Saturday, February 29, 2020

Great quilts on display

My dear friend and quilting pal Vickie Wheatley has a great show of her bright, intricate quilts at PYRO Gallery.  I have been working closely with Vickie for more than a year and it is a particular thrill to see pieces that we spent all day rearranging on the design wall finally on the gallery wall.  But I was most interested in the variety of small details in the many pieces on display, which so clearly show her trying out new things and progressing in her body of work.

For some time now Vickie has been exploring a design that starts with strips of random black and white piecing that make a "road" diagonally through the middle of her block.  Once that's in place, she fills out the corners of the block with colored strips.  When she sets the blocks in fours, you see a big diagonal grid of black-and-white roads, or maybe a bunch of colored squares or diamonds floating above a sea of black-and-white, depending on how you look at it.

Then she adds a twist: she sticks little miscellaneous bits and cuttings under the quilting thread.  And I do mean little -- some of the bits are only a quarter-inch wide.  The contrast between these wildly irregular bits and the meticulously pieced quilt top adds excitement and texture.

As the series progresses, you can see her experimenting.  In #1, the black-and-white strips are cut to a strict 45 degree angle, but in #5 they're wonky.  In #4 she has put so many bits and cuttings on top that you can barely see the underlying pattern of the blocks. 

Anxieties #1: Imperfections

Anxieties #4: The River Lethe

In #3 and #4 she adds sashing between the blocks, and cuts some of the square blocks into rectangles before sashing.

Anxieties #3: Breakdown

As you can imagine, when you sew strips together and then cut triangles from them to make the corners of your blocks, you end up with a lot of leftovers.  Vickie sewed more than a dozen small quilts from the leftovers, and it was fun to see how she varied their colors and personalities, even though she was working from the same huge scrap pile.

In the next post I'll show you the many different ways Vickie finished her small pieces for display at the gallery. 

Meanwhile, the show is up at PYRO Gallery through March 21.  Well worth a detour if you're anywhere near Louisville!

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Sewing -- an obsolete skill?

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about my daughter-in-law's attempt to make a dress for the two-year-old and how we were both frustrated by the slipshod construction methods specified in the Simplicity pattern.  Well, mainly it was me who was frustrated, and wondering whether good sewing technique is a thing of the past, and whether I should just relax and enjoy it.

Several readers who, like me, learned to sew in the previous century, shared my angst.  Stitchinscience wrote: "I too am surprised at modern patterns and their "quick" construction techniques.  Particularly anything to do with curves -- new stitchers really need to understand curves and bias edges."  QuiltGranma wrote: "I agree with you on the sloppy pattern directions and their way of finishing!  I've seen readymade just as sloppy.  Wear out and need repair in no time!"

Sue wrote:  "In the late 60s, I spent a couple of years in a fashion design program, learning pattern drafting, garment design and tailoring.  Recently I thought I'd take a break from art quilts and make myself some garments, but found commercial patterns so disappointing that I have decided to make my own.  If I had a daughter who was interested, I would be so happy to pass on these skills, and I can't tell you how many times my advanced garment making skills have come to my aid in making complex art out of cloth!"

A couple of readers suggested I just move on.  Helen wrote:  "Step away.  You'll only get hot and cross..."   Dixie wrote:  "I'm with Helen on this.  So much has gone the cheap and easy way.  Sewing, cooking, spelling..."

But Idaho wrote:  "Do not succumb to letting this go!  If Kristin is willing, I say teach the next generation proper garment construction with patterns having decent instructions.  Otherwise, if she continues to dabble in sewing clothes for the little one, she's just going to become frustrated, and just like in quilting, think it's her fault (as has already happened).  And you will continue to stew about this, I'm sure. "

Carol homed in on the patterns themselves:  "When I look in my stash of patterns I have saved there are VERY FEW Simplicity and most are McCalls, Vogue or from independent companies."

I told Kristin, my daughter-in-law, to read the blog post and the comments, and she in turn shared
it all on a Facebook group of people who sew, and asked "Did I choose a pattern from their half-assed line, or is it all patterns?"  Here are some of their comments:

"They're mainly half-assed.  They've always been half-assed when it's Butterick or McCalls.  I went to fashion design school and just shake my head at their instructions."

"I just want to wish you good luck.  I thought I might sew a pattern once and I opened up the envelope and my brain stopped working.  I watched YouTube videos to figure out what it all meant but decided maybe I was just too daft for it."

"I haven't had an issue but I like to search hashtags for patterns on Instagram to see other people's makes and if they have any feedback on the pattern.  I support a lot of smaller pattern makers and if you want some suggestions, I love Friday Pattern Company!"

"I hate the big 4 tissue paper patterns.  I've been sewing since the early 90s and the greatest invention ever was the independent PDF pattern companies."

"This is why I only use PDF patterns, they come with better instructions, pictures of each step and often links to videos for the really hard stuff."

"Patterns for Pirates and their sister site, Made for Mermaids have much better patterns."

"Look for patterns from indie companies instead of the big 4 (Vogue, McCall's, Simplicity, Butterick).  Indie pattern designers usually have sewalongs, hacking guides, etc. and their instructions are way more in depth.  My favorite indie pattern companies: Friday Pattern Co., True Bias, Megan Nielsen Patterns."

These comments from a younger generations of sewists opened my eyes and made me realize that since I gave up garment sewing in the early 90s, I've missed a lot.  Such as PDF patterns (I don't even understand how these work) and getting sewing advice and directions from the internet.  Almost makes me want to make a garment again!  As to the independent pattern companies: I think in my whole lifetime I only once bought an indie pattern.  I never had problems with the big companies, and I really enjoyed looking in the pattern books, then going to the big drawers to root around and try to find the pattern in the right size.  So last-century.

Kristin hasn't raised the issue of making another dress so I don't know how she/we will proceed.  She did amaze the two-year-old the other night when said child wanted a tutu and Kristin produced one.  (No, she didn't make it -- she had gotten it as a hand-me-down from a friend but not brought it out yet.)  If the kid is going to keep putting in fashion requests, home sewing may be the best answer.  I'll keep you posted!!

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Coronavirus and me

Several years ago the newspapers were full of some sordid scandal and I announced to my husband that I was not going to read another word about it.  Instead (I made this part up on the fly in mid-rant...)  I was going to read every word written about ... Ebola.  And I followed through on both promises.  Since then I have become quite the aficionada of epidemics, Ebola or otherwise.

So I have been following the coronavirus story closely, and especially when it hit the two big cruise ships, because I also love cruise ships.  I knew I had a tie to the Westerdam, the ship that was finally allowed to offload its passengers in Cambodia, because it's the identical twin to Zuiderdam, the Holland-America ship that we have sailed on three times in the last couple of years.  But silly me, it took a long time before I realized my even stronger tie to the Diamond Princess.

In 2015 I took a tour to Japan that was mostly on board a Princess Line ship, and when Diamond Princess was first quarantined in Yokohama Harbor a couple of weeks ago, I wondered offhand whether that was our ship.  But I didn't get around to researching that question until this afternoon, at which point I found, in my folder of photos from that tour, this one of our ship at a pier:

And here, one of our lifeboats:

Yes!  that's the death ship!  (As of this afternoon two of the passengers have died of the virus, and more than 600 passengers and crew are infected.) 

In case you're wondering what it would be like to be quarantined on a cruise ship for two weeks, here's what our cabin looked like:

There was a spacious closet and bathroom:

And a balcony, with the same view of Yokohama Harbor that the luckier quarantined folks had.  A good argument for upgrading to a balcony cabin: if you ever get stuck on a death ship you can at least get some fresh air.

We're on the mailing list for the cruise lines we've sailed with in the past, and every day we get a new message begging us to sign up for another voyage.  They've lowered the deposit to $25, are offering free internet, free drinks, and practically free base fares.  Despite my ghoulish slurping up of every word written about coronavirus, I'm really tempted to sign up for another cruise -- nothing is so exciting as being on a ship as it leaves the dock and sails away to somewhere else....

Sunday, February 16, 2020

A good deed

I struck up a conversation with a friend at a party Friday night and she told me how she goes to the Greyhound bus station several mornings a week to see if any asylum seekers are on their way from Texas to New York or Chicago.  Yes, there are still a few people being admitted to the U.S. with asylum claims, and put on buses to go somewhere and wait for their hearing date.  And a network of saints on earth has spring up to help these unfortunate migrants on their journey, much as the Underground Railroad helped an earlier generation of migrants.

The buses come up from Texas and stop in Memphis, but since that stop occurs at 4 a.m., nobody meets the bus and there's nobody to call ahead and tell the Louisville people what to expect.  So my friend or somebody from her network is there every day to see if anyone needs help.  Some days there are no seekers on the bus, some days there are three or four.  The morning of our conversation, my friend met a young couple and their 2-month-old baby.

The buses stop here for 40 minutes, time for the greeters give out water and sandwiches (there is no food service at the Louisville bus station, or anywhere in its neighborhood).  They try to have warm gloves and caps on hand, since most of the migrants are not equipped for cold weather.  If more help is needed, somebody will pass the word to the network in Cincinnati; the couple with the baby didn't have coats but probably the good people two hours up the road were able to find some.

I asked my friend if they have a lot of babies come through, because I happen to own a lot of new baby afghans that I would like to give away.  I like to crochet while watching TV or talking with visitors, and a couple of years ago I went on an orgy of using up piles and piles of yarn that were occupying drawers and boxes and bags in every corner of the house.  She said that would be wonderful, because it's often cold on the bus.

So yesterday I hauled out my bags and tubs of afghans -- and realized that in my usual slapdash construction approach, they all had thread ends hanging out where I had started, stopped, or changed yarn in the middle. 

I spent two hours watching a movie on TV and weaving thread ends in with a big-eye needle, and got five afghans ready to deliver at a meeting this afternoon.  I think there are eight more in the TV room waiting to be finished, and I hope I can do that before too long.

This made me feel really good.  Yes, this project clears out at least one cubic yard of stuff that I am thrilled to divest.  But it also allows me to demonstrate in a very small way that although our government may be cruel and hostile to the tired and poor people at our borders, many of us ordinary citizens welcome them through the golden door.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

After a decade of putting stuff aside......

More so in the past than now, art galleries and museums were in the habit of sending out lots of postcards to announce new shows and exhibits.  I was on the mailing list for several places, and maybe ten years ago I started to save all the cards.  Carefully stashed them in nicely labeled boxes and thought that someday I would make art with them.

At the last meeting of my art group, the monthly prompt was "postage stamps."  After a great evening of looking at mail and stamp projects of many different sorts, I was reminded of my old idea of using those art show cards.

Kathleen Loomis, Memorial Day, 2008, Quilts Japan Prize in Quilt National 09

I have made lots of what I call "postage stamp quilts" in which tiny quilts, about the size of stamps, are machine-sewed together into an open grid.  I've also made a couple from paper, which has the advantage of not requiring the time-consuming quilting before you get to sewing the pieces together.

Fortunately the postcards were right there on the shelf, in pleasant contrast to other art materials that I know I own but can't find without serious searching.

After several days of cutting, I got to the sorting stage:

I had first thought to just sew everything together into one huge grid, but then realized that first, one huge grid would be harder to sew, harder to hang and less appealing to purchase.  And second, that the bits of card had many different kinds of imagery and I could find smaller theme groupings that would be more interesting.

So here is the start of a grid of hard-edged graphics, mostly orange and blue:

And here's a finished grid of little landscape scenes:

Sorry for the glare -- it's impossible to take a decent photo because the glossy card stock is so reflective.  Fortunately these pieces don't need to be photographed for jurors -- they can go straight to the wall for my show this summer.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

I help make a dress -- after 25 years

One day in the early 1990s I had an epiphany.  The universe spoke to me as I was sitting in my sewing room making a dress (I sewed most of my own clothes for decades; in addition to wardrobe enhancement it was my therapy, my time to be alone, my respite from a hectic 60-hour-a-week job and two trying teenagers).  The universe said to me that if I wanted to get serious about making quilts, which had been in my mind for some time, I had to devote my scarce free time to what was important -- and to do so I had better stop making garments.

So I did.  From that day on, no garment sewing other than the occasional mending or small alteration.  I didn't even finish the garments already in process, and I still sometimes come upon a half-sewed blouse or cut-out-but-not-sewed dress that was stowed away, never to be revisited.

But then came Vivian.  I never had a little girl to sew for before, and this particular little one happens to be a 2-1/2-year-old clothes horse.  But still I didn't succumb.  Her mother and the other grandma were doing a fine job of keeping the kid in fashion without my help.  Recently her mother decided it would be fun to sew clothes instead of buy them, so she enrolled in a sewing-brush-up class, and then bought some fabric and a pattern and came over to use my facilities and equipment to make Vivian a dress.

We agreed that my role would be strictly limited to giving advice and support, NOT sewing.  I cleaned off the worktable and the cutting mats so Kristin could cut out the pattern, put new thread in the bobbin, and then it was time to sew. We read the pattern to determine step one -- and I had a conniption.  Apparently a lot has changed in the world of garment sewing since the early 1990s.  Specifically, the dress had no facings!

The raw edges of the yoke were just going to sit there unfinished, as were the raw edges of the placket.  The neckline was supposed to be finished with half-inch bias tape.  The underarm seam allowance would be turned back and stitched as it merged into the armholes.

This was not up to my standards, and although I wasn't supposed to be doing any of the sewing, just offering sewing machine time, I couldn't let this project continue.  I sent Kristin home and drafted some facings for the neckline that would also cover the yoke seams, then sewed them on.  I pitched the placket (which would have required making buttonholes, which would have required finding my buttonhole foot and remembering how to use it -- too much trouble) and simply faced the slit we had already cut.

Kristin came back a couple of days ago to finish the job.  She serged the seam edges.  She followed the pattern directions to finish the armholes, and after she stitched, she said "What did I do wrong?  Look at how this is all wrinkly!!"

Well, no, dear, that's what happens when you try to turn back and hem a curved edge cut on the bias.  In other words, when you follow the pattern directions.  We tried to mitigate the bulge by running a second line of stitching inside the first to give a bit more stability to this fragile, unsupported edge.

I put the last touches on the dress on Sunday and here's Vivian modeling it.  It's really cute, accented with some of Kristin's hand-dyed fabric.  But it has put me into an existential crisis.

What's with these low-end, sloppy construction methods?  Why is Simplicity telling people to make garments so slapdash and flimsy?  What happens when a dress goes through the wash without any seam finishing?  I know that "unconstructed" garments are fashionable, as well as much cheaper to make, but is this the right way to go for a two-year-old's dress?  Don't mothers hand down clothes to other little girls any more?  It offends my sensibilities to think that garments get worn six times and sent to the landfill, which seems like the inevitable result of this approach.

Am I just too old and curmudgeonly?  Are well-sewed garments so twentieth-century?  If you buy Simplicity's higher-end line of patterns, instead of the cheap fast-fashion line, would you get better construction methods?  Shall I try to mentor Kristin in the traditional sewing techniques that served me so well in the past, or shall I just get with the program and embrace this brave new (sloppy) world?

What do you think?????