Monday, April 5, 2010

Interview series: Textile Artist, Neroli Henderson (that's me!)

This week I'm pleased to introduce... well, me! With Easter all the brilliant artists that I have begged, pleaded, bribed, cajoled and blackmailed into filling out questions have been a little busy. I'm happy to say I have next weeks US based artist Jane Davila ready and waiting to be edited now, but for this week you're going to have to settle for moi!

I have some questions from readers and I'll answer those and a few from the list i've posed to others.

'If a lava lamp and a bean bag had a love child' 2009 (POA) 
Click to enlarge pic
Designed during a Gloria Loughman class at last years AQC and assembled with mostly her techniques. Fused, pieced and raw edged applique, cotton fabrics, bobbin work with perle thread, satin stitched, intensively quilted and double batted.

 1. How long have you been quilting and what first drew you to it? 
I thought I hated sewing. As a child I'd attempt a pair of shorts and somehow manage to sew the hem of the leg to the waist band and then be horrible frustrated by all the unpicking. Sadly I wasn't a quick learner and often finished up doing the same mistake again. (I can honestly say I did indeed sew the hem of shorts to the waist band twice in a row! More recently I removed and replaced the wrong piece of organza from a reverse applique piece 3 times... I have a skill!)

My Mum has been into sewing and quilting for as long as I can remember. She lives interstate and came over once a year to do classes at the AQC (Australasian Quilting Convention) and offered one year to pay for me to do classes with her thinking I'd enjoy it. I said yes only to get some mother daughter time, and perhaps accrue some good daughter 'bonus points'. I figured I'd be bored silly but signed up for all artiest classes I could find. I did textile collage and free-motion sewing with Susan Mathews... and blocked up the machine with bobbin thread about 13 times over the course of the day, fused applique with Robbi Joy Ecklow (the less said of that the better) and painting fabric for landscapes (where I painted nothing but did fuse a basic landscape) with Beth & Trevor Reid. The one class that went without horror was free-motion embroidery with Morgan James - and that was due to me having already found out what not to do in Susan's class the day before.

Somehow, even with everything that went wrong I absolutely loved it. I had no idea you could effectively do collage with fabric or that things like fusible web and free-motion sewing even existed. I was already an artist and graphic designer and now had a whole new range of mediums to explore. That was 4 years ago.

Click all pics to enlarge
Hand dyed and commercial cotton fabrics, fusible web, metallic foil, Shiva oil paint sticks, decorative and metallic quilting. This piece started life in my 3rd ever day of sewing... and was only finished last year. :)

 2. How would you describe your style now? 
As I use so many techniques I used to think I didn't have a set style that unified my work beyond much of it using deep colours and possessing a sense of whimsy. On seeing a lot of it together I realised the main thing that seems to flow across all my work is the theme - the feeling of space and the emotions explored - loneliness, entrapment, confusion, lack of control and or being controlled.

 3. What inspires your quilts? - asked by Fran Cox 
Generally I either have in my head a picture that won't get out - that I get an urge to draw, more often I want to convey a feeling or situation. Often the paper seems to beckon for a particular emotion or image, and many of my quilts start out as sketches.

I had a pretty bad back fracture in 98 and spent a lot of years learning how to walk, spending way too much time horizontal and basically adapting to not being able to sit, stand or do much of what I could do easily before. This lead to a series of paintings where abstracted nudes were trapped within the boundaries of the canvas, and from there on to the themes mentioned above, though many of those are present even in my earlier works. I still have an affinity with the human figure, I guess I value even more now just how wonderful it is.

Soul Fishing (currently on loan) 2008
Ink on fabric, fused cotton, silk velvet, synthetic and metal, quilted, satin stitched and backed onto fabric coated fast to fuse.

 4. Apart from creating art what else to you do within the industry? 
I run this blog, have a line of patterns with (hopefully!) a few more coming out soon, create one off hand painted pictorial fabrics for use as whole cloth quilt tops, teach, write tutorials and participate in lots of online forums and yahoo groups. The later are a great way to both learn and pass on knowledge – and you get to meet some really fantastic people and seeing others work inspires me to create more myself.

Haven't sold any of the hand painted fabrics yet - they've been out for just a couple of weeks... so if you'd like to be the first (hint, hint) check out the link under the Pages heading on the RHS. :D (hey can't blame me for trying!)
'Fused Flower - Poppy' 2007
One of two flowers in my easy Fused Flower pattern - $6 as a PDF
Fused cotton fabrics, machine stitched with rayon threads.

 5. What's the best advice you could give someone who wants to try quilting or textile art for the first time? 
Don't listen to the 'quilt police'! Who cares if you can't sew a 1/4" seam or sew a straight line to save yourself? Or even if you want to work with textiles without sewing at all - that's why fusibles were invented :) It's art, you can do it however you want. My one rule is that it has to be made to last - you can't have someone buying your work and then having it fall apart in a few years. But if you're just making it for yourself or expect it to have a short lifespan then that doesn't count either!

Of course if you want to do pieced work or traditional patchwork that 1/4" seam will come in handy....

 6. Do you exhibit your work? 
Yes. I've only entered 3 things so far - A challenge run by Unique Stitching where I won first prize at the AQC in 2008 for 'The end of beauty', a self portrait exhibition the following year and a traveling journal quilt exhibition with Australian / New Zealander Art Quilters internet based yahoo group.

I've just started to enter juried shows and have fingers crossed until I hear back from the first one. 
'The end of beauty' 2008 
Unique Stitching challenge winner (beginner section) AQC 2008
Synthetic fabrics, Angelina fibre, Textiva, Tyvek, Lumiere paint, heat gunned and solder iron cut and bonded to a vinyl backing. This piece pays homage to my Dad who died of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma in 2001 after 11 years battling the disease. It shows how even with fragility and decay there can still be beauty, and how everything has an end, no matter how much we want it to last forever.

 7. Can you explain why cotton is recommended over synthetics? Do you need to prewash?- asked by Judy Bancks 
For traditional quilting cotton has been used for many years. It's a natural fibre and as such breathes well. Most patchwork shops specialise in cotton too which helps if you want to use many fabrics from the one range. The main benefit for most quilters is knowing that it should all shrink at the same rate. If you do piecing and use synthetics or blends it's possible that some will shrink more then others - causing bubbles to appear in your quilting.

I've also found the least colour fast of my fabrics to be blends.

That said for my own work I use whatever suits - I often mix silk and cotton with a little synthetic for shine or sparkle, and often use synthetics alone for my wall quilts as they enable me to melt and burn, cut and fuse with a soldering iron and distort with a heat gun.

I always prewash, but it's a personal choice. I would hate to do a quilt with a white area that has colours bleed into it when washed, and removing any coatings or sizing means it will both fuse better and accept dye or paint. I prewash every fabric I buy using the hottest water I'll be likely to wash my finished project in. That way I don't need to worry about shrinkage or keep track of which pieces are washed if I do want to paint them.

'Dogwood' 2008  21 x 30cm (8.25 x 12") $220  Email to buy
Layered and solder cut and scored reverse appliqued synthetic fabrics, free-motion stitching and satin stitched edge. Metallic threads.

 8. There's so many choices in textile art these days, how do you decide what to try? - asked by Meg Lancaster
I generally find a material or technique appeals because I like the effect i've seen it give. Some products like Angelina or Textiva I just love the look of so much in the packet I immediately want to give them a go. Other times I will see an effect in a book and love it so much I get an urge to try it as soon as possible. Many other things like water soluble stabiliser, wash out spray baste and glues or reposition-able fusible web beckon because they can make my work so much quicker and easier; allowing me to try things that without them would have been far too time consuming or tricky.

'Seascape' 2009  30 x 30cm (12 x 12") $260  Email to buy
Collaged cotton and synthetic fabrics, overheated Textiva Film, metallic free-motion stitching, satin stitched edge, machine embroidered birds.

 9. Where do your ideas come from? -asked by Judy Bancks 
While occasionally I work from a sketch created with no formal thought at it's conception, I can't say how important I believe it is to have a range of experiences that will give you fuel for creative work. Even if you just go for a walk in the park make sure you really look around - notice any flowers, even if they are just weeds, the pattern and textures of bark on the trees, the way the smog creates haze etc. And if you can: travel, dive, visit new parts of your own town or city, immerse yourself in another culture even if it's just via the internet. The more experiences you absorb the more your own aesthetic will be refined and the more you'll have to draw ideas from.

For me I like to study people, how they interact, how they manage emotion. Often they are the sort of things I prefer to portray in my art.

'The Yearning' (8.25 x 12") $220 Email to buy
Fused synthetic fabrics and organza overlay on felt. Machine needle felted from the reverse and free-motion stitched with metallic thread. Edges have been melted into with a soldering iron and metal hinges etc were used as templates for scoring the surface. This is one of the pieces that explores the confinement and inability to move beyond current circumstance.

 10. Which comes first – the fabric or the creative idea? - asked by Susie Riley 

I often buy fabric with an idea in mind - it sometimes screams 'cushion!' or 'quilt that looks like "this!"'. However when I went to answer this question I realised that I can't think of a single thing were i've purchased the fabric that way and it's been made! I have often ended up using the fabric for other, completely unrelated ideas.

So for some reason I guess that the things that get made are the ones that I feel such an affinity with at the current time that they just press against my head until I start to create them – and those things tend to either be from sketches or an image in my head that while hasn't been ever drawn up is usually firm enough that I can easily visualise the entire thing.

The only exception I can think of is when a material seems to lend itself so much to a particular application it will be used for that - but often not in the way I first imagined. A good example of this is Textiva film as wings. When I first got it I was thinking of making a quilt featuring a fairy with iridescent wings. Instead it got used for this butterfly - a commission for a birthday present. The design is in my upcoming butterfly pattern that will hopefully be available for sale soon.
Fused Textiva film on 3 layers of black glass organza. Entirely cut and fused with a soldering iron. 

 11. What sewing machine / threads etc do you use? 
I do most of my work on my
Pfaff Performance 2056 which is a brilliant machine. I also have a combined embroidery / sewing machine - a Brother 4000D which I've had trouble with tension for free-motion sewing from the get go, but it does great computerised embroideries. I have a Pfaff embellisher (needle felting machine) which is a lot of fun and a Babylock overlocker which every single time I use it makes me give thanks for not having any tension settings to deal with and the air-jet threading. It really does help having a Mother who owned a patchwork and machine store :)

For threads I have so many brands but my favorites are King Tut egyptian cotton (have never had it break once!) for quilting, Madeira rayons (love the variegated colours they have in their metallic range) and lastly Superior Bottom Line (an ultra fine poly thread designed for bobbin use but strong enough to use for piecing and quilting - the khaki and grey colours seem to dissolve into the background making your stitching virtually invisible).

 12. Do you have any formal art training? Do you think it's necessary? 
I studied a year of Art and Design at TAFE after high school in order to get a folio together for uni, and then completed a Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design.

Since then I try and do workshops and classes regularly, whenever I see anything that appeals. I love to learn new techniques and enjoy working in a group and getting ideas from other participants as well as the teacher.

I think there are certainly people who produce amazing work without any technical training but I do think it's helpful. Techniques with materials are handy, but learning about design principles and how others view them can really help your design garner maximum impact.

I love to get feedback! Please comment below if you have any thoughts on this article or what you'd like to see more or less of in future interviews. –Neroli Henderson



  1. Thank you for doing this interview! Great questions put through and love the answers! I too have that thing about fabrics, they too talk to me, (my sources are op shop clothing!) i think "dragons, creatures and other animals generally" hardly ever see the fabrics as what they are, as clothes. The threads used was enlightening, I had not heard of King Tut Egyptian cotton, though with the very many threads used in your work i can see why. A broken thread will be very distracting.
    I too love to work freehand, preliminary sketches sometimes helps but my ideas live in my head and that is where i usually work.
    Thanks you again for your lovely interview it was both informative and fun to read.

  2. Neroli,

    Great interview, with some interesting insights to the way you work, and the materials you use.

    I have dabbled with a lot of textile art materials and techniques but I don't like the mess (I like gardening and getting my hands dirty ...) so keep working in traditional styles, but we use the same threads, and of course fusibles and spray glues are essential materials to have on my shelf.

    Like you I sometimes have a picture in my mind of how a fabric will be used, but them use it for something else!

    Nice to know that traditional and art quilters are closely related!

    Judy B

  3. Great article Neroli. Very informative article on the hows and whys.
    I buy fabric that 'speaks' to me, sometimes it gets used how I envisaged sometimes it hibernates waiting. My background is in Fashion and Design (2 years at TAFE). I have the cutting and piecing skills need more work on the drawing aspect.
    Perhaps we should trade with lessons in our individual skills.

  4. great interview neroli you are such a positive force :) i really love the lines and colours in your work

  5. Great interview Neroli - it must be quite tricky interviewing yourself!!! but you have done it well

  6. Neroli
    Fantastic interview on yourself. Yes it must be tricky doing your own.
    Just loved knowing a bit more about you and your style.
    I to have a Babylock overlocker. The only one in my book with the air-jet threading.
    You write so well.

  7. Another interesting interview Neroli - some fabulous work too - love your beanbag/lava lamp quilt!
    Good luck with the juried exhibitions.

  8. Neroli,
    I love your blog and your art is just fabulous. (I'm coming here from LearningFA.) I just completed my first "art" quilt--you inspire me to do more! I see a long and successful career for you! Best to you, dear girl.

  9. Thank you everyone!!

    Purr-Furr, loved your blog and have started to follow it myself :) Because I use a lot of metallic / holographics and other specialty threads if I don't use the good quality ones they can break a lot - especially as I tend to sew with my foot to the floor and do some much direction changing.

    Judy I'm not a big mess person -but do you mean on the desk or on your work? Most of the techniques I use are easily done without major mess, as long as i'm in my studio. Did some work at a friends house today and as I traipsed over 3 bags of things to play with and we had one dining table it got pretty messy :)

    Fran would love to trade some of your knowledge for mine. Would really like to learn more about sewing clothes and making a block up to fit me now. Need to get a trouser block made up too and don't know anyone that knows pattern making well.

    Di / Del I didn't find it hard to interview myself, but I think too much about why I do things at the best of times. Was actually interesting, especially to realise that I can't think of one thing I purchased fabric specifically for that got finished... and it's not like I haven't bought a lot of fabric with specific use in mind :)

    Linda just heard back re the Manly New Quilt exhibition today and sadly didn't get my piece in. However the good news is that now I can show it off as they had the unusual precursor of not having published it anywhere - even just to friends on facebook.

    Beverly if I really inspire you to create more I'm a very happy camper indeed :) that's kinda wonderful!

    Thanks to everyone who's commented so far!

  10. Thanks for an an interesting blog, Neroli, I only just discovered it but I've bookmarked it to come back occasionally. On the cottons question - just to add a little - there are various historic reasons, affordability and availability, why cotton was used traditionally - but the other is that by comparison with blends 100 cotton handles well and holding it's shape after seams are pressed, and for handling I favour cotton myself, although like you say, if I like it and it works, I'll use it despite any limitations..

  11. Thanks for adding that Alison. I love it when people put more information in the comments section, some of the best hints in my 'Tips for freemotion sewing on a domestic machine' post came from others in the comments section!

    A lot of my work is fused and what I do piece is often improvisational piecing, only cut to an exact size before joining with surrounding pieces, so for me I can use synthetics without limitations much of the time. I love the feel of natural fibres, silk and cotton specifically but also bamboo and wool, but do find so many reasons to incorporate synthetics as sheers or to add dimension or shine. If I was making a bed or lap quilt I'd want to use almost entirely natural fibres, but that's purely as i prefer those against my skin.

    If it's your first time to my blog check out the other interviews in this series, there have been some really talented artists and next weeks will be drool worthy too!

  12. Great interview, Neroli, and the photos of your work were a bonus. It seems to me that it's pretty clear that you have an art background, as the design element of your quilts is very powerful. The butterfly is a triumph, combining fragility with the luminous. Thanks for your blog, and your interview series.

  13. Thanks Julia! It's really nice to know that it's visible. Textiles is quite removed from a design degree so it's great to hear that some of what i've learned has come across. I sometimes wonder if I should have done a fine art degree instead and if I ever get to the point where I can do another one (physically and financially) I'd like to give it a go still.

  14. Hi Neroli

    I just discovered your blog via Cameron L. Your artwork is breathtaking. I love the one you did with autumnal tones. A beautiful tribute to your dad (so sorry about his passing). You've got a true talent. Such an interesting medium. Except for the issue of those pesky funds I could see 'Solcea' on my wall. I may have to save my pennies.

    Michelle (Banks) Roger :)

  15. Hi Michelle, thanks so much! Just went and went your blog on Dysautonomia and laughed myself silly, which was not the expected result!!!