Thursday, November 26, 2015


The Thanksgiving holiday didn't start out too auspiciously in our house.  Yesterday afternoon the cleaning lady told me that the kitchen sink was leaking.  Sure enough, the U-shaped trap had rusted through to leave a little hole at the bottom of the curve.  I griped about how much it was going to cost to call a plumber on the holiday, or how I was going to prepare the food I needed to bring to the holiday feast without water.

She helpfully unscrewed the rusted pipe and said "just go to Home Depot and get a new trap, and screw it in, and you won't even need a plumber."  Then she got the mop, which she hadn't even put away yet after doing the floor the first time, and cleaned everything up beautifully.

In retrospect I should have said, as soon as the leak was announced, "Hold it -- I will do emergency repairs until I can have the plumber come on Friday or Saturday."  I should have then gotten my trusty roll of duct tape and wrapped the leaky pipe ten or twelve times around, and used the sink sparingly.  Heck, we didn't even have to get ready for holiday guests, just bake a pie and make some cranberry something-or-other and take it to my son's house for the dinner.

But did I do the right thing?  No, I watched her unscrew the pipe.  And I sent my husband to Home Depot for a new trap.  Which was the wrong size, so he went back again.  Then we attempted to screw in the new one.  Sparing the gory details, it didn't work.  Except that I cut my finger on the threaded end of the pipe, a sure sign of cheap crap hardware.  (When's the last time you cut your finger on any threaded object?  Right.  Because you generally own decent hardware.)

After a while we decided to give up and have a drink.  We will call the plumber on Friday and see when he can come over.  If that won't be soon, we will eat out.

So instead of being crabby, I'm going to be thankful.  The leak did not occur after a dozen guests arrived for Thanksgiving dinner, nor did it flood out a kitchen floor full of switched-on electrical appliances, books and magazines, or five-year-olds. It will not prevent me from baking a pumpkin pie, just from washing the dishes afterwards (and have you ever noticed that dirty dishes are patient, just as dirty on Monday as they were on Thursday morning?)

I'm thankful that we can afford to call a plumber, even if it's going to cost a lot more than wrestling with the cheap crap pipe from Home Depot, and that we can afford to eat out if the plumber can't come till Monday.  Thankful that the leak was in an easily accessible, totally visible pipe, not hidden inside a wall.  Thankful that we discovered the leak within minutes of it appearing, not upon returning from a month-long vacation.

Thankful that we didn't lose our power for a week after a storm, or have a tree fall on our roof. Thankful that nobody has a terminal disease, that those with serious ailments are under treatment, and that everybody can see a doctor -- and pay for it -- when they need one.

not our house, thank heavens

Thankful that we have not had a foreign terrorist attack in the United States since 2001 and that most of our fellow citizens are willing to extend a welcome to refugees from terrible wars around the globe. Thankful that despite the petty annoyances and frustrations, we still have a pretty fabulous life, one that millions of people from other countries would brave unspeakable dangers to try to achieve.

Thankful for art, both the art we look at and the art we make.   Thankful for friends, both in person and over the Internet, who make our lives so rich.  Thankful for the opportunity to connect with you all, and thankful that you honor me by reading my blog.  A happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Guilty blog pleasure of the month

Sometimes you happen upon a new blog and start looking back at all those previous posts -- and the next thing you know, it's time to go to bed.  You keep reading back, and clicking on internal links to old posts, and then you have to go to Google to figure out who she's talking about, and time passes....

That happened to me a couple of weeks ago and I am well and truly lost down the rabbit hole.  The blog is so different from anything that I thought I was ever interested in, but here I am looking for it first thing in the morning when I turn on my computer (and since it emanates from Europe, five hours ahead, it's usually there).

I discovered it on one of the sidebars on Sandy Snowden's blog.  And the winner is -- The Royal Order of Sartorial Splendor, which describes itself as "purely frivolous and perfectly harmless snark and admiration for all things stylish and royal."  It comes every day and keeps you posted on the public appearances of kings and queens, princes and princesses, dukes and duchesses, counts and countesses and lord knows what other varieties of royals.  You wouldn't believe how many of these are out and about, mostly in Europe but also in Asia.

Usually the blog talks about the clothing and jewels worn by the various fancy folks, with particular joy when they show up in tiaras.  The blogger is a fashionista, knowledgeable about designers as well as about clothing construction.  When a gown doesn't fit right, or a zipper pull is too obvious, we'll hear about it!!!

I have learned so much in the hours clicking through this blog's archives.  I have learned that a "parure" is a big matched set of jewels, such as a necklace, brooch, belt clasp, tiara, comb, bandeau, bracelets, pins, rings and earrings.  If you own one you can wear several pieces at once on fancy occasions.  Or you could mix and not match if you own a bunch of other stuff.  And often the tiara is constructed so you can take it off its headband armature and wear it as a necklace.  So convenient!!

I have learned that tiaras come in specific styles, such as these "kokoshniks," which echo the traditional Russian headdress.  Whether you wear your tiara up on the middle of your head (more height) or down on your forehead or partially buried in your hairdo makes a big difference in the overall effect.

(All photos from The Royal Order of Sartorial Splendor blog.)

I have learned that even royals have limited wardrobes, and wear their favorite outfits many times.

I have learned about wearing the sash of your noble order.  For both men and women, it goes under the belt, which is handy to prevent it falling off your shoulder or drooping into your soup (perhaps the reason why so many royal ladies choose dresses with belts?).  For men, over the jacket if your uniform coat is buttoned up, but between jacket and vest in formal dress and unbuttoned uniforms.

I have learned all kinds of gossip: which royal married a former almost-nude model, which royal didn't bother to get married until after the baby was born, which heir to the throne married her personal trainer, which royal had to step out of the line of succession because his sweetie lied about her relationship with a gangster.

Did you know that three European monarchs abdicated recently?  And that all three of the new kings have wives who are drop-dead gorgeous?  And a good thing, because queens have a demanding day job, which is to show up at various events wearing beautiful clothing and looking drop-dead gorgeous.  (A lot of queens happen to be taller than their kings -- just saying.)

The blog loves royal weddings, and had I not read it, I would not have realized that Prince William's red coat didn't fit right, causing nasty wrinkles around his right shoulder.  And if you want a whole lot of comment and opinion on royal wedding gowns, this is your place to go.

Why am I so transfixed with this blog and its subject matter?  Hard to say.

For one thing, it's lovely to see beautiful women wearing decent, beautiful clothes.  I am usually grossed out by the ridiculous hookerwear that is touted in the name of fashion, both on the runway and at entertainment-world events like the Oscars.  I am glad to see that big-name designers can also make clothes that you or I might happily wear out in public.

As a fanatically committed small-r republican, I have an evil fascination with the people who cling to the obsolete rituals of royalty.  Sometimes I wonder how ordinary people (usually women, but not always) allow themselves to marry into such formal and meaningless lives.  Could you stay sane and feel your life was worthwhile if you had to go open a senior citizens center today and attend a royal do in Sweden tomorrow?  On the other hand, do countries with royals get better hands-on attention to worthy causes than we do?

Too much to ponder.  I can hardly wait for tomorrow's dose of royal hemlines.  Check it out and see if you agree.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Those discharged sleeves...

I wrote yesterday about using dishwasher gel, which contains bleach, to discharge text on my quilt sleeves.  And realized from a couple of the comments that I had not made myself clear as to exactly where I put the ensuing fabric.

I said that I don't like labels, as customarily handled in the quilt world -- rectangles of computer-printed fabric that give lots of information about many aspects of the piece, its maker, construction, materials, inspiration and care instructions.  For some reason putting all that info on a label seems like a bad cross between the care tag on your dress and the "about me" section on your Google profile.

But I do think it's necessary to identify the quilt in a permanent manner, and what's so permanent as the hanging mechanism?  So I write my name, the title of the piece, and (usually) the year it was made on the sleeve.

Sorry, if you're walking through the quilt show and feel the urge to sneakily turn back that lower right-hand corner to read my label, you'll be disappointed.  But I'm not much on that practice either.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Sewing sleeves

I have a bad habit, or perhaps you could call it a superstition -- I rarely sew the sleeves on the back of new quilts until they have been accepted into a show and are on their way out the door.  Sometimes I plan ahead sufficiently to make the sleeve, even if I don't sew it on right away.  But other times I have to do that too, just before the deadline.

Yesterday I had to deliver a quilt to a local juried show so Tuesday night I found myself in the laundry room, writing my info on the sleeve in bleach.

I never put labels on my quilts because it seems kind of bush league -- did Mark Rothko print out a neat little label on his computer, maybe with a cute little flower on the side, and affix it to the back of his paintings?  But since every quilt needs a hanging sleeve, I have turned that into my ID field.

I write my text with Finish dishwashing gel, which contains enough bleach to discharge beautifully.  I like this brand better than others because the gel is stiff enough to hold the bead perfectly rather than seep into the fabric and ooze into a blurry line.  I apply it with a standard ketchup squeeze bottle.  This time I needed to get some fresh gel to refill my squeeze bottle, and was delighted to find that it had enough oomph to start discharging almost immediately.

By the time I finished the second sleeve, below in the photo, the first one had already developed an enthusiastic discharge.  (If you use old gel sometimes it takes an hour or more before the reaction is complete.)  I let the gel dry for several hours before running the sleeves through the wash, because I don't want the wet gel to offset onto other areas of the sleeve, or worse, onto a Tshirt sharing the wash.  Ask me how I know this can happen.

Then it was only one trash TV program's worth of hand sewing to get the sleeve on the quilt in time to deliver it to the show.

You've seen the quilt before -- it's the bottom half of a larger piece that I made several years ago but just cut in two last fall and finished into companion pieces this spring.

Left Coast

Here's its twin:

Flyover State

With any luck, this one will get to go out in public too someday.  And when that happens, I'll have its sleeve all ready to sew on.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Book publishing for fun and frustration

How to kill two days and not even notice the time going by -- publish two books!

I did a Blurb book several months ago and have been on their mailing list for a lot longer than that.  But then they sent me a 50% off message and I thought it might be time to do a new book.  I had actually started uploading photos a while back, but stopped when I got sticker shock from the first Blurb project.  Monday night, with the 50% off offer running out, I decided it would be fun to have some books to dole out at Christmas.

I have to tell you that I don't much like Blurb.  Their interface is clunky, one of those "we know what you want to do" computer programs that to a certain degree allows you to bypass their "we know what you want to do" layouts, but only if you sweat blood while doing so.  Yes, you can put something other than the copyright notice on page 3, but only if you pay them extra.  Yes, you can put text or a photo on page 20 of your book, but only if you pay them extra; otherwise the final spread of your book looks like this.  (That's the Blurb logo occupying the real estate.)

Don't know about you, but when I'm paying a buck a page, give or take, I hate to have two pages taken away from me as commercials for the producer.

And I don't believe I've ever worked with a program that has no UNDO button!  If you do something wrong, or even worse, if you just do something that the program gets pissy about, you have to painfully reconstruct what you had before -- if you remember it right.

After a couple of hours of wasted time I figured out how to specify my own layouts instead of using the (inadequate) ones on their standard list.  But it still chops me that the instant I click on one of my custom layouts, the menu instantly reverts to the standard list, so it takes me three clicks instead of one to specify the next page.  And I still haven't figured out if there's a way to specify my favorite typeface for the entire book, rather than scrolling through a list of 200 faces to find mine at least once per page.  (If I loved Arial I wouldn't be so bitchy, since it would be at the top of the list, but I love Palatino....)

Blurb's default face for body type seems to be Georgia, which isn't a bad face at all (it's just that I love Palatino).  So why does it default to Trebuchet on the title page?  How many people who don't know typography from tomography end up with books that inexplicably come with a non-matching title page?  How many of them even recognize it?

When I finished up the book yesterday morning and hit the "send" button I was struck with one of those irrational thoughts, along the lines of "that bottle of wine was fabulous, why don't we order another?"  And sure enough, I spent the rest of the day on another one.

Book #1 is a series of photos of a door and a bench.  I've been struck with the poetic and existential implications of this combination for several years, and have gone out of my way to photograph them wherever I go.  Book #2 is a greatest-hits compilation of my favorites from the "Sign of the Week" feature on this blog.

I even set up a mechanism to sell the books, in case anybody is moved to want one.  But thanks to the clunkiness of the Blurb site, I am so far unable to figure out how anybody might access the page to buy one.  If I ever find out I'll let you know.

Well, enough crabbiness for one day.  I had a lot of fun making the books, even if not so much navigating the system to make them happen.  If Blurb sends me another coupon I might even do another one.  Meanwhile, if you know of a self-publishing site that's cheaper and less frustrating, let me in on the secret!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Sewing therapy

Who knows why you get into a funk sometimes.  In my case, it's nothing specific.  In fact, there have been some very good things going on -- the four-year-old turned five yesterday, I got work into two nice juried shows, my sister doesn't have lung cancer but ONLY a fungal infection that may take a year of medication to clear up (funny how context can make bad news into good news!).

But I am in a funk.  So finally I decided there was no hope but sewing therapy.  When in doubt, go sew some things together.  You don't have to know what they're going to be, just sew them together.

After a while you will start having modules of various sizes, which you put up on the design wall.  A while later you notice that two of the modules have the same dimension, so you sew them together.  A long while later the fabric starts talking to you and saying "I want to be with him" or "I feel too dark; give me some white please."

The glory of this approach is that you don't have to make many decisions.  I had a big box of striped fabric all neatly folded and packaged after I finished my Quilt National piece a year ago.  I had noticed that there was a lot of red in that box, so I started with a lot of red strips.  Then the fabric started wanting to go dark.  And I guess I'm getting bored with sewing long strips together, so the modules started to get smaller.

I have no idea what's going to come of this.  The funk isn't gone, but it's lurking a lot farther away than it was two weeks ago.  And it feels great to be sewing, even if you don't know what you're working on.

That will come.  Meanwhile, more stripes, more strips, more sewing.  The strips are mostly between 1/8 and 1/4 inch wide; I strive for narrower but sometimes they resist.  That's OK too.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Chevrons in fashion

I've written in the past about trends in fabric production.  For several years I've been frustrated because I want to work in stripes and they're out of fashion; polka dots have been all the rage at the fabric store.

Now I want to report that the latest trend seems to be chevrons.  Here's what I've seen at the fabric store recently.

I find it interesting that the chevrons are available in a variety of sizes and shapes.  Stripes seem to be coming back too, but in my local fabric store it's all 1/4" color-and-white.  That means the powers that be aren't all that committed to stripes.

So if chevrons are something you might like to use, go out and buy every one you see.  Who knows how long they will be in the stores!

And yes, orange seems to be in too.  Grab it while it's there.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

See this quilt before it disappears

Vancouver Barbara left a comment yesterday that she wants to see the spoiled quilt, even with its typo (or as my art pal calls it, a stitcho).  So here it is.  Sorry that it's difficult to read -- in the flesh it's not quite so monotone, although it certainly is deliberately low-contrast.  (If only I had given more thought from the start to how it might look in photos....)

I know this information because we found the record of their arrival in the huge Germans To America reference books, which list every passenger on every ship from Germany to the US for much of the 19th century.  I was delighted to find this illustration, an engraving of the actual ship they traveled on.

By the way, I think this piece is going to be cut into little bits and reincarnated.  I'll keep you posted!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Pulling the plug

Last week brought frustration, over a piece that I have been working on for several months, on and off.  I made this piece specifically for the SAQA show at the Textile Museum in Washington, on the subject of migration or diaspora.  I had a great story to tell, that of my great-grandmother who made her way from Germany to Michigan in spite of many obstacles and setbacks in her life.  I wanted to combine text and images by machine-stitching onto canvas, a medium and technique I had started to explore in a couple of small pieces earlier this year.

As I worked on the piece, in between vacations, conferences and a wedding, I was pleased with many aspects of it.  I liked the way I was able to translate photos into a more abstract style of stitching -- despite my long-held disdain for representational fiber art, despite my even-longer-held inability to draw.

But as I reached the end of the road, and spent a day or so sinking thread ends, I started looking at all the things that I could have done better. If only I didn't have this terrible, self-defeating resistance to planning ahead, I could have made the columns of text better fill the width of the fabric.  If only I had taken better care to avoid shrinking the canvas with my heavy stitching, it would have lain flat instead of puckering.  If only I had marked a line for the top of my letters instead of just a baseline, the text would have been more uniform.  If only, if only.

I finished the piece despite my doubts.  The entry deadline was October 31.  Now on to photography.  Since the piece was long and skinny, like the Bayeux Tapestry, and there was no limit on the pixels of the submitted image, I wanted to take several shots and merge them in Photoshop into a single image.  I hauled my design wall upstairs to a better-lit environment and took many, many photos.  When I sat down to merge them in Photoshop I realized that was easier said than done; although I thought I had kept the lighting constant there were obvious differences on either side of the merge and it looked pretty crappy.

About the time I had returned to my design wall to reshoot the photos, my husband came in from his errands and realized he hadn't looked at the piece in several weeks.  He read the entire text out loud.  Then he got to the part about "Ferdinand and and his best friend" -- the typo that I had not realized was there.

I know exactly how I made that mistake -- I must have thought the first "and" was the end of "Ferdinand" so I went on with the sentence.  How I didn't notice it in time to fix it is more of a mystery.

The piece was already quilted (because it was a SAQA show, and you had to follow the SAQA definition of a quilt) and restitching the text would have required taking a lot of the quilting out just to get the canvas under the needle.

Combined with the other frustrations this was the last straw.  I thought for about a minute about fixing it, and for another minute about leaving it in (aren't you supposed to have a deliberate mistake somewhere in your quilt so God won't think you're being too uppity?).  And then I decided to pull the plug.

In my previous life as a corporate manager I always took pride in my ability to recognize the point at which it was better to quit than to keep stumbling onward.  The point at which you couldn't meet the deadline without spending tens of thousands of dollars on a brochure that people would be unhappy with; the point at which you had to acknowledge that your employee was never going to cut the mustard.  I pulled the plug on many different things for many different reasons, and I don't believe I ever regretted doing so; as time went by, nobody remembered that we missed the deadline on Plan A, but they were always glad with what we eventually came up with for Plan B.

That's what happened last week.  I took the design wall back into the studio, rolled up the Bayeux Tapestry and put it away.  Maybe I'll come back to this project sometime and do it over again, with better planning, better execution and better proofreading.  Maybe I won't, but what I learned will stick with me for some other project.  

I'm unhappy to miss out on the SAQA opportunity but in the long run this is no big deal one way or the other.  And after feeling sorry for myself through cocktail hour and dinnertime, I noticed a distinct feeling of relief as the evening wore on.  Sometimes it's better to miss the bus and wait for the next one.