Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Interview series: Fiona Hammond, Quilt and Jewelry Designer

I was lucky enough to meet Fiona Hammond  a passionate beader, quilt designer and textile artist  last year in Melbourne. She came to visit me with many of her brilliant time-intensive pieces, it was great to see her works in person and hear about their creation. I was really impressed by the quality of her work (she individually couches single beads to ensure lines curve just so!), her enthusiam for textiles and willingness to share techniques. Her work is intensely colourful and rich with sensuous fabrics, intricate beading and contrasting textures.

Fiona is a natural teacher and describes herself as a"creative omnivore" since she has adored creative arts since childhood and lives her life trying to fit in as many creative pursuits and techniques as possible. Her business Chiatanya Designs combines her love of teaching and textiles.

'Cosmic Catherine Wheel' 2005 (detail)
This small wall quilt is Fiona's very first bead embellished piece.
Cotton, freemotion quilting, hand couched layered beading and peyote-beaded bezel.

 1. How long have you been quilting and what first drew you to it? 

Although I  have been sewing since childhood, I only started quilting in January 1999 after being utterly captivated by the Braidwood Quilt Event in late 1998. I remember standing in front of my sister Kate’s quilt which features luscious jewel-toned fabrics, and muttering to myself: “Oh this is quilting? I could do this. I really want to do this!”

 2. How would you describe your style now? 

I consider myself to be a contemporary quilter, I love to create my own designs and techniques, and then teach these to others. I started out making more traditional quilts, though always with vibrant colours. I still love doing machine piecing – there’s something so enjoyable about stitching pieces of fabric together!

I remember when I made my first truly original quilt – a design that combines a Celtic knot with raw-edge appliqué leaves and a non-standard quilt shape, called “Meditation Upon Hidden Mysteries of Ancient Times”. I woke up one morning in 2003 with the design for this quilt in my mind – I sketched it and wrote some notes so I’d remember my “vision” for the quilt. It wasn’t completed until 2004, but I loved the whole process – from concept to completion it was all up to me to work it out, rather than rely on a particular technique or layout. It was a very freeing experience, and I was suddenly hooked on creating my own truly original quilts.

“Meditation Upon Hidden Mysteries of Ancient Times” 2004

This quilt features a Celtic knot with raw-edge appliqué leaves and a non-standard quilt shape. This quilt marked Fiona’s move into creating quilts of her own design instead of relying on standard block patterns or layouts. 

 3. How has your style evolved? 

My style has evolved partly in response to new techniques I’ve learnt along the way, and partly through my desire to create quilts that are somewhat different to others I’ve seen in exhibitions or magazines. I am very self-motivated, and often describe myself as an “ABM girl” (“all by myself”) – I seem to get the most pleasure from playing with techniques and ideas so I can do things in my own way. It’s great to learn new techniques through workshops etc. but ultimately I want to use these techniques in my own way rather than make my version of another person’s design.

In recent years I have become besotted with bead embellishment (bead embroidery). Many of my smaller textile pieces have some element of beadwork – generally a main feature of the design, such as my small wall hanging called “Cosmic Catherine Wheel” (2005).

My small wall quilt “Botanical Oddity” (2008) combines several techniques that I am enjoying lately: needle felting, bead embellishment and textural hand stitching (hand quilting). The beadwork takes a long time in these works (approx. 60 hours in this piece) but - more than any other technique - I find beadwork very meditative. I love to “get into the zone” and just bead for hours!

“Botanical Oddity” 2008
This small wall quilt features extensive bead embellishment radiating out from the centre of the flower. The centre and petal edges were created using a needle-felting machine. The background features textural hand-stitching using variegated silk yarns. Detail photo below.

Jewellery using beading/bead embellishment techniques is another part of my work, and some of my pieces have won awards, which is most gratifying. My beaded neckpiece “Turquoise Treasure” has won several awards, including Grand Champion Craft Exhibit at the Royal Canberra Show in 2009 (judged against the first place winners from each of the different categories in the Craft Expo of the Show).
“Turquoise Treasure” 2008
This beaded neckpiece features a turquoise cabochon plus other turquoise beads and glass leaf beads stitched onto kimono silk fabric. It was awarded the Grand Champion Craft Exhibit at the 2009 Royal Canberra Show

Another of my beaded neckpieces, “Nature’s Treasures”, was awarded joint first place in the Goulburn Art Award in 2009 (the prize for this is an exhibition – with the other two winners at the Goulburn Regional Art Gallery in December 2010. I am currently working on my pieces for this exhibition, with my focus being bead embellishment onto various textiles to create small sculptural artworks). 

“Nature’s Treasures” 2008
This beaded neckpiece has won several awards, including joint first place in the 3D category of the 2009 Goulburn Art Award. Detail below.

 4. Apart from creating art what else to you do within the industry? 

Besides enjoying creating quilts, I teach workshops in quilting (my own designs and techniques – generally with a contemporary style) and many forms of beadwork – both off-loom techniques and bead embellishment. I love to combine beads with textiles in whatever way I can, and am always keen to play with new ideas and combinations. I consider myself a “teacher for hire” and am willing to travel to wherever I am invited to teach. So far my workshops have been held in various places around Australia, but I hope to teach overseas in the future too.

I have also created various projects for Australian beading, quilting and textile art magazines. (editors note – Fiona has a tutorial on needle felting in the current issue of Down Under Textiles, a brilliant new Australian contemporary textile art magazine.)

 5. What's the best advice you could give someone who wants to try quilting or textile art for the first time? 

Be guided by your enthusiasm and interests – in other words, if you feel drawn to trying a particular technique just read up on it (books or magazines) - or better still, attend a workshop – and then try it out. It doesn’t matter if your first (or 21st) piece isn’t a masterpiece. Just remember that it should be a pleasurable experience, so if you find you don’t enjoy it after giving it a fair trial, then perhaps move on to another technique instead.

Tutors who are enthusiastic about the techniques they teach, and competent in their teaching delivery,  can really give you a good start in any new creative activity. Many of my students – particularly in my beadwork classes – find that one workshop is usually enough to teach them the necessary jargon and basic techniques. It is then possible to teach yourself more – either from your own creative play with the techniques or from magazines and books.

If you wait for the free time, inspiration, knowledge, etc. to magically arrive at your feet, you won’t get very far. You have to make a conscious decision to try something, and make the time for it. When I first got the quilting bug, I actually marked out particular days on the calendar as quilting days. It worked! 

“Reflections on Connections” 2006
This quilt was begun in a workshop with Jenny Bowker where participants designed their own art quilt using Jenny’s technique of isolating one element in a picture from nature. 


 6. Do you exhibit and sell your work?  

I belong to several groups, guilds and associations, and each of these has an annual or biennial exhibition. I try to make a suitable piece for each of these. This is wonderful exposure – and great fun (I have always loved the “show-and-tell” aspect of belonging to such groups…).

The major shows, such as guild-based quilt exhibitions, can even offer awards and prizes. I was incredibly happy to win the Down Under Quilts Best Use of Colour Award for my small quilt “Botanical Oddity” at the Canberra Quilters annual exhibition in 2008.

I have also exhibited a selection of my quilts and beaded items at Braidwood (a historic rural town in NSW, Australia) in a joint exhibition with my friend Wilma Cawley, a textile artist from Canberra. This same venue is now the Material Arts Studio Gallery –  a gallery specialising in textiles and jewellery and run by my sister Kate.), and I sell some of my quilts, beaded pieces and jewellery there.

Travelling exhibitions also interest me. I belong to ATASDA (Australian Textile Art and Surface Design Association) whose members sometimes create special pieces based on a theme, and these travel around Australia to textile groups, schools, and other interested people. I have a piece called “Maharajah’s Fantasy Bloom” in the current travelling suitcase exhibition titled “Maharajah’s Garden”. For this piece I created a large piece of needle-felted fabric on water-soluble stabiliser, to which I added a purple velvet swirly design, with beading all around it. 

“Maharajah’s Fantasy Bloom” 2010 
This small wall hanging was made for the ATASDA travelling suitcase exhibition called Maharajah’s Garden. It is currently travelling around Australia. Needle-felted background with velvet appliquéd design and bead embellishment to accentuate the shape. Detail below.

 7. Do you belong to any quilt associations? If so how did you choose which ones? 

I belong to several associations. Two are quilt guilds: Canberra Quilters Inc. and The Quilters Guild of NSW. Two are textile art associations: ATASDA and ACTTAA (ACT Textile Art Association). I also belong to the Bead Society of Victoria (the only beading guild in Australia), and the Surface Design Association (USA). I am a member of the latter primarily to receive their excellent journal. I am a fairly active member of the other associations mentioned – it is such a buzz to interact with like-minded creative people!

I am also a member of several online chat groups, including the Australian and New Zealand Art Quilters Group, and Southern Cross Quilters. These two groups are an incredible resource – there’s always someone who can answer those questions you think up in the middle of the night, and they have some interesting creative challenges and exhibitions too.

"Velvet Slivers” 2005
An example of Fiona Hammond's Curvaceous Squares Quilt Technique. This has been one of her most popular two-day workshops.

 8. What is the best advice you could give someone who wants to seriously pursue being a textile artist? 

If one seriously wants to get into textile art, I feel the most important thing is to focus on it do it as much as you can. There’s a great little maxim that I love: “What you focus on becomes stronger.”  I believe this to be true, and the more you think about, muse upon and follow your creative practice, the better you get at it. In my experience this is also the way to find your own creative voice.

If you have no idea how to start, why not simply read appropriate magazines and books, and if there’s a local textile art group in your area, join up. Groups tend to run workshops for members, so you will learn a lot this way. And just spending time with people of like mind can spur you on greatly.

When I first read the American magazine Quilting Arts (many years ago now) I got so excited that I couldn’t keep my feet still! My husband saw me practically drooling over an issue of this magazine at the kitchen table, and asked what was the matter… I declared excitedly – without even thinking about it – “I want to be a textile artist!”.  I have worked towards that end ever since. That old expression about being careful what you wish for can be true in a positive way too.

Once you have found your interests within the broad spectrum of textile art, keep at it as often as you can. Try new techniques and ideas often. Exhibit if you feel comfortable with this concept. And most importantly, do what you love. I think the greatest examples of textile art I’ve seen have the intensity of the artist’s creative soul infused in the work. It just shines out and you can’t miss it. Being true to your own creative muse is a must. 

“Material Midden” 2005
One of Fiona's favourite quilts created with her signature colours. It began in a workshop in New Zealand with tutor Cheryl Comfort.

 9. What are you most inspired by? 

Pattern, colour and texture. I find these things in my everyday surroundings – even the patterns made by drops of water on my shower screen have been calling out to me lately…

Colour has had me in its grasp my whole life. I particularly favour vibrant colours, and I am often profoundly influenced by the colours I experience in nature. I have just returned from a holiday in Central Australia, where the juxtaposition of intense red ochres (soil and rocks) and soft tertiary greens (vegetation fuelled by recent rare rains in the area) has me whirring with excitement and hanging out to create something quilty and beady in these colours. 
“Beaded Journal Cover” 2008
This is one of the samples Fiona shows in her various bead embellishment workshops.

 10. What sewing machine / threads etc do you use? 

Most of my sewing machines have been Berninas. I learnt to sew on my mother’s old Bernina 44 years ago (and she’s still using the same machine today!).  I have the Bernina 153 QE. I use various threads for my quilts and textile art pieces, depending primarily on what’s in my stash. I often buy threads at craft shows – generally I am lured into a purchase simply because the thread colour or finish is so delectable to me! It doesn’t bother me to mix different brands, weights and finishes in one artwork – so long as I like the look of it I’ll use it.

 11. Do you have any formal art training? Do you think it's necessary? 

Art was my favourite and best subject all through high school, and at teachers’ college in the 1970s I took Fine Arts as an elective subject. However, I suspect this underpinning knowledge is not vital for an artist. Sure, it can be helpful to have learnt colour theory, design theory, and how to wield a pencil, brush, or pair of scissors for that matter.

But I think there are plenty of very talented textile artists out there who are pretty-much self-taught – and all power to them! Side-stepping the usual training/theory etc. can often lead an artist to their own unique techniques and artistic practice. Art should always be subjective, in my opinion. If an artist worries more about how others will regard their artworks than how they feel about the pieces themselves, I suspect they are missing the point.
“Hanging Gardens Pendant” 2009
This necklace features a lovely lepidolite cabochon, with bead embellishment onto silk

 12. What's the most rewarding thing about your career?  

Gosh, where do I start… The absolute best thing is that i love my work. I even enjoy writing up and formatting my printed notes for my students (in fact it is a point of honour with me that I provide the best printed notes that I can at the time).

However, it could also be the little grin I do when I say to my husband – as I walk towards my studio – “I’m just going to work now.” And I walk in and sit at my sewing table or beading table and get creative. Surely life doesn’t get much better than this?!

Being able to inspire students to create their own quilts, beading or whatever, and pass on my knowledge in these areas, is something I have loved all my life. I knew from the age of 3 that I wanted to be a teacher. After teaching in primary schools, language schools (in Japan), and my own aromatherapy college, I have found the form of teaching that utterly fulfils my desire to teach. It is such a wonderful thing to show the creative techniques I love most to people who really want to learn them.
"Raspberry Lime Splice” 2008
Another example of Fiona Hammond's Curvaceous Squares Quilt Technique, one of her most popular two-day workshops

 13. How did you learn the techniques you use? 

I was a self-taught quilter for several years. I then discovered how much I could learn from workshops and have done many of these over the years. I have attended beading classes too, but with this I find I sometimes prefer to make up my own way of doing things.  

I have a terrible magazine and book habit. My bookshelves are full-to-bursting, and still I can’t help but buy more. I wish I could say I have read them all cover to cover…but at least they are there for me when I suddenly need a bit of information in the wee small hours… Living in a rural area, fairly far away from suitable shops, I have found that it is better to have something on the shelf for ages - so that it is there when I need it, rather than get frantic in the middle of a project because that little bit of information is not in my head or on my bookshelf…

Now that I have been quilting and beading for some years, I have enough experience to experiment quite successfully with various techniques. This is such fun – even if it turns out that others have discovered the same techniques or results from their own creative play. Fortunately, “synchronous invention” doesn’t mean that the resulting artworks will look the same.

Fiona's Studio

Above: Fiona's sewing table with sewing machine and needle-felting machine set up. In the background you can see her beading table and another table with a lighting tent used for photographing various steps of projects, and for workshop notes. 
Below:The beading work area. Fiona's studio doubles as her home laundry and she often has to excavate her desk areas before she can begin work.

 14. What are your favorite and least favorite parts of the quilting process?  

I love the initial inspiration and design phases of the quilting process. I’m not especially talented at drawing, though I will often make simple sketches of my ideas in my visual diary.

When I am making something using my own made-up techniques or designs, the challenge of getting it to all work out is really pleasurable. I sometimes spend many days, weeks, or even months reviewing the design concepts in my mind before actually starting the artwork. I thoroughly enjoy this!

There’s not really any aspect of my quilting process that I don’t enjoy. The only thing that irritates me is lack of time to finish a piece by a certain deadline. This can sometimes turn a pleasurable experience into one laced with frustration. But overall I find joy in the whole procedure.

Finishing that last stitch and trimming the thread, then standing back to see the completed item can be enormously satisfying – another item done! Yay!

“Bollywood Dreaming” 2006
Fiona created this necklace for 'Beads etc' magazine's art challenge in 2006 and won first prize. The theme was "Stars of Bollywood."

  Fiona's upcoming Australian workshops: 

• May 29 & 30, 2010 
Bead Embellishment Explorations II: “Encrustations” - 3D and textural effects
Two-day retreat at my property in rural NSW
    • July 15 & 16, 2010
    Bead Embellishment Explorations II: "Encrustations" -3D and textural effects. 
    To be held in Ryde, Sydney.
      • August 28, 2010 
      Capturing Cabochons - beading workshop
      Studio Amara in Berrima Southern Highlands of NSW
        • September 11 & 12, 2010
        Curvaceous Squares Quilt workshop
        Dalby Quilters group, QLD
          • September 18 & 19, 2010
          “Celtic Inspirations Quilt” 
          Two-day workshop at AQA Symposium in Melbourne
            • October 9, 2010 
            “Bead-dazzling Bits and Pieces” 
            Beading workshop for ATASDA in Sydney
              • October 16, 2010 
              Guest speaker at meeting of the Southern Highlands Textile Group, NSW
                • October 23 & 24, 2010
                Bead Embellishment Explorations III: Beading the Void. 
                Two-day retreat at my property in rural NSW
                  • October 30 & 31 - two one-day workshops at The Quilters' Stash in Murrumburrah in NSW (next to Harden, near Young) - probably one bead embellishment workshop and one quilted bag workshop
                    • December 8 - 18, 2010 - exhibition at Goulburn Regional Art Gallery

                    For more information on these workshops please see her event page here.

                    Fiona's website has jewellry kits, a comprehensive list of her workshops and a gallery of her work. 
                    To contact Fiona directly please email her here. 

                    I hope you enjoyed this interview and love to read your comments, please leave them by clicking on the 'comments' link below. –Neroli Henderson


                    1. Great interview - i love Fiona's use of colour and texture.

                    2. Another interesting interview and lovely things to look at!

                    3. Thanks Lisa and Linda. The amount of single bead couching and hours into each work are what floors me, particularly as I do almost no hand sewing. I love the combinations of technique too.

                    4. Thanks for this interview Neroli. I do love Fiona's work and I am in awe of her creativity and productiveness, she is a real dynamo. Her creations are always so rich with colour and movement, I love them all!

                    5. Thanks Bellbird, glad you liked it. If you haven't already check out the other artist interviews. There's a list of links to them on the RHS of the blog.

                    6. I just got this comment posted to me but it seemed to make it to the wrong blog post.... The authors sign in name was 'Granny':

                      I worked with Fiona at ACTTAA Bazaar last September and her creativity shone through in this area also.
                      The photos of Fiona's work are excellent. It is of great interest to see many examples of her work in one place.
                      For those of us who are not good with colour (but would like to be) Fiona's work provides inspiration.

                    7. Hi, I stumbled across this interview by chance and am floored by the beauty of this artists' work. Very beautiful. I enjoyed it all and will now go check out her web site. I'm over here in the USA so I can't attend her workshops, too bad. Thanks for this.

                    8. Hi Jan, really glad to hear you enjoyed it. She does do wonderful work! You'll have to find her a large shop in the US near you to fly over and do a workshop at, I know she doesn't mind traveling if the expenses are paid for (so would need to be a large group to cover air fares) and she's hoping to do international classes this year.

                      There's a list of of the other artist interviews i've done on the RHS of my blog if you'd like to read more. There's one american artist there and I have a new interview coming out soon with an amazing landscape quilt artist. Should be up next Friday fingers crossed, will depend on how much "real" work I have on this week!

                    9. I was lucky enough to have one on one teaching with Fiona in 2009 and she has to be one of the most amazing teachers ever. I am a huge fan. This was a great interview, really comprehensive and capturing the amazing energy and creative vitakity that is Fiona. Wouldn't it be great if you could bottle that and apply when necessary! Robyn Ayaz in Newcastle

                    10. Of course I meant vitaLity - oops. I don't think Fiona sleeps and to watch her bead is something else.

                    11. beautiful desing, Thanks for sharing. Keep posting like this. :-)
                      Front Designs-usa-beading
                      Border Designs