A conversation between Emma Jane Royer and Krista Schoening on the topic of Royer’s current show, Mending Matters
KS: I am interested in your choice to bring the seams forward in these pieces and, in some cases, to leave the threads hanging rather than trimming them, making the labor or sewing into a focal point. Can you talk a bit about these pieces and their relationship to work? Is “work” the same here as “process”? Or does work mean something more?
EJR: Great observation! I think a lot about the idea of work as labor, a means of focusing time and attention and skill in these pieces, but here I’m even more interested in the subtle, but repeated irregularities and imperfections present in the stitching and the piecing. I consider these works to be line drawings first and patchwork second. On first glance, they seem to have very regular and rigid geometries, but due to the imperfections of my hand and the unforgiving nature of using paper instead of fabric, they are not. I find this subtle wonkiness to be really captivating.
KS: You use a wide variety of materials in these pieces, achieving very different effects. Some of these materials aren’t traditional to quilting — paper for example, or a “disaster blanket.” How do you choose materials and how do your materials impact the meaning of these works?
EJR: When I use fabric, I choose it based on its past life. For example, the “disaster blanket” used to make Larry was my father-in-law’s camping blanket that my husband has kept since his death. In You’re taking up more than half the bed, I wove together my own blue jeans along with my husbands. I think that the history of these materials, that they have had lives connected to particular people and experiences adds to the story and the weight of each of these works. On the other hand, when I’m using paper, I use delicate Japanese papers that have a sense of wispiness so that they feel not quite invisible, but are delicate and even ghostly, to put emphasis on the seams and the stitching.
KS: Although this body of work is about mending, in at least one piece, “Larry,” you have left visible tears in the material. Please tell us about the importance of wear, or weathering, in this body of work.
EJR: Yes, the materials having been used and lived lives is important to the fiber-based works. The use of sewing suggests a physical mending, but in reality, we mend not just tears in garments, but also tears in relationships with ourselves, our family and our communities. For example, in Larry, the wool blanket used to make the piece was used by my husband’s father (Larry), then by my husband and eventually I began using it to protect our couch from wear and tear caused by our dogs. After many washing (and one not-so-gentle visiting pooch), what were once small imperfections began to give way to larger holes and new tears. My husband, who is quite sentimental, was rather distraught and I wanted to find a way to make the special, though ordinary, though now destroyed, blanket of renewed use and to honor its value to him. I didn’t want to eliminate the worn sections, as I think being able to see and remember all the different ways that blanket was used and worn and even destroyed are important.
KS: Some of these pieces have an extremely intricate facture — the physical size of the pieces you are sewing together is very small. What are your thoughts on scale in these works, particularly with regard to the pieces with very small components?
EJR: Yes, the paper pieces are comprised of very tiny shapes. They take forever to cut and to sew and then you end up with such small pieces! After experimenting somewhat, I found that in order to give greatest visual weight to the thread and the seams, I had to base the scale of the shapes around these elements. With larger pieces of paper, the seams get too far apart and lose some of their resonance.
KS: The patterns you make with most of these pieces are very regular and involve a lot of repetition. What sources do you look to in deciding on the geometry your work?
EJR: I love looking at old quilts. We have a small collection that were either pieced or collected by members of our families and then passed down through the generations. I love that they are all hand made and have stood the test of time, but aren’t so precious that they haven’t been used regularly. I’ve actually never made a proper quilt myself (though I hope to one day!) In addition to these, I’ve started a collection of quilting books from which I like to draw inspiration. It’s interesting to see how removing color from the patchwork can really alter how these patterns are experienced.