Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Quilt date report

Last year I gave a little tutorial in piecing very fine lines, as a Quilt Date.  Among the readers who sent in photos of their fling with this technique was Linda Laird, who made two pieces.  She wrote me again last week with an update.

"Attached is a photo of my piece 'Calm Down!' that I made last year using a variation of your skinny line piecing technique; I think I wrote you about it back then, because I used bias strips to piece some gentle curves. I made it for a challenge at the open-entry San Diego Quilt Show, where it was pretty much ignored.

"Fast forward to this year: I entered it, and it was accepted into the PAQA-South show...  Long story short -- it sold!!  My first sale!!!  I am still so jazzed!!!  This technique has really resonated with me, and I'm planning something new with it even as I write."

Linda, thanks for sharing this good news.   It's always nice when somebody gets an idea from you and does something good with it.  Kind of like having grandchildren.

Photo du jour


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Found art -- others like it too

Last week I wrote about "found art" and asked whether others took the same kinds of photos that I love to.  The answer is yes, and a couple of people sent me their pictures to prove it. 

Melanie Hulse sent photos of what she calls "drive-by calligraphy" (and I might call driveWAY calligraphy).  "The ink painter in me leapt up and took notice.  And pictures," she wrote.

Then Valerie Kamikubo sent some nice rusty metal close-ups.  She wrote, "I've noticed that carrying a camera around in recent years has changed the way that I look at the world around me. Things seem to capture my attention that previously would not have, and I take delight in certain finds. I've also gained a new admiration for land art and am thinking about doing a post about some of the artists that I really admire. I've made a few meager attempts at my own land art that I've left behind for other passersby to find on the beach."

Both of these types of photos resonate with me and I'm so happy that Melanie and Val sent me theirs to share with you.  I have never contemplated doing land art, but the next time I'm at a beach I hope I remember Val's idea to leave behind for others to enjoy.

Photo du jour

St. Francis on duty

Monday, August 29, 2011

Playing with paper

I attended a great workshop yesterday in which we made all kinds of surfaces on paper with acrylic paint.  We had brushes and rollers to apply the paint and lots of different stencils and resists to make patterns with.  Suzi Zimmerer, a gifted paper artist, was our leader and brought out the best in all of us. 

Among the techniques we learned were crumpling the paper (then you roll paint over the top and it sticks only to the raised "ridgelines" of the paper) and spritzing a fresh coat of paint with water, then blotting it off so you lose color everywhere there was a droplet.  We made stamps out of foam board (think takeout containers or meat trays), either by cutting them or embossing into the surface.

We each came home with a dozen or more sheets of personalized paper.  The problem, always, is what to do with the gorgeous things you make at a workshop...

Photo du jour

sign of the week

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The winner is...

Thanks to everybody who left comments on my blog about the new book, Masters Art Quilts.  I used my high-tech random number generator (i.e. asked my husband to choose a number from 1 to 74) and the winner is Julie Mackinder in the UK. 

Stay tuned, someday soon I hope to be able to review the book.

Quilting for a cause

Several hundred miles away from me, a nice woman sat down at her computer last week and cast her bread upon the waters -- did any of her friends know somebody whose brain she could pick about quilting?  And through the magic of the internet, within a couple of hours her message had been forwarded by a friend to another friend and then to me.

The woman has worked as a volunteer on an annual event for an upscale sport -- not polo, but almost that ritzy -- and over the years they've accumulated 2,000 unsold commemorative T shirts.  So they had a brilliant idea: make them into T shirt quilts and sell them at this year's event.  She wanted to do this as "a very, very low budget thing" and being a good-hearted person, thought to "use a non-profit group that employs the handicapped, the underserved, or some such group to make the quilts for a small cost."  She needed a clue as to finding such an organization.

I was procrastinating that morning, and rather than work on whatever was on my to-do list, chose to spend some time responding to the email.  I observed that making a T shirt quilt is not a simple or inexpensive task.  Because of the nature of T shirt knits, you have to stabilize them before you can piece them.  You have to buy batting and backing.  You need a longarm machine to quilt them.  Handicapped workshops are probably not going to be up to this task, and when the quilts are sewed they're not going to have the small cost the organizer was anticipating.

I also observed that cheap imports from China have convinced many potential buyers that you get big quilts for $100 or less.  And that nobody past college age puts T shirt quilts on their bed.

So my bottom line was that she might want to think about this project a bit and clarify her objectives; that it wasn't going to be a simple, low budget thing, and might not even be particularly appealing to her potential buyers, the upscale folks who attend this event.

She responded with profuse thanks for my email, but said cheerfully that she was going to go ahead and see what happens. 

That night while I wasn't sleeping, I thought a lot about her plan.  The more I thought about it, the more unhappy I got.  The next morning I wrote her back and said: "If you have 2,000 new T shirts that you aren't doing anything with, it seems almost obscene to cut them up, throw 3/4 of the fabric away, buy a lot of new fabric, put hours of work into them and make them into something that people may or may not want.  Why not give them away to people who need shirts? You could even turn this into an event, getting good publicity for your group and your sport, and also doing a lot of good without any added effort or investment on your part.  For instance, a project where poor kids could come to the event, see something new and exciting, and have a shirt to wear home.  Or simplest of all, give them to a homeless shelter."

I got no response to this email. 

Photo du jour

at the dock

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Found art

Roberta Smith, chief art critic of the New York Times, wrote an article this week about what she called "inadvertent galleries" of "not-quite-art" -- in other words, visually striking or beautiful things that you come upon as you walk about the city.  She pointed out that recent developments in art, such as conceptual art, land art, process art and minimalism, have expanded what we think of as the realm of art. 

"These movements permanently enlarged art’s footprint and blurred its borders, greatly increasing the number of accidental artworks available for appreciation by expanding our ability to appreciate them," Smith wrote. "In other words, as art has become more like life, life has become more peppered with things and experiences that offer some of the sensory and even intellectual pleasures of art."

She goes on to list several "almost artworks" in Manhattan that she loves, including a secluded parking lot, the scaffoldlike structures of a construction site, a stucco wall with rough and beautiful trowel patterns and the illuminated spaces in a subway concourse made for ads but currently occupied only by colored plastic.

I was delighted to read this article because I too love to find things that might qualify as art.  I like to think of my "found art" in a slightly different way: that if you saw it displayed in an art setting, you would be perfectly happy to accept it as art rather than a closeup photo of the side of a dumpster, to name just one of my favorite places to look for found art. 

Here are some examples of my found art; it's one of my favorite genres.  If you like this kind of photo too, send me a copy (    ) and I'll post it!  

Photo du jour


Friday, August 26, 2011

Want a free book? So do I

Several weeks ago Martha Sielman, the executive director of Studio Art Quilt Associates and the author of a new quilt book, put out a call for bloggers who might like to review the new book.  I signed up, because I love to review books (used to do that with regular books in a previous life), as well as to read book reviews by other people.  In fact, I consider myself a well-informed reader once removed: even though I rarely read new books, I always read the reviews and could probably even participate intelligently in a cocktail party conversation about many books if only I went to cocktail parties.

So Lark Books, the publisher of Martha's book, put my name on a list for a project that has escalated from simple book reviews to an elaborate "blog hop and giveaway."  Every day for almost a month, some fiber art blogger gives away a free copy of the book, and today it's my turn to do so.

Leave a comment in response to this post (consult the little box at the top of the right-hand column if you have trouble) and I'll choose one at random to get the free book, which Lark will send to you.  Hey, I'll even be a sport and wait till midnight Saturday before I close it off and choose the lucky winner.

Now I'm sure you're wanting to read the book review.  Unfortunately Lark hasn't managed to get the book to me yet.  There's planning, and then there's execution.  Shortly after the book arrives, you'll read the review.  Whenever.  Don't hold your breath.

Photo du jour


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Workshop report -- curved piecing

In Cincinnati I taught a second workshop last weekend, on curved piecing.  I know most people use non-pieced methods to get curved shapes onto their quilts -- fusing, or raw-edge applique, or turned-edge applique, sometimes executed by hand stitching, or by machine zigzag or blanket stitch, sometimes with invisible thread.  In many cases I suspect I could get the same curve sewed up with old-fashioned piecing in less time -- and that way I have the perfectly clean, hard-edged line that I love about pieced quilts in general.

I've written before about how to make curved seams that are perfectly controlled, when you want your shapes to look exactly the way you have planned them.  But the workshop last weekend concentrated on a less controlled, more serendipitous method of piecing curves.  I call it "close enough for government work." 

In this method, you simply stack two layers of fabric on top of one another, slice a gentle curve through both layers, then swap the two sides of the cut and sew each piece to the opposite piece of the other color.  As long as the curves aren't too tight -- more the profile of a big watermelon than the profile of a grapefruit -- and the fabric isn't too tightly woven, they will sew together and agree to be pressed flat, even though they don't exactly match.

I have used this approach extensively in the past and have always been surprised at how much complexity and sophistication you can achieve with only a handful of cuts.  In the workshop, participants cut three panels, two from one color and one from a contrast color.  After only five slices, here's the kind of compositions they came up with: 

What's exciting about this method is that you never know exactly what you're going to come up with.  For some reason it's hard to visualize how the curved shapes are going to align after you've sliced and sewed.  If you like to plan ahead and execute your design the way you drew it, this isn't the technique for you.  But if you love to be surprised by your own work, this method certainly delivers.

Photo du jour

traffic jam

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Workshop report -- fine lines

I mentioned yesterday that I taught two workshops last weekend for the Contemporary Quilt and Fiber Artists.  I was so proud of my students, and would like to share some of their good work with you.

The first workshop was on piecing fine lines.  This technique is close to my own heart; that's almost exclusively what I have been making for the last four years.  While the technique is a little tricky at first, I'm happy to share the tips I had to learn the hard way on how to sew neat, skinny lines.  But what to do with the technique once you learn it?

My own work has sorted itself into two categories, to which I have given the fancy labels of large-to-small and small-to-large.  We did exercises in both approaches at the workshop.

In large-to-small, you start with a large piece of fabric.  You slice across the fabric, piece in a skinny line, and sew it back together.  Eventually, as you put more and more lines in, you end up with a lot of smaller and smaller fabric bits, held together by the fine lines.  Although most of my own work in this category has dozens of lines, I am always intrigued at how quickly you can achieve a sophisticated composition with only a few -- which makes this process nice for workshops, since people can see progress before lunchtime.

some large-to-small exercises from the workshop

In small-to-large, by contrast, you start with a lot of small pieces of fabric, and gradually sew them together, each piece separated from its neighbor by a neat skinny-line fence.  Eventually, as you add more and more small pieces, you end up with larger and larger expanses of real estate.

some small-to-large exercises

Photo du jour

front porch

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Redemption of the pattern whore

I was in Cincinnati last weekend teaching for the Contemporary Quilt and Fiber Artists, and one of the workshop participants said that she was so happy to have gotten ideas that would allow her to embark on a new project without using a pattern.  She said she'd never done that before -- "I'm a pattern whore!"  And I realized that helping people like her get free of that nasty habit is the reason I teach.

the pattern whore's non-pattern work

If you are at all accomplished in your craft, there probably comes a time when you have the opportunity to teach.  The quilt world, at all ends of the spectrum between traditional and high art, is awash in venues for workshops and lessons -- quilt shops, quilt shows, conventions and other gatherings, books and magazines, the internet, not to mention kitchens and dining rooms -- and many people make a nice living in some of them. But before you commit to teaching, it's always a good idea to understand your own motives.

I know I'm not alone in grappling with the question of whether, how much and what I should be teaching.  I've had conversations recently with more than one person who questions whether she should be trying to get more teaching gigs, or teaching at all, or whether she should be in the studio making art so she'll have something for the upcoming show deadlines.  If you need the money, that may make the decision easier, but even then you have to set priorities in your business planning.

Would-be teachers also have to choose a niche.  At the high end, some teachers are excellent at helping students with design and composition and other high-art considerations.  Some specialize in basic sewing and quilting skills.  Some teach about specific techniques, equipment or products.  Others teach projects, even to the point where you have to buy their pattern and/or kit.  There seem to be plenty of potential students out there for everybody.

But the niche I have chosen for myself is to liberate quilters from the tyranny of other people's patterns.

When I talk to traditional quilters I note that making quilts has two parts: design and execution.  Most if not all of them have spent years trying to perfect their execution, and yet most of them are perfectly willing to buy the design part from other people.  I ask them: Why outsource half your craft -- and the most exciting half at that?

For people who have always bought their designs, the idea of taking that step in-house can be scary.  I know this -- I used to be there myself.  Although I never used patterns, I did get ideas from books and magazines and often made quilts where I simply tweaked those borrowed concepts.  It took me a long time to get past that point and develop my own totally original ideas.
So I try to help my students move slowly toward totally original design rather than jumping into the deep end.  I often teach what I think of as "recipes" -- processes that will lead them toward a moment where they can put some stuff up on a design wall, step back and look at it, and then decide how to move toward a finished composition.  And I always try to preach the gospel of organic growth -- after you've finished one quilt, evaluate it and develop your next quilt on the shoulders of the first one, rather than starting from scratch.

I don't expect accomplished fiber artists to show up at my workshops; they're already swimming in the deep end of the pool.  I can't teach them about design or composition.  But I think there's a market out there for people who wish they could swim well enough to venture deeper.  Heck, I know there's a vast market out there for quilters who are willing to outsource their design phase, because I see the number of patterns being sold.  If only a tiny fraction of them would like to be liberated from the tyranny of other people's patterns, I could teach every day for the rest of my life.

Photo du jour

sign of the week -- guess they're going to put one here

Monday, August 22, 2011

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Talking about diversity

A couple of days ago I was invited to a lunch for artists; we were being asked to donate or lend work to be displayed at a women's shelter, whose inhabitants need all the pleasure, hope, and caring they can get.  Our hostess is African-American and she had decorated her table from her extensive collection of salt-and-pepper shakers, in honor of  the new movie "The Help," which she had just seen.

We talked about how difficult it is for members of one race to fully appreciate how members of another see the world, especially for privileged people (whether by race, income, family situation or any other marker) to understand less-privileged people.  And that conversation morphed easily into discussion of what we should be sensitive to as we made or selected art for the women's shelter.

One artist suggested that it would be good to depict people of different races, to increase the potential for viewers to identify with the subjects of the art.  But another, who used to live in Santa Fe, a crossroads of cultural diversity and high art, said that the etiquette there, enforced by great indignation, was that you don't borrow motifs, images or any other references from cultures or even genders not your own, because "how could you possibly know" anything about them.  She was so put off by this attitude that she started making all the people in her own work purple and green, without any identifiable cultural identification.

We continued this discussion in the car on the way home.  Not only could we whites not fully understand how a black person thinks about Aunt Jemima salt shakers, we non-victims cannot fully understand how a battered woman or abused child will respond to some art we might produce.  Somebody had suggested making a whole lot of small pieces of art, to give to every woman or child who came through the system.  But we didn't know whether this would truly be appreciated by the recipients, or whether it would just be a way for the artist-donors to feel good.

As an artist I generally don't spend a lot of time thinking about how viewers will understand and interpret my work.  I am clear about what I think, and what I'm trying to say, and will discuss it in an artist statement or gallery talk, but I do not adjust that message out of concern for how it will be received.  Yet in considering art in a specialized or therapeutic setting rather than in ordinary public gallery display, a different level of sensitivity is in order.  It was a new concept for me to be grappling with these questions.  I don't suppose this train of thought is going to arrive at the station any time soon.

What do you think?

Photo du jour


Friday, August 19, 2011

Collaboration project 7

I wrote last month about a series of quilts that I started about five years ago in workshops, most of which are still unfinished, and commented that they would probably stay that way.  My work has progressed and I'd rather spend time on my newer ideas than step back in time to revisit and complete these older ones.

One of the comments left on my blog said, "something about the brown and black one speaks to me. Funny because I'm much more of a blue person than a brown/black person. So don't throw it away. You can always send it to me. VBG"

I got a VBG out of that too, but as the day wore on I thought more and more, well, why not?  I'm not going to do anything with it, and besides, I could call it a collaboration, which has been one of my concerns this year.  (I've resolved to do 11 collaborative projects in 2011, and have so far completed seven.)

So I tracked back the person who had left the comment and checked her out -- it was Norma Schlager, who is an accomplished quilter, with enough experience and skill to handle the tricky cuts and piecing of this project.  The complexity and difficulty of the piecing had been a major reason why I hadn't finished the piece in the first place -- not that I couldn't do it, but it was going to take a l-o-n-g time -- and I didn't want to dump this daunting project onto a beginner.

But I was delighted to dump it on Norma -- I mean, pass along this lovely work in progress to somebody else who might love it too.  And finish it!  I told her that she had to do something with it, but not necessarily finish it to my plan, and she had to keep me posted and let me write about it. 

Step one: I packed it up and sent it to her.

Side note:  Norma sent me an email with the subject line "Brown Planet has landed!"  And it went directly to my spam folder, with a helpful note from Microsoft that I had received what looked to be a phishing message.  As we replied and replied back, without changing the subject line, it continued to be suspect.  Was it the exclamation point?  Or is Brown Planet some kind of secret hacker password?  We'll never know. 

Photo du jour

thanks, I will!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Security theater

This week's Security Theater Outrage has to be the hoohah in Long Beach CA where a photographer/artist was detained by the police for taking a picture "with no apparent esthetic value."  Seems he photographed a rusty wall at an oil refinery and the cop asked for ID and held him for a bit while checking his driver's license.  The cop apparently decided everything was OK and left.

photo by Sander Roscoe Wolff

That part was relatively simple, and you might think that the forces of good prevailed.  But after the incident was reported in the local paper, and the National Press Photographer's Association got into the fray, the official explanation leaves many with sinking feelings in their stomachs.

The police chief explained that cops are required to follow up on suspicious activity that might indicate terrorist intentions.  Suspicious activity includes taking pictures "with no apparent esthetic value," taking notes, using cameras and binoculars, and asking about an establishment's hours of operation.

Those of us who typically carry cameras around with us, and like to take pictures of rusty walls, and might write down something as we walk, should probably take pause.  (And who might wonder what time the restaurant opens...)  Of course, the police have always had the power to inquire into suspicious behavior, even before 9/11 put everybody on pins and needles, and in any encounter with law enforcement civilians have to hope for good judgment from the officer.  But it's disturbing to realize that written guidelines officially establish what most of us would consider ordinary behavior as suspicious -- and that many people are perfectly willing to go along with this shadow on our rights.

I was tipped to this story through discussion on the Quiltart list, which can always be counted on to provide a wide range of opinions on any subject.  Most of the commenters agreed with me that the Long Beach episode verges on Security Theater.  But a few made remarks that I found deeply discouraging.

One person wrote:  "What a wonderful photo!  I can see why the police were concerned though. I guess it pays to get permission first."  (As for me, I can't see why the police were concerned.  And wonder whom one might ask for permission to photograph rusty walls.)

Another wrote:  "Just because we claim to be an artist, or a professional photographer, does not does mean that we have special privilege to go anywhere we please or take any photograph we please, or use our binoculars or zoom lenses anywhere we please.... Yes, there are places in the USA, and definitely in other countries, where you cannot take any photos you want to take, places such as refineries, electrical/power stations, military bases/ports, water supply systems, dams, manufacturing plants, and a whole bunch of other places."

As for me, I don't claim special artist privilege to go anywhere I please or take any photo I please.  I do claim ordinary citizen privilege to go anywhere it's legal to go, and take a picture if I want to, whether or not a cop thinks it's pretty.  If there are legitimate security reasons to keep me from taking photos, then they can post a sign, or better yet, put up a fence to keep me out and/or block my view.  Ironically, if a real terrorist wants to case out a refinery, he can probably do a much better job from the privacy of his own cave, thanks to Google Earth and Google Street View.

Photo du jour

crape myrtle

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Package project update 4

I noticed much earlier in the year that many of my packages are made of packaging -- all the cardboard, plastic, styrofoam, paper and other materials that protect, support and swathe the things we buy.  That trend continues.

Fabric bolts. 

Miscellaneous packaging -- you can open the parasol if you want.

More miscellaneous.

I always feel guilty about throwing away huge amounts of cardboard and plastic. Somehow turning it into art -- even if that only means tying it up in string and putting it into my project bag -- feels better than tossing it into the landfill.

Photo du jour

fish out of water