Friday, October 30, 2015

Sign of the week

On the train platform, Yokohama:

In case you can't read it (the English part, that is):

Women Only

Boys of primary-school age and below, handicapped men, and men who are helping handicapped persons may also ride in women-only cars.

All trains arriving at Tokyo between 7:30 and 9:30 (weekday)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Divestiture 3

Ten years ago I took a workshop from Nancy Crow in which we were supposed to make a vertical composition 4 feet by 8 feet in black and white, contrasting areas of small, complicated piecing with areas of larger, more serene expanses.  I begged permission to make mine horizontally instead of vertically, as I have problems on ladders, and came up with the idea of a semicircle, which of course would fit perfectly into a 1x2 area.

Black Planet, in progress

I liked my black and white composition but never got it completed in the two days allotted, let alone sewed together.

Then we were supposed to replicate the composition but add neutral colors to the B&W.  I got this far in the workshop and never returned to either of the pieces when I got home.  My design walls at home are nowhere near as expansive as at the Crow Barn, and I got distracted by finishing up my alphabet series for a solo show later that year.

Brown Planet, in progress

(Brown Planet, still pinned to its design wall backing from the Barn,  subsequently got passed along to my internet pal Norma Schlager, who finished it and entered it in Houston, where it won a prize.)

When I returned to the Crow Barn the following year I also returned to the exploding planet motif.  My first try was a disappointment.  I had wanted to get it sewed together, in contrast to the two previous Planets, and didn't take enough time. I liked the colors but thought the composition was too crude and didn't like the way the circle was cropped at the right.

Blue Planet, in progress

I took that one down and started a second one.

second Blue Planet, in progress

This one I worked on at home and finally finished in 2011.  I wasn't thrilled with the composition (probably should have stopped piecing four inches down) but it was a workmanlike effort and I thought it might just be appropriate for some second-tier show.

Blue Planet, in progress five years later

The bigger problem was that it didn't match any of my other work.  Right after I began the two blue planets, I started working with my fine lines technique, which has occupied me for the last eight years.  As the fine line series progressed, I became more and more reluctant to show work that was not related, especially since I had no immediate plans to continue with the exploding semicircle motif.  So Blue Planet sat on the bed for years all by its lonesome.

When my fiber art group took on its community service project to provide art for our local Child Advocacy Center, I thought maybe Blue Planet had found its destiny.  And here it is, in the lobby at the reception last night.

It's hard to see in this photo, but there's a bend in the wall and the quilt fits perfectly on that panel with about three inches on each side.

Several people asked me if I had made the quilt for the space.  I said no, but maybe that was the wrong answer.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Divestiture 2

I wrote earlier about my fiber and textile group's community service project to make art for a local children's agency.  I went through my piles of old quilts and found several to donate.  Here's a pair of quilts that I made to illustrate a concept.

I never did anything more with the concept, until today, so this post can be both a show-and-tell and a project lesson.

At the time I had recently acquired a huge pile of solid strips, which got to me in a convoluted way. Many years ago Caryl Bryer Fallert (now Fallert-Gentry) taught two week-long workshops at Quilt Surface Design Symposium.  Week one dealt with strip piecing, and all students had been asked to bring in a bunch of strips to contribute to a communal pile.  They apparently brought in way more than they were able to sew, because when week two rolled around and my workshop occurred, there was still a big pile of strips on the table.

Caryl said we were all welcome to use the strips, and I did -- in fact, it sent me down the road on a long series that I should write about sometime.  On Friday afternoon Caryl announced that she wasn't taking those #@%&* strips home with her, so if anybody wanted some, take them!  You know me well enough to know that I did, and I worked with them for several years.  Probably still have some stashed away somewhere in my studio.

So back to the project lesson.   Start by making five log cabin squares, all the same size.  I didn't own a digital camera at the time and therefore wasn't obsessively documenting process steps, so you'll have to take this part on faith.  My five log cabins had alternating logs of black and bright colors, with logs of varying widths.

Stack the blocks up in a pile and slice across them at an angle.  Carefully separate the two piles by an inch or so, keeping everything in the same orientation.  Take the top piece on one of the piles and move it to the bottom of the same pile. You now have five top halves and five bottom halves, but if you take the top pair off, they don't match one another.  Sew the pairs together.  Now you have five blocks, each with a fracture seam in the middle.

Press the blocks, shuffle them and stack them up again, with all the seams going vertically.  Slice across the pile on an angle, crossing the first seams.  Again, separate the two piles, move the top piece on one of the piles to the bottom, and sew the new pairs together.  You now have five blocks with two fractures in the middle.

Each block looks like this:

But since I had made five blocks, I got this little quilt plus a bigger quilt out of the project.

As I look at the pictures, I don't understand how I managed to get those different angles on the cuts.  There should have been only two slices in the entire project, so all the angles should have been the same.

Maybe I did the slicing in two separate batches.  Guess I'll have to deconstruct the photos and figure out what happened. And if I ever want to teach this technique I'll have to make a new sample with simpler planning. But not today.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Me vs. the system -- who won??

I am one pissed-off artist as I write this post.  I just spent a half hour attempting to enter a juried show using the CaFE system, which I have used before but will never use again if I can help it.

CaFE is one of those "helpful" systems that wants to make life oh so easy for you but ends up making it nearly impossible to accomplish what you want to do.  Like autocorrect and autofill, which so frequently refuse to accept the word you type in and substitute something else, CaFE thinks it knows what you want to do, and damn if it will let you override its plan.

Theoretically the helpful system should have been a breeze, because I was going to enter the same things that I had put in a previous show.  There they were in "My Portfolio" and when I checked the two images, they popped themselves up into place.  Or I guess they did -- I had been asked some questions about "Entry 1" and "Entry 2," but I could never figure out which of the two pieces got dubbed 1 and which got dubbed 2.

After I had entered the previous show I had second thoughts about the price I had put on the works, and now decided I'd better go back and see if I wanted to revise the number.  But CaFE wouldn't let me go to that part of the system -- even to see it, let alone edit it.  I spent ten minutes clicking from one link to another trying to access where I had previously entered info about the pieces, but without success.  The only thing I could see when I clicked "review your entry" was one photo of each piece -- no dimensions, no price, no date of completion.

Finally I got tired of clicking and figured I'd just pay the damn money and be done with it. But the system now told me that one of the images I had selected was committed to another show and could not be submitted.  Decided to log out of the system, not yet having given them my credit card or completed the transaction, and log on again, hoping it might let me start from scratch.  No such luck.  I thought about it for a bit, tried to gauge how much I really wanted to be in this show, and decided it was time for a stand on principle, namely that I refused to be jacked around any more by a computer system.

Unspooled, 2015, not entered in the Mid-States Craft Exhibition, Evansville Museum of Art, Evansville IN

I've recently heard some other horror stories about CaFE from a friend who was involved in organizing a show and got to see the output.  The system wants images that are 1920 pixels on the longest side, but "helpfully" is willing to resize the images for you if you upload something larger. Except that my friend swears the helpful system sometimes produces distorted images because it doesn't know how to get the resizing right.

I plan to let the museum know why I didn't enter the show.  I have used lots of online entry systems but haven't kept track of which ones have the features I love or hate.  I know that some systems work way better than others, and it seems that the simpler the system, the better it works.  I for one would much rather upload my images twice than have the system take them hostage in May and not give me control over them in October.

Show organizers, beware the bells and whistles of systems like CaFE that pretend to be "helpful" but are just obstinate.  Artists have better things to do than jump through 27 hoops to enter your show.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Photo suite 200 -- still taking pictures

When I started this series of photo suites on January 1, 2012, I showed a bunch of pictures of me taking pictures.  Now that I'm up to #200 in the series, it seemed appropriate to show you that I'm still taking pictures.  And wearing the same hat.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Divestiture 1

My local fiber and textile art group does a community service project every year or so in which we make art for some worthwhile agency to decorate its premises.  We have work hanging in a cancer hospital, a forest/nature preserve, a substance abuse treatment center, a hospice and a children's home.  This year we're working with an agency that helps abused children with medical and psychological care and with a facility where children can be interviewed by one person on videotape and then not have to testify and be cross-examined in a courtroom.

The agency has just moved to a new home, with lots of long, long walls totally devoid of artwork.  In fact, their recent accreditation hinged on the promise that we were going to provide plenty of art.  In addition to making the place look more friendly, the staff will use the artwork as a fast way to build rapport with children as they are escorted to the treatment and interview rooms, and to quickly gauge their verbal and emotional states in advance of the actual encounter.

Many of our members did artwork onto canvases, which were provided in two sizes, but anybody with larger works to donate was welcome to do so.  I took the opportunity to go through my piles and piles of old quilts and was able to come up with a baker's dozen that I was willing to part with.

First, I found a stack of little quilts from 2001 and 2002 that don't say anything and don't go with one another, even though they're all exactly the same size, 15 1/2 inches finished.  I seem to recall that the plan was to make a sort of sampler quilt, in which they would be individually quilted, but then sashed together.  I was using bits and pieces from scrap bags, leftovers and wherever, so there was no coherence.  Fortunately I abandoned the idea of putting them together, and put bindings and sleeves on each one.  Whereupon they have sat in a box for more than a decade doing nothing.  I think they'll look fine in the children's facility.

Here are two based on Margaret Miller's great quilt recipe, "Strips That Sizzle."

Here are two where I was experimenting with strip piecing, then cutting the strips sets on the diagonal and re-piecing.

More strip-piecing-then-cutting-again, and leftovers from a baby quilt.

Here are two very traditional patterns.  One block is about as long as I can work with a traditional pattern before getting bored and mixing it up somehow.

I'll show you more of  my donations in a subsequent post.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Friday, October 16, 2015

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Surface Design Association conference 2

Another presenter whom I enjoyed getting to know at the SDA conference was Laura Sansone, who teaches at Parsons The New School for Design and has started a project called The Textile Lab, intended to raise awareness among fashion students and the public about natural dyes and local textile production.

Here's Laura taking her setup to a New York City greenmarket, where she and her students proceed to collect various castoff materials like carrot tops and cook up pots of dye.

In addition, she is trying to encourage local textile production among small farmers along the Hudson Valley north of the city.  New York has many alpaca farms, as well as sheep, and leather can be made from the hides collected at meat slaughterhouses.  Laura sees many similarities between the local food movement and local textiles, to improve quality and foster economic development and environmental sustainability.

Laura wants to encourage designers to become more aware both of local production and of reuse and recycling.  Her classes work closely with Green Eileen, a venture that collects and resells Eileen Fisher garments; a favorite activity is to use (locally produced, of course) wool roving to needlefelt over holes in garments as a combination of decoration and functional mending.

Laura is a smart and dynamic artist and teacher, and I liked hanging out in her workshop and playing with needlefelting.  Here's my (sadly) unfinished work of art.

But I can't wholly buy in to the cause.  Just like local foods, local textiles are a tiny niche activity that may deliver fine quality and lots of romantic feelings, but also is expensive and self-limiting.

You can't feed the United States from local truck farms, nor can you clothe us from local sheep.  (Among other things, we probably don't want to wear all that much wool, especially in the summertime.)  And even if we could produce enough stuff to go around, most of the people couldn't afford the clothes or the food unless the farmers worked for slave wages.  Nor do I suspect that most of the people in the US could afford to buy resold Eileen Fisher clothes, even though they cost less than they did the first time around.  (The website provides no price info, just says they're "affordable.")

I hate to be so cynical in the face of such vigor and enthusiasm but maybe I'm just too old to get thrilled at hey-kids-let's-put-on-a-show projects.  I know that change often starts with small local efforts and sometimes gathers enough momentum to have much larger impact.  But I don't think all the carrot tops in the world are going to ever replace Procion.  Whether we should even want them to is another issue.

What do you think?  Am I being too curmudgeonly?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Surface Design Association conference 1

I spent the weekend at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, in Gatlinburg TN, at the biennial conference of Surface Design Association.  It's the first SDA conference I've attended so I have to take it on faith that it's a greatly different model than past conferences that have been held in big-city hotels.  Instead, we met in the mountains, at a low-budget, low-amenities art/craft retreat center where we sat amid the looms and saws of artisans, an atmosphere that I found very comfortable.  The amenities may have been sparse but the food was great and the company stimulating.

I attended the conference mainly as a patriotic duty; I serve on the SDA finance committee and know that making the gathering a success was important to our fiscal well-being.  Had I read the agenda more closely I might not have come, because it was a highly focused conference about social engagement as part of an art practice.  If you've been reading my blog this summer you know that I'm feeling a bit jaded about social engagement art (click here for my story) and I was purely an observer of these efforts, not a believer.

The presenter I most enjoyed and admired was Carole Francis Lung, an art professor who maintains a second persona as Frau Fiber, self-described as a former East German garment worker and illegal immigrant.  Frau wears an attractive Eastern-bloc type of uniform and appears in character to raise awareness of injustices in textile manufacturing, and to help people learn to sew and fix their own garments instead of throwing them away.  Her motto is "Stop Shopping, Start Sewing."

She calls this effort the Sewing Rebellion and travels around with a bicycle-cranked treadle sewing machine so she can set up shop in random neighborhoods and mend people's garments or teach them to make their own repairs.

After a wonderful presentation to the whole group, Frau (as she's familiarly known) led a breakout session in which she invited us to become "Faux Fraus," take the oath of solidarity and bring the Sewing Rebellion to our own communities.

I was sad that I was not able to swear this oath on my sewing machine as the other workshop participants did.  I subscribe to all the principles of the Sewing Rebellion in my personal life -- you should see all the mended garments I proudly wear out in public, and one look at me will convince you that I have long ago Stopped Shopping.

But this is not my crusade.  My crusade is to liberate every quilter from having to use other people's patterns and insofar as I have any energy or inclination to take on social awareness projects, that's what I'm going to work on.  Nevertheless, I am in love with Frau and her cause.  It was great to hear about her efforts, and I wish her all the success in the world.

More about other presenters in subsequent posts.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Killing yourself quilting

Earlier this week Maria Shell had a post on her blog called "Killing myself with deadlines" in which she discussed the toll on the body from quilting many hours to get ready for a show.  I can sympathize, remembering vividly the aches in the back and shoulders, and one that surprised me -- the disabled knee from the sewing machine pedal once when I had to sew the last 15% of the quilt with the left foot.  (Amazing how difficult that is -- like writing with your wrong hand.)

But yesterday I almost killed myself not with repetitive stress injuries but a more direct form of suicide.  I had to assemble a bunch of quilts to take to a guild lecture, and located one roll on a bed in the guest room, way over in the corner.  I reached over awkwardly to grab it and discovered that it was a lot heavier than I was anticipating.  I got off balance and started going over backwards.

In that endless moment when you realize you're doomed but the axe hasn't fallen yet, I looked around and tried to find something I could hang on to.  Grabbed onto a chest of drawers, which turned out to be a really bad decision.  Instead of the chest providing me with support, it seized the opportunity to fall down too.  Since it was full of fabric, it had lots of weight behind it to knock me down and keep me pinned there.

Fortunately my husband was at home and heard the crash, then my call for help.  He got the chest off me and set it upright, then spent ten minutes picking up pieces of broken glass from my shirt and hair while I lay in place, because there had been a set of my grandmother's lead-crystal glasses decoratively arranged on top of the chest.  Finally I managed to get up, and spent most of an hour dealing with broken glass in the rest of the room.

It could have been worse, of course, had my head or neck hit the wooden chair behind me instead of just going down onto the floor, or had the heavy chest caught my leg in a slightly worse position.  And if my husband had been out, I might have had to lie there until he got back.

When I tally the ways quilting has tried to kill me, this probably is number three on the hit parade.  One and two were the times I sliced the edge of my thumb with the rotary cutter and ran a sewing machine needle into my finger.  More blood with number one, but considerable pain from both.  I got off easy this time.  

What's the worst you've ever done to yourself in the name of quilting??

Monday, October 5, 2015

I can't believe what the Internet can do for you

Last week I posted a panel in the International Honor Quilt project, made in northern Quebec, that celebrated Inuit culture.  I asked whether anybody knew anybody who could help me type in and/or translate the writing.

To my utter amazement, I got four responses from people who said they could help!  Thank you so much to all of you -- I am so appreciative that you responded and offered.

First to write me was Judy Martin, my longtime internet friend whose work and blog I love.  She volunteered her brother, who has worked with Canadian aboriginal languages, and in a couple of hours he wrote me back with the text typed in:

ᒣᓇᕿᓗᑭ    mainiqiluki
ᐳᕕᕐᓂᑐ     puvirnitu
ᑯᐯ           kupai

Apparently "Mainiqiluki" is the woman being honored in the panel, "Puvirnitu" is a variant of Puvirnituq, the town where the panel was made, and "Kupai" is the abbreviation for Quebec.  And the name of the language is not "Inuit" but "Inuktitut."

Here's where Puvirnituq is:

As it turns out, there's a second bunch of Inuktitut that we may want to have translated, a piece of paper that presumably explains more of who made the panel (we know it was a sewing class) and who Mainiqiluki is.  But that would require higher-level translation that Judy's brother can provide.  If the project director wants to go that far, I may be calling on the other three comment posters for their help after all.

Meanwhile, let's take a minute to contemplate how impossible such a transaction would have been in the days before the Internet.  What took less than a day to accomplish would have taken weeks, maybe months.  And I marvel at how I've had the privilege, through the Internet, to build such a wonderful network of friends and connections.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Photo suite 197 -- jumbo cones

In Japan it's common for restaurants to display plastic food to entice diners inside, but usually it's life size.  When it comes to ice cream, however, bigger is better.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Thursday, October 1, 2015

An old friend gets a big prize

I'm always interested when they announce the MacArthur "genius grants" because the recipients are such an interesting and unconventional cross-section of accomplishment.  When the 2015 list came out earlier this week, I knew a few of the names, but Nicole Eisenman wasn't really one of them.  I knew she was a painter, and that she's hot in the art world these days, but I couldn't have picked her work out of an array unless everybody else in the array was Monet.

But yesterday's New York Times had an interview with her, and there on the front page of the Arts section was somebody I recognized instantly:

Nicole Eisenman, Breaking Up

Let me explain.  In 2012 when I was doing hand stitching as my daily art, I went through a stage of appropriating portrait images from famous artists.  Among them was this unhappy dumpee, who just got the bad news via text message.

Here's how I rendered him:

I had found the picture in an ArtForum magazine and I'm sure it had Eisenman's name on it, but that never stuck in my memory.  I just liked the image and thought it would be a good inspiration for a day's stitching (check out all my daily stitching here).

I think I did a good job of replicating the unhappy guy, even if I did a bad job of remembering whose work I had copied.

Anyway, now I have made the connection and from now on I will follow Eisenman's career with a more proprietary attitude.