Friday, September 23, 2016

The workshop you're glad you weren't in

Once upon a time I went to another city to teach a workshop.  The topic was improvisational strip piecing.  People were asked to bring three yards of Kona cotton solids in colors they thought would go well together: one light, one medium, one dark.  The agenda was to construct five or six strip-pieced panels, then cut them apart and arrange the pieces into a composition.

As people unpacked their stuff and set up their machines, I walked around the room to get acquainted and noticed that several of them didn't bring the Kona called for in the directions.  I commented on this.

One person said, "I have literally thousands of dollars worth of other fabrics in my house and I'll be damned if I was going to go buy three yards more for this workshop."

One person said, "I bought my fabric before the directions got changed."  I noted that the directions had been posted wrong, and the minute people noticed the mistake they fixed it.  The bad directions had only been online for five hours, and that was four months ago.  "Well, that's when I bought my fabric."  

One person announced, "I have a really bad attitude today."  Why is that?  "Because I absolutely hate Kona."  Why is that?  "It frays in the wash, it's flimsy, it comes apart, I have LIKE A WHOLE GARBAGE CAN FULL OF THESE NASTY THREADS -- I HATE IT!!!"  She made her feelings clear by picking up her fabric and slamming it down on the table.

We started to cut and sew on the panels.  The panels were to be 21 or 22 inches long (half the width of the fabric; we cut through the fold at the beginning of the workshop) and about 13 inches wide.  Each panel had its own "recipe," written on the direction sheet.

As I walked around the room an hour later I saw one panel that was about 10 inches long, not 21.  What's happening here? "Don't ask," she said.  I was supportive.  Not to worry, you'll just have a little less of this color combination when you make your composition.

A while later I came by again and noticed that her second panel was 21 inches long, but had a big horizontal seam through the center of one strip. What happened here?  "Don't ask," she said.  I was supportive.  I sliced it apart horizontally, got rid of the seam, and said it would be just fine, she was going to slice it anyway after lunch.

The next time I came by I noticed that her third panel was full of lumps.  I had previously announced that there was only one thing I was picky about and that was pressing; that if I taught them nothing else today it would be how to press their piecing as they worked.  I told her this panel wasn't pressed well enough; did she need another demo?  "Don't ask," she said.  I said, "I'm not asking; I'm telling you to press it again." She sulked.

The guild had appointed a classroom assistant for me, and I asked her to do two things: bring me a sandwich at lunchtime, and learn how I wanted things pressed so she could teach people if I wasn't available.  It became apparent that she had larger ambitions.  Instead of just showing people how to press their first panel, and watching to make sure they did their second one right, she was helpfully doing the pressing for them.

I kidded her for being an enabler, and told her people had to learn to do their own unless she was planning to move in with them and press all their work forever.  She promised to stop.  But that left her with time on her hands.  Hold that thought.

The fourth panel was supposed to have a neutral color in addition to the three colors people had brought.  They were to choose a neutral from the big pile of browns and grays I had brought.  Many people asked me for help in choosing the color, but some moved ahead without me.  As I discovered, some were "helped" by my assistant.

I came by one person's wall and saw that she had four finished panels but no neutral in sight.  What is your neutral color?  She thought about that for a while and finally said, "Green?"  Well, green isn't a neutral.  This was news.  My assistant had helped her choose it.  "We thought that green looked really nice," the assistant helpfully explained, hovering about.

As the afternoon wore on, I came by and saw that one person's "13 inch wide" panels looked awfully wide -- I measured one at 20 inches.  What happened here?  "Oh, I guess I didn't know they were supposed to be 13 inches."  It says so right here on the directions.  "Oh, I didn't look at that sheet, I guess I should have."

One person hadn't made a single slice into her panels or attempted to arrange them into a composition.  What's happening here?  "I never finish things I do in workshops," she explained.  Hmmm.  We still have an hour -- you've done all the hard work of sewing these panels together, and you haven't done any of the fun stuff yet!  Maybe you'd be pleasantly surprised.  Well, no. At the final walkabout, when each person talked a bit about her composition, she gave a user testimonial about the brand of fabric she had brought and why it was better than Kona.

As I drove home, I worried about this workshop.  I was sorry that the people who hadn't brought Kona couldn't contribute their strips to the community swap pile, and that if they took from the pile the fabrics wouldn't sew up well together.  I was glad that some of the people who were following directions, doing good work and having fun were in one corner together, so they could reinforce one another's positive attitude.  I was glad that Don't Ask had a table to herself.  I hoped that the people who had been "helped" by the volunteer hadn't been too confused, or lost too much time on wrong turns.  Most of all, I wondered whether I had been able to keep the people who seemed determined to have a bad time from passing their negativity to the others.

Fortunately, most workshops aren't anything like this one.  I'll be teaching the same subject -- Improvisational Strip Piecing -- at Quilting by the Lake next summer, except in a two-day format instead of a single day, so there will be lots more time to sew and lots more time to compose.  Maybe I'll have the pleasure of seeing some of my blog readers there!

For more info on the QBL workshops, click HERE.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Serendipity strikes again

I wrote yesterday about a quilt I made for my International Threads group challenge, responding to the prompt "green.".  I'm embarrassed to say that in the rush of making three huge quilts for a Quilt National entry, I got way behind in my work for International Threads.  But I'm almost caught up now.  Here's how I made a quilt for our "autumn colors" challenge.

After I finished the Quilt National things, I decided I needed to do some cleaning of the studio and was sorting and consolidating a bunch of samples that I had made in Nancy Crow workshops a long time ago.  I came upon this piece,

noticed the colors, and decided it might be recycled into an "autumn" quilt.

My first thought was just to take the left-hand part of the composition, trim it to size and quilt it, but then decided that would be a kissoff.  It needed something more.
There were no leftover bits of the autumn colors fabric in the bag with this piece, but fortunately in my cleanup I had also come upon some yellow, orange and red fabrics that were sitting there waiting to be put away, and I used them for fine lines.  Here's what I came up with:

In my long artistic career I can't tell you how many times serendipity has played a huge role.  The fact that I hate to clean up the studio and put things away means there's often something sitting around wanting to play.

For my green quilt, it started with the pile of fabrics that I had lent to somebody else who needed some green, and never put away after she returned what she didn't need.  For this quilt, it was the found work-in-progress plus the red and orange solids.

I think that my messy studio is not a sign of moral turpitude, but an integral part of the way I work.  If everything had been neatly put away neither of these two quilts would have happened.  And I suspect that had I started from a clean worktable and an empty mind, I might not have had nearly as much fun.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A little extra

My art group International Threads, eight quilters from four countries, makes quilts to a theme or prompt every couple of months, and a recent prompt was "green."  As happens so frequently with my smaller projects, serendipity plays a big role in my decision-making.

Faithful readers may recall that several months ago I wrote about a quilt I really liked in a show, and about the pieced "ladders" that were an important design element.  Somebody left a comment that she wished she could figure out how to make pieced ladders, so I did a how-to blog post.  I used some blue and green fabrics that were sitting on my worktable waiting to be put away (I had given them to a quilting pal who needed more greens for a project, and she brought back what she hadn't used).

So having pieced enough ladders for the tutorial, I decided to make more and use them for my Green quilt.

The quilt sat on my design wall for weeks.  It was technically finished, but somehow it seemed a bit lame.  Finally I decided it needed some hand stitching to give it additional interest and pizzazz.

So here it is in version 2.  (the colors are more true in the first photo; this one is too blue)

Not sure how much additional hand stitching I will do, but already it's looking way more peppy.  I guess the two morals of this story are first, that when a piece of art seems sad you should leave it on the wall and wait for it to tell you what it wants.  And second, that sometimes more is more.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Don't fail to miss this show

The Speed Art Museum, our local establishment, has a big show that opened last weekend, and I went to the festivities.  The subject was sneakers.

You might wonder what this has to do with art, and why it's in a museum.  You would not be alone.

My art pals and I thought maybe there would be art related to sneakers, but no.  Instead there were sneakers.  Three rooms full of sneakers, each pair exhibited importantly in vitrines with extensive info on the signs.

I  don't know about you, but this information doesn't do much for me.

The shoes weren't displayed with much imagination.  For every pair that got tipped up to show the fancy sole --

like these commemorating the election of President Obama -- there were two pairs that just sat there like lumps on a log.  The pair below was supposedly special because it was designed by Christian Loboutin, complete with red sole.  Which we had to imagine.

This next pair supposedly had "insoles printed with a unique water graphic," which again we had to imagine.

There was one piece of art, which I liked.

Nari Ward, We the People (detail below)

But I wonder why a show in an art museum didn't include more art.

I know that in recent years fashion has become the great hobby of the rich and famous; "supermodels" are rich and famous themselves, while movie stars and other celebrities jostle for front-row seats at the designer shows.  Who wins the Oscar is only slightly more important than who wore what to the ceremony.

Mainstream museums like the Met have had blockbuster shows in recent years showcasing the work of famous designers, but that's in a town where fashion is still a huge economic sector.  I have to wonder who in Louisville KY really cares about sneakers. Yes, we have more than our share of basketball fanatics, but I wonder how many of them will make their way to the art museum, especially if they have to pay $8 to get in.

After we saw the exhibit, I said to my friends, this is a two-fer: it demonstrates all that's wrong with American society (where sneakers can go for thousands of dollars and kids can get killed for their shoes) and it demonstrates all that's wrong with American museums (where all kinds of trendy, expensive objects can be deemed art and displayed with a straight face next to the Rembrandts).  To get the bad taste out of our mouths, we went out and got ice cream on the way home.  It was the highlight of the evening.