Monday, February 27, 2017

Quiltmaking 101 -- binding your quilt 3 -- folding and stitching the binding

Take your quilt to an ironing surface and lay it face up.  Press the binding out toward the edges of the quilt, admiring how neatly the corners have mitered.  You can't press the binding out beyond the corner, because it isn't long enough to lie flat, so just do the part over the quilt with the tip of your iron.  Or you can just finger-press the binding outward.

Now flip the quilt over face down onto a work surface so you can work along a top edge.  Start in the middle of a side -- we'll do the easy part first before tackling the tricky corners.  Pull the binding over the edge and toward you, pulling as taut as you can.  Fold the binding in two, with the cut edge right up against the cut edge of the quilt, then fold the edge down to just barely cover the stitching line.  If for some reason it isn't wide enough to cover the stitching line, you can ease the fold out a bit; at this point it's more important to cover the stitching line than to extend the binding all the way to the edge on the inside.

Pin the binding in place, every two or three inches.  Work out to the right and left, stopping about three inches from the corners.

Place one corner of the quilt on your work surface, facing top right.  You're confronting a section of binding that kind of stands upright as it turns the corner, because it's not long enough to lie flat.  That's good, because you now have to fold all that extra fabric in at the corner, and the less you have to deal with, the less bulk you'll have at the corner.

On either side of the corner you have already established a final folded width for the binding, and you are now going to finger-press that fold line all the way around the corner.

Once it's creased inward, pin the right-hand side of the binding up toward the corner.  When you get to the corner, take a sturdy needle and use it to push the rest of the binding all the way up to the top edge of the quilt.  Simultaneously, make sure you are pulling the binding as taut as you can around the right-hand edge of the quilt.  Pin the binding in place as close as you can to the edge.

Now fold the top part of the binding down over the needle.  Because you have creased the foldline into the binding, it should stay in place pretty well.  Pin that down quite close to the corner.

Check the corner of the quilt, front and back.

On the front, the diagonal miter should come out of the corner of the seam and go exactly to the corner of the quilt.  The binding should fold over to the back and lie flat, with no bubble at the corner.  If there's a bubble, unpin the bindings and pull the right-hand edge even tauter around the cut edge of the quilt, while urging the top binding to fold down flat.

After you have all four corners mitered and pinned, you can stitch the binding to the quilt.  If you sew by hand, work from the back and stitch through only the backing layer so your stitches aren't visible from the top of the quilt.  If you sew by machine, it's hard to keep a straight stitch exactly on the edge of the binding, both front and back.  But a zigzag stitch camouflages any slight differences in binding width and looks great from both sides.  I like to stitch from the front side of the quilt, centering the zigzag just a bit inside the seamline (closer toward the edge of the quilt).

Sewing the binding with a zigzag stitch -- front of the quilt

Sewing the binding with a zigzag stitch -- back of the quilt

Sunday, February 26, 2017

My favorite things 9

In 2010 I spent a week in Japan thanks to the publishing company Nihon Vogue, which sponsors the Quilts Japan Prize, which I won at Quilt National '09.  I was fortunate to spend four wonderful days in Tokyo doing arty and quilty things, and then hook up with my sister-in-law for three equally wonderful days in Kyoto.

I am not a souvenir person; I'm usually perfectly happy with an envelope full of paper ephemera -- the ticket stubs, restaurant menus, foreign-language newspapers and beer coasters that you acquire in your travels.  I might buy some postcards but usually my customs declaration totals less than $25.  (I've had suspicious immigration officials brace me on that, because no women are capable of spending that little in a month away...)

But in Kyoto I couldn't resist.  I bought some silk, mostly scraps from kimono fabrics, for maybe 50 cents each.  I bought some cute little doodads for Zoe to hang from her cellphone (all the rage among Japanese teenagers).  And I bought these four soup bowls.  I love them all, and I generally use whichever one is on top of the stack, but if they're all in use I'll probably give the radiating stripes to myself.

The Japanese don't go for matchy-matchy housewares; it's customary to use not only dishes of different designs, like mine, at the same meal, but dishes of different shapes, sizes and styles to complement various foods.  Many observers attribute this to the wabi sabi mindset, in which imperfection is considered beautiful.  So you mend your old clothes and broken dishes, you accept your wrinkles and age spots, you don't mind if the spoon is bent or the plate is chipped, and you downright love it if the soup bowls all have different designs.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Quiltmaking 101 -- binding your quilt 2 -- sewing the binding

Time to sew the binding to the quilt.  I use a walking foot, because the three layers of the quilt can shift under the pressure of a regular foot, even after they have been quilted together.

Place one end of the binding strip about halfway down one of the edges of the quilt, aligning it with the cut edge, but don't start sewing right at the end.  Instead, leave about six inches of strip hanging loose before you start sewing.  Sew at your predetermined seam allowance till you get almost to the corner.

Stop your stitching exactly one seam allowance from the corner.  Make a back stitch or two to hold the strip in place.

Cut the threads and take the quilt out from the machine.  Rotate it 90 degrees counterclockwise and place it on your work table with the edge you've sewed at the top, and the new edge straight ahead of you.

My finger hides the edge that has just been stitched.

Fold the binding strip up and away from you.  The right edge of the binding strip aligns with the cut edge of the quilt (that's why you place it right ahead of your nose, so you can eyeball the straight line).  Pull the strip taut so the diagonal fold line comes through the end of your stitching.  Press the diagonal fold with your thumbnail to help it keep its place.

Now fold the binding strip back on itself, exactly at the cut edge.  Align the fold with the top edge of the quilt, and align the edge of the binding with the side edge of the quilt.  The diagonal fold should end exactly at the corner of the quilt.  Put a pin through all layers, about a half-inch from the edge.

Back to the sewing machine; start sewing at the edge of the quilt and stitch the binding strip almost all the way to the next corner.  Repeat the mitered corner.  Twice more, and you'll get back to the side of the quilt that you started on.  Stop sewing about eight inches before you get to your starting point, cut the threads and take the quilt out from the machine.

You have about six inches of binding hanging loose from the beginning, plus whatever is left of the strip you have been sewing.  You now have to join those two ends at exactly the right place so the finished binding won't be either too long or too short.  You are going to sew those two ends together, which means you'll need a quarter-inch seam allowance on each end, which means your strip has to be a half-inch longer than the finished length.  So let's build in that half-inch right now.

Fold back one of the strips (doesn't matter which one) right at the end of the stitched part.  Put a quarter-inch tuck in it, and pin that in place.  There's your extra half-inch, ready for when you need it.

Arrange the two loose ends of the binding smoothly on top of one another and cut through both strips with one snip of the scissors.  (Don't cut the quilt top or any other fabric that might have sneaked in between the blades.)  Hold the scissors at an angle, or perpendicular, whichever way you did the other seams on the binding.

Here the two ends meet exactly at the snip line.  When you remove that pin tuck, you'll have the extra half-inch seam allowance to sew the two ends together.

But this seam is going to be tricky, because you need some extra room to maneuver, and the big quilt wants to spring loose and lie flat.  So make it give you the room you need -- pin a two- or three-inch fold into the part of the quilt that hasn't yet gotten its binding.

Notice the blue pin holding the big fold into the quilt, to give you slack to work with.

Pin the ends of the binding together, just as you joined the other binding strips.  Manhandle the quilt into place so you can sew the seam.  Make sure the weight of the quilt is well supported so it doesn't pull away or spring loose as you stitch.

When you take the quilt out from the machine, unpin the big fold, and lay it flat, the binding should be exactly as long as you need it.  In fact, it should be just a hair shorter, because the fabric will stretch a bit and the seam will lie perfectly flat.

If the binding is even a bit too long, DO NOT plan to ease it in as you stitch, because you'll get an ugly bubble and bulge.  Instead, go back to the machine and restitch the seam just a hair inside the previous stitching line.  No need to take out the first seam, just sew alongside it.

With your joined binding lying perfectly flat on the edge of the quilt, go back to the machine and complete the seam, overlapping for a half-inch or so on top of the previous stitching.

Next week:  folding the binding and stitching it in place.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Quiltmaking 101 -- binding your quilt 1 -- cutting the binding

I promised a friend that I would send her a link to my tutorial on mitered bindings -- except after much searching, realized that I apparently never published such a post.  So here's one for Joanne, and anybody else who has the urge...

Before you start sewing on a binding, you need to establish your specifications: how wide to cut your binding strip, and how far from the edge to stitch it on.  Traditionally, bindings are about a quarter-inch wide, but you may want a wider one to make a more assertive edge.  If you want a wider binding, just substitute "one-half inch" wherever you read "one-quarter inch" in these directions.

The old-fashioned quilt police will tell you that the only proper way to make a binding is to cut it on the bias and use it double, so two layers of fabric will protect the edge of the quilt.  I don't do either of those two things.  It's true that when quilts are in daily use, washed regularly, and especially if they're pulled up against a whiskery chin every night, the edges will get abraded and thinned over time.  So two layers of fabric are a good idea, as is a bias cut, so the abrasion doesn't take out an entire thread along the edge and pop the binding open.  But if you're planning on using your quilt lightly, or hanging it on the wall, there's no need for the extra fabric and trouble.  I cut my bindings on the cross grain of the fabric -- perpendicular to the selvage -- for a bit of extra give.

Before you cut your bindings, do a sample.  You can make the sample on your actual quilt (use long stitches, so you can rip them out easily), or if you have a scrap of quilted fabric around -- maybe some that you trimmed off the quilt when you squared it up -- you can use that.

Your binding needs to be cut four times the width of your finished binding, plus a bit for ease -- for a quarter-inch binding you'll want it at least 1 1/4 inches wide.  But for the sample, cut a strip 1 1/2 inches wide, about four inches long.  Place the binding strip on top of your quilt, right sides together.  Align the edge of the binding strip with the edge of the quilt, then sew it on with a quarter-inch seam allowance.

Take the quilt out of the sewing machine and fold the binding into position, wrapping it over the edge and to the back of the quilt.  Fold the binding so the raw edge is turned inside, extending all the way down to the fold.  Pull the binding nice and taut over the edge.  Pin it down in place.  Check the front to make sure the binding is taut there too, with no bubbles or pooching out.

The folded edge of the binding should cover your stitching line, but just a hair.  If it's too wide, and the binding extends an eighth-inch or more past the stitching line, you'll want to cut your strips a bit narrower than 1 1/2 inches.  But if it's not wide enough, and the folded edge doesn't cover the stitching, you'll want to cut the strips a bit wider.  Cut a new sample strip, sew it on and check it.  Then write down the width you want so you don't have to do test samples on your next quilt.

Why do I suggest you make a sample rather than just tell you how wide to cut?  Because your "quarter-inch seam" may not be the same as my "quarter-inch seam."  And that's perfectly OK.  For instance, my  bindings are always a bit wider than a quarter inch, because I like to use the edge of my walking foot as a gauge.  And of course, you might want a wider binding because you like the look.  So figure out your preferred seam spacing, and then work from there to figure out how wide to cut your binding strip.

It's easier for me to gauge my seam width by the little rectangle cut out of the top of my walking foot than to use the grid marks on the presser foot plate (because they're hidden).  So my bindings end up closer to 3/8 inch than 1/4 inch.

The important thing is to cut bindings that work for you.  You want the folded-over edges of the binding to reach down to the edge of the quilt so you have four layers of binding everywhere, you want the binding to be pulled taut around the edge.  That way your bindings will be smooth, firm and fully-packed, good enough for the quilt police.

Now cut the binding strips on the cross-grain (from selvage to selvage).  You'll probably need several strips to reach around the quilt.  You can sew the strips together into one long piece either with straight or with diagonal seams.

To join on the diagonal:

Cut through two strips at once so you have the same angle.  Align the cut edges, but shift them so the seamline begins where the cut edges cross.

Press the seams and the entire binding strip.  I like to press the seams open rather than to one side, because that means a flatter binding, but it doesn't really matter.  Trim the points so they don't extend beyond the edges of the strip.

Friday: how to sew the binding on.

Monday, February 20, 2017

When all else fails, make placemats

In the late 70s I was an active member of the League of Women Voters, and one of the things I did for the organization was to make a little wall quilt for our office.  I used some nifty red-on-white patriotic print fabric that was produced during the Bicentennial, plus assorted RWB solids and prints.  It hung in the office for many years, until a big remodel/redecoration.  I found the quilt stashed in a closet afterwards, and brought it home with me, where it has been stashed in MY closet ever since.

Recently, in a flurry of cleanup frustration, I came upon the quilt and noted that it was big enough to make four placemats.

I've always joked that no quilt experiment is too weird, because you can always turn it into placemats.  Indeed, I've done that with many projects, including one that was supposed to be a show quilt but just wouldn't get quilted right.  I kept quilting (you know, all those bulgy places will quilt out....) (but they didn't quilt out...) and finally gave up at about 98 percent finished.  That one made a whole lot of placemats!

But my little red, white and blue quilt certainly had no future as a quilt.  Notice particularly the pale gray panel above the bottom LWV -- that was once a rich navy blue.  And the faded panel to the left of the middle LWV also used to be navy.  I thought the reds had held up pretty well until I cut the quilt apart and noticed that the solid red was about four shades darker inside.  I think there have been improvements in dye technology since the 70s, but isn't it funny that some of the fabrics faded like crazy and others stayed pristine?

Here are the placemats.  I will use them on patriotic occasions.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

My favorite things 8

I've always loved old-fashioned offices and office equipment, harking back to my earliest days of paid employment when I would work typing my father's book manuscripts and then as a secretary for low-budget organizations that were headquartered at my college.  In all these places I had manual typewriters and a motley collection of tools dating back to World War 2.  And I loved all that stuff.

My mother had a little wood file cabinet with six drawers, enough to store an inch-tall pile of paper in each one so you could keep different kinds of letterhead, plain paper, colored paper, invoices, whatever you needed for your well-stocked office.  The drawers had holes in the bottom so you could poke your finger up and raise the pile of paper high enough to pluck off one sheet without denting the edge.

She had liberated it from some office where she had worked, and it held paper in our home office.  But in later years she converted it to a jewelry case.  I coveted it.

One day, hanging out in a flea market, I was thrilled to find the identical file cabinet for sale, and took it home to be my jewelry case.  And then, after Mom died, I grabbed her cabinet too.  So I now have one in my bedroom full of jewelry and one by the back door with stuff you need as you are running out of the house -- a comb, a Chapstick, sunglasses.  And a few of the bottom drawers still have some of Mom's jewelry.

I've scored other pre-owned file cabinets over the years, but my second favorite is this little one, just tall enough to file your bank statements and electric bills.  It still has a label from its previous owner on the bottom drawer, which says "savings."  I wonder what went in that drawer, and what the top drawer was called.

I feel great sympathy for whoever was in charge of all those cabinets -- probably a woman, who was forever being called on to produce the proper piece of paper at a moment's notice, correctly typed, correctly retrieved.  She had to wash her hands frequently to keep the carbon paper and typewriter-ribbon smudges off her work; she got paper cuts too often.

Not like that in today's offices -- at least not the carbon paper or typewriter ribbons, and maybe not even the pieces of paper -- but I still feel sympathy for the workers.  Been there, done that.  Sometimes not much fun, but always great pride in a job well done, even if the boss doesn't appreciate it or understand how much work it took to make it happen.

Friday, February 17, 2017

More divestiture

Many, many years ago I made a baby quilt which for some reason I decided to hand-quilt.  Don't know why; I was never that much of a fan of hand-quilting, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.   It was actually an experiment in quilting without a frame or hoop, the first time I had tried it.  (And by the way, if I ever have to do hand-quilting again I will do it hooplessly.)

I quilted maybe two thirds of it and got tired.  The quilt has been lurking about since -- OMG -- 1990; I know this because of the neatly embroidered motif in the corner.

Every couple of years since then I have come across this quilt and said to myself, I probably should finish this some day.   Yesterday I came across it and said go away.

So I bundled it up and gave it to my friend Ann for her guild's charity quilts.  I suspect somebody in that guild will be happy to finish the quilting.  And my stitches were nice and small, so if that somebody is a quilt snob she shouldn't be too ashamed to collaborate.  Maybe she'll neatly embroider her initials in the other corner.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Out and about!!

On Monday I went for a long walk with some friends, one of whom had a GPS device that said we'd gone 2.8 miles.

Why is this the subject for a blog post?  Because it's the longest I've walked in more than a year and a half -- and I did it without pain, either during the walk or afterward.  For somebody who has always loved long walks, this has been a very long time, during which I worried whether I would ever regain my ability to wander around all day.  It also affected my photography-related art practice, since you can't take interesting pictures if you don't go anywhere.

I bring this up in the blog because coincidentally, yesterday I read about a new study, reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, that says if you have back pain, medical treatment may not be helpful at all.  Don't bother with an MRI, don't take heavy duty painkillers, for heaven's sake don't do surgery, just wait it out, with a bit of exercise if you can, and see what happens.  And I want to testify that they're right, at least for me.

This has been the second time in the last 15 years that I have gone through long bouts of back pain.  The first time I dutifully went to the doctor, got an MRI, learned that some of my discs and vertebrae were rough around the edges, and was sent to physical therapy.  I did three sessions, during which at least half the time was spent discussing when to schedule my next visit around the requirements of insurance reimbursement (no, not to make it cheaper for me, but to make it more lucrative for the clinic).  I quit PT and lounged around for months, walking when I could, until things got better.

Years passed.  The back pain returned. When I visited the doctor for another reason, I told her that I was having trouble walking; she said swim or do water aerobics instead.  I did that all winter.  Still had trouble walking and lounged around for a year, walking when I could.  I kept a diary of how long I walked and the different varieties of pain, trying to figure out what brought it on, whether it was good to walk or good to stop.  Never could figure out a strategy.  But around Thanksgiving it seemed that I could walk farther without pain.  I felt great.

Then I took a bad fall and broke a bone in my toe.  Six weeks of orthopedic shoe and very little walking.  Then, back in real shoes, I could do a mile, then a mile and a quarter.  And Monday, 2.8 miles!

Everybody has various mantras for life, and one of my favorites has always been "outlive the bastards".  This makes twice I've outlived the pain and emerged on the other side.  I know some day this approach is going to fail, but right now, I'm celebrating.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Divestiture again

Time to clean up the studio.

Were there ever more depressing, discouraging words?  Strikes a klong of dark, cold dread up and down your spine, doesn't it?

Not that I really want to clean the studio, but I need to have an electrician come in and fix up my ceiling lights, all of which were installed at the same time and all of which are dying at the same time.  And to get to the most important fixture, he will have to stand on my work table, which means the top of the table will have to be visible, which means a midden of boxes and stuff will have to be removed.  So while I'm removing stuff from the work table, I might as well simultaneously be cleaning and organizing and finding stuff that can be given or thrown away.

Still dark, cold dread, right?

My first thought was to get rid of my calicos.  Years ago I pulled out all those sweet 70s tiny prints that I will never use and put them in the closet.  I've given them to new quilters who wanted something to learn on without having to go to the fabric store.  I've sent them to internet friends who wanted to finish quilts begun decades ago in similar fabrics.  A brainstorm: one of my fiber art pals is in a traditional guild that makes a lot of charity quilts, so I asked her if they might want my calicos.

When she said yes, I started packing them up.  It felt good.

And then I had another thought -- why not also give them some of my "better" quilt fabrics?  So I started packing boxes full.

I was pleasantly surprised at how little pain I felt in parting with these fabrics -- thousands of dollars worth of beautiful cottons that had called out to me in the past and had given me lots of pleasure over the years just knowing they were there in my drawers ready for a moment in the sun.  But I realized that I would never use them, and if I knew they would be going to a good home, where people would use them and love them, I'm OK with that.

I gave my friend a trunkload of fabrics a few weeks ago, and am accumulating another pile to hand off at our textile group meeting later this week.

Of course, empty drawers aren't worth anything until you fill them with something else that had been occupying other space, such as on top of my work table.  So now I'm trying to consolidate the fabrics I still have into the partly empty drawers, and organize them more usefully for my current quilting life.  Still lots of work ahead, but seeing those boxes go out the door has been liberating.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

My favorite things 7

With very few exceptions I'm technologically behind the times, and generally like it that way.  Although both my husband and I own cell phones, we use them as phone-booth substitutes (in case we need to call somebody while away from home) and still conduct our life business by land line.

I love landlines.  Yes, it can be inconvenient to have to get up and go to another room to answer, but if it's too inconvenient I'll just ignore it.  I love the fact that landlines work during power outages, which we have too many of in our neighborhood.  Many years ago my husband was in the hospital with a hip replacement and our power went out for a week.  I went into zen state for that week, during which I went to the hospital every morning and enjoyed the generator-provided electricity and air-conditioning for 12 hours, then would stop at the grocery to buy something to eat and three cold beers.  I'd come home as darkness was falling, drink my beer and and talk with my mother on the phone in the dark for an hour or two.  Sleep and repeat.

The phone company would have you believe that fiberoptic or wireless service is vastly superior to copper wires, but just talk to one of the guys who might come around and repair your old-fashioned phone, and he'll tell you that's crap.  Copper wire is a much better system, except it does need maintenance, much like every other useful bit of infrastructure.  And like so many other aspects of our society, the phone company would rather sub in inferior technology just so they don't have to spend money on maintenance.

But I digress.  We acquired this phone in 1974 when I was running an outpost of a national news organization from my dining room, and we needed three separate phone lines.  I managed to keep the phone after my gig was over, and have loved it ever since.  That model of phone allows you to cradle the receiver securely between ear and shoulder while you type or get dressed or whatever.  Unlike newer models where the phone will squirt out and escape.  Sad.

It's getting a little staticky these days, or so my husband tells me, refusing to use that phone.  I don't notice that much of a problem, but perhaps I'm just making maternal allowances for my ne'er-do-well child.  One of these days it can go directly to the museum of obsolete technology, along with so many other of my possessions.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Two new quilters show their stuff

Today I get to share with you two quilts made by the younger generation -- one of the best things that can happen to our favorite skill and pastime is to pass it along to the kids.  Anna Shanahan writes from Australia that she and her two girls read my Rail Fence book over the holidays and chose some fabrics to turn into quilts.

Sophia, who is 11, wanted a star effect, and her mom suggested a pinwheel layout with rail fence blocks.  She liked blue and purple, and after a discussion on color theory they decided to use yellow and orange for the edge rails for a high-contrast palette.  Sophia developed an interesting technique for sewing the blocks: first she sewed a very long strip of blues and purples.  "She sewed the yellow rails onto the ends of the long strip, then cut or unpicked the blocks off the ends, and repeated the process. She seemed to enjoy it, and stuck to it pretty well. Once she had her blocks, she fiddled around with the layout, then sewed it up."

Sophia's quilt in progress

Sophia's finished quilt top

Imogen, who is 8, liked two quilts in the book that were made from very fat rails alternating with very thin.  Anna writes: "We discussed the beautiful fabrics used, and the thin rails. Then we had a look through the fabric here to see if there was a biggish piece of something she found exciting. She seized on the planet fabric, then went about choosing fabrics to insert. She'd been involved in the earlier colour theory conversation, and went about making her choices with great confidence and assurance. I was quite surprised, and frankly delighted to see the decisions and choices she made. It's been really interesting to let other people make use of the fabrics here.

Imogen's quilt top

Imogen's quilt top (detail) 

"I wasn't confident to let her use the cutter, so she marked the fabric where she wanted it cut, both for the main fabric and the contrast rails. Then she sewed the strips into blocks, put them up onto the wall, and decided what order to put them in. She was struggling with the long, pieced seams, so I put those ones together. However, she loves pressing, so did all the ironing work."

"It's been a fantastic and achievable process for everyone. The girls are really proud, and want to show their friends how to do it. I think we'll be having another workshop next holidays. I like that the quilts are so different to each other, and to what I make. It took very little input from me, despite their lack of previous experience.  And the girls are already planning their next pieces."

What a great story!  There's nothing quite so exciting as to help a child learn a new skill, and watch her use it with confidence and fun.  Good work, Sophia and Imogen!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Not fun / not art?

Earlier this week I wrote about my daily art project, which requires me to collect text from the newspaper or other printed sources and paste it up into a "poem" or other presentation.  I said I was feeling overwhelmed by the collection and sorting of my raw material, and still didn't feel as though I totally understand where this project is going.

One of my readers left a comment on the post:  "I see a daily art activity as being something FUN with little to no background work.  What you are doing doesn't sound like fun and it doesn't look like art."

(So I take it she's not going to do a project like this in the foreseeable future.)

I thought about this comment for a while and decided I needed to write about it.  Not so much to have a debate, but to make sure my own thoughts are in order.  Having committed to this project, with 327 days left to go, I would like to feel that I've made a good decision and am going to accomplish something, even if I'm feeling a little iffy right now.

I've been doing daily art for all but one of the last 17 years and I've learned that such projects usually surprise me.  I think I know what I'm planning to do, and then it doesn't work out exactly that way.  I encounter obstacles, which either get overcome or get creatively avoided.  New ideas sneak in and make themselves at home.  I learn things and incorporate them into my daily practice -- and often they slop over into the rest of my life and art.  So feeling in early February that I don't quite understand what's going on is perfectly normal.

I differ with the reader on the part about "little to no background work."  If something requires no work I'm not sure it's worth committing to doing it 365 times.  True, I don't want my daily project to take up two hours, but I also don't want to dash it off in two minutes.  To my mind, the point of an art project, daily or not, is to stretch your brain and your art muscles, to do something that challenges you, or improves your skill, or produces something worth having, or all of the above.  I don't do art for fun, I do it to say something, to learn something, to make something.

That's one reason I commit to a daily project rather than just promise myself "I'll make some art when I can."  The fact that the daily art gets made even when I'm sick, or busy on another project, or on an airplane, gives substance to the work, a new dimension that wouldn't be there if I just made stuff every now and then.  The fact that some days obviously involved more work than others is part of the texture of the project.

So yes, I'm having fun, if you define "fun" as feeling good about what you're doing, that you're accomplishing something.  The fact that I'm wrestling with logistics is part of the fun; the fact that I figured out how to use sticky notes to organize my little cuttings is part of the fun.  Each time I discover a new trope -- such as this one, in which I present every name that appeared on the front page of that day's newspaper -- it's exhilarating, realizing that I'm going to come back to that again, and over time it will be interesting to compare the different versions of that trope.

But is it art?  In some ways it's very little different from my collage projects, where I used text every day.  I've given myself new latitude this year to focus on the words rather than the images, which reflects my growing interest in poetry and poem-like wordplay.  So maybe the art is a little less visual this year and a little more verbal, but it's my project and if I say it's art, it's art.  (Isn't that the whole point of postmodernism?)

Stay tuned.  I'll be making this stuff for the rest of the year, and I'll keep you posted.  Meanwhile, you can see all my daily art here.

And to everybody -- thanks for reading, thanks for commenting!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Daily text project update

So my daily art project for this year is text on a 4x6 index card.  Not much in the way of rules, thus leaving me lots of room for experimentation.  I'm liking some of the pieces I've come up with, but I have yet to come to terms with this project.

It's taking up way too much of my time!

Unlike the daily art rules in 2015, I'm not required to find the text for today's piece today.  And it would be impossible to come up with some of the poems from a single day's newspaper.  Instead, I'm on the alert for a dozen or more words or themes which I cut out and file for future use.  For instance, I'm still collecting "early" and "late" even though I made a whole book on that theme last year.  And now I'm collecting "easy," "sad," "transparent," "heart" and "poetry."  I'm collecting "Bruce" for my brother and "Lynn" for a commissioned project.  I'm collecting questions, especially very short ones, and parenthetical remarks.  And several other things.

If my husband has already read the newspaper (we each initial the sections as we finish them) I will cut the phrases out as I encounter them.  If he hasn't, I'll mark the ones I want to cut out and come back later.

I end up with piles of cutout words and phrases littering the table, demanding to be sorted and filed.  My husband took a 10-day vacation, during which I resolved to get caught up on a lot of cleaning and organizing, so I now had little piles of cutouts at not one but four places at two different tables!

I realized long ago that dealing with tiny cutouts is difficult -- you have to spread them out to see what you have before you can proceed with "writing" your poems.  Last fall I had them sorted onto trays while I was working, and then put them into envelopes when I was in collection mode.  But then when it's time to dump out the envelope you have to sort them and spread them out.

Finally I figured out that I could sort and store the cutouts by using the sticky side of sticky notes.  And realized that I could tape six sticky notes onto a large index card to be able to see lots at once without too much shuffling through different pieces of paper.

So after a week of serious cutting, sorting and pasting, I have many of my clippings easily at hand and not occupying our entire eating spaces.  But I'm still worried that this project is taking up way too much time.  I don't ever intend my daily art to occupy my life, just take a little time in between "real" art.  I haven't gotten to that point yet, but I better figure out how to do so pretty soon.

You can check out all my daily art at my daily art blog.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

My favorite things 6

My paternal grandfather, who died long before I was born, was a blacksmith and also went on the road as a salesman for the De Laval Company.  Gustaf De Laval was a Swedish engineer who invented many varied devices, including a submarine and a nozzle that tapped a steam turbine at supersonic speed (invented in 1890, the nozzle is used today in rocket engines).

He also invented milking machines and cream separators, which greatly eased the backbreaking labor of dairy farming.  That's what my grandfather sold to the farmers of central Michigan in the 1920s and 1930s.  Like any good salesman, he had a bag full of giveaway crap to lay on the potential customers.

The giveaway that I remember from childhood was this set of metal cow and calf, which came in an illustrated envelope.  You took the animals out of the envelope, then carefully pulled their legs apart just enough so they could stand up.  When I was little, my grandmother's toy/junk box had at least one set of these in action, which we could play with.  But at some point in adulthood I acquired a mint-condition envelope of unbent, unhandled cattle.

I bent the legs just enough to let them stand inside a frame, along with their envelope.
These are Jersey cows, although the ur-cow of my childhood was a Holstein.  As a barely verbal kid I was infamous among my parents' friends for knowing the different breeds of cows.  One time my godmother said "Look, Kathy, there's a cow!" And I allegedly said "That's not a cow, that's a Holstein."

Well, we spent a lot of time in those days just driving around in the country, looking at the scenery.  And there wasn't that much scenery to look at besides the cows.  So why not concentrate on the details?

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Why magic cross stitch is hard... at first

I wrote yesterday about my "magic cross stitch" approach -- stitching from the back of the fabric.  I didn't think this would be at all difficult to learn but I was wrong.  If you want to try this kind of stitching, I'll try to give you a tutorial and hope that you aren't confused too.

If you were doing running stitches from the back of the fabric, of course, you wouldn't be confused in the least, because the front and back of the work look the same.  But cross stitch is a different animal.  On the front, it makes Xs, but on the back it makes boxes or ladders.  And it's surprisingly hard to visualize what's happening on the front when all you can see is the back.

That's the magic, of course -- not knowing exactly what's going to show up on the front of the work.  But it can be frustrating, until you get into your rhythm.

Look at diagram 1 -- we're making a single cross stitch.  The darker, thicker blue line is what we see from the back of the work.  The thin, pale blue line is what's happening on the front.  All you see from your side of the work is your knot, one horizontal line, and the thread emerging, ready for the next stitch.  Maybe it's easy for you to visualize the cross on the other side; maybe not.

In diagram 2 we're making a whole bunch of cross stitches in a column.  What we see as we stitch is a double ladder of horizontal stitches -- one set as we go down the column, a second set as we come back up, completing the crosses.

In diagram 3, we're making random crosses, not in a column or pattern, just scattered here and there.
If you're looking just at the back of the work, you may be totally confused!

If you can perfectly visualize the crosses on the front of the work by looking at this, you're better than I am!

So here's my advice.  Always keep your needle on top of the fabric. Never stab down, then move your hand underneath to grab the needle and stab back up.  If you make each stitch as a scoop -- down, then up in the same motion -- you can always see whether your needle is going on the diagonal.  And as long as your needle is always on the diagonal, you're going to get a cross-stitch pattern.  Even if you don't eventually cross that stitch to make a perfect X, the diagonal will fit into your overall pattern and look great.

If you want to make a whole column of cross stitches, I recommend that you use a mantra as you stitch so you don't lose your place.  You'll start at the top of the column, work down, and then come back up later.   If you're right-handed, put your needle in and tell yourself "southwest, east, southwest, east."  The first stitch goes diagonally down toward the southwest, then on your side of the work, you go to the east and put the needle in again.  Coming back up the column, your mantra is "northwest, east, northwest, east."  Lefties say "southeast, west" going down and "northeast, west" coming back up.

Let me know if this approach works for you!