Deborah Barr

Photos

DE_014_a.jpg
DE_014_b.jpg

Title

Deborah Barr

Description

Deborah Barr majored in art, and was a painter before she stared quilting. She has been quilting for about 20 years, and views quilting as her new medium. Barr like to use a lot of heavily patterned fabric, and does not like to follow traditional quilt patterns. Music is very important to her and has inspired some of her work.

Identifier

DE14

Contributor

Christine Sparta

Interviewee

Deborah Barr

Interviewer

Heather Gibson

Interview sponsor

Iris Karp

Location

Wilmington, Delaware

Transcriber

Heather Gibson

Transcription

**This transcript was created by QSOS volunteers and was reviewed and, in some cases, edited by the interviewee. It may not exactly match the audio recording. For citations and interview quotations, please refer to the audio-recorded interview.** Heather Gibson (HG): Today is March 22, 2001. This is Heather Gibson. I'm interviewing Deb Barr in her home in Delaware. The time is 11:25 am. Deb, let's start by talking about the quilt that you chose for today, starting with its name.

Deborah Barr (DB): Okay, the name of this quilt is "Song Turned Loose."

HG: Tell me about the inspirations behind it and the images that you have.

DB: Shall I describe it?

HG: Yes.

DB: It's really filled with a lot of different patterned fabrics. That was one thing that I was interested in working with. Some of them are fabrics that I've dyed myself and created different effects with tying and knotting and manipulating the fabric. Some of them are just fabrics I've collected from a variety of sources over the years. It's a pretty colorful quilt with recognizable images of a lot of natural forms like leaves, stars, birds, a lizard, a fish, a hand, and an eye. It also has a guitar in it, and a lot of movement and color. It's typical of the type of quilts I make in that I enjoy coming up with patterns and designs on my own. I don't follow traditional quilt patterns although my techniques are pretty traditional. I look for things that inspire me in nature and ideas that I want to think about or talk about in my quilts. Then I try to find a way to capture them visually.

HG: Tell me about the techniques you used.

DB: Okay. Like most of the quilts I make, it's done with patchwork pieces put together to form a background. The background I generally sew together by machine. It makes for a stronger background and it's actually faster to put together and the quilt will be more durable with the machine sewing on the background then I appliqué on top of this background that I created first on top I appliqué the different shapes. For example, the leaves or the animals or the birds, things like that. They're appliquéd into place by hand. Often I find that something doesn't work correctly and I'll actually take out a piece of the background or some of the things I've appliquéd on, or move them around or change them. Once I have it where I really like it, then I layer it with the backing, the batting, and then this top piece that's been appliquéd. I do the quilting by hand on my quilt frame.

HG: This seems like kind of an unusual thing to do, to appliqué on top of the patchwork. It is common? Where did you learn it?

DB: I don't know if it's that common, but it's not totally innovative. I've seen other people do it. Even on traditional appliqué quilts, it's usually on top of blocks that are joined together. So there is some combination of the geometric background with free-form appliqué on top. I'm interested in pushing that a little and experimenting. I don't know how I came up with what I do. Over the years I've been quilting which is quite a few years, probably about twenty years, I've gradually sort of evolved into working in this way. It allows me to combine a lot of different fabrics together. It allows me to do a lot of appliqué. I really enjoy appliqué a lot. I'm always working to refine it or to try different ideas.

HG: I know that you've chosen all of your symbols here carefully. Can you talk about some of the meanings that are in this quilt?

DB: Well, the whole concept of it was inspired by my love of music. Often when I'm quilting I'm listening to music. I find it a real relaxing way to do my work. I like a number of forms of music, but particularly folk music, blues music, rock music, and things like that. I particularly like music by Bob Dylan and some other traditional musicians that he was inspired by. He had written a poem in which he was celebrating the need for each individual to find their own unique voice, to find a song which is buried in each individual and to release it and set it free. I was kind of playing around with this idea. I think quilting, to me, is comparable to that. It's a form of expression that I have inside me that I want to use. I don't want to just make a quilt like everybody else makes a quilt. I want it to be an expression of my own creativity and my own personal feelings and my own view of the world. The process of quilting is sort of a way of finding my own voice. I wanted to celebrate that with a quilt that was very exuberant, that described the cycle of life. There's a real circular movement through the quilt. That's what I was attempting to create, the way things flow. I was thinking of this idea. I wanted to incorporate the images of the guitars in the quilt and the music kind of bursting out. [pointing.] This is to symbolize the music bursting out of the guitars. Around the same time I was looking at some interesting books about--I had been to an exhibit in Washington about African art at the African Museum of Art. I love looking at all sorts of artwork from different places. There was an exhibit from Benin. I had gotten a book there and I was reading it when I got home and looking at some of the imagery. They have a lot of fish in their imagery because the fish is apparently a symbol of power in their culture. I came across this really interesting quote that ended up inspiring me on this quilt. I put it on the back of the quilt. It says, "The one who holds the fish can also let it loose." That's a proverb from the Edo tribe in the country of Benin. I kind of interpreted that to mean that part of having power is also releasing it. That's what I feel people have within them, the power of creativity. Most people just hold it inside and they haven't found a way to release it. It's a symbol of the whole cycle of life and growth and the tears for sadness. Sometimes through pain and sadness and grief you nurture understanding and growth. That's really what I started from.

HG: That's beautiful! Talking about music, how improvisational is your technique? Does that play a big part?

DB: Yes. I think I've really been influenced by the music I listen to. I like jazz a lot. I like blues a lot. This is my crazy little parallel, but I'm so fascinated with different rhythms and patterns and things like that. That's one thing in my quilts I like to play with a lot, with the different heavily patterned fabrics, juxtaposing them and trying to create new ways of putting them together. I think that correlates to when I listen to music and I hear different patterns and rhythms. The way contemporary musicians draw from all different sources and combine different things, different forms of root music, to create contemporary forms of music really fascinates me. I think the improvisation thing has affected me greatly because that's really the way I love to work. I have a loose idea. I often sketch things, but they're more like little sketches here and sketches there, and I take parts of this and parts of that. When I'm actually working I start out by finding fabrics I really like that I try to combine together to create that pieced background. I have a big wall in my studio where I can pin things to a sheet. Then I stand back and look at it from a distance until I get a pleasing arrangement of the backgrounds. Then I start cutting out shapes and fabric. Often I don't even draw them out on paper first. I just sort of cut, then lay them on the fabric and look at it and move them around. There's a lot of just sort of pinning it, looking at it, moving it, pinning it, and changing it. Nothing is planned out entirely ahead of time. I have to kind of look at it and change it. Usually I try to get a pretty set idea of what I want before I start appliquéing it. Even sometimes if I've gone ahead and sewn and I find it doesn't work once I have them sewn together, I'll pick it out and move it and change it again just to get it the way I want it. So it's always pretty spontaneous.

HG: To give an idea of how you got to this point, tell me about how you got started quilting.

DB: I did start with very traditional quilts. The first quilt I ever made was a Triple Sunflower. That's interesting because that was one that combined patchwork and eight-point stars, and that forms the sunflower then you appliqué the stems that go three ways to catch the flowers and the leaves. You appliqué that on top and that forms your basic square. I did a very large bed quilt that had about sixty blocks of this triple flower. It was a really ambitious first quilt. [laughs.] It took me over a year and I thought I was totally nuts to do it, but I always wanted to make a quilt. I finished it and I thought, 'Oh boy, thank goodness that's done.' And I just immediately started another one. By that time I was really hooked. From there I did a number of more traditional patchwork quilts like that, Sunshine and Shadow quilts. I got very interested in Molas, which is a form of appliqué that's done by the Cuna Indians in Panama. That kind of got me more and more excited about appliqué and making different color choices. Also, the Molas are very individual and personalized. They follow a certain format according to the culture that the people who make them are from, but they are each very unique and individual within that format. I kind of got thinking about rather than making traditional patchwork patterns, I really wanted to make my own. I was an art major in school. At the time I started quilting I was a painter and painting. It wasn't foreign to me to try and do my own thing. That wasn't a hard step for me to take. I was very interested in doing that.

HG: Would you call quilting your medium now?

DB: Yes. Around the time I had my first child, about eighteen years ago, I started deciding that I really wanted to be a fiber artist as opposed to a watercolorist or painter. It fit better with my lifestyle once I started having small children. It was a lot easier to carry around with me and pull it out when I was sitting in the doctor's office waiting for an appointment for the kids, or going to a Brownie meeting or something like that. It worked very well with my life as a mother raising the children.

HG: What aspects of your painting have you entered into your quilts?

DB: I think my interest in color. I really love working with color and I feel that my quilts as a body of work are pretty charged with color. I'm very interested in that. It's hard to say. I'm sure there are a lot of effects. I'm very interested in design. I love to read about design and art. I'm constantly looking at art that's not fiber art or quilt related. Although I love fiber arts and quilts, too, also I'm inspired by artists that have nothing to do with the fiber arts world. I get ideas.

HG: Tell me about your ideas about quilting as an art form and as a craft. Maybe you could talk about those two terms.

DB: You had said something before we started tape recording. There is sometimes sort of a negative connotation to the term "craft," which I think is a shame because I think there are many beautiful craft forms. I prefer just to think of it as an art form which I think is every bit as valid as any other art form. I don't know why it's been pigeonholed, I think even as crafts quilts have a lesser rank on the totem pole, partly because I think people just associate quilts with the grandmothers doing it. Not that that's bad. There is just an idea in people's minds that anything in the needle arts is just frivolous or useless. To many people, quilts have a negative connotation because they don't enjoy needlework and so they don't understand the appeal for people who do enjoy it. They see it either as a waste of time or something people do who don't have anything better to do, which is really sad. I feel it's a really wonderful platform. There are a lot of really exciting quilters today if people can put aside their prejudices about the type of work it is and just understand that it takes a lot of discipline and perseverance. Especially if you do hand quilting, it's something that is very time consuming. But so is practicing to play a concerto. That's the parallel I see, that it's one of those things that takes a lot of practice and work and time.

HG: How would you compare the process and the time you take making quilts to the process and time you took to paint?

DB: This is a lot slower. I kind of enjoy that. One of the things that I like about quilting is that it allows me a lot of time for thought and meditation. Actually, there's enough going on in the process of a quilt from start to finish, it has different phases. Generally I'm not working on one quilt at a time. I'm usually working on two or three or four at the same time. So I'll have one quilt that I might be in the process of just thinking it over, doing sketches and designs and ideas. It's real loose in my mind. Then I might have another quilt that is at the point where I'm putting pieces of fabric up on the wall and shifting them around. That involves a lot of movement. It's more charged up and full of energy, that kind of work. The design part, too. It's a lot more immediate. Then you get to the point where you're actually tediously starting to sew all these pieces together. That's more time consuming. If I'm appliquéing that's a good thing to be doing when I'm sitting at a PTA meeting. It's so great to have my little bag and just start working on it because that doesn't take a lot of thought or concentration. I could be sitting here right now and appliquéing and talking to you. I'm experienced enough that it wouldn't be a problem for me. Then the final stage is the quilting part. The way I do that is I try to quilt for an hour or two in the morning. If I can make time in the day I'll take an hour or two to quilt. You just steadily have to put that in day after day after day. It's very slow, but eventually it gets done. After a month, the quilting will be done if you put your hour in every day. The fun part about it is that it's a very quiet activity. You get in to the rhythm of quilting and for me it's just a wonderful time. It's like meditating. I listen to music or I think about things that I kind of want to go over. It really is a great time of day because it forces me to slow down and not be rushing around and just think. That's why I love doing the hand quilting. I don't know that I could never give up the hand quilting part of my quilts even though it's very labor intensive and takes a long time. Plus, I like the look of hand quilting. I've done some machine quilting, but I'm never as happy with that. When I work at a machine I always find afterwards that I'm just really tense and my neck hurts. It's pretty much a strain on your body, whereas the hand quilting I find very relaxing.

HG: Where in your home do you sit and do your hand quilting and your machine work?

DB: I have a studio which is just a large room. Most of my sewing and quilt work I do back there. However, like I say, it's very portable. If I'm appliquéing, often that's something I just carry around so if I'm watching television or talking to the kids or going somewhere out of the home I can carry it with me. When I actually do the quilting part I pull out a large quilt frame and set it up.

HG: How large is that?

DB: It expands, so I've done a quilt as large as five-by-five feet and six-by-six feet on it. So I'll do that in my studio. I also have a smaller quilt frame. I also have a quilt hoop that's about two feet in diameter. I can carry that anywhere. I could sit in here and have that on my lap and just be quilting. When I'm machine quilting, which I do sometimes for what I call "utility quilts." [pointing to quilt on couch.] That quilt is there in order to conceal a hole in the fabric of my couch. Occasionally I'll make throw type quilts or something for my kids to take to football games. When I machine quilt a quilt like that, I haul my sewing machine out of my studio and put it on the dining room table because I need that big surface.

HG: Your quilting in here looks very improvisational. Do you mark out your quilting lines?

DB: No. One of the things I didn't mention is that I'm kind of lazy. I've found very early in quilting one of the things I've most hated was tracing quilt patterns for the quilting onto the fabric, or devising some complicated geometric thing that had to be perfectly aligned. And I also don't like having to later erase the lines if I put them on there. So I've evolved a number of different ways of just creating my own quilting patterns to fill in areas that I need to do. Actually, that's always changing and it's really fun to come up with different ways to fill in the pattern. Sometimes I do draw it in with pencil lines. In the case of this one, I think it was all pretty much spontaneous free form. With the kind of quilting designs I use, I can get away with using a wiggely line. Also, with a number of quilts I've done I do kind of an echo quilting, which would be the kind you see in Hawaiian quilts where the central image has ripples like a stone causing ripples in a pond, echoing the shape of whatever the central area is.

HG: Tell me a little bit about the fabrics that you dye yourself.

DB: I just recently started dyeing fabric in the last two years. A group of friends of mine were interested in experimenting with that. We started getting together regularly to dye cotton. That is really fun. I'm using more and more of it in my own quilts. The techniques are pretty easy. I think more and more quilters are getting involved in that and discovering it. I enjoy just experimenting. That's part of the fun of it, that they're a playful kind of form. I don't really go to dye fabric in order to create a certain shade of green or a certain effect. I kind of experiment with different colors or different techniques of dyeing and just see what I get. There's techniques where you take fabric and sprinkle salt on it while the dye is sitting on it and it creates a different kind of effect. With this fabric in this quilt, I had taken the fabric prior to dyeing and knotted little bunches of the fabric, kind of a Shibori technique. Then I immersed it in the dye, and where it was tied and knotted there is a lightened circle left on the fabric. That fabric is the same way where I took the fabric and folded it and then bound it with rubber bands up and down the length of the fabric. There's just a lot of different possibilities. Sometimes you just take the fabric, put it in a tray and swish it around in the different colors. If you're interested, I'll show you in my studio. I've been experimenting a lot more recently with that kind of dyeing and different techniques of dyeing, and also with some silk-screening and resist bleaching methods. There's just a lot of possibilities in the surface design of fabrics that I see a lot of potential for using in my quilts. I also like using the old fabrics, too, so I have kind of a combination of a lot of different fabrics. Some of them are just commercially available cottons that most quilters would use. Some are the kinds of batiks that are more recently popular in quilts that are also manufactured. Some of them are the fabrics I dyed myself.

HG: Do you work only with cotton?

DB: Yeah, pretty much. Cotton is the easiest to work with as far as being able to quilt through it when you've got it all in layers. Also, you're using all of the same kind of fabric. It goes together well. Once in a while if I've really been needing a certain color and I just can't find it in anything else except a blend, I might use a blend. But I'm never as pleased with that. I should mention as far as technique, when I create these shapes and put them on top of the background, I always cut away the background from the back. So it's not layered up several layers. It would really be too thick to quilt through.

HG: So how does that work?

DB: Say I lay the leaf on. Before I go to do the batting and the backing, I very carefully cut out everything behind the fish or behind the hand or behind the guitar. The big problem I have is I always save those pieces, too. [laughs.] A big problem in quilting is you're always trying to use up fabrics you have and pieces of fabric that you somehow end up with more at the end of the process because you save all the scraps. You always think you can use them for something else, but they keep going on and on! I have a lot of fabric scraps.

HG: One of the stereotypes that I've heard people say about art quilters is that they put things on top of their quilts, embellishments I guess. Do you ever use embellishments? What do you think about that stereotype, or do you think it is a stereotype?

DB: I don't know if I would say that. There are a lot of art quilters that do use a lot of things that they add to the quilt. I think that they're maybe less rigid or less fearful of crossing over boundaries into other art forms. The only embellishments I use are occasional touches of embroidery or words written in embroidery. I don't tend to like putting things on quilts like little trinkets or charms. I generally don't like to do that because I love the softness of the quilt. Most of the quilts I make nowadays, I don't intend them as bed quilts. I really intend them as artwork to be hung on the wall, partly because I think it just deserves a place of respect. I love bed quilts, but when you spend this much time and hand labor and everything and put it on a bed, it gets worn out very rapidly. It's just amazing that when it's used in the context of a bed I don't think it's treated with as much respect. It does get worn out, and I think it's kind of sad. I feel that the quilt on the wall can still function in the same way as a bed quilt. It still provides a lot of comfort and warmth and connection to people and beauty for your home. But it can last longer if it's hanging vertically rather than lying on your bed. The reason I mentioned that is as a result I like my quilts to still have that soft look as if it could be wrapped around you. When I see hard objects on quilts I have less of that feeling. But I like a lot of those quilts that I see people doing. There's a lot of very exciting approaches people have taken as far as their quilting.

HG: As I look around I see that you exhibit your quilts on the walls as you would display artwork. Do you exhibit your quilts at art shows or galleries?

DB: Yes, I've exhibited a lot. I've had a number of shows of my work alone and with other people. I enter competitions or quilt shows occasionally. I enjoy that a lot. I think it's really important to get the quilts out there for people to see and enjoy. I am very committed to trying to bring respect to this art form. I know that twenty years ago not only did hardly anybody do it, but it was almost laughed at. Fortunately, more and more people are recognizing the value and beauty of quilting and how exciting an art form it can be. I get a lot better responses about it. For a number of years I felt very strongly that it's important to assert that it is an art form. I always call myself an artist. I feel that's what I am. I feel most quilters should do that because it's a really important personal expression. Any opportunity I get to exhibit I take it.

HG: Are there any special exhibits that you've been in or awards that you've won that you could talk about?

DB: I received a Delaware Division of the Arts Fellowship Grant about five years ago. I've had two solo exhibits at the Division of Arts downtown, one five years ago when I received the grant, and one last summer.

HG: In Wilmington?

DB: In Wilmington. I also had a solo exhibit in November at the Christina Cultural Arts Center that was really special. I really enjoyed that exhibit. I've exhibited at some galleries locally and in Philadelphia. I've done a number of things. I always enjoy it. When you have an exhibit, the nice thing is that a lot of people come to the opening and you get a lot of feedback. You not only get a chance to talk about your feelings about quilts, which is always fun, but you have a lot of people talk to you about their feelings about quilts. People just love to talk about quilts! I really notice this comparing it with my days doing other forms of art. Often people are just tremendously constrained about talking about art to the artist; or they feel very self-conscious about their opinions; or they feel that they don't have validity even commenting on it if it's the more fine art form of painting. But if it's quilts, I mean everybody talks to you! The grandfather comes over to talk to you. I have people stopping to talk to me if they see me xeroxing something that has quilts on it and they'll start telling me stories about quilts. I think it's a wonderful conversational bridge between people that I don't see in a lot of other art forms. Art has that potential in every way. But I think particularly with contemporary art and modern art some people are very fearful about sticking their necks out to talk about it. But with a contemporary quilt they don't mind at all. It's funny.

HG: Have you sold any of your quilts?

DB: Yes, I have. Not a whole lot, but I do sell them. I try to find opportunities to do that. It's not a major source of income for me, but I wouldn't mind if it were.

HG: Do you work otherwise?

DB: I'm a homemaker, and I have done freelance artwork over the years. But this isn't a major form of support by any means. I'm very fortunate that we've made certain life decisions that made it possible for me to stay home raising the children. The quilting was something that I was able to do at the same time as part of that.

HG: Going along with that, how does your family react to your quilting?

DB: They're very positive. They're very supportive. They've grown up with them, so quilts are just part of their lives. They enjoy them a lot and they're always saying, "That one's mine,' and 'I get to keep that one.' [laughs.] I have an eighteen-year-old daughter and she's been influenced to the degree that she's interested in dyeing, tie-dyeing in particular. She doesn't do quilting per se but she certainly has a lot of artistic interests that I think have rubbed off from seeing the quilts. She does like fiber arts a lot that kind of thing.

HG: Is there anything in her school's program that involves textile arts?

DB: Actually, she goes to McKean High School and they have a very good textile art program and I believe they do some quilting, but she hasn't been involved with that at all. She's had other interests in high school, mostly music related and, you know, busy high school student things. I figure, well, she gets enough of that at home, the quilting stuff! [laughs.]

HG: What to you makes a great quilt?

DB: I like quilts that provoke me to think and stimulate me visually. I like things to be visually exciting but also have sort of an idea behind them, or at least a suggestion of an idea that I can think about and wonder about and be curious about. I'm also working on my quilts. This quilt is not one of my favorites, really. It was an exciting quilt and it was very challenging, and I think it will lead to something that I think will be very positive. It is in the process of leading to something. It was important for me to do it. But when I look at it I see all the flaws in it. You know, it's not a very successful quilt because it was a quilt where I was taking a step to push something new. In many places I don't think I was real successful doing that. Whereas this quilt [pointing to quilt hanging on the wall.], which was made before the one we have on the table here, I really like that. I had reached a point with the things I was trying to do where I really got to the point where I thought I was handling it really well and I was very pleased and satisfied.

HG: What is the title of that quilt?

DB: That one is called "Into the Slipstream." The titling part is pretty hard. [laughs.]

HG: I can imagine.

DB: It's fun, but sometimes you're constantly trying to think of a title.

HG: Are you a member of any other quilt guilds or any quilting groups?

DB: Yes, I belong to the Lady Bug Quilt Chapter.

HG: That's in Newark?

DB: They meet in the Newark area. I'm a member of a small group of quilters, more of an informal group of friends that are interested in contemporary quilting. We call ourselves "New Focus Quilters." We've had a couple of exhibits together where we just exhibit our work at a couple of places in town. I belong to the Newark Art Alliance. In the Newark Art Alliance, there's a subgroup called Loose Threads. Have you heard of it?

HG: Yes.

DB: The Loose Threads group are people who are interested in Fiber Arts, not necessarily quilting, but something related to fiber. That's where I've learned some of the experimental techniques like silk-screening and dyeing and other things I've been getting involved in.

HG: Have you taught any classes?

DB: I used to teach classes quite a bit and various quilting techniques. This was more than ten years ago. I've had some major health problems in the last fifteen years, and I reached a certain point where I felt the teaching of workshops and classes put too many demands on me. I had to make some choices, and I decided that the family issues were more important. The extra time I had I would rather devote to doing my own quilts rather than teaching. I did enjoy teaching.

HG: We have a few more minutes. Is there anything that you'd like to talk about that I haven't asked you today?

DB: I can't really think of anything. I think you've covered it. I don't know if you want to walk back and see where I work.

HG: Yeah. I'll close out the tape and then I'll turn it back on to describe your workspace. This is Heather Gibson. We've been talking to Deborah Barr at her home. The time now is 12:10. [tape shuts off.] This is Heather Gibson. I'm turning the tape recorder back on while Deb describes her studio.

DB: Well this is the main place I work. I'm showing you right now this board that I can tack fabrics onto as I play around with them to get an idea of how things fit together or how I want to lay out the background of my quilt. When I get to the point where that's all set together, I might start working with scraps or different colors. I usually have lots of scraps around so I can get the feeling of how a different color might look against a different background so I'll stick it up there and play around with it. I always have to stand far away to see how it's really going to look. It's nice to have it so that I can just experiment and move things around. I might decide that, 'Well, I'd really like to change this around.' Once I get it all set I'll pin it into place, take it down off of my board, start basting it--I always baste all those appliqué pieces into place- and then I take it someplace, maybe outside or something, where I can look at it from a really far distance. You like to see it from as many different points of view as you can before you start the final sewing process. That's how I work. Over here is where my sewing machine is. As you can see there isn't a whole lot of table space, so when I do machine quilting I have to move it where I have a bigger table. I should have this cleared off, but I tend to get clutter piled up. I keep my fabrics stored over in the closet.

HG: You have quite a stash.

DB: Yeah, I really do.

HG: These are fabrics that you've collected?

DB: Yeah, for the last twenty years I've been collecting fabric. Most people that quilt do that. They kind of accumulate a lot of things in their travels.

HG: You have them arranged in gradations like a painter's palette.

DB: That's really the philosophy I have towards it. A painter has a box of all the different possibilities of paint, and they can combine them to create the different colors they want. I like having at hand a lot of possibilities of fabric to use. Here's the fabric I've been dyeing. I'm kind of running out of space. I need to do some major rearranging in here because things are getting tight. These are all fabrics that I've dyed over the last couple of years. They're really fun to use. Then I started learning how to do the silk-screening and things like that.

HG: Do you do that in your home or in a studio somewhere?

DB: I actually usually do that out on the front porch. I have a big picnic table on the front porch. If it was really cold I would do it inside. Since it's kind of a messy process, it's usually safer to do it on the front porch. These are examples of a bleaching process.

HG: Is that a stamp on there?

DB: No. We learned a quickie silk-screen technique where instead of doing the image on the screen you just cut it out of some type of freezer paper and then you put it underneath the silk-screen frame and run the paint through. That causes the freezer paper cut out to stick to the bottom of the screen and you can just lift if up and move it around and it creates an effect just as if you had permanently put in on the screen. With this you do the same process but instead of using paint you a Clorox clear gel cleanser. You just squirt that on--

HG: And that bleaches it?

DB: Yes. I took this and squirted it on the fabric and very quickly it will cause a reaction. That's how I created that effect. Now what I would do is quickly run and put in water to arrest that so it wouldn't go too far. It could actually eat away at the fabric.

HG: Thanks for the demonstration.

DB: That's just one technique that's kind of fun, but there are other bleaching techniques. That's another good reason to do it outside. The bleaching techniques have quite obnoxious fumes. I started dyeing silk recently, too. I just learned how to do that. I don't think I'll be using that in my quilts, though.

HG: What kind of dye do you use on the silks?

DB: There are special French dyes that we've been using. I don't think I'll be incorporating the silks into my quilts, though, because I don't know about the durability as well as being able to quilt through. Let me show you a few more quilts. See here's the traditional Log Cabin. [Deb arranges her other quilts over her bed.]

HG: Tell me about some of the symbols that you use.

DB: [pointing to cross-type symbol.] Visually I wanted to have something that would draw your eye there. Actually, I got the image from a Matisse painting. He did some things with little black crosses with little gold crosses at their intersections. They weren't shaped exactly like that but it kind of gave me the idea that that would be fun to play around with. Kind of a little homage to Matisse. [laughs.] Also, I keep using snakes in a number of things and I'm not exactly sure why. For one thing, I love the shape of the serpent form.

HG: Did you model that after a real snake or did you kind of make it up?

DB: That one was just from looking. I like to look through nature books a lot, and I see pictures or diagrams. Plant forms especially appeal to me. Some of it I like just using very simple symbols. I think that's one of the things that is neat historically in quilting, very economical use of real simple symbols I think. I love using the shape of the hand or a heart or a small animal. Just very simple, simple things say a lot. It works very well with the medium, cutting out shapes in fabric. I love using a lot of plant imagery because it's very symbolic of birth and life, the renewal of nature, and all of those themes that I'm really interested in. These two are ones where I first started playing around with piecing the backgrounds. From there I evolved to using up little scraps. I started joining the little scraps together into strips, and incorporating them into backgrounds. Before that I did more traditional work like some of the other ones that I've shown you.

HG: Are these all your quilts on the walls?

DB: Most of these, yes.

HG: Well, I'll close out the interview once again. We've been talking to Deb Barr in her home and quilt studio in Delaware.

Collection



Citation

“Deborah Barr,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 16, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/49.