Mounting and Matting Art Quilts: Presentation is critical for small works

by Elizabeth Van Schaick

After accomplishing final completion of an art quilt, the artist must still consider the presentation of the piece. While other established fine art forms have set conventions for presentation, the fabric medium brings specific challenges to presenting the artwork. While the variety of choices for the display of art quilts may create some confusion, it is important to consider that different approaches to presenting small or unusually shaped art quilts can enhance their physical presence and impact. Each artist must strike their own balance between the purely practical aspects and the aesthetic effect of mounting an art quilt. Some artists feel that the two go hand in hand.

Attention to mounting or matting can bring a level of professionalism to exhibiting artwork. Artist and curator Lyric Kinard notes, “A well framed or presented piece shows that you care for and respect your artwork.” While a small scale may be the perfect format for an individual artist’s technique and vision, such pieces may benefit from an extra level of treatment, depending on the artist’s intentions and the exhibition conditions. Artists feel strongly that their own creations have strength in themselves. However, context is vital; in contrast to their life in the artist’s studio space, small works may become lost or simply not gain sufficient attention in an exhibition hall or even a reasonable size gallery if there has not been creative planning. Adding a mat or mounting of some sort grounds the art pieces and establishes another level of inflection to the image.

One very popular treatment for the small art quilt is to attach it to a gallery wrapped canvas. This is a stretched artist canvas, one and a half inches thick, instead of the than the standard five-eighths inch deep inexpensive canvas, that has the fabric pulled all the way around to the back so that the edges are covered. The artist can make her own decision about how wide of a border the canvas should create, and can paint the canvas, apply texture or cover it with a background of fabric. Some artists use one or more layers of felt along with other elements. Marilyn Gillis explains her method of pulling layers together, and what the advantage is:

I usually choose a canvas size that gives about a two-inch border beyond the quilt. I paint the canvas a color that brings out the best in the quilt. Next I sew several layers of commercial felt together around the edges and in an “X” through the middle from corner to corner. I size the felt to be one-half to one inch smaller all around than the quilt. I stitch the quilt (invisibly) to the felt piece, and then glue the felt with the quilt attached to the canvas. Because the quilt is stitched to the felt, and only the felt is glued to the canvas the quilt can be removed easily if someone doesn’t like the mounting and wants to change it.

Similarly, Margaret Cooter from the U.K. paints a canvas, especially around the edges, and mounts the quilt separately onto one or more layers of felt that are sewn securely with stab stitches, and then glues the felt surface to the canvas. “Probably there is a size limit for this method, but it seems to work well for journal-quilt size pieces.”

Along the same lines, some artists find hook and loop tape an easy, strong and safe, but non-permanent option for securing fabric art to a backing.

“I strongly favor mounting small art quilts,” says Lyric Kinard. “The space between the piece and the wall turns it from a "potholder" to a piece of art. My current presentation method is a small piece sewn on to a one inch gallery wrapped canvas that I've painted in such a way as to complement the piece. I've also seen a very nice presentation on a plainly painted gallery wrap canvas that was also collaged with handmade paper and fabric with the piece mounted in the center. The canvas becomes the frame for the fiber piece.” The quilt can be sewed to the canvas, or sewed to the center of a piece of background fabric first, before laying out, stretching and stapling the fabric to the canvas or frame. Kinard has also mounted small art quilts to watercolor paper that she has machine stitched around the edges.
For Brooklyn artist Niradhara Lynne Marie, an existing interest in recycled and reclaimed textiles and objects, and a lucky find in her neighborhood led to the mounting technique for her “Vespers” series. She salvaged some discarded wood floor planks, sawed them into small lengths and attached the digital collage art quilts to them with a nail in each corner. The thickness of the pieces of wood and their patina give the small pieces the feel of antique religious icons. For works like these, most of which are approximately nine inches high by five inches wide, the wood mount adds a sense of the naïf and of purpose.

Another choice is to attach the art quilt on top of or behind mat board. Putting the quilt in front of a solid piece of mat board is a very workable technique, while using the mat in a traditional way, in front of the piece may or may not be the right choice. This depends on the thickness of the finished quilt, and how the artist feels about covering its edges. Holly Knot often uses both layers:

First I cut a piece of acid free matboard to use as a backing piece. I place the quilt over it, position/center the quilt over that backing board, then lift up the corners in order to mark the corners on the mat and poke holes. These holes are just inside the outer edge of the quilt, about half an inch or so. Then from the back, I stitch the quilt to the mat through those holes. I'll use some acid-free tape over the knots on the back as added security. Then, for some pieces, though it is not always necessary, I place a mat with the opening over the front of the quilt/backing mat. No glue, tape or stitching is necessary.

She then frames the pieces, finishing the back of the frame carefully. Mounting art quilts onto plexiglass (either the same size or larger than the quilt) creates a lift between the quilt and the wall plane. One advantage, particularly in humid climates, is that plexiglass or acrylite is impervious to moisture, and therefore will resist damage in varying conditions of shipping and display.

Questions frequently come up concerning how to support round or unusually shaped art quilts. The best options for support are foam core, masonite, or some type of strong art board. All of these materials can have holes drilled into them fairly easily, allowing the quilt to be mounted by stitching through to the back side. Pins can be used easily with foam core to tack the quilt and/or backing fabric to the surface while working on securing it. To protect the integrity and longevity of the art, it is essential that any backing or matting be acid free. If the materials are not acid free or archival, thoroughly coating them with a primer/sealer will help protect the fabric from damage over time.

Some designs may require creating a custom built wood frame in the appropriate shape, as Susie Monday found after creating pieces that were not square or rectangular. The artist leaves at least a few inches of extra fabric around the whole piece so that it can be stretched around the frame and secured on the edges or the back. Mounting or matting also solves issues of unintended waviness on medium to medium large art quilts.

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