Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Hanging the show

Yesterday afternoon I hung my work at Pyro Gallery in preparation for our holiday showcase boutique.  Each member of the gallery has wall space, so the show will be a rare opportunity to see everybody's work on display at the same time.  We're all hanging salon style, trying to cram as much art into the space as possible!

For so many years my exhibit opportunities have involved ever-larger works that require huge "body  bags" or cumbersome boxes of rolled quilts, but since we were encouraged to show more affordable pieces and I had only about ten feet of wall, I went into my boxes of old work and found a bunch of  small quilts.  My husband couldn't believe it when I brought my entire batch of things out in a single small box!

I was pleased to discover that many of these older pieces still looked pretty spiffy.  Most of them are from my "Shards" series, in which I was using bits and pieces left over from my own or other people's work.  I think most of these small quilts are abstract landscapes; when I started giving them names they were called "Red Mountain" or "Purple Mountain" or "Little Green Mountain" or "Red Sky at Night." Although my style of quiltmaking has changed radically since I was doing these little pieces, I am still proud of every one of them (actually, the ones I wasn't proud of are long gone, doled out over the years to B- and C-list gift recipients).

Here's my wall.  I'm used to having this kind of space occupied by one quilt, not 21, but we'll see what happens with a bunch of little things instead of one big one.  (Thermostat not for sale.)

Our show opens with a reception on Friday night, December 2, from 6-9 pm.  If you're in the Louisville area, please drop by sometime in December; we're at 909 East Market Street and we're open Thursday through Saturday 12-6 pm.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Cyber Monday deal!

Yes, it's Cyber Monday, and have I got a special deal for you!

If you buy a copy of my book, Pattern-Free Quilts: Riffs on the Rail Fence Block, between now and the end of the year, we'll send you a rail fence quilt block made by ME!  THE AUTHOR!  Maybe one that I made to illustrate a particular point in the book, maybe a leftover from one of the quilts in the gallery, maybe a brand-new block made for therapy. (I do that a lot.)

So  how might a gift quilt block improve your life?

It could become a miniature quilt for your granddaughter's dollhouse.  It could be the center of a medallion quilt, if you add other fabrics to complement or contrast.  It could be fun to look at the back and see how I do seams and pressing, things you can't see from looking at finished quilts.  It could take up residence on your design wall and perhaps provide inspiration for a future project.

To get a free rail fence block, buy a copy of the book from CreateSpace (click here) or Amazon (click here).  If it's all the same to you, I'd rather you use CreateSpace -- same book, same price, but more of it comes to me and less to Jeff Bezos, who already seems to have plenty.

Then email your receipt and your street address to  Sorry, we can't send outside the U.S.

And how might a copy of this book improve your life?  If your New Year's resolution is going to be to try something new, this could be it.  If you've been feeling uncreative and depressed, maybe a simple, unthreatening approach to quilting could be just what you need to calm down and get your juices flowing again.  If you want some new ideas for your baby quilts or charity quilts, this book has plenty of them.  If you know a beginning or intermediate quilter who still uses other people's patterns and needs the self-confidence to tackle original designs, this is the book to give!!

I hope I'll be sending out lots of blocks in the next few weeks, and I hope you enjoy the book -- and the block.  Thank you!!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Drawing update -- stealing from my blog friends 2

I wrote earlier this week about stealing ideas and images from other people's blogs to jump-start my daily drawing, a practice which I heartily recommend.  Here's another example.

I had the pleasure of meeting an internet friend, Lisa Flowers Ross, in person last month when we were in Idaho.  She was telling me about an online painting class she was taking in which she had to make many, many small paintings every week to try out different approaches and "recipes."  After I came home I kept checking her blog to see what she was painting.

One day she posted this painting among several others exploring black and white.  The assignment was to get as much variety as possible into each piece, without worrying about balance, unity or resolution.

For some reason, this painting called out to me.  I left a comment on Lisa's blog saying that it looked to me like a bowl and a vase on a table.  And since I hadn't done my daily drawing yet, and my sketchbook was within reach of the computer, I grabbed a pen and drew my version of the image.

To  me the pattern on Lisa's "bowl" looked like a star map, so that's what I drew more explicitly on my version.

I reworked the image several times in my drawings, sometimes connecting the patterns on the dishes with the tablecloth or the view out the window.

In the second half of the year I have been shying away from drawing objects from life in favor of imaginary scenes, and this particular combination of objects has really struck a chord.  I like making the wobbly pottery and messing with the perspective; it makes me feel more like an artist than a draftsman. 

So thank you Lisa!   

Monday, November 21, 2016

Drawing update -- stealing from my blog friends 1

I'm a great believer in stealing ideas from other artists, and have been doing it enthusiastically in my daily drawing project this year.  When you need to do a different drawing every day, it's good to get an injection of fresh subject matter every now and then.  And when you're doing it every day, it doesn't take long for the original stolen image to morph into your own work.  (That's why I encourage others to steal my ideas too -- let's pass along every jolt of creativity we possibly can.)

Many of my best stolen ideas come from my blog friends, such as the Adam-and-Eve theme I got from Margaret Cooter's blog earlier this year.  And I have stolen another idea from her: the "travel lines" that you get by sitting in a bus, car, train or plane and letting the bumps of the journey make interesting lines on your page.  (Check out Margaret's travel lines here.)

This fall I've been doing travel lines as my daily drawing whenever I find myself in the passenger seat.  I've been blessed with smooth flights recently so my airplane lines aren't all that interesting, except for some big bumps upon landing.

My car rides have been a bit more eventful, at least to look at my sketchbook.

Thanks, Margaret, for a great idea, and happy travels.

You can look at all my daily drawings here.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Post-election ironies

It's ironic that the U.S. Constitution, which should definitely be on the list of the top 10 accomplishments of human history, is simultaneously a beacon of hope and optimism and an embodiment of profound distrust of government and our fellow citizens.  On the one hand, we're the longest-running constitutional republic in the history of the world, our constitution has been used as a model for many newer governments, and under its auspices the U.S. has become the greatest world power.

On the other hand, the constitution sets up an intricate web of separated powers, because the founders were terrified of "tyranny," whatever that means, and saw it as a potential danger in any system where power is concentrated in one place.  So we have power separated vertically, with certain functions delegated to the federal government, others reserved to the states.  We also have power separated horizontally, divided among the three branches of government, with the executive, legislative and judicial each checking the others in an elaborate game of rock, paper, scissors.  The executive can veto laws, the judiciary can rule laws unconstitutional, the executive appoints the judges, the legislative must approve the appointments, the legislative holds the purse strings, etc. etc. etc.

We refuse to trust any single part of the system, an attitude of suspicion that was understandable in light of the oppression and violation of rights that the founders felt from the British Crown in our colonial days.  What is less understandable is that the founders also were deeply suspicious of the people.  If you read The Federalist Papers, the essays urging adoption of the proposed constitution, you keep tripping over discussions of how the populace will be easily inflamed and incited and how we needed mechanisms to make sure that popular voice would be tempered by cooler and smarter heads (read, guys like the founders: elitists, members of the establishment).

Yes, the House of Representatives would be elected every two years, perhaps sweeping hotheads into office, but the Senate would be a counterbalance.  Senators serve for six years, and were not elected by the people until 1913.  (Before that, they were chosen by state legislatures; split up that power!)  And most important, the electoral college was set up as an insulator between the people and the presidency.  The people voted, but their votes didn't count except to choose electors in each state who would actually choose the president.  And the electoral votes were apportioned in a way that gave considerably more clout to the smaller states (small states didn't trust large states; too many of those pesky people).

So fast forward, and although Hillary Clinton received at least a million votes more than Donald Trump, he will become president, courtesy of the electoral college.  Just like Al Gore received half a million more votes than George Bush in 2000, but Bush became president, courtesy of the electoral college, with an assist from the Supreme Court.  Ah, those checks and balances!

I find it ironic that Trump's campaign, which was built so heavily on distrust of the governmental system and its perceived elitism, succeeded solely because of the elitism of our governmental system. And that Trump supporters who professed to want dramatic change voted in exactly the same Congress they had before.

Much like the U.K. with its Brexit vote, I suspect that the U.S. is going to be awash in buyer's remorse in the not-too-distant future.  I suspect a lot of people who voted for third-party candidates "because Trump and Clinton are both rotten" are coming to realize that their votes mattered anyway, and not in the way they intended.  I suspect a lot of voters who held their noses and voted for Trump because they wanted an anti-abortion justice on the Supreme Court will realize that's only a tiny bit of what they bargained for and is going to be delivered. I suspect a lot of Republicans who figured the party would come through and keep Trump in check will have second thoughts as more and more mildly or wildly unqualified people are named to his team.  And I suspect a lot of people who didn't bother to vote at all may start regretting that laziness or carelessness.

Found this fortune in my cookie today.  I guess we'll be learning a lot about character in the years ahead.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The typographic observer 12

Seen in the British Museum: a set of alphabet tiles from the floor of Chertsey Abbey, about 1250-1300. They spell out "erat verbum" -- part of the opening of the Gospel of John ("in the beginning was the word").

This is the only set of alphabet tiles ever found in England but many were found in France.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Happy Veterans Day

Cave Hill National Cemetery was decked out in flags on a beautiful sunny day, marking Veterans Day.  This cemetery has both Union and Confederate soldiers' graves.  (Kentucky remained in the Union, but there were many Confederate sympathizers among the population and several large battles fought in the state.  In fact, the historians' joke is that Kentucky did not secede until after the war was over.)

I had never been there on a flag holiday before and thus had never seen this version of the Confederate flag.  Called "The Blood-Stained Banner," it was adopted on March 4, 1865 as the third official flag of the rebel government.  This came at the very end of the war, and so few people ever got to see it in use.  But apparently this is the favored version for ceremonial purposes, at least by the people who set out the flags at Cave Hill.

Interestingly, I have visited cemeteries in South Carolina where the graves are decorated with the more commonly known Confederate battle flag, alongside the American flag.

 I'm not sure what to think of displaying the Confederate flag in "official" usage, nor do I know who put the flags in the national cemetery for the holiday remembrance.  I was pleased to see South Carolina remove the flag from the statehouse grounds last year and believe that it has become a symbol of racism and ignorance.  When we look back on the Civil War and count the horrible death toll -- more than all our foreign wars put together -- we do not distinguish between the sides.  Far too many people, both military and civilian, died in this needless war, and although many of them renounced their American birthright and citizenship, we did seek to heal the nation's wounds when it was all over.  Do we pick open those wounds again by posting Confederate flags on the graves?

I do not subscribe to the "Lost Cause" narrative of the Civil War, in which the South was deemed pure and noble in its endeavor.  I believe the war was fought to defend slavery, not to defend the magnificence of state's rights, and that most of the men who were conscripted into the Confederate army were pawns and victims of their leaders' greed and racism, just as were the slaves.  The Civil War was a terrible act of treason, and perhaps the winning side should have been less forgiving.  But our better angels prevailed -- thank you, Abraham Lincoln -- and we sent the losers back to their farms to get on with life.

Visiting war sites and cemeteries always brings tears to my eyes and pain to my heart.  So many times we have been forced to take up arms to defend our country.  And now and then we are conned into taking up arms for no valid reason.  In either case, people die.  You might want to seek out a national cemetery today and drop by to pay your respects.  The soldiers were told they were doing the right thing, and perhaps they were.    

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

More thoughts on teaching

A while ago, the Quiltart list was discussing teaching.  Reading what others have to say makes me so glad that I have gone on a different path toward teaching relative beginners.

Somebody wrote in and said she had a chance to teach beginning quilting at her local shop, and asked for advice.  Here's one response:

"We spend time analyzing each block to work out how it is made -- I want them to able to identify a 4 patch, 9 patch, etc. and break it down into the smallest units they need to cut. This means they need to learn the formulas for 1/2 square triangles etc. I teach them how to calculate how much fabric they need for the block and later on for the sashing."

When I read this, I shuddered.  I know that thousands of quilters have been taught in exactly this manner, and most of them have indeed learned the formulas and how to calculate how much fabric they need, and (I'm sure) how to sew seams that are exactly 1/4 inch, and match the points.  But I wonder how many of them along the way have lost some of the joy and wonder they brought with them to that first lesson.

If I were asked to teach people how to make a 4-patch block, I would go at it another way.  I would say "A 4-patch block looks like this.  The way you sew it is to cut four squares, sew them into two 2-square panels, and sew the two panels together."

People might say "how big should I cut the squares?" and I would say "however big you want to.  If you cut big squares you'll have big, bold blocks and you won't need to many to make your quilt.  If you cut smaller squares it will look more dainty and you'll need a lot more of them, and it will take you longer."

I would tell them to figure out how many blocks they need and think about how they plan to sew it all together.  If they plan to set the 4-patch blocks with larger plain blocks, I would tell them to make all the 4-patch blocks first, then measure them, and cut the larger plain blocks to whatever measurement they need.

I would show them how to match the seams at the center of the 4-patch block if they want to, but I would also tell them that it doesn't really matter if they match or not.  I would say "if the seams match perfectly your quilt will look very precise and well-engineered, and it will take more time and trouble.  If they don't, your quilt will look more jaunty and informal."

I don't understand the concept of "formulas for half-square triangles."  If you want to make half-square triangles, then make some (I would teach a couple of different ways to do so more or less efficiently).  Trim them to be perfect squares (or not) and then cut pieces that size to sew them to.  Or even easier, cut pieces a little bigger, sew them to the half-square blocks, and then trim everything to size.

I would tell people not to bother calculating how much fabric they need, but to do a back-of-the-envelope estimate and then buy more.  It's easier to deal with leftover fabric than to run out before the quilt is finished.  But I would also tell them that if you do run out, find a similar -- or dissimilar -- fabric to finish out with, and it will probably be a more interesting quilt than if you had done everything exactly as predicted.

The reason I teach is that I want to give people the permission and the power to do what they want, to make quilts that reflect their own personality and creativity rather than simply follow the patterns and the rules set by other people.  I believe that traditional quilts are beautiful in their strict geometry and perfect execution, but I have also noticed that a whole lot of traditional quilts do not have perfect execution, and we love them just the same.

Do you think your grandmother "knew the formulas for half-square triangles"?  Or that she calculated exactly how much fabric she was going to need for a new quilt?  I bet she didn't.  I bet she used what she had on hand and made it come out right by hook or by crook.  Why should 21st century quilters have to learn all kinds of quilt-police rules when they could be shown how to do whatever they want?

That's my belief and my mantra.  If you think you'd like to learn to quilt this way, or if you think you might like to forget some of those QP rules and lighten up, maybe you'd like to sign up for my classes at Quilting By the Lake next summer.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Christmas approaches

Halloween is just behind us and already we're thinking of -- not Thanksgiving -- but Christmas.  Long-time readers know that making Christmas ornaments is a big deal with me; every year needs a new design and since the list is nearing 50, it takes a while to crank them out.  Sometimes at the beginning of November I don't even have a plan yet, but this year I'm happy to report that not only do I have a plan, but I have made about half of them and the first batch is already winging (or perhaps floating) its way to Europe.

I can't show you anything till Christmas, but I can tantalize you with the news that the major tool involved in this year's construction is a heat gun.

2007 -- major tool, computerized sewing machine

2004 -- major tool, polymer clay

2005 -- major tool, bead loom

And as usual, I'm wanting to make an ornament for one of my blog followers.  Leave a comment between now and election day (yes, election day is finally getting here and our long national nightmare will be over, to misquote Gerald Ford) and I'll choose one of you to be thrilled and surprised.