Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Plague diary March 31 -- freezer update

I spent a large portion of Monday and Tuesday on the phone trying to get my freezer operating.  First call was to Home Depot, where a lovely manager called GE and lit a fire under them.  Deshalique, my GE "case manager," called me back to say yes, the temp sensor that Jerry's Appliance Repair wanted was back ordered to June 21, but good news, she had access to more warehouses than Jerry's did and she could get a temp sensor out to me this very afternoon!  Well, not this very afternoon, because it was after 3 pm and that's when the shipping closes for the day, but tomorrow.

Thank you, and please send me an email with the tracking number, when it's shipped, so I can be alert.  A couple of hours later, there was an email, not with a FedEx tracking number, but with the message that the part is back ordered to August 20.

I am not having fun 

Tuesday, back on the phone with GE for an hour and a quarter, this time with Sabrina, who couldn't have been nicer as she suggested they would take away the old (new) freezer and bring me a new one.  How wonderful!  She would get that transaction going right now, just let me put you on hold for a bit.  She came back to report that there are no 17-cubic-foot freezers to be had anywhere, but how about a 14-cubic-foot model?  Well sure -- do you have any of them?  Apparently so, and one will be delivered on April 7.  (Seeing will be believing.)

I see on the GE website that this freezer costs about $100 less than what I paid for the big one.  Will the refund for the difference be done through Home Depot or through GE?  Hmmm.  Sabrina wasn't planning on making any adjustment.  I said that wasn't going to work.  She put me on hold again for a while, then came back to say that she would put me in for an exception and my case manager would call me within 48 to 72 hours with an update.

By the way, those of a certain age may remember when the US government decided to force the Panamanian dictator/druglord Noriega out of his embassy hideaway by playing heavy metal rock music 24/7, very loud.  If such a situation comes up again I suggest we could accomplish the same thing at much less volume simply by playing the GE hold music, a new age-y concoction punctuated now and then by a siren-like wail.  People who weren't having anxiety issues when they made the call will be certifiable by the time they get to hang up.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Plague diary March 28

The freezer repairman came out first thing Monday morning, took some pictures with his cellphone (of what??) to "document" that the freezer is not working, and went away to order parts.  Later that afternoon they called to tell us the parts are on back order.  In other words, heaven knows when if ever they will come.  We went through the kitchen freezer to consolidate and pack tighter, and got a beautiful blackberry cake out of some of the stuff jettisoned. 

Gave away some meat to the children, thawed out a bunch of things for future use (good news: when you start at -30 it takes a long time before you really have to cook it).  Unplugged the new freezer.

When I reported this last week, Carol left a comment: "I would be calling the manager of the place you bought it and ask for a new unit.  Something is wrong in the mechanics of this one and it will probably stalk you all the live long days.  After two service calls the issue is beyond the serviceman.  Get tough."  Good advice, Carol, and I did call Home Depot.  The guy said to call the repair place Monday morning and see if they know when the parts will come, and if it's too far out, we can order you a new freezer.  Can you even get a new freezer?  I asked him.  Well, that's a good question, he said.

I have developed a new obsessive behavior, checking the Johns Hopkins coronavirus site once a day.  They keep a running total of cases around the world, updating the site every couple of hours, apparently.  My daily ritual is now to take a screenshot of today's map, then call up yesterday's screenshot to compare the two tables. 

on the left, Friday evening / on the right, screenshot of Thursday night

Some will think this macabre, but we all need our rituals, and often it helps to stare the danger in the face for a bit as an antidote to pulling the covers over your head.  It's here in the US with a bang -- on Thursday we topped China for the most confirmed cases in the world, and since we do so little testing, we probably have way more cases than the "confirmed" numbers show.  If nothing else, confronting the stark reality makes you more diligent about staying home and washing your hands.

If you have been worrying about virus on your groceries, you might want to watch this video, made by a doctor.  Although I wasn't really worrying until after I watched it...

the tag on this new little tree: "Magnolia Butterflies" -- what a great name!

We've been having beautiful weather here, unseasonably warm and sunny.  The trees are flowering everywhere; the breezes smell of new growth and spring.  People are out in the parks having a great time, walking in the neighborhood, not staying far enough away from each other.  They had to take down the basketball backboards from our parks because so many guys were out playing pickup, ramming into one another, breathing heavily and all touching the ball.  Would it be better for us all if it were cold and rainy and the call of the outdoors were not so loud?

Friday, March 27, 2020

How to make a face mask

No, this is not a tutorial.  This is a critical review of many tutorials out there.  In times of trouble, sewists are always happy to step up and do something helpful, even if it might not be all that helpful (see my previous crabby posts about sending quilts after earthquakes here or here).  But now there's an opportunity to do something that might even be helpful -- make face masks for healthcare workers who can't get them from the normal supply chain.  The New York Times devoted a full page in today's paper to writing about the phenomenon.

Many hospitals across the country are asking people to sew and donate masks, and many sewists are responding with patterns and tutorials.  I spent a discouraging couple of hours looking at some of the directions and videos out there, and I think a lot of time and fabric is going to be spent in aid of masks that aren't going to be all that effective.  (What a tragedy that the president won't sign an order to mobilize production of masks by people who know how to make masks, instead of expecting us to straighten out paper clips to make shapeable nose bridges.)

First off, there's a huge range of quality being pushed in these directions and tutorials -- and by that, I mean the quality of the mask in actually blocking virus particles.  At the low end, fabric masks that kind of fit sort of snugly across your face, probably a little bit nicer than just tying a scarf bank-robber style.  At the high end, masks made from HEPA filter vacuum cleaner bags that match N95 respirators for efficacy (click here for the video).  In the middle, a whole range of patterns and materials that are probably better than the bank robber approach.

Second, there's a huge range of quality in sewing techniques and directions.

Low end, how about this PDF posted by a hospital in Indiana that begged for masks from the community.  Apparently the sewists figured out how to operate despite these "directions," because two days later the hospital begged people to stop bringing masks and give them to some other place.

I'm not sure what that rectangle at the bottom of the page is supposed to be -- a pattern?  Do you think a diagram or two would help people figure out how to put it together?

I found it interesting to watch how the sewists in the various videos actually sew.  You can sure tell the difference between people who sew a lot, and people who get roped into sitting at a machine to make a video.  In one video made by a hospital, the woman at the machine was sewing elastic into the corners of a mask.  Of course, she had the right sides together and when she neared the first corner, she stuck one end of the elastic in between the layers and sewed it in.  Then when she got to the next corner, she had to reach her fingers in between the layers to fish out the other end of the elastic and get it in position, which took her a painfully long time, since she couldn't see what she was doing.  Guess she hadn't thought to pin both ends in place while everything was in full view.

In a video made by another hospital, they got a young guy from the local maker space to sit at the sewing machine.  He carefully stitched back and forth once or twice at beginning and end of each seam to make sure everything was tight, never mind that in two minutes he was going to secure those seams with another seam crossing them.  And he spent at least a minute carefully snipping off the thread ends from every seam before he turned the mask inside out and sewed it shut, where the thread ends could have happily lived undisturbed forever.

Other tutorials showed good sewing technique but faulty clinical insight.  One sewist said that masks should be made in two colors so nurses can wear the light side out, and then when they go to see the next patient, they can turn it and wear the dark side out.  NO! NO!! NO!!!!  More than 140 people left comments to set her straight -- the two colors enable the nurse to put the mask back on correctly if it has to be taken off for a minute.

Masks seem to come in two general designs.  One is a simple rectangle, with pleats at the sides to gather in the vertical fullness that goes down over your chin.  The other is a "duckbill" -- think a bra cup over your lower face -- that is shaped with a vertical curved seam from your nose down.  The duckbill apparently provides a little more protection but requires a little more sewing.  Some designs have interior pockets that can be stuffed with additional filtering materials, such as paper toweling or tissues.

The good news, according to one of the videos I watched, is that firmly woven cotton alone will filter out about half of the virus-sized particles.  And that regular nonwoven interfacing, sandwiched into a mask, provides an excellent additional filter.

I'm not ready to start sewing masks, although I might make some for my family if things progress badly.  But if I were going to, I wouldn't just grab the first tutorial directions that popped up on my google search.  I'd kick the tires on several before deciding which one would give the most bang for the buck.  And I'd use up some of those beautiful batiks in my stash.  Lord knows, they're tightly woven...

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Plague diary March 22

The outlook is not 100% rosy in our household today.  Yes, our new freezer is compressing away, keeping things nice and cold. No, our new freezer refuses to stop compressing.  Left to its own devices it stays at 30 below, 30 degrees lower than what we tell it to do.  Yes, the serviceman has sort-of-promptly come out to fix it -- twice so far -- but no, he hasn't accomplished anything.  Last time he was here, on Friday, he helpfully offered to leave a space for us on his Monday schedule just in case (great confidence in his product).

Our new governor has acted decisively in shutting down many activities in Kentucky, including but not limited to schools, sports, restaurants and bars, day care centers, gyms, salons, libraries and concerts. We still don't have enough testing, but so far the rate of transmission seems to be lower than in states under fewer constraints.  We hope this continues.

I have been following the changing emotions of many friends, family and bloggers over the last several weeks, comparing them with my own.  The first response of all of us seems to be almost exhilaration, as we realize that we don't have to work that shift at the gallery, we don't have to prepare for that board meeting, we don't have to go to the concert or the book club.  Yes, there is a disaster waiting to happen out there, but for now we will have studio time!  We'll be able to read a book!  We'll be able to take a long walk every day!  We'll be able to sleep in!

My sister-in-law from Australia wrote as they retreated to their second home far from Sydney, "Have all kinds of bread recipes to try out!  I find it interesting that my friends are all looking forward to 2 weeks of self isolation.  What does it say about our busy lifestyles?  Being forced to cancel everything is some sort of relief?" 

The second phase comes when people start to hunger for human contact beyond those with whom they share their home, or even sooner for those who live alone.  Lots of people are said to be holding virtual parties or even virtual quilt retreats via FaceTime and Zoom and other platforms that I have never heard of.  I've settled for fixing a drink in advance of long phone conversations.

Many of my fiber friends are organizing round robins, gift exchanges, virtual show-and-tells and other activities to encourage people to make art and stay in touch with friends.  In fact, here's a little bit of art that I made for a friend in one of those programs -- scanned for my files and installed at my friend Suzi's house.  Fortunately she has a wonderful art deco statuette as a stairway finial and my string-o-art looks great hanging from her lamp.

All this is fine, but I detect the onset of phase three, in which good intentions start to give way to moments of despair.  When you want to hang up on your sister because the conversation keeps being about the pandemic and how it's being managed or mismanaged.  When you find yourself sitting at the computer for an hour playing a mindless game because it would take too much energy to go to the studio.  When you worry about whether your gallery or your friend's business will be able to escape bankruptcy.  When you start to wonder who will be the first of your friends and acquaintances to test positive. 

I haven't figured out a strategy for avoiding the despair.  Do mystery books work better than nonfiction to keep your mind off the pandemic?  Should I concentrate on healthy eating and home cooking or pour another glass of wine and open a bag of junk food?  As it has always been for me, the sewing machine is my best therapy, preferably projects with minimal thinking and maximal stitching.  We're getting in a walk every day when it's not raining.  But we've only been in lockdown for a week and a half and I'm fraying around the edges.  I'm not a happy camper.

Friday, March 20, 2020

"Fiber art" at the Indianapolis Museum 2

More work from the Indianapolis Museum of Art.  For discussion: Is it fiber art?

Michelle Grabner, Granny Square Afghan, detail below

No, it's not an afghan, it's a painting, in shiny enamel.  Shall we call this "fiber art" or "art about fiber"?

Fred Sandback, Untitled, detail below

It's four lengths of bright warm red acrylic yarn stretched between the corner of the room and a spot on the floor.  The wall sign says it "intersects the space it occupies, creating a geometric form that deftly defines pictorial planes and architectural volumes."  It also says that the placement in front of a window was deliberate, although I thought the red line was hard to see against the outdoors, and would have liked it better against plain walls.  Is this fiber art, or not?  Although it's 99% fiber, I say not.

Alyson Shotz, Wave Equation, detail below

A whole lot of piano wire, strung tight with silver glass beads between circular hoops.  I could almost get my camera to focus on the longest bugle beads, but there were also beads in different sizes.  A really ethereal installation, mysterious in how she got the wires to defy gravity and swoop upward to the bottom hoops.

Is it fiber art?  There are several beaders in my local fiber and textile art group, and beading falls in our definition of fiber art, but I don't feel entirely comfortable calling this beautiful piece "fiber art."  I can't tell you exactly why not.

Finally, here's one of my top three living artists; I was delighted to find not one but two of his works on display.  But only one of the three about which you can ask, is it fiber art?

El Anatsui, Duvor (communal cloth), details below

Understand that this piece is 13 feet tall, 17 feet wide -- that's a lot of metal liquor bottle caps and labels wired together.  Everyone who sees it, visitors and critics alike, uses fabric metaphors to describe how Anatsui's works drape and billow; even the title of this piece references cloth.

But it's metal.

So is this fiber art?  I want to say yes, because I want to be as much like this guy as I possibly can, and if I say he makes fiber art, and I make fiber art, then we're practically siblings, right?

What do you think, about Anatsui or any of the others in these posts?

Monday, March 16, 2020

"Fiber art" at the Indianapolis Museum 1

We visited the Indianapolis Museum of Art a couple of weeks ago to see the Yayoi Kusama infinity room, which took a stopwatch-timed 45 seconds, and then went on to the contemporary art collection for a more leisurely visit.  When I go to museums I always look for how mainstream artists incorporate fiber into their work.  Sometimes there's even enough that I would call it "fiber art."  Here's some of what I found on this trip.

Orly Genger, Len

It's two big rectangular piles of "looped and knotted" nylon rope, with "acrylic latex," whatever that is, apparently coating the rope.  Sorry, my camera refused to focus on the shiny surface, so no detail shots.  The wall sign says the sculpture "evokes the intimate processes of knitting and crocheting, but expanded to an epic scale."

Of course that made me crabby, because why does looping and knotting "evoke" knitting and crocheting, they're disrespecting us again, anything with yarn-like stuff makes them think of grandma.  But then I thought, well what is knitting and crocheting if not looping?  So maybe I'm not crabby.  What do you think? 

Either way, I say this is fiber art.

Nick Cave, Soundsuit, details below

Cave has made hundreds of these works, sometimes with a mannequin inside for display like this one, sometimes wearable for performances.  They're called soundsuits because when worn, they rustle and clink and clank and that sort of thing.  The headdress of this suit is full of random found objects, but the body is mostly crocheted doilies, with knitting underneath and a nifty hooked codpiece.  My internet research seems to say that Cave doesn't do his own handwork, but uses found doilies and fabric (although obviously somebody has to put it all together; wonder who?).  Definitely fiber art.

Antoni Tàpies, Dìptic amb collage, details below

Here the fiber is a hunk of an old basket, partly unwoven and affixed to a support described as wood but looking to me like plaster or ceramic.  I like the simplicity of the composition and the contrast between the dark and light halves of the diptych; I like the finger-in-the-sand glyph.  But I say this is not "fiber art," this is "art with a little bit of fiber."

More in the next post....

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Plague diary March 14

On Thursday I exchanged emails with an internet friend who said she was going to the big Dallas Quilt Show the next day.  I replied that I thought she was brave to go.  On Friday she wrote to say they had canceled the show!  A few people had gotten to attend the preview reception on Thursday night, and one of them got this photo of the best in show winner, by Karen Stone. 

So my question is: why did they wait till the city government banned all large gatherings?  Why not realize this was a bad idea four days earlier, before the show was hung, before the vendors set up, before the food service was stocked, before people got on airplanes to come?

In fairness, things are moving quickly, and the decision that seems no-brainer obvious today might have seemed wildly pessimistic the day before yesterday.  But I think pessimism needs to be our new default, at least until we learn more about how the disease operates and how well we can mobilize against it.  Last week I was the one to suggest, in three separate groups and organizations, that it's time to cancel our meetings, close our gallery, stop getting together.   

If I were 40 years younger and needed that paycheck, I would be thinking in a different vein, focusing on how to protect myself when I went out in public.  But since I and so many of my friends have the luxury of staying home, it seems that staying home is not only self-protection but public service.  And I'm telling everybody I know that they should be staying home too.  They say citizens have to step up and help during emergencies, and my role, apparently, is to be a canary in the coalmine. 

Listen up, people!  If you don't have to go out in public, don't!  Researchers have been modeling the potential progression of the disease in hard-hit Seattle.  They said with its current rate of spread, we can expect 400 deaths in the next four weeks.  But if the transmission rate could be reduced by 75 percent, mainly through social distancing, we would expect only 30 deaths. 

I don't usually watch TV news or C-Span but my husband does, and I have been listening in more frequently than usual when the talking heads are talking about the coronavirus.  It's clear that uncertainty is high in every aspect of this crisis.  How does the disease work?  When are people contagious?  How long does the virus stay active on a surface?  And of course, the big one, can I get tested?

In the absence of reliable information, you get complacency on the one hand, and panic on the other hand.  Neither one is helpful.  So I was happy to see that the New York Times, which has done excellent reporting on the crisis so far, has removed the paywall from its coronavirus coverage.  You can access it here, and the site is updated around the clock for the most recent news.

I have been worrying about my sister, currently enjoying a vacation at a nice resort in Mexico.  That is, when she isn't worrying.  We've exchanged several emails in which I urged her to come home early, and a few minutes ago I was greatly relieved to hear that she has rebooked and will be coming back tomorrow instead of on  April 1.   I will feel even better if I have made you and my other internet pals think twice about that book club meeting, that concert, that trip to the fabric store.  Work from your stash.  Stay home!!!

I'm waiting for another picture, same beer but in her own living room.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Plague diary March 12

I feel like I'm in a disaster movie.  Last week it was like the first 15 minutes, when all the characters are going about their business, acquainting us with their lives and families and problems (and the audience is wondering which one is going to die first, which one is going to survive till the end).  This week we're in the next 15 minutes, when the volcano is starting to emit puffs of steam, a red light blinks on the nuclear reactor control panel, somebody leaves a wrench inside the airplane fuel tank, the serial killer grabs a woman and stuffs her into the back of his van.

Next week will probably be when all hell breaks loose, the volcano erupts, the crew can't control the airplane, the first body is found dumped in an alley.  And things go downhill from there.

Not even two weeks ago tomorrow I was cheerfully looking forward to a week in California, thinking about what handwork I wanted to take along.  Two days later I was no longer cheerful, and told my husband that I thought we were taking a big risk with the trip; the next morning we canceled.  We would have been coming home through the San Jose airport on Tuesday -- the day before two TSA screeners were hospitalized with covid.  I also canceled my April trip to Texas to teach at a guild -- a trip that we started talking about almost a year ago.

This week I had a full schedule of monthly meetings and gatherings come due.  I went happily to the ones on Tuesday and Wednesday, and to a long-scheduled meeting with our financial advisor this morning.  I had been planning on one shift at the gallery and two more meetings, this coming Sunday and Monday, and then into social seclusion.  But this afternoon my son convinced me that the time to pull the plug is NOW, not Monday at midnight.

I went to the grocery a few days ago and bought a huge load of pasta, rice, tuna, canned foods, dried fruit, nuts, toilet paper, dishwasher detergent and a couple of pairs of rubber gloves.  Last week we bought a new freezer, which was delivered yesterday evening, and today I hit the grocery again for a cart full of meat and frozen vegetables.  Thankfully I don't have to go full survivalist, because my sons are eager to do shopping for us, but we can get along for a while on what's on hand.

I wore a pair of gloves to the grocery and felt quite proud of myself, able to touch the cart, the refrigerator cases, the produce without fear of acquiring virus.  I loaded my groceries in the car, got into the driver's seat, took off my gloves -- and thought, oh crap!  Suppose I got virus on my gloves -- with my gloves on I just touched the door handle and the steering wheel, which I am now touching again with my bare hands...  this could drive a person crazy.

I came home, unloaded the groceries and washed my hands really well.  Do I have to use hot water to be really safe?  How hot?   I also washed the red peppers.  Does virus live on red peppers?  What about when I take the frozen corn out to eat in the future?  Does virus live in the freezer?  This could definitely drive a person crazy.

Two weeks ago I wasn't much worried -- or at least I thought we had a while of normal life ahead, to get ready and even to enjoy a last little vacation before hunkering down.  Today I'm in lockdown.  The stage has been set, we've met the characters, we've seen how the disaster got started (was it negligence?  should they have listened to the wacky seismologist who said the mountain was behaving strangely?  what if the cop had come around the corner a minute earlier and seen the killer grab the woman?) and now this movie is getting to the nitty-gritty.

Stay healthy, friends!!

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Last week on Art With a Needle

I began the week worrying about the coronavirus.  We were scheduled to get on an airplane Tuesday to go to Monterey for a jazz festival, and as recently as a few days earlier I had been looking forward to it, even as my sons tactfully suggested that maybe it wasn't a good idea to go.  It's still safe, I assured them, and we might as well get a week of fun and vacation before the virus started to shut down our social life.

But reading the Sunday morning paper about cases in California -- yes, the same county where we were planning to fly in and out of, and spend at least one night -- changed my mind.  I gingerly suggested to my husband (who was the one who REALLY wanted to hear the music) that maybe the risk was too great, and to my surprise, he didn't need much persuading.  We canceled our trip, and I immediately felt a lot better.

What surprised me was how quickly my perception of risk changed -- less than a week from what-me-worry to let's-stay-home.  I hope I'm overly pessimistic, and the epidemic will fizzle out.  But I fear we will have some difficult days ahead.

The silver lining to this cloud was that I was able to attend our twice-a-year retreat after all.  I did mostly hand stitching, sewing my machine-stitched pink pyramid houses together and making progress on my newest cross-stitch piece.  Look at that almost empty table!  I don't find clean work surfaces like that at home.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

More on Vickie's quilts

Last week I wrote about Vickie Wheatley, whose quilts are on display at PYRO Gallery in Louisville  through March 21, and promised to show you some of the interesting ways she finished and mounted her small pieces. 

She made a lot of little four-block quilts with leftovers from her much larger "Anxieties" series, finishing to about 12 inches square.  Some she finished with dense black zigzag stitching, then mounted on a black canvas, with maybe a quarter-inch of canvas showing around the edge.  If the light isn't exactly right, you can barely tell where the quilt stops and the canvas starts.

Some she faced, then mounted on a pale wood panel.

Here she zigzagged the edges with a variegated thread, which gave the effect of a striped binding.  Again, mounted on a pale wood panel.

Vickie also made a bunch of quilts with a wonky circle design, like these:

Rather than quilting the leftover circle blocks, she used them as the base for intricate hand-stitching.  Some were mounted in fabric-backed frames with raw edges. 

Others had black binding, again in frames.

If you can't find a piece that fits your particular decorating vibe, you aren't really trying! 

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Fashion for you

Whenever I see photos of the fashion shows I wonder if any of these clothes are wearable by actual people attending actual activities and events.  But in the newspaper, an outfit that seems potentially very useful.

You know those invitations where you aren't sure whether you should go casual or dress up?  Here's the perfect solution:

Outfit by Off White, photo from New York Times