Friday, May 8, 2009

Fiber Art in Germany

The question of a blogger's granddaughter about Germany made me remember why I started international blogging.
Am I living in a fiber art desert?
There are two German fiber artists I found in the blogging world who create things that go beyond traditions: Gerdiary and Beate Knappe, but praising their art would go beyond my pledge of not giving nor receiving awards.
There is fiber art; it is "high art", the kind that a museum pays for; but when these things will be remembered later, what have they "done" for the welfare of beings? Only very few people see them, they are an elitist kind of art, and very often, the artefacts are not beautiful, in some cases they are darn ugly, and they fail to keep anyone warm. They "say something", okay, but was something "said" that reaches so few?
I'm aware that is a criticizm concerning modern art in general. Maybe it is not legitimate to take such a radical point of view. But what-if we have the courage to ask what deserves to consume our precious lifetime? And I say:
-- beauty
-- a use or benefit to the user
-- an important message.
This means that fiber art certainly has a right to be there if it is more than mere playing with material just for fun and ending up as something that is of no use, doesn't look beautiful and doesn't have a message... Am I too harsh?

I was looking for things in Germany which serve a purpose and/or are beautiful or have a message.
Not too much there!
Embroidery is mostly cross stitch and gets framed. Form follows function, as Bauhaus and Feng Shui say -- mysteriously unanimous. I'd rather have my embroidery made into a pillow or a pouch than being framed.
This doesn't mean a quilt should not be hanging on a wall, because this is where the beauty of the graphic surface has most effect. But I'd rather see it on a bed, to be honest.
I felt confirmed about living in a fiber art desert when I went to my local quilting material store and put some questions. Foto transfer material? No. Soy wax? No. Textile paints? No. The shop assistant, a lady of my age, was so kind to call a Munich shop about photo transfer materials. No result. There were beautiful fabrics, also Kaffee Fassett, more or less all you need for traditional quilting.

The German word for quilting is "quilting". Pieced quilting is "patchwork". I've been thinking about a German word for pieced quilt; it would be "gestueckelte Steppdecke", which sounds like a description of refugees' luggage that you better leave untouched.

There is no tradition of quilting in Germany. This may surprise some who haven't gone more deeply into European history. Well, what did people do with used fabrics? I wonder. They were collected by the "Lumpensammler" and turnt into paper. Another way to use them was known in Scandinavia and Bavaria, the production of the "Allgaeuer" (pron.: ullgoyer), a rug out of used cloth stripes. In Bavaria, they are called "Fleckerlteppich" (scrap rug), I remember how my Grandma and mother cut old clothes into 1" stripes and sewed the pieces into long strings, wrapped them up and sent them to a weaver in North Germany. A few weeks later we received rectangle rugs, in which I recognized my old bedroom curtains, green with little dwarves, and a number of other familiar fabrics.
And haven't they made quilts to cover themselves up? In medieval times, people slept under fur blankets. The traditional bed cover from the 18th century on in Germany was the "Federbett", feather bed, a huge, not quilted linen bag filled with geese down, called "Plumeau" in the Rheinland. Quilted bedcovers appeared in Germany, too; Goethe had one on his bed (picture). But there was a major change in habits and traditions after WWII through international influences and different way of life brought into the former Reich by refugees and displaced persons like my parents who never used a Federbett.
When I was 6, before I went to school (it was law to let children go to school at 6, no sooner), I had my tiny cardboard loom and used a needle for weaving. Some grown-up hurt my pride by calling this well-respected craft "mending socks".
I learnt to crochet and to knit a bit, and my Grandma showed me how to embroider. This became my favourite craft when I was about 16. But painting seemed to be more serious, so I spent most of my time painting and drawing.

Quilting is a wonderful craft, and a number of Germans have started it, creating a new tradition which wasn't there before WWII. A craft which unites the recycling of fabric, graphic beauty, skill, intelligence (block construction) and an emotional aspect just wasn't there! I'm glad and grateful, although I am not a quilter, to see pieces every day which combine beauty, craft and the touch of caring.


ArtSparker said...

The art critic Robert Hughes would be in agreement with you about post-modern art in general - the whole idea that lack of "juice" gives something legitimacy and makes it deserving of being enshrined in a museum.

I liked the story about the rug. We have rag rugs here, they are made by sewing the strips to each other and then coiling them.

Barbara Strobel Lardon said...

I agree with much of what you said Eva but do disagree with liking a quilt more on a bed than on a wall. I like them in both locations. I appreciate them for their beauty as art and enjoy looking at them each day on my walls in the house their purpose is beauty, art and decorative....but I also like picking one up and covering myself with it on a cool evening or when I go to bed. It is comforting and cozy.

I hope someday quilting will grow in popularity there & the shops will carry more for their customers.

I also was very surprised there is no history of quilting beyond WWII.
I would have thought as you, that they would have used it to give a purpose to worn clothes etc as they did here. How interesting.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for a little quilting history, or non history as it seems to be in Germany. It is interesting to know that scraps of cloth were used for something other than quilts in parts of the world.
Your thoughts of fibre art are similar to mine I think. There seems to be a lot of art which is purely the result of experimenting with tools and materials, which I would put aside as reference material for when I want to make something with a purpose. The purpose is usually useful (I am a quilter but dabble in lots of textile crafts) but sometimes purely decorative.
Judy B

Eva said...

I made a few additions about German fiber artists and the "Federbett".
I have to add a story which really happened.
A choire group from Finland stayed overnight in Bavaria in a pension. After seeing their bedrooms, they all came back to get wool plaids from the host which she had promised for those who needed a warm cover. She was wondering why these guests from the North were so sensitive to the cold. In the morning, she asked them if they had been sleeping well. "Oh yes", one of them said, "we just did not know what to do with the very big pillow."

Anonymous said...

Lots of things to think about in this post. Love the history you've included.

Guzzisue said...

when we travel accross europe, we always try and find magazines about our hobbies. Finding a magazine about motorcycle touring is always easy especially in Germany but fibre art...well I have a few examples but not many.