Thursday, February 28, 2019

Great idea for workshops

As "education chair" of my local fiber and textile art group, I get to organize workshops and as a side benefit, show up to give out nametags, collect money and say hello.  Sometimes I hang around for a while to see what's going on.  Earlier this week I dropped in at a book-making workshop led by Debbie Shannon.

She wasn't sure exactly what people wanted to get from the workshop.  With a room full of intermediate-to-advanced artists, she knew that having everybody do the same project wasn't going to go over well; some people would want to finish one book, while others would want to make samples of two or three different kinds to have as references for future work.  Some might want to know where you buy this or that or how you work with a particular kind of paper; others might think it a waste of time to talk about that.

So Debbie did an approach that I'd never seen before -- but plan to steal and use in the future.

She gave each person a half dozen tiny post-it notes and told them to put their names or initials on each one.  Then she had a sheet on the wall with a half dozen possible subjects for discussion.  Each person was asked to put a post-it note above any subject she wanted to cover in the workshop.

The finished grid showed what the group wanted to do, and what they didn't particularly care about.  this way Debbie could make sure to cover the important subjects -- learning to make three different book structures -- and leave those less interesting to the end, or not at all.  So much more efficient than asking for show of hands, or proceeding with a set lesson plan only to learn that many of the people in the class were bored or frustrated.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Last week on Art With a Needle

After my post about a workshop I led for SAQA/Indiana, a commenter wrote:  "This experience of yours reminds me of the value of taking a hands-on class over an on-line one....  I found these kinds of group evaluations always turned up unexpected ideas.  A pooling of knowledge energizes the whole experience.  Something similar CAN happen with on-line classes, but something is lost by not being in the same room with each other."

I have to agree that being in the same room with other people is usually the best part of attending a workshop.  Even when the teacher is fabulous, it's better to be there when others are learning and doing alongside you.  If the teacher is less than fabulous, it's really better to have comrades in learning; often you can come up with a group DIY response that compensates for whatever holes the teacher has left unfilled.

From the teacher's standpoint, it's also helpful to have several people in the room.  If one doesn't understand your point, another often asks the right question; if one is being obdurate or crabby or goes off on a tangent, the others can often exert peer pressure to bring her back in line.

I have had good experiences with on-line classes -- the Photoshop classes from The Pixeladies were wonderful and I recommend them to any quilter who wants to up her tech skills -- but I have also had lukewarm ones.  The better ones, as I recall, were those in which there was group conversation as well as individual back-and-forth with the teacher.  Which is exactly the point!!

I had my second cataract removed on Wednesday and am thrilled with my wonderful new distance vision.  For the first time since I was six years old, I can see out the window without lenses, and the trees are in focus!  The tradeoff, of course, is that my wonderful new distance eyes are useless up close.  I'm experimenting with my husband's drugstore reading glasses and they let me read, but I get vertigo if I try to look or walk across the room with them on.  Another trip to the drugstore seems in order to find a better prescription.  But this should last only a month until the eyes are both fully healed and I get new glasses.

Meanwhile I'm doing my daily calligraphy and my daily miniatures even though I can't really see what I'm doing.  It will be interesting to look at these pieces later and see how bad they are!  Here's my favorite miniature of the week, front and back:

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Hand-stitching -- the workshop 2

I wrote last week about the workshop I led on hand stitching onto a finished quilt.  After practicing stitching onto sample sandwiches in the morning, people pulled out their own quilts and decided what to do.

Whenever you teach a workshop the first time, you are surprised at how it turns out.  I had anticipated that people would be productively stitching away within minutes.  But instead, we spent the entire afternoon on evaluation and auditions.

We put the quilts up on a design wall and talked about what they needed next.  Usually the maker already had an idea of what she wanted to do next, but sometimes after we kicked the tires, it turned out she needed to do something else.  Some people knew there was a problem with the quilt but weren't sure what it was, so we talked about design, composition, color palette.

Eventually each quilt got to the color-choice stage, where we draped floss in various colors over the quilts, stood back twenty feet, and contemplated which ones worked (and which ones were even visible!).

We did the first couple of evaluations with everybody listening, and from then on people could bring their work for "private" consults -- but many of the participants decided they would rather listen in on a lot of consults than do much stitching on their own.  That was good, because many times the comments from the onlookers were more helpful than the comments from the teacher.

So the workshop changed course in midstream.  Instead of a lot of practice in hand stitching, it turned into a lot of practice in evaluation and auditioning.  In the long run, practicing those skills is probably going to be way more valuable than practicing how to make french knots on a thick, densely stitched quilt (hint: use pliers to pull the needle through).

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Last week on Art With a Needle

Readers had some great suggestions about how I could free up my calligraphy, such as writing left-handed, holding the pen way up at the tip so it is not well controlled, or wrapping the pen so it would be harder to get a firm grip.  All excellent ideas, which I promise to try soon.

Several comments about the yearbook flap in which the governor of Virginia appeared in blackface in the mid-1980s and is now catching hell.  Leigh posted a thoughtful comment: "Making fun of a group of people as a young adult with no sense, in that time period, was really tasteless and stupid, but not illegal.  While it undoubtedly caused a general harm in encouraging idiotic attitudes, it didn't cause lasting (and illegal) harm to a specific person.  I would however like to see what has changed.  Has he actually done anything to stop institutional racism or is he just status quo?"

I don't live in Virginia and I don't know much about the governor, but I did some research and found that in the year he has been governor, he has vetoed 20 bills, including those that would suppress wider voter participation, enable unfair redistricting, encourage inferior health care and prohibit cities from raising the minimum wage.  As a state senator he voted in favor of reproductive rights and expanding Medicaid coverage.  To me that sounds like he has actually done something good.

Here's my favorite miniature of the week, made from a 1/4 ounce lead weight (heaven knows where that came from...):


Thursday, February 14, 2019

Hand-stitching -- the workshop 1

I just got home from a gig with the SAQA Indiana region.  The organizers thought it would be more convenient if participants didn't have to shlep sewing machines across the state, so the workshop focused on hand-stitching onto finished quilts.  I am not a world-renowned expert on this subject, having used the technique on only a few quilts, but I was excited about getting to lead this session, figured that I would learn as much as anybody else in the room.

My interest in hand stitching as the last step came with this small quilt that I made a couple of years ago for a group show with the prompt "green."  After I finished it and posted the image to our group blog, it sat on my design wall for a while before it actually had to be shipped.

The longer I looked at it, the less I liked it, and finally decided it needed some extra pizzazz.  So I got out my embroidery floss and stitched more little rectangles to echo the pieced ones.  Here's the final version, so much better than the original:

Kathleen Loomis, Sargasso 2 (detail below)

So, echoing my own experience, I asked the SAQA ladies to bring an already-quilted small quilt that seemed to need something extra.

I'll tell  you more about what happened in a new post.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Some thoughts about yearbooks

I don't ordinarily write about public affairs in this blog but last week's hoohah (and who knows?  maybe this week's too...) about yearbook photos gave me a lot to think about.  I suppose most first reactions to the story that the governor of Virginia posted a blackface photo on his yearbook page include "how could he have been so insensitive and stupid?"  From that point, many people moved on to excuses -- "yes, it was insensitive and stupid but he was very young" and/or "yes,  it was insensitive and stupid but consider the time and place."  And then the thought process swung back to "yes, he was young but not all that young -- for heaven's sake, he was already a college graduate."

My parents lived in Virginia for three decades, including the period during which the future governor was attending college and medical school, and my many months of visiting over the years lead me to give points to the "consider the time and place" excuse.  Virginia has traditionally been fanatically proud of its Confederate past and racial attitudes among those white people who consider themselves the spiritual descendants of Robert E. Lee are still what most of the rest of us would call unenlightened.

My personal take on Northam is that we should give him a pass.  It takes time and and exposure to other kinds of people for young people to realize that the way they have been brought up is wrong, and maturity and backbone for them to decide to change.  I don't think a 25-year-old should necessarily be condemned for not having fully completed that process.

But enough about blackface.  I want to talk about yearbooks.

Having spent my entire work life in the field of communication, I am always thinking about the role of communication and the media in public affairs.  And I am thinking about the particular role of the yearbook in so many recent occasions of public embarrassment.  The Virginia Senate Majority Leader also has a yearbook in his past to be ashamed of -- this guy was the college yearbook editor (at the same Confederacy-worshiping college that the guv attended) and blithely passed along many blackface and Klan photos to be printed on students' individual pages.  And have we already forgotten Brett Kavanaugh, now on the Supreme Court, whose high school yearbook page was full of smart-ass references to drinking and sex?

I know a thing or two about yearbooks, having been editor of mine in college, and when I hear about these embarrassing pages from the past I have to wonder why they happened.  Obviously they happen because kids are stupid and insensitive and have no thought of how something might survive to mortify them decades in the future.  But they also happen because grownups enable and encourage the kids to act stupid.

Each of those yearbooks was funded and sponsored by a school and to some degree supervised by a school employee.  Why did the grownups sign off on a format that brings out the worst in kids and has so much potential for future backfire?  Print the kids' senior photos, OK, but don't let them write their own copy.

The good news is that old-yearbook-embarrassment-syndrome (OYES -- what a great acronym!) is probably on its way out.  Many colleges are simply discontinuing their yearbooks; who needs them when there is so much digital info available on websites.  Many others are eliminating the popularity polls that so often constitute bullying (how would you like to be named Fastest Girl or Most Conceited?).  And today's teenagers don't have to use the yearbook to publish their stupid and insensitive thoughts and deeds to the world -- they can do it just fine all by themselves via social media and sexting, 24/7, no waiting, no charge.

Parents and onlookers might wish that these opportunities weren't so easy, that some grownup mediator or automatic ten-second delay might help protect young people from themselves, but then again, look what happened in the past when the grownup mediators were asleep at the switch.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Last week on Art With a Needle

After I posted about making heavily machine-stitched pyramids that would fit a "home" theme, Sylvia suggested that I might make a yurt.  That was an exciting idea until I realized that stitching the pyramidal roof to the cylindrical walls would require 1. careful measurement and 2. a bunch of hand stitching.  Decided to put that idea on hold until I have run with the pyramids as long as I can.  But thanks for the idea, Sylvia, it will stay on my radar screen.

After I posted that I'm having trouble making my daily calligraphy look more like drawing, Olga  suggested that I try asemic writing, in which what you see on paper resembles writing but actually has no words or readable characters.  I had done some asemic writing many years ago when I was in a bleach discharge phase of quiltmaking, "writing" with a squeeze bottle of bleach-containing dishwasher gel onto the wonderful old Walmart black fabric that discharged to gray and white.

War Rationale 2, 2003

So yesterday and today I did asemic script as my daily calligraphies.  They greatly resemble my normal calligraphic handwriting, even though I took pains to make "letters" that don't exist in the Roman alphabet.

Neither of these examples accomplish anything to make my calligraphy look more like drawing, but they are a step in a new direction.  Inventing new characters and letterforms is certainly an approach that has many possibilities, and maybe I will pursue that for a while.  Thanks, Olga!!

Meanwhile, Rachel suggested that I start with a text in an unfamiliar language or an unfamiliar alphabet and write it in mirror image or upside-down to focus on the shapes instead of the meaning.  I think that's a great idea and after I explore Olga's idea for a while I promise to come back to this one.

Having been a professional word person throughout my career, it's hard for me to not think about the text and its meaning, but maybe I need to work on this in order to push my calligraphy project more toward its intended objective of creating art.  After all, I didn't take on this year of daily art to become a better monk copying the Bible.

And speaking of not being able to read the text, here's my favorite miniature of the week:

You can check out all my daily art here.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Calligraphy -- drawing instead of writing

In my daily calligraphy project, I've been trying to get a little more "artistic" in my writing, but it's a struggle.  I am trying to draw rather than write, paying more attention to shapes and patterns instead of just the letters.  The struggle is in getting my brain to stop doing handwriting and make it do art, and so far my brain is resisting.

A couple of weeks ago I achieved a piece of calligraphy that I really liked, but as with so many other art experiments, it's really hard to do it again and get the same flair you got the first time. 

I did it again two days later and started off as planned, but as I wrote farther along the page, the drawing seemed to revert back to writing, and the text became more legible.  Ordinarily I'm a big fan of legibility, but that's not what I was striving for.  Brain forgets to do what it's told, goes back to what it always used to do.

Tried it again yesterday and maybe did a little bit better.  Using an unfamiliar text (do you recognize it?) probably helps the reader "see" the drawing rather than "read" the words. 

I think this is an approach I need to come back to many times, perhaps experimenting with different pens and brushes.  I know I have only begun to see where I want to go.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Sewing while impaired -- Plan B

Thanks to a kick in the pants from my astute reader Shannon, I have decided to make more pyramids and call them "homes" for the gallery show in two months.  The first one is almost stitched together, and the second one is on its way. 

I realized while making the first pyramid that my poor vision, being in the interim stage after my cataract operation but before my second one and most important, before I get new glasses to make the final corrections, is giving me a hard time.  I have no depth perception, since at any given moment I am only seeing through one good eye and one bad one, so tasks like threading needles are hard.  And I am not seeing well in close-up, so the very careful placement of hand stitching is just not happening.

So here's my plan -- while I'm not seeing well I'm going to do machine stitching.  Do you really need to see to go back and forth, over and over and over until you have fully covered the surface?  When in doubt, stitch back and forth some more.

I will wait till I get my new eye and then my new glasses to stitch the pyramids together.  At that time I will also be able to detect whether any spots need more machine stitching.  For the one that's almost stitched together, I will put everything on hold -- the threaded needles will stay where they are until I can return and see what I'm doing. 

I would like to make four or five new pyramids for the show.  I don't know whether the one I have almost finished is good enough -- will have to be able to see to make the final determination.  So I don't know how many more I need to make.  But for now, put the opera on the radio and stitch and stitch and stitch.  Wish me luck!

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Last week on Art With a Needle

A couple of days ago I wrote about my struggle to make some art for my co-op gallery's theme show about "home," and how the little stitched house didn't seem to be good enough.  Shannon left a comment that snapped things into focus for me:  "As for your houses, I actually think the little pyramids seem pretty house-y and home-y in a non-cutesy way.... you might consider making more tetrahedra, since they seem to come together better and at least IMO would fit the theme."

Thanks Shannon, I needed to hear that -- you're right.  And I'm better off in terms of art quality sticking with something that succeeded in the past and already has a to-do list for further expansion than stretching the concept too far into the cute-o-sphere.  So here's what I started yesterday, and stitched all afternoon while listening to the opera (obviously not assembled into a pyramid yet):

And thanks to Marian in Amsterdam, who said she has not commented much in the past because English is not her native language, but is now doing it more.  Marian, I love hearing from people in faraway places.  I think this proves that art and craft can transcend boundaries (and perhaps can even transcend boundaries within our own countries).  Thank you for reading, and thank you for commenting.

After I wrote about Isaac's fabric collage, Martha asked whether we have ever used a handcrank sewing machine, which many kids find fascinating.  No, we haven't, but I wonder whether a handcrank is going to have much appeal to a boy who is already asking whether the machine can't go faster.  How ya gonna keep em down on the farm after they've put pedal to the metal?

You may have noticed the reappearance of Found Poetry in the blog this week.  I used to do one every week but decided at the end of the year to cut back.  Too much time was being spent on this task, and it was starting to feel like more of a job than a joy.  But I had this poem about the new year almost found, and the concept was getting old as the days ticked past, so I decided to finish it before the end of January.  From now on I'll try to do found poetry at least once a month, but without committing to a specific schedule.

Finally, here's my favorite miniature of the week:

You can check out all my daily miniatures, and my daily calligraphy, here.