Thursday, February 26, 2015

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Is it a quilt? 1

When I wrote about my new piece, mostly one layer of canvas with a lot of machine stitching, Christine Seager left a comment:  "Nice to see something new but I have a question.  In the UK, a single layer is not technically a quilt.  Do the rules change when you go international??!!"

My response turned out to be complicated enough that I wanted to take an entire post to explain.

First off, these quilts were not made to enter a juried show with rules, so I guess it's irrelevant.  Our exhibit is an invitational; I suppose the show organizers are expecting mostly traditional-format quilts, and that's what they're going to get, but if one or two don't exactly fit the rules I don't think there will be a problem.  If there is, then Sentinel just won't get hung in Prague.

What if the rules applied?  It probably wouldn't fit the rules for Quilt National, which says "it must be composed of at least two full and distinct layers -- a face layer and a backing layer..."   It might or might not qualify for Form, Not Function, my local juried show, which requires that "All works must be quilted (two or more distinct layers held together by stitches)."  I guess it would be a judgment call whether the second layer -- the solid black area, composed of fabric stitched to the canvas -- can cover just part of the ground or has to cover the entire quilt.  I haven't researched other quilt shows to see whether this qualifies or not.

But I guess the ultimate answer is that I don't care.  I've been getting impatient with the traditional forms of quiltmaking and am excited to break a little bit loose.

For instance, my Quilt National '15 piece, which will be unveiled in May, doesn't use the traditional backing-batting-top format -- the top is traditionally pieced but it's quilted directly to a felt backing with no middle layer.  Nor does it have a traditional binding or facing; the edges are just cut off, and about two seconds later they started to fray, which is OK with me.

If I do make more works in this format, and if I have the urge to enter them in juried shows, I'll have to read the rules, but there are plenty of fiber art shows that accept all kinds of work, not just quilts.  Probably the most important decision facing me now is whether I describe this piece of work as a quilt, and if not, what should I call it?  As an artist who generally tries to avoid the Q-word, that shouldn't be a problem -- I'll just call it art.  But when the piece is being exhibited in a quilt venue maybe I'll want to call it a quilt.  I'll let you know!!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

... Really new ... but not really new...

I showed you my latest quilt yesterday, which at first glance seems like a dramatic departure from anything I'd made in the past.  And yet I realized that it had roots in other things I have done.

First, the densely stitched areas remind me of the equally dense sew-off squares that I have been making for a decade.

Sentinel detail

sew-off squares

I love this dense stitching, even though it takes a long time, so it was nice to make something where the stitching took center stage.

Second, the selvages remind me of a bunch of quilts I made a decade ago with selvages.  The technique was different -- in those older quilts I made a traditional quilt sandwich with white fabric on the top, then placed the selvages to make a pattern and stitched them down through all layers, quilting and appliqueing at the same time.  This time around the technique is simpler and rougher, exactly what my sensibilities are these days.

Sentinel detail

On the Edge -- Rail Fence

Finally, the bit of text on the selvage reminds me of dozens of quilts I have made with letters of the alphabet.

Does this mean there's nothing new under the sun?  That it's impossible to change your practice and escape your past?  No, although it's difficult to outrun the powerful influence of your own decades of past work and passions.

And I find it comforting to recognize that even when I try something excitingly different it's still me in there.  When I get the big posthumous retrospective at MOMA the critics will be able to discuss the recurring themes that appeared throughout my long and stellar career.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Something new -- really new.....

I am one of eight quilt artists from four different countries who have been together for almost two years, making small quilts as theme challenges.  We now have made seven quilts apiece, which will be on display at the Prague Patchwork Meeting in April.  (Actually I still have the last one to make, but they're small so I hope to polish it off next week.)

My most recent piece was for a challenge in which you had to start with a sketch.  This was extremely difficult for me, since I never sketch.  My first thought was to pull the same trick I used to do in high school when they asked you to hand in an outline of your term paper a couple of weeks before you turned in the actual term paper.  This required me to really get cracking because I would have to write the term paper first and then construct a matching outline.  (I'm just not much on pre-planning...)

But after putting it off for several months, I finally buckled down and made the damn sketch -- actually I made a bunch of sketches -- and then made a quilt which pretty much followed the sketch.


This was an exciting project for me because it is apparently a huge departure from my previous bodies of work.  It's on a single layer of canvas, no batting, no backing .  The solid black area is made with selvages laid down to cover the shape, then densely stitched.  The black scribbled area is just thread, straight-stitched with a lot of zigzags and back-and-forths.

(Please forgive the poor focus on the detail shot -- my point-and-shoot camera was obviously confused.)

The black scribbles in the lighter area look exactly like the back side of the solid areas.

But even as I was excited by this new approach, so different from anything I'd done in the past, I started noticing ways in which that wasn't so.  I'll write more about that tomorrow.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Photo suite 165 -- off the walls

We're having the living room, dining room, office and hallways painted, requiring the temporary removal of a large portion of the art collection.  The other rooms are full of stacks of art.  The silver lining: when they go back up on the walls everything will be rearranged, and will take on new life in the company of new neighbors.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Life imitates art 6

Cy Twombly, Panorama, 1955

on the blackboard, art history department

Friday, February 13, 2015

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

IHQ 3 -- Happy Valentine's Day!

Just in time for Valentine's Day, I found two panels in the International Honor Quilt box yesterday that are perfect for the holiday.

Here's a piece made by a group of quilters in Evanston IL in 1982.  The maker of the concentric hearts with the crochet medallion was Kay Burlingham; the maker of the brown appliqued hearts was Marissa Zwick.  Each of the makers left a threaded needle in the panel, ready to take up for more stitching.

Here's a piece made by Sally Jane Nelson in honor of her mother.  She found an old linen handkerchief or tablecloth, so finely woven and well used that it is almost translucent.  At the right, elaborate floral embroidery from its first life; on the wrist, a bit of cutwork embroidery.

She put the heart and hand onto the panel with beautiful shadow applique, putting pink and red shapes underneath the handkerchief and outlining them with hand quilting.  What beautiful work!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Photo suite 163 -- from my hotel window

Bernkastel, Germany



New Orleans

N├╝rnberg, Germany


Saturday, February 7, 2015

And now for something completely frivolous

My to-do list is long these days but I've made huge progress during a week of "vacation," during which my husband went to Florida to seek some warmth and I got to stay home in the studio.  So after four days of impressive achievement, I decided to take the afternoon off and make something silly.  It's so easy to make Valentine hearts out of your assorted pink and red scraps, trapped between layers of tulle with lots of stitching, and some years I even remember to do this enough in advance that I can actually put them in the mail to arrive before Valentine's Day.

My realization this year is that Valentine hearts aren't just for Valentine's Day.  I made a bunch and saved several for use throughout the year -- stick one in a card to your sick friend, or in a birthday card, or tie it on a present, or just hand it to your hostess.

If you want a tutorial on how to make these little guys, here it is.  But I'll confess that my process this year was a lot simpler than the one I described in 2010.

I have abandoned the Solvy.  I trapped a lot of fabric bits between two layers of tulle, stitched around the edges so none would escape, then scribbled a bit in the middle to hold the scraps in place.  Where I saw blank spots, I added more scraps on top, catching them in the scribbles.  Finally I put a third layer of tulle over the top and stitched again.

I also abandoned the needle for making the cord loops.  Instead I just cut a length of cord, put a knot in it, and caught the knot end in the stitching.

So there's still time for you to make some hearts for your sweetie, your sister, your friends.  Why don't you take the afternoon off and devote it to love.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Finding the right teacher -- a user's guide

Much discussion this week on the SAQA email list about teaching and how the marketplace for workshops and classes is changing.  As I read the many posts, two words kept flashing in front of my eyes -- caveat emptor.

If you're trying to find a teacher for yourself or for your guild, I suggest you do your research.  Start with the potential teacher's website.  Read the bio and see how experienced she is.  There are apparently a lot of "teachers" out there who just started making art last year.  See if you can tell whether she has studied at a reputable institution or with reputable teachers.

Then look at the galleries.  How much work is posted?  Is it good work?  Is the whole body of work substantive and impressive?  Avoid teachers who have only a handful of pieces posted, especially if the pieces are small and disparate.  People who have made a bit of this and a bit of that probably don't have the experience or work ethic or mindset that you want in a teacher.  Especially look for work that demonstrates the subject or technique in the workshop you're checking out.  If somebody is teaching A, you probably want her to have made enough A to have mastered it.

Read the workshop descriptions.  Do they have detail about what is covered and what kind of product students will produce?  Especially if you're contemplating a workshop at a big quilt show, the brochure may have only vague information or meaningless drivel -- "Come fly to tropical climes in this exciting workshop!"  If you're looking at the teacher's own site, does it show actual student work?  Does it include testimonials from former students?

Check out the teacher's blog, if one exists.  I know it's fashionable today to say that blogging is so last decade, that facebook and twitter and instagram and pinterest have supplanted that dull, boring practice of writing entire paragraphs about a single idea.  But if you're trying to see if you would benefit from spending hours or days with somebody, you probably should make that judgment on more than 140 characters.

You can tell a lot about a person's character from reading a blog.  Does she write with confidence and expertise or is she forever apologizing or complaining?  Does it sound as though she knows more than you do about the subject you're thinking of studying?  Does she organize her thoughts and explain clearly, or is her writing disjointed and careless?  Is she generous about sharing tips and advice or is every photo prominently watermarked, every post studded with warnings about how you dare not copy?  Does every blog post end with the same long commercial for her book, her services, her workshops?  Most important, does this sound like the kind of person you would like to hang out with?

Get some other opinions.  Ask for references.  Although this doesn't seem to be standard practice in the quilt/art world, I wouldn't hesitate to ask a potential teacher for the names of three or four individuals or program chairs who have taken workshops.  A teacher who refuses or gets offended at such a request might not be the kind of teacher you want to learn from.  Then write or call and ask how it went.  Even if the reference won't say anything bad, you can probably detect the difference in tone between the dutiful nicey-nice compliment and the sincerely positive endorsement.

Finally, write the teacher and ask questions.  If you get a perfunctory or dismissive response, that's a pretty good hint that you might want to keep looking.  If the response is eager, see if you can gauge whether the eagerness is for you to have a valuable learning experience or for her to get a paying gig.

Doing your homework won't guarantee the perfect learning experience, but it should greatly decrease the likelihood that you will be disappointed.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Learning Photoshop -- final exam for course 1

My online class in Photoshop Essentials is over and our final exam was to do at least five different things to an image.  I don't think I'm necessarily an overachiever, but I do have a hard time stopping when I'm having fun.

I have been having difficulty in choosing images to work with in this class.  Why is it that in real life many photos are drab and lifeless, but when you want to find one for homework you can't?  I have played with several photos and couldn't improve them very much, probably because I have a pretty decent camera that knows how to point-and-shoot.

So I decided to use the scan of one of my daily collages from last year.  Because the photos were cut mostly from the newspaper, which uses mediocre paper and relatively low printing quality, they started out drab and lifeless, and maybe the scanning process squeezed a bit more life out of them.  Doesn't this image cry out for improvement?

So I put the image into gray scale, improved its distribution of dark and light, posterized it, added color to the bread, straightened the fortune cookie fortune, and put lines around the thought box and the ballplayers.

All of which took a lot longer to do than to read about, thanks to a lot of trial and error.  I'm still a learner, forever finding myself on the wrong layer and/or using the wrong tool.

But in a week, class 2 begins and I will no doubt learn way more things to do.  I can hardly wait!