Saturday, August 31, 2019

Last week on Art With a Needle

For 33 years we have lived in a house set back quite a way from the street near the bottom of a cul-de-sac.  When we first moved in I nailed some house numbers to a piece of scrap treated lumber, stuck it to a piece of scrap metal and set it at the corner of the driveway.  Felt very proud of myself.  But over the years shrubbery grew into the corner and overran the sign; meanwhile the sign itself rotted away.  I have been wanting a new sign for a long time and finally got my wish this week.  Don't you love the bright orange aluminum numbers?

More hemming of quilts this week, but mostly I worked on revising the member handbook for PYRO Gallery.  This is the kind of fussy writing task that I love to do, but it sure is time-consuming, and at the end of the week, when you realize how much time you have NOT spent in the studio.

Walking up and down the aisles of the art supply store, I discovered air-drying modeling clay and bought a two-pound hunk.  I've been thinking that it would be fun to make some little clay sculptures for my daily miniatures, but didn't want to use Sculpey or Premo because they have to be baked in the oven.  My rule for daily miniatures is that they have to be finished by midnight and never touched again except to photograph and store them.  Sometimes I will leave a miniature out by itself overnight for paint or ink or Fray Check to dry, but no further making is allowed.  So self-drying clay will follow the rules.

Here's my first little guy from the bag of clay, and my favorite of the week:

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Fiberart International 3 -- more holes

Seen at Fiberart International, which has unfortunately just closed in Pittsburgh.

Marie Fornaro, It is Bread We Fight for, but We Fight for Roses, Too (details below)

It's sort of a quilt, since it contains batting and is layered in some places, but it's more deconstructed than not.  Apparently after the large hanging was sewed together, the artist went at it madly with a scissors, slashing and snipping lots of holes and letting the cut-off bits pool attractively on the floor.

I liked the use of old garments, towels and sheets; the touches of red that suggest both roses (as in the title) and blood; the nod to traditional quilt patterns; and the audacity of the crude construction and of course, the slashing,

Susan Avishai, No Place to Hide a Dark Heart (detail below)

It's four layers of an old shirt, hand-cut with scissors into a lacy pattern and suspended about an inch apart, close enough to the wall that the lace casts intricate shadows.  I like the way the untouched pocket and collar stand out from the filigree of the cut shirt.

Leigh Suggs, Untitled (Mondrian's City) (detail below)

This is a construction of Mylar on Tyvek, and I'm not sure how it qualifies as fiber art except that it vaguely resembles weaving.  What's special about it is the red shadow on the wall, cast that way because the back surface is red.  Clever and intriguing.

Six very different takes on holes, transparency and visual weight; I liked the contrasts.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Fiberart International 2 -- lots of holes

Putting holes in previously unbroken materials turned out to be a theme at this year's Fiberart International show, which has been on display in Pittsburgh this summer but just closed two days ago.

My favorite in this category is this pixelated photo treatment made of holes burned into buckram.  There are actually three layers of buckram, hanging about an inch apart, and I think the photo is slightly different on each layer. (It may even be two different people, morphing from one to the other.)

Xia Gao, Passing (details below)

Having worked briefly with burning fabric several years ago, I can appreciate the immense control it takes to burn a regular grid of holes without setting the whole thing on fire, and beyond that, to get exactly enough charred fabric around the edge of each hole to produce value gradations to make the image appear.  An altogether beautiful piece!

Each of the two venues had its own big, black, hulking suspended sculpture --apparently the jurors really wanted to have something big, black, hulking and suspended, but couldn't make up their minds which one to choose.

Jozef Bajus, Toccata and Fugue (detail below)

This one is made out of shiny black leather, cut into smooth-edged cascades of loops and shapes and hung against the wall.

Zlatko Cvetkovic, Wave (detail below)

The second one is made of video and audio tapes, removed from their cassettes and looped into an airy curtain in mid-room.  (Apologies for the out-of-focus photos on both these pieces -- cellphone cameras are pretty capable but apparently don't do well with shiny black stuff.)

But wait, there's more!  More holes in the next post...

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Last week on Art With a Needle

A reader left a comment the other day about a very old blog post in which I was complaining about  my fancy new washing machine that uses very little water and never gives me the feeling that the clothes are squeaky clean.  At the time, that post got more than a dozen comments from people who also hate their washing machines.  And apparently people are still stumbling over it, and it still strikes a chord.  This week's visitor wrote: "My big problem is the water level.  After the wash cycle finishes and before the spin cycle starts I have actually found dry spots of clothing sticking up out of the water that had never gotten wet.  How could they get clean if they never got wet?"  Amen, sister!

Coincidentally, the same day that she left that comment, I had a washing machine experience that I'd never had before.  The two-year-old threw up in the car as it was pulling into our street, so we began the day with a bath and two loads of wash, one devoted to the covers from the car seat plus a couple of towels for ballast.  I thought the heavy seat covers would perplex the washing machine, which doesn't just wash things to order but has to think about it first.  In the past it has not been happy with large items that get off balance as they spin.  But these covers definitely had to be washed, now.

I chose the "Bulky / bedding" cycle, called for extra water, and kept my fingers crossed.  When I went into the laundry room some time later, it was nearing the end of the wash cycle and to my amazement, I saw the tub full of water!  (The door is glass -- lots of fun for little ones to watch the machine at work.)  The water actually came to within four inches of the top of the tub and the seat covers were happily sloshing away underneath.

I have never seen more than an inch of water visible in the tub, so this was a breakthrough.  I am now wondering whether I could replicate this in the future, such as when I want to dye, or soak after dyeing.

Out of the laundry room and into the studio....  I decided to sew narrow black bindings onto at least two of my four new quilts, and am now stitching them down.  I usually think quilts look more like art and less like bedcoverings when they are finished with facings, not bindings, but for these pieces I think the binding will be unobtrusive, the quilt will be flatter, and it's certainly easier.

Here's my favorite miniature of the week:

Thursday, August 22, 2019

State Fair prizewinners 2 -- the overachievers

Two of my fiber friends just love to enter the State Fair, and have been regulars in the textile categories for many years.  Trish Korte and Kevin Schultz, who both were teachers, spend much of their vacations making art, often working together.  For instance, this year you can tell that they had cyanotype play days.

Kevin Schultz, first place, surface design (pretty big -- the dress is adult-size)

Trish Korte, third place, surface design

Trish Korte, first place, stitched fabric construction

But they work in other techniques as well.

Kevin Schultz, second place, stitched fabric construction  (an ecoprint of leaves)

Kevin Schultz, second place, three-dimensional (cast paper)

Trish Korte, third place, manipulated fiber construction (felting)

Lots of ribbons between the two of them, and lots of beautiful work.  Well done!

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

State Fair prizewinners 1 -- best in show

Last week I had the privilege of judging the textile categories in the Fine Arts and Crafts department of the Kentucky State Fair.  Here's the big winner, awarded the Best in Show award from Louisville Area Fiber and Textile Artists:

It's a hooked rug by Kaye D. Miller, showing scenes from the life of her father.  It has a folk-art flavor but is anything but naive in its masterly handling of color and technique.  The little scene vignettes are fit into every spare inch of the composition; the landscapes are realistic; the people are nicely depicted with no facial features.  I kept coming back to it, finding new little things to admire each time.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Last week on Art With a Needle

Last week started off auspiciously as I judged the textile categories in the Fine Arts and Crafts department of the Kentucky State Fair.  I've been honored to be the judge for several years now, and this year was especially gratifying because for some reason there were a lot more entries than we have seen in recent years.  I actually had to debate with myself about which ones of four or five pieces deserved the ribbons, rather than whether anything in the category deserved a ribbon at all. 

I love to go to the fairgrounds before the fair opens, to see the huge expanse of space devoid of people and junk.  In a few days the place will be full of spilled popcorn, discarded napkins and paper cups, lost shoes, crying children and frazzled parents.  Or perhaps lost children, crying parents and spilled shoes.  But for a while, peace and anticipation.

(I'll write about the prizewinners next week.  And I haven't forgotten that I still owe you more posts about the Fiberart International show in Pittsburgh and the four-artist mixed media show at PYRO Gallery in Louisville.) 

Immediately after I got home from the fair on Monday morning, we headed to northern Michigan for my brother-in-law's funeral, a fast turnaround of 1100 miles in three days.  The funeral was excellent as funerals go, but the trip itself featured lots and lots and lots of road construction, plus the occasional accident and rush-hour traffic jam.

Back home, I am almost done with quilting the fourth crossroads piece.  Next week it will be decision time: will the quilts be finished with binding or facing?  I have been kicking this can down the road, but I hope to stop dithering and get them totally done and ready to go out in public.

Here's my favorite miniature of the week, embellished with one of the many leftover bits from my striped piecing:

Friday, August 16, 2019

A reunion with my handiwork -- too soon

Several weeks ago I wrote about making a piece of liturgical linen for my sister to give to her church, a small pall to cover the funeral urn if the decedent has been cremated.  There didn't seem to be any huge urgency in the project, but I was looking for something doable to jump start me out of a creative funk and get me back into the studio.I found an old linen tablecloth, beautifully woven with a pattern of stripes and roses (don't know if you can see them in this photo), and hemmed it. 

My sister was going to have a butterfly embroidered on the pall, but changed her mind and had them do a cross instead.

Much to everyone's surprise, the first user of the pall turned out to be my sister's wonderful husband, unexpectedly taken ill earlier in the summer.  After one long hospital stay and then two weeks in hospice, he died on August 6.

Here's the pall, in front of the altar at the funeral service.  (I like the cross better than the butterfly, so I'm happy they went with Plan B.) 

(So glad I didn't procrastinate on the project.)

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

How -- and why -- I fixed my quilt

A month ago I wrote about a quilt top that I finished piecing but wasn't happy with.  I wrote "I think it's repairable, with a lot of fussy, fiddly ripping and remaking."

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!"

I promised that I would talk more about this top, what I thought was not-so-good and how I fixed it, and last week I finally did pull it off the design wall and worked on it.

Here's the quilt in its original state, in mid-July:

When I evaluated the top, I realized I liked the inset effect of the multicolored lines in the northeast quadrant, but there were two parts of the composition that seemed weak.

In fine line quilts, of which I have made upwards of 40, I like the offset zig-zag effect that happens when you slice across an older seam and the two sides slip a bit before you sew them back together.  To me, that's the magic of this construction method (I even named a sub-series of these quilts "Fault Lines" because they reminded me of how the earth slips a bit in quakes).  But as more and more lines cross one another, the grid gets sloppier and sloppier.

So when I looked closely at this top, I realized the balance was off between the zig-zaggy lines of early seams and the straight lines of the latest seams.

First, I didn't like the wide area shown in the yellow circle.  It seemed too blowsy, too wide compared to the closer grids in the rest of the quilt.  I didn't like the contrast between the straight line on the right of that area and the wobbly line with multiple offsets on the left.  Worse, the straight line on the right went smack across the entire quilt, which emphasized its straightness.

You will notice that farther to the left is another wide area, with a looser grid than in the other three quadrants of the quilt.  But that one doesn't bother me, probably because it's near the outer edge of the quilt.

When I look at these designs I often see city maps, and I guess as you get toward the outskirts of town you expect the street grid to break down and the "blocks" to get bigger, but the yellow area, right on the main drag of this "city," bothered me.

How should I fix that?  I finally decided that the simplest way was to add another vertical road through the middle of the blowsy area, so it wouldn't be so wide and call so much attention to itself.

My second complaint was that vertical line that went clear across the quilt from top to bottom with no offsets.  I had originally planned that the fine line that went horizontally, shown in the blue circle, would be stitched back together with an offset where it crossed the vertical.  That would have put a zig into that long vertical line.  But I was careless in sewing, and the vertical line ended up just as vertical as before.  Yes, I noticed it at the time, but decided it was good enough.  (Bad decision.)

When I came back to reconsider and remake the top, I took the blue-circled seam apart and restitched it, adding the offset that was supposed to be there in the first place.  It would have been simpler to make this fix had I not compounded my initial sloppiness by slicing across the seam at the blue arrow.  I had to take apart the left-hand vertical seam, then make the cut-off segment longer so I could offset the blue-circled seam toward the right.  But when it got all sewed back together, the long vertical line in the center of the quilt now had an offset.

Then finally I added three more lines along the outer north, east and south edges.  I like the crossroads to be squared off; I think it makes the composition look more finished and balanced.  And the line at the north edge allowed me to put one more zig into that main vertical line, breaking it up a little more.

Here's the final version, ready for quilting:

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Last week on Art With a Needle

Quilting!!  I have three tops finished and the fourth one almost ready to be sandwiched.  My original thought had been to make them all the same size and then I could join them into a four-patch big quilt.  But even though I made every attempt, somehow they ended up different sizes.  I have never worried about this kind of thing happening, because one of the big advantages of the quilt format is that quilts can be whatever size they end up to be -- they don't have to fit into frames or be attached to stretcher bars, so who cares if something is 56 inches wide or 55?  But if you're going to fit four together into a square...

Then I realized that it still didn't matter, that I could fit four together no matter how large each one might be.

So that's my plan.  Not sure if the four I have made so far will end up together or if I'll make more for a different color plan.  But these are sewing up so nicely that I don't mind making more.

After I wrote about my adventure with the kitchen ceiling fan, Carol left a comment: "We have ceiling fans, though current decorating gurus say they are passe."  Oh my.  I am so sorry to hear that.  Guess I have to take all mine down, as it is important to me to be on trend, decorating-wise.  (Wait till the gurus find out that I still have formica counters in my kitchen, and love them.)

Here's my favorite miniature of the week:

I used this very old thread to wind a bobbin, and was surprised to find that the empty styrofoam spool was a beautiful pale yellow.  Hard to think that the color leached out of the thread, which was olive green (but who knows what happens to dye chemistry as time goes by) but also hard to think that the manufacturer would deliberately color the invisible part of the spool before use.  A mystery.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Keith Kleespies' puppet art

A wonderful show opened at PYRO Gallery this past weekend, by four artists working in various mixed mediums.  Of particular interest to fiber fans was the installation by Keith Kleespies.  Recently Keith was rooting around in his bookshelves and came upon a catalog for a show in England, sent to him many yeas ago by a friend and shelved without having been read.  This time he opened it and was enthralled by the story of artist Andrzej Kuhn, who as a child was caught up in the evil of World War 2 and spent a decade as a refugee in the exotic landscapes of Kazakhstan, Iran, Palestine and Egypt before ending up as an artist in England. 

Keith decided to make a children's book from the story, which would be illustrated by puppets.  And the puppets are now on display at PYRO (he still needs to make a few more before the story is complete).  The puppets have papier-mache heads and hands, and clothes made from all kinds of grab bag and second-hand-store fabrics and garments.

I loved the way he turned shirt sleeves into puppet shirts, complete with collars and closures.

Keith has a good way with his people, whether drawn as cartoons or executed as 3-D puppets -- humorous and whimsical without being at all  cutesy (a hard balance to strike).  The installation will make you laugh, and maybe after you read the explanation on the wall, make you cry. 

Don't miss it!  At PYRO Gallery, 1006 E. Washington in Louisville, through September 17.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Last week on Art With a Needle

After I posted about it last week, two readers informed me that the huge quilt hung next to mine at the Stitched: Celebrating the Art of Quilting show in Memphis was made by Els van Baarle, an artist whose work I have greatly admired over the years.  Thanks, and I will update my previous post for the record.

We had a household emergency this week -- the cleaning ladies were determined to make a good impression and decided to clean the tops of the ceiling fan blades in the kitchen.  Note to self and cleaning ladies: I think it's probably better to ignore the tops of the ceiling fan blades, no matter how filthy and nasty.  For one thing, after years of duty the plastic coating tends to flake off when you scrub hard.  More important, when you scrub hard the whole damn ceiling fan may come loose from the ceiling and cascade down upon you, throwing sparks as the circuit shorts out.

Fortunately somebody caught the fan as it dangled from the ceiling on its cord, and I jerry-built a structure to hold it.  (Note how clean the tops of the blades are.  Too bad, all that elbow grease gone to waste.)

Now comes the unbelievably good part -- I called the electrician, who apparently was taking the afternoon off.  He said he could be there in an hour, and if we ran out to Home Depot and bought a new fan he could install it.  So within two hours of calling for help, we were back in business.  When's the last time you ever got service like that???

On the art front, I've been quilting this week; did two tops, all ready to bind or face (haven't decided exactly how to finish them).  I am pleasantly reminded how easy it is to quilt something that's only 30 inches square, compared to something more than 80 inches across. 

Here's my favorite miniature of the week, made from the thin, thin wires inside a cable from my old computer.  Between the computer and the fan I have enough interesting parts to make lots of future miniatures and assemblages.