Friday, July 30, 2021

Form, Not Function 6 -- not like the others

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.


Elizabeth Morisette, Beak Mask

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.

But is it a quilt, you ask?  (Long-time readers know that I frequently ask this question when confronted with the different something at the quilt show.)  I say yes -- it has layers held together by stitching.    

I thought this one was witty and weighty at the same time.  Brava!

Monday, July 12, 2021

Form, Not Function 5 -- more people

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

The elaborate headdress looks like it's pieced from commercial striped and dotted fabrics, but it's actually digitally printed and then enhanced with thread painting, especially on the face.

Pamela Mick, Riders on the Storm, detail below

This quilt also looks pieced but isn't -- it's painted with dye and then quilted with multicolored thread painting. 

Holly Cole, Come and Go, 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

Form, Not Function 4 -- realistic people

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 Anderson, Remembering 

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.

Shin-hee Chin, The Evening Hour of a Hermit, details below

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

Form Not Function 3 -- bindings

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.  

Bobbe Nolan, Flyover 10 -- Dancing in the Rainbow Mountains, detail

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

Form, Not Function 2 -- more abstraction

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

Happy birthday!

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.

Among his World War II souvenirs was this lovely watercolor of Weilburg, Germany, which he purchased from an impoverished German artist he ran into on his military rounds.  The purchase price, modest though it was for Dad, allowed the artist and his family to buy food for several weeks.

Shortly after the war, Dad was asked to judge an art contest for his local museum.  His honorarium consisted of the second-place winner, this gorgeous picture of Saginaw, Michigan, with the Saginaw River in the foreground.  The steeple at the right was the church where my parents were married and my sister and I were baptized.

When I was about 10, Dad took me on a Christmas shopping mission -- we went to an art fair and bought a painting that was supposed to be a secret gift for my mother.  It showed up under the tree with an envelope reading "A surprise for Vi!"  But when she opened the card, it said "The surprise is that this painting is for Kathy!"  It was the first piece of art that was mine alone, and the first of dozens, if not hundreds, that Dad gave to me.

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

So Happy Birthday, Dad!  You're here in every room of the house, living on in the art.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Form Not Function 1 -- the big winners

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.

Best in Show: Karen Schulz, Objects in This Mirror 

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.


Kerri Green, Graded Discourse

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.

Sue Cortese, Kumo II -- Relationship  

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

Blogger makes itself more difficult -- again

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: 

What is this nanny warning supposed to save me from?  Would it be so awful if I clicked on Uta's blog when I didn't really mean to?  And then when I got there and realized I didn't want to be there, I could hit the back button?  Why require two clicks when one used to do the trick? 

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, 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

The next Ansel Adams?

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:

Some would have been spectacular if the river hadn't been full of mud, as happens when it's been raining a lot:

Some were quite lovely except there was no water in the frame:

Some were particularly nice because they had people:

Unfortunately the rules of the contest called for submitting just one photo.  I thought it would be much better to choose three, but of course that would take much longer to judge.  Here's my favorite: 

And here's Isaac's:

The contraption shown here involves a big green bucket at the top, which slowly fills with water.  When it gets full, it tips over and dumps the water onto the big turquoise plate, which tips and lets the water slide out in a huge splash.  I tried to take some photos of the same thing, but I think all my shots were a second too early or a second too late.  I was so impressed that Isaac managed to get not one, not two but three money shots.  

Now we have to wait a week and a half to find out if he's a winner.  But I think he already is!

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

No-pressure quilting

Since I started posting daily to Instagram at the start of the year, I have been looking at a lot of posts by other quilters, because the Instagram algorithm is so great at identifying what you're interested in.  And while I have seen a whole lot of wonderful work, I've also seen a lot of photos that make me cringe. 

If you would like to cringe for yourself, go to instagram and search on #improvquilt or #improvquilting.  (The links also work if you're on a computer, not your phone.)

Specifically, photos where people have apparently lost the use of their irons.  It's obvious that if there was any pressing at all during construction of the blocks, it was slapdash.  I can imagine what these quilts are going to look like after quilting and finishing, and the picture isn't pretty.

All photos from other people's
Instagram posts

When I teach quilting I give my signature spiel in which I say I don't care about almost all of the quilt police rules.  Don't care if your seam allowances are 1/4 inch.  Don't care if your points match at the seamlines.  Don't care if your blocks are exactly square, or if your seamlines are exactly straight, or your quilting stitches are all the same length.  But there is one thing that I REALLY care about, enough to make up for all those that I don't bother with.  I care that you press obsessively and thoroughly, that you press every seam open before you cross it with another seam. that you press every block perfectly before you trim it to size and join it to others.

It's particularly important with curved seams; even if the two pieces don't match exactly you can usually coax them into perfect alignment with a spritz of water and a hot iron to urge the bias threads into obedience.  

What disturbs me even more about these unpressed blocks and entire tops that people are so proud of that they post them to instagram is that many of them have made their pieces in workshops with (presumably) qualified teachers.  

I don't know how online quilt instruction works, but I would hope that teachers are asking their students to send photos, and that they are pointing out pluses and minuses of the work.  And how could teachers possibly overlook the glaring lack of pressing?????

I would hate to think that the teachers don't notice, or that they notice but don't care.  In my opinion any teacher who approves of work like these examples should lose her teaching license.  Oh wait, you don't need a license to be a quilt teacher, anybody who stays one block ahead of the rest of the class can promote herself as a guru and apparently attract lots of people willing to pay to "learn" from her.

I just read an instagram post, complete with photo of unpressed blocks, in which the author adorably tells us "Okay here's all the secrets to making an improv quilt."

Secret #5 reads: "Iron the seams once in a while but only when your butt starts falling asleep and you have to stand up."  

I know this is meant to be charming and humorous, not really serious, but it helps spread the idea that pressing is optional, that improvisational quilting = sloppy quilting.  And that makes me crabby.  Way more than crabby, if you must know.

Want to learn how to press your quilts in progress?  Check out my tutorial here, and then read on for curved seams.  Take my word for it, if you learn to press properly, and more important, if you make yourself do it all the time, your quilts will look vastly better and it will be vastly easier to work with them.  

Now to figure out how to get the word out to all those people on instagram!


Monday, May 24, 2021

A present arrives

I received a wonderful present today from Paula Kovarik, a great quilter whose work I admired even before we got to meet and become friends,  It's a small quilt, densely stitched, of course, since that's her modus operandi, but a bit different from her signature quilting in that it has no funny creatures, just straight lines.  In fact, the quilt is called "Sightlines," which I'll explain in a minute. 

I couldn't wait till I find a place to hang it, so Ken obligingly modeled the quilt right out of the box.

This quilt is special not just because I get to have another Kovarik original in my collection -- which is special enough right there -- but for how it came to be mine.  Paula has written a book about her quilting process, and I had the privilege of editing and proofreading it for her.  "Sightlines" is my pay for the job.  

Having read every word of this book four or five times, I am uniquely qualified to tell you that it's a fine piece of work.  It has several kinds of text: detailed stories about how she came to make some quilts, tutorials and exercises on how to emulate her style of drawing-through-stitch, thoughts on her creative process and why she works in this medium.  It will even tell you how to (gasp!) cut up and reconfigure quilts that you're bored or dissatisfied with.  (Paula even did this with a Quilt National piece after it came home from touring.)

The book is called "At Play in the Garden of Stitch: thoughts that come while eyeing the needle" and it should be ready to purchase very soon.  (One advantage of self-publishing, which I shared with Paula while she was still in the planning stages of this book, is that you don't have to wait for months and months for a publisher to slot you into a huge schedule.)   I'll let you know when that happens.

But back to my new quilt.  Paula pieced the quilt from her scrap bag, and when it came time to quilt it, decided to not just stitch on all the pieced lines, but to extend those lines all the way to the edges of the quilt.  That led to a very dense network of lines, which made a web of interesting shapes, especially in the large black and white areas of the quilt.  Wherever she saw a triangle, she filled it in with dense stitching in gold.  

The gold areas jitter, giving excitement to the plain white foreground and making the black "sky" alive with sparks or fireworks or maybe auroras.  I can't wait to get this quilt into a permanent place so I can see it every day. 

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Girls' week out

The last time I saw my sister was in September 2019.  It was not a particularly good time for either of us.  She had just lost her husband a month earlier.  I had a brief visit for the funeral and promised to come back soon, but before that could happen I fell and broke my ankle.  So between grief and hobbling around in an orthopedic boot, we were not at our best.  We vowed that when we did this again, we would both be in better shape.

Then came coronavirus and lockdown, and a year and a half passed, and now finally we have managed our visit, this time accompanied by my niece, who needed a vacation from pandemic childcare.  We chose scenic South Bend Indiana, perhaps not your first choice for exotic travel, but it's exactly halfway between our homes so we each made a half-day trip instead of somebody making an all-day slog.

Our rented place had a huge long table where we spent all day together reading, working, talking.  A walk every day, in glorious sunshiny weather.  I brought along a big crate of art stuff and we made little "sampler" books, trying out different tools and mediums.

We found a restaurant that served wonderful red-sauce Italian, which reminded all three of us of our upstate New York youth.  I have lived in Kentucky for more than 50 years and my regrets in leaving New York include brilliant fall foliage and red-sauce Italian food.  

Yes, there are Italian restaurants in Kentucky, and some of them are even pretty good, but you can't match the Sicilian edge that I treasured from long ago.  Every time I visit the Rust Belt I seek out Italian restaurants, preferably those with the authentic vibe of the 60s that I remember so fondly.

This one, Carmela's, was a little more upscale than my fantasy dive, but the food was perfect.  We came back on Thursday night and ordered the same eggplant parmesan that we'd had on Tuesday.  Make sure you patronize this place if you find yourself in South Bend!

My father was a graduate of Michigan State and a football fan, and I was raised to look upon Notre Dame as the archfoe, both in football and religion (we were Lutherans and thus kind of suspicious of Catholics).  So I was a bit wary to be entering enemy territory when we strolled around the Notre Dame campus.  Fortunately I escaped unscathed, and was totally charmed by the beauty of the place, indoors and out.

So, a great trip.  We've resolved to do this every year, and expand it next year to include the daughters-in-law.  I'm already planning what our craft projects will be.