Sunday, February 16, 2020

A good deed

I struck up a conversation with a friend at a party Friday night and she told me how she goes to the Greyhound bus station several mornings a week to see if any asylum seekers are on their way from Texas to New York or Chicago.  Yes, there are still a few people being admitted to the U.S. with asylum claims, and put on buses to go somewhere and wait for their hearing date.  And a network of saints on earth has spring up to help these unfortunate migrants on their journey, much as the Underground Railroad helped an earlier generation of migrants.

The buses come up from Texas and stop in Memphis, but since that stop occurs at 4 a.m., nobody meets the bus and there's nobody to call ahead and tell the Louisville people what to expect.  So my friend or somebody from her network is there every day to see if anyone needs help.  Some days there are no seekers on the bus, some days there are three or four.  The morning of our conversation, my friend met a young couple and their 2-month-old baby.

The buses stop here for 40 minutes, time for the greeters give out water and sandwiches (there is no food service at the Louisville bus station, or anywhere in its neighborhood).  They try to have warm gloves and caps on hand, since most of the migrants are not equipped for cold weather.  If more help is needed, somebody will pass the word to the network in Cincinnati; the couple with the baby didn't have coats but probably the good people two hours up the road were able to find some.

I asked my friend if they have a lot of babies come through, because I happen to own a lot of new baby afghans that I would like to give away.  I like to crochet while watching TV or talking with visitors, and a couple of years ago I went on an orgy of using up piles and piles of yarn that were occupying drawers and boxes and bags in every corner of the house.  She said that would be wonderful, because it's often cold on the bus.

So yesterday I hauled out my bags and tubs of afghans -- and realized that in my usual slapdash construction approach, they all had thread ends hanging out where I had started, stopped, or changed yarn in the middle. 

I spent two hours watching a movie on TV and weaving thread ends in with a big-eye needle, and got five afghans ready to deliver at a meeting this afternoon.  I think there are eight more in the TV room waiting to be finished, and I hope I can do that before too long.

This made me feel really good.  Yes, this project clears out at least one cubic yard of stuff that I am thrilled to divest.  But it also allows me to demonstrate in a very small way that although our government may be cruel and hostile to the tired and poor people at our borders, many of us ordinary citizens welcome them through the golden door.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

After a decade of putting stuff aside......

More so in the past than now, art galleries and museums were in the habit of sending out lots of postcards to announce new shows and exhibits.  I was on the mailing list for several places, and maybe ten years ago I started to save all the cards.  Carefully stashed them in nicely labeled boxes and thought that someday I would make art with them.

At the last meeting of my art group, the monthly prompt was "postage stamps."  After a great evening of looking at mail and stamp projects of many different sorts, I was reminded of my old idea of using those art show cards.

Kathleen Loomis, Memorial Day, 2008, Quilts Japan Prize in Quilt National 09

I have made lots of what I call "postage stamp quilts" in which tiny quilts, about the size of stamps, are machine-sewed together into an open grid.  I've also made a couple from paper, which has the advantage of not requiring the time-consuming quilting before you get to sewing the pieces together.

Fortunately the postcards were right there on the shelf, in pleasant contrast to other art materials that I know I own but can't find without serious searching.

After several days of cutting, I got to the sorting stage:

I had first thought to just sew everything together into one huge grid, but then realized that first, one huge grid would be harder to sew, harder to hang and less appealing to purchase.  And second, that the bits of card had many different kinds of imagery and I could find smaller theme groupings that would be more interesting.

So here is the start of a grid of hard-edged graphics, mostly orange and blue:

And here's a finished grid of little landscape scenes:

Sorry for the glare -- it's impossible to take a decent photo because the glossy card stock is so reflective.  Fortunately these pieces don't need to be photographed for jurors -- they can go straight to the wall for my show this summer.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

I help make a dress -- after 25 years

One day in the early 1990s I had an epiphany.  The universe spoke to me as I was sitting in my sewing room making a dress (I sewed most of my own clothes for decades; in addition to wardrobe enhancement it was my therapy, my time to be alone, my respite from a hectic 60-hour-a-week job and two trying teenagers).  The universe said to me that if I wanted to get serious about making quilts, which had been in my mind for some time, I had to devote my scarce free time to what was important -- and to do so I had better stop making garments.

So I did.  From that day on, no garment sewing other than the occasional mending or small alteration.  I didn't even finish the garments already in process, and I still sometimes come upon a half-sewed blouse or cut-out-but-not-sewed dress that was stowed away, never to be revisited.

But then came Vivian.  I never had a little girl to sew for before, and this particular little one happens to be a 2-1/2-year-old clothes horse.  But still I didn't succumb.  Her mother and the other grandma were doing a fine job of keeping the kid in fashion without my help.  Recently her mother decided it would be fun to sew clothes instead of buy them, so she enrolled in a sewing-brush-up class, and then bought some fabric and a pattern and came over to use my facilities and equipment to make Vivian a dress.

We agreed that my role would be strictly limited to giving advice and support, NOT sewing.  I cleaned off the worktable and the cutting mats so Kristin could cut out the pattern, put new thread in the bobbin, and then it was time to sew. We read the pattern to determine step one -- and I had a conniption.  Apparently a lot has changed in the world of garment sewing since the early 1990s.  Specifically, the dress had no facings!

The raw edges of the yoke were just going to sit there unfinished, as were the raw edges of the placket.  The neckline was supposed to be finished with half-inch bias tape.  The underarm seam allowance would be turned back and stitched as it merged into the armholes.

This was not up to my standards, and although I wasn't supposed to be doing any of the sewing, just offering sewing machine time, I couldn't let this project continue.  I sent Kristin home and drafted some facings for the neckline that would also cover the yoke seams, then sewed them on.  I pitched the placket (which would have required making buttonholes, which would have required finding my buttonhole foot and remembering how to use it -- too much trouble) and simply faced the slit we had already cut.

Kristin came back a couple of days ago to finish the job.  She serged the seam edges.  She followed the pattern directions to finish the armholes, and after she stitched, she said "What did I do wrong?  Look at how this is all wrinkly!!"

Well, no, dear, that's what happens when you try to turn back and hem a curved edge cut on the bias.  In other words, when you follow the pattern directions.  We tried to mitigate the bulge by running a second line of stitching inside the first to give a bit more stability to this fragile, unsupported edge.

I put the last touches on the dress on Sunday and here's Vivian modeling it.  It's really cute, accented with some of Kristin's hand-dyed fabric.  But it has put me into an existential crisis.

What's with these low-end, sloppy construction methods?  Why is Simplicity telling people to make garments so slapdash and flimsy?  What happens when a dress goes through the wash without any seam finishing?  I know that "unconstructed" garments are fashionable, as well as much cheaper to make, but is this the right way to go for a two-year-old's dress?  Don't mothers hand down clothes to other little girls any more?  It offends my sensibilities to think that garments get worn six times and sent to the landfill, which seems like the inevitable result of this approach.

Am I just too old and curmudgeonly?  Are well-sewed garments so twentieth-century?  If you buy Simplicity's higher-end line of patterns, instead of the cheap fast-fashion line, would you get better construction methods?  Shall I try to mentor Kristin in the traditional sewing techniques that served me so well in the past, or shall I just get with the program and embrace this brave new (sloppy) world?

What do you think?????

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Documenting the process -- part 2, words

Yesterday I wrote about taking a lot of pictures as you work.  But that's only half of documenting your work.  You also want to keep track of your thoughts, how you come up with ideas, how you progress from one piece in a series to the next, how you master and improve your technique, how you solved problems, how you do something that comes up only once in several months but it's important to remember how to do it right.

I can suggest many different ways that you might go at this, but the most important thing is to find a process that works for you.  I used to be in the habit of writing down, every evening, what I had worked on during the day, along with any notes and thoughts that I wanted to keep.  I always used a calendar book with either a separate page or separate box for each day.

Spaghetti was a quilt, not my dinner menu.

I kept track of details like what thread was used to quilt.

One year a friend regifted me with a very nice calendar book that she thought would be good for my notes -- but it was one of those books good in any year, with the days numbered days but not marked with days of the week.  I started out by labeling ahead a couple of weeks at a time, writing "S M T W Th F S" in the boxes.  But then I would forget, and then I didn't label for a while, and I couldn't remember whether today was the 27th or the 28th, and by the time I got to May I just quit using the book altogether.

That may seem like a pretty minor problem, but to me the format of the book was like a bit of sand in your shoe -- just annoying enough to take the pleasure out of my daily notes, a process that had always made me feel I'd accomplished something but now was making me feel crabby.  I don't know what kind of process will make you feel good rather than crabby, but suggest you try out some different ones and see what works.

Some people already have the daily habit of journaling, or "morning pages," or writing down their blood pressure, or sending an email to their mother -- maybe you could add your art notes to that routine.  Some people use a daily or weekly blog or instagram post to memorialize their art progress.  If you were really compulsive, and like to work on the computer, you might make a new Word document for each artwork, and write a narrative with pictures and text.  Whatever works for you -- whatever encourages you to actually follow through on your good intentions -- is the right answer.

By the way, Linda left a comment on yesterday's post:  "I don't really think about documenting along the way.  I guess posting to my blog is my only documentation.  Maybe I ought to be stepping it up."  So I checked out Linda's blog and indeed, she's doing a pretty good job of taking pictures and writing down what she's working on.  She's got that discipline down pat.  So my advice to her might be to stick with the blog as her format, but write a little bit more about the decisions she makes and ideas that come to her as she sews.

I do think it's better to write down your thoughts than to depend on memory.  In particular, write down ideas that did not get executed -- "might use contrast thread next time" or "what if the lines were twice as wide?"  Just rereading what you wrote about past work can help you jump-start your process, decide what to do next, get out of a funk and/or overcome artist's block.

Let me know whether any of this rings a bell with you!

Monday, January 27, 2020

Documenting the process -- part 1, pictures

Last week I wrote about Claire Henderson, who just finished a quilt she started in my workshop at Quilting By The Lake in 2017 and sent me a picture.  I looked back in my files and found some pictures I had taken of her quilt on the design wall, and it was interesting to see how the composition changed during the workshop and then at home.

Vickie left a comment: "I do love seeing the process.  I keep resolving to take and organize photos of my process, and add comments and reflections.  But, then, I think I'm too busy to stop and do that.  I've got to find a designated time for this.  Do you have any suggestions?"

Well, yes, I suggest you figure out a way to do it!  I firmly believe that understanding your own process, both the methods and techniques you use to make art and the way you come up with your ideas, is one of the major skillsets of the serious artist.  Maybe there are artiste savants out there who simply channel the universe into art without thinking about it along the way, but most of the artists I admire and respect don't do it that way.  They are able to articulate and recall what they have done in the past, so it's easier to plan ahead, solve problems and incorporate new ideas into their practice.

Vickie is right that there are two kinds of documentation: photos of the work as it progresses, and comments about how, why and how well you did what you did.  Of the many ways you can accomplish this, there's just one thing that absolutely has to be done RIGHT NOW as you work, and that's to take pictures.  So my first suggestion is to get into the habit of taking a lot of photos of what's happening on the design wall.

Making new habits is most effective one step at a time, and step one is really easy -- keep a camera at hand as you work.  Fortunately many people are already in the habit of carrying a phone on their person even when moving around their own house; if you aren't, then make a point of taking the phone or camera with you into the studio.  At the very least, take a picture of your design wall as you leave for the day.  And if you're working on anything complicated, take more -- you can't anticipate when your composition might fall prey to a gust of wind, a helpful toddler or playful cat, or when you lose your place between the design wall and the sewing machine.

(In the age of digital photos, there's no such thing as taking too many pictures.  When I snap the design wall as I close up for the night, I take two or three shots.  Why skimp?  You can always cull out the duplicates, or the ones out of focus or too dark.)

You can't go back and take a picture of what you had on the design wall last week, but you can always organize the photos later.  I was embarrassed, when Claire emailed me last week, to find that I had no folder for the QBL workshop.  So I went back and searched through everything I had taken in July 2017, pulled out the ones from the workshop and filed them where they should have been all along.  Two and a half years late, but now all is in order.  You should aim for a higher standard; maybe once a month?  once a year???

Tomorrow I'll talk about the second part of the process, keeping track of your thoughts.  Too bad there's no way to just shoot photos of what's going on in your head, and organize them later!

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Finished at last

How many times have you attended a workshop, made a good start on a quilt or other project, went home intending to wind it up posthaste -- and then time passed....

It's happened to me a lot, and sometimes it has taken a decade or more to get around to finishing the piece.  (Often what I do with it bears little resemblance to what I thought I would do with it when I left the workshop.)

But today I want to share a project from Claire Henderson, who took my workshop in improvisational piecing at Quilting by the Lake in 2017.  Yesterday she wrote me: "I finally quilted and faced my big project from the class.  I still like it and it was the first piece I pulled out for my New Years resolution to finish more things I start!  Thanks again for a fun and most important to me, serious and useful class."

Yesterday, when she sent me a picture of the quilt that she just finished, I looked back in my files and found that I had photographed the quilt in process.  Here's how she started out, making strip sets from her chosen palette:

The next day she was cutting modules from the strip sets and putting them up on the design wall:

By the end of the workshop, she had the quilt pretty much composed on the wall:

And here it is all sewed, quilted and faced:

I find it interesting how the big white square with the little green/blue/green patch in the middle was sketched out so early in the process, and how, with a little tweaking, it survived into the final quilt.  Also that the white and blue are the only ones of the five colors to survive into large expanses in the final version, while the red and green ended up sliced and diced into much smaller pieces -- and the coral is only an occasional accent bit.

I've always been a big fan of taking lots of photos as your quilt takes shape on the design wall.  Not only does it help you reconstruct if a big wind or a toddler takes everything down, or if you get confused between the wall and the sewing machine, but it gives a view into your thought process.

Thanks, Claire, for sharing!