Kit Vincent came to quilting for a very practical reason – she wanted a large piece of textile art for her dining room wall. She now creates original art exploring color and texture with dyes and layers of fabric. To Kit, fabric is less as cloth and more as un-primed and un-stretched ground for her abstract creations.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there?
I have always loved making art.
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When I need a quick creative fix, I will sketch with whatever is handy. I keep several notebooks going in almost every room of the house, even in the car. Pen and ink are favourites with acrylic paints and collage (both fabric & paper) as runners up.
When sketching, I see myself as being on a hunt – searching for shapes, patterns and objects that move me. It may be a shadow, shade, movement, weather, music or someone else’s art.
When was the first time that you remember realizing that you are a creative person?
As a little kid, a favourite pastime was rifling through books, stopping only for the coloured illustrations. The books I most valued had a substantial selection of colourful pages.
When I was little, I ruined a set of encyclopedias with my big box of coloured crayons. As a student in a catholic boarding school, I had a missal stuffed with a big stack of colourful holy pictures. These were actively traded with fellow students. In no time, I was producing my own ‘holy pictures’ that were soon entered into the trade, lol.
Why textiles? How does that medium best express what you want to communicate through your art?
I had a not so early start with textiles and came to quilting through the back door for a very practical reason.
A few years ago, my new dining room was an echo chamber. The room needed something large on the wall to dampen sounds. I thought a large colourful abstract masterpiece would be perfect, but it was not in the budget. Given the required size, my only option was to try to make something myself. After all I could sew a bit, I thought… and the easiest approach would be to make some sort of ‘wall hanging’. What I knew about quilting back then you could put in a teacup.
I found an article in Threads on Judith Lazelere’s work that described her strip piecing technique in detail. I was impressed not only with her beautiful large quilts but also with this efficient technique that needed no extra quilting I thought, only piecing…perfect! Inspired by this, my very first quilt measured no less than 8 by 8 feet. It hung beautifully in my dining room for several years even though it was a technical a mess in back. More importantly,I had caught the quilting bug.
Back at the library, I soon came across Nancy Crow’s work – a quilting giant. Her large bold fabric compositions stopped me in my tracks and were proof that sewing and quilting could be fine art. Nancy Crow’s stunning work reminded me of the large colourful mid-20th century abstract paintings that I loved so much. I immediately signed up for her classes and I have benefitted from her creative spirit and artistic insight ever since. This was the kind of work I wanted to do.
I learned how to compose and piece, large abstract and semi abstract compositions. I soon found that I was successful in shaping fabric with a freehand rotary cutter and composing directly on a flannel-covered design wall.
Where do you find your inspiration for your designs?
Inspiration can be elusive….for me, there is no formula. Travel, a news item or simply a piece of fabric will do the trick. In the case of Mégantic, I happened to be listening to a news item – the disastrous train derailment at Lac Mégantic in Quebec on July 6, 2013. The quiet, organized stillness of my studio jarred with the chaotic sounds of witness descriptions coming over the airwaves. A runaway train crashed and dumped six million litres of petroleum crude oil into the town centre and its lake, killing 46 people. The fire ball burned for days and could be seen from space. Indeed, that night the water was on fire in Lac Mégantic.
My work changed that year. I began to let go of the clean quilted surfaces and the no loose threads of past work. My preference was to cut and layer fragile strips of raw fabric over a composed substrate. In this case, the fragility of delicate strips of raw fabric over a composed, gridded substrate seemed appropriate.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
Working with cloth excites the explorer in me. I have found fabric to be a sensual and easily manipulated ground. It can be made to have weight, mass, and texture.
The processes that I use allow me to build in texture and layered meaning into this work. My aim is to discover new expressions that feel contemporary but are rooted in the history and practice of quilting. I use a mix of surface design with traditional quilting techniques, beginning with white fabric that I dye and paint. It is less constraining than stretched canvas. It can be dyed, painted, folded, cut, stitched and embroidered at will.
I see fabric less as cloth and more as un-primed, un-stretched ground. I’ve always been interested in the physicality of cloth and the physical process of constructing the quilt sandwich. For me, this is something that’s at the core of this work. I savour ‘the new’ that comes through this process.
What do you do to keep yourself motivated?
When stuck, I will turn to the tried and true approaches that are out there – I will take a break, explore a new medium, visit a museum, scroll through Instagram (dangerous…this can be addicting) or I will cover up current work, look away and start something new. The idea is to come back to it later.
Best yet, I recently joined an online ‘critique group’ of textile artists. We meet every second and fourth Thursdays of each month on Zoom. We review each other’s work, provide push and/or encouragement as needed. We discuss upcoming shows, calls, methodologies etc. We all work very differently and this makes our dialogue so interesting. For me, this critique group has been a ‘motivational’ godsend.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I am lucky to have a large dedicated home studio for creating art. It is on the lower level of our house. I covered three walls with six 8’x4’ flannel covered styrofoam panels. It is really important for me to be able to step way back from my work when composing. This design wall also allows me to have several projects on the go.
This space also has several work zones: a sketching/painting table, a cutting surface on wheels, plus sewing and ironing stations. I have also taken over the laundry room where I have surface design activities on the go, such as dyeing, dye painting and silkscreening fabric.
Last but not least, I have a large storage closet – currently packed to the gills.
Which part of the design process is your favourite? Which part is a challenge for you?
During the design phase, when a composition comes together it can be exhilarating!
At the same time, technically I simply love being at the sewing machine and listening to the sound my machine makes when stitching. For me, this activity usually takes place at the end of a project. I feel this sound allows me to anticipate the end of the project and the completion of something completely new, never before seen.
How is your work different than it was in the beginning? How is it the same?
My early work represented numerous explorations into all types of imagery and media. Some of this work was representative, namely embroidery and surface design work. I also experimented with fabric collage that eventually brought me closer to abstract design. Currently I work with abstract imagery, focusing on my own designs.
My current work represents a departure from the tightly quilted pieced work I did in the past. I’ve selected to work this way as it excites the explorer in me. In short, I am trying to explore what fabric can do that is new…for instance, can fabric behave like paint?
Lately my compositions consist mostly of abstract elements with a greater emphasis on gesture or “brush work” with fabric strips. I am more interested in the formal aspects of composition, such as line, shape and colour rather than attempting to represent something in my environment. This interest is not unlike that of an impasto painter who works with paint on gessoed canvas.
Recently, I have felt the need to breathe new life into this work. My goal is to create a magical colour vibration with several layers of dyed fabric sewn atop each other. Making this abstract art with cloth involves varying degrees of ‘getting it right,’ doing something with it, perhaps even redesigning it. I get a thrill by honouring and universalizing my own personal views.
What are you working on right now?
In terms of new stuff, I am attempting to see how far this approach will take me. I’m playing with different substrates, painted, printed and even paper-fabric collages; my earlier compositions consisted mostly of pieced substrates.
I am working with larger lengths and widths of dyed fabric strips sewn to these new substrates. I have also begun working with dyed cotton jersey strips – easier with curved lines. I have attempted to hand-stitch these strips, giving some new compositions a ‘big stitch’ look… mixed results with this, but not ready to nix it just yet, lol.
This approach to quilting takes a lot of upfront work, experimentation. The discoveries can be exhilarating or frustratingly annoying. It is all part of my learning curve. For me, this work helps me better understand the materials l have in front of me.
Where can people see your work?
I currently have four pieces showing as part of The Missing Alphabet exhibit at the Cultural Activity Center, in Temple, Texas. It runs from 11 November to December 13, 2023.
Fastwater: Debacle can be seen as part of SAQA’s global Primal Forces: Earth exhibit. This show will be travelling to several cities in the US, as follows:
Atlanta – Duluth, Georgia: March 7, 8 & 9, 2024
Lakeland, Florida: March 14, 15 & 16, 2024
Cleveland, Ohio: April 18, 19 & 20, 2024 | I-X Center
New Orleans – Kenner, Louisiana: May 2, 3 & 4, 2024
Dallas – Irving, Texas: August 1, 2 & 3, 2024
Fredericksburg, Virginia | September. 26, 27 & 28, 2024
Nashville – Lebanon, Tennessee: October 3, 4 & 5, 2024
Cincinnati – Sharonville, Ohio: October 10, 11 & 12, 2024
Detroit – Novi, Michigan: November 14, 15 & 16, 2024
Interview posted November 2023
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