During the Covid 19 pandemic, Mary McFerran created a series she called Quarantine Quilts. The image (above) is a quilt titled Anne, 29.5 x 30 inches, assorted textiles, embroidery, and photo silkscreen with natural pigment dye (dated 2021). I saw this quilt at McFerran’s Quarantine Quilts solo exhibition at the Mahopac Library, 3rd floor gallery in Mahopac, NY (March 4-27, 2022) and invited her to exhibit 3 wall-hung Quarantine Quilts and a mannequin layered in fabric in a group exhibition I curated and titled DRAWING the LINE at the Pelham Art Center, Pelham, NY (February 16-April 2, 2023). The exhibition will include 8 artists – McFerran and 7 other visual artists who create two-dimensional and three-dimensional contemporary drawings with traditional and mixed media.
McFerran includes embroidered words in some quilts. Notice the right side of the quilt titled Anne (above). McFerran says Anne is her sister’s name – and the quilt is dedicated to her sister’s memory. The Clown Quilt (below) includes fabric blocks with words, appropriated from a found T-shirt.
Each quilt has a unique border. McFerran includes fabric strips in some quilts that finish edges with an irregular line. She varies stitch length and direction to create contrasts of light and dark and movement. McFerran says hand-stitching is very personal, as is handwriting, and adds: “The physical motion of pricking the cloth, pushing the needle through and repeat-repeat is a meditative experience.” Stitches hold different materials together and that is important to McFerran for its symbolic meaning as well as its practicality.
“I cry for my country” (above) is 42 x 48 inches, includes assorted textiles, paint, and hand stitching. This work will be included in the exhibition DRAWING THE LINE. Notice the outside edges are uneven. McFerran said the red fabric with tail-like shape was a remnant from another work and was probably the starting piece for this quilt. The black, beige, white and blue sections were added to build a fuller quilt. Notice the small white fabric block with the words “I cry” on the bottom of the quilt. McFerran said she added it last because she wanted to emphasize the words “I cry” because she felt that, in addition to the flag-like symbolism, viewers should know this artwork is about her feelings of sadness regarding current events in the US.
McFerran says she receives donations of fabric when folks hear that she is a fiber artist. She cuts up discarded clothing if she needs a certain color. For certain projects, she will purchase yardage.
The image above is titled Clown Quilt (keith haring), 57×55 inches, created with a Keith Haring T-shirt, damask, velvet, assorted cotton, print, stitching, and paint. This work will also be included in the exhibition DRAWING THE LINE. McFerran says clowns appear to be fun loving but are actually creepy. She thinks clowns reflect a fun house mirror back on society. To start Clown Quilt, McFerran created a drawing of a clown with paint, printed the drawing onto fabric, then sewed it onto the quilt. She cut the Keith Haring line drawings directly from a T shirt and stitched them onto the quilt. Clown Quilt used an ordinary moving blanket (something that protects furniture while moving) as its base.
Link to this Instagram video and see McFerran’s hand turning the pages of her beautiful Quarantine Quilts catalog with images of the quilts she created during the Covid quarantine. McFerran says during the early days of the pandemic, when the weather was dark and cold, she was unable to go shopping for new fabrics and it seemed a perfect time to dive into her collection of assorted remnants and create quilts. The Quarantine Quilts catalog is available on Amazon.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
McFerran learned to sew from her mother and grandmothers. She made clothes from commercial patterns, and said she always loved the process from start to finish – finding the patterns, selecting the fabric, cutting out the fabric, stitching pieces together and finishing with hand sewing. McFerran majored in art at university, but fabric was not considered an acceptable media, and her work suffered criticism for using it. She says she was sad about that, but eventually worked her way back to using fabric, first as a collage element with paper, and later with the kind of work she does now, which can be entirely fabric. She’s studied traditional quilt makers, including Gee’s Bend quilts, and relied on books and the Internet to study traditional and Folk Art quilts. McFerran says she loves the combination of pattern, colors, grids and hand sewing that are used in the Gee’s Bend quilts and says they remind her of Postmodern paintings. She says her own quilts are not formally planned. She doesn’t use patterns: she combines elements through an intuitive approach and the haptic appeal of certain textiles. It’s about touch.
Installation is a natural method of presentation for McFerran because it allows her to create a conversation between the different elements in the work. The image above shows a wall installation with fabric cut into shapes that look like deer. McFerran created a line drawing of a deer that became the template for the cut fabric pieces that became the installation that was exhibited in May 2021 at Window on Hudson, 43 South 3rdStreet, Hudson, NY. The fabric deer were pinned to the wall and the deer bodies changed shape because of the way the fabric was gently, but strategically stretched as it was pinned. Notice the different fabrics for each deer, and how the transparent fabrics overlap. McFerran says she selected fabrics to create variety, color contrast and transparency.
The image above is an installation McFerran titled SUFFRAGIST. It was exhibited on site at the Hammond Museum and Sculpture Garden (North Salem, NY) June 5-November 2021, and blends embroideries, fabric, photos, historical documents, and slogans from the 19th -20th century’s women’s movement.
McFerran created the installation (above) titled When will I see you again? for an invitational exhibition at the BAU Gallery, 506 Main Street, Beacon, NY in 2022. The installation included ten cloth drawings of silhouetted figures installed on the gallery walls. McFerran added a pedestal in the middle of the gallery with patio lights piled in the center of the pedestal. The artist says the figures represent people reemerging after months of isolation, and the patio lights represent the many parties and social gatherings that were cancelled during the pandemic. McFerran began the project with photographs of people she first encountered after the pandemic’s first enforced isolation. She translated the photographs into drawings on fabric and cut the fabric drawings and attached them to a fabric background to show mismatched, contrasting patterns. The figures are spaced apart from each other and even spaced apart from their own shadows, like specimens in an empty environment, where nothing can be touched.
McFerran is now a member of the BAU gallery and will have a solo exhibition in Beacon, NY in April 2023. The working title for the upcoming exhibition is Weather Wear. The artist will start with drawings and translate the drawings into facsimile clothing dedicated to topics of drought and fire and flooding caused by melting icebergs. The exhibition will explore the human scale of climate change. McFerran believes using clothing as her canvas suggests cultural and personal human connections. She wants the exhibit to call attention to the dangers to our environment due to climate change, but also wants to celebrate the life forces of Earth.
The image (above) is a mannequin draped with hand-stitched fabric remnants, cotton, rayon, netting and a quilt sample. McFerran titled this work fire blouse. It will be included in DRAWING THE LINE at the Pelham Art Center. The fabric on the mannequin is 27”h x 22”w (women’s size 10). McFerran created drawings of fire and selected fabrics to represent the colors of fire. This work will be part of her new series about the immediate dangers of climate change in our environment.
3 more Quarantine Quilts
The image above is titled July Quilt. McFerran created this quilt during the summer in 2021 in response to BLACK LIVES MATTER protests and the killing of George Floyd, and chose the red fabric to represent high temperature and the outbreak of emotion throughout the land. The dark areas in the quilt represent Black Lives Matter. McFerran says this quilt started out as 3 small quilts and then got reassembled into the current shape. See a video that shows a strip of the red fabric in motion.
The image above is a quilt McFerran titled Spring in the Time of Covid, created with assorted textiles, 50×46 inches. The floral fabric is from vintage aprons, the fish, birds and brown flower graphics are cut from fabric remnants accumulated over a couple of years. The quilt was one of the first McFerran created during the Spring of the first pandemic lockdown. She says the local birds were very loud, adding “Perhaps too, we had fewer distractions from hearing the birds sing.” I asked McFerran if this quilt was a joy to make. She said it was full of discoveries.
The image above is a quilt McFerran titled Driving Home. Notice the embroidered words in the vertical strips – all song titles: Love is Here and Now You’re Gone – Stop in the Name of Love – Waterloo Sunset – The Long and Winding Road. McFerran says the quilt is about listening to music while driving home and experiencing memories as she traveled down the highway.
The quilt began with fabric scraps. McFerran created the duck drawings and silk-screened the images onto fabric. She overlayed a variety of fabric over each other to represent the intermingling of what she saw out the window while driving with the memories she has of the locale. McFerran says old songs conjure memories. She added embroidery stitches to reinforce some shapes and outlines.
The image above is a quilt McFerran titled Emperor, created with assorted textiles, coil, chain, trim, 42 x 60 inches. Notice how Emperor is a drawing that’s a feast of line, color, texture and pattern.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
McFerran sews textiles, paper and up-cycled treasures into quilts, costumes, collages and installations. She says she is attracted to combining elements that shouldn’t necessarily be put together “allowing them space to rest together uneasily” to tell stories about women, social issues and nature.
The artist studied fashion at Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), art education and printmaking at State University of NY, Albany, has an MFA in Expanded Arts from Ohio State University and an MA in Educational Technology from NYU.
During the 1980’s, McFerran worked in video art and participated in the art collective known as COLAB. She took a break from art-making to pursue a career in educational technology. In 2010 she was living in London and took a class in embroidery, which introduced her to the idea that stitching is another form of mark making. Since then, she has focused on working with textiles in her work. Her current art practice focuses on textiles.
McFerran exhibits throughout the Northeastern region of New York State and is currently a member of BAU Gallery in Beacon, NY.
Please save the date – February 16, 2023 – for the opening for DRAWING THE LINE at the Pelham Art Center in Pelham, NY.
Thank you for your comments about Mary McFerran’s works in this post.