Fiber art — Go ahead and touch

Works aim at heart, hands

  • Joan-Rigal-of-Waterville-has-taught

    Joan Riagl of Waterville has taught quilt-making for 15 years.

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  • Joan Rigal's
    Joan Rigal's "City of Lights."

    So you’ve finished the major pieces of your decorating project and now it’s time to put the jewels in your home or office. But photographs, paintings, sculptures, decals, and stencils are simply not appealing to you.

    Here’s another option: art that incorporates fabrics from silk to cotton and textiles that are crocheted, knitted, weaved, or macrame. Textile art can give an item new life, and whether or not it’s new, this art is not just to look at. It’s to touch.

    “I make art quilts for the wall,” said Waterville resident Joan Rigal, who began making traditional quilts years ago. With some 100 pieces of fabric art to her credit, she paints and stitches fabrics in her home studio.

    “I have a good many tucked away and I have a lot in my home hanging on the walls. The sizes are from very small, and the largest piece I have done is a quilt on my wall that’s about 6 feet by 4 feet. It’s called ‘October’s Bright Blue Weather,’ ” Ms. Rigal said.

    “Much of my work involved flowers but more recently it’s become abstract and has an Amish flavor. I have put quilts in my home that haven’t been framed, and I have a lot that are framed. When I sell at the American Gallery, people tend to want them framed [because they] get dirty or dusty when they don’t have a frame or glass.

    “But my personal preference is to have them without anything in front because it’s fiber and it’s something that you want to be a close to; it’s a nice feeling and you want to touch the work or touch the quilt. People who love quilts want to hang them in their homes,” she said.

    Ms. Rigal has taught quilt making for 15 years. She’s an instructor at the Arromont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tenn., and at CraftSummer at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

    Perrysburg resident Jennifer Solon has worked with the fiber medium since moving to the area nine years ago from Charlotte. In that time, she’s finished about 200 pieces of textile art that range in size from 6-by-6 inches to 2-by-3 feet.

    “My art is for walls,” Ms. Solon said. “The great thing about textile art is that it’s such a tactile medium. You look at it and you want to touch it. Even though I use paints and wax in my work, I like the texture that the fabric imparts. I don’t think with other mediums you get the same sense of texture.”

    Joan Rigal's
    Joan Rigal's "Nature's bounty."

    She creates what inspires her, and for Ms. Solon that’s nature.

    “I never quite know what I’m going to create and that’s what I like about my processes. It’s very experimental,” said Ms. Solon, a graphic and Web designer.

    Ms. Solon dyes and prints plain white fabric that is either purchased or repurposed.

    “I usually do all my fabrics at one time and I look at them as my paint palette. When I create, I look at and rip it up and lay down my foundation. It’s very improvisational,” she said.

    Art quilts and textile art can be personal and speak to someone on a visceral level, said Maxine Thomas, vice president and general counsel for the Kettering Foundation in Dayton.

    “Usually when people commission [art] there is an emotional space that they see a quilt as filling,” she said.

    Ms. Thomas, who has created from 75 to 100 pieces of fabric art since she began quilting in the 1980s, said a friend had to have a fabric art piece that showed five women. When she’s commissioned to do a piece that will be a gift, Ms. Thomas creates what she likes or makes a design based on a description of the recipient.

    Joan Riagl of Waterville has taught quilt-making for 15 years.
    Joan Riagl of Waterville has taught quilt-making for 15 years.

    Ms. Thomas dyes and stamps fabrics such as silks and cottons. She was a Fullbright professor in Japan when she met a Japanese artist and quilter in Sendai who painted with fabric.

    “That got me to begin doing some more creative work than just quilting. I’m a lawyer by trade so I don’t think of myself as being an artist,” she said. “Usually a quilt is something that has a special spot in someone’s house. It speaks to people in some way.”

    Ms. Thomas became more involved with quilting after meeting Carolyn Mazloomi, whom she describes as the foremost African-American quilt historian in the nation. Ms. Thomas is an Ohio representative for Ms. Mazloomi’s Women of Color Quilting Network.

    “The problem with textile art is that it’s women’s work, it’s utilitarian, and it’s art,” Ms. Thomas said. “That’s its strength and weakness.”

    Contact Rose Russell at: or 419-724-6178.