I've had a deep loss this month with the sudden death of my friend and art pal Marti Plager. Not only was she my oldest continuous constantly-in-touch friend -- dating back about 25 years -- she opened the door for my development as an artist/quilter. If you've ever done workshops at the Crow Barn or Arrowmont, or attended Quilt National or Paducah or Houston or Form, Not Function, or gone to a regional or national SAQA or SDA meeting, there's a good chance you met Marti somewhere along the way, because she was not one to let any person in the same room with her go unmet.
Saturday, October 16, 2021
Sunday, September 19, 2021
There were lots of comments on my two latest posts, and rather than just leave a reply comment of my own, where probably nobody would see it, I'll take this post to reply to everybody. (That's one feature that I like in Instagram: if you comment on a post, and subsequently somebody -- the original author, or another reader -- replies or likes it, the system will tell you, even if your comment was made long ago.)
I wrote about all the reading that I've been doing since lockdown, and how I have come to like e-books better than paper. Shasta Matova commented: "There is a time for both, so I don't try to make a choi8ce, but I too like ebooks especially when the library is closed. Besides the benefits you mentioned, they remember where you left off and give you definitions for words I don't know."
Idaho Beauty wrote: "There are times when (e-book) is the only way I can get a book through my library but I don't enjoy it nearly like I do holding an actual book and turning the pages by hand rather than by swiping (and I do hate that sound that is sometimes added to mimic the sound of an actual page turning)."
Idaho, I too would go crazy with that kind of sound effect. I always keep the sound turned off on any kind of device, turn it on only if I want to hear something. I'm sure there's a way you can adjust the preferences in your ebook to deep-six that feature. It took me several months before I figured out that I could stop the system from showing me passages that other readers had highlighted! First off, I don't care what other people choose to read and remember, and second, I was really cheesed at how stupid most of the highlighted passages were.
I also wrote about my newest quilt project, a memorial marker for all the U.S. military dead in Afghanistan since 2001, as well as memorials to those dead from covid. Robbie commented: "I applaud you for all your effort on these projects! Hope they can all be displayed and appreciated by so many." Norma Schlager wrote: "I especially like that you are using uniform material on one side and other fabrics on the back. Can't wait to see how this one turns out." Martha Ginn wrote: "Very appropriately dark, drab and sad -- an apt description of this conflict."
Cindy wrote: "I find your work a lovely tribute to those who are gone. Not morbid in the least."
Irene MacWilliam wrote: "I think my mind works somewhat like yours. I am living in N Ireland and wanted to do a piece in memory of all those who had died in our 'troubles' conflict between 1969-1994... This piece has just been bought by our museum which has a collection to do with The Troubles. I do a lot of work to do with conflict and how it affects families." Irene, good for you! I think that one of the most important jobs for artists is to witness to the stupid and destructive things that people do to one another.
Jenny wrote: "Lest we forget: Afghan casualties from Western intervention amount to around 240,000 whilst Iraqis account for around 200,000... a companion quilt perhaps?" Jenny, you're right, war tends to be far harder on the civilian population who just happen to be standing there in the way than it is on the actual soldiers. It has always been thus, but with modern weapons the killing power of each soldier is vastly greater than it was in past wars. I can't imagine how one might go about marking that number of deaths; once you get into five figures the total has outgrown any technique that I might use.
Since I last posted, I've finished all the little bits for the Afghanistan memorial -- 2,461 is the number I'm going with.
Thanks to you all for reading, and for commenting. It's always good to hear from those at the other end of the cyber-talk!
Wednesday, September 8, 2021
I wrote earlier about a project that I'm working on now, a postage stamp quilt to mark the US military dead in Afghanistan. But I am reminded of another quilt I made several years ago that is also about Afghanistan.
In 2015 I had the pleasure of attending and teaching at a big quilting show in Prague, along with my dear friend and art pal Uta Lenk. Uta had arranged for the show to display a bunch of quilts by International Threads, a group of quilters from four different countries (US, UK, Germany and Israel). After I said I would come to Prague, she promoted teaching gigs for each of us, which didn't make us rich but did pay for our hotel rooms and a bit of spending money.
|Uta in the International Threads exhibit|
In between teaching and hanging around our exhibit, we hit the vendors, and discovered a booth selling embroideries made by women in Afghanistan. We were intrigued by the work, and when we found that many of the embroideries were made by the same woman, Nasrin, we decided to buy eight of them for the members of International Threads, which would be the theme for our next project.
I chose the embroidery with the most abstract and geometric design, and when I made my quilt, I echoed the gray-blue-turquoise-white palette, the bold zigzags and the half-square-triangle sawtooth edging, adding some yellow to pep up the composition. I called the quilt "Nasrin's Magic Carpet."
With Afghanistan in the news again, I thought it would be a good time to pull out the quilt again and put it up in public. It's hanging at PYRO Gallery right now, through the end of this month. And of course I thought about Nasrin and her friends and family, wondering how they have survived through six more years of war and oppression.
After Uta and I bought the embroideries we sent them to our fellow members and I copied from the package the name of the nonprofit that distributed them: The Guldusi Project of Embroidery. When I looked it up on the internet this week I learned that the organization was begun in 2002 by a German artist. They have embroidery projects in several rural Afghan villages, and when I paged through the website I was excited to find exactly the kind of embroideries we had bought.
|Uta's Nasrin square|
You'll notice that the center portion of each square is a kind of mesh, the kind that's used to make the eye holes in a burka. The website confirmed that this type of stitching is called tsheshmakdusi (tsheshmak = eye, dusi = embroidery) and only a few women in a village in Laghman Province use this stitching in their work for sale. This had to be the source of our Nasrin squares.
|Red pin marks Laghman Province|
And yes, when I looked through the thumbnails of work on this page of the website, I found one using the same palette, chevrons and sawtooth border, that was labeled "03Nasrin." Unless there are many women with the same name doing very similar embroidery for the same nonprofit organization, this is indeed our artist. At least, that's what I'm going to believe.
Uta has also been remembering her Nasrin quilt recently; check it out on her blog.
Thursday, August 26, 2021
I have never been one for working on just one project at a time. Some of my art friends find focus by finishing up one thing before starting on the next, but that's way too controlled for me. I like to have several things going at once, picking up whichever one is closest to hand without walking up or down the stairs, whichever one is most conducive to stitching while talking with family and friends, whichever one fits my mood of the moment.
I've posted several times about my coronavirus memorials, marking each death in Kentucky with a french knot onto a roll of vintage bandage gauze. I finished the 2020 memorial a few weeks ago (2,662 dead) and almost immediately started on a 2021 version (7,575 dead and counting as of this week). I've finished January (1,083 dead) and am almost done with February (892 dead). But the small scale of the knots got to be tiring, and I yearned for something bigger, faster, and involving the sewing machine.
So for the last few days I have been working on a new project, a memorial for the U.S. military dead in Afghanistan. Longtime readers and pals will know that I did a similar piece in 2008 counting the U.S. military dead in Iraq, which traveled extensively with Quilt National '09 and is now owned by the International Quilt Museum in Lincoln NE. It had a flag for each death, referencing the flag-covered coffins that came home from that war.
|Memorial Day, 2008, 86 x 100"|
This one will be similar in format -- a single little quilted rectangle for each of the dead, held together with stitching in space -- but different in materials and concept.
|Memorial Day, detail|
At first I wasn't sure what to do with them but with the impending end of our Afghanistan adventure I thought that war needed a memorial as well for the troops who served and died. Cutting up the camouflage uniforms will give me the fronts of the small quiltlets for this memorial; the backs will be made from a large variety of fabrics, to remind us that every one of those uniformed dead was an individual, a person with hopes and dreams too soon cut off.
This compulsion to count the dead probably sounds morbid and obsessive. I don't think I'm particularly preoccupied with death, certainly not in my daily life, where I have been blessed not to be closely touched by the coronavirus or the war, and where I've lost only one close family member in the last decade. But the historian and journalist in me always wants to find out the facts and write them down, and the soldier's daughter in me always wants to remember how war is not glory, it's hell.
I'll write more about this project soon, because working with the uniforms has proven to be quite a surprise.
Thursday, August 19, 2021
Reading has always been one of the most important parts of my life; I can't recall any time since age 3 that I haven't had a book nearby, if not actually in hand. In fact, "bring a book" has always been my personal motto. Although my home is filled with books, many of them unread, I really love library books. And in the last year or so, I realize that I REALLY love library e-books.
When the public libraries were closed and staff furloughed for several months during lockdown, I had a momentary panic until I saw that the e-book collection was still going strong, with new titles added every day. I read a lot during lockdown, almost all of it digitally.
When e-books first started to catch on, in 2006 or 2007, I often announced that I would not like them. I said that I loved the feel of the physical codex, the turning of pages, the recollection of where on the page I had seen a name or reference. Reading on a device seemed far less serious and pleasant than reading "real books." But that changed when my sons gave me a Kindle for Mother's Day in 2014, just as we were heading off for a vacation to Britain and Norway. I was hooked immediately, especially at the thought of not having to shlep a dozen books along on a three-week trip.
Since then my e-book habit has kept me in reading matter around the globe. Because we refuse to pay the exorbitant internet fees on cruise ships, a shore visit would begin with finding the nearest wi-fi so I could get some new books. Sometimes that was at a hot spot on the dock (where you would always find a bunch of crew members calling home), sometimes a nearby bar, where I could simultaneously download content and drink beer.
But at sea or ashore, I realize how much I like reading on a device. It's easier to use at the table, where I do a lot of reading -- prop it in a little easel and it's perfectly on display. You can read in bed after the lights go out.
Best of all, you can search in the book to find out who in hell Geoffrey is, when he appears in the narrative after 200 pages of absence, or what exactly Geoffrey said when he was first interviewed by the police. You don't need a bookmark, or worry that your bookmark will fall out. You can mark any passages you like, even make rude marginal notes, without a pencil!
Since I started daily calligraphy two and a half years ago, I have written a passage from every book I read. It's the first time in my life I've kept track of what I read, and I think just keeping the list has added to the reading experience. If you want a recommendation, I have really enjoyed "The Premonition" by Michael Lewis, and "Nightmare Scenario" by Yasmeen Abutaleb and Damian Palette -- both about the pandemic and how the government dropped the ball on managing the outbreak. Depressing reading, yes, but informative and thought-provoking. Or if current events just have you spitting expletives, try "Nine Nasty Words" by John McWhorter, a linguist's take on the naughtiest taboo words in the English language. Not for those who clutch their pearls upon hearing "darn it."
What have you been reading lately? Anything about your reading choices or reading habits different now than it was before pandemic?
Saturday, August 14, 2021
I can tell you exactly when I decided that it was time to get worried again. It was on the morning of July 23, during my sister's visit. We went to two different art supply stores that day, and in each one the employees were masked. We had not brought our masks along, but we agreed that if we had, we would be wearing them. It just seemed that caution was in the air again, at a suddenly higher level than we had detected for months.
We didn't go cold turkey; we went out to eat that night (but were happy to be seated in a corner of an uncrowded room, far from other people) but we skipped the opening reception for the show by my fiber and textile art group the next day (and were happy we did, after we heard that the small room had been packed with maskless visitors). And this week I ate inside (but was happy that we were seated right by the door, with nobody at the adjoining table). I've been wearing a mask in the few stores I've been in, and today noted that at least half of the customers in the three stores I visited were also masked.
We're feeling particularly paranoid because the four-year-old started school this week. She was supposed to go last year, but her parents held her out and now she is totally excited about this new adventure. The kids are all wearing masks, but of course they're unvaccinated, in the midst of the delta variant firestorm. Apparently it will be months before the FDA gets around to perusing the data, and waiting for additional data, and maybe even requiring some more data before the little ones can get protection.
|daily calligraphy from Monday|
Early in the pandemic we took comfort in the fact that children seemed to be less likely to contract covid, and far less likely to suffer severe illness or die. Now that has changed. As of last week, 131 children under 5 have died, and 292 between 5 and 18 have died. Yes, I want the FDA to be careful before releasing drugs whose safety and efficacy are in doubt. But there's also a risk to doing nothing. And I tend to think we're now in a situation where the risk of perhaps dropping the heavy fire extinguisher on your foot is far less than the risk of letting the building burn down.
I also have to wonder why, if it's OK for parents to flout medical advice and keep their kids unvaccinated (whether for covid or measles or any other potentially fatal disease) it isn't OK for parents to flout medical advice and give their four-year-olds a dose of covid vaccine. Are parents the ultimate authority over their children's medical treatment or aren't they? If yes, then give the shots to any child who can walk or be carried into the place with Mom or Dad. If no, then require every child between 12 and 18 to be vaccinated. But when we want to have it both ways, we lose and covid wins.
Friday, August 6, 2021
Earlier this year I did a project of memorializing each of the 2,662 people in Kentucky who died of coronavirus in 2020. I stitched 2,662 french knots onto a roll of vintage gauze bandage, distributed by month, starting in March with only 15 deaths and ending with 754 in December.
I learned some things from my 2020 memorial. First is to be more careful in counting! In the first project I tended to get carried away, stitching while watching TV without really noticing how many knots I had made. I ended up having to cut out dozens of knots where I overshot the mark -- and that hurt. Fortunately the gauze was forgiving, and I was able to erase the needle holes with a scratch of fingernail or needle end. But it was stupid to do it that way.
I replied: "You're right -- that's exactly what I think about when making these marker pieces. I guess this is the sixth death marker that I have embarked upon (one is half done) and this genre, if you want to call it that, has great meaning for me."
Friday, July 30, 2021
Sorry for the hiatus in blog posts -- I had a wonderful two-week visit from my sister, during which we saw friends, looked at art, ate in restaurants, bought art supplies and new furniture and tackled the huge job of reorganizing my studio. No time for blogging with all that going on!
But she's home now, and I'm back to wind up my report on Form, Not Function, the juried quilt show at Carnegie Center for Art & History in New Albany IN. The show has closed since my last post, but I have saved the fun stuff for last. It seems that in every quilt show there's something completely different from the traditional quilt format. Sometimes, like last year, it takes best in show; some years, like this time, the different one just sits there being delightfully different.
This weird contraption is made of zippers, opened to reveal the teeth, then coiled and stitched into a cone that morphs into a cylinder. A clever riff on pandemic masks, with the patina of age and use on the old tapes.
I thought this one was witty and weighty at the same time. Brava!
Monday, July 12, 2021
More portraits of people at FNF, but not in the hyperrealistic style of those we looked at last week.
Clara Nartey, The Gele Skyscraper, detail below
Pamela Mick, Riders on the Storm, detail below
Here the technique is raw-edge collage, with loose drawing and wash on pale fabric to sketch in the women carrying and wheeling their goods to and from the market. Meander quilting gives texture in the background, perfectly complementing the loose drawn lines in the portraits,
Wednesday, July 7, 2021
I was surprised at the number of representational works at FNF this year. Of the representations, most were of people, and mostly faces. Here are some of the more realistic treatments:
Linda was a prizewinner at last year's FNF, using the same technique of fabric painting plus intricate multicolor threadwork to make beautifully accurate portraits.
Deborah Hyde, Monkeys In My Hair (Evie), detail below
Deborah is another repeater, in both appearance and technique, having been in FNF in 2019, 2017 and 2016. All of her quilts are pieced from tiny squares of fussy-cut print fabrics, about a half-inch apiece. This year she's added little cartoony critters, including monkeys, in and around the little girl's hair, emphasized with a bit of hand stitching.
Finally, my favorite of the realistic portraits is this tour-de-force of hand stitching.
The painterly strokes of this stunning image are made from long strands of perle cotton, stitches that are interlaced in deep tangles of thread that only occasionally go through to the back layer of the quilt.
Faces also came in other varieties than super-realistic; I'll show you some of them in another post.
Saturday, July 3, 2021
Ingrid Lincoln left a comment on my last blog post: "I know these are photos so I may not be seeing everything, but it appears these quilts do not have the usual bindings. Are bindings out for art quilts?"
Good eye, Ingrid! You're right that none of the quilts I've shown so far have bindings. And after I read the comment, I looked through all my photos and discovered that not a single quilt in FNF has a traditional binding. Last year, only three out of 17 had bindings. Not sure I'd say they're "out," but I think it's safe to say that bindings are not the standard finish for art quilts these days.
Lee Sproull, Archilinea, detail
Why is that? I've delivered many rants on this subject, so I have thought it through. In my opinion, contemporary quilters who want their work to be seen as art feel a need to distance themselves from traditional quilts. Although we love the format and the feel of quilts, we don't want people to immediately see our work as something their grandmother would have made and put on the bed. One way to sever ties with tradition is to omit the binding.
In addition, omitting the binding mirrors a trend in contemporary painting in which traditional frames are no longer necessary. Painters often feel that frames, especially the elaborate models that surround so many older works, are too constraining. They hold the picture in, instead of letting it breathe freely and occupy its own space confidently. Go to a gallery or contemporary museum and many, if not most of the paintings will be unframed.
If you don't finish a quilt with a traditional binding, you can either leave the edges raw or overcast (don't shudder -- sometimes that looks just fine) or use a facing, a strip of fabric applied much like a binding but turned entirely to the back so it's invisible. Facings are especially useful for quilts with jagged, irregular edges. (Here's my tutorial on how to make perfect facings without lumpy corners, and how to face a curved edge.)
I'm a bit conflicted about bindings. I usually go with facings because of wanting to look less like quilts, more like art. But bindings are easier to do, way less fiddly, even with mitered corners. They lie flatter because there's less bulk. In a few situations you want that crisp narrow contrast edge for artistic value. And in others, you can make the binding into a non-event by matching the color of the adjacent piecing. (Here's my tutorial on how to make perfect bindings: part 1, cutting; part 2, sewing; part 3, folding and stitching.)
I advise my students to learn both methods of finishing, and choose the one that seems to work best for the situation.
Sunday, June 27, 2021
Three of the top four winners at this year's FNF were abstract quilts, and there were several more that caught my eye.
Margaret Black, Curb Appeal 20
Margaret has been a repeated winner in the big quilt shows, including best of show at Quilt National four years ago. As you can tell by the title, she's played this tune before -- lots of black and white, especially in narrow "ladders" punctuating neighborhoods of various colors. Intricate piecing of small bits, spots of brilliant color popping out from the overall picture. I'm always intrigued by trying to note how and whether artists with long series try something new. What I see new in piece #20 compared to #6 and #7 in past FNF shows are the long striped panels in neutrals, especially prominent in the northwest and southeast corners.
Denise Roberts, MITOTE #12
Denise is another quilt all-star, a regular at all the big shows and having won the Quilts Japan Prize at Quilt National four years ago. She's been using the same sinuous curve piecing for some time, but this year it's a much more complex composition than she has done before. The different colored curves stay neatly in their layers, the palest colors on top and the darkest far away.
Daren Redman, Feel Like Dancing
Daren's is the cheeriest of the bunch, with large shapes in bright, clear colors. It's a kind of sampler of different ways to pep up a skinny vertical rectangle with some sort of contrast pattern. A very close look reveals that she apparently quilted the piece in sections, then invisibly joined the panels -- a beautifully executed trick.
I'll show more quilts from FNF in subsequent posts. Meanwhile, the show is on display at the Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany IN through July 17, and I know you would like it if you were to visit.
Friday, June 25, 2021
Today is my father's 108th birthday, although he did not live to blow out the candles. He died in 2007 but every year on his birthday I like to do a little something to remember him. Nine years ago I wrote this blog post, which if you even read it to begin with have probably forgotten, so I won't feel guilty reprinting it now.Since this blog is mainly about art, I'll take this opportunity to reminisce a bit about how my father taught me about art. Although he and my mother were both only one generation from pretty damn poor and uneducated, out of the blue they both developed a love of art that was quite unexpected in the dark days of the depression. Dad began to acquire art as a very young man and was quite proud of his growing collection. Indeed, buying art was one of the most important activities of his life, a passion he instilled in his children as well.
All three of these paintings now hang in my home and whenever I see them -- wherever I turn -- I am reminded of how my father opened my eyes and my world to art. A favorite family activity was to hit an art fair (the Cheap Art Fair was the best of all) and buy a bunch of new stuff. We shopped at the low end of the food chain but managed to find plenty of lovely things. The occasional dud didn't cause all that much financial regret, and probably made some artist quite happy.
After my parents died, my sibs and I divvied up the artwork, a process that began long before our parents' demise, has taken years to accomplish and still isn't complete. I'm now trying to pass some of the art along to succeeding generations, continuing Dad's legacy, passing down both the tangible and the ineffable.
|Edmund Arnold and Baby Kathy|
Monday, June 21, 2021
I missed the opening of Form, Not Function, the juried quilt show at the Carnegie Center in New Albany IN, but finally made it over to visit. It's a striking show, nicely hung, with not a dud in the place. Three of the four big winners were large abstract quilts, but in three quite different flavors of abstraction.
Karen has been in the top tier of the art/quilt circuit for several years, winning best in show at Quilt National twice and jurying this year's QN. Her spare and powerful composition uses a technique that always intrigues me, juxtaposing seemingly unrelated parts to make a surprisingly coherent whole. Here her various techniques include piecing, couching and painting with both dye and acrylic.
This cheerful quilt features bright solid colors, overlapping shapes and elegantly pieced curves in a Venn diagram sort of composition. An arc of black and white gives a punch of pizzazz in the corner.
The pale starburst in the top left quadrant of the quilt is shibori dyed; the striped arms of the larger, darker star are partly dyed and partly pieced. The white background has subtle touches of pale blue and the occasional dark quilting thread. It's dramatic but calm , enlivened by complex quilting lines that change direction as they encounter invisible tentacles radiating out from the center.
I liked all three of these a lot. A whole lot! I'll tell you about some of the other quilts in the show in later posts. The show continues at the Carnegie through July 17, and as the old Michelin guides used to say, it's not only "worth a detour" but "worth a trip."
Saturday, June 12, 2021
Those of you who write blogs as well as read them have probably shared my frustration with the "new improved" Blogger interface. For the last year or so, since their last "improvement," it has taken twice as many clicks, or maybe more, to do things that we used to be able to do much more efficiently. For instance, when I am told on my Reading List page that Uta Lenk has a new blog post, and I click on it, I no longer am taken to her blog. Instead, I get a message that says:
I have to wonder whether Google has decided that blogs are obsolete, and therefore not worth supporting in the style that we have become accustomed to. (Blogger is still a pretty decent platform, but it used to be much better, for most of the 12 years I have had my blog.) I might even think that they're trying to get us to abandon our blogs and switch over to Instagram -- except that Instagram is owned by Facebook.
So here's the latest development: Google is discontinuing the Feedburner feature that allows readers to get blogs delivered straight to their email rather than navigating to the internet page. I think that a lot more of my readers use email delivery than do it the old-fashioned way, so this is a problem. I would be upset, and I hope you might be too, if suddenly you simply didn't receive your blog and didn't know how to remedy the situation.
I wonder whether other blog owners have made a decision about how to replace Feedburner. I've received solicitations from an outfit called follow.it, but wonder if there's another alternative that might be better. Rather than go down the frustrating rabbit hole of internet research, which will certainly reveal that every conceivable competitor is FABULOUS, I will call for help and see if any of you have experience and advice in this area. Thank you!!
Wednesday, June 9, 2021
Several weeks ago I saw a notice from our library about a kids' photo contest and thought maybe Isaac, age ten, would like to participate. The theme is "water," and we've been out three times to various places by the river and a pond in the park. He got to use my Nikon, and I tagged along using my cellphone.
We didn't have particularly good luck with the weather on the days when we did get out, and for one reason or another we weren't able to do as many expeditions as I would have liked, but we hung in there and today went through all the photos and chose the one that he would submit.
I was pleased with what he came up with. Some of the shots had good composition and had the sun been shining more brightly, would have been spectacular: