Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The second quilt is finished

Fittingly, I finished my second big flag quilt on Memorial Day!  This is going to be a Quilt National entry so I won't show you the whole thing, but here it is awaiting its next-to-last seam, joining the blue union to the seven short stripes.

I have been constructing this quilt in modules, quilting them densely, then butting the edges and sewing them together into larger and larger expanses.  I have been very pleased with this method of working because until the very end there has been no physical stress.  Quilting in an eighth-inch grid would be horrible if not impossible on a huge quilt, but when you're only doing a piece the size of a placemat it's child's play (in fact, my 5-year-old grandson quilt helped quilt on one of the panels).

I knew there would be a day of reckoning when it came time to sew the last pieces together and feared that the last seams would be hard to do, but I decided to play Scarlett O'Hara and worry about that when it came.  So yesterday it came.  The next-to-last seam was fairly simple, although it went slowly as I had to shift the rolled-up bundle across my shoulder a few inches at a time.

For the last seam, horizontally across the quilt right under the blue union, I decided I needed help and enlisted my husband to stand behind me and hold the rolled-up quilt, feeding it gradually onto and over my shoulder as I sewed.  (Behind the sewing machine, the quilt was supported by a card table so it didn't drag.)  What a difference that made!  And when you have only one seam that needs a helper, you can probably bribe a helper into helping. He probably wouldn't have agreed to hold my work for 25 hours or 40 hours or however long it takes to
quilt a huge piece, although it would certainly have made those huge quilts of the past a lot easier.  This one is 98 x 59 inches, by the way.

So I am feeling rather giddy right now.  I'll have a week of vacation, going to Auburn NY for the opening of the Surface Design Association show at the Schweinfurth Art Center on Friday.  Then when I get home, on to flag #3.  

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Friday, May 27, 2016

FNF 5 -- representational

Only one of the 20 quilts in Form, Not Function had a realistic representational image. That might be surprising in itself, because realism is such a standby in quilt/art shows, but I've already commented on the fact that this year's jurors voted strongly for abstraction and piecing.  What I liked about this quilt was not just that its image was striking and well-executed, but that its method was something rarely seen.

Deborah Hyde, Leda (detail below)

Yes, this is a pieced quilt, made entirely out of half-inch squares.  And you can see in the detail shot that some of the half-inch squares are themselves pieced to give smooth edges to the shapes of the image -- a lot of piecing going on here!

Also notable, from the design standpoint, is how she has superimposed the traditional sunshine and shadow quilt pattern of concentric squares on point over the realistic image.  It takes careful consideration of color and value to achieve this effect while keeping the representational quality of the original image.  Good work!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

FNF 4 -- a prizewinner

One of the prizewinning quilts at Form, Not Function was this beautiful piece, printed from a digitally altered photo onto silk and then cut and collaged together.  It is one of only two pieces in the show using digitally printed imagery, a surprise because printing onto fabric is so commonplace these days in art/quilt circles.

Charlotte Ziebarth, Wave Equations

It definitely deserved a prize, but I'm puzzled at the prize it won: the Award for Creative Use of Stitching.

If you're intrigued by this quilt,  visit Charlotte's blog (here) to read about how she made it.  (And to see it with better color saturation.)  After fusing the wavy diagonal strips to the base fabric, she mainly machine quilted along the lines of the printed image.

The stitching is lovely and well done, but is it creative?  Or more to the point, is this a creative use of stitching?  I thought quilters had been using stitching to accentuate design lines in a patterned fabric for centuries.

Maybe I'm missing something.  Or perhaps it's just that creative stitching was in short supply at FNF; very little hand-stitching, and the machine work was technically superb but not revolutionary.  So what's a judge to do with an award for "creative use of stitching" except punt.

Friday, May 20, 2016

FNF 3 -- more pieced quilts

Lots of pieced quilts at Form, Not Function this year!  As it happens, all three of the artists I'm showing you today were also in Art Quilt Elements in Wayne PA last month -- but with a different quilt in each case.  That's nice, getting to see two works by favorite artists in person so close together.

Bonnie Bucknam, Red Lightning

Bonnie's work is always big and beautiful; she has won best in show at FNF in the past and her quilt, striking from a distance, got one of the places of honor at the end of the two symmetrical galleries.  That's it in the center of the far vista below. Bonnie's work is characterized by dramatic jaggedy shapes, beautifully pieced and quilted.

Valerie Maser-Flanagan, Shifting Thoughts 

You know I'm a sucker for stripes, so obviously I like this piece, and yes, the stripes are all individually pieced; no lazy-woman's commercial stripes for this artist!  I like the very simple palette and construction, surprisingly yielding a lot of complexity as the stripes angle up and down on a whim.

Denise Roberts, Mitote #4 (detail below)

Here's a woman who knows how to cut and piece complicated curves, but doesn't know when to stop.  The colors twist and weave, plunge under and reappear,  "Mitote" comes from the ancient Toltec word for a sacred circle dance, but now is used to mean an uproar or turmoil; it's easy to see both those meanings reflected in the busy composition.

More quilts from FNF coming up next week.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Making myself clearer 2

When I wrote about two pieced quilts in the Form, Not Function show, Sandy left a comment:  "I am not quite sure what you mean by some statements."  I had described Sandra Ciolino's work as "a classic 'motif' quilt, using a simple block over and over in different shapes, sizes and configurations to make a complex overall pattern."  Sandy said, "Not being a piecer/patchworker, perhaps I am not really seeing the classic in this?"

So let me walk that statement back and explain it in a little more detail.

Sandra Palmer Ciolino, Precaria #4: Kinetics

Perhaps it's just those of us who have studied with Nancy Crow, and the next generation of those who have studied with those who studied with Nancy, who are intimately familiar with the concept of working with a motif.  In this approach, you start with a simple sketch of one or two shapes in a box.

Here's Sandra's basic motif, a five-sided shape just touching a four-sided shape:

She turns it in different directions:

She stretches it out:

She stretches it out in the other direction:

She makes blocks with just the four-sided shape:

Or just the five-sided shape:

The size and shape of the motifs varies, the orientation varies, and most important, the colors vary to give you a whole lot of tension and complexity.  Figures become ground and vice versa.  I have seen people use their motif in dozens of quilts, each one subtly different; it's a technique that allows you to explore many different aspects of composition and design and understand how all the moving parts work together.

I infer from the title of Sandra's quilt, Precaria #4, that she's been using this motif for a while.  It would be interesting to see other works in this series!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Making myself clearer 1

After I posted about two pieced quilts that I liked at FNF, Sandy left a comment:  Not being a piecer/patchworker I am not quite sure what you mean by some statements.  For Maria Shell's work, " (By the way, it may make you jealous to hear that each of the nine blocks in this quilt was also the subject of its very own nine-block quilt.)" 

Sandy, you're right -- I was kind of speaking in code.  Let me try again and see if I can describe more clearly what I was trying to say.

I happen to know a lot about this quilt and its provenance, because I had the privilege of making a presentation to the SAQA conference last month about artists who work in series, and Maria was one of them.  So I can not only tell you some of the back story, but show pictures.  For several years Maria has been working with the traditional Crossed Square block.

She makes a complex pieced block like this small one-block quilt:

Maria Shell, Way to Grace's

...and then multiplies it to make a larger quilt.

Maria Shell, Tribe

When she started working with print fabrics instead of solids, her quilts were looking like this (and I was wrong in saying that they were nine-block quilts -- they had four blocks, plus sashing):

Maria Shell, Solstice

Maria Shell, Deep Blue Sea

Eventually she made nine such quilts, and didn't they make a striking display all hung together?

(And you can see they were pretty big!)

Finally, she combined one block from each of the nine quilts and put them together into the nine-block quilt in the show.

Maria Shell, Wall of Sound

Monday, May 16, 2016

FNF 2 -- pieced quilts

Is there some strange alignment of the planets this spring to make pieced quilts the favorite of quilt show jurors everywhere?  No sooner did I finish telling you about all the pieced quilts at Art Quilt Elements last month than I get to tell you about all the pieced quilts at Form, Not Function.

Probably my favorite was Maria Shell's, which also won the award of excellence given by River City Fiber Artists (full disclosure: I'm a member of that group, and we got to choose who got our award, so there's probably some cause-and-effect relationship).

Maria Shell, Wall of Sound (details below)

Maria works almost exclusively with the traditional Crossed Squares quilt block, but her treatment of it is anything but traditional.  She uses commercial prints so a lot of the action in this quilt comes from the store, but there's still lots and lots of piecing there.

The energy in this quilt is almost nuclear as it explodes in a riot of color and pattern.  (By the way, it may make you jealous to hear that each of the nine blocks in this quilt was also the subject of its very own nine-block quilt.)

Sandra Palmer Ciolino, Precaria #4: Kinetics (detail below)

Here's a classic "motif" quilt, using a simple block over and over in different shapes, sizes and configurations to make a complex overall pattern.  I liked the slightly offbeat color palette, the meticulous piecing and wonderful quilting.

More pieced quilts tomorrow for your viewing pleasure.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Sunday funnies 15

It's a phone booth, on a dock on the Amazon.  (I kept waiting for Clark Kent to duck in and become Birdman.)

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Form, Not Function opens at Carnegie Center

Last night was the opening of Form, Not Function: Quilt Art at the Carnegie, with a quite different look this year.  Instead of 24-30 quilts as has been the case for most past years, there are only 20, with no little ones at all.  I have helped to hang this show several times in the past, and some years it was a struggle to find room for all the accepted pieces, but this year the gallery looks especially spacious and elegant with relatively few quilts.

Of course you want to know about best in show, so I'll tell you that right off:

Niraja Lorenz, Strange Attractor #13 -- Skyview (details below)

Until last month I had never even heard Lorenz's name, but was impressed by her piece in Art Quilt Elements in Wayne PA.  (I wrote about it here.)  Her style is so distinctive that when I saw this piece on the wall at FNF I knew immediately whose it was.

Lorenz uses lots of striped panels in her intricately patterned quilts, and all of them are pieced from solids, so you are looking at a lot of work here.

And may I be forgiven for observing that sections of her work look a whole lot like sections of my own work?

Lorenz detail

Loomis detail

I'll show you other pieces from the show in subsequent posts, so stay tuned.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Form, Not Function opens tonight -- with something missing

I went to the Carnegie Center for Art and History earlier this week to look at the quilts in Form, Not Function: Quilt Art at the Carnegie, which opens this evening.  The purpose: to choose a winner for the award for political and social commentary that I have given every year since 2006.  I do this award because I want to encourage people to make quilts on serious, even dark subjects, art that will challenge society and its priorities and decisions.  Several times in the past there have been more than one piece in FNF that fits the description, and I've had a hard time choosing the winner.

But I was surprised and disappointed to find that not one of the 20 quilts in this year's show had even the remotest connection to political and social commentary.  They were beautiful quilts, most of them with superior craftsmanship, but none of them seemed to be about anything that I could identify as socially relevant.  Most of the quilts were abstract, so I even looked at the titles to see if any were called something like "climate change" or "homeless" or "failing infrastructure" or "remembering Glass-Steagall" that I could infer to be social or political.  No such luck.

I don't know why there was nothing in this year's show that would qualify, and hope it's only a glitch, that commentary will be back with a bang next time.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Sewing too much

Any time you make a big quilt there's a lot of repetitive motion involved, but it's interesting how much variation there is in the pattern of work.  Some quilts involve a lot of design and thinking, with considerable design wall time breaking up your actual sewing.  Others have repeating rhythms of sew and wrestle -- for instance, when you're quilting parallel lines all the way across a big piece.  It may take three minutes to stitch a line, then a minute or more to clip the threads and manhandle the quilt back into position for the next line.  Still others have the sewing interrupted by pressing or trimming.

I suspect that all these work patterns are better for your body than the quilt involving hours and hours of pure sewing, where your machine gets overheated and your mind and body get totally overloaded.

I'm working on a piece like that right now.  It's a second flag quilt, in which the red stripes aren't made of red fabric, but of dense red quilting on a white background.  The lines of stitching are about 1/8 inch apart, and the stripes are 5 inches wide by 98 inches long, so that's a lot of sewing.

Once a panel has been set up for sewing, with its sandwich made and the right color thread on the machine, I JUST have to sit there for a couple of hours and sew.  It's easy work, because the panels are small, so no need to wrestle with them. And the stitching is almost continuous, because you just turn the panel around when you get to the edge and head right back in the opposite direction.

The last time I had a project like this, with hours and hours of unmitigated machine stitching, I discovered to my surprise and dismay that my right knee was in pain -- who knew that just working the pedal of a sewing machine could damage your body?  I had to finish my Quilt National piece with the left foot on the pedal, and who knew that it would be so difficult to do that?  Almost as hard as writing with your wrong hand.

But over the weekend I encountered a new symptom of sewing machine overload.  I use a knee lever to lift the presser foot, and when it's not in use, the lever hangs down very close to your right calf.  The other night in my third or fourth hour of sewing I became unpleasantly aware of that lever grazing my calf while I was stitching.  I tried to shift my foot pedal or my chair or my leg to pull away, but couldn't find a way to avoid the lever.  It wasn't a painful pressure, not even a firm presence, just a constant little nudge there against me, and I started getting vaguely hysterical, as though imaginary ants were crawling all over my skin.  I've told you before that I am like the Princess and the Pea, overly sensitive to minuscule physical irritations, and this one was really getting to me.

I finally took the lever out and sewed with lots of empty space to the right of me.  But I was quickly reminded why I love the knee lever: it takes more time and motion to turn your sewing when you have to raise the presser foot by hand.  I soldiered on for another hour or so doing it the old-fashioned way, then gave up.  (I know this is a first-world problem, but still...)

Fortunately when I returned to the machine the next day and put the lever back for a test run, it didn't bother me any more.  In fact, I could comfortably sit without it touching me at all unless it was in use.  Why hadn't I need able to find that position the night before?

I have many, many hours of sewing ahead of me on this quilt, and then there's a third one to come.  I guess I'll have to be vigilant about pacing myself on the machine so I don't end up the summer as an invalid, either mental or physical.  Meanwhile, I have four stripes finished and sewed together, and well on my way to the fifth one, so I guess I'm about 35% done.  It's coming along!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Quilt National -- the rules

Quilt National '15

In the last couple of days the rules for Quilt National '17 have appeared on their website, and I checked to see what if anything had changed since last time around.

First, the good news: the ban on any kind of color correction or other photo enhancement has disappeared.  Personally I never thought about this rule, since I didn't know how to do photo enhancement until quite recently and my regular photographer, George Plager, does such a good job that the photos always look like the quilts.  But some of my friends who are serious photo wonks will be happy to see this rule change.

And I think the notorious virginity rule has been greatly modified!  You may recall that in past QNs it has been verboten for a quilt to have appeared anywhere on the internet except for the artist's own website (or presumably, blog).  That means if you put your quilt on Facebook or Pinterest, or if somebody grabbed the image from your website and posted it on their own blog or site, it couldn't be in QN.  As a result, serious quilters have become paranoid about showing photos of anything they thought might possibly turn into a QN entry.

But a close reading of the new rules finds no mention of the internet!!  They still require print and show virginity -- no appearance in "an American publication that has national or international distribution; this restriction includes SAQA publications" or in "an International or American fiber arts exhibition" before the QN opening next May.  If I'm reading it right, I think this is an excellent change, getting rid of an overly strict and punitive rule.

Now the bad news: first, the deadline is earlier than it has been in the past -- September 1 compared to mid-September in all the years I recall.  I know QN needs a long lead time because of its practice of re-photographing all the quilts for its beautiful catalog, but this change doesn't affect the lead time; the notification will occur on October 6, compared to October 7 last time around.  All it does is give the jurors two more weeks to do their work.

Next, the age limit on entries has apparently been cut in half (full disclosure: I don't have a copy of previous years' rules to compare with the new ones, but I have spent enough time angsting over QN entries that I'm pretty sure I remember correctly).  Quilts must have been finished since September 1, 2015 -- in other words, less than one year old.  If I'm not mistaken, it always used to be two years.

So if you got cracking immediately after the entry deadline for the last QN, and made a great quilt last spring or summer, it's not eligible for this QN.  Which seems kind of silly -- it wasn't eligible for the last QN, and not eligible for this one either?  Strikes me that this rule will only encourage people to fib about when they finished their quilts.  (One reason why I never sew the sleeves on quilts until they're on their way to a show -- I can testify honestly in court that I just finished the quilt last week!!)  I think that in the eternal quest for NEW WORK they've gone too far with this rule.

And another piece of news that annoys me is that the entry cost has gone up.  Well, actually I'm not upset that the cost has gone up, but because of the way they chose to announce it.  In fact, as I look back in my checkbook I see that QN's cost has been on the low side ever since I have been entering  -- $25 in 2002 and 2004, $35 from 2006 to 2012, then up to $45 last time around.  Compared to $75 at Visions, QN has been a bargain.

But get this -- this year it's "entry fee of $45.00 plus a $10.00 processing fee."  Why this elaborate description?  Do they think we won't notice the extra ten bucks?  Is it so they can testify in court that the entry fee didn't go up?  Be honest, folks -- I don't think we'll begrudge you the money, but I do begrudge the obfuscation.

Friday, May 6, 2016

All the news that's unfit to print 1

As a former newspaper journalist, I really get annoyed when newspapers print stupid, worthless things to help the American public become even more ignorant.  So I've decided to start calling them out in public.

Even worse than printing stupid, worthless stuff is printing stuff that is downright wrong.  For instance, in yesterday's paper:

In an age when only 65 percent of the American public can name even one of the three branches of our government, and 10 percent think that Judge Judy serves on the Supreme Court, do we really believe that 62 percent understand (does that mean "know"?) what Cinco de Mayo celebrates?

Well, maybe if the question was posed this way 62 percent could answer correctly:

What does Cinco de Mayo celebrate?

A.  Mexico's victory over the French in 1862.

B.  The birth of Jesus.

C.  The signing of the U.S. Declaration of Independence in 1776.

D.  The first meeting of the parliament of Iceland in 930.

(And how interesting that they chose to illustrate a historical holiday with pictures of drinks.)

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Art Quilt Elements 5 -- raw edges

Two of my favorite quilts from AQE are similar in three ways: first, they're somewhat representational in nature (although not realistic); second, they're made mostly in raw-edge applique; and third, they're by artists whose work I have been following and loving for a while.

Dinah Sargeant, Spirit Dogs Greet the Ghosts (detail below)

I first saw Sargeant's work in Quilt National many years ago, back when I was pretty hung up on fine craftsmanship and meticulous piecing, and remember that I was amazed and impressed by the power of her loose, painterly style.  I wasn't sure what was going on in the picture except that it seemed to be guys floating around in spacesuits, and it was magical.  She's not a regular on the quilt show circuit, at least the shows that I keep track of, but her work shows up occasionally and is always wonderful.

This quilt, the largest in the show at 58 x 128", suffered from patchy lighting, but nevertheless has great presence, with mysterious figures of humans and dogs emerging from pink and blue clouds. Some of the imagery is painted; some is appliqued.  In places the stitching is dense; in others it's sparse.  I wanted to spend more time reading this piece and admiring Sargeant's vision.

Lorie McCown, Twins (detail below)

You might think that the conceit of using clothing shapes to represent people would be too cute by half, but McCown somehow imbues her dresses (and in this quilt, coveralls too) with some seriousness.  Hand stitching makes the stylized heads of the twins and a web of lines emanating from one's heart, and records many of the comments that twins have undoubtedly heard thousands of times: "do you finish each other's sentences?" "are you two twins?"  The outer border of vintage patchwork (or perhaps it just looks like vintage) adds a nice down-home touch.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Art Quilt Elements 4 -- maps

I took a break from my reporting on Art Quilt Elements, the show at the Wayne Art Center in Philadelphia, but last week I was out and about and was confronted in person by a faithful blog reader who demanded that I get back to unfinished business and show something besides pieced quilts!  I will do my best, although as I reviewed my images I realize that I did a lousy job of documenting the show.  We arrived late, thanks to a transportation mishap, then too busy talking with people instead of practicing photojournalism, and then my camera ran out of juice as I was making one last pass around the room to get photos.  So if you need more info you'll have to buy the catalog.  You can also see the quilts here; the images are small but the color is excellent.

But today, here are two quilts that were complementary of each other, both of them maps with a body of water as the focal point.

Alicia Merrett, Port at Dusk Diptych (detail below)

My camera being crabby; imagine that the purple background in the detail shot is the same lovely blue as in the full view.  But the show shows the interesting mix of piecing and applique, both raw edge and turned-under.

I've always had a thing for maps, both real and artistic.  Last week while I was visiting a friend I had the chance to look at not one but two books about maps made by artists, and was reminded of the vast range of approaches that can be used and still clearly be mapmaking.

Ayn Hanna, LineScape  #31 (Pelican Lakes) (detail below)

I believe this gorgeous quilt has no machine piecing, just applique and reverse applique, plus paint and hand stitching and a wide range of fabrics.  It's rich in texture (by contrast to the much flatter effect in Merrett's quilt) and more subdued in palette.

I admit that my eye is usually drawn first to the machine piecing, since that's my personal style, but more and more I admire hand stitching and enjoy seeing the ways it is integrated with machine stitching.  For instance, check out the long horizontal gray embroidery threads in the detail shot above.  They were laid down in long lines, interrupted by some fancy counted-thread work that made little crosses, then stitched over with machine quilting, which held the threads somewhat in place.  A surprisingly complex effect that rewards close viewing.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Poster child!

What a nice surprise -- I'm the poster child (oops, I mean the postcard child) for the SDA exhibit at the Schweinfurth Memorial Art Center in Auburn NY.

In case you can't read the tiny type, this is my set of knotted sculptures called "Unspooled."