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QUILTER PROFILE: Iris Aycock

Every January, usually over the MLK day holiday weekend, Lynn and I go to Asheville, North Carolina for a short getaway (well, depending on how many children we're forced to take with us). January is the dead off-season for Asheville, and there's not much going on, but that's how we like it. Motel rooms are cheap, the churches are lovely, and the Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway is always open. We usually go there Sunday morning and wander through the galleries and the gift shop for a pleasant hour or more.

This last time, as we wandered up the ramp to the upper gallery, we encountered some small framed quilted pieces made from the prints of actual leaves. An elaborate process for transferring the plant dyes was detailed in the accompanying narrative, and the name of the artist was Iris Aycock, a name I knew -- from somewhere.

A few minutes later we spotted a gorgeous full-sized quilt on the far wall made from the same technique, and I remembered that Iris Aycock's name appeared in my subscriber database for this publication. She'd been a TVQ subscriber almost since the first issue, but this was the first time I had encountered her work. After returning home I e-mailed her (she lives in Alabama) and she agreed to assist me in doing a profile.

"Quilting has been familiar to me all my life," Iris says. "Not the construction - but quilts have been part of my life. My grandmother made quilts perhaps because they were needed (she was not alive when I was born, so I didn't know her, but I slept with quilts that she had made when I was small). My mother made quilts as gifts for her children and others. Quilt making wasn't a dominant factor in her life, as she also gardened, wrote, painted, and collected just about everything! I made quilts when my children were young - one for each - but am ashamed to say that I haven't finished the third one (almost 29 years after the start of it). I haven't spent those years in between making quilts, instead I have been involved in photography and weaving (amateur for both activities). My interest in weaving led me back to quilting."

Asked to characterize her quilting style, Iris says straightforwardly "I consider that I make quilted botanical prints. . . . One of my weaving magazines had an article on hammering leaves onto fabric. I tried their technique, wasn't completely happy with the results, but was intrigued with the idea of leaf printing. I researched all the books on natural dyeing I could find. I also read dye catalogs and wondered if products that other people used as auxiliaries with synthetic dyes could help me do what I wanted to accomplish.

"Through much experimentation (several years of off-and-on trials) I came up with my own technique for making leaf prints on fabric. My technique is detailed (with many others) in Jean Ray Laury's Imagery on Fabric. I also wrote an article which appeared in the Spring 1996 issue of American Quilters Magazine.

"I made a few leaf quilts (for my children and yes, the youngest who hasn't gotten her childhood quilt got the first one this time!) I decided to make one more for myself, felt so good about it that I entered it in the AQS show for 1994. At age 59, I entered my first quilt show and won the award for Best Wall Quilt. My quilt is now a part of the permanent collection of the Museum of the American Quilters Society in Paducah, KY.

"My next big challenge was to apply to the Southern Highland Craft Guild (Headquartered in Asheville). I was admitted to membership through a jurying process and was elated to make it in on my second try. I currently sell my work at the twice annual Fair of the Southern Highlands held in Asheville and through the Guild shops, (Allenstand at the Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Guild Crafts in Asheville, Parkway Craft Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway and Arrowcraft in Gatlinburg,TN)

"I do whatever I can to enhance the leaf image. After acquiring the image, I add penwork to enhance veins and irregularities in the leaf (the imperfect leaves are the interesting ones to me). The quilting is done to add dimension to the leaves. I quilt the leaves using a smoke invisible thread; the background is usually stipple quilted rather closely to provide a textured setting for the leaves, not be a feature in itself. I quilt on a home machine; I wish it had an industrial motor.

"I'm not sure my quilts fit the current idea of art quilts - I'm certainly not a traditionalist - although I have made a few in a traditional style using leaves where antique quilts have used appliqued fabric.

"When I started making these leaf quilts it was a point of pride to say that all my border fabrics were dyed with plants from around my home. I have since begun to use commercially available dyes and paints for the border fabrics. I find I can achieve a more organic 'look' with these than I could with natural dyes. Besides, it is a lot more fun than standing over a hot stove in June or July when I have a deadline. The synthetics aren't seasonal; this lets me play around with fabrics and dye when I have a lull in work.

"My weaving is one of those things that I will get back to - in the meantime our cats love the half-finished rug on the loom. It makes a great hammock for them."

Although her artistic technique is in many ways very "low tech," Iris does make use of a computer in her work. "I use my computer to do some of 'dog work' tasks for my work - making labels, keeping records, helping with border quilting designs. I like to work with real leaves to make quilting designs for my quilt borders. These are arranged in the space I have available for that border for part of the length of the border, then I trace off the dominant lines to create a design, scan it in, then I take in into PhotoPaint and use the symmetry filters to help with the corner designs and finally flip and flop the leaves to create the design for the whole border. I then have that file I can print out later to fill another size border."

Iris is also internet active, as her subscription to TVQ would indicate, but she doesn't complain that it keeps her away from her quilting. "I 'lurk' on a few lists online, but I read these slowly, usually a month or more behind. I spend just about all my time on some aspect of my work. I became focused rather late in life; I have so many things I have yet to try."

For someone so "late to focus," Iris has many honors for her unique quilts. In addition to her Southern Highlands and AQS accomplishments, her quilts have been or are on display in a variety of places. "I have had quilts in the NQA show, was in a two-person show a couple of years ago in the Focus Gallery at the Folk Art Center; I have twice had quilts on loan to the Appalachian Regional Center in Washington, D.C. and currently have work included in the Art in Embassies Program of the U.S. Department of State. A quilt of mine is currently exhibited in the American Embassy in Canada. My work was profiled in the Sept/Oct, 1996 Fiber Arts magazine and A Quilters Gallery, by Marie Salazar," as well as in Laury's book.

Asked if she ever teaches her technique, Iris says: "I have spoken to a few quilt guilds, but at present I prefer to concentrate on making work. I enjoy going to Asheville twice a year for the Fair. I talk to people in my booth all day, for four days, teaching if they are interested. I get to meet a wide range of people and I look forward to these trips."

So if you want to get to know Iris in person, and learn more about her technique, you'll probably need to go to Asheville in July or October. The motel rooms won't be at rock bottom, but the crafts will be on display and quilting's Mistress of Botanicals will be there to share her secrets.


 

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