Thursday, December 31, 2015

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Turmoil and tranquility

In early November I decided to lift myself out of a funk by sewing, without much idea of what was going to happen to the sewed-up bits.  Here's what I had on the wall on November 13, and thought that I might do a composition where the black morphed into red.

I sewed a lot more bits and pieces and by the week before Christmas it looked like this below, with all the black part sewed together and most of the red part still in pieces.  Still thinking of a single quilt with two colors.  The line between black and red seemed pretty harsh so I figured I would need to make some transition blocks to get from one color to the next.

At some time after I had started sewing on the project, I decided that it would be an entry in SAQA's contest, Turmoil and Tranquility. The two themes are meant to be combined in a single show, but the deadlines are a month apart (January 31 for Tranquility, February 29 for Turmoil) and I thought I could get a quilt done in time for the Turmoil deadline.  And besides, I like turmoil a whole lot more than I like tranquility.

But after I looked at the red and black together on the wall, with the help of my art pal Marti, I had a thought -- what if this were two quilts instead of one?  I could submit the black part as tranquility and the red part as turmoil.

Since we didn't have much planned in the way of holiday festivities, I got to sew on Christmas Eve and a bit even on Christmas Day, and by this week I had the black one quilted!

I feel superstitious about showing finished work on the blog while a show entry is pending, so I'm not going to show you what it turned out to be.  I will show you the red bits up on the design wall.

The neat rectangles have been sliced into smaller bits and rearranged for maximum turmoil.  Way more interesting than they were in the first photo, don't you think?  Clearly a lot of work ahead before it turns into a finished quilt, but heck, I have until the end of February!


update: linking this to Nina-Marie's blog; check out what other artists are doing this week.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas presents

Several years ago we made a policy decision to abandon Christmas presents within our family.  Obviously Ken and I, like any decades-married old couple, have all the stuff we'll ever need and then some, so it was hard for our children to come up with any new stuff that would be well received.  And as the children became adults, it was hard for us to come up with anything that they would appreciate.  We guessed at one another's reading or music preferences and usually missed the mark; we gave sweaters or shirts that didn't really fit or sing.  So we gave up, and in retrospect, both generations agree it was one of the best family decisions ever.

This year, though, I had an idea.  I own too many things and am looking for opportunities to divest myself.  So at Christmas dinner I approached the two daughters-in-law and one granddaughter and gave them their choice of a whole lot of jewelry that sits unused in my drawers.  Much of what I put out for grabs came from my mother, who had a huge collection of fabulous jewelry, most of which I find way too heavy to wear myself.  But the one Zoe chose was a beautiful tiny opal necklace, which Ken gave me many years ago.

Here's Stephanie with an enameled fish that came from my mother; it's articulated so it wiggles around on its chain.

Here's Kristin with a massive gold chain that also was my mother's.  It goes so well with her white turtleneck that I hope she will always wear the two together.

I haven't worn any of these pieces in years, if ever, and it felt great to send them off with new owners who I hope will wear and love them.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Photo suite 208 -- best of collage

As the year ends, so does my three-year daily collage project.  Here are some of my favorites from 2015.  (check them all out here)

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas ornaments 2015

Everybody who's getting an ornament this year should have already opened it, so I should be safe in showing you what they look like.  After a couple of years of textiles I had the urge to do a new material this time and chose wood.  The construction process was a learning experience, some of which I will share with you.

Lesson 1:  if you're trying out a new material that might possibly break, bend, melt, split or otherwise lose its structural integrity while you work on it, buy some extras.  A lot of extras.

Lesson 2:  if you need to make 50 ornaments and they have only 42 blank whatevers in the store, do not buy them and figure you will come back later to get more.

After a lot of cussing and fussing I decided to call this the year of wabi sabi ornaments, referencing the grand Japanese tradition of mending, using and treasuring objects that are beat up and hard worn.  The plan was to emboss people's names onto the ornaments by whapping in my steel letter punches.  That worked great except for the ones that split (see Lesson 1).  At first I threw away the ones that split.  Later I decided I had to mend them and use them anyway, since I was unable to buy more blanks (see Lesson 2).

But let's don't focus on the difficulties.  After the punched letters turned out to be not as legible as I had planned, I decided to cover them up with jewelry.  The part with the beads and the wire curlicues was a lot easier and a lot more fun than the part with the wood, so I ended up my project happy.

Merry Chistmas to everybodyl!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Another kid learns to sew

Isaac, who just turned 5, was visiting last week.  He seemed to be independently absorbed in Curious George and a jelly sandwich, so I went into the studio to do some sewing.  I'm starting to get nervous over two looming deadlines and am seizing upon every opportunity to sew in between the various holiday social events.

I did get some sewing done before he came down to visit, but then he hovered over my shoulder, watching intently as I finished a seam.  "When can I do that?" he wondered.

I thought about it for a bit.  I have previously told him that he has to be 6 before he can use a sharp knife (that seemed sufficiently far away at the time I said so) and I thought maybe 6 would be a good age to start sewing.  But then I thought what the heck and said "you can do that right now."

So we found a box high enough to bring the foot pedal within his reach, and cut a piece of denim from my "old jeans for mending" box.  Grabbed a bag of other people's leftovers from the Crow Barn last fall and had him choose some strips.  Had him arrange a composition on the denim background, set the sewing speed to the lowest end of the scale, and told him to step on the gas.

And so he did!  I showed him how to lift the presser foot and pivot the fabric when he got to the end of the line.  He quickly realized that if he forgot to put the presser foot down again the machine would beep at him and not sew (thank you, Bernina).

He chose some striped strips from my working pile on the table and added them to the composition.  Finally we sewed a sleeve on the back and inserted a chopstick as a hanging rod.  This was supposed to be his Christmas present to his mother, but he couldn't wait that long to give it to her and made her open it yesterday.

I was really proud of him, and he was proud of himself.  He informed me that sewing is a lot of fun and now he has to make some more.  Fine with me!

I realize that I am getting way more laid-back as a sewing instructor than I was with my own kids and then with Zoe 10 years ago.  Rather than start with choosing an artistically cohesive palette, we just grabbed whatever piece of fabric he laid eyes on.  Rather than teach seams, we did raw-edge applique.  Rather than sew the resulting composition into a pillow or a little quilt, we just put on a sleeve and declared it finished.

Rather than tell him where to sew, I would ask him, when he stopped, "Where are you going to sew next?  What's your plan?"  He would decide, and then we would sew that way.  Some strips got stitched down more than others, but that's fine.  Some strips extended over the edge of the denim base, but that's fine too.

I flash back to my own grandmother teaching me to sew.  She wanted me to learn traditional seamstress skills -- no raw-edge applique in Tawas City, thank you very much.  If I sewed a crooked seam I ripped it out and did it right.  That approach worked fine for me, the classic goody-goody overachieving child, but decades later I don't want to use that approach for my own grandchildren; I want them to figure out their own plans.  And in the 10 years between Zoe and Isaac I have loosened up even more.

When I taught Zoe how to sew I sat next to her and "helped" her hold the fabric so the seam would be straight.  (That hidden right hand was grabbing the fabric and tugging it straight.)  But with Isaac I pretty much kept my hands to myself, and you know what?  His sewing turned out just fine.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Calicos redux

Several days ago there was a cry for help on the Quiltart email list.  Somebody wrote:  "I'm looking for some older (1980's) calico-type fabric to complete a quilt I started back them.  I have looked around now and some fabrics seem to almost fit the mark, but they are in colors more suited to the Modern Quilt movement and don't really fit into what I was working on.  If you have any older calico-type fabric....."

Here's a photo of her old blocks, newly unearthed and not even ironed yet:

Well, she was calling my name.  I even recognized a couple of the fabrics in her blocks as ones that I still own.  I guess that in the 1980s I was buying those same calico prints, and despite periodic efforts to clean out my stash I still have a bunch of them occupying space. (I suspect they breed in the dark.)

Perhaps a decade ago I was making what I called "good-bye quilts" to use up all those fabrics that I knew I would never use again for anything important.  I sewed up all those horrible earthtones and gave the quilts away, to people who either had never moved beyond earthtones or might have been colorblind. I have segregated many of the calicos into a separate box that I offer to new quilters who want to practice their skills, and have given away a lot.  But I still have plenty.  So yesterday it wasn't hard to come up with a big shoebox full to send away.

How do you like those teeny-weeny little flowers?  Those washed-out and grayed colors?  Oh, so '80s!!  As you can tell by the size of the little bundles, most of them have been used, neatly re-folded and stashed in their drawer or bag or whatever.  

I confess that I didn't send off all my old calicos.  Some were so beautiful that I couldn't part with them; some were remnants from past sewing projects that I loved.  Some were way older than the 80s -- think 60s -- and have achieved the status of vintage.  It's surprising how some of those old-favorite fabrics have appeared in dozens of my quilts, a little bit here, a little bit there, and I'm not ready to close the door on that potential.

Here are some close-ups of the classic 80s prints.  Don't they make you want to go do some tedious precision piecing and recapture the glories of your youth?

My internet pal wrote me as we corresponded over addresses:  "I started this quilt in the 1980s when our daughter was about 4 or 5, and now she is 36 with two kids of her own!  I think it is time I got 'her' quilt done!"   She promised to send me a photo of the quilt when it's finished.  I'm just glad to send my fabrics on their way and anticipate their being used and loved.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Photo suite 207 -- Christmas south of the border

Several of our travels have found us in Latin America at Christmas season.  The impulse to decorate seems to be universal, even if the weather is sultry.

Recife, Brasil

Ushuaia, Argentina

Nassau, Bahamas

Manaus, Brasil

San Juan, Puerto Rico

Friday, December 18, 2015

Printshop holiday 2 -- linocutting

I wrote yesterday about the first day of my printing workshop at the Portland Museum, where we typeset and printed a short poem.  The second day we each cut a linoleum block to print the top of the broadside (technical printer-speak for a big piece of paper, suitable for display).

I was disappointed in the poem, from the standpoint of having to make an illustration to go with it.  Not that I have anything against horses, but I don't know how to draw horses, don't want to learn, and didn't want to make some lame picture that would look like third-grade-drawing-school-dropout.  So alone among my co-participants, I went abstract.

In four years of daily art I have discovered a personal affinity for the spiral and the eye; can't count how many times they have showed up in my hand-stitching and collages.  They have become my default imagery, and they stepped up to the plate again in the printshop.  I focused on the last line of the poem -- I want out -- and decided the trapped eye was an excellent depiction of that emotion.

I thought this was a pretty decent effort for my lifetime-first linoleum block.  There's only one glitch that I wished I had seen and fixed: the little ray in the iris that points toward 5 o'clock got a hair overcut.  But if I ever print the block again I can repair it first.

Here's Gray Zeitz, our master printer, getting my block on the press.  His meticulous makeready was fun to watch -- the block was a shade too low, so he built it up with several sheets of paper underneath -- and ensured a perfect impression when we printed.

Here's what the final broadsides looked like:

The full edition of prints contained 15 originals -- three different typefaces and five different linocuts. Every one looked great (mostly thanks to the guidance and assistance of Gray).  Before I forget everything I learned, maybe I can figure out to get some more press time.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Printshop holiday -- typesetting!

Our local Portland Museum has been doing a series of exhibits on books and printing and as a grand finale, got a grant for a two-day workshop where a small group of us got to do our own printing.  When I heard about it I jumped at the opportunity to hand-set some type and put it on the press.

When I was in journalism school in the 60s we were required to hand-set type in a fabulous shop that held the personal type collection of Frederic Goudy, the master type designer who bequeathed all his stuff to Syracuse University.  I am heartbroken to report that the University subsequently threw most of it away.  Perhaps you have run into some of Goudy's typefaces in your travels; the standard Word array includes Goudy Old Style, a classic Roman face.  But I digress.

I loved to set type and during that class I pretty well memorized the layout of the California job case, just as typists memorize the QWERTY keyboard.  I can't say that I remembered anything of the layout when I got back in the printshop last week, but I did remember how to hold the stick, load the type and proofread the line (you hold it upside-down and read left to right). And after a few minutes at the case the layout was easy to use.  When we weren't using the press I spent my waiting minutes cleaning up the job case -- finding lots of letters in the wrong place and putting them back where they belong.

Our workshop leader was Gray Zeitz, who runs the Larkspur Press, a fine printing operation just up the road from us.  Here he is setting type and operating the Vandercook press.

The first day, we typeset and printed a poem.  I'll tell you about the second day tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The perfect Christmas gift?

I bet you know somebody who really needs to receive my new book as a present.  Let me describe her (although it could also be a him):  She makes quilts, or wants to make quilts, and therefore goes out searching for a pattern.  If you were to suggest that maybe she could make a quilt without finding somebody else's pattern, she would look at you askance.  Either she thinks that devising her own pattern would be way too hard, or she's afraid that if she did it the quilt might look awful.  Or maybe it never even dawned on her that there's an alternative to Other People's Patterns.

Well, this friend of yours needs my book.  And if you ordered a copy HERE it would probably get to her in time for Christmas.  Or at least New Year's.

Read more about the book HERE.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Art on retreat

I wrote last week about the clipping, sorting and filing that I did on my retreat, but it would have been a dreary week if that had been all I did.  Fortunately I also found time to start catching up on my art review haikus.

A few years ago I started to look in the New York Times art section for reviews that included a small picture of one of the artworks.  When I found one, I would cut out the picture, paste it in my little book and then make a haiku from the text of the review.  My rule was that the haiku had to fairly represent the sense of the review -- for instance, if the reviewer loved the show, I couldn't cherry-pick negative phrases, out of context, for the haiku.

This process is more time-consuming than you might think.  I have worked on these haikus on previous retreats and enjoyed the ability to concentrate on the poetry, so I've gotten into the habit of stashing the Friday art sections from the Times and saving them for the retreat.  This may not be a good idea, as the Fridays come faster than the retreats and I still have two file boxes full of reviews that haven't yet been dealt with.

But I did get 32 haikus finished last week, a substantial accomplishment.  And resolved that I need to keep working on this project at home, not just wait till the next retreat.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Photo suite 206 -- Argentina inauguration

Last week Argentina's new president was sworn in, which made me remember the day, eight years ago, when Cristina Fern├índez de Kirchner, the outgoing president, was inaugurated.  We were in Buenos Aires that day and visited the Plaza de Mayo, where later that afternoon the ceremony would take place.  Already in the morning the police were on hand, and Cristina's supporters from a couple of faraway provinces had debarked from their buses and were moving toward their front-row seats.

We finished our tour in time to watch the inauguration on TV from our hotel room.  Cristina's years in office were not a fabulous success, but we always felt a little connection because we had been there when she took office.

In the background, Casa Rosada, "the pink house," like our White House the president's home and office.  In the foreground, TV setups hogging all the good space.

Crowd control barriers and lots of cops on hand.

Cristina's supporters assembling at the plaza, several hours of waiting in the sun ahead of them before the festivities began.

Stenciled on the plaza, lots of white babushkas.  During Argentina's military dictatorship (1976-1983) many young people were abducted and killed by the government.  Their mothers famously donned white scarves and marched in this plaza every week.  After the dictatorship ended the mothers' pressure eventually led to some political reforms, and to the release of information about many of the deaths.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Friday, December 11, 2015

On retreat

Just got home yesterday afternoon from three days at my favorite retreat place and while I didn't accomplish as much as I had hoped, it was a very pleasant time with good friends.  As I did earlier this year, I left the sewing machine at home (just too big to shlep) and spent the time sorting and processing papers.

Here's what I brought with me:

The cardboard box on the left contained bits and pieces, mostly that had been piling up on my desk for months.

Since I've been doing daily collage for almost three years now, I have amassed a lot of pictures clipped from newspapers and magazines and a great filing system.  Many of the file folders from this system were in the middle cardboard box.

But the clips have a way of not submitting to the system.

I'll take four faces from my "faces" folder to audition for a collage, choose and use one, and neglect to put the other three back in their folder.  I'll cut something from the paper at the dining room table, carry it to my desk, but never get around to putting it in the appropriate folder.  The piles on the desk were getting overwhelming so a couple of weeks ago, in anticipation of the retreat, I cleared the desk into the cardboard box.

I'm happy to report that I got through the entire box and got everything filed.  But should I have even bothered?  I'm giving up daily collage in three weeks -- maybe I should have just thrown it all away.  But that's not the way I operate.  At least now all the folders are in order, and neatly stowed in a box with a lid.  They can sit in the corner and be right there, perfectly organized, if and when I need them.

Fortunately that's not all I did in three whole days.  I actually made some art, in addition to clipping and filing.  I'll tell you more about that in a later post.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Daily art -- on my mind again

Daily art is never off my mind -- for the last 13 years I've done a daily art project of some kind, which  means that I'm always thinking of what to do today and reflecting on what I've done recently.  But in December it's on my mind in a more expansive sense, because it's time to decide what to do next year.

Some years I have decided on my daily art project on December 31.  One year I didn't decide until January 3, but made it legal by defining the project as occurring on days when I didn't see my mother in person (I had been visiting her over Christmas and New Year's).  Other years I have eagerly anticipated the change of rules for some time.

For the last three years I've been doing daily collage, and have I learned a lot!!  My art has become more accomplished, more confident, perhaps more sophisticated.  I have even learned to freehand-cut cute little guys without any advance markings.  The last two Decembers I decided that I had not yet exhausted the possibilities of daily collage, and chose to re-up for another year, with slight changes in the rules.  But this December I think I'm done with collage, at least for 2016.

Instead I'm taking a brave step (for me) and committing to daily drawing.  I have been terrified of drawing since age 4, ever since my father, a gifted draftsman, noted that I couldn't draw for beans and decreed "Kathy is not an artist."  I won't say that the decree warped my soul in any way, because I found plenty of other things to be.  But I do feel stress when I pick up a pencil and attempt to render any type of object meant to be recognizable.

I am not committing to realistic drawing.  At least the way I'm defining the rules for 2016, an abstract doodle will be perfectly OK, as long as it fills the page.  But I might even try to draw an apple or a landscape or a person!!!! as long as it doesn't set off an anxiety attack.

As with so many other projects, this one begins with the purchase of equipment.  The last time I was at the art store I bought not one but two little sketchbooks, because my plan is to fill one sketchbook, working with the same paper and dimensions, before moving on to another.  And all I can tell you is that it would be nice if I could find the damn sketchbooks I bought before January 1, else I'll have to  make a fast New Year's run to the art store for a new one.

I bring this up not just because it's looming large in my mind these days, but because this would be the time for you to consider whether you want to do a daily art project for the New Year.  I encourage all my art friends to try daily art and see if it works for you (maybe it won't) and have found that it helps to have an auspicious starting date.  I have always started on January 1, but some people start on their birthday or on whatever day it happens to be when they get a good idea.

I've written plenty about daily art in my blog over the years (here is the full array of articles in case you need to drop out of life for an hour or so) but if you're thinking that maybe daily art is for you, read this one.  And you can check out all my recent daily art here.