Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween Treat-Textiles from El Salvador with Gwen Marston

A treat for Halloween!  Gwen and I have been talking about her extensive collection of textiles from around the world.  The technique and imagery is always fascinating. Learning of the tradition and circumstances which influence the needlework adds to my appreciation of the stitchery and the maker.  Plus, bravo to Grady Marston for the photography.  pjb

Pre-Columbian God 34" x 34.5" c. 1994

El Salvador

Central American countries are known for their colorful textile work, the majority of which is either weaving or embroidery. The first two panels shown are appliqued and are contemporary work made around 1994. While neither of these panels are traditional pieces, they both reflect the artists homeland. The woman who stitched the Pre-Columbian God (seen above) returned to traditional representational shapes while the second panel depicts a typical rural scene. 
countryside 35.5" x 35.5" c. 1994

Both panels are worked with applique and embellished with embroidery on a black cotton background and both are backed with black fabric. The backing on the Pre-Columbian God panel was machine quilted before it was attached to the top side of the panel. The quilting consists of large concentric circles in the middle and straight lines radiating out from the circle.  The Countryside panel is very minimally machine quilted through both layers. On both hangings the edges are turned to the inside and neatly machine stitched ¼” from the edge. 
Both panels have loops along the top for hanging. These panels were made by a women’s cooperative called Nahuit, a sewing group organized with the intent of helping single mothers support their families. 
Childbearing 16.5" 16.6" c. 1990

The third textile is a small embroidered panel worked in a satin stitch. This is a traditional needle art form celebrating the magic of childbearing. Embroidered panels like this are made by Patzun women from the Guteftion area in El Salvador. It is customary for women to make a panel every time they become pregnant. The mounds represent the months of pregnancy. Mothers also stitched images from the natural world intending to prepare the child for the world they would enter. 
This tradition seems to indicate that these women were preparing themselves to do a serious job of mothering. I found this really touching.   
Thanks to Gwen and Grady for this post.  For more time with Gwen visit

Friday, October 24, 2014

Gwen Marston talks about South African Textiles

Photo Credit:  All photos by Grady Marston
Close up of Elephant
Fish, Elephant, Rhino 44" x 72"
Signed by Lucia. Chain Stitch embroidery on black ground

South Africa

I found all of these South African textiles at one of the large national quilt shows. They were irresistible for a number of reasons. 
-First, ever since I began making quilts in earnest I’ve been interested in what my sisters around the world are making with their needles. 
- I look for work that is original, fresh, and embodies authentic folk art qualities. 
-I find these pieces inspirational for my own work, as Folk Art textiles the world over share common characteristics. 
-Lastly, I feel almost compelled to support women who rely on their sewing skills to support their families, whether or not the work is traditional or contemporary. 

The first two panels are embroidered with a chain stitch on black ground.  The first Fish, Elephant and Rhino panel is well designed and beautifully made. One of the things that made it completely irresistible was the identifying initial on the Elephants and Rhinos.  And the same is true for the Wart Hog Family who are all wearing their “W” stands for Wart Hog shirts.  Both of these panels are also signed, which I like to see.
The Wart Hog Family 44" x 25"
Signed by Annah. Chain stitch embroidery on black ground.
Close up of Wart Hog

These next four small panels were made by a woman’s cooperative called Women on the Move. While pieces are more primitive in execution than the first two embroidered panels, visually they hold up equally as well.
Drawing on animal and birds familiar to them, the shapes are appliqued and then surrounded with pieced borders. Sequin and bead embellishments and thread work including running stitches, an assortment of embroidery stitches (running stitch, buttonhole stitch, featherstitch, herringbone, couching and others that I would need Sue Spargo to identify for me) were then added in a playful, “liberated” style. They are not backed, and the edges are not finished.  

Dog 15.5" x 12.5"
Camel 14" x 13"

Giraffe 13.5" x 15.5"
Guinea Hen 15.5" x 12.5"

The two embroidered pieces shown below were made by a group of people known as the Venda, who live in the very north of South Africa. They live in a harsh land where only thorn trees and baobab trees survive the dry climate. They subsist by keeping chickens and goats and growing a few root crops and use their embroidery skills to help support their families. These pieces, based on Venda folk art stories are sold by a cooperative called Tambani African Embroidery. The embroidery is very well done. A small card from Violet Manngwe tells me about her life.  “I live a quiet life with my husband and six children. Work is very scarce here where I live and money from embroidering helps me a lot. Last month I bought a school uniform for my youngest child. A school uniform is very important.”

Two Embroidered Pieces 5.5" 9"
The fruit tree was made by Esnath Nenzhelele and the bird by Violet Manngwe, who initialed her work.
Thank you for the Guest Post, Gwen.  For more from Gwen, visit

Last but not least, a round of applause for the photographer please!