Winning hands (by Olga Norris)

Shaping autumn (digital design) My present stitching on silk

Shaping autumn (digital design)
My present stitching on silk


It strikes me again and again that the person who benefits most from fibre art is the maker. To my mind the overwhelming reason for using fibre, cloth, thread, etc. is because of the feel of it – and yet once it is made art it must no longer be touched. It is often admired and judged by photograph – a two dimensional reduction of a whole body experience which can powerfully include smell in the case of huge sisal weavings, rope crochet, oiled wool knitwear, dried grass baskets, even paper …. I love combining ideas, thinking, drawing and digital collage, and the two dimensionality of printmaking – those intellectual pursuits – with the haptic pleasures of working the needle through the cloth.
Of course it is not just fibre which gives this pleasure: the handling of clay, slip, wood, stone, – the holding of a pen, etching point, a knife, a chisel as well as the wielding of a needle and scissors all bring their particular joy. But perhaps because fibre deteriorates first, after the piece is completed, if it is deemed to be art rather than artefact it is handled less.
Penelope's garden ( quilt detail)

Penelope’s garden ( quilt detail)


How lucky we makers are to handle, to feel, to manipulate, to stroke and be stroked, to use the fine nerve endings to distinguish the subtleties of soft, to gauge just the right amount of strength, pressure to use to turn, to fold, to pierce (and be pierced!), to pull – not simply to use those fingers to point. Handling fibre helps us to see in fine focus as well as in broad perspective, and in making by hand we make time for ourselves as well, gradually building our self portraits. When I handle one of my basket collection I feel an urge to be making a basket. When I see a weaving or tapestry I admire, I feel the urge to be weaving in order to appreciate it more. It is the fantasy of handling the materials which is seductive.
A stitch in time (small quilt)

A stitch in time (small quilt)


How much my mother, my grandmothers, my aunts all enjoyed the social stitching of items for family and friends. My Scottish grandfather too, the tailor enjoyed the feel of a good tweed or twill in his hands. And now I have the added exciting challenge of trying creatively to combine intellect and emotion with the haptic pleasures in the repeated attempt to express myself artistically in such a way that the two dimensional representation of the finished article will somehow convey not only a meaning but also the story of the making.
The sewing chair (digital design for stitch)

The sewing chair (digital design for stitch)


Are we makers not fortunate indeed!

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10 Responses to “Winning hands (by Olga Norris)”


  1. 1 Sheila Barnes February 22, 2015 at 7:19 pm

    This is such a beautiful post. It has left me a bit choked up. Indeed – how lucky we makers are! And almost without exception, live is best, trumps photos and recordings and videos if one is so fortunate. However if not so fortunate, they are better than nothing, as in this case where you have illustrated with such a lovely array of your own work.

    • 2 olganorris March 1, 2015 at 3:34 am

      Thanks Sheila. I sometimes think that in our preoccupation about how our work is regarded by others we forget the simple pleasure it gives us as we make it.

  2. 3 sandrasart February 14, 2015 at 9:08 am

    A bit behind as have been taking a Road Scholar program on the coast of OR. Winter storm did us proud.

    Years ago there was a call to quilt makers to make a wall piece that was made to touch – they were then sent to the schools for the blind with some placed in public places for touching. It was inspiring to see the student feeling and questioning what is this? They has zippers that open, button to button, snaps etc. many tears from parents.

    I had never thought about feeling the fabric and not able to see it since I could fondle and see. What an enlightening program this turned out to be.

    I would love to see some of the quilt guilds or large shows do a demo piece that did not require a white or plastic glove person to feel it

    • 4 olganorris February 14, 2015 at 10:00 am

      It would be great, Sandra, if there were more sample or demo pieces for folks to handle and examine. One of the first great art quilt exhibitions that I visited here in the UK, Take 4, had a beautiful book with pages made by each of the four exhibitors in the techniques used for the work they had on show. It was a fantastic addition to an already marvellous event.

      Here in Europe those submitting to some art quilt exhibitions are encouraged to provide samples of the work submitted as well as the usual photography. It means that the judges have a better idea of what the pieces are actually like.

  3. 5 clairan February 11, 2015 at 1:37 pm

    Olga, we could re post this on the SAQA blog. Let me know if it’s ok with you.

  4. 7 eileen February 10, 2015 at 5:39 pm

    When I am working at my fiber-art co-op gallery, I witness our visitors needing to touch our work – and I encourage them to do so. It is tactile and should be enjoyed as such. I love making fiber art because it is in my hands – even a paintbrush touching a canvas is too far removed, for me.

  5. 8 olganorris February 9, 2015 at 6:56 am

    Thank you both.

    June, I agree that as well as the pleasure of making, the pleasure of participating is also important. Nigel and I experience live jazz often, and love it – although as non musicians we perhaps cannot have the same depth of pleasure.

  6. 9 June O. Underwood February 8, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    Lovely tribute. It should be printed in the SAQA newsletter or wherever there are people working in the field. The family gathered this morning for breakfast together and we were talking about which entertainment events necessitate personal viewing — the Carmina Burana, perhaps, and chamber music. Also plays, theater, which mimic something of what we have in real life in that we don’t have close-ups or instant replays or instant changes of scenes in real life. And then there’s simply the pleasure of being present, whether haptically or aurally or olfactorily — not necessariy better, just different and delicious.

    Thanks, Olga.


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