We’ve been following Carrie Strine on Instagram for a good few months now, watching her large-scale textile projects evolve and develop over time. She’s a New York-based quilter who specialises in doing everything by hand, which means she has the patience of a saint. She’s also got an exceptional eye for colour and composition, meaning her quilts are nothing like the tawdry swathes of fabric your grandma used to pile up on her bed – these are vibrant, exciting pieces of bold geometric pattern and minute hand-detailing that it’s actually possible to lust after.
The culmination of her past three years of hard work is about to be displayed at Philadelphia’s Art In The Age in a new show called Handwork, and to celebrate the occasion we asked her a few questions about her show, her life and her process.
Quilting is a very traditional discipline, how did you get into it?
While completing my MFA and working on a series of photographic installations, I started a tiny project hand-sewing tiny little pieces of fabric into a pair of pillows. It started out just for fun – I didn’t even have a sewing machine – then it became really clear that there was a relationship between my quilting and the installations I was making in my studio. I used to think quilting was just a little hobby that would keep my mind from getting lazy while away from my “real” work, but it’s just not the case these days. Quilting has become central to my practice.
Is it just quilting that interests you or do you experiment with other crafts too?
I’ve always just been someone who has an aptitude for making things with my hands, and I have the patience for the tedium that sometimes comes with fine craft work. I’ve dabbled in a lot of different things, but mostly textiles have been my jam. I used to be a really wild knitter and spin my own yarn, but I got sick of the connection to garments and fashion.
How long does each one take?
It can vary a lot. I always have one project going that is done completely by hand. My most recent hand-stitched project, the Medallion quilt, took me over three years to stitch and quilt. Most of the time I will machine-piece and hand-quilt, and a bed-sized quilt can take somewhere between six weeks and one year depending on the complexity and my engagement. Projects that always take so long get tiresome though, so there are also quilts that I churn out for some relief in a weekend or two.
Is it a meditative process or do you have to concentrate incredibly hard?
There are periods of concentration when planning certain parts or strategising, but most of the time is very meditative. I will also think for weeks about what my next step will be with a colour or fabric while working on a certain part of the quilt. I really enjoy having the space to work slowly.
Are there themes or ideas running through the work or is it a pure craft?
There are a lot of artists who work with textiles like Louise Bourgeois who actually remove the materials and techniques from their intended function, but I’m actually really interested in the function and tradition of quilts. I think there are a lot of interesting ways to think about how traditional quilt patterns adapt as they’ve been worked by generations of makers, or how the quilt itself has had a variety of roles in the American home. Sometimes I’m interested in how a quilt will wear over time and select materials that will wear in a certain way. I’m definitely striving to make my work something beyond pure craft, but at the end of the day you could say my quilts are just thoughtfully designed. You could say that about a lot of fine craft, but I believe it’s art as soon as the maker starts thoughtfully bringing more complicated formal and contextual concerns into their work.
Talk us through the quilts that are going to be on display in the show
You can see my latest quilt, Steps, which is an interpretation of a traditional Courthouse Steps quilt. It’s a project that’s very much about understanding the interactions of colour, while if you view it from the right distance it really makes the connection between the traditional patterns and digital imaging (more specifically a raster image). I think of the colours in this quilt building up the same way pixels do in a photograph.
Also my Medallion quilt will be on display, which is actually a replica of an English quilt worked in the same pattern from the 1890s. It’s a meditation on quilting by other makers of times and places not my own, and the ways that quilters communicate with their works. You can read a bit more about the project and the other modern quilters inspired by this quilt on my blog.
Tell us about the upcoming show.
Handwork, opens at Art in the Age in Philadelphia, PA this Friday, February 7th and will be on view until March 31st. Its a collection of my newest works, both large scale bed quilts and smaller wall pieces.