Monday, June 1, 2020

Hand-stitching update

A few weeks ago I showed you a small piece in progress, a fabric collage made from kimono scraps and densely hand-stitched.   I got on a roll, and have now finished that one and three more in a similar vein, using scraps of old silk, linen and cotton.  I still haven't decided how to mount them for display; probably on stretched canvases, covered in either burlap or some other solid color fabric.

The one I showed you earlier; I added the red fireworks burst at top right because three shapes are generally better than two.

This one is stitched onto a scrap of a very old quilt, with the batting visible in some places through tears and disintegration of the cotton.  Lots of french knots, and a silk yoyo.

A linen support, with bits of silk and cotton.  The beige scrap at top right had a pre-existing machine-stitched seam which I echoed with three new lines of machine stitching.  I left long thread tails at each end of each line so I could make little french knot dots.

This piece has by far the most intricate, time-consuming stitching, and yet it's probably the least successful of the four.  I used a scrap of an old linen tablecloth that had been cross-stitched in tan, and put the teal blue webbing on top.  I have no idea what this stuff was supposed to be; it's made from some silky thread -- was it perhaps stitched onto a piece of Solvy to make a web?

I have no idea where I got it, but it called out to me.  I sewed it down with a lot of beads and french knots, added some silk shapes at the bottom, and then decided I didn't like what I saw.  Spent many, many hours with additional stitching and some yoyos to try to salvage the piece; not sure I did.

But they're finished!!

Thursday, May 28, 2020

More bad DIY fashion ideas

Today is Thursday, which means it's time for another well-meaning article in the New York Times Designer DIY feature, in which big names in fashion share silly ideas for people to try at home.  I neglected to bring you up to date on last week's feature, so that one first...

Emily Bode, a young luxury menswear designer who "expresses a sentimentality for the past through the study of personal narratives and historical techniques... with female-centric traditions of quilting, mending and applique," teaches us how to fix up a white T shirt to give to your sweetie.  First find some thread.  "This is a great time to use all of the pre-threaded needles from those miniature hotel mending kits," she says.

Now stitch (loosely, so the shirt can stretch when he puts it on) around the edges of the cuffs, collar and hem.  Add a cute heart and writing, if you want.  "There's no experience in sewing necessary.  The more homemade and messy, the better," she advises.

illustration: New York Times Thursday Styles section

Well, not to worry, I suspect every single shirt made from these directions will be messy.  Starting with the choice of thread. Two strands of sewing thread, stitched loosely around the neckline, are really going to make a statement.  (And unless you were in the habit of spending five night a week on the road in your pre-pandemic job, lifting hotel mending kits right and left, what are you going to use when you run out of them?)

I particularly liked the fact that they illustrated step 5:  wash your T shirt to remove the pencil marks.  Without that picture, I would have been lost.

illustration: New York Times Thursday Styles section

But enough kvetching about last week's project.  Today's project uses a T shirt again, but this time to tie-dye it.  Our designer-guide is Hillary Taymour, who treats "sustainability as something everyone can practice every day."  We're told she has been using tie-dye in her collections for two years, but I would bet money that she doesn't do it the way she advises the readers -- to use beets and turmeric as the dyestuffs.

I checked out what some highly googled websites had to say about using beets for dyeing.  What I discovered was that the amateur and mass-media craft sites love them -- beautiful color!!! -- but the people who know a lot about dyeing don't, because the color is notoriously fugitive.  In fact, because of that, beets made the list of  "Top Five Plants to Never Use for Natural Dyes" on Wearing Woad, a site that reeks of technical competence.  Turmeric's reputation isn't much better.  But that shouldn't stop our stir-crazy quarantined readers, because they'll add "a splash" of vinegar to the beets to "help your dye hold pigment."

photo: New York Times Thursday Styles section
Interesting to note that in this fifth installment in the Designer D.I.Y series, the Times has switched from gauzy watercolor or pencil illustrations to actual photos.  One shows you how to cut up the beets.  Six of them show you how to fold the shirt into a rectangular package, one shows how to bundle it with rubber bands.  Then you spoon on the yellow dye, and dunk into the red dye.

photo: New York Times Thursday Styles section

Let the bundle sit for ten minutes before opening, then lay it flat to dry, and "it'll be ready for you to wear the next morning."

Smelling of vinegar.

And kind of wrinkly.

I hope everybody who makes this T shirt enjoys wearing it once or twice.  Maybe they'll hit a sweet spot after one or two washes, when the vinegar smell will have disappeared, and the dye won't have disappeared quite yet.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Plague diary May 26 -- leave me alone

Memorial Day weekend is traditionally the official kickoff to summer.  People have picnics and ballgames, and afterwards you can correctly wear white shoes, but only till Labor Day.  Across the country the pandemic has not put much of a crimp into these traditional activities, except maybe the shoes.  I think it's way too soon, but all weekend we've seen scary photos of mostly non-masked people, obviously starved for human society, crammed into restaurants and bars and beaches and all sorts of public places.  I suppose in two weeks we'll see the spike in coronavirus cases, because death rarely takes holidays the way we stupid people do.

But just as a lot of people are eager to take their pandemic response to a new level, I find myself moving in the other direction.  I'm kind of tired of reaching out to other people for social contact.  I've spent many an hour on the phone with friends and family and neighbors talking about what we're doing in seclusion; little of those conversations has been stimulating, affirmative, optimistic, amusing or even very interesting. 

I hear the same words coming out of my mouth when talking to my sister-in-law that came out of my mouth days before talking to my art pal.  I search for something different to talk about, but don't have the energy to launch into a discussion of the book I just read or the art project I'm working on.  I just want to hang up the phone and go into the studio by myself.

I had two more zoom meetings last week, and though the technology is getting a little bit easier, I still don't like it, and certainly don't crave it.  I have found that alcohol helps.

I wrote last month about two different art exchanges that I signed up for in the early days of lockdown, when it seemed like a good idea to connect with others and swap work.  One was among four of us who regularly get together in person but haven't had a meeting since March.  The other was among strangers, a few of whom are several levels above me in the art world food chain, and I sent my work to them with some trepidation.

Just this week I sent off the last two projects in these exchanges, and while I've had a lot of fun making and receiving things, I am glad this is over.  It allowed me to work on some little sculptures

as studies in technique for ideas that have been brewing for a while.  In particular, I would like to make a bunch of the clay heads and display them in some kind of larger array.

Of all the pieces I sent and received in the stranger artist exchange, here's my favorite, a three-step exquisite corpse exercise.  I had step one, and sent this off, leaving plenty of room for additions:


The next artist in the chain added the drawing of the woman, and finally the third added pale beige stitching to put more "pictures" on the wall.  (Hard to see in this screen grab, but you can find a better image on instagram.)

But now playtime is over, and I am relieved.  I responded to the invitations because early in the pandemic, connection seemed important; now less so, at least for me.

I hope this new phase of withdrawal isn't going to send me into a funk.  I need to get down in the studio and make art.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Last week on Art With a Needle

Last week began with my son's 12th wedding anniversary and ended with our 50th.  No celebration on the first one, and certainly not much of a celebration for the big one!  We had planned a driveway dinner party, much like the one we had earlier in the month for the three-year-old birthday, with each family socially distanced at its own table...

...but even that modest plan turned out to be impossible when the heavens opened up in a downpour ten minutes before H-Hour.  So we quickly set up socially distanced card tables in the living room and ate inside instead.  We even let the grandchildren come close for ceremonial photography.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

How not to embroider your socks

I've complained in earlier posts about the way non-sewists in the news media often write or talk about sewing and fabric in the most laughably ignorant way.  I saw it when non-sewists were trying to show us how to sew masks -- I even wrote the New York Times about their mask pattern, in which a 3/4-inch wide strip of fabric was supposed to be folded three times to make a tie -- heck, might as well use a piece of string, because that's what you would come up with if you were even able to sew the damn thing together.  The corrections desk thanked me for my letter but printed the directions again without change.

This ignorance is not new with the pandemic, but I'm seeing more of it lately as people turn to craft projects to while away the quarantined hours.  The Times has been running a weekly feature called Designer D.I.Y. in which famous fashion types tell us how to do something questionably useful.  Last week's feature, for instance, was how to cut a slit halfway up into the middle of a blanket to make a coat/cape/ruana -- very timely as we head into a globally-warmed summer.

Today's feature is how to fancy up your socks, courtesy of Simone Rocha, a young Irish designer whose work has been described as "often toeing the line between pretty and perverse."  And here's how to personalize those toes, illustrated with yummy watercolored sketches instead of boring old photos.

First, you get your stuff together.  I wonder what kind of "embroidery thread" comes on a spool?  Are people supposed to use plain old sewing thread?

Maybe they will google "embroidery thread" and zip past those first four offerings of embroidery floss, heading for the machine embroidery thread at right because it's the only one that remotely looks like the picture in the newspaper.  That will make great sock decoration, folks.  (By the way, you, as a knowledgeable sewist, might be tempted by the third offering on this screen, 450 skeins of DMC floss for $25, from 

Now that you have your thread, start sewing!!  After you write your name on the sock as a stitching guide, you may find it easier to put it in an embroidery hoop, as in the helpful drawing.

Hmmm.  That's all the directions say.  I wonder how many people will proudly taken their embroidered sock out of the hoop and discover they have sewed the back to the front.

Thank you, Designer D.I.Y.!

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The good old days of bias tape

In the course of making lots and lots of face masks I had occasion to delve into my stash of sewing notions from the previous century, all of which have been carefully saved because you never know when you might need them.  Indeed, for 30 years I have found no use for inch-wide bias binding, or "quilt binding" as some of it was labeled, because if I wanted to put binding on a quilt I would use actual fabric, and if I wanted to face a hem (as the wider bias was labeled) I would use nylon seam binding (of which I also have a boatload).  But who knew it would be perfect for the ties on face masks!

As I surveyed the whole box full, I noted how the price has gone up over the years, while the quantity in the packet has gone down.  Not all the packets have dates, but the pink one is 1966, the second from the left is 1969 and the yellow one at the right is 1986.  Meanwhile the quality has changed too -- from 100% cotton to 50/50 poly/cotton.   

Surprisingly enough, there has been a whole lot less price inflation in the last 34 years than in the 20 years between the four packs in the photo.

Between 1966 and 1986 the price went up from 6 cents a yard to 63 cents -- a 950% increase!  But from 1986 till today, it's only gone up 57%.  Today the fabric is 55% polyester, which I wouldn't worry about, since poly blends are much more wrinkle resistant than 100% cotton.

As the price was going up, the width of the binding was going down.  The pink stuff from 1966 was a full inch wide, the yellow looked to be about 1/16" narrower, and according to the JoAnn Fabrics website, today's binding, which costs $2.99 for three yards, is only 7/8" wide.

Probably today's bias tape would work just as well for face masks as my wonderful stuff from the past.  But it wouldn't give me the immense satisfaction of using things I bought more than 50 years ago and are still the perfect solution.

And some of it was even on sale!!

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Plague diary -- May 6

I gather from reading the newspapers, art publications and social media that the pandemic has prompted a huge number of projects in which artists exchange or collaborate on work with others.  I've always been a sucker for that kind of activity, so have signed up for three different ones.

I wrote about the first one several weeks ago when I made a little hanging for one of my friends whom I usually get together with regularly.  When we couldn't have our meetings, one of us organized this gift exchange.

Here's one of the little postage stamp hangings that I made for round one of the exchange.  We had so much fun that we decided to do another round, and just yesterday I delivered the first gift.  This time, sculpture.

Meanwhile, I was invited to join New Friends Art Exchange, organized by a friend of a friend.  I've sent off two pieces: one as an outright gift:

and one as an exquisite corpse, in which each person adds to what has been made before.  I left lots of space for the next people to work:

I have received a piece in the exquisite corpse chain that I haven't figured out yet how to enhance.

Maybe it needs a map of Antarctica?  Maybe the penguin needs a dialog balloon to tell us about his pandemic experience?  I get to think about it for a few more days before the send-off deadline.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Plague diary -- May 4

It's been several weeks of lockdown, and different people are responding in different ways.  A month ago all I could hear about was Zoom -- teachers holding video classes, virtual cocktail hours among friends, family reunions, endless work meetings.  I even participated in two Zooms.  For the first one, the regular monthly meeting of our co-op gallery, I thought I couldn't do the video part, since my computer has neither camera nor mike.  So I had the pictures on my screen but had to phone in for the audio, and of course my own photo wasn't on screen. 

For the second one, a meeting of our art book club, I was informed by my son that I could do video from my Kindle, which was true, if constrained.  Other people could switch to screen view and show images of their work or play video; I had to pick up my Kindle and point it at the screen of my computer to share an image without any visual feedback to see how I was doing.  Awkward:  "Can you see this?"  "Farther back, please," 

I approached both of these meetings with something close to dread, and felt bad that I couldn't articulate why.  I am no stranger to old-fashioned telephone conference calls, having spent hundreds of hours that way in my work days.  But videoconferencing seemed to be nowhere near as efficient (for the business meeting) or warm and friendly (for the club meting).  A lot of time was frittered away with comments about how people were dressed, whose spouses had to come in and set up the computer for them, and who was visible only as a black hole.  People still talked over one another, or hesitated in midsentence because somebody else cleared their throat.  The conversation seemed self-conscious and forced, not natural. 

In this Zoom publicity photo, all the people are so HAPPY!  Isn't it FUN to be on a videoconference?  And we're all so young and pretty, and we all work in such bright sunny places -- life is GREAT!!!
I've read dozens of articles in the newspaper with helpful tips on how to do videoconferencing.  How should you dress, how should you stage the part of the room visible on your computer camera, how should you incarcerate your kids and pets for the duration, is it OK to eat during the "meeting."  I read with horror an interview with an alleged management expert who passed along a "helpful tip" from her recent video work meeting with 31 participants.  Good Lord, what kind of management expert thinks it's a good idea to hold a meeting with 31 participants, no matter where or how it's convened???? 

In the last week or so I'm not seeing so many of these articles.  Is it because people who have to do this thing all the time have finally figured out that it's better to wear a shirt and pants when being photographed for your boss and co-workers to see?  Or is it because people are getting so damn sick and tired of videomeetings that they don't want to think or talk about it? 

Then in today's New York Times was an article that made me leap up and say YES!!!!  The headline:  "Why Zoom Is Terrible."  The author points to the "distortions and delays inherent in video....  blocking, freezing, blurring, jerkiness and out-of-sync audio.  These disruptions, some below our conscious awareness, confound perception and scramble subtle social cues.  Our brains strain to fill in the gaps and make sense of the disorder, which makes us feel vaguely disturbed, uneasy and tired without quite knowing why." 

Yes, that's exactly the way I feel about it. 

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Plague diary April 30 -- freezer update

I am happy that so many of my blog readers are getting a laugh or two out of the continuing saga of my new freezer.  Vickie left a comment: "Sorry about your freezer, but thanks for the diversion.  I love following the plot twists."  Robbie commented: "It's no fun for you but it's a fun post to read!!!"  Nancy commented:  "Oh my goodness, I think you must be such fun to hang out with.  You crack me up."  Readers, I didn't want to have all this trouble but I did it just for your pleasure!  So glad it worked.

Previously on Art With a Needle....  On April 10 GE Appliances said I was approved for a buyback, since they had spent a month failing to fix the freezer, and then failing to send me a replacement model.  They would FedEx a check to my local trucking company, which would in turn drive over, hand me the check and take away the freezer.  During the following week I called the trucking company a couple of times to see whether they had received the check and marching orders, but no they hadn't.

Then, surprise!  On April 20, the check came to me in the mail!  Not as promised, but hardly anything GE has done has been as promised.  We were happy.

Then I did something that I probably shouldn't have done.  I decided to wait and see what would happen next.  Would GE's fabulous inventory system even realize that there was a freezer out there needing to be collected?  Since that system could not tell whether a "temp sensor" would be shipped right this very afternoon or be on back order until August, I didn't have high hopes.

Sure enough, a week passed.  Then on this past Monday, April 27, my pal Sandy from Home Depot called me to see how things were going.  She was surprised, but not very, to hear that the check had been mailed instead of brought by the trucking company, and she said she would call somebody and get them moving on coming to get the freezer.

And this afternoon, they came.  The freezer left, and good riddance.   We've decided that pandemic or not, we can indeed live without a freezer in the garage, that the kitchen freezer compartment can indeed hold weeks and weeks worth of food. So much for our experiment in survivalism.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Last week on Art With a Needle

I may have sewed my last mask, and delivered it Sunday afternoon.  And to celebrate, I spent most of the weekend cleaning up my studio.  Not that it will ever get "clean," but all the fabric from the masks has been folded up and put back in the drawers, and lots of other bits and pieces have been sorted and put away.  I'm doing make-work while trying to discern what I want to do next -- sew or make sculpture.  Both of them call to me, but neither voice is loud enough to drown out the other.

Meanwhile I've been doing some hand stitching onto silk scraps, some of them from the kimono project that we did in our local textile art group a couple of years ago.  Here's one piece in progress:

I'm also auditioning some bits and pieces of old textiles for another hand-stitched piece.  When I sent a photo of this composition to my dear friend Uta Lenk last week, she wasn't very impressed.

She wrote back:  "The current setting looks so much like flower pot on the balcony that it's not really Kathy."

I wrote back: "I agree that the quilt and edging are a bit sweetie for my usual style, but you're allowed to change up your style now and then, don't you think?  Maybe I need to make a smaller composition with the quilt block and edging and a little bit of something else, and save the kimono scrap and red doodad for a second piece.  I guess I will let this simmer for a bit." 

She responded:  "I am all for developing new style -- but I think you would want to become more sophisticated and artistic and not revert to making flower pots that look like that quilt block with the basket."

Well, with that resounding vote of no confidence from someone whose artistic judgment I greatly respect, I have removed the bottom half of the composition and am letting the two pieces wait to tell me what they want to do.  I hope one of them speaks up pretty soon because I need another hand-stitching project.  We have piled up some TV shows that I want to watch upstairs with Ken, not down in the studio, so I need something to do while watching.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

No, you can't be art after all

Several years ago I got the idea to save the empty prescription bottles that had finished their careers of keeping us alive.  I had a vague idea that I would assemble them into a huge sculpture, with all their different sizes and shapes (because god knows we have gone through a huge variety of medications since starting to get old).  I even tried holding some together with wire, after putting holes in the bottles with an awl.  Which turned out to be a lot harder than I thought it was going to be, because prescription bottles are apparently designed to withstand earthquakes, tsunamis and chain saws.  The art project never has materialized, but the prescription bottles keep piling up.

Does this remind you of any art projects that may be resisting arrest in your own studio?  Have you ever put things away for a specific purpose -- or maybe just a vague idea -- that never happened?  I think we all have UFOs sitting there out of gas.  A lot of people feel compelled to finish them, even if they don't want to.  My friend Robin is in a group that has pledged to finish a UFO every month, on pain of financial penalty if they don't meet their deadlines!

I think this is kind of a dumb idea, with all due respect to Robin.  Yes, I have frequently put projects aside because they aren't coming along properly, or I get tired of them, and sometimes when I run into them months or years later they call out to me to be finished.  Sometimes the idea that eluded me so long ago springs to mind.  Sometimes the thought of mindless but useful sewing appeals, if my emotional state needs mindless but useful sewing.  But I firmly do NOT believe that there is a moral obligation to finish everything you start.

Especially as you get older.  Understanding that you have a limited number of days of art left in your life, do you want to spend them finishing up some ugly damn quilt or stupid knitting that arguably you should have known better than to start in the first place?  Or do you want to spend them making something that will stretch your abilities, challenge your creativity, and give you pleasure in the task?  I go for the second door.

I kept saving those prescription bottles, though, even while admitting intellectually that the huge sculpture project probably wasn't a good idea, and that I didn't even much want to do it any more even if I could figure out a plan.  The process of saving the bottles had taken on a life of its own.

Then yesterday my daughter-in-law sent me a text:  "Do you have any empty prescription bottles we can have?  A friend of ours is collecting them for part of a service project."  Well, did she come to the right place!

Seems the friend, a pharmacist, is assembling care packages for elderly people in food/pharmacy deserts.  They're putting OTC medications like aspirin, allergy and heartburn remedies, purchased in bulk, into the bottles to distribute.

Here's what I  have collected so far:

I suspect there are that many again more stashed in other places in the studio.  I will resume the search.

Update:  I found more:

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Plague diary April 23

It's been five weeks today since we decided to not go anywhere that we would run into other people.

There are a few things that I like about being locked down.  Such as being able to stay up late and sleep in as late as I like.  In fact, I've been getting extremely restful and satisfying sleep throughout the plague time, plus not a single nightmare or disturbing dream about getting sick.  And I think that scam telemarketing calls are down, probably because scamsters can't trust their employees to work at top efficiency if they're not right there in the boiler room.

But of course there are things I don't like.  Top of the list is not being able to see the grandchildren, although the other day I returned some empty tupperware, sat on the porch swing while the kids played in the front yard and chatted at a distance with son and daughter-in-law.  That was nice, but not as nice as hugs and kisses.

I realize that I really dislike not being able to go grocery shopping.  At first in the lockdown my sons went to the store for me, and might call or text from the store to ask whether 2% milk was OK since there was no skim, but that stopped when they want into lockdown as well and we all started to use the grocery store pickup.  Which didn't always deliver what we ordered, and sometimes delivered what we didn't order (mixed nuts with "less than 50% peanuts," yuk).

But I like to shop for groceries as targets of opportunity.  I like to check the leftover bins, where yesterday's ground beef is marked down, and the getting-old produce is put at random into 99-cent bags.  That's when I might decide to buy five bags of getting-old apples to make a pie and some applesauce, or two bags of getting-old avocados, to eat one of at every meal till they run out.  Sometimes the red peppers look fabulous (buy a half dozen) and sometimes they look limp and pathetic (buy zero).  And if I'm not in a hurry, I like to go slowly up and down the aisles to see what looks good that I forgot to put on my list, or didn't realize that I wanted till I see it.  You can't do this with Kroger Click Pick.

from the fruit stand, chosen by ME!!!
I have been violating my orders (from my sons, not from the health department) and have made two trips to the fruit stand and one to the butcher in the last five weeks.  Wearing my mask and standing far from others.  But I'm really jonesing for a trip to the big grocery.  They have geezer time for an hour every morning, where just old people are admitted.  Some of my friends, even older than I am, go to the grocery regularly and so far seem to be uninfected, but I'm resisting so far.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Plague diary April 17 -- freezer update

When I last shared the story of my new freezer, two and a half weeks ago, GE Appliances had promised to send me a new freezer in place of the one we just bought but did not work properly.  It was going to be delivered on April 7.  At the time, I wrote "seeing will be believing."  Oh, what a cynic I am, to doubt the promises of a major American manufacturer.

(Well, actually, it's a major Chinese manufacturer, who bought the appliance division four years ago, but kept the GE name because it's so well known and trusted.)  (Right.  As my new best friend Sandy, the appliance expediter at Home Depot said to me recently on the phone, "I hate GE.")

Guess what -- no freezer on April 7.  I will spare you the gory details of my many calls and emails with GE's "customer service" people.  I will hint that they changed their story multiple times, they lied to Sandy about what they had told me a couple of days previously, they contradicted their very own emails from the week before which were still appended to the new email.

still in garage

A week ago Sandy extracted a promise, confirmed in an email to me from Andre at GE, that "in about 5 business days" the local trucking company would show up at my door with a check for $857.65 and take the freezer away.  (Well, actually he promised Sandy "three to five business days," but you know how these promises work.)  And today -- guess what -- the trucking company has not received the check and therefore has not scheduled a time to come get my freezer.

But I have both made and lost friends in this process!  First I thought I had made friends with Deshalique at GE, when she found the hard-to-get temp sensor in her secret warehouse and had it shipped to me that very afternoon!!  Then, after she refused to answer my emails, not to mention not having the part shipped, I sadly decided she was not my friend after all.  When GE send me a survey to complete about whether I would recommend GE appliances to my friends, and how would I rate my recent interaction with my case manager, I was able to rat her out by name, the only fun I've had in a while.

Then I made friends with Sabrina at GE, who promised to deliver the replacement freezer on April 7.  Since she wasn't my real case manager, she didn't have the opportunity to refuse to answer my emails wondering why it hadn't been delivered, so maybe she's still my friend despite not coming up with a freezer.

But Sandy is still and always my friend.  When GE stopped talking to me Sandy was able to get through and negotiate on my behalf.  And she always calls me back within a couple of hours to report on what she has accomplished!  I think that when and if the freezer departs, I will take Sandy some cookies, or maybe a personalized face mask.

And now I have made friends with Brian at the trucking company, with whom I chat every now and then to learn that GE has not sent the check yet.

UPDATE 1:  Sandy followed up with GE and called me an hour ago to keep me posted.  She reports that although Andre told us the truck would be here with a check in five days, he wasn't exactly telling the truth.  In fact, GE didn't approve the check until day before yesterday, so maybe a week more.  

UPDATE 2:  Vicki left a comment on this post asking whether we could get a chargeback on the credit card instead of waiting for the GE check.  Yes, that would be the simplest way to do it, but apparently simplest is not the way GE does business.  And I hesitate to even try to suggest this to GE.  I did wonder whether we could postpone paying MasterCard until we actually got the check from GE, but MasterCard is so swamped with calls that the robosystem wouldn't even put me in a queue to talk to a human being, just hung up on me.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Plague diary April 13

I started out the pandemic believing, thanks to diligent research, that fabric face masks weren't effective against viruses.  Then as time passed, conventional wisdom pivoted in the face of adversity and guess what, fabric face masks are wonderful.  So I have been sewing masks for friends and family for a couple of weeks now.

This week PYRO Gallery, the artist cooperative that I am a part of, decided to launch a Go Fund Me campaign to help pay the rent while we're closed.  We haven't been able to open the gallery in a month, and of course don't know when that will end.  The show that was supposed to be up now, in which each of the 18 PYRO artists invited a guest to exhibit, was canceled a month ago.  The show that's supposed to open in early May is probably not going to happen.

And then in mid-June, my solo show is supposed to start, but I don't think the chances are good for that schedule to hold.  (And I'm not sure I want it to... the thought of a big opening reception and gallery talk and workshop is kind of frightening.)

As part of the Go Fund Me, I offered to make face masks as a premium for any donation over $50, and already I have a dozen orders to fill.  So I'm back in the studio sewing.  Decided to upgrade my mask ties from the 1970s bias binding to fancy material, since the masks are advertised as super-duper special unique artist-made, so this afternoon I'm folding and pressing strips while watching trash TV.

If you'd like a super-duper special unique artist-made mask for your very own, we'd be very grateful for your support of PYRO Gallery.  The coronavirus is laying waste to so much that we love, and I hope that our art will survive and prosper when we come out the other side of the pandemic.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Wear your masks, people!!

The good news:  the Easter Bunny is certified virus-free and can visit everyone and go anywhere without fear of spreading disease.  The bad news:  not so for the rest of us.

Wear your masks, people!  The Easter Bunny will still recognize you.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The ultimate mask tutorial, I think

Over the last couple of weeks I have made several masks, each time changing the technique and approach to make the process easier and faster.  Here's my perfected technique for making a mask, although it may improve even more as I do it again.  If so, I'll share my new plans.

Cut two pieces of tightly woven fabric -- I like batik because it's really dense.  If you have a choice between two different kinds of fabric, hold them both up to the light.  The one that blocks the most light is the one you want.  One piece will be 9 inches by 8.5 inches.  The other will be 9 inches by 7.5 inches.  Cut a piece of interfacing 9 inches by 7.5 inches.

Sandwich the three pieces with the large one on the bottom and  the interfacing in the middle.  You will turn the top and bottom edges up and over the other two layers and stitch them in the next few steps.

Fold one edge of the taller piece over the other two and stitch a neat hem.  This will be the bottom side of the mask, under your chin.  If you're feeling obsessive, go back and stitch the seam again, a little ways closer to the edge to really hold that sucker down in place.

You will note that I left the raw edge of the fabric open.  Because batik is so tightly woven, I'm not worried about it raveling.  But if you're worried about your fabric, feel free to turn a tiny hem before you sew down the edge, or zigzag the seam down instead of straight-stitching it.

Find a piece of wire approximately 3 inches long that you can bend to fit tight over the bridge of your nose.  I used a six-inch length of 30-gauge wire doubled in two, but any weight of wire that can bend easily will do.  A twist tie or telephone wire would also work, and I see no reason why any of these can't go through the wash.  If by any chance your wire rusts, so what? 

Turn the mask around and fold over the top side to hem it, just as you did with the bottom side.  Mark the center, which will fit right over your nose.  Hold the wire against the edge and eyeball where the ends will be -- about an inch and a half out from the center.  Mark those places too.  You are going to make a pocket to slip the wire into, just a little bit wider than the wire itself.

Stitch along the folded edge until you get to where the pocket is going to start.  Stitch in and back to make one end of the pocket, then do the same for the other edge.  Keep going to the end of the seam.

Slip the wire into the pocket.  Push it snug up against the top seam.

Stitch the top side once more, this time farther away from the edge.  When you get to the pocket, slow down and be careful that you don't sew into your wire and break your needle.  If the wire has been pushed way up toward the edge of the mask, it shouldn't be a problem.

Pleat the mask so the side is about 3.5 inches tall.  You can use three or four pleats, whichever seems easiest to make.  It doesn't matter if all the pleats are the same depth, but they should all point in the same direction, and try to keep the two sides symmetrical.  You may want to mark the pleat lines in the margin, or you can just eyeball.  You can gently iron the pleats in place, or finger press them, or just pull them taut, whatever makes you feel most secure.  You can pin them in place (pin heads toward the center of the mask, pin points toward the edge) or stitch across the pleats to hold them in place.

I am fortunate to own a lot of one-inch bias binding from the previous century.  If you don't, you should cut some fabric 2 inches wide and make your own binding.  If you have some fabric that's lighter in weight than the batik you used for the mask, it will be easier to work with. 

You will need two 40-inch strips of binding.  If you don't have a piece of fabric that long, you can seam two pieces together.  You can cut straight across from selvage to selvage, or parallel to the selvage; it doesn't matter.  But don't cut on the bias.

Fold the strip in half and press it. 

Open the strip flat.  Now fold each of the edges in again, almost touching the center fold, and press. 
Cut two ties, each 40 inches long.  Mark the center with a pin or pencil.  Fold the two sides together and stitch from one end.  When you get close to the center mark, insert one side of your mask.  Eyeball it so the center of the mask is at the center of the tie.  Fold the binding/tie so it encloses the raw edges of your mask and stitch.  After you clear the mask, continue stitching to the end of the tie.

The mask will fit better if the ties don't extend straight up and down from the mask edges, so pleat the ties and stitch them at a better angle.  The top ties should extend slightly upwards at an angle.  The bottom ties should extend straight out.  Just scribble-stitch across the pleats to hold them in place.

Flip the mask over and look at the front side.  Make sure the line of stitching has caught the entire binding firmly.  You can run a second line of stitching inside the first line to make it stronger.

Inspect the rest of the mask, front and back, and if you see any places where your stitching veered off the edge go back and stitch again to reinforce.  Clip off any dangling threads.  But don't be too precious about it.  These masks are not going to be entered in the state fair where the quilt police would tut-tut your construction techniques.

If you didn't have two colors of fabric, write "inside" on the inside of your mask.  That way if you have to take the mask off and put it back on, you can be sure to put the clean side next to your face.

Now comes the hard part -- you and your loved ones have to WEAR IT!!  Wear it when you go to the store.  Wear it when you go to work, if you still have a job.  Wear it when you go to the park, unless you are absolutely sure there's nobody else in the park with you.  Wear it when you drop groceries off for your mom.  Wear it when you ride on the bus.  Wear it when you pick up hamburgers at the drive-through window.  Wear it when the grocery-store girl brings your stuff out to the car.  Wear it when you open the door for the pizza guy. 

You are protecting yourself and you are also protecting your co-workers and your mom and the bus driver and the pizza guy.  And you should probably even wear it when you read my blog, because I don't want to catch it either.

Wear it in good health!!