery or on its website.

The challenge: a handkerchief that is attractive enough but can withstand regular washing with ordinary clothes. The solution: use 100% cotton (batiste) handkerchiefs, available in lots of a dozen at Dharma Trading. Look at some of my 36 silk screens and use several to print using Pro-Chemical’s pro-fab textile paint, heat set and wash. Avoid using dyes which complicate the laundering-in-all-temperatures and with-all-clothes mission. Labels printed on New Leaf’s 100% recycled paper using banana fiber waste (available at Office Depot). Note: all images are based on my own drawings. Here are the results.

When I was ready to post this piece, I ran across the acceptance speech that Roumanian novelist Herta Muller recently gave at the ceremony honoring her Nobel Prize for Literature. Entitled, Every word knows something of a vicious circle, Herta begins this lecture, “DO YOU HAVE A HANDKERCHIEF was the question my mother asked me every morning, standing by the gate to our house, before I went out onto the street. I didn’t have a handkerchief…” It’s a touching and compelling piece detailing life in iron-curtain era Romania. Born in 1953, Muller and I are the same age – her young years are very different from mine.

By the way, my handkerchiefs are not ecologically perfect- they are hem-stitched in China and the cotton is not organic. I am on an organic cotton quest for my own art quilts- this is still carried on in conjunction with people like Harmony Susalla, but there are trade-offs in getting all of us to adopt new habits, and moderation in price and availability are a major incentives.

PS- the crow design came about from watching crows eat the discarded, old popcorn in the snow, —from my kids’ Sesame Street-time snacks. The kids are gone. The silk screen lives on.

Book Review, 40 years late… and so new!

Oh Yay, old textile printing books! Taught a class entitled Paint it! Stamp it!, which gave me the chance to delve into several books bequeathed to me after the University of Iowa’s Fiber Art program was shut down in 1991. Fabric Printing by Lotti Lauterburg (Reinhold Publishing, New York, 1959) covers potatoes, rubber blocks, linocuts and batik, with various “projects” in a setting that looks like it could come from a current modernist shelter magazine. I haven’t found this volume for sale, but you might find it deep in a library collection or fiber artists’ yard sale.

My favorite is a small square shaped book by Nora Proud, Textile Printing and Dyeing, (BT Batsford, London 1965), still available used online. She does a lot of potato printing overlaid on tie-dyed cloth. Also explored: string relief blocks, linocuts, resists. Design considerations and discussions are useful. Interesting example of natural objects and the prints that resulted from drawings made from them. Extremely interesting discussion of printing projects for children and disabled young people, both individual and group projects. Stencils with screens, reduction stencils (print, tear away, print some more, tear more away etc.)

Block Printing on Textiles by Janet Erickson is by an artist with an interesting Wikipedia page. Her book is expensive, but a glance through it will give you views of the artist spreading out her fabric on the floor and using her feet to stamp the wood block prints. She uses a lot of relief print techniques.

And lastly, there’s Richard M. Procter and Jennifer F. Lew’s Surface Design for Fabric (University of Washington Press, 1984), also available used online. The newest of the four books, it nonetheless has variations on techniques we use a great deal now, but fresh approaches. Good design considerations. Lots of written resource information, including sewing techniques.