Friday, November 16, 2018

Workshop report 3

One of my students has already finished the piece begun in the Loose Threads workshop last month.  Linda Bohlen sent this photo of her little quilt, "Snow on the Mountain." 

She thought the diagonal lines looked like a mountain range, and added some hand stitching to make a dusting of snow on the peak.

It's always nice when you like a workshop piece enough to take it home and finish it!  And even nicer when it comes out looking great.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Workshop report 2

Here's another workshop piece from Loose Threads that started as large-to-small -- one piece of fabric, sliced and restitched with a very skinny line of fabric between the two halves -- and then turned into small-to-large on the second day.  The very densely pieced small-to-large areas, because they can incorporate different colors in different combinations, add a lot of pizzazz!

after the first day

making a bunch of small-to-large strips and modules

adding them to the large-to-small composition

And she's not done yet!!  I'm waiting to see how this all turns out.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Workshop report 1

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about leading a workshop for Loose Threads, a small group of fiber artists in Evansville IN.  When I teach fine-line piecing I like to spent the first day slicing up large pieces of fabric and piecing them back together with very skinny "mortar" lines.  The longer you work on something, the more lines will appear and the more complex the composition.  You can also turn the pieces upside down or add a second color before you sew it back together.


after working late into the evening



The second day we worked with a different method of construction: starting with small modules or strips and building them up into larger expanses.  Some people stuck with their first-day compositions and made them even more complex with new modules.

second day afternoon

The moral of this story, I guess, is that when the schedule says it's time to stop and move on to another task, sometimes it isn't.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Refugee quilt people -- the entry

I wrote recently about a SAQA exhibit called "Forced to Flee," about the world refugee crisis, that I wanted to enter.  I spent much of the summer making people out of old quilt fragments, enjoying the bedraggled, faded and distressed quality of their clothes.  I decided to enter this competition because 3-D work was encouraged, and my first thought was to stand the people on some kind of base, arranging them either in lines or in a crowd.  So I constructed each one around an armature of aluminum wire that could be inserted into a hole in the base.

When I visited my art pal Paula Kovarik in September I had my bag of quilt scraps and people with me, to work on during spare moments, and when I dumped them out on the table to show them to her, she thought it might be more powerful to just have them in a heap.  "Huddled masses" should come to mind in this presentation.  The more I thought about this suggestion, the more I liked it.  That would also make it easier to ship the piece if it were accepted.

But I didn't want them to be lying down in the heap, implying they had died or given up; I wanted them to be alive and looking us in the eye, holding us to account for what happens next.  That argued for displaying the people on a vertical support, emerging from the wall like a bas relief.  I happened to own some pre-stretched canvases that weren't actually canvas, but burlap, and thought the rough texture was appropriate to the subject matter.

I checked my supply and found two 12x12s and one 8x16.  The short, wide one seemed to be best, and I started to arrange the people on it.  Then I quite by accident went back and read the call for entries: the minimum size was 12x12.  That seemed to rule out the 8x16 canvas.  So what next?

I rearranged the heaps.  One 12x12 canvas was too small for the number of people I had made; two of them seemed too big.  Too late to make more people -- I had had to wait till my show was open before I could finish the project.  The  opening was Sunday afternoon; the entry deadline was Wednesday night, which wasn't a lot of time.

Finally I had a brainstorm: use the 8x16 canvas and let one guy be falling off the bottom, at least 4 inches worth!

As I sewed the people to the canvas I ended up not only with one guy falling off the bottom but several sticking up above the top, so the finished height was 17 inches, well above the minimum.

Interestingly, the most difficult thing about photographing the entry was to get a side view, required of all 3-D work.  Although I had a big piece of gray felt -- 45 x 72 inches -- for my photo station, it proved very hard to get the whole piece into the frame without also getting annoying background where the felt ran out.  That took an hour on Wednesday evening, as the clock ticked, but I got everything done and hit the "submit" button four whole hours before the deadline.

Now comes the part that always seems unnecessary -- waiting six weeks for the juror to make up her mind.  Now that online entry programs do all the sorting and recordkeeping for you, there doesn't seem to be any reason why show organizers can't have the juror ready to go the week after the entry deadline, and make decisions a few days later.

I think the six-week turnaround is a holdover from the olden days when show entries used slides, which had to be manually taken out of the entry envelopes and arranged in trays, and reshuffled as the juror(s) narrowed down their choices.  And the high-end shows that bring multiple jurors into town for in-person presentations still need more time for human logistics, if not photo logistics.

But why should we be tied to six weeks lead time when the only non-computerized task is for a juror to sit down at a computer screen for a day or two?  Just wondering.

Friday, November 2, 2018

The show opens

The show is open for business -- sketchbooks from a year of drawing out on the mantelpiece:

Two courses of daily news haiku on a pedestal:

The calendar quilt that started it all up on the wall:

Pedestals full of bundles and packages:

One of the daily people, sitting on a base:

Daily hand stitching:

And then, just for good measure, a lovely article on the show by our local visual art association.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Flag time

Long-time readers of my blog know that I am a flag junkie -- I love the flag, I love photographing the flag, I love making quilts using the flag both as visual motif and as metaphor.  If you love the flag in all of its roles, you can check out my past posts here.

Two years ago I was feeling frissons of dismay about what was happening in the country as the presidential election approached.  I made three flag quilts to express different nuances of that dismay.  And I will confess that I was pissed off that none of them was juried into Quilt National, because I thought they were far stronger works than the quilts I have had accepted into that show in the past, and because I thought that artists who spoke out against the sorry state of American democracy should be given as wide latitude as possible to have their work shown.

Fading -- 59 x 99"

Today I'm feeling dismay again -- or perhaps I should say yet.  It was brought very close to home last week when a guy with a gun attempted to enter a black church, and when nobody answered his knock on the door, went down the street to a grocery store and murdered two black shoppers.  This is a grocery store, a few miles down the road from my house, where I have shopped many times.  A couple of days later, another guy with a gun shot up a synagogue in Pittsburgh, in a neighborhood where I have walked and shopped and eaten and driven through.

What dismays me today?  Let me count the ways --

The fact that we have almost as many guns in this country as people (except a huge proportion of those guns are owned by a relatively small proportion of people).  The fact that so few politicians have the guts to stand up to the NRA, although the great majority of people in the U.S. want stronger gun regulation.  The fact that our president throws gasoline on the flames of white male resentment every time he opens his mouth, ranting against immigrants, Muslims, people of color, women, anybody with the slightest deviation from standard sexual identity.  The fact that he trashes and insults our allies, the democracies of the world, while expressing his love for dictators and bullies such as Kim, Erdogan, Duterte, Putin.  The fact that the Republican party goes along with every outrageous word out of the president's mouth.  The fact that so many avowed Christians have decided that they love a thrice-married, perpetually lying, self-confessed sexual assaulter because they think the ends justify the means and this is the way to ban abortion.

Flagging -- 98 x 54"

My parents, along with their entire families from the day they immigrated, were Republicans.  They were decent people, as were most of the people in that party.  The Republican party used to pride itself on its commitment to principles.  When Nixon hit the fan, it was because his fellow Republicans, dismayed at the revelation that he had lied and obstructed justice, announced they could not support him.

I do not see that commitment to principles any more in the Republican party.  Instead I see previously decent people who have decided to sit down with the devil, perhaps uneasily but boy, are their butts firmly attached to their chairs!  They have sold their souls to the NRA, to the big money PACs, to the pharmaceutical and gambling and oil lobbyists.  They have pinned their election strategies on keeping as many potential Democratic voters as possible from registering and voting.

More Equal then Others -- 82 x 97"

My only hope is that we're having an election next week.  And although our constitutional system is deliberately rigged to favor the voters in small states and dilute the votes of those in large states -- in other words, most of the people in the country -- I still have hope that decency will prevail.  If we miss this chance, we may not have another.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Almost finished

The show has to be open for the public at noon today, and with any luck it will be!  I have been at the gallery every day this week with a rotating crew of friends and family, without whom I would have been in deep trouble.  Monday was carpentry time, as my older son installed a rail on which to display a bunch of matted photos from my 2010 and 2011 daily art.  This was my first time to see a laser level in use and boy, is that a nice little toy!

Here's what the rail looks like finished:

On Tuesday my friend Vickie, who had done so much in helping me last week, showed up again and we made all the decisions about what should go where.  My younger son came to wrangle pedestals and climb ladders; we got the 2001 calendar quilt up on the wall and all the weekly package/bundles put out.

Yesterday my fellow PYRO members Bette and Claudia helped me get the finishing touches on the installations, and do a professional job of lighting.  We are fortunate to have a wonderful track light system at the gallery but you still have to climb the ladder and adjust the lamps by hand.  (You lost me as "climb the ladder.")

Despite going shopping every day this week, I still had one more last-minute list to do on the way to dinner last night.  I think I have everything I need in the car as I head off to the gallery for what had better be the last trip.  Getting very tired of installation -- want to get on to the party phase of this opening!

The show, "Day By Day By Day: adventures in daily art" will be at PYRO Gallery, 1006 E. Washington St. in Louisville KY through December 1.  The opening reception will be Sunday October 28, 1-4:30 pm, and I'll do a gallery talk at noon on Saturday November 3.  It would be wonderful if some of my internet friends could be here in person.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018


Recently I spent a couple of nights at a hotel that was ostentatiously green.  They gave you a $10 credit to the gift shop if you would agree to not have the maid make up your room.  They encouraged you to save electricity by providing only one weak lightbulb for a spacious room (fortunately I was reading on my Kindle, not by hotel light). 

The soap was called "terra green."  It came in a nice cardboard package, eminently recyclable or biodegradable.  But imagine my surprise when I opened the package and found another layer of packaging, and it seemed to be plastic!

Back to the drawing board.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Duct tape takes a hit

Conventional wisdom has it that duct tape sticks to everything and is your go-to remedy for any kind of adhesive need.  Heck, even the astronauts keep it around for emergency repairs, such as the hail-Mary save of the Apollo 13 mission, fixing a moonbuggy and plugging holes in the International Space Station.  Certainly the roof-and-gutter guy who worked on our house many years ago loved the stuff, as we discovered when we started excavating to prepare the way for major basement waterproofing:

Yes, the guy took the downspout a foot under ground level and duct-taped the joint to the pipe that was supposed to take the water out to the front lawn.  Guess what -- the duct tape failed and the water made a nice big cave behind the pipe to wait in before escaping into our crawl space.

But I digress.  Duct tape is on my mind this week because it seemed like a good way to affix felt to foamcore boards in preparation for my show.  On Wednesday Vickie and I spent all morning on this task.  We thought about various alternative methods, but decided that duct tape would be the down-and-dirty way to get the job done -- and of course, duct tape sticks to everything, right?

Yesterday I got one of the boards and put it on the work table to pin the collages on.  But what's that spongy feeling under my fingers -- it feels like loose duct tape on the back!  Took all the collages off the board, flipped it over, and yes, the duct tape was coming loose.  Apparently it didn't like to stick to felt.  And it didn't even like to stick to foamcore board very much either.

So I did what I should have done in the first place: return to my roots.  Namely, if you want fabric to stay in place, sew it.  I stitched the corners shut and added more duct tape to the sides -- not holding tight enough for the space station, but I hope tight enough to get the boards to the gallery where I can nail them to the wall.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Getting ready for the show

I've told you that I'm getting ready for my solo show at PYRO Gallery, opening a week from today.  The topic is my daily art, which I've been doing since 2001.  So unlike many artists, who as their show approaches are chained to the studio, wildly sewing or painting or whatever to make new work, I don't have to make anything new.  But I do have to figure out how to display all the stuff I have made over almost two decades.

Yesterday my wonderful friend Vickie came over to help me get set.  Our first task was to cover foamcore boards with felt to make a background for collages that will be pinned up.  I've written before about my frustration in ordering foamcore boards that arrived with all the corners crushed in, but fortunately the felt concealed much of the crush, and we decided it was good enough for government work. 

We had to decide which collages would go on the board -- I had spent a lot of time narrowing the choices down, but when it came to the last decisions, I outsourced to Vickie and my husband.  They chose which five to lose, or sorted poems into yes and no piles.   Ordinarily I'm a control freak but as this show reaches its completion I guess I'm tired, and happy to relinquish ownership of the final cut.

Then we arranged and rearranged the cards on the boards, both by subject matter and by color.  Finally ended up with four boards occupying every horizontal surface in the living room.

After lunch we moved on to photos.  I had made prints of 80 of my favorite daily photos, but only ordered 50 mat sets.  I will have room to display only about 25 photos, but thought I would get about 40 matted and put the rest in a flat bin for immediate purchase.

I was disappointed to find that some of the photos, bright enough when seen on a computer, looked drab as prints.  But no harm done -- the prints cost only 39 cents each.  We put a bunch in a pile for Photoshopping and reprinting sometime in the future. 

We had to hinge the cut side of the mat to the back board, and then tape the prints inside.  Since I had foresightedly bought two rolls of archival framer's tape, we could each work separately and crank out a big pile of beautifully matted prints.

I realized that I hadn't bought enough of the tiny T-pins to get all the collages pinned to the boards, so I let Vickie go home.  I'll have to finish that part of the task on my own -- certainly before the next baby visit to our living room.

I know I could have done these things by myself if I had to, but it was such a joy and relief to have a helper, if only to be able to talk through the decisions that were already 90 percent made, and to give somebody else a chance to say "OMG don't put THAT collage up on the wall!"  I've always believed that everybody needs an editor, and Vickie was my safety net.  As well as my dear friend, especially after today.

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.