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Street Finds Used for Embellishments for Art Quilts

Leather shoe lining

Leather shoe lining

Nancy Smeltzer, MFA

I’ve always like picking up unusual objects from the streets and using them as embellishments for my art quilts. These street finds used to embarrass my husband, but he’s my ex now, so it doesn’t matter. These one of a kind objects often wait pinned to the design board I use for composing my art quilts, since there’s only one of them and I would forget it they were put away in a jar. Sometimes, I’m not even sure what the object is, as this photo on the left. It’s made of leather, and I’m calling it a shoe lining, but I’m not sure that was it’s original purpose. Still, it will make a terrific face in some future project. All of the little tiny holes around the larger ones could be stopped with a sewn on bead, or I could sew floss through the larger holes. I guess I’ll have to wait until I find the right location for its use.

Black rubber gasket/lining

Black rubber gasket/lining

The next object is even more perplexing regarding its original use. It’s made of black rubber and perhaps was a gasket of some sort. (I’ll have to ask my neighbor who’s a “car guy”.) Anyway, it’s about 1/4in (5 mm) thick. It also might have been part of a heel reinforcement on a shoe. Turned this way, as shown in the photo, it could be a mask. Turned 180 degrees, it could be an animal, maybe a bunny rabbit. I will definitely have to sew floss through the holes to hold it in place (eyelashes maybe?) as I don’t like to use glue if I can help it. I don’t know of any archival glues strong enough to hold an object of this weight onto an art quilt, and after about ten years, the glue would start to leach out on to the fabric and weaken it.

Blue children's toy piece

Blue children’s toy piece

This blue plastic object, I believe, is part of a children’s toy. There are trenches down each of the arms that will make it easy to fasten this on to an art quilt’s surface. It’s about 2.5″ (9.5 cm) at it’s widest diameter. At first I thought it might be one of those dangling toys that hang from baby carriages to amuse children, but it took me awhile to remember, not being a parent, that small objects are choking hazards. Once the slots are fee of the circle in the middle, they’re notched, so perhaps they’re meant to attach to other notched objects to construct something. This piece had obviously been run over a few times by cars, as the surface is scratched and worn, but I see that as a patina. Maybe this piece is destined to be a face also.

Flattened AA battery

Flattened AA battery

The final piece is one of my favorites, and I’ve only found two of them. It’s a squashed AA battery whose label has worn off. The terminal in both of them that I’ve found was flattened so that it looks like a little face with two small arms in front. At one point, I had thought of making some by putting batteries in a heavy duty plastic contractor’s bag and banging on them with a hammer. I even queried some of my mechanically inclined friends as how to safely neutralize the acid that would come out (Baking soda got the most votes). However, I decided I’d probably splatter it everywhere, get it on me, or do something heinous to the environment, so I just scour the streets looking for more. I know that they’re out there somewhere.

While I certainly don’t put myself in the same league as Pablo Picasso, his famous bull’s head made out of a bicycle seat comes to mind. Made in 1942, it was reviewed as being quite outrageous by some, and avant garde by others. So I guess putting a few street finds as embellishments for my art quilts isn’t that out of the ordinary.

BTW, most of these objects were found outside a local Jo-Ann’s craft store in the area. I don’t know if it’s the creative clientele that frequents the place or that they often bring children who drop things, but I can usually find something of interest every 3 or 4 times I go there. All I have to do is look down, and then remember to take the piece out of my pocket before I do the wash.

What interesting objects have you found by accident and used in your artwork? Do you have a favorite type of store that usually isn’t considered for art supplies that you’d like to share with us?

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