Fiber artist Peggy Wright presents her portfolio and talks about technique and inspiration.
ABI: How has your painting background influenced your fiber art?
PW: Color has always been my passion. Over the years, I have woven, knitted, crocheted, embroidered, and beaded, creating functional work. In the 1970s, I painted in watercolor, but textiles drew me back because I need the tactile in my life. I think the sense of touch is a lost sense in western society, and in my current art, I work to create a tactile surface that invites the viewer to look more closely.
In the late 1980s, I took many classes in design at the University of Minnesota in St Paul, but I never finished my degree. I had been drawn there because I had met quite a few students who worked in textiles, and since I had no traditional art training, I thought I could learn a lot.
I learned color theory during those classes and used paints for many of the exercises in them. Between my experience with watercolor and the classes, I gained an understanding of color mixing, which has fed into my work now with paints, inks, and dyes.
Fiber is an interesting medium because in most cases the effects of color rely on optical mixture, mixing in the eye, rather than physical mixture, as in mixing paints. I spent quite a few years exploring optical mixture in a prior medium, beads, making jewelry. I focused particularly on learning to make smooth gradations of color and learned a lot about value in doing so.
While my classes had covered value, of course, and while I used my knowledge of color theory when making jewelry, I did not really understand the importance of value until I mastered making smooth gradations in beads. Those experiments with gradation have stood me in good stead in my current medium.
Many fiber media also depend on optical mixture—weaving, knitting, embroidery, and quilting. My experience with beads has contributed to my efforts in adding free machine stitching to my current work.
Another characteristic of color, simultaneous contrast, has become a favorite of mine as I currently explore stitching with one color of thread on colored fabric. The most amazing things happen to the thread because it changes color as it passes from one color in the background to another. I love playing with that effect.
ABI: You call your art “mixed media textiles.” What studio techniques are you using to create your work?
PW: About six years ago, I became fascinated with a technique called thread painting, in which you use your sewing machine needle to paint with thread on fabric. At the time, I had not used my sewing machine in twenty-five years. I even went out and bought a new machine to learn the technique because I was having problems with my old machine.
I started out creating work that used heavy thread painting, and I found that I needed interesting backgrounds on which to work. Therefore, I started painting fabric for those pieces.
As I worked more with creating backgrounds, I came to be as interested in the water media, with some use of oil paintsticks thrown in, as I was in the stitching. I now use my sewing machine more to draw freehand with my needle than to paint. I work on a domestic sewing machine and control the movement of the fabric under the needle rather than have the sewing machine feed the fabric to me.
I now like a balance between the water media and the stitch, which gives me even more chances to play with simultaneous contrast. I have continued to explore water media, including taking some classes over the past couple of years in painting, screenprinting, and monoprinting with dye. I have done some gelli printing in the past, and I plan to continue to include printing and painting with fabric paints in my repertoire.
I also have taken some classes in acrylic painting. In my original backgrounds, I used thinned fabric paints to paint wet, white fabric. Fabric paints are just acrylic paints with a fiber medium added to create a less plastic surface. I am now particularly interested in Golden’s high flow and fluid acrylics, particularly the former, because it is so thin and dye-like.
I also work with Tsukineko inks, which are pigment inks that have been used to paint kimonos in Japan for centuries and are very colorfast. I have used them to paint on dye-printed pieces to add color to white areas or to change the color in places.
I will continue to explore ways to add paint, dye, and ink.
ABI: Where do you draw inspiration for your art?
PW: I primarily draw inspiration from nature. I want to show the essence of the emotions that I experience when I participate in nature: a love of its beauty, a feeling of connection with the plants and animals around me, and a concern for the future because of our destructive habits.
Growing up, my dad fed my love of nature, even though my family took part in few outdoor activities. When I moved to St. Paul, Minnesota in 1974, I immediately sought out outdoor adventures and spent a lot of time outdoors, canoeing many times in the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota and skiing cross country in Minnesota and Wisconsin. All of those experiences have fed into my art.
I have been creating some evolving series—trees and leaves; water; flowers; and curvilinear abstracts, such as curves, circles, and serpentine lines. All my work is actually abstracted because I want to focus on color and texture, not realistic details.
I use my techniques, my subject matter, and my skills with color to create an emotional reaction in viewers, connecting them to nature as I have been through my experiences with the outdoors and my art.