Thursday, October 31, 2013

Good news from Houston

A quick recap of ancient history:

In 2005 I started a quilt in a Nancy Crow workshop that never got finished.  In 2011 I wrote about it in my blog, eliciting a comment from a reader, Norma Schlager, that she really liked it.  She said "So don't throw it away.  You can always send it to me VBG."

So I did.  Norma finished the quilt and it looked great, and entered it in the International Quilt Festival competition, where it was accepted, and it won an award!  Last night the winners were announced and "Brown Planet a Collaboration" got third prize in the Art -- Abstract, Large category.

Norma was there to accept the award, which is only fitting because she did most of the work to turn the quilt from idea to reality.  I feel proud, but kind of like the mother who watches her child be valedictorian.  Sure, he wouldn't been there without me, but it wasn't me who actually did the deed.

So congratulations to Norma!

And a quick recap of more recent history:

In June I wrote a petulant blog post about how nobody loved me, everybody hated me, and I was going to go eat worms.  Among other petty slights, I complained that shows couldn't get my name right -- although I go by Kathy 99 percent of the time, including in person and in my blogs, I like to be called Kathleen in "official" usage.  Such as when my work is displayed in a show or gallery.

Norma, my collaborator and faithful blog reader, immediately wrote back, "Oh, oh!  When I entered our piece into Houston, I put down your name as Kathy!  Sorry!  If it gets accepted I will see if it can be changed."  So after it was accepted, she contacted the show organizers and was assured that it would be shown as Kathleen.

Guess what -- it wasn't.  Every silver lining has a cloud.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What a waste

Paducah KY is an old river town that fell upon dim days after World War 2, bypassed by modern commerce.  It got a shot in the arm from a quilt show, the annual extravaganza of the American Quilter's Society that brings 40,000 people to town every spring, and the town has been properly grateful.  Paducah now calls itself Quilt City USA and many businesses feature quilts in their decor.

Sometimes this is charming; sometimes it's not.

Here's a not, if you want my professional opinion.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Details of my Cinderella quilt

After I wrote about my "Cinderella quilt" last week, one reader asked whether I could show some closeup details.  Always happy to oblige.

As you can tell, the entire quilt is made up of commercial stripes.  A few were enhanced with fabric markers so I could get a wider variety of stripes; for instance, the black-and-pinkish-brown and black-and-red pieces in the top photo both started as black-and-white; the two-tone red pieces started as red-and-white.

At the left edge of the quilt most of the pieces are about an inch across.  Toward the right edge they're bigger, maybe as much as three inches across.  The fine lines of "mortar" between the "bricks" are about an eighth-inch wide.

I've complained in the past about how hard it is to find stripes these days; they're out of fashion, while polka dots are IN, IN, IN.  But I scraped together enough to make this quilt last year, and since then have discovered an online source for lots more stripes, so I'm happily embarked on more big projects in this same vein.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Don't shoot!!

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting the National Quilt Museum in Paducah KY to take in the SAQA Seasonal Palette exhibit, on display through December 3.  Although I'd seen the catalog, of course, I hadn't had a chance to see the exhibit in its previous venues and was impressed by the quilts in person and the way they were hung.

So here I am next to my quilt, "Big Ice."   (Read my blog posts about this quilt here and here.)

We needed special permission to take this picture, because photography has always been forbidden at the quilt museum.  And that raises an interesting subject: whether it's Good or Bad for museums to allow photos.

Last month the New York Times sparked a flurry of comments with an opinion piece by Deborah Solomon, an art critic, who wrote, "When we photograph, e-mail, tweet and Instagram paintings, we capitalize on technological innovation to expand familiarity with an ancient form.  So, too, we increase the visual literacy of this country.  Much can be gained.  Nothing can be lost.  A photography of a painting can no more destroy a masterpiece than it can create one."
Many museums have lightened up their photo policies in recent years, as more and more people carry phone/cameras and expect to be able to document everything they see, just as they do in other walks of life.

You don't need to read the newspaper to list the pros and cons, and perhaps the cons make a longer list.  Haven't we all been annoyed at people who think their camera is a license to shove to the front of the crowd and monopolize the good real estate (especially at quilt shows)?  Haven't we noticed that taking the photo often substitutes for looking at the painting or the landscape?  (Haven't we noticed this sometimes in ourselves?)  Haven't we all been grossed out by flashbulbs spoiling the peace?

Sure we have.  But would it be better to try to improve the manners of rude tourists than to keep all of us from enhancing our museum experience?  Surely a no-flash rule is a good idea.

Then there's copyright, which at least in the United States has a fair use exception that covers education, comment and criticism.  But if people are allowed to photograph my quilt in the museum, won't the next step be a flood of unathorized Chinese knockoffs in Walmart?  Well, I don't stay awake nights worrying about that.  For one thing, if the Chinese want to copy my quilt they can get a much better image off the SAQA website.

In general I believe that people with a high fear of having their work "stolen" should not enter it in shows or display it in galleries.  

I love taking photos in museums.  I find it helps me look at the art more carefully, and when I review the photos at home I often find details I missed the first time around.  Most important to me, I love to write about the art I see.  The process of thinking about the art and articulating my emotional and critical response is the final step in understanding and appreciating what I see.  Without photos I wouldn't get much out of that step, nor would you readers read very far, I suspect.

 What do you think?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Cinderella gets the prince

I wrote yesterday about how my Cinderella quilt was accepted in Innovations in Fiber Art VI at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts in California, which opened last night and will be on display through November 30.

Today I am delighted to tell you that it won best in show.

It's been more than a year since the quilt was completed and for a long time I wondered whether it would ever get out in public.  The wait has been well rewarded.

Crazed 16: Suburban Dream, 2012, 81 x 56"

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Cinderella finally makes it to the ball

Last summer -- that is, the summer of 2012 -- I bade the world goodbye, descended into my studio for a couple of months and made three quilts to enter in Quilt National.  Two were pretty good, and one I thought was spectacular. The QN jurors did not agree.  I thought they were nuts.  But I knew I had three nice virgin quilts that would some day find their way to the big time.

Several months went by and I entered the best of the bunch in Form, Not Function: Quilt Art at the Carnegie.  That's my hometown show; in fact, I had been one of a group of people who helped get that show started, and for several years helped with the jurying and hanging of that show.  After I stepped back from hands-on involvement I decided to let some years pass before actually entering a piece to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest.  But it seemed as though enough time had gone by, and I had this beautiful quilt that really wanted to go out in public.

A few days after I did my entry and sent in my money, the director of the Carnegie called me up with an offer I couldn't refuse.  They were doing a special catalog to mark the tenth outing of Form Not Function, and asked me to write an essay about how the show began and has progressed.  We decided that under the circumstances, it would be better if I didn't have an entry in the show, so I got my $30 back and wrote the piece for the catalog.

Doing the essay was great but my beautiful quilt was still stuck at home, draped over the stair railing. I knew it would get its day, but that didn't seem to be any time soon.  I didn't want to spoil its debut by putting it in a second-rate show -- no State Fair, no local guild exhibit.  This quilt was better than most and deserved an appropriate venue.

A few regional shows came along that I thought might be good enough for my baby, but there were size limitations, and all three of the "Quilt National quilts" were too big.  Finally I found a show that was super-prestigious -- sponsored by the Surface Design Association, and with my idol Joan Schulze as one of the jurors -- with no pesky restrictions to keep us out.

I am delighted to report that the quilt got in, and that it's the poster child for the show.  Innovations in Fiber Art VI, opens tonight at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, in Sebastopol CA.  I won't be there; it's just too far and too expensive to make the 12-hour trek so soon after returning from a western trip.  But my beautiful baby will!  I knew that if we were patient, some day we would be rewarded.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Sign of the week

I sure want some of this on my lips, don't you?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Another fiber-bombed bridge

A couple of months ago I had the pleasure of seeing a wonderful fiber art installation on a bridge in Pittsburgh, organized to coincide with the showing of Fiberart International.  Here's my blog post with lots of photos, but to refresh your memory, people knitted or crocheted afghans to fit perfectly in the spaces between the railings, and even covered the railings and the superstructure with knit-to-fit.  They worked on the project for more than a year, planning and executing meticulously, and the bridge looked fabulous.

By contrast, yesterday afternoon when we arrived at the Big Four pedestrian bridge in Louisville, a favorite walking spot, we found that a local radio station had commandeered the bridge for a breast cancer awareness event.  They solicited donations of more than 5000 bras, and strung them together to drape the length of the bridge.

This struck me as a bad idea all around.

For one thing, much as I deplore breast cancer (or any other awful disease), I'm not sure what  "awareness" means or is supposed to accomplish.  Surely there are few adults who don't know that breast cancer is bad.  Some of them may donate to breast cancer charities, and that's probably the ulterior motive of the "awareness" activities, but if so, why not be honest and bill them as breast cancer fundraising?

For another, this was a pretty sloppy event.  In fairness, the organizers were allowed only a couple of hours to put the bras on the bridge, so it was a very casual affair.  Lots of extra bras were lying in unappetizing heaps on the pavement.

And let us contemplate that while bras may be flattering and sexy on an actual woman, and colorful and appealing hanging on store racks, they are really ugly when stretched to their full length.

As usual, a lot of families with young children were walking on the bridge, and I wonder how the parents explained this spectacle.  As we approached the start of the bra garlands, we overheard an 11-year-old boy say to his mom, "I'm sorry, but this is just weird."

I couldn't agree more.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Back to work

I've written before about the book I'm trying to finish up, and that was at the top of my priority list now that we're back home.  I had to make one last quilt because I needed to document the process of squaring up and trimming a piece, especially if your quilt is larger than your cutting mat.  As long as I was making one more piece, decided I should free-motion quilt it, since most of the other pieces in the book had been quilted with straight lines and a walking foot.

Then I decided to get fancy and quilt each rail of my rail fence blocks with a different pattern, changing the thread color with the color of the rail.

That was no big deal -- except that I was left with almost 400 pairs of thread ends to bury once the quilting was finished.  That's the secret plus of straight-line grid quilting -- all the thread ends are at the edges of the quilt, ready to be concealed in your binding or facing.

So I turned on the TV and watched four shows that I had taped while we were away, sinking thread ends all the while.  I have made a dent in the quilt but there are still a few hours of mindless tedium ahead before I can get on with the squaring up and trimming.

I can't say that finishing is my favorite part of quiltmaking, but there's a certain zen of working without thinking that is calming and satisfying.  And it's so nice to shift your focus every now and then, when it's time to reposition the work, and notice how you're indeed making progress!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Back from vacation

Since you so kindly put up with my complaining about our trip to the national parks, I owe you an update.  On Saturday the parks in Utah and Arizona opened, because the governors agreed to pay for their operation.  But it was pretty much too late for our intrepid bus full of travelers.

That morning we drove by the road to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon but didn't have time to go in.  We proceeded to Zion National Park, arriving in late afternoon, in time to drive through the park, and stop twice for photo-ops and once for the restroom.  Ken and I were sitting at the front of the bus and were first to the facilities, so we sneaked off for a 20-minute hike.

So that's the sum of our national park experience: two photo ops and a 20-minute hike.  They were absolutely wonderful.

Driving through the magnificent red rocks and rainbow geology of the west is always great, and we saw some beautiful sights on our 1400-mile journey past the locked gates.  But when they set up the national parks, they really did take all the good stuff.  Now I'm thinking about how to go back and see what we missed.

Photo op 1: Checkerboard Mesa

Photo op 2:  Great Arch of Zion

Hike: along the Virgin River

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Life imitates art 5

at the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Albert Bierstadt, Farallon Island, 1887 (detail below)

in the Beagle Passage, Argentina

Friday, October 11, 2013

Sign of the week

Zion National Park

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Are we having fun yet?

So here we are in Utah, on a tour of the national parks.  Except that the national parks are closed.  We drive by the closed gates, the locked restrooms, the chained-off trails, peeking in at the grandeur as we pass.  Our tour people are making the best of Plan B, taking us to state parks and feeble roadside attractions, but this is not what we had in mind when we signed on.

Then I dropped my camera on a rock, a death blow from which it will never recover.  It's frozen in the open-but-smashed-in position.  It took two days before we arrived in a town big enough to buy a replacement, thus enabling me to miss photos of the one exciting point of the tour: a plane ride over Arches National Park. 

Somewhere in there my husband came down with a cold, which he passed on to me a couple of days later.

My computer is acting strange, or perhaps it's Google, conspiring to make it very, very, very difficult to do anything with my blog.  I had to start this post from scratch three times -- if I go back to the top to resize a photo, for instance, I can never get my cursor back to the bottom where I was still writing.  It has taken me a week to figure out how to outsmart it even to this feeble level of success. 

At least the plane didn't crash, and with any luck we will be home on Sunday.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Tool tips -- the marking wheel

Some time ago I wrote about doing circles and wreaths in my 2012 daily hand-stitching project.

Shannon left a comment:  "Do you do them completely without marking?  I think mine would always look lumpy on one side!"

I posted a short response to her comment, but thought that maybe it was worth a more complete discussion.  So here it is.  First, I did almost all of my daily stitching without marking, and at the beginning of the year, my circles did indeed look lumpy on one side.  I improved with practice.  But on many other projects I want to make some guidelines before sewing.

I have a terrible fear of visible marking.  I'm afraid that the marks will misbehave and somehow ruin my work. I've heard too many stories of people who have used the alleged disappearing markers, but later found ghost traces, to ever try that approach.

The most I'll ever do is put a pencil mark on the back side of the fabric, but even that scares me.  If I absolutely have to, I keep the mark in the seam allowance.  I keep a white pencil around to mark dark fabrics if necessary (white pencil seems to wear off more easily than black).

Instead, I like to mark things without writing implements, and that means creasing the fabric.  We know that you can press in a straight line with an iron.  But you can also set a temporary crease with your thumbnail or with a blunt or round-edged tool.

Some possibilities, from the top:

 -  a plastic hera tool

-  the pointy end of a crochet hook

-  the blunt end of a needle

-  or this nifty marking wheel.  My friend Terry Jarrard-Dimond gave it to me several months ago and I have been delighted at how well it works.

And then another friend, Heide Stoll-Weber, pointed out to me that the marking wheel is also good for making freehand curves.  Some time ago I posted a tutorial on sewing freehand curves that depended on a paper template that you made with a rotary cutter.  This allowed you to use the action of a rotary cutter to make nice, loose, artistic swoopy lines.  Heide noted that if you use the marking wheel instead of the rotary cutter, you can eliminate the template and cut to the chase (or perhaps I should say chase to the cut).

Layer two pieces of fabric where you want the curve to go, giving yourself plenty of fabric underneath (you don't want your curve to run off the edge).  Limber up your arm and make a swoopy curve, pressing hard enough to crease both layers of fabric.

Now separate the two layers, noting carefully which direction you need to extend for seam allowances.  Switch to a rotary cutter and by eye, follow your creased curve a quarter-inch away.

The creased lines don't show up all that well in the photos but they do in real life, at least long enough for you to cut and sew as needed.