Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dodging the bullet

I wrote recently about the klong you suffer when you watch a spot appear on your pale yellow quilt.  Well, friends, that's nothing compared to the klong when you discover that close to 3,000 pictures from your most recent overseas vacations have been mysteriously wiped from your hard drive.

I came home from each of these vacations, transferred my pictures to the computer, and erased the camera card.  Posted many of them to my blog, emailed some to other people.  Backed up the pictures to my portable hard drive. Then had a world-class computer crisis, during which everything on the main drive disappeared (on purpose) and most of the backed-up photos on the portable hard drive did too (by some evil force we cannot comprehend). 

Well, oops!

My son, bless his soul, found a program that recovered everything from the portable drive.  But that didn't occur until I went through two weeks of agony, wondering just how terrible it would be to let these pictures disappear (answer: really terrible) and how much money it would cost to get them back (hey, they do it all the time on Law and Order so I knew it was possible....).  And then spent several more weeks of discovering, every now and then, that the folders showing on my computer directory didn't actually have anything in them and needed to be recovered as well.

I have found God in the trenches, and have resolved that one backup is not enough, and the backup backup should be offsite.  Since then I have heard that one professional photographer of my acquaintance has multiple hard drives full of pictures sitting in different safe deposit boxes all over town.  That may be overkill, but I'm going to put all my photos and documents on DVDs and haul them to the bank.

By the way, I am reminded that the instructor who presented the orientation class when I bought my new camera told us that the best form of long-term storage is to print out your photos.  I should probably do that too, as soon as I get home from the bank.

So, friends, it could happen to you.  What kind of backup do you have?  If it's not good enough, do something about it already.

After all, I almost missed being able to show you these wonderful pictures.

Vestenberg, Germany, where my great-great-great-grandmother was born.

Klarakirche, from our hotel room in Nürnberg.

At a shrine in Kyoto.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Signs of the week

Ever walk by a construction site and wonder exactly what they're doing, not just what bank is financing it?  You'd be very happy at this canal-side project in Tokyo.  Knowledge of Japanese helpful but not necessary! 

Saturday, September 25, 2010


September 19 -- dogwood

September 20 -- optics

September 21 -- night vision

September 22 -- looking up

September 23 -- good cord, bad cord

September 24 -- chipping away

September 25 -- corn wheel

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Saturday, September 18, 2010


September 12 -- goldfish

September 13 -- through the blinds

September 14 -- tea bag collage

September 15 -- arches

September 16 -- land art

September 17 -- improvisational masonry

September 18 -- book / bookworm

Friday, September 17, 2010

The post-Quilt-National blues

Judy Kirpich commented on my blog the other day about suffering "the Post-Quilt National blues."  (The receive-by deadline was a week ago today.) There's always a reaction when a huge deadline has been met -- sometimes you feel down, sometimes you feel downright giddy, sometimes you feel like doing something totally off the beaten path.  I got together with two friends last weekend who had also devoted considerable effort to their QN entries, and we decided that we're going to schedule a serious party in future years to celebrate our passage of this milestone.  In 2012, according to current plan, we're going to Marfa, Texas and see minimalist art.

But this year I felt a certain exhilaration about finishing my QN work, and as I stowed my QN paperwork into my orange show entry folder, I noticed another call for entries that I had printed out some time ago and stuck into the same folder.  It was at a regional museum, the 55th year of this juried all-media show.  Well, not exactly all-media -- they specified no photography and no fabric art.

Earlier I had read these rules and decided that if they didn't want "fabric art" I didn't want to enter their show.  But this week I was feeling giddy, the entry fee was only $15, and it seemed like a lark to try to get some of my collage work into a show for the first time.  I decided to make a new piece, started on Tuesday, and by last night had it finished and ready for photography this afternoon (postmark deadline tomorrow).  Besides, by making art I was justified in postponing my studio clean-up.

It wasn't that herculean an effort -- I went back to my calligraphy practice sheets, tore them up into bits and mounted the bits on a pre-stretched canvas.  And just because they said no fabric art, I decided to sew on it as an in-your-face gesture.  For the second entry, I hauled out a small collage I had made last year, using an old book cover as the support, spiffed it up just a bit and sent it in too.

I suspect this is $15 down the drain, but I like to think of it as my contribution to the art scene.  And it certainly is nice to be able to produce a show entry in three days rather than three months, as with my QN quilts.  I'll keep you posted, but for now I'm feeling pretty cheerful, no post-QN blues at all! 

Anthology -- detail below

Cashing In on the American Dream -- detail below

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Monday, September 13, 2010

Other people's leftovers

When I go to a workshop I never leave a room without foraging in everybody else's wastebaskets.  I love to appropriate their scraps and leftovers, not just because I'm cheap, and not just because I love to sew little pieces of fabric together in serendipitous arrangements.  I also love other people's leftovers because I learn a lot by contemplating how they put shapes and colors together in ways that might not occur to me.

In the course of cleaning my studio I came upon several bits of leftovers that I had brought home from various forays.  Since I'm in open-mind mode this week, without a real project to work on, I enjoyed putting them up on the wall and thinking about them.

Here's the first one -- a small swatch that had been cut from the bottom of a strip set.  I loved the colors, probably because it's so rare to see brights combine successfully with pastels.  I trimmed the uneven edges of the piece to make it look more deliberate and pinned it up on the design wall.  I rarely use pastels but this combination is so strong that I want to look at it for a while. 

Here's another, a set of strips in the never-fail color combination of red, yellow and black.  But don't you love that one strip of blue?  I also want to look at the way these strips vary in width, because I rarely sew mine that way.

Nancy Crow once told us in a workshop that you can make strips with wobbly edges, varying the width, or you can make them with straight edges (at least as straight as you get without using a ruler) but you should decide on one, not mix and match.  I went for the freehand straight approach and after all these quilts, if I wanted to make swooshy, curvy strips tomorrow I'm not even sure how I would go about it. 

I have no idea who the artists were who contributed the first two sets of leftovers, but I do know that Terry Jarrard-Dimond gave me this batch of gorgeous strip sets.

They're hand-dyed fabric in a few subtly different shades of orange and blue.  Complementary colors in their full saturation always vibrate and sing, and these are particularly clear and bright.  I laid these out to overlap the edges, because I wanted to see the colors uninterrupted by white.

Although the strips are all about the same width, they're not exact. All I had to do was reposition the smallest swatch to see how the stripes stagger against one another when they are all horizontal.  I love this color combination -- it's one that I haven't used much in the past -- and there's enough fabric here that I could make a little quilt with a lot of complexity, using more vertical cuts and seams.

Thank you, Terry and my two anonymous benefactors, for giving me something to think about and maybe also something to make a little quilt from. 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The greatest art-a-day

I started this blog in January as a vehicle for my 2010 daily art project.  I love doing regular art -- that genre in which you set directions for yourself and then follow the directions every day.  I've had several different daily art projects in the last decade, working sometimes in fabric, sometimes by mail and now with a photograph every day.  To encourage my local art friends to try daily art, I found a list of other people who are doing or have done such projects, and every one of them reinforces my feeling that regular art is good for your art and for your soul.

But today I discovered a daily art project that trumps everything I've ever done or seen.  Betty Londergan, a former advertising writer who lives in Atlanta, found herself unemployed, unemployable and empty-nested, not to mention poorer than she was before the great financial bust. To make herself focus on what's good in life instead of feeling sorry for herself, she decided to give away $100 to a good cause every day this year and write about it in a blog.

Now two-thirds of the way through the year, she has come up with a remarkable list of people and organizations to help.  Most of them are charities, of course, in many places around the world; Londergan's interests are wide-ranging, including promotion of peace, women's empowerment, disease prevention, education, environmental preservation, religion, art and music.  Some of her beneficiaries are simply people who need a hand, such as the 18-year-old young man who aged out of foster care and had absolutely no possessions to take with him to college.  Some are good people who deserve an attaboy for doing their jobs faithfully and well, such as the trash collectors who work on Londergan's street.

Along the way she has collected a small army of folks who follow her blog, suggest good causes that she might consider for her daily donations, and often step up to make their own contributions to the causes she writes about.

I suppose Betty Londergan would not describe this project as daily art, but I would -- it's performance art, every bit as compelling as the artists who live in a room for a year or lie naked under the floor in a museum or walk a path through the streets to trace pictures on huge city maps.  Actually, her performance art is arguably more compelling, because its social benefit is direct and tangible rather than solely intellectual.

The project certainly is a huge commitment of time as well as money.  Her daily articles are well-researched, well-written and thoroughly persuasive.  As a professional-writer-turned-blogger myself, I can tell how much work it takes to do this project and make it so persuasive and appealing.  It's clearly her day job, and she does it well.

I discovered the blog because last week Londergan gave money to the Alliance for American Quilts, and the president of that organization posted about it to the Quiltart list.  I checked out the link and didn't leave the site all afternoon, transfixed by the generosity, scope and commitment of this remarkable woman.  I dare you to check it out too and not be profoundly moved.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


September 5 -- empty

September 6 -- backlit

September 7 -- man at work

September 8 -- zebra tree

September 9 -- orange pump

September 10 -- through the windshield

September 11 -- sunset

Friday, September 10, 2010

On cleaning the studio

The Quilt National entries are finished, photographed and mailed.  Now what's a girl to do?

It's not like I don't have anything else in progress.  When I decided in February to put my Quilt National eggs in the basket of fine-line pieced quilts, I had two postage stamp quilts (like Regatta and Memorial Day over in the right-hand margin of this blog) substantially underway.  I could probably get one of them finished in less than a week of work.  And I have a couple of pieced tops that I made three years ago, designs that I'm very proud of, all ready to quilt.

But somehow when you finish a huge project you aren't always ready to leap right in with another one, especially if no deadlines loom.  It's a good time to cleanse your artistic palate with a nice refreshing sorbet and not think too hard for a couple of days.  When I find myself in this pleasant place, my favorite thing to do is to pull out a bag of scraps and make something frothy, maybe a baby quilt.

So why did I decide instead to clean out my studio? 

Yes, it sure needed it.  I have spent several days puttering around, putting things away and cleaning, and feel a great deal of accomplishment.  My ironing board now has nothing on it but the iron!  The fabric I had out for the last four or five quilts has been put back in the drawers, and the small scraps and leftover bits sorted into ziplock bags for future use.  The wastebaskets are full and the walking space around my work table is considerably wider than it was two weeks ago.  Many items missing in action for months were excavated from the debris.  All the thread has been put away in its proper drawer, and I even rolled the thread ends back onto the spools.

Yes, an outside observer might still think that the studio was just vacated by hostile cops with a search warrant, but I recognize how much better it looks than it did two weeks ago.

I've never subscribed to the concept that a messy desk means a messy mind.  Sure, I'd love to work in a huge, clean, uncluttered studio where everything was in its place and I could serenely glide about finding anything I wanted in one minute flat -- wouldn't you?  But I'd also love to have that huge studio in the first place, with the acre of storage space, the nice cabinets and the army of elves to get everything organized, then come around behind me and put things away when I'm done with them. 

Several years ago I decided to clean up my studio once and for all.  I spent two months at that project, and the place did get a lot neater, but it never even approached that perfect state of bliss I thought I was supposed to crave.  Finally I decided I could either keep on cleaning, or make some art.  And decided I'd rather make art.

I have listened to many an artists' discussion about how we put obstacles in our own paths, and have decided that one of those obstacles is the need to clean out the studio before getting started on the next project.  What a convenient and effective means of procrastination!  Since then I have been searching for the happy medium, cleaning enough so the health department doesn't shut me down but not enough to occupy the best part of my time, energy and imagination. 

Besides, it hurts to be in the studio and not turn on the sewing machine.  How long can my current attack of cleanth last?  Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Yet another April quilt date report

It's clear to me that of all the guys I've introduced to you, the one from April is the hunk of the crowd.  (He's the one with the very fine pieced lines.)  Here's a reader who had a wonderful date with Mr. April.

Lynne Croswell writes:  "I have wanted to try your technique since you started showing your fracture pieces, and now I'm glad I've had the chance to give it a go.  There are many pitfalls in the way I chose to use what you do but I think some of that enhances the organic nature of my subject matter.   I have to say it was a bit tedious and time consuming to make my initial fabric, but I would do it again.  It was so exciting to see the way the piece evolved and came together to express what was in my head."

Lynne Croswell, Witch Hobble, 25" x 25"

For more on how Lynne made the underlying fabric with very thin lines, then pieced the large leaf with more very thin lines, check out her blog -- this post and the one right underneath it.  I had not thought to use this technique to make "fabric" for additional piecing, but it is beautiful.  Good work, Lynne, and thanks for sending along the photos!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Patterns vs. plans

A recurring subject of discussion among quilters is the extent to which the use of commercial patterns is the spawn of the devil. I come down strongly on the spawn side.

When I started taking my quilting seriously, almost two decades ago, I joined a traditional quilt guild. I thought it would be helpful and fun to connect with other quilters, and that thereby I might be able to progress faster than I could do on my own. Turns out that guild was not for me, which I first realized when I noted the standard dialog of show-and-tell. Somebody would hold up the quilt she just finished. The audience would ooh and aah, and then somebody would ask, what pattern did you use? And the quilter would always have used a pattern, which many of the other ladies were quite familiar with and might have used themselves.

I never used a commercial pattern in my life, and so I was unable to participate appropriately in the standard dialog. When I said I just made the design up, the nicer ladies had blank stares and the not-so-nice ladies gave me dirty looks. So that relationship didn’t last very long.

I have subsequently told many a group of traditional quilters that my object in life is to make it unnecessary for any quilter to ever use a pattern made up by somebody else. (I don’t count people who like to reproduce the traditional old pieced or applique patterns like Clay’s Choice or Carolina Lily, just those who want to make functional quilts with a somewhat non-traditional or contemporary feel – in other words, those who go out and buy a pattern or use one from a magazine.)

I tell them that there are two parts to a quilt, whether it’s traditional or non-traditional – design and execution. Practically everybody in the guild is good at execution, but many if not most of them are not good at design. In fact, many if not most of them have never even tried to do their own design, except for fabric selection and some don’t even do that by themselves.

You all are constantly trying to improve your quilt execution skills, I say, and wouldn’t it give you pleasure to also improve your design skills? Wouldn’t you be even prouder of your quilts if you did both parts yourself instead of outsourcing half of the job to commercial pattern makers?

At this point many heads are nodding in agreement, but there’s a detectable current of doubt wafting around the edges as people wonder if they could really do their own designs. And then I give them the pasta analogy.

It’s like cooking, I tell them. Let’s say you never learned to cook at home because your mom was governor and your dad was too busy doing housework so you ate out all the time. Or whatever your excuse is. So one day you decide to learn to cook. You get a cookbook and choose a recipe, and make it exactly as the book says. After a while you gain confidence and realize that you can make substitutions. The recipe called for rotini with broccoli, and you don’t have any rotini, so you make penne. Or even more daring, you make penne with cauliflower!

After you get more confident with one-for-one substitutions, you realize one day that you don’t even need the original recipe because you’ve learned the general plan for making pasta. You need four things: some pasta, some liquid, some solids, and some flavor. As long as you have all four represented, you can do pretty much anything you want. If you wanted to, you could serve pasta every night and never repeat yourself exactly. Or you could broaden your repertoire even more and in addition to your general pasta plan, have a general soup plan and a general salad plan and a general chinese food plan and a general quiche-or-omelet plan.

The same can be true for quilting. My favorite general plan for “contemporary” quilts is log cabin, just as my favorite general plan for food is pasta. And just as I could happily serve a different meal for many nights in a row from my general pasta plan, I could make a lifetime’s worth of bed, lap and baby quilts from my general log cabin plan.

Just as the pasta plan calls for four essential components, the log cabin plan does too – a center, logs, a construction method and a color/fabric scheme. Just as the pasta plan allows for many possibilities in each component (for instance, the solids could be broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, ground beef, sausage…..) the log cabin plan does too (for instance, the logs could be fat, skinny, rectangular, wedge-shaped, curved…..).

I’ve written a book on this log cabin plan, but have found that it’s a lot easier to write a book than to find a publisher and get it executed. So maybe I’ll just write about it now and then in my blog. And if you want me to come and give this lecture or workshop to your guild, just give me a call!

As I thought about the pasta analogy I realized it really works because the way I approach my quilts is very similar to the way I approach my kitchen. And I thought that just as I have enjoyed writing this blog to share my ideas about fiber art, I might enjoy sharing my ideas about cooking. So today I’m inaugurating a blog about cooking called Kathy’s Soup Kitchen, and the first post is about my pasta plan. Please visit me there as well as here!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

What is a series?

That's the question du jour on the Quiltart list.  It's a subject dear to my heart because I believe that working in series is the best, perhaps the only way to progress as a serious artist.

The questioner asks "What constitutes a series? Meaning style, technique, number of pieces."

I say a series is a collection of works in which each individual piece after the first derives in some way from the ones that went before. 

Here's an example from my own work.  I have a series called "Crazed" in which lots of little pieces are joined in strips like bricks with mortar in between.  As you analyze the construction method, there are two elements: the bricks and the mortar.  The first piece in my series has three sectors; each one has one color for bricks and another color for mortar.

Crazed 1

The second piece has one color for bricks but two colors of mortar.

Crazed 2 

The third also has one color for bricks but three colors for mortar.

Crazed 3

I've just finished number 10 in the series.  I won't show all the quilts, but here's how they vary:

Crazed 4 and 5 each have one color for mortar and many colors for bricks.  Crazed 6 has two sections, each with the same mortar but two different brick colors.  Crazed 7 also has two sections, one with one brick and one mortar, the other with several bricks and several mortars. In Crazed 6 the boundary between the two sections is jagged; in Crazed 7 it's a smooth curved line.  For the first time, Crazed 7 uses commercial prints for the mortar. 

Crazed 8 uses a huge variety of commercial striped fabrics for both bricks and mortar.  Crazed 9 uses a commercial stripe for the mortar, and I wrote on the commercial solids with a fabric marker for the bricks.  Crazed 10 also uses solids with writing for the bricks, and it has a new twist: it's a diptych of two separate quilts held together with hand stitching.

Each piece in the series is a variation on what came before.  The plan for Crazed 4 and 5 (one mortar, multiple bricks) is the mirror image of the plan for Crazed 2 and 3 (one brick, multiple mortars).  Crazed 4 and 5 have the same plan but one is high contrast and the other is low contrast.  Everything from Crazed 6 on experiments with breaking up the neat rows of bricks for a more random arrangement. 

Not sure where the series is going to go now that it's in double digits, but I will use my general approach: evaluate each piece and decide what worked, what didn't work, and where I had to choose between two equally appealing alternatives.  For future pieces I will repeat things I liked from previous works, avoid things I didn't like, and try out the alternatives that I didn't do before. 

For instance, Crazed 9 uses commercial stripes because I loved the way they looked in Crazed 8.  And Crazed 10 is a diptych because Crazed 8 was so huge it nearly killed me to quilt it and I resolved to quilt my next large piece in smaller sections, and sew them together later.

Back to the original question: what does a series need in terms of style and technique?  I say you must be able to articulate what elements of style, technique, subject matter or whatever are included.  For me, the characteristics of this series are that they're pieced and they use the brick-and-mortar format.  But your series might have much different characteristics.  For instance, it might constitute family pictures incorporated into  landscapes that you execute through silkscreens, fabric paint and machine threadwork.  It might constitute abstract whole cloth designs made with a certain silkscreen and embellished with hand stitching. 

It's up to you when your work starts to change enough that you think it's time to start a new series -- perhaps when the family pictures start to concentrate just on your mother or when you switch to a new silkscreen design.  However you articulate the differences, you're the judge of which works fall naturally together.

Finally, how many pieces make a series?  Two.  But I think you'd be silly to stop at two.  The serious learning doesn't start until you have worked again and again to explore your chosen territory and make the most of it. Nancy Crow is over 100 in her Constructions series, and still working.  I would not abandon a series until I'd done at least three, and then since I'd already invested so much in it, I'd make sure I know why I abandoned it.  In future posts I'll show you a couple of series that I have either abandoned or put on hold, and tell you why.

Nürnberg museums 1 -- Germanisches Nationalmuseum

The Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nürnberg is one of those huge, rambling, mysterious places where no matter what you're interested in, you can find a bit of.  First we headed for the small section of modern and contemporary art and found an assortment of German artists and themes.

There were several Expressionists, as you might expect in a survey of German art.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Interieur mit zwei Mädchen (Interior with two girls), 1908/1926
(Kirchner was one of the Brücke artists I wrote about in an earlier post)

Werner Gilles, Steinbruch (Stone Bridge), 1948

Several of the more recent artists had political themes.

Helmut Middendorf, Flugzeugtraum (Airplane Dream), 1982

Klaus Staeck, Am Anfang war das Geld, 1973
A riff on the opening words of the Gospel of John -- Am Anfang war das Wort (in the beginning was the word) -- here, in the beginning was the money.

Next we went to the old masters, mainly in search of Albrecht Dürer, who was born in Nürnberg.  We found three beautiful pictures.

Albrecht Dürer, Emperor Charlemagne (left) and Emperor Sigismund, 1511/1512

rer, Portrait of the Nürnberg Painter Michael Wohlgemut, 1516

Also found works by other Greatest Hits artists.

Rembrandt, Self Portrait in a Gorget, 1629

Don't know how he snuck into this pantheon of German art; maybe they made him an honorary member.  This is his earliest known self-portrait; sorry for the side view, but the reflections were fierce. 

Lucas Cranach, Frederick III the Wise, Elector of Saxony
(Martin Luther's patron, if you're interested in history)

Lucas Cranach, The Fable of the Mouth of Truth
(you put your hand into the lion's mouth; if he ate it you were lying and deserved it)