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Creating an Art Quilt for Clara Foltz

(Caution: My longest blog post so far)

(Photo by Visual Simplicity)

Seems to me that Clara Foltz and I lived next to each other for a large part of this year (2018). In June, Sandra Sider invited me to contribute an art quilt honoring Clara Shortridge Foltz (1849 - 1934) for the upcoming exhibition “Deeds Not Words”: The Power of Persistence, Celebrating 100 Years of Women's Suffrage, which she co-curates with Pam Weeks.

Feeling very honored, I must also admit that I hadn’t heard about Clara Foltz. Interesting months followed: researching about her life on the internet, in university libraries and newspaper archives, reading her biography “Woman Lawyer” by Barbara Babcock, and then visualizing what had captured me about her and her life. I divided my summary into two categories: characteristics and facts. Both are written on her elongated skirt (see below).

Hopefully, these brief notes will encourage you to familiarize yourself with the charismatic, first female lawyer in California who supported the suffragist movement and equal rights throughout her life. What is relevant about her now? - “Others fought for your rights. Use them.” she repeatedly reminded her audiences. I think this is now more relevant than ever.

And now the insider studio view about the creation of this art quilt:

1) Create a quilt sandwich vertically on the design wall: first the cotton backing, then felt, and a warm golden fabric on top. (Tip: You may want to use acid-free, temporary glue to hold the layers together, but doing it will make your sewing needles kind of gooky.)

2) Project several photos of Clara Foltz to paint her portrait (with acrylics).

3) Model the hand holding a book and sketch it. (- Didn’t like the first version. With acrylic on fabric, you cannot simply overpaint an area because the paint becomes too thick for quilting. So, I’m creating an appliqué part of hand and book.)

4) Take the art quilt off the wall and continue working horizontally on a table. (Tip: Add enough pins to ensure the layers don’t move too much.

5) From the bottom up write bullet points about her life (to give a starting point for the viewer):

CLARA Shortridge FOLTZ

  • July 16, 1849 (Indiana) - September 2, 1934 (Los Angeles, CA) age 85

  • “Others fought for your rights. Use them!”

  • 1877: Paid public lecturer and suffragist

  • 1878: Single mother of five (3 girls and 2 boys)

  • 1878: FIRST female lawyer admitted to the California State Bar

  • 1879: FIRST female clerk for the State Assembly’s Judiciary Committee

  • 1880: FIRST female legislative council

  • 1881: FIRST female special prosecutor

  • 1893: FIRST to propose the creation of a “public defender” to balance the “public prosecutor”

  • 1910: FIRST woman on the State Board of Charities and Corrections

  • 1910, 1911: FIRST female Deputy District Attorney (serving as prosecutor; age 61)

  • 1930: FIRST woman to run for Governor of California (age 81)

  • Occupations: Mother, attorney in San Francisco, San Diego, New York, and Lost Angeles; writer; publisher; political lobbyist, paid public lecturer, legal reformer

6) From the waist down (opposite to the bottom-up) write about her personal characteristics (to encourage viewers to do their own research):


  • Strength in the face of adversity

  • Charismatic orator

  • Masterly self-presentation

  • Brave, independent, newsworthy figure

  • Seeking high social status, fame and fortune

  • Survived shipwreck in the Atlantic

  • Lifelong meeting prejudice against woman lawyers

  • A pillar of her community

  • Famous in her time as a public intellectual and leader of the women's movement

7) Hand-stitch the folds of her garment with artist-dyed cotton yarn. (Clara Foltz is described as a fashionable woman. - Choose cheerful colors to convey her enjoyment in fashion.) - Use Trapunto to add 3D to the texture.

8) Stitch her face, hand and book.

9) Place two pieces of netting over the entire surface. The first is white, the second black, together they soften the metal golden background to let it retreat.

10) Machine-quilt the outline of Clara (at least 2 - 3 times), and then carefully cut out the figure to complete the reverse appliqué of the background.

11) Additional machine-quilting adds more details that the viewer can discover then they come closer to the piece. (Photo by Visual Simplicity)

12) Because Clara Foltz was a pillar of her community, I like to show her in column form. Artist-designed, collapsable shelves can be hung on a wall and the art quilt can be velcroed to the shelf. (Photo by Visual Simplicity)

13) If there is no wall, then the typical two sleeves provide the means to hang it flat. (Needless to say, the column form is my preference for exhibition.) (Photo by Visual Simplicity)

14) And finally, check that you put a label on the back. - Hope you enjoyed this view inside my studio.



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