Yvonne Morton – Artist – Sandy Wagner

Ian Wilson writes “A great distance, and that not only physical, separates the heart of Africa from fiber artist Yvonne Morton’s studio in Dorset in southern England. Morton makes the cloth whose inspirational source lies deep in the Congo. Her early medium was armor – her works is shown in Salisbury District Hospital and is based on the medieval surcoat which knights wore over their armor. While she was bedridden and concerned that the imagery that she was using was in danger of becoming “too cozy” she saw a catalogue from a London dealer – she was introduced to Kuba cloth. These are fine pieces of linen-like lengths of cloths. They are embroidered by the women with applique designs after the fabric has been woven by men from raffia which they had harvested from the African Palm tree – Raphia ruffia. Other fabric that are associated with this part of the world are the widely known cut-pile raffia often termed “Shoowa velvet” – this is characterized by dazzling geometric designs and the bark cloth produced by pygmy tribes-people. The Kuba empire is in currently the central Congo area and is the home to a variety of tribes.

Morton prefers her work to called fiber because she constructs it from scratch. She started felt-making using silk, as she was excited by the beautiful sheen emanating from this yarn. In constructing her cloths, she begins with layers of commercial scrim, then flax, and then the silk fiber layer – through which glimpses of flax are visible. These are not flat surfaces thus have a dimension which makes the hand and eye aware of the underlying surface. Feeling herself to be very much a pattern-maker, she is alert to the fact that a large part of the appeal of these cloths is that while breaking the organizing principle of exactitude that can be associated with repeat designs.

Morton stated that she is aware that her work of this cloth is a western interpretation of these Congolese cloth, but in the Comfort series she believes that the muted palette and more especially the layering and stitching and embellishments which she employs form surfaces which exist in possibly unexpected, but immensely uplifting textile harmony with their African antecedents.

Pieces of these Congo artifacts can be seen in the British Museum and the Pitt River Museum in Oxford.


1. Kuba cut pile of cloth, raffia in collection of Morton 21″x21″ early 20th century – 2. Yvonne Charm Vest Tussah silk, muslin,raffia, pastel, cotton and silk threads, pieced, patched and machine stitched. 21″x20″ , 2003 – 3. Yvonne Morton Gentle Cloth, Tussah silk, linen, raffia, thread, fabric marker, pieced, patched, machine stitched. 22″x21″, 2004 -4. Comfort by Yvonne Tussah silk, dyed muslin, cotton thread hand and machine stitched 29″x31″, 2002.

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Bantu by Yvonne Tussah silk, muslin, pastel, thread, machine stitched 10″x”,2004

Kuba Parcel by Yvonne Tussah silk, raffia, bead, machine stitched, wrapped 14″x15″ , 2003

I found this information in the Winter 08 of Surface Design.

It is important to see how others execute their art and what inspired them. We are traveling to Africa next month and I hope to be able to see some of the works from these tribes.



2 Responses to “Yvonne Morton – Artist – Sandy Wagner”

  1. 1 June February 20, 2008 at 10:07 pm

    Thanks, Sandy, for this intro to an artist new to me, too.

    The layering of materials links Morton’s work more closely, in my (very limited) view to collage than to the repeated patternings of the Kuba cloth.

    I am wondering if unconsciously she has stepped away from her original inspiration into another, slightly different mode of expression. The scrim/flax/silk layering would give a varied texture to her work that would be extremely appealing — not quite quilt, not quite collage, but a bit of both. It’s much more exotic and interesting to make the connection to the Kuba tribe, but I’m having a hard time seeing any obvious ties. Whereas, the ties to western European modes seems to me to be quite readily available.

    Anyway, whatever her influences, the work is wonderful. Thank you. And have a great trip. Come back with good tales for Ragged Cloth.

  2. 2 Catherine Jones February 18, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    I love both the photos of Yvonne Morton’s work (which I hadn’t known about before) and the African textiles to which these pieces refer. There’s a book published back in 1986 (Shoowa Design: African Textiles from the Kingdom of Kuba) that says in pictures – gorgeous photos of raffia-cloth skirts – just about everything I’ve wanted to say in words about the beauty and power sometimes released when needlecraft, improvisation, and repeat patterns come together.

    Seen as photos on a flat computer screen – like pictures hanging on a wall – Morton’s pieces look a bit like mixed-media modernist paintings. The felted ground takes the place of oil paint, and the lines of machine stitching take the place of pencil, pen, or scratchings with a palette knife. At first glance, it was mainly the irregular edges of her work (and titles like “Comfort” and “Gentle Cloth”) that made me aware of its textile nature.

    It’s a great challenge to evoke the aesthetic appeal of a Kuba raffia-cloth skirt in an object made for display in a European art-world context, and Morton has made many adjustments along the way. She’s used a different process for the ground cloth: adding silk, with its sheen and connotations of luxury to the mix. And she’s introduced markings with pastel, a material probably not available to the raffia-cloth artists and probably not suitable for cloth meant to be worn and/or danced in. Maybe most important, she’s greatly reduced the role of repeat patterns. I guess I have mixed feelings about that. I love both her work and the African cloth that inspired her.

    Thanks, Sandy for a very interesting article.

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