Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Good news on tour

Many times I've sent a quilt off for a show, knowing that it will be on tour for a while.  I tend to kind of forget about these travelers, having said good-bye without a firm idea of when they will come home.  At the moment I have two travelers, both in SAQA exhibitions that are getting wonderful exposure around the world.

Last week I got a message that Forced to Flee, the show about refugees that is now on display at Ruth Funk Center for Textile Arts in Melbourne FL, will be going to the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham UK in 2022.  Before then it will be at several museums in the US.

Tired and Poor

Then this morning there was another message, saying that Masterworks: Abstract & Geometric, which has been on the road since it debuted in Houston in 2017, will be going to Germany next year.  The show has already been in three venues in Japan, and will be going to China in September.  It just closed earlier this week after a two-month run in Memphis.

And here's a little bit of my quilt in the banner of the email, at the far right:

Crazed 16: Suburban Dream

I wasn't able to see the show in Memphis but Jackie Watkins sent me a picture of my quilt there.

I always think of that quilt as being pretty big (81 x 55") but it sure looked puny next to the huge piece next to it, whose maker I do not know.  (But they're in the same color scheme!)

SAQA's shows are the main reason that I belong to that organization.  I've lost count of how many times I've had work in their shows, and I am always pleased with the quality of every aspect of the operation.  Bill Reker does a great job of finding venues for the traveling shows and manages all the hassle of shipping.  Hats off to Bill and to SAQA for world-class show management.  Thank you!


Update:  the huge quilt on the left wall is Letters from a Friend II, by Els van Baarle

Monday, July 29, 2019

Fiberart International 1 -- quilts

Last week I was in Pittsburgh for a family reunion and got to spend two delightful days at museums.  My first stops were the two venues of Fiberart International, the fine exhibition held every three years.  I've seen several past shows and was sometimes disappointed to find few pieces in the traditional quilt format, but this year had several.

Two of the best happened to be made by friends of mine, so I may be prejudiced, but I liked them!  Both were big, bright, intricately machine-pieced and quilted, beautifully composed, making strong statements.

Maria Shell, Mosh Pit @ the Goldern

Judy Kirpich, Anxiety No. 11

Gregory Climer, Men Kissing (detail below)

I liked the way this quilt combined the low-resolution pixelated photo with the hard edges of pieced prints.  I really liked the different grids, with piecing and quilting set at varying angles.

And finally, this calm and simple quilt that reminded me a bit of my own work, with very skinny pieced-in black lines and dense, shiny quilting in many different colors.

Carolina Oneto Tapia, Igualdad (detail below)

And here's one quilt that wanted in the worst way to make a big impact, and almost did, but not quite.

Luke Haynes, [Sewlebrity] Obama 

The gimmick here is the anamorphic projection, portraying a distorted image that reads right if you stand obliquely to the quilt.  But if you don't get it exactly right, it leaves the viewer frustrated.

When you look at the quilt straight on, the left shoulder is much fatter than it should be, but when you look at it from the side, the right shoulder is fatter than it should be.  I couldn't find a sweet spot in between (nor did I think it looked like Obama from any angle).

So much for the quilts -- I'll have a lot more pieces to show you in subsequent posts.


Saturday, July 27, 2019

Last week on Art With a Needle

I bought a new computer and made an appointment with my geek to come on Tuesday to get it set up and transfer my life from the old computer to the new one.  He spent most of the afternoon here, but went home when thousands of emails started transferring and the computer estimated it would take "more than a day" to finish.  He came back Wednesday, spent most of the day, and went home to let the contents of my hard drive, including about 50,000 photos, transfer overnight.  He came back Thursday, spent a few hours, and went home thinking the job was done.

Ha ha.  I spent an hour on the phone with him on Friday clearing up some unresolved problems, plus discussing a problem that is going to require either him coming back to the house or me taking my old hard drive to  his shop.  Then Friday night I discovered that most of those thousands of emails, the ones that took all night to transfer, have disappeared from where they were on Thursday. 

I'm not worried that anything is going to be lost -- I have cloud backup of the entire computer as well as the old hard drive -- but I worry that it will take another week before everything gets in order.  If I'm lucky.  Those psychologists' lists of the ten most traumatic life events (death of spouse, loss of job, house burns down, diagnosed with deadly disease) really should also include getting a new computer.

Miraculously, I have spent a few hours in the studio in between geekwatching, and may even be ready to start quilting on my latest top next week.

Here's my favorite miniature of the week, the idea shamelessly stolen from Sandy Snowden, except that she's stitching 24,000 beads into these wavy tentacles in a year-long project, while I only did about 60.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Art reader's digest

From How to Disappear, by Akiko Busch:

"Soetsu Yanagi was a Japanese potter who advocated for anonymity in folk art. In his 1972 book, The Unknown Craftsman, he includes the absence of the artist's signature in his list of what confers beauty on an object.  Along with use, the imprint of the human hand, simplicity, low cost, and regional tradition, the anonymity that comes in deflecting attention from maker to user is part of what infuses physical artifacts with value and meaning.  Certainly those criteria apply to all those handcrafted household artifacts made of wood, clay, textiles, metal; all those utilitarian plates and spoons; all those touchstones of domestic life, tables, chairs, knives, tools, hinges, and quilts, all shaped, carved, molded, and sewn at a time when such things are largely forgotten, but this archive of objects carries its own collective effervescence over the centuries.  In an odd way, it might even be the very absence of the signature that confirms the humanity of the work."


Thought-provoking, but I'm not sure I agree.

Perhaps it's true that functional objects are more about the user than the maker, but over the centuries the master makers have always commanded more value than the anonymous journeyman.  Think silver made by Paul Revere, fabrics by Jack Lenor Larsen.

I am one of many quilt lovers who are sorry that so many of the old quilts lack a signature.  When the owners of these quilts bring them in for appraisal or display, the ones with ID seem to be more prized; how many family quilts are tagged with a precious slip of paper, perhaps safety-pinned to the binding, noting that great-grandma started this quilt in 1917 and Aunt Minnie finished it in 1940.  Many of my own family "heirlooms" were lovingly wrapped and labeled by my mother.

I'll happily use an anonymous doily in my fabric collage, but I'd never cut into one made by my grandmother.  At some point I'll have to add a second label to this roll, explaining that it was my mother who wrote "my mother."  And just to make things clear, I'll add her name -- Ida Wilhelmina Fahselt Burtzlaff.  Because I think it's good to know who made something special.

What do you think?

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Last week on Art With a Needle

After I said that I thought one of my "crossroads" tops wasn't good enough and needed to be fixed, Shannon left a comment: "I wonder if you would be willing to share some of your critical thought processes or just general thoughts about what makes something good or not.  I struggle with this pretty often with my pieces.  Sometimes it's very clear that something isn't good, but when it's not so obvious I have a harder time.  I also really struggle with differentiation between pieces that are "good" and pieces that I just like.  I would love to hear your thoughts on this!"

Shannon, thanks for asking -- this question is one of the all-time big ones for artists, right up there with "what is art?"  Every artist, in every discipline, struggles with this every time a new piece is made.  So developing your critical eye is just as important a skill for an artist as actually learning to make things.

Sometimes you can learn and practice this skill by joining a critique group, or taking an art class where critique is part of the routine.  Sometimes you can learn a lot by reading comments from critics or teachers, or from books.  I have been a regular reader of the magazine Art in America for many years, as well as the art section of the New York Times.  I particularly enjoy the show reviews where at least one piece is pictured, along with the critic's comments.

Unfortunately, there is little published critique in the fiber art world, since Fiberarts magazine folded several years ago.  So you may get more out of discussions of paintings, sculptures, mixed media or installations.  The elements of "good art" apply across all mediums, so if you learn to detect good or bad composition or color use in a painting you can also detect it in a quilt. 

Here's the quilt I showed last week and said I needed to go back and improve it:

When I get to it, I plan to make at least one or two posts that describe my thought process, and how I go about making the fix.  Maybe thinking along with me will give you more insight into how I approach the problem of self-evaluation.  It won't be next week or the week after, because I need to let this stew a bit before I have at it.  But it will happen, I promise.

Here's my favorite miniature of the week:

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Hand stitching -- enough already!

Faithful blog readers may recall that several years ago I embarked on a project of blind stitching, inspired by my dear friend and art pal Terry Jarrard-Dimond's workshop with Dorothy Caldwell.  Dorothy had her students put on blindfolds and stitch for a while without seeing what they were stitching.  Terry was very impressed by this exercise and subsequently she and I did a project in which each of us stitched for twelve hours blindfolded.  She did hers on white fabric, I did mine on black, and we titled the two pieces "Equinox".

I loved the unexpectedness of the blind stitching but realized that way more than half my twelve hours were spent not in stitching but in feeling blindly about to make sure the stitches were pulled fully through and not knotted around other threads.  After we finished the Equinox project I wondered how I could achieve the energy and excitement of blind stitching without spending most of my time in housekeeping.  I decided I could achieve the same effects without the drawbacks by simply stitching from the back side of my fabric.

Since then I have made four large pieces of stitching using this approach.  I will typically make cross-stitches from the back, working for a long time without ever looking at the right side of the work.  I  have shlepped these four pieces of stitching around to many, many workshops and lectures as examples of how this kind of semi-blind stitching is a gateway to exciting, mysterious effects.  A couple of years ago I took one of the four pieces and turned it into a quilt.

But the other three stayed in my work bag, ready to be stitched upon during a boring meeting.  The smallest of the three, on dark teal blue instead of black, got really dense with stitching.  When it appeared that I was reaching the end of the road, I turned it around and did some final stitching from the front of the work, adding some french knots (impossible to do those from the back) and a few extra cross stitches.

Two weeks ago I decided it was time to graduate this piece of stitching from workshop sample to finished piece.  I had carelessly left less than an inch of blank fabric around the edges, so it was going to be hard to finish this piece to the point where it could be displayed.  Decided to turn the edges under and mount it on some kind of board.  The best way to secure the narrow turned-under edges was through hand stitching, and I did that by filling in any blank spaces with additional cross stitches and french knots. 

It's almost finished -- although every time I have the piece in my hands I see places where more stitches could be added.  Already dense with embroidery floss, the piece is getting denser with more and more french knots, more cross stitches.  I may just have to give myself a deadline after which no more stitching will be allowed, even if that little gap on the right side still allows a millimeter of blue fabric to show through...

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Last week on Art With a Needle

Lots of piecing this week -- one more small top finished and another one (this is #4 in the last three weeks) with a good start.  Last week I compared machine piecing to riding a bicycle -- you don't forget how, when you don't do it for a long time, but you are rusty.  And three days ago I decided my self-evaluation skills are also rusty -- it took me until this week to realize that the first three pieces aren't really what I call very good. 

I had high hopes for number 3, with one quadrant of the quilt composed of colored stripes for the fine line "roads" to contrast with the black-and-white stripes in the rest of the quilt.  But when the whole thing was sewed together and put up on the wall, I wasn't happy.  I think it's repairable, with a lot of fussy, fiddly ripping and remaking, but I'm not going to do that right now.

But number 4 -- I love it!

Here's how far it's gotten in two days.  Another two or three good days in the studio would probably be enough to finish it, but looking at my calendar makes me wonder when those days are going to be possible.  What's more frustrating than having to interrupt your huge burst of creative energy with a bunch of other things?

Here's my favorite miniature of the week.  I've always loved those red berries on wire stems that you're supposed to wrap around branches on your Christmas tree.  Hardly ever wrap them around branches on the tree, but I love to have a bunch of them on hand.  This week they got stuffed into a tiny (half-inch diameter) spool of thread.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

A fine new book

I've spent the last few days reading a new book by my friend Maria Shell, "Improv Patchwork."  You probably have encountered Maria's wonderful quilts at Quilt National and many other prominent venues, mostly made from solid color fabrics pieced into intricate and dazzling patterns.

Her new book explains how she makes these patterns and assembles the "bits" into large quilts.  Although you can probably figure out how this happens by simply examining her quilts closely, it's always great fun to watch somebody else's processes and see how they go about a complex task. 

Seeing Maria's work, whether in person or in print, always makes me want to run down to the studio and do the same thing.  I share her love of obsessive piecing, of wonky blocks, of freehand cutting, of solid fabrics.  She does a great job in the book of imparting enthusiasm and excitement for this style of quiltmaking.

I consider myself an accomplished quiltmaker and machine piecer, and yet I almost always learn something new or get a fresh idea from reading somebody else's books.  I'll share three takeaways that I got from Maria's book:

1.  If your sewing machine doesn't have a needle-down setting, in which you can make the needle always stop in the down position when you take your foot off the pedal, you can have your repair guy fix it to permanently stop down.  Needle-down is an invaluable element in obsessive piecing, because it keeps your small bits of fabric from escaping or oozing out of position when you have to let go for a minute.   One of my beloved older-model Berninas lacks a needle-down setting (and also lacks a knee lift lever) and thus I rarely use it; now that I know it's possible to alter that I might just be able to bring it back into regular service!

2.  If you want to make freehand cuts on a piece of fabric too wide for your cutting board, turn it diagonally and get several inches more space.  Duh -- why didn't I think of that??

3.  Contrary to much conventional wisdom about color choice, try using equal amounts of each color in your palette, instead of one main color, one secondary color, one accent color, etc.  Maria writes:  "You will be amazed at how this ups the wow factor of your work."  I'm thinking about this and looking for an opportunity to give it a try.

So, I'm giving this book a big five stars.  If you love machine piecing I bet you would get some inspiration and helpful hints from it.  You can buy it directly from Maria -- click here.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Last week on Art With a Needle

Greatly energized by some mystical force, I've been sewing madly this week on a project that isn't exactly clear in my mind, but I feel I have to sew for a while before it's clear what's going to happen.  I'm making a bunch of small quilts, about 27 inches square, which will each be quilted and bound individually.  Then at some point I plan to assemble them into a larger piece, either a four-patch or a nine-patch, joined together either by hand stitching or with ties through grommets.

I have two of the tops finished and am maybe halfway through a third one.  I'm having such fun on the piecing that I am postponing quilting until I run out of enthusiasm.

Last week Shasta left a comment on my post about working with leftover yarn bits on my endless mile-of-crochet project.  She asked, "Are you using one piece of yarn until it is gone or are you mixing the colors as you go along?"

If it's a small bit of yarn I'll use the whole thing.  If it's more like a half-skein, I might divide it up, use part in one place and the rest in another.  I do try to achieve some kind of color scheme in each "cake" of crochet, so would probably not put random colors together.  Since I plan to display these with the sides of the rolled-up "cakes" visible, I like to have some pleasant variety of color in that side view, so no cakes made of a single color.

Here's my favorite miniature of the week.  A couple of months ago, right after an episode of very high water on the Ohio River, my son and I went on a scavenging expedition to the river banks.  I searched for tiny bits of stuff that would fit into the 1 1/2 x 2 inch bags of my miniature project, including this bit of driftwood.  Add a simple gold wire wrap, and it became a daily art.


Friday, July 5, 2019

More yarn leftovers!

Several years ago, I think, I embarked on an endless project along with my friend Debby.  We resolved to knit (Debby) and crochet (me) strips that would stretch for a mile.  (Read how we got started.)  As time passed, I would be more or less enthusiastic about the project.  Sometimes I would whip out a bunch in a week, other times I might go for months without progress.

I had resolved to use only leftovers rather than buy new yarn, so I was at the mercy of whatever might show up in grab bag or whatever someone might give me.  And frankly I had hit a dry spell recently.  During the cold weather months this winter I was working on baby afghans, from entire skeins of yarn, rather than the mile-o'-handwork.

Last fall a friend who teaches refugee women how to sew told me that her ladies also do knitting, and I asked her if they were going to just throw away the leftover bits anyway, could I have them?  And last month she dropped off a huge bag full -- almost five feet tall.

This should keep me crocheting all summer.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Happy Fourth of July!

Our morning walk today was over the Big Four Bridge, a pedestrian route across the Ohio River, which is reached by a circular ramp to take you up to bridge height.  Many others had the same idea, including this group of runners.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Back to piecing

They say you never forget how to ride a bicycle, but I suspect that if I were to get back on a bike today I would wobble a bit before the balance came back.  Same happens, apparently, with piecing, which I haven't been doing any of in a really long time.

I started work on a quilt last week in the style that I call "Crossroads," but instead of simply making cross cuts and stitching them back together with a fine line to mark the seam, I had to get fancy and stick in little streets that didn't go all the way across.  It was great fun, until I put the whole thing up on the wall and realized that one edge looked really sloppy.  Not that there's anything wrong with sloppy, but this edge didn't go with the others.

And then as I started looking more closely, I saw that top edge heading off northward on a diagonal that clearly didn't go with the pretty-much-right angles of the rest of the quilt. That's what happens when you cut by eye instead of by ruler.  I ordinarily am a firm believer in cutting by eye, but this style of piecing seems to benefit from more control.

The bicycle was wobbling, but maybe that's part of the fun.  I set about to fix things.

Concealed that diagonal swerve by putting in some properly straight streets beyond it.  I opened one of the vertical seams and inserted a street that went partway across the quilt at the right angle, then added two more lines to solidify that edge.

Then solidified the other three edges with a few more lines and some extra ladders of piecing.  Most of the extra ladders came from cutting off some of those very wide edges at left and bottom, and repositioning them on the other sides.  Just a little bit of extra piecing at the end to make things come out even.

I like the way this turned out.  A little bit wonky in the center, but pulled back into place at the edges to fit the square format of the finished quilt.

Now I'm eager to get on with the next quilt!  The bike is riding more smoothly, and I don't think I'll repeat the same silly mistakes I did in this one.  And it's so good to be piecing again.