Sunday, December 29, 2019

End of the year on Art With a Needle

Maybe you noticed that there has been no "last week on Art with a Needle" since before Christmas.  That's because we have been on vacation and who wants to write blog posts when you can be walking on the beach (or fixing meals for your adorable grandchildren and their adorable parents).

For more than thirty years we have been going to the beach in South Carolina at or near Christmas, not every year, but regularly enough that we notice when a favorite restaurant closes or a favorite grocery store changes ownership.  Some years it's pretty warm, other years pretty cold, but usually it's warmer in South Carolina than it is at home and we feel lucky.  In earlier years we shlepped the kids to all the obvious tourist attractions in and around Charleston, but lately we never seem to do much except walk on the beach.  Or, this year, play cards and board games while it rained six inches in one day and walking on the beach didn't seem like such a good plan.

But the storm ended, the sun came out, and a big storm means a bumper crop of shells and what my daughter-in-law calls "sea junk" to pick up.  Sometimes we leave our sea junk artfully arranged on the railing of the rental porch.  Sometimes we bring it home, whereupon we throw it out.  Other times we bring it home and stash it in the work room where with any luck it does not stink the place up.  But this year, I processed the smallest bits of sea junk to make daily miniatures (and brought the larger bits home, where with any luck.....).

Just before we left I wrote about helping Isaac make a pillow to give to his dad.  Bethany left a comment: "I have a little grandson that will be very happy to see Isaac's pillow -- he loves to sew with me by hand and at 5, he is almost ready for lessons."  Well, your little boy is doing it the opposite way from Isaac, who learned on the sewing machine first but isn't much interested in hand-stitching.  If you're thinking about graduating him to the machine, you might want to read some of my past posts about teaching kids to sew.

It's getting late in the year, but I'm still hoping that Sharon Buck will send me her street address so I can send her an ornament!

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Kid at the sewing machine!

Isaac accompanied his mom to the fabric store last week and saw some fabric with deer.  He wanted to buy it and make a pillow to give to his father, who loves to hunt.  So he came over yesterday to sew.

Although Isaac has been using the sewing machine for four years now, it has always been collage/applique.  All he had to do was pivot the fabric to point in the direction he wanted to sew, and pedal-to-the-metal.  We never cared whether the stitching went right down the middle, or if it caught the entire piece being attached, as long as the seam didn't run off the edge of the base fabric.  He had never attempted to sew a straight seam, nor keep the raw edges to the inside.  So this project was going to be a challenge.

Fortunately, he rose to the occasion.  After all, he's nine years old now!  I cut out the squares of fabric in advance, then put a piece of blue painter's tape on the sewing machine table so he could maintain a half-inch seam allowance.  I marked the corners with a pencil dot so he knew when to stop sewing and pivot.  But he did all the rest.

The hardest part came at the end, after we turned the pillow cover inside out, stuffed it and pinned the last side closed.  It took help to hold the foam rubber away from the pillow edge so the gap could be neatly stitched shut.  But we managed that part too.  Here's Isaac with his finished present:

And the winner is...

Sharon Buck, who's going to get an ornament from me -- if she sends me her snail mail address. 

(I'm at if anybody ever needs to find me.)

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Last week on Art With a Needle

I spent four days at the retreat center, an outing that always comes at the most inconvenient time -- we have a perpetual reservation for the second week in December.  Yes, it might be more efficient to be at home working on Christmas ornaments or getting a start on holiday baking or just cleaning the studio, but a small group of us write it on the calendar a year ahead of time and we show up, even though it may mean missing another meeting or driving in from the retreat center for a meeting we need to attend. 

I didn't accomplish much art, but I did go through many, many piles of accumulated stuff and got the stuff read, sorted, acted upon or thought about, as the case may be.  A huge grocery bag full of discarded paper to go in the recycling bin.  I also did my good deed for the joint causes of friendship and literature by reading the draft of a mystery novel written by the husband of one of my art pals.  I'm a good editor, if I do say so myself, and I love mystery stories, so I was happy to spend time with this book and think about what I liked, what I felt was not fully explained, where I wanted more detail, and similar global issues.

I read a neat book about hand embroidery that one of my friends had brought along, and got a bunch of ideas that I'd like to experiment with.  The same friend showed me some little dolls she had gotten from Guatemala, dressed in bits of handwoven fabrics, which in turn inspired me to make a little doll as a daily miniature.

little dolls from Guatemala -- maybe one inch tall?
my favorite miniature -- the dress is a scrap from Vickie's quilt

Since returning home, I've been sewing on ornaments.  All the international ones are in the mail, but several in the US still have to be sent, plus the hand-delivered ones in town.  Left it too late this year, I guess.

Susan Sawatzky was so kind as to send me a link to a YouTube video on calligraphy, but when I went to the site I was told the video is unavailable.  Sob.  I'd love some new ideas on calligraphy.  This week, preoccupied with affairs of state, I have mostly been copying the Constitution.  Sounds boring, but we could all probably do with a refresher course in what that wonderful document says and thus how our government works.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

On retreat

Every December I spend four days at a quilters' retreat place with a small group of art pals.  Much as it's great to concentrate on art for a while, I have gotten into the habit of using my retreat time to attack my huge piles of papers accumulated over months.

Here I am on Monday morning, with a table full of boxes of piles.

( You're only seeing half of what I brought.)

After a day and a half of work, I've cleared two boxes, caught up on photographing my daily miniatures (I was two weeks behind), gave a tutorial on my quilt facing method, and had a really great night's sleep!

Others in the group are actually making fiber art.  Robin Walston has a new quilt on the design wall:

Debby Levine, my bridge-walking companion for many years, is working out how to knit silhouettes of Louisville's bridges into caps:

The week is off to a good start.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Last week on Art With a Needle

Seems like I didn't do anything all week except work for PYRO Gallery.  I did a shift of gallery-sitting on Sunday, went in on Wednesday morning to hang my work, made the gallery tags for everything in the new show, printed them out and helped affix then to the wall on Thursday morning, went back Friday noon with a few more tags that for some reason hadn't been finished in time, came back at 5 to help set out the food for the reception, talked with dozens of people during the reception, made a few wall tags for new work that replaced things sold at the reception, and then back again to work a shift this afternoon.

It was an exhilarating week, because we had a very successful opening, but I am looking forward to not setting foot in the gallery for the foreseeable future.

Three of my pieces sold last night, all of them the little postage stamp hangings.  This morning I rooted around in my boxes and found one more postage stamp piece that I hadn't taken in, and found another one pinned to my design wall, which with 15 minutes work was ready to be hung.  So I hung the two new pieces in the holes left by the sold work.

six postage stamp hangings, before the opening reception

minus three, plus two, this afternoon

A comment on the blog this week from Rose, who noted my mention of my broken ankle and told me about HER broken ankle last year.  I had it so much easier than she did, and so much easier than a lot of other people I have talked to who broke ankles or other pedal bones.  I am so fortunate -- it could have been so much worse.  I guess we're getting to the age range where it's so much more common to fall, and to suffer consequences.  I wish for all my friends and readers a great new year, free of broken bones and other misfortunes.

Here's my favorite miniature of the week:

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

On the wall for Off The Wall

PYRO Gallery's new show, which opens tomorrow, is called Off The Wall, because if you buy something, you can take it off the wall and take it home with you right away.  Usually work purchased from a gallery show has to stay in place till the show closes, but we recognize that holiday gifts can't wait till December 28.

All the PYRO artists have work in this show, and I had hoped to have some new work ready to put up.  But between the broken ankle and the long cruise, I've been out of commission too much to get a lot made.  Besides, I need to hoard my new work for my solo show in June.

So I have a wall full of oldies but goodies, plus two new little postage stamp quilts.  I got them hung this morning but the wall tags aren't up yet.

If you're anywhere near Louisville, come by and see the show!  We're open Thursday through Saturday, noon to 6 pm.  The opening reception is this Friday, December 6, 6 to 9 pm.  PYRO is at 1006 E. Washington St. in Louisville.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Last week on Art With a Needle

Last week started in frustration (trying to get going on my annual ornaments), took a break for a big Thanksgiving feast, then ended in a LOT of sewing.

I worked on ornaments, now that I have finally pretty much figured out what to do, plus two small postage stamp quilts that I want to put into the holiday show at PYRO Gallery and must be finished by Monday or Tuesday.

Every December we have a group show at the gallery, in which every member of the co-op has work on display, and we try to include things toward the inexpensive end of the scale to be more appealing for gift purchases.  I am mostly showing old work, because my artmaking is focused on a solo show that will open in mid-June -- not all that far off.  But I thought I would make a couple of new postage stamp pieces because they have sold well in the past.  So here they are, sewed together, awaiting their hanging rods.

Readers left a bunch of comments about not being able to find things.  Anne wrote: "That's what always happens when I try to clean up.  I can't find stuff!"  Rose wrote: "I can so relate to spending hours hunting for something.  Too often for me, it is something I have just had.  And then there are the times I spend half an hour looking for something I have had and haven't moved since I had it last!"

Carol wrote: "What I hate is when I think I am not going to use a tool anymore and gift it to someone.  Then a blog friend piques my interest again and I have to decide if I want to buy another one."  Amen, Carol -- and I wish I remembered who has my embellisher machine (aka needle-felter), which I did not give away but loaned, maybe three years ago?  and it has never come home...

Finally, Boomer Rose wanted to see exactly what I'm making for the ornament because she might be able to make some before Christmas.  I don't want to post photos of the ornaments until Christmas Day, because many of the recipients are readers of the blog and I don't want to spoil the surprise.  But Rose, if you send me your email, I'll send you pictures and helpful hints.  Same goes for anybody else who might be inspired to make some little goodies for your tree.

And there's still time (until Monday) to leave a comment and maybe you can be the lucky reader to get an ornament all your own! 

Here's my favorite miniature of the week:

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Ornaments -- more obstacles to overcome

Last week I finally came up with a plan for my annual Christmas ornaments, and delegated my daughter-in-law to buy some white wool felt for me.  Yes, I was planning to not only use felt, but felt the felt -- I had some bits and pieces of other colored wool felt left from previous projects and thought I would needle-felt them together onto the white background.

But first I had to find my needle-felting tool.  It had been in my work box for months, at the ready in case I wanted to felt up a miniature for my daily art project.  Toward the end of summer I decided to police up the studio, and I put the needle-felting tool away. 

Bad plan. 

Where is "away"?

I spent all day Tuesday trying to find the tool.  Meanwhile, I put away many, many, many other things that I found in the studio that didn't belong out on the worktables.  Lots of fabric and thread that needed to be folded up and stowed back in the drawers.  Lots of open boxes of whatever that could be closed up and put back on the shelves.  Lots of stuff that could be thrown away.  But no needle-felting tool.

This morning I went out to buy a new one.  At only the second store, I found one!  I read the back of the package to re-familiarize myself with how it works.  The barbed needles are encased in a protective floating plastic sheath so you don't stab yourself.  To use it, turn the sheath to the Unlock position and when you press down on the handle, the sheath will stop when it hits the surface of the felt, while the needles continue to penetrate and felt the wool. 

Except my sheath wouldn't stay in the Unlock position, with the red market dots aligned.  It popped back an eighth of an inch, just enough so the needles couldn't float free and penetrate the wool.  (This photo, of course, is upside down -- when you use the tool the needles point down into the felt and the handle is up in your hand.)

After some muttering and cussing I decided that I could just wire the sheath open.  It wouldn't pass the user safety test, but it should allow me to finish my project.

So finally I started to apply the needles to the felt.  But after at least a minute of energetic stabbing, I realized that the two pieces of wool weren't adhering to another at all.  Hmmm.  I tried some other bits of wool and they didn't work either. 

By now I had spent a full work day in the studio, plus a half day of shopping, and still didn't have a thing to show for it.  Time to go to Plan G, or whatever letter I had reached. 

So I sewed the two pieces of felt together instead of felting them.  In two more hours of studio time I got almost one quarter of my ornaments well underway.  Finally, a plan that is working.

For which I am thankful.

PS I guess you have all been busy grocery shopping and baking pies for the holiday, instead of reading blogs.  I am extending my offer to give away an ornament to a reader who leaves a comment until Monday.  And now that you know that the ornament is going to be made of felt but sewed together, I bet you really, really want one.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Last week on Art with a Needle

Longtime readers know that every year I make personalized ornaments for a slew of family and friends.  Some years it's easier than others to figure out what to make, but often I stew over many different plans before finally stumbling, exhausted, onto what I want to do. 

So far this year I have settled on, and then rejected, (1) making organza envelopes into which I would slip a calligraphed Christmas or holiday song, (2) machine embroidering everybody's name onto canvas, perhaps accompanied with a portrait of Santa Claus, (3) calligraphing the names onto paper and mounting on mat board, and probably a few others that came and went before even developing into plans.  But today I not only made a decision, but sent my daughter-in-law on a mission to buy the materials I need while she was in the fabric store. 

I did this guy as a miniature, then decided my drawing skills and endurance aren't up to doing it 50 times.

This is not the latest I've ever gotten started on my ornaments -- I have left it as late as the day after Thanksgiving -- but it's sure down there in the bottom decile and I'm not proud of it.  This week will be a busy one. 

Every year I like to make an ornament for one or two of my blog followers, just to say thanks for reading.  If you'd like to be in the running, leave a comment before Thanksgiving evening.

After I wrote about my daily calligraphy while I was away on the sea, Rachel commented: "I found the densely packed script far more interesting and inviting than the regular script."  I think I agree.  I have even considered tearing some of those pages out of my sketchbooks and framing them as freestanding Works Of Art.  Or maybe it would look dumb to have the date on each page, and I should make some new ones, without dates, that aren't part of the daily art project.

Here's my favorite ornament of the week, a little accordion book made from a postcard announcing a museum show:

You can check out all my daily art, calligraphy and miniatures, on my daily art blog HERE.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Daily art on the road 2 -- calligraphy

As we set off on our cruise I planned carefully for my daily art projects; before we left I hit the art supply store and bought some new pen holders and a couple of nibs to complement my existing supplies, plus two new bottles of ink.  After we got on the airplane heading for Rome, after dinner, I hauled out my sketchbook and pens.  But when I fished in my carry-on for the ink, it wasn't there.  I searched.  I searched in the other carry-on.  No luck.

TSA must have seized the ink -- even though each bottle was well under three ounces, and they were sealed in a regulation-size baggie.  Usually they will tell you when they confiscate your stuff (I sometimes think they really like that part of the job) but I figured it happened while I was tediously taking off my orthopedic boot to be separately screened and even more tediously replacing it.  I cussed and muttered, and found some gel pens in my art box to do that day's writing.  I fretted about how nasty it was going to be using just those two pens for a whole month -- and one of them was already starting to run out of ink.

The next morning, after we got off the plane I googled "art supply stores in Civitavecchia" and found one within (long) walking distance of the hotel, but it turned out to sell housepaint, not artist things.  I cussed and muttered.  But then I happened upon a stationery store in the same block as the hotel, and they had a big display of pens.  I bought half a dozen (and later wished I had bought even more).

That got me through a lot of daily calligraphy, although I still cussed and muttered every time I saw my unused pens and nibs in my box. The days when I wrote passages from the books I read were particularly frustrating.  I have become enamored of the flexibility of the dip nibs that give the beautiful thick-and-thin strokes, and writing with a plain old round penpoint seemed graceless and without character, even if the colors were beautiful.

On many days I would write many layers of script, so densely packed on the page that you just see color rather than words.

Other times I would revisit my old "cascading letters" drawings.

About halfway through the cruise I had a brainstorm -- I brewed up three teabags in about a half-inch of boiling water, and after it got good and dark I stashed the cup in a drawer to evaporate and, I hoped, get even darker.

Several days later the tea was getting dark and sludgy, but it seemed too gooey to use with a pen.  But wait -- here's a brush in my art supply box!

The first couple of days, the ink was still pretty pale.

But by the end of the cruise it was darker, and I had learned to put a second dab of tea over the letters before they got fully dry.  Of course, just when it was getting good, it was time to leave and I had to pitch my homebrew.
Much as I cussed and muttered about losing my ink, and was frustrated and bored with using the plain-tip pens, I was happy doing my calligraphy every day.  Almost to the end of the year, and I still have a thrill each day when I open the sketchbook and select my pen and my text.  And working under the constraints of very limited supplies did inspire some creativity, which was fun.

P.S.  When we got home last week, what did I find on the kitchen counter but a little ziplock bag with two bottles of ink.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Daily art on the road 1 -- miniatures

I have always defined my daily art with the full knowledge that we like to travel, so my projects have to be portable.  Since we were decadent and took lots of luggage, I would have been able to take even more supplies than I did, but there's a certain excitement in working with constraints.

For my daily miniature, the rule is that I have to make something to pack into a tiny 1 1/2 x 2-inch plastic bag (no fair just picking up a piece of stuff).  So I needed some tools and supplies:

Two spools of thread (on our last long vacation I took only one and got a little bored, so I splurged this time), a little jar of seed beads in assorted colors, some wire, scissors and tweezers.  A needle, which I neglected to put in this photo.  And a glue stick, which expired en route and did not come home with me.

But I augmented these sparse supplies with a lot of stuff that I found along the way.  For instance, here are the miniatures I made during the week of October 20:

Three little books made from paper acquired along the way: a flyer from the jewelry shop on board (no, I don't remember why they had elephants on the cover); a map of  Kotor, Montenegro; and the admission ticket to a tiny church in Croatia with a Tintoretto above the altar.

Four found objects tied up with wire or thread, embellished with beads:  some nicely shaped twigs, a clam shell from the bouillabaisse dinner, two metal doodads found on the docks.
Nothing from this particular week, but sometimes I would make elaborate knotted constructions, especially on days when we watched a movie in the cabin and I needed some handwork.

I like working with constrained supplies; it forces me to be creative and attentive to my surroundings.  So I have always found my travel days to be particularly enjoyable as I try to find something new and different for daily art.  Yes, there are times when I get sick of the only two colors of thread that I brought along (that's when I start using the string from the teabags).  And yes, there are times when today's miniature looks a whole lot like yesterday's.  But that's part of the game.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Last month on Art With a Needle

Faithful readers with not enough to do may have noticed that my usual "last week" posts, always done late on a Saturday night, have been missing in action for a while.  That's because I have just spent four blissful weeks on a cruise ship, neglecting my blogging simply because it's too much work to do it via phone or kindle without regular internet access.  So here's a catch-up post. 

We flew to Rome on October 15, spent one night in a waterfront hotel in the port city of Civitavecchia, and boarded our ship on Friday afternoon.  Eleven days poking about the eastern Mediterranean, visiting small port cities in Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Greece, Malta and Italy, then back to Civitavecchia before heading west, stopping in Spain and Madeira before going to Florida.  The ports where we made day stops were kind of second-tier tourist attractions; nothing much to write home about unless you had been a devotee of Game of Thrones (we weren't) and liked Dubrovnik, the old city where it was filmed.  Mostly our routine was to go ashore, stroll about for a while, find a sidewalk cafe and drink a beer before returning to the ship.  Low-key, but totally satisfying.

A big pivo in Kotor, Montenegro 
For us the best part of the cruise was not the shore visits but the sea days, with nothing to do and nowhere to go except two classical music concerts with a piano quintet (two violins, one viola, one cello, one piano).  I read 15 books in 26 days and took naps (I caught a cold midway through and was wiped out for a week). 

We sat on our balcony a lot, enjoying the balmy weather, smooth seas and mesmerizing sea -- or on days in port, watching the parade of people, vehicles, containers, boats and ships on the dock below and in the water. 

The view from our balcony -- Catania, Sicily

The last stretch of the voyage, from Madeira (off the coast of Africa) to Fort Lauderdale, was seven days, during which we had to adjust for five hours time difference.  That meant five 25-hour days.  Considering that the Sunday in November when we go off daylight time and get back our extra hour has always been my favorite day of the year, this was heaven on earth.

I did my two daily art projects every day -- I'll write later about how that worked out -- but other than that, just relaxed.  No cooking, no housework, no telemarketers.  What could be better!

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Calligraphy update -- writing brut

One of the sources that I keep returning to for calligraphy inspiration is a book by Denise Lach.  She includes several gorgeous compositions written with a pipette or a coke-can pen, writing instruments that deliberately sacrifice control for serendipity.  I love that kind of art, so I've been trying to get something good with my own crude implements.

I have a coke-can pen, made with a curved piece of a coke can wrapped around a tongue depresser.  The necks of my ink bottles are too narrow to let me dip this pen, so I fill it with the eye droppers.  When the pen goes in certain directions it sputters and produces the most beautiful irregular lines, but in other directions the line has no character at all.  Also the pen runs out of ink too fast, so I'm always having to refill it, after which I get a long passage of too-fat, too-black writing.

coke-can pen
I've been using this pen a lot, hoping that I'll figure out how to use it better, but that doesn't seem to be happening.

I have been using a small coffee-stirrer straw as my pipette substitute, dipping it into the ink and holding a finger on top of the straw to keep it from all running out in a huge blob.  As with the coke-can pen, I can sometimes get beautiful stuttery lines, but they are outnumbered and overpowered by the just plain blah, too-black letters.

coffee stirrer
Don't know if I want to keep trying, or maybe make a new pen, or find a new pipette-type tube, or just stop.  So beautiful when Denise does it, so mediocre when I do.

coke-can pen

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Trends in cover design

I was looking to borrow a new E-book from the library and saw that they have a "collection" of more than 100 books of World War 2 fiction.  Recent fiction about WW2, that is, not fiction written during WW2.  And I hadn't scrolled very far down the page before I started noticing a trend in cover design.

Perhaps you can notice it too:

Until now, I did not realize that WW2 fiction is so popular.  Nor did I realize that we apparently have no idea whether people in those days even had faces, let alone what they might have looked like.