Fabric Art by Bisa Butler

I came across this artist by chance on Instagram and I am already dreaming about living in a big enough house to buy one of her pieces and display it in all of its beautiful colourful, storytelling glory! The artist is Bisa Butler.

Bisa Butler was born in Orange, NJ and raised in South Orange, the youngest of four siblings.  A formally trained artist, Butler graduated from Howard University, with a Bachelor’s in Fine Art degree. She also graduated from Montclair State University in 2004 with a master’s degree in Art Education. Her medium of choice is quilts using silk, cotton, wax prints, lace netting, mud cloth and more, and they are stunning. Detailed, colourful, intricate… I could go on but I won’t. Just feast your eyes instead and check out more of her work. Also follow her Instagram account www.instagram.com/bisabutler

If you happen to live in Chicago, her work is currently exhibited with the Claire Oliver Gallery at Expo Chicago and below is a press release relating to the exhibition.

Les Sapeurs, cotton and silk, 60 x 42 in | 152.4 x 106.7 cm 2018 photo courtesy of the Claire Oliver Gallery

The Tea cotton, silk and lace netting, 54 x 80 in | 137.2 x 203.2 cm 2018 Claire Oliver Gallery

Pink Bow and an Attitude, Traditional Mud Cloth and Other Fabrics Quilted and Appliquéd, 28 x 64 x 1 in | 71.1 x 162.6 x 2.5 cm 2017 Claire Oliver Gallery

Kamaria at the Savoy, Traditional Mud Cloth and Other Fabrics Quilted and Appliquéd, 36 x 78 x 1 in | 91.4 x 198.1 x 2.5 cm 2017 Claire Oliver Gallery

AnaisTraditional Mud Cloth and Other Fabrics Quilted and Appliquéd 31 x 58 x 23 in | 78.7 x 147.3 x 58.4 cm 2017 Claire Oliver Gallery


a two-person exhibition of new work by Barbara Earl Thomas and Bisa Butler.

EXPO Chicago 2018 Claire Oliver Gallery stand 428

It makes no difference to the black bird if he eats from our table or scavenges from our discarded piles. The future of his kind may not be altered. But that is not our fate. We’ve inherited the burden of knowledge and the grief of failed intention. We are not born blind, but we can choose to live that way. — Barbara Earl Thomas

For EXPO Chicago 2018, Claire Oliver Gallery is proud to present a curated two-person exhibition of new works of art by Barbara Earl Thomas and Bisa Butler entitled Shattered. One definition of this word is disillusioned; the definition of disillusioned is to be free of illusion. It follows then that the works in this installation speak to the possibilities that are in front of us as a society if we can become empowered by understanding that which holds us captive and dismiss these delusions that serve to comfort us in a time to come. Shattered also connotes fragmented. The works of Butler and Earl Thomas use small fragments of disparate materials which they bring together in a way that speaks to a greater whole. They also speak to our fragmented society in a way that uplifts and empowers each of us to make a difference.

Each work of art exhibited is labor intensive, obsessively detailed and extremely impactful. Viewers are invited to enter our exhibition by walking through a large-scaleEarl Thomas lantern. The shadows cast from this work will spill out into the space and across all who enter there. Earl Thomas uses these shadows as a metaphor for Community; we are all touched by the events that surround us. Once inside the space, the viewer will encounter Bisa Butler’s intense, obsessive free flowing quilted textile works, as well as large-scale white or black papercut wall pieces by Earl Thomas. Shadow and texture are important elements in both women’s works.

Barbara Earl Thomas’ works of art treat the viewer to a chaotic dream world, crosspollinated with fragments of Bible stories, folklore, and superstition passed from the artist’s ‘deep southern’ roots. Her ersonal history and current social narrative harmoniously coexist in these visual anthologies. A cultural ambassador and activist in her community, Thomas draws on current events in hopes that her work will help others to gain a new perspective on the important incidents shaping our world; as her grandmother often told her, we are all damned and redeemed every day. Thomas’s current body of work addresses the growing hair-trigger violence in our society and, in particular, addresses that brutality surrounding young black men.

Paper cutting is an art with a long history; its first origins date back to the 4th century after the invention of the paper by the Chinese. People displayed paper cut designs as decorative paper lanterns, each showcasing their artistic talents. Today, Thomas reinvents the paper lantern in large scale, some towering 18 feet in the air, casting the shadows of her stories on all who pass by them. In this way, she incorporates the viewer and reminds us all that we can be part of the solution as there is a proliferation of concurrence in the world we all inhabit together.

Walking a pathway forged by feminist artists like Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro, Bisa Butler challenges the division between textiles and fine art. Embracing a technique that was conventionally relegated to the realm of ‘women’s craft’, Butler’s visual storytelling combines painterly high decoration and an exploration of community and spirituality. Using skills passed down to her from her African grandmother, the artist questions unsettling topics such as the continuing practice of FGM, mortal violence and the breakdown of the family unit. According to the artist, the textile medium allows her politically aware messages to be more digestible.

Beauty here is truly beyond skin deep. Conceptually important to Butler’s work is the rigid structure of her traditional craft; a quilt, by tradition, keeps one warm and comforted, however, in Butler’s hand it becomes a thoughtful awareness to action. Earl Thomas and Butler both have supported long and storied studio practices exploring the current condition in their own African American communities. Their artistic handling of materials in a social climate where added importance is given to factors such as making things oneself and recycling with aesthetic pretensions, these artists provide a bridge between ordinary experience and concepts that transcend the viewer’s physicality. In Shattered, Claire Oliver Gallery attempts to confront the accepted narratives, instigate conversations and question the status quo. This has long been the domain of artists.

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The Assembly Line Shop Tulip Dress in Yellow Dice Ankara by Urbanstax

I made the Tulip Dress from The Assembly Line, an independent brand who design beautiful minimalist sewing patterns. Their style is Scandinavian and contemporary. I am a trainers and dress kinda girl so I decided to try the Tulip dress and I have to say I absolutely love it. The bodice is semi-fitted which works well. Great to wear in the spring and summer and in the colder months you can add a discrete layer underneath and then pile on you cardigan, coat and so on.

I used our Yellow and Blue Dice Ankara as I really wanted to show that African prints and batiks can be so much fun to work with and wear. For my size and the width of the fabric which is 48 inches, I needed 3 yards.

Here are the things I love about the pattern and end result.

  1. The dress has pockets. Who doesn’t love dresses and skirts with pockets?!
  2. The pattern comes in paper form in a single size. This is actually great because you can cut out the pattern and start sewing straight away. No need to trace anything out which can sometimes induce procrastination. Well it does for me. Yes you only get one size but really, isn’t that all you need?
  3. The paper for the pattern is good quality and a good weight so you can reuse over and over again. In addition, the different pieces fold down nicely into an A4 size and the pattern comes with a handy A4 envelope for storage. (see image below). Perfect!
  4. Clear instructions. Zero confusion. All the seams are nicely interlocked so I have ended up with quite a professional looking finish, even if I do say so myself.
  5. Very wearable style. Comfortable but stylish with extra skirt swooshiness for good measure.
  6. It has POCKETS!!

The only adjustment I had to make was to the length of the dress as I am below average height!. I like this pattern so much that I am already planning to make it in a shweshwe fabric and in a batik fabric. Will share when I do. Do you like this sort of style? If so I would love to hear recommendations on similar dress patterns.



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Dynasty is an American prime time television soap opera reboot based on the 1980s series of the same name and shown on Netflix. It was rather exciting to see one of our Adire fabrics appear on one of the episodes. It was used in Episode 15 of Series 1 in case you want to watch!

Our Indigo Leaf Adire, a Nigerian tie dye fabric, was used as a pocket square for the father of the groom, ‘Jeff Colby’ one of the main characters. It is a drama filled episode, I don’t even know where to start describing it. I love that you can see where the fabric has been stitched (i.e. the tying before the dyeing). Its all about Contrast, connections and creativity. From Nigeria to L.A.! Love it.



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Mix It Up: Black and Yellow

Black and Yellow

Go bumble bee mode with a combination of black and yellow. Well technically, the ankara is blue and yellow but you get the idea. Our latest mix-it-up selection consists of a handmade black and yellow batik from Nigeria and a blue and yellow dice print from Ghana.

These two would look great as a combination for separates. A yellow ankara top with a black and yellow stripey skirt perhaps? Or you could make a dress with the bodice in one fabric and skirt in the other to create the illusion of separates aaannddd you could them trim one fabric with the other. With bias tape or fabric covered buttons for example. Hope you get my drift!



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You might remember in our last post about the new Janet Jackson music video, we mentioned a Nigerian brand called Post Imperial whose pieces were used in the video. I am a real fan of this brand as they use Adire (batik and tie dye) fabric from Nigeria. I also love the fact that it is a menswear brand. Who says women get to have all the fun with colour and fashion?!. Here is their mission statement below. Do check out their work and get inspired.

Post-Imperial is a menswear brand with a strong sense of optimism for the future and a focus on color, pattern and process. We treat our fabrics in Nigeria through a process called Adire.- a rare hand dyeing process developed by the Yorubas in the Southwest region of Nigeria. Prior to dyeing, the artist hand paints patterns using a cassava starch or wax base that acts as the resist dye. The painted fabric is then dipped in a vat of dye, and then treated and rewashed in hot water. All fabrics are shipped to our factory in New York where we cut and sew our products. Our goal is to always design for now by shaping cultural concepts through a modern perspective.


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A total Printastic explosion is what I would call Janet Jackson’s new video for ‘Made For Now’ featuring Daddy Yankee. I see so many familiar prints and batiks and even better some of the outfits have been made by great designers of which we are fans.

The resplendent blue and turquoise dress on the rooftop scene is made by Cameroonian Claude Lavie Kameni and her brand name is Lavie by CK. Also spotted are a few sharp batik blazers and shirts by Post Imperial, a menswear brand which uses Adire; tie dye and batik fabric made in Nigeria! Loving it.

Go on feast your eyes. Not a bad jam too.


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We will be at the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace later this year. This is always a good opportunity to have a feel of our fabric and see the scale of patterns, textures, and all that sort of thing. We will be on stand B13 and you can find event details below.

DATES: 11th to 24th October, 2018


THURSDAY 10.00 am to 8 pm Late Shopping!

FRIDAY: 10.00 am to 5.30 pm

SATURDAY: 10.00 am to 5.30 pm

SUNDAY: 10.00 am to 5.00 pm

WHERE: Alexandra Palace, London. You can find more information on how to get there.


We do have 5 free tickets to give away. All you have to do is use any of the links below to make an entry before midnight on the 18th of September and we will select 5 random winners from all the entries. You can increase your chances of winning with additional entries via the links below.

The Knitting and Stitching Show- Free Tickets


In case you miss out on the free tickets and would still like to attend the show, we have a discount code just for you!

Simply use TRADE174  when booking your ticket and you’ll only pay £13.00 instead of £15.50. Just go to www.theknittingandstitchingshow.com/london to book. (kindly note that there is a £1.50 fulfilment fee per transaction).

Alternatively, you book by calling 0844 581 1319 and quote TRADE 174 to get the discount.

Urbanstax at the Festival of Quilts

I would just like to say a big thank you to everyone who stopped by our stand at the Festival of Quilts this year. Thank you for stopping to shop, chat, discuss about all things African fabric and more.

I am really looking forward to seeing what you will transform your fabric into and all your new sewing projects. Do share when they are made so we can enjoy your creations and maybe even feature you on the blog.

See you, same time next year!

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Mix It Up: Oranges and Blue

This week’s Mix It Up suggestion is for the orange lover. Each print has vibrant orange complimented with blue. A darker blue on the Orange Guineafowl print and a lighter blue on the Orange and Blue Floral Kitenge. West African meets East Africa in print form.

The guineafowl print, from Ghana, would be great to add accents to an item or garment made from the floral kitenge, from Tanzania. Maybe the collar or sleeves to a dress or bag handles for a tote.

The combination is anything but subtle and definitely for a showstopping item!

Guinea fowl print from Urbanstax


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Festival of Quilts, 2018

The Festival of Quilts is Europe’s leading patchwork and quilting event attracting 24,000 quilters from all over the world. The show is a celebration of quilting in all its forms, with over 300 exhibitors offering essential supplies, professionally curated galleries of quilts from leading international makers, 350 workshops, talks and demos plus a magnificent display of over 700 competition quilts. It is the ultimate patchwork and quilting experience.

Urbanstax will be on stand I22 with a whole bunch of new wax prints, batiks and shweshwe fabric from West and South Africa. We also have some new wax prints from Tanzania which are even more gorgeous to behold in person. Come and check us out!

WHEN: 9th to 12th August, 2018

WHERENEC, Birmingham


THURSDAY 9th August: 10.00 AM to 5.30 PM

FRIDAY 10th August: 10.00 AM to 5.30 PM

SATURDAY 11th August: 10.00 AM to 5.30 PM

SUNDAY 12th August: 10.00 AM to 5.00 PM

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