Monday, July 31, 2017

The grammar queen is not amused

From the Associated Press today:

"Officials say a Spirit Airlines flight leaving Las Vegas was briefly delayed after a passenger removed all their clothes while boarding...."

OK, I do not condone, but I do understand, using "their" as a singular pronoun when you don't know the gender of the antecedent person.

I find it difficult to imagine that excuse applying in this situation.

More from QBL

After two days of Improvisational Strip Piecing, my workshoppers at Quilting By the Lake moved on to three days of Fine Line Piecing.  Although I've taught this technique in many different formats, ranging from one day to five, I'm always happiest with three or more days so people have the chance to explore both "large-to-small" and "small-to-large" approaches. And I was really proud of the work people did last week!

As usual, the last day of a longer workshop often is marked by people sewing as fast as they can, wishing they could finish up before it's time to pack up and go home.  Some people did finish attractive compositions, as shown below:

Others stopped in midstream and I'm hoping they'll (a) finish up their pieces when they get home and (b) send me pictures!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

My favorite things 31

My older son is a largely self-taught wizard of all things useful, and many of his talents have shown up as artwork, mostly of the Arte Povera genre.  Here's one of his earliest productions, dating back to his career as a beginning welder.

It's a pair of sculptures, made from coat hangers.  I have always been in awe of artists who can masterfully come up with the simplest line that perfectly depicts what they're trying to draw.  George Washington clearly qualifies in that regard.

The second sculpture is actually a mobile, because the spectacles are balanced on a notch on the support.  It's too heavy to move in the breeze, and besides there isn't much of a breeze on the lower level of my cocktail cart where these pieces live, but when you pick it up or touch it it will wobble endearingly but always regain its balance.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Strip piecing at QBL

I'm teaching at Quilting By The Lake this week, two days of strip piecing and three of fine lines.  I was really pleased with the compositions that people did with strip piecing!

First, each person made six strip-pieced panels according to specified color recipes.

Then they cut up and reassembled the panels.  Some started at the edges and worked inward, while others went from the bottom up.

Some people cut their panels on the diagonal, some stuck to rectangles.  Two very different feelings.

Lots of good work!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Pixels and show entries

I had a back-and-forth the other day with somebody who was trying to get images onto a website, trying to clear up some confusion about how high the resolution needed to be.  After that question was settled, she wrote me back and talked about her frustration with trying to enter a juried show through CaFE.

"CaFE requires a pretty small file to be uploaded.  I don't remember the exact size, but I know that I was disappointed with how the photo looked when I tried to zoom in.  Of course, they also allow a detail shot.  Is this how things normally work when entering photos of artwork to be judged?  Why can't I send my 2 to 4 MB awesome photo for clarity and detail at the thread level?  Could you answer this or write a blog?"

OK, I'll take a shot!  The disclaimer: I'm not a computer geek, so those who are may correct me on the details.  But I know I'm right on the overall concept.

First off, some definitions.  Resolution is a technical term that way predates the invention of digital images; it stems from the printing industry, where photographs were translated into tiny dots of ink instead of the continuous tone of the original photo paper.  Much like pixels in a computer.  The more dots or pixels, the crisper and clearer the image.

If you have a certain number of dot/pixels in your image, it may or may not be enough to give you good resolution -- that is, a nice crisp, clear image.  Here's a photo of adorable baby Vivian, sized to a relatively stingy 100 pixels across.  If we display/print it as a tiny thumbnail, it looks OK.

100 pixels wide
But if we stretch it out to huge, we lose the definition.

100 pixels wide

Printers would deal with this issue by talking about dots per inch.  Tiny Vivian's 100 pixels are spread over a bit more than an inch, yielding 80 dpi, while large Vivian's pixels have to go farther, only 17 per inch.

So dpi is not an absolute term; it's totally relative to the size at which you display or print the image.

Why then do a lot of show sponsors specify that an image needs to be so many dpi?  Because they don't really know what they're talking about. Point 1 about misunderstanding: don't think about dpi when you're preparing your images for submission or posting.  Think about pixels.

OK -- how many pixels are we talking about?  Your point-and-shoot digital camera probably produces images 3000 to 4000 pixels wide.  A cellphone camera might give you 4600 pixels.

So why don't we just submit those big, data-rich images to the show and let the jurors zoom in for close views as they wish?  Two reasons: one technical, one human.

First, because too much data takes longer to transmit (from you to the site, or from the site to the jurors) and bogs down the server. And if you're looking at an image on a computer screen, you probably can't tell the difference between a 4000-pixel photo and an 800-pixel photo, so why even collect all that extra data?  (Maybe your computer will let you zoom your view of the two photos below and see how big you have to go before the lower one gets a whole lot nicer than the upper one; I had to go to 250% before the 800-pixel image started to break apart.)

800 pixels wide

3024 pixels wide

Second, because jurors don't want to take the time to zoom in here and there and everywhere searching for something or other, and because they don't want the responsibility of choosing which part to zoom in on -- they want the artist to choose the detail that is most telling.

Side note:  as a longtime juror, I can testify that your choice of detail shot is extremely important in making your submission attractive.  We can talk more about that in another post if anybody is interested.

Sometimes show rules will specify two or three different measurements.  There's almost always a pixel rule:  the image must be 1800 pixels on its longest side, or it must be at least 1200 pixels, or it can be no more than 1800 pixels.   That's the rule I look at, and the rule by which I resize my photos.  I always submit the most pixels I can, on general principles, just in case the image is going to be projected on a big screen for jurors to look at.

Sometimes there will be an additional rule about the image size in MB.  But here's point 2 about misunderstanding: the size of your photo in MB has nothing to do with the resolution.  It is simply a measure of how much data is stuffed into the package.  For instance, if you have futzed with an image in Photoshop, perhaps to remove a stray thread in your detail shot or lose a distracting bit of the background wall, it may end up with more data than it started out with.  The only reason show sponsors would need to specify a maximum size in MB has to do with their system: too much data takes up too much space and time.  But my suspicion is that it's much like the dpi rule, sponsors who don't know what they're talking about, and specifying the size in pixels would accomplish almost exactly the same thing.

But if you see a MB rule, check the size of your image.  If it's too big, you can either resize the image to include fewer pixels, or if your photo editing program allows it, you can choose a lower degree of resolution.  Photoshop Elements, for instance, allows you to save a 3024 x 4032 image at 100 quality (4 MB) or at 75 quality (2.36 MB) or at 60 quality (1.82 MB), or any other number you type in.  Again, if I have to lose bytes, I'll work downward, trying different settings, until I'm just barely below the rule.

And finally, sometimes there will be an additional rule about the image size in dpi.  If they have already specified a pixel rule, just ignore anything they have to say about dpi.  Remember, pixels are absolute; dpi is totally dependent on the use to which the image is put.  People who ask for both don't know what they're talking about.  At best, such a rule is redundant; at worst it's confusing and contradictory.

I hope this explanation helps.  Ask more questions if you want and I'll do my best to answer them!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Form Not Function 2 -- Best in Show

For the second year in a row, Best in Show at Form, Not Function went to Niraja Lorenz.

Niraja Lorenz, Strange Attractor #20 (details below)

If you look back at her winning quilt from 2016, you'll see that she's still very much in the same ballpark, but she's also been adding some twists to the basic recipe of extremely complex piecing.

What immediately struck my eye was that last year the large shapes were almost all hexagons, but this year she has lots of rectangles and a few pentagons as well.

Still lots of areas that remind me of my own "crazed" piecing pattern, like the beige-and-gray gridwork in the upper left corner of the detail shot below.

This is one of those quilts that you can stand and look at for a long time, always finding new little areas to engross you for a while.  The piecing is impeccable (all those areas that might have been cut from commercial striped fabrics by lazy quilters like me have actually been pieced!), the quilting is dense without detracting from the overall design, and it makes me hope that Niraja will stick with this series for a long time, even though she's already at #20.

I have to confess that I'm usually a bit disappointed when somebody takes home the big prize two years in a row -- kind of like "let somebody else have a chance already!" -- but I can't quarrel with the judge on this decision.  It's a fabulous quilt.

Form, Not Function: Quilt Art at the Carnegie continues at the Carnegie Center for Art and History in new Albany IN, just across the river from Louisville, through September 16, so there's plenty of time to plan a trip -- maybe on your way to see the eclipse?

Sunday, July 23, 2017

My favorite things 30

One Christmas many years ago, I opened this gift from my mother:

A bunch of aprons that had been accumulating in her house for decades, many of them made by the same person (I suspect it was my Aunt Freda) and probably multi-gifted to me and my sister.  I was thrilled!  What a madeleine of remembrance of time past!  Time when people wore fancy half-aprons to cover up a nice dress (although these aren't fancy enough for a REALLY nice dress)!  Time when people wore nice dresses while cooking and serving dinner!  Time when gingham was 100% cotton!

With the exception of the no-frills pink apron at left, all of the others show quite a bit of clever handwork and design -- the trim element also was functional.

The two print aprons are made in gores, and each gore is faced with the solid pink, with the facing turned to the front and hemmed -- finish and trim all in one step!  And if you're of a certain age, you will remember when "hot pink" was the trendiest, daring-est color you could wear.  (It was my favorite color for a long time.)

The two made with the small-scale gingham feature cross stitch as, again, both trim and finish.  The row of stitching up from the hem also held the hem in place.  On the red apron, the stitching on the waistband also secured the pleats.

The ones made with the large-scale gingham were cut on the bias, and the cross stitches at the waist acted as smocking to release fullness.  And after you turned your narrow hem to the front, a row of rickrack, secured with hand stitching, also sewed the hem in place.

The red apron shows the most signs of wear -- the black stitches on the pocket are worn away in many places.  This was my mother's apron, and I remember her wearing it a lot.  The ones that I think belonged to me and my sister are in much better shape.  I don't think we ever shirked our kitchen chores, but we are of the generation that started shirking the aprons.  Today I'd be amazed to meet women under 35 with aprons in their regular clothes rotation, and I'd bet real money that if there were any, their aprons wouldn't be cross-stitched gingham.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Form Not Function 1 -- Political commentary

"Form, Not Function: Quilt Art at the Carnegie" opened last night, and I'll be writing several posts about it.  It's maybe the best show in FNF's 13-year history, with not a single weak sister in the room.  I'm glad I only had to choose one award, and didn't have the responsibility of deciding on best in show!

Every year I give an award for political and social commentary at FNF.  Last year there were no quilts there thinking about politics and we reluctantly decided to make no award, but this year there were plenty of candidates.  I chose this piece because it's timely, its imagery is striking, and there's certainly no doubt where the maker stands.

Jennifer Reis, Portrait of a Young Man: Trump in Drag (details below)

There's a lot going on in a relatively small space: presidents both off and on large bills, a Carmen-Miranda headdress of costume jewelry, little pompoms as an inner border, a flag, a motto, and a bazillion sequins and beads, all hand-stitched.  Impeccably crafted and presented on a stretched foundation.

I liked it a lot!

The show will be open at the Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany IN through September 16.  Well worth a detour, although the museum is only five blocks off I-64.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

My birthday present

My sons took me out last week for a birthday celebration, perfectly calibrated to the things I love to do, and none of the things I don't.  First off, sushi for lunch.

Next, two store visits, in which  the guys would buy me anything I wanted -- the restaurant supply store and Harbor Freight, that cheap-crap extravaganza where you can buy the low-end Chinese version of any tool you might ever want.  Ah yes, they know me well -- I don't do well in fancy stores but show me stuff for $1.99 and I am happy.

In each of the stores we walked every one of the aisles, discussing all the things for sale -- what you might use them for, what makes them so expensive (or so cheap).  Stories of kitchen and shop mishaps of the past abounded.  A few legitimate needs were answered, plus a bunch of impulse buys, but of course the conversation and the companionship were the best parts of the afternoon.

Here are some of my new toys:

a sheath for my good Wusthof knife

an array of clamps, magnets, wire brushes and a little tape measure with a carabiner to hook onto your belt

and best of all, a little pull saw.  For years I've been working with a little electric saw that cuts nice and clean until the last 1/16th of an inch, at which point the wood breaks off in a splinter (lots of sandpaper used in my shop).  And for years I've been bemoaning the lack of a decent vise to hold the wood while I cut it.

The new saw solves both problems.  Because it cuts on the pull stroke, you don't need a vise, just a piece of wood clamped to the bench.  Nestle your dowel or whatever against the lip, hold the saw horizontally and saw against the edge of the wood till the teeth just graze the surface of the bench.  Just a bit of guidance from your left hand to hold the other end of the dowel against the wood lip, while the action of the saw holds the business end firmly in place with each stroke.

A wonderful birthday celebration!  We sure raised a couple of great kids.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

My favorite things 29

My parents were great travelers in their later years, just as happy on a cargo ship as on an ocean liner or driving across the Canadian plains.  But as they hit the high 80s they realized that their usual intrepid travel M.O was getting more difficult.  So Ken and I decided to help them out with one last hurrah.  The four of us went to Norway in 1999 to take the famous Hurtigruten cruise, originally the route of the mail boats that carried mail, cargo and passengers along the coast, serving communities that might not have road connections to the rest of the country.

Today the ships still leave Bergen every afternoon, headed for Kirkenes at the Russian border, and take 13 days on the round trip, stopping at 26 ports along the way.  In the big town of Trondheim the stop is six hours; in some of the tiny places it might be ten minutes, perhaps in the middle of the night.  The ships still carry cargo -- our favorite was the one-meter-cubes of salted cod, shrinkwrapped on pallets and left on the dock to be loaded on the next vessel -- but there are as many tourists as locals on the voyage.

Ken and I humped the baggage -- eight big bags among the four of us -- on and off planes, trains, buses, cabs and ships, while Mom and Dad enjoyed the trip.  It was their last big expedition.

I bought only one souvenir on the trip: a reindeer horn which I bought at an outdoor market at one of the towns in Lapland.  Others in my family didn't think much of this purchase, unwieldy to pack in a suitcase, and besides, what did I need with a reindeer horn?  They were right on both counts, but it called to me.  Not only was it unwieldy to bring home, but it has been unwieldy for 18 years.  It currently lives in my office, hooked over the window crank handle.  Inconvenient when I want to open the window, but it still calls to me, saying "I'm so glad you brought me here."

On the way home we changed planes in Reykjavik and Mom bought me these three little ceramic pieces at the airport gift shop.  They're small, the hallmark of a great souvenir, and adorable.  The church is 2 1/2 inches tall, and they're all about 3/4 inch deep and a bit wonky.  Something about the simple but jaunty structures always reminds me of that trip, a glimpse of a calmer, less complex time and place.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Cleaning up the slut dolls

Being the kind of grandmother who doesn't buy toys for the kids, I had been blissfully ignorant of slut dolls -- the modern-day Barbies that present their own warped vision of women, except even worse.  I was too old to play with Barbies as a kid but have certainly read reams of commentary about their figures, their wardrobes, their roles in society, mostly agreeing that Barbie is no friend to feminists.  Now that bad vibe has morphed into slut dolls, those that look like hookers on the stroll, complete with collagen-fat lips, too much eye makeup, stilettos and waistband-length skirts.

But my friend Denise has discovered a way to repurpose slut dolls into lovely little girls with no makeup, appropriate clothing and a nice, innocent look, and giving them to her 7-year-old granddaughter.  It all started when she happened upon the work of an Australian artist and mom, Sonia Singh, who has created a little empire of Tree Change Dolls.  Apparently you can buy them on eBay, but Denise was drawn to the directions for DIY.

It's simple -- rescue doll from thrift store, remove the painted face with acetone, then paint on age-appropriate features.  Strip off the hookerwear and make better clothes.  Cut and restyle hair as needed.  Slice down the feet.

Here's a before-and-after pair.  Denise enlisted our friend Bette to crochet a sweater for this new look doll, who also got a haircut and a lovely new hat.  Fortunately she already owned a pair of full-length jeans, even if the sequins are a bit flashy. New shoes or boots are still to come.

Denise has several dolls in process, a worthy endeavor for any artistic grandmother.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Permission granted -- or maybe not

A couple of years ago I taught a class in fine line piecing in Boston, after which one of the students, G. Wong, made a couple of quite large quilts using that technique.  She wrote me last year to ask permission to enter her quilts in a show, and then wrote again last week to tell me that one of those quilts won three ribbons at the Vermont Quilt Festival in June.

G. Wong, Going on a Trip 2

And she wanted permission again, to enter the Road to California show.  I responded to her email immediately and said "I'd be happy for you to exhibit any of your fine lines quilts at Road to California, or anywhere else.  I don't feel that I own this technique any more than any other teacher "owns" whatever she teaches."

Then I looked up the new show rules and had second thoughts -- not about giving her permission, but about being asked to give permission.  Apparently this big show has changed its rules, redefining categories and including a strict new "copyright release" form.

I'd like to think that these new rules will crack down on the indiscriminate copying of other people's photos or paintings into quilt format, practices which have bothered me in the past.  However, I suspect that for every copycat work that doesn't get entered in Road to California, at least one will come up with enough paperwork to do so anyway.  (I am not so much bothered by copying photos without permission as I am by copying photos period.)

What does bother me about the new rules is not the first paragraph, which reads "If you use the designs, photography, art, pattern or quilt created by another person as the source of your design, you must obtain that individual's written permission....  This applies whether you have copied, altered, or used only a portion of the design."

OK so far -- but then the second paragraph says "This is considered derivative work, which by definition is 'something that is based on another source' and 'imitative of the work of another person.' Designs are considered intellectual property and are covered under the copyright laws of the United States."

Now think for a minute, and show me any painting ever displayed in any museum, or any quilt ever displayed in any quilt show, that isn't "based on another source."

After I thought about this for a while I wrote my student back again and told her "I don't think your quilts in any way infringe on my copyright.  I don't believe that you can copyright an idea, and you certainly have not used my designs, photography, art, pattern or quilt in making yours.  I also don't believe that their definition of derivative work is helpful in this situation, as just about every quilt ever made is based on another source.  I don't consider the fine line piecing technique to be my intellectual property and would never dream of suing you.

In the interests of protecting artists' rights I would prefer that you not sign the copyright release, since I do not believe you are infringing upon my copyright or that I have any potential legal claim.  I think you should check the "maker's original design" box on the form.

I understand you may be hesitant to follow my preference, since the show organizers have defined "copyright" so broadly, in which case feel free to submit my earlier email if you are asked for it.  But if you're feeling feisty then I encourage you to submit this as an original design, which I believe it is."

I wonder what effect these new rules will have on the quality of work in the Road to California show.  Will it cut down on the quilts that simply copy a photo?  Will it cut down on quilts made from patterns or copied from somebody else's quilt?

And I especially wonder how other teachers will respond when their former students or the purchasers of their book ask for permission to enter a quilt made with those ideas.  Will they ask to see a photo of the quilt to see whether it's a slavish copy or just a vague sorta-copy?  Will they deny permission?  (And if so, will they announce that fact far enough in advance for people to not attend the workshop or get their money back?)  Will they charge for permission?  Will they hold their former students and readers in artistic indentured servitude for years or decades?

Perhaps I'm being too pessimistic.  And I'm not sure what motivation is behind the new Road to California rules, or what they're trying to weed out.  But I'll check on the winners when they're announced in January and see whether the rules have delivered an excellent crop of work, or just more of the same-old, same-old.

What do you think?  

Sunday, July 9, 2017

My favorite things 28

For many years my husband was a prolific gardener, tending huge swaths of flowers in every part of our heaven's-half-acre, and I was the happy recipient of armloads of blooms throughout growing season.  I always had flowers to take to work, and several vases going in the house.  Which meant I needed lots of vases.  And many of the vases took on specialized functions: this one perfect for daffodils, this one for tulips, that one for the single bloom with a two-inch stem.

Our flower production is nowhere what it used to be, thanks to the inexorable growth of the deer population and my husband's desire to spend less time weeding, but we do have gladiolas in the summer, and when there are a whole lot of them, we use this pitcher as a vase.  Tall enough to support tall stems, wide enough at the bottom to provide stability even when the flowers are cantilevered out in space, with a convenient handle for carrying.

It was a wedding present to my grandmother, more than a century ago, Sèvres porcelain, with a dainty design of berries.  As most of our glads these days are in shades of pink, it's color-coordinated as well as beautiful in its own right.

When I first acquired this pitcher, from my mother's downsized collection, it was dedicated to lemonade; a big can of frozen lemonade just about filled the pitcher when I doctored it up with more water and more lemon juice.  But somewhere along the line it transmogrified from pitcher to vase, and changed its allegiance from lemonade to glads.  I think it's happier this way.  I know I am.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Grandchildren and fiber art 2

We have this new grandchild, two months old today, who lives only two miles up the road, and we get to see her quite frequently.  The only problem is that almost every time we see her she's asleep.

Her parents will call us and say "She just woke up, and we just fed her, and she's all bouncy and wide awake, how about if we bring her over right now?"  But when they arrive, fifteen minutes later, she's back asleep.  We'll take turns holding her, poking her cheek and wiggling her arm and even putting a cold glass against her tummy, but she just dreams on.  It's gotten to be a big joke in the family.

So here's the doting grandma, tired of wake-up games.  Some day the kid will be running around this very living room talking a lot and leaving her toys underfoot.  For now, give me my crocheting and a glass of wine.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Grandchildren and fiber art 1

A couple of years ago when I was teaching at the Crow Barn I brought home three grocery bags full of other people's fabric discards.  Because I was teaching fine line piecing, and Nancy Crow was teaching strip piecing upstairs, there were lots of leftover strips donated to my recycling art.  I've been working with these strips ever since, sorting out and sewing together those that match into little compositions.

By now I'm really down to the dregs, a half bag full of the very last of the scraps.

But there's still some use in them.  The six-year-old roots through the bag when he sews.  Last week he found a couple of bits of strip piecing that became the centerpiece of a hanging he made for his mother.

He added some sew-off squares and some paper circles that were left from one of my projects in which I made holes in cards.

One of the things that I love about sewing with children is that they make you think twice about what can't or shouldn't be done.  I had pulled out a couple of sew-off squares and set them by the machine, thinking that he might want to sew off the edge.  He decided to sew them into the composition instead.  My first thought was oh no, those aren't for your hanging, they're for sewing off the edge.  Fortunately, I held my tongue.

Similarly, my first response, when he asked whether he could use the paper circles, was no -- I had just put in a brand new needle after a couple of days of sewing on paper.  But quickly enough I thought why not, and replaced the new needle with the old dull one, which had conveniently been set aside, pinned into a piece of paper to signify its low caste.

The sew-offs and the circles do enliven the work a lot, even though I probably wouldn't have thought to use them if I had been the artist.  Maybe the moral of this story is to pretend you're working with a six-year-old even when you're just working with yourself.  When your first reaction is no, I can't do that, stop for a minute and say why not?