Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Piecing fine lines -- a nifty technique

I had the pleasure of leading a workshop over the weekend for Loose Threads, a small group of fiber artists from the Evansville IN area.  We worked in several varieties of fine line piecing, and it was great to have an enthusiastic bunch of sewists who were happy to keep cutting and piecing when others might have been ready to call it a night and go to bed.

Every time I teach a workshop I learn something -- maybe a new technique that a student shows me, maybe a new way to explain or organize my own presentation.  What I learned this time around was to make good use of what we came to call "test strips."

When people make slash-and-restitch compositions, it's essential to contemplate what's going to happen before you actually make the slash, because there's no going back if you change your mind.   I confess that when I was doing a lot of these quilts, I would usually just lay down a long ruler over the quilt, stretched flat on my worktable, and if I could find a straight course across the quilt without running into obstacles such as a preexisting seam intersection, I would go ahead and cut.

Do as I say, not as I do.  I recommend that my students put their work up on the design wall, as their designs get more complicated, and audition different pieced lines before they cut.  Here's an example of how most of them would proceed: use a strip that you've already cut for a fine line, and slap it up on the design wall.

The problem with this approach, of course, is that the strips auditioning on the wall are three or four times as wide as the finished pieced-in line is going to be.  So they don't give an accurate idea of how the quilt will look.

A better idea, we realized, is to cut "test strips" that are the width of the finished line -- about one-eighth of an inch, rather than one-half inch as in the quilt above.

With accurate test strips, you can try different cuts, stand back and get a much better picture of what you have in mind.  Here are three possibilities we auditioned for one student.  In a very close view, you might see the pins or fingers holding up the test strips, but otherwise it would be hard to differentiate the real lines, already pieced, from the hypothetical ones.

We had such good results with the test strips that I'm going to incorporate that method into every fine-line-piecing workshop I ever teach again.  If you work with fine lines, I highly recommend this approach!

The best thing about it: you have to invest less than one inch of fabric into enough test lines to audition many, many cuts.

Friday, October 12, 2018

It's fiber, but is it art?

Last month we took a cruise on the Zuiderdam, the same ship we had been on earlier in the year.  Apparently all the cabin stewards on this ship have to take the same professional development class, because on both cruises, when you returned from your dinner or entertainment at night, you found a critter on the turned-down bed:

This was my favorite:

I could have attended a demo/class on towel folding one day on the ship, but I decided to concentrate on the fiber arts I already know rather than learning a new practice area.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Cyanotype on parade

I was in Memphis last week and visited Crosstown Concourse, an exciting new residential/commercial/community development built inside an old Sears distribution center.  And was pleasantly surprised to find fiber art on display in one of the gallery spaces.  John Pearson, an artist who has apparently taken pains to make sure we can find out nothing about him on the internet except that he went to school at Cal Arts and the Art Institute of Chicago, showed a dozen cyanotype prints on fabric.

They're big -- the largest one is more than eleven feet tall and seven feet wide.  Most of them were seamed vertically down the center before being set out in the sunshine with stones or palm fronds laid on top to make a resist against the sunlight. 

The cyanotype process requires the fabric or paper to be soaked in a cyanide-derivative solution, dried, and then exposed to light.  Where the light strikes, it develops as deep blue pigment; everywhere that was masked out is left the original color.  The one piece that Pearson made onto red and white striped fabric was the most striking of the show.

The others were made onto plain white, yielding more subdued compositions.

 (detail below)

I found the pieces beautiful and intriguing, but I thought they suffered from the same existential dilemma that faces many of us who do surface design.  You make a beautiful piece of fabric, but then what?  On the one hand, you don't want to cut it up into little bits for piecing or collage, because you will lose the gorgeous sweep of color and design that makes the big piece beautiful.  But on the other hand, if you just pin it up on the wall, or turn it into a whole-cloth quilt or hanging, is it art yet?  Or does it need something else, and if so, what?

I thought these would benefit from something else, not that I have any brilliant ideas about what that something might be.

One last thing that I loved -- these works are described as "soft photographs."  I've never seen this locution before but it's certainly appropriate!

The show continues through November 25 at Crosstown Arts East Gallery, 1350 Concourse Avenue in Memphis.  If you go, make sure to take some extra time to poke around and appreciate the huge complex of buildings.

Monday, October 8, 2018

World-class artist photography

How many times have you heard impassioned and stern warnings about the quality of your photography being so important in getting into juried shows, and for the artist's life in general -- you'll never get anywhere if you have any visible background or tree limbs or clotheslines or god forbid grasping fingers in the photo.

So I got a laugh when the New York Times design section, that arbiter of all things stylish, ran this photo last week:

Jonas Wood, Los Angeles artist, with "Yellow and Orange Orchid Clipping" rug

Nifty rug, don't you think?  It's hand-knotted in Nepal of wool and silk.  A silk rug nine to ten feet long by this artist sells for about $30,000; this one looks a bit smaller, so certainly affordable for your front hall.  Read the story here, about how artist rugs are seen as art, not rugs.  Very heartening!