Iconic New England — In Fabric

Rendering streetscapes and seacapes with charm and thread

 “Trinity Church” Prices range from $250 to $4,000 for completed pieces framed under glass for dust-free preservation.

There is just something about printed fabric that is beguiling. Quilters have long used the colors and patterns of cotton percales to create dynamic imagery in two-dimensional design and, more recently, translating shapes and colors into a simplified depiction of reality.

Nancy Morgan of Portsmouth has been exploring the latter with her own techniques. Even though sewing machines have been computerized for the home quilter, she continues to use her 40-year-old Pfaff to create a legacy of images of iconic Portsmouth streets, idyllic schooners and quiet waterfronts created just with fabric and thread. A collection of her hometown work can be seen at Nancy Morgan Art on State Street.

The gallery is also Morgan’s working studio. Visitors are invited to see how the work is accomplished. In short, she first creates a basic quilt with a plain-colored cotton, quilting it with a free-motion technique by simply using the darning setting on her Pfaff. This is her canvas.

The image itself starts on the back of the quilt with a freehand drawing. Fabric pieces are placed on the front and are stitched securely from the back. Each swath becomes an element of the design as layers of differing colors and prints are added to build the illusion of depth. As with any avid quilter, she has a nice selection on hand to choose from, but one of Morgan’s favorite fabrics is tulle.

As a former ballet dancer, she has sewn many a costume skirt with very fine airy netting. Now she generally uses a black or gray tulle to suggest shadows and create dimension with single or more layers. Other details are usually added with machine top-stitching. As seen in the image here, tulle was added to give the impression of shadows on the snow, while the naked limbs of the trees are expertly stitched from the top.

The newest twist in her imagery includes monochrome renderings of mourning statuary, much like you would see in a cemetery. Morgan finds them peaceful … and they are, with a limited palette and solemn pose. She even rendered the statue of Martin Luther King Jr. in shades of gray. Other monochrome images are colorful closeups of rose blossoms. They are all a careful calibration of shape, tone and the subtle use of tulle to adjust value.

Morgan’s State Street gallery has been open for four years, offering visitors a taste of New England with scenes they can take home. Popular images are of lighthouses, fishing boats and even North Church on Congress Street. Her work is in private collections across the US.

Morgan recently sold a large fabric rendering of the Oceanic Hotel on Star Island as part of a fundraiser. It is now available as a signed print on her website. She is happy to share her unique techniques and has written two books, “The Fabric of Bow Street,”  a step-by-step guide to one specific image, and “Shades of Tulle,” which fully explains the use of tulle. 

Categories: Local Artisans