Thursday, March 30, 2017

Life imitates art 8

So imagine my surprise when I looked at the front page of the New York Times this morning and saw -- my quilts!

New York Times photo

Don't you think this photo of a solar farm in China looks a whole lot like my Crazed quilts?

Monday, March 27, 2017

Cleaning the studio -- a milestone

Somebody left a comment on one of my recent "crabby" posts that said I must have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed.  Truth be known, I've been getting up on the wrong side of the bed for months now; since Christmas my main "artistic" endeavor has been to clean my studio.

Now there is cleaning and there is Cleaning.  I recall without much fondness a week when I was helping my sister clean up her entire condo to put it on the market.  A couple of days into this task, the real estate agent called apologetically -- she knew we had agreed on next week to list it, but the perfect buyer had just walked in, and could she bring him over tomorrow?  OMG, what about the entire lower level, full of stuff?  We quick rented a storage locker, humped all the boxes and etceteras into the car, took three loads over that night, swept out the room, collapsed with Scotch.  The real estate agent couldn't believe it when she walked in the next morning -- what had happened to all the stuff????

That's Cleaning.  But that's not what I have been doing since Christmas.  I've been allowing myself rests and digressions because otherwise I would just burn the place down and myself in it in despair.  So every now and then I will stop, sit down and make more people out of the bits and pieces of fabric that don't easily go into one of the organized piles.

I have been giving my quilt fabrics away to a guild that makes charity quilts, and they say they're happy to get pre-cut strips and pieces, but I have been afraid that their tolerance for sorting through scrap bins may not be as high as my own.  So every now and then I'll stop, sit down and sort out a bunch of color-coordinated scraps to sew into rail fence blocks.  Mindless sewing, good therapy, uses up those scraps (but not fast enough).

And every now and then I'll stop, sit down, and make tie-up cords, either by braiding strips of leftover fabrics or by folding and stitching wider strips into stronger tapes.

But yesterday I hit a milestone -- my entire 5 x 8' work table empty of stuff.  Usually half of the table is covered with an old mattress pad, which makes it an ironing surface.  It hasn't been free of stuff since July so I took the opportunity to put it in the wash.

A whole lot of the previously free-floating stuff has been divested, or sorted into boxes, many of them neatly filed on shelves.  Some of it still is free-floating, but at least not on the work table.  Still a lot of cleaning and sorting to go, but a third of the studio has visible floors, neatly organized shelves, empty horizontal surfaces.  This has not been fun, but it is nice to reacquaint myself with the top of my table.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

My favorite things 13

My father was only one generation off the farm, and there was no art in his family tree, but some mysterious impulse made him into an art lover.  In his lifetime he must have bought hundreds of paintings, prints and sculptures, and he raised us kids to be both art lovers and art collectors.  I think the first original work of art he ever owned was this very big (48 inches wide plus frame) painting of Saginaw, Michigan, where Dad grew up and my sister and I were born.

It shows a view of the West Side of Saginaw, looking across the Saginaw River from the park on Ojibway Island where we used to go to play.  The tower in the center of the picture is the Saginaw County Court House, three blocks down from the house where my grandmother lived.  The steeple towards the right of the picture is Holy Cross Lutheran Church, where my parents were married and my sister and I were baptized.  The big building whose black roof occupies most of the skyline in the left-hand part of the picture used to be Ippel's department store, upstairs of which my grandmother lived for decades after she had to leave the house on Fayette Street (the Ippel's building burned down many years after she died).

Dad had been involved with a local art organization and when they decided to hold a contest, sometime around 1950, he was the judge.  His payment was the winning painting (although maybe I have that wrong, and he didn't like the winning painting so he got the second place...).  In any case, this picture hung over his desk in six different houses until he downsized both the picture and the desk, both of which came to me, the picture fitting perfectly on top of the desk, shrinkwrapped together in a truck.

I don't have a lot of nostalgia for Saginaw; we moved away when I was 6 and after my grandmother died there wasn't much reason to go back.  But I love the painting, because it was the start of something extremely important in our family: a love of art that has burned bright for decades and continues to illuminate our lives.

The artist is W. C. Brethauer, whom I cannot find any trace of on Google.  I hope that he was proud to get the purchase prize in the local art contest.  I wish that he knew how much we all have loved that painting for almost three-quarters of a century and with any luck will continue to do so for a long time.

P.S.  I wrote earlier this week about encountering my father's name in a book, and realize that I should have included a link for those couple of readers who might be interested in his career in typography.  For Jan Q and others, here's his obit from the New York Times.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A surprise in a book

I've been reading a fascinating book called "The Newspaper in Art," which traces the long history of artists using it either as subject matter or as raw material.  Although artists were incorporating images of "news" publications as early as the 16th century, the Impressionists were the ones who really went to town, painting all kinds of people reading papers in their daily life.

Paul Cezanne, The Artist's Father, 1866 

Mary Cassatt, The Artist's Mother, 1878

The Cubists also loved newspapers, but they cut them up and pasted the pieces into their paintings as a clever way to achieve double meaning.  The paper could represent a shape, and at the same time the newspaper story could reference an idea or event.

Pablo Picasso, Guitar and Wine Glass, 1912

I had a great time reading the book, which consisted of three separate sections, each written by a different commentator.  One of the writers decided to wind up his section with a kind of miscellaneous discussion of how modern newspapers have been affected by art, which I thought was a kind of lame non sequitur that didn't really hold water, but I was getting to the end so I dutifully read it anyway....

... and was surprised to find the guy talking about my father!

I'm not sure that any other reader of this book found much of interest in this paragraph -- it doesn't really have much to do with fine art -- but I liked it.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Dissed again in the news

Found in the New York Times last week, in a story about the alternative minimum tax:

"In a tax system with enough loopholes to fill a macramé tapestry, the idea was......."

I guess "tapestry" has become an all-purpose word for something made out of fiber that hangs on a wall (and to be fair, some people who make quilts, who should know better, use "tapestry" as a substitute for the Q word).  But macrame is not tapestry, and it chops me to see the technical terms of my field continually misused by people who search for a clever simile without knowing what they're really talking about.

I was further amused at the oh-so-correct use of the accent in macrame.  When we were all doing macrame, back in the day, none of us used an accent, nor do we today.  So that kind of adds insult to injury -- not only do you misuse our words, you misspell them, in the most la-di-da way.  Kind of like the grand lady slumming in a soul food restaurant who orders chitterlings.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

My favorite things 12

Several years ago my son gave me this little gizmo as a Mother's Day present.  It has a heavy base with a non-skid gripper surface on the bottom and two arms fitted with alligator clips that bend every which way.  You use it to hold onto whatever needs holding onto -- here it's holding the end of a braided cord that I'm making out of selvages.

I've used it to hold my knotted constructions, turning it as needed to work from the back as well as the front.  I've used it to hold my Christmas ornaments while I zapped them with a heat gun (just had to remember not to touch the metal for a few minutes until it cooled down).

I've used it to hold up directions or other notes in front of my workspace and to hold the middle of a twisted cord that I needed to turn back on itself.  I can't remember what all else; my little holder lives on my worktable and gets called into service all the time.  It's surprising how many projects benefit from a third (and fourth) hand!

The little magnifying glass can be positioned between you and your work, but I've never needed it; miraculously the reading lenses of my bifocals allow me perfect focus of my sewing machine needle, my worktable, and all the places I hold my handwork.  I'm blessed to be able to thread needles, rip seams and take really tiny stitches without outside assistance.  So I have made a little felt hood for the magnifier, which serves as a pincushion and needleholder, but took it off for this photo.

My son found the gizmo at Radio Shack, it says on the base, so apparently its original use was to hold electrical components while you welded them together (at least that's what we did when I took electronics back in the olden days of tubes).  I'm told that the same kind of device is essential equipment for fly-tying, if you're into that, so maybe you could get one at the Bass Pro Shop, Radio Shack having demised.

It's one of those tools that you have no idea you need until it appears in your workspace, and then you wonder how you could ever live without it.

Friday, March 17, 2017

A week on retreat -- and not much to show for it

I got home yesterday from a week at our twice-yearly retreat, just 25 miles down the road but so far away in mental distance.  It doesn't seem that I accomplished very much at all -- mainly I read through a huge pile of newspapers, cut out this many little clippings for my daily art and other found-poetry projects

and put a foot-high stack of papers into the recycling bin. But yes, it takes three full days to accomplish that much, and I didn't even get the little clippings sorted and filed.  And I brought home another stack of papers that still haven't gotten read.

I did come across interesting things in the pile that I should have noticed months ago.  Here's one that made me crabby.

It's from an art review in the New York Times of a show by Nari Ward, a sculptor who immigrated to New York from Jamaica and who has worked extensively with themes of African culture coming to the new world.  The photo shows an installation of bricks covered with painted copper.

photo from New York Times

The reviewer comments, "African-American history is embedded everywhere. The colored patterns in the floor installation are derived from 19th-century African-American quilts....  The quilt patterns derive from African textiles."

Well, I beg to differ.  Perhaps the artist was inspired by a Bear Paw or Shoo-fly quilt made by an African-American -- those traditional quilt designs were no doubt popular among quiltmakers of all ethnicities -- but those patterns did not derive from African textiles.

It's just another example of people who don't know much about quilts being glib -- and wrong.  (And on that same note, the other day I saw an announcement about some woman giving a speech about quilts used as code on the Underground Railroad....)

Sunday, March 12, 2017

My favorite things 11

In the olden days, of course, printers had to set all their type one letter at a time.  It took a while to do a book, because you wouldn't own enough type to set more than a couple of pages at a time (especially if the book was about St. Francis Xavier or explorers' expeditions or zebras -- think about it: a font of type included lots and lots of lower-case es but only a few xs and zs).  Even after the invention of the Linotype in 1884, which allowed printers to set a whole line of type in one chunk of metal, there was plenty of single-character type in use.

But the development of phototypesetting shortly after WW2 eventually made both the Linotype and the older single-character type obsolete.  Even the smallest printshop switched to photo type (often called "cold type") as soon as possible; it cost less and required way less tedious labor.  So in the 1970s and 80s the flea markets of America were flooded with old type, both wood and metal, as old-style printers got rid of their old-style type or went out of business.

My dad was a typographer and loved type in all its many forms, and had the prescience to realize that the old stuff was going to disappear.  He bought lots and lots of type, including some really huge letters that must have come from a printshop specializing in billboards.  He gave me these big wood characters in the early 70s and they have had a prominent place in all my living rooms ever since.

The ampersand is 21 inches tall; the K is 17 inches.

The wood is still smooth, with pretty sharp edges; you could print off it easily and probably get a good impression.  But it also has the fabulous patina of years and years of use.  The printing surfaces on both pieces are probably close to their original color, although you can tell that they have a lot of ink in their history.  But the recessed background areas, which weren't cleaned as carefully because they never touched the paper, are darker and stained, with their own non-shiny patina.

I own lots and lots of smaller wood type with similar characteristics, much of which I still use to print with.  But I'd give my left arm for more of these big guys.  I'm sure if I hunted on eBay or other specialty sites I could find some, but it would certainly cost 100 times what Dad paid for these.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Feeling better about divestiture

The other day I wrote about getting rid of little bundles of fabric left over from clothes and curtains and things that I made decades ago.  I dutifully pitched the stuff, but it wasn't without some qualms -- not that I thought I would ever use the bits from garments I hadn't seen in 40 years, but it seemed so final to throw away things I had carefully saved all those years.  They seemed to be tangible connections to my past, and to accomplishments and pleasures that were very important at the time.

But then I had an inspiration.  I could save out some smaller pieces and make little people from them!

That struck me as the perfect way to retain my memories of beautiful dresses from the past, yet let the bundles of leftovers depart.

I had already put dozens of leftover bundles into the discard pile the previous week, and I'm proud to say that I didn't go back and retrieve them, but I did cut chunks of a bunch of remnants that I had just discovered.  Here are some of the little people I made from them:

Monday, March 6, 2017

Divestiture -- little bundles

I've been cleaning my studio since Christmas, taking an occasional break to make some minimal art but nothing serious.  I'm now accumulating my fourth batch of fabrics to go to the guild for charity quilts (and when I say "batch" I mean at least five cubic feet, maybe nine or ten...).  A huge pile of non-quilt fabrics is waiting near the back door for my friend who teaches high school art -- boxes and boxes of drapery and upholstery samples, fabrics too heavy or flimsy for the quilt guild, miscellaneous stuff of many descriptions.

I keep encountering boxes of things that I have carefully bundled up, sorted and packed away over the decades, because that's the kind of person I am.  (I don't think it reaches the level of "hoarder" but maybe I'm wrong.)  Like everybody I know who sewed garments, I would fold up the leftovers, tie the bundle up with a bit of selvage, and put it into storage.  My mother did it this way, my grandmother did it this way.

In retrospect, there doesn't seem to be much reason to do this.  What were we going to do with the bits?  I suppose you could theoretically make a patch if your blouse got a rip in it, but in all my 40 years of garment sewing I never knew that to happen.  But that's the way I did it.

It's been at least 20 years since I decided to give up garment sewing to concentrate on quilts, and 99 percent of the garments are long gone, but still all those little bundles were packed neatly away in boxes, neatly labeled as "silky remnants."  (Not silk, of course, but polyester...)

And last week, encountering them in my new spirit of divestiture, I realized that I should and could throw them away, as I arguably should have done in 1992 -- or maybe 1972.  I found the leftover bits from my wedding dress, and from multiple maternity dresses, and from the curtains and crib bumper pads from our first baby's bedroom.  I found many larger packages of garments that I had cut out and partially sewed together (or not) decades ago.  They all got tossed (well, not the wedding dress...)

And then in another box, just days later, I found the pattern for the wedding dress!

I kept that, too.  One of these days I expect I'll find the wedding dress itself, which I KNOW I never would have thrown out, but has been MIA for decades.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

My favorite things 10

Like most girls born in 1915, my mother learned to cook and sew at an early age, but she didn't really like to do either one.  She sewed many a lovely dress for herself and then for my sister and me, but I never felt excitement or joy in the air, just the expected pride in accomplishment and happiness when the task was over.

I wonder whether she was excited or joyous, or just dutiful, when at age 7 or 8 she made this little quilt for a doll bed on the sewing machine.

It's not the greatest quilt in the world.  It's neither quilted nor tied, so it droops and sags.  The border isn't well pressed; the dark red patches have faded badly.  But I love it, because it's the only quilt she ever made, and because it somehow survived to come live with me.  Interestingly, Mom, who didn't like to sew, made a quilt as a little girl, while I, who have always loved to sew and now, especially, to quilt, never thought about quilts when I was just learning.

I don't know where it was during my childhood, probably in my grandparents' attic, although we kids knew and played with pretty well everything in that attic and I don't remember the quilt.  Sometime after I grew up my mother gave it to me, and it's been hanging in my downstairs hallway for decades.  Every time I come down the stairs to go to my studio I see it.  I think of it as it must have been in 1923, all bright pink and cheerful for a little girl and her doll, and it makes me smile.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Where are these people coming from?

My art book club that never reads books had the assignment to do daily art for 30 days.  I didn't want to choose a project that was too similar to the cutting-and-pasting that I'm doing for all of 2017, and I flashed on this little papier mache person that I made on a play day last summer.  She never got put away and has been hanging around my sewing machine table for months.

I liked the way I had constructed her by making an armature of rolled-up stuff, then wrapping the pasted paper around the armature.  And thought I could do the same thing minus the pasted paper.  Voila, a bunch of little people made (mostly) from rolled fabric and wrapped up with yarn, thread or cord.

The rule was to use material that was lying around, a task that has gotten much easier since I've been cleaning my studio and divesting a lot of my fabrics.  Bits that were too small to give away often became daily people; they got wrapped and tied in whatever cording or thread happened to be out on the table from other projects.

After I made the 30 people for my book club meeting, I was surprised to find myself making another one the next day, and several more have followed.  Apparently they want to keep coming.

I'm delighted and astonished at how these people have sprung from my unconscious.  I've never worked much in 3-D, and certainly not to make figures.  Some of my artist pals have noted a similarity to the Adam and Eve figures that I drew for several weeks last year.  I don't know why I didn't stop after book club show-and-tell, or what this project is telling me about myself.

I guess I'm going to be making lots more of these guys and have started to think about how I'm going to display them.  I want them to all be standing around in a crowd, maybe watching something happen or posing for a huge group photo.  I'll need some kind of support for each one, because most are not rigid enough to stand up by themselves.  Not sure how this is going to work out but clearly I'm being compelled to keep making.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Mending again -- a new way

A few weeks ago I was unhappy to see a bunch of moth holes on my husband's favorite sweater vest, which he's had for decades.  Yes, it had pills on it, but it was still warm and comfy, 100 percent wool, and did I mention that it's his favorite?

Ordinarily I mend holes in sweaters with a bit of ultrasuede, sometimes a plain old square in the same color, sometimes a fancy heart or star in high contrast.  But I didn't think six or seven ultrasuede appliques would look very chic.  Then I got a brainstorm, to felt the holes together.  It might not work, but what did I have to lose?

My friend Alyce lent me her felting needle and threw in some gray roving, which was a shade darker than the sweater.

I decided to start with the smallest and most unobtrusive hole, one in the back near the side seam, frequently concealed by the wearer's arm.  I pulled the fabric together to close up the hole, laid roving over the back, and felted just a little from back to front.  The felting needles pushed the fibers almost a half inch up past the surface of the sweater.

Then I flipped the sweater over and felted from front to back, making those wafting fibers lie down and meld into the knitted surface.

The first hole I mended didn't look exactly right; even though I pushed the edges of the hole together, there was still a gap, and the darker roving showed through.  So I went on a search and found some variegated novelty yarn that seemed to have wool parts that were exactly the right shade.

the blob right above the 5 on the cutting mat was the right color

I had to unwind the two-ply yarn, separate out a blob of the right gray, then cut off just a bit -- perhaps the size of two grains of rice -- and put it into the moth hole.  Then I laid the roving over the back and felted as before.

This worked great -- the correct gray filled the hole and got felted into a smooth surface, while the roving gave stability on the back side.

Here's what the finished mend looks like.  The needle points to the mended place, which would be hard to find unless you were really searching, and will never be noticed by anybody other than me.

If you have a wool sweater with moth holes, I highly recommend this method.  It took me perhaps a half hour to mend six or seven holes, including yarn-search time.  The only hard part is finding the exact shade of wool to fill in the gap.  But many sweaters come with an extra button and a little length of matching wool, which would be plenty to mend several smaller holes or one substantial one.