Thursday, May 31, 2012


Longtime readers of my blog may remember that last year I resolved to do a bunch of collaborative projects with other artists.  One of those came about through a comment posted on the blog after I showed several quilts started in workshops and never finished.

The next day I found a comment that 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"

Brown Planet, on the wall at the workshop in 2005

The comment was from Norma Schlager, a quilter in Connecticut whom I knew only as a name on the internet.  To her surprise, I took her up on her offer, which I'm sure was not meant seriously.  But I sent her the quilt, and now she has finished piecing it.  I suppose she has now put more time into the piecing than I did to begin with, since I stuck her with all the fiddly work of making the bits fit together.

Brown Planet, finished by Norma Schlager, 2012

All that remains is the quilting, and I'm so glad she's doing that part, not me.  After all, I have a bunch of formidable quilting ahead of me already with new tops finished or almost done.

But I'm calling this collaboration a huge success.  And it has taken only seven years to finish.  Thank you, Norma!!!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sign of the week

thanks to my guest photographer, Deborah Levine

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Quilt National musings

The entry deadline for Quilt National '13 is September 14 and many people like me are already starting to stress out.  Every even-numbered summer turns into a quilting frenzy as we try to make three excellent quilts to submit.  As of this past weekend I have finished piecing one of my three, with plenty of work ahead of me.

This is also the time when we QN junkies read over the rules again to make sure we're doing everything right.  QN is known for its picky rules, which have tripped up many a potential competitor.  For instance, at least some of the stitches must be visible from the back of the quilt, a rule that excludes at least one of my good friends.  Another rule says you cannot enter any work that has been in a US exhibit "that draws artists and/or visitors from more than 100 miles from its venue."  A lot of time has been spent trying to discern whether the state fair counts, or whether your local museum draws visitors from a certain distance, and does it count if your sister-in-law was in town from Spokane and came with you to check out the show?

But today I want to talk about the rule barring any quilt that has appeared on the internet, other than on the artist's own site.  One of my cyberfriends tells me that she had posted a QN-worthy quilt on her blog, whereupon somebody pinned the image to Pinterest, thus disqualifying the piece.  Yes, she checked with the QN people and yes, that was enough to rule it out.

At first glance it doesn't seem fair that the actions of a third party can blot your copybook, even if you did nothing "illegal" yourself.  But life isn't fair, and now that Pinterest has enabled and encouraged image grabbers everywhere to come out from under their rocks, anybody with QN aspirations has to be even more paranoid than in the past about posting photos.

So anybody out there who saw photos of my orange-and-pink quilt in progress and might be wondering what happened to it over the weekend will have to remain in suspense.  I will tell you that it did not turn out to be half a diptych, as I had been thinking about.  In search of that solution, I made two separate expanses of piecing, requiring many days of work, but neither one of them wanted to marry the orange-and-pink.  So I added several inches of piecing to the orange-and-pink, and will let it stand on its own.

Meanwhile, one of the panels I made for orange-and-pink, now rejected, looked pretty perky and I didn't want to discard it.  Unfortunately it wasn't technically up to par.  This was my first attempt at fine-line piecing with curves, and I learned a lot in the course of making it -- but the parts I learned on weren't pretty  (look at all those wrinkles).  And even if it had been perfectly sewed, it wasn't good enough compositionally to stand on its own.

So I have sliced it into bits and will be reconstructing it.  And I won't show it to you on the internet until after the QN jurying, lest the images get hijacked and I go to jail.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Good deed for the day

Maybe there are two kinds of people -- those whose tastes stay relatively unchanged over time, and those who move on as they get older.  I know I fall into the latter group in many areas, such as art and food, but in the former group in others such as politics, tableware and my husband.

Lots of potential topics for discussion there, but today I want to talk about tableware.

When I got my first job, fresh out of graduate school, my mother helped me go down to the department store and buy some decent dishes and silverware for my new kitchen.  I went with plain -- plain white dishes, plain stainless steel silverware.  When I got married four years later, my mother wisely advised me to get a lot more of both.  And 42 years later guess what -- I still love both patterns!

Over the years I have augmented the silverware to replace the pieces that disappeared or got eaten in the garbage disposal or kidnapped by aliens, because the pattern remains in stock (Paul Revere stainless, by Oneida).  But my dishes (Corning Centura Coupe) were discontinued decades ago.  I knew that there are companies that buy up old china and silver at garage and estate sales, and even had visited one such outfit, Replacements Ltd. in Greensboro NC.  But I didn't know exactly how many dishes I needed to fill out my supply, so I put off ordering.

Until this weekend.

I read in the New York Times on Saturday that the owner of Replacements Ltd. was the only business leader in North Carolina to put his company in opposition to the constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage.  That amendment passed by a huge margin earlier this month, proving that North Carolina's conservative social mores trump its business friendliness.  The story pointed out that many business leaders opposed the amendment personally but were afraid to do much to help defeat it.

After Replacements Ltd. donated $250,000 to the campaign to defeat the marriage inequality amendment, many of its customers mounted a boycott and the company is suffering financially.

After reading the story, I decided it was high time that I buy some new dinner plates.  I wasn't able to find my pattern by browsing the company website, so I sent an email -- and got a response on Sunday afternoon of a long weekend, which seems like a tipoff of good customer service.  And then I ordered 10 new plates, which will allow me to serve 18 people on big plates and almost 40 guests at a big party if half the guests eat from the smaller luncheon plates.

I'm considering this purchase a two-fer -- a long-overdue kitchen improvement, plus a political contribution to a courageous businessman who did the right thing even though it hurt.  If you have broken some dishes or lost some silverware over the years and never gotten around to buying new ones, perhaps you would like to do the same.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Daily art -- progress report 5

I showed you some of the curves I've been doodling in my daily embroidery project.  In addition to lots of circles, I'm making lots of hearts, especially in the last week, which is Anniversary Time in our family.

my son's

my sister's

my own

In addition, I made hearts for my parents' anniversary

for Valentine's Day

and once just for fun.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Daily art -- progress report 4

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about my daily stitching project and how I'm trying to practice making nice curves freehand.  I already showed you some of my worse efforts, so here are some of the better ones.

I almost always use coral stitch for lines and curves, because it gives a firm, even line and is very efficient in its use of thread (here's what the back looks like).

Overlapping circles are a favorite motif that I find myself doing over and over when I don't have a picture to draw.  I think they're getting much better with practice.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Creative Statements 4

I wrote last month about several of the quilts in Creative Statements, the Ohio SAQA show now on display at the Zanesville Museum of Art.  As the juror for the show, I got to display a quilt too and I should show it to you, because it was so beautifully hung to bring out the best in it.

Postage 6: Epidemic

This is one of my postage stamp quilts, so called because it's really made up of thousands of little quilts the size of stamps, held together in a loose grid with machine stitching.  I asked the people at the museum if they could possibly hang it an inch out from the wall so the little pieces could cast shadows.  I had thought they would probably find a way to attach hooks to the ceiling and suspend the quilt out from the wall.  But instead, they got three or four little wooden blocks, painted them to match the walls, and fixed them behind the brass rod that the quilt hangs from to hold the rod out from the wall.

The shadows were particularly dramatic at the bottom of the quilt.

After you've gone a ways into a series of artworks -- this is the sixth large postage stamp quilt I've done -- you start to explore ways to do it differently than you did in the past.  My new twists this time were the use of polka dot fabric for the entire face of the quilt, and leaving occasional holes in the grid.

Both twists made me think of epidemics, such as the Black Death in Europe in the Middle Ages, where as much as half the population of some areas died.  The vacant spaces in the grid remind me of the people who died, and make me wonder how our society would respond if a pandemic wreaked similar havoc upon our people.  I hope we never have to find out.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Monday, May 21, 2012

Quilt preview

I made a piece for the SAQA auction that will go in the mail today.  It's a 12x12" preview of my very large piece that is under construction, and I was happy to be able to make it out of preexisting bits of leftover piecing that were lying in a pile in the workroom.

I was also happy to learn a valuable lesson from quilting it.  I had planned to quilt the big brother with free-motion doodles that would largely follow the piecing lines.  In the course of quilting the little piece I realized this was a bad plan -- the pattern of the piecing was so random that the doodles were not falling into place easily.  One square foot of quilting is plenty to find out if you can achieve a rhythm and be happy with the results, and the answer was no.

The small quilt looks fine but I'm not going to repeat the pattern on the large one.  Rats.  Another decision that I thought I had made, and now have to make again.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Voices from the past

An elderly artist friend of mine is cleaning out the house she's lived in since 1963 and I went over to collect a trunk full of old books and magazines to take to the grab bag of our local fiber art group.  Unfortunately, a half hour later I managed to step into a hole on my daily walk and turn my ankle, so I spent the afternoon lying down in pain reading 20-year-old magazines instead of sewing.

But it's always a lot of fun to read old magazines, especially in a field where you are relatively knowledgeable.  Coming across the names of people who are still active in the field is heartening, even as seeing previously unknown names pop up over and over makes you wonder what happened to them. 

You can always find some cheap chuckles over the expectations and assumptions of long ago, so different from ours today.  Authors had to put quotes around "found" objects, then give some examples -- bicycle parts or automobile gaskets -- so people knew what they were talking about.

Apparently there weren't too many books about artist/quiltmakers, a relatively new concept in those days.  The reviewer of Nancy Crow: Quilts and Influences sniffed that "the reader, however, may wish for more information" -- for instance, exactly how tall her "extra high" worktables are, a list of fabric sources, and hints on grant writing for the fiber artist.

Articles on how to shoot slides of your art, and about the heroic efforts of support staff in removing slides from the trays after jurors have rejected entries, remind us of how computers have transformed so many aspects of our artistic life.

A top-level tapestry weaver (now dead) wrote this account of his start in the field:

"When I first declared myself a bona fide full-time artist, I was determined and committed to survive and succeed.  I quickly accepted that an unwavering faith truly does move mountains.  Within days of my declaration came a call from one of Chicago's better art galleries looking for a fiber artist to submit a proposal for a possible corporate commission.  I submitted a proposal and the client signed the contract immediately!  That first commission was the beginning of a three-year nonstop series of commissions all received through the one gallery."

Could it possibly have been that easy?  Granted, the 1970s were a golden age of fiber art in architecture, as corporate clients looked for ways to soften the hard surfaces of shiny new office buildings, but I wonder if there were a few details in that story that got omitted...

Here's another fiber artist:

"Recently I walked into a show and marveled at the blast of color welcoming me.  Great semicircular copes of vibrantly spotlit color flew from the rafters, while gardens of flower hangings marched across the facing wall.  Flower-filled watercolors plastered the walls to the left; etchings, drypoints and printed watercolors held their own on the right.  Pedestals supporting ridiculous soft sculpture punctuated it all.  It was a shock, for it was my own 'Audience of One' exhibition, and I have no remembrance of how I did it."

Aw, shucks, lady, give me a break...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Buy a life!!

For those veterans who would like a shadowbox of military memorabilia but forgot to acquire any while they were in the service, here's the solution, courtesy of Hobby Lobby.

The shadowbox is kind of small so that's why they made 4-year-old-size jackets and helmets and half-size  guns and grenades, but it's the thought that counts.  The shadowboxes come with nostalgic old photos of soldiers yukking it up with their good buddies in the war zone, and perhaps you can pretend it's you in the back row.  When you were much younger.

Or maybe you would prefer a more personalized touch to your faux memorabilia.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My Mother's Day present

My son came over for Mother's Day on Sunday with presents: two pairs of pants for me to mend.

At first glance that sounds awful, kind of like the husband who gives his wife a new vacuum cleaner for Valentine's Day, but I was delighted since I love to mend, and that's how I spent a bit of Monday afternoon.

I always inspect the garments before agreeing to take them on, and these were eminently mendable.  I won't do zipper replacements or socks, but I particularly enjoy reinforcing knees and seats where the fabric is getting thin and holey.  Especially if said garments are brought to me before they have actually shredded.

One was so easy I almost couldn't take credit for it.  The pants came with a pre-reinforced seat (great design) and all I had to do was restitch the seam.

The other was in worse shape and my son apologized, saying that these were his favorite pants, otherwise he would just pitch them. He said it didn't have to be beautiful but would be so happy to get another season of wear.  I had mended them before when the crotch seam came apart, and that mend was holding up beautifully.  But now the entire seat back was getting thin enough to read the newspaper through.

I backed the entire area with heavyweight fabric (the part that wasn't printed with SURF had been the back for a piece that I had just quilted last week, so it was still lounging about the work table) and stitched it down enthusiastically with lots of back-and-forths.

Not exactly good as new -- it's better than new.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Horsing around

Last week I attended an artist lecture at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, as part of the unveiling of two major sculptures by Deborah Butterfield.

Deborah Butterfield, Danuta (reclining) and Burnt Pine (standing), 2008

Butterfield constructs horses from scraps of wood, metal, machinery, twigs and/or mud, then often has them cast in bronze, as the two new Speed acquisitions.  I've seen other Butterfield horses in other venues, and have always loved them.  With miscellaneous materials she sketches horses that are practically alive.

Not surprisingly, she is a horse lover outside the studio as well, as an accomplished dressage rider for most of her life.

Deborah Butterfield, Woodrow, 1988 -- Walker Art Center sculpture garden, Minneapolis

Butterfield was not the only artist to speak at the lecture; two local artists, Chris Radtke and Gaela Erwin, who also are horsewomen joined her in a discussion of how horses have informed their art.

All three said that the painstaking process of training a horse to respond to your tiniest suggestion is similar to establishing communion with your art materials, so that when you need a given response it will come naturally.

"Dressage is so much about process and a long, long relationship with the tiny details," Radtke said. (Like art.)

In fact, Radtke showed a copy of the score sheet used to judge dressage competitions, and suggested that the different categories are equally applicable to evaluating art:

precise transition
smooth execution
elasticity  (though I'm not sure what this means for either 
           horses or art...)
ease of movement

The artists were asked how important they think the "back story" is -- information provided to audiences about the materials, inspiration or viewpoint in a piece of art.  Butterfield's first response was to say not at all.  "Art has to work on some primal level," she said, "not so much through your head or your eyes as through your gut."  She said she hates the modern trend in museums where so much information is provided, especially through interactive displays where the viewer has to press buttons, open doors or otherwise play games rather than simply looking at the art.

"The power of the object is transformative," she said.  "People have forgotten how to talk to a stone," how to understand and relate to mass and volume and weight.

But Radtke disagreed, mentioning her activities as a gallery owner and serving on civic committees on public art.  "Our time is a time about ideas," she said.  "I've seen how people start to respond once they understand the ideas."  She said she favors more text and explanation; "people can choose whether to read it or not."

Even though I have no particular relationship with horses I found the discussion provocative.  And I'm happy that I'll be able to visit Danuta and Burnt Pine forever; when the Speed's major renovation project is over, they will be permanently installed in a new outdoor sculpture court, there for us even after closing time.