“Quilting in Steel” Notes from Trisha Hassler’s presentation at Surface Matters

(For those of you who were unable to attend the recent Surface Matters Symposium or were at a concurrent talk, we have asked fellow SDA members to write about about the various presentations. In this post, Lorraine Edmond writes about Trisha Hassler’s presentation, “Surface Connections.” )

Trisha describes herself as a mixed media artist. She started in quilting at a young age, and now describes her work as “quilting in steel.” Trisha’s earliest textile efforts focused on designing felt clothing (for her troll doll—who remembers those?) As she outgrew dolls, she moved on to clothing. Trish still has some of the elaborately embroidered work shirts and jeans she created in the 70s.
Trish works from her home studio. Her home is an open warehouse/loft in the Pearl District of Portland. (She also rents space in a metal shop from a welder for the messier parts of the process.) An idea board holds an important place above the ironing board in her studio. It is covered with images, words, type, skeletons, and so on. Those come down from the board when she is ready to work on them. She also keeps stacks of journals and sketchbooks. Her studio has no design wall, because the steel is too heavy to work with that way. Instead, she uses the floor to arrange the pieces, then stands on the stairs to look down at the work.
She began working with metal in 1999—in the early work, the metal was simply a frame. After taking an improvisational piecing class, she began cutting the metal into pieces and “stitching” it back together to make the frames. Next, she tried making tables, but the work was not spontaneous enough (people actually want tables that sit flat on the floor).
Some of the metal-framed work she did had openings where you could see past the quilted fiber pieces to the wall. She did enjoy working with the negative space, but realized she wasn’t choosing the composition because she did not control the color of the back wall.
As Trisha’s work developed, she began to work with found objects in addition to sheet metal. Her metal comes from a place on the river called The Steel Yard, which caters to artists. They have a selection of reclaimed construction steel and you can walk through and look at the piles. Much of it is rusted, and a lot of it is too heavy for her usesShe takes 10 x 4 ft sheets and cuts them down small enough that she can move them alone. She loves the rusty metal and sometimes has a tough time deciding which side to use. She uses the steel “as is” and simply seals it with polyurethane on both sides before bringing it into the fabric studio.
Trisha’s most recent work involves both piecing and bolting the frames, some of which are constructed in shadow box forms, 3” deep with the inside piece constructed as a quilt, and others are even more three-dimensional, constructed in a “house” form. Trish enjoys the engineering aspect of working with metal and making the pieces fit the way she wants, plus “who doesn’t want to play with fire?” she asks.
Her way of working with these two disparate materials is best explained by the opening text on her web site (http://www.trishahassler.com/):
“When I work in fiber, the experience is quiet, calm and clean. I do it in my home, dressed in yoga pants. The movements are intuitive, small and precise. This work requires patience, focus and good light. My love of this material runs deep in my bones.
When I work in steel, the experience is loud, hot and dirty. I do it at a metal shop, dressed in a leather apron. The movements are intuitive, large and fluid. This work requires strength, focus and safety equipment. My love of this material runs deep in my bones.
When I mix the two I enjoy discovering the place where they each hold their own and speak together.”

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