Wednesday, February 17, 2021

A reader finds inspiration

It's always great when somebody out there not only reads your blog, but grabs an idea and does something lovely with it.  This time it was Jennifer Allen, who wrote me:

"I fell onto your blog while searching for ideas about working in series and I'm glad I fell.  I've been looking for a way to find some focus, to narrow parameters, to slow down and explore... just be more thoughtful in what I'm doing.  Here's a pic.

"Parameters: limited to the 5 wool swatches I had on hand for size (about 8 x 6) with no trimming allowed, each to use buttons already on hand (and long forgotten), some hand stitching (however primitive) on each one and other sources of fabric being one old hat, one old dress, and two remnants all on hand.  

"I'm so pleased with the Button Box series that I've hung them.  Very satisfying.  I'm looking for my next 'series' and thinking in place of buttons, button holes might be interesting.  

"Narrower parameters and small size seem to be key for me to gain some focus; a step in a good direction.  Buttonholes are now lodged in my imagination and I'm enjoying just thinking about the idea.  Enjoying is pretty good too."

Jennifer, you're welcome!  I'm so glad you stumbled on advice that obviously you were ready for, and able to make good use of.  The old saying: when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.  

Note to all:  Good for Jennifer to set rules that worked, and double good for her to plan her next series on the shoulders of the first one.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

More counting -- oops!!

I've been watching TV for several hours a day all during the impeachment trial, sometimes in my studio while sewing "postage stamps" for a coronavirus memorial, sometimes in the TV room with my husband while sewing french knots for another coronavirus memorial.  (Both will have the same total: 2,662, to mark the death toll in Kentucky during 2020.)

For the postage stamps, counting is easy, because I tie the little bits into bundles of 25 and can easily tell how many I have made.  Coincidentally, one full shoebox of bundles is exactly half of what I need, and I'm well into the second box.

But counting the french knots is a little more difficult.  Well, truth be told, a lot more difficult.  The 2,662 knots have to go into the proper month.  I sewed and sewed and sewed on December, which needed 754, and after a while I stopped and counted.  This involves taking a photo and checking off each knot with a mark in my Paint program.

I needed 86 more knots, and it was tricky to keep track.  I would make five knots, counting out loud, then make hash marks.  As careful as I tried to be, once or twice I lost count and had to go back and reconstruct, from the back of the work, exactly how many knots had occurred since I started the new thread.

After I finished December, I did March (the easiest month -- only 15) and then set in on the other months.  I worked on November for a while (423 needed) and then thought I'd better stop and count.  I moved on to April, which needed 225, and made some, stopped when I thought I was getting close, and moved on to some other months.    

After a particularly furious day of french knots yesterday, I decided I'd better count and see where I stood.

November was pretty close -- less than 100 still needed.  I would have been happier if it were closer, but I should be able to count as I sew, especially if I won't be stopping to shout at the TV.  October is only halfway there, 171 knots done, 140 to go.  That's going to be more tedious to count; maybe I'll just sew for a while, take a new photo and start the count all over again.

But April.  

Imagine my chagrin when I counted April and found that I had overshot the target by 56!  Now I will have to cut out 20 percent of what I did.  I hope the fabric will be forgiving and not show ugly holes.  Boy, do I feel dumb.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Counting knots

The impeachment trial has already proven to be a most conducive environment for hand stitching.  While watching yesterday I made a whole lot of french knots on my memorial bandage, so many that when I went to count them this morning I realize I'm almost done with the largest month in the project: 668 out of 754 needed for December.  The last 86 will require me to count as I stitch -- which will be fine until I get distracted and have to yell out at something outrageous said in the Senate.  I'll have to be careful!

And now it's time to decide how I will separate the months on this "calendar" scroll.  Probably with a line of machine stitching?  

Meanwhile, on to November, with "only" 423 deaths to mark.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Back to the pandemic memorial sewing

The last time I wrote about my coronavirus memorial quilt at the end of January, I had 23 bundles of 25 postage stamp-size little quilts, on the way to 2,662 pieces -- the number of deaths in Kentucky in 2020.  With a few days off to sew Valentine hearts, I've been making good progress and now have 53 bundles -- halfway there!!  (I decided it was less daunting, and simpler, to count bundles rather than pieces.  It seems way less difficult to make 106 bundles than to make 2,662 bits.)

Meanwhile I decided that I needed a new hand stitching project, so I'm doing a second 2,662 memorial, this one in french knots sewed onto a vintage roll of six-inch wide bandage muslin.  

This piece is going to be organized by month, showing how the pandemic started slow, plateaued for most of the year, and then hit the fan in the post-Thanksgiving surge.

You know how I feel about planning -- the less the better.  I like to work out problems while stitching, not before.  I really have no idea how much space it's going to take to make 754 french knots, so I'm just sewing away.  Pretty soon I'm going to have to start counting, at least to estimate how many inches of bandage to give to December.  Then I'll work backward and allocate the same space to each of the other months.  

I think what I'll do is take a photo and pop it into my Paint program, then mark off each knot that has been counted with a click of my paintbrush, ten knots per color.  Like this:

That's 110 knots counted, so I think I have about 500 made so far.  Looks like I can do 8 inches pehad enough for 12 inches per month, so I don't have to worry about running out of space!

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Totally frivolous

I was looking through old blog posts last week and happened upon one published in a long-ago early February, suggesting that maybe we all needed to do something fun, frivolous and friendly.  I think this February we need that kind of activity maybe more than ever before.

My post, from 2010, showed how to make little Valentine hearts from tulle and whatever tiny scraps might be lurking about your sewing table.  I layered Solvy between two thicknesses of tulle, stuck scraps in the sandwich and machine stitched a whole lot to hold everything together.  After cutting hearts, I soaked the Solvy out.

When I re-read the post, I wondered why I had bothered with the Solvy.  Surely I could make a tulle sandwich without that layer of cheese in the middle!  So this week I went back to the sewing machine to make a new batch of hearts.  Since I suspect those I sent out to my friends and family eleven years ago are missing in action.

I found several kinds of tulle in my stash, but chose a sparkly red one.  Inside the sandwich, several kinds of shiny threads and some snips of pink, red and gold sheers and silk.  In the sewing machine, red thread, some plain cotton/poly and some metallic.

Then I stitched a lot.  When everything was sewed in place, I put on a darning foot and made free-hand hearts, going around each outline three or four times.

Cut them out, saving the extra bits for future use (hold that thought). 

I can't exactly remember what that first batch of hearts felt like, but these seemed to be looser, lacking that stiff Solvy cheese in the middle.  So the stitching tended to pull tight against the tulle, and left bulges in the unstitched areas. 

I wasn't sure I liked that effect, so I painted the hearts with matte medium, diluted a bit with water, and let them dry between two layers of plastic under a weight.  That flattened out the bulges, and gave the finished hearts a bit of stiffness, just like the old hearts, who got that way because you can never wash away all of the Solvy.

As I wrote in 2010, Valentine's Day is coming up, and for once I had the brilliant idea in time to actually make a little present and get it to my loved ones on schedule!  (That is, if the post office cooperates -- too bad I didn't come upon that old post six weeks ago.)

If you're intrigued by this little project, I urge you to read the old post first.  See which approach appeals to you -- the firmer Solvy sandwich, or the looser tulle-only approach.  Also note that the old plan calls for three layers of tulle, and the hearts I just made were only two layers.  As a result, they're airier and less substantial.  You might want to add a third layer, or even a fourth.  (And when I compare the new ones to the old photo, I realize that I did a lot less stitching this time, which helped the hearts be airy, insubstantial and bulgy.)

In the 2010 version, I drew the hearts with a marker before sewing the outlines, but this time I just eyeballed it.  I can't see much qualitative difference in the artistic effect, but I do remember that last time, the marker was coming off on my fingers and I wasn't happy.  So if you want to draw first, make sure to use a waterproof ink.
Play with it!  And then check out the 2010 post for a helpful hint on making the hanging cords.

PS -- as you sew, you may have the same experience that I did -- you think of more people who you could send little Valentines to.  So you may make a second sandwich (which I assure you will go faster than the first one).  When you do, use those leftover bits from cutting out the hearts as filling for your sandwich. 

Happy Valentines Day!! 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Because you asked...

 After I posted yesterday about the coronavirus memorial quilt, Cozygirl left a comment and asked: "Will you handstitch the piecing together or use a machine?"

Answer: machine all the way!  

Several years ago I wrote a blog post about how I sew big postage stamp quilts together.  I still use the same method, and indeed the same little ziplock bags with numbers on them.  (On both sides, because you never know which side will be up at any given moment.)  

The quilt you see in these old photos is called "Epidemic" -- you can see the polka dots in it too, just like the new one.  I think some of the fabrics left over from that quilt will also show up in the one I'm making now.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Progress report -- coronavirus memorial

 I haven't decided yet what to call my memorial quilt, but I have made significant progress in the last few days.  To keep track, I'm bundling the little postage stamp bits into packages of 25.  

As of yesterday: 575 and change, on the way to 2,662.

For the back layer, I'm using a strange polypropylene fabric that people buy to tack on the bottom of upholstered furniture, among other uses.  It doesn't fray or ravel, so the only stray threads along the edges of my little bits will be those from the top fabric.  It's only $3 a yard, and comes in a lot of colors, but I'm using black, this being a memorial and all.  The only drawback to this fabric is that it melts into a horrible mess if you so much as touch your iron to it.  Ask me how I know.

after barely touching the iron

I'm cutting my fabrics into five-inch widths and putting in enough rows of stitching to hold the layers together before I slice them into 1 1/4-inch strips.  

Then I put in enough additional stitching to quilt the whole thing together, leaving one channel for my eventual line of stitching to hold the bits together horizontally.

Finally, I slice the strips into 1 1/2-inch bits.  I confess that after I did this meticulous planning and made a few hundred bits, I decided they would look better a touch wider.  So now I'm cutting them almost 1 3/4 inches wide.  I don't think the disparity is going to be a problem if the 300 smaller ones are subsumed into an expanse of 2,300 larger ones.  Probably even I won't notice the difference!

Friday, January 22, 2021

More deaths to count

Although I don't think I'm at all obsessed with death, I seem to have a recurring desire to mark and count the deaths associated with various national tragedies.  My first such effort was called Kentucky Graveyard (Iraq) and showed flag-draped coffins for all the Kentucky military who died in Iraq in the first year after our invasion.  My second was called Memorial Day and had a flag for each of the U.S. military who died in Iraq through Memorial Day 2008.

Kentucky Graveyard (Iraq) 

Memorial Day (detail)

I've been thinking for a long time about a similar project to count the dead from the coronavirus pandemic.  I've seen stories about artists who have put little flags out on lawns to count the dead, those who sew together small fabric bits, and those who make hash marks on fabric or canvas.  I thought of two different projects, and today I got started on the first of them.

It's along the lines of my Memorial Day quilt, actually a grid of thousands of tiny quilts the size of postage stamps.  Memorial Day had 4,084 little bits, and that was a pretty big project that took three months of fulltime studio work.  But the Kentucky coronavirus death count was 2,662 through the end of 2020, and 2,600 little bits seems manageable and yet big enough to make an impact. 

Fortunately, when the idea came to mind I had exactly what I needed already in the studio: a big stash of polka-dotted fabrics, which can easily signal either little germs floating about in the air, or the pox marking the afflicted.  In fact, I had used a lot of dots in a quilt made several years ago, called Epidemic.  (That quilt had a lot of holes in the grid, signifying people lost to the disease.)  I took all of this as a sign to make another epidemic quilt.

I've learned so much about how to construct these "postage stamp" quilts after making more than 15,000 little bits over the years.  This time I think the construction is going to go faster and more efficiently than I've ever managed before.  (I'll tell you more about that as the project progresses.)

I got 164 stamps sewed this afternoon, ready to be stitched into the big grid.  Only 2,498 to go...  

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Good news for calligraphers

In case you were wondering about your India ink:

Friday, January 15, 2021

Instagram update

Dana just left a comment on the blog asking for a link to my new instagram account.

Thanks for asking Dana, and here it is.  

And an update:  last week I was unhappy to discover that my account had been cloned (I'm told that's the accurate term) by somebody who stole my profile, my picture, my first week of posts, my followers, and whisked them over to a new account named exactly the same as mine but with a numeral 1 at the end.  I tried to report this to the instagram automated system and at first was told that nothing about the post violated "community standards" so never mind.  

It was particularly galling when my fake picture (I could tell because the evildoers put a wide black ring around my real picture) would show up in first place on my "suggested for you" list of accounts!  And it was identified only by my (correct) name, so who besides me would know that they were being suggested to follow a fake? 

I kept checking every day, calling up the fake account and reporting the user for pretending to be somebody they weren't.  Never got another response from the automated system, so I figured I was still being ignored.  But finally when I checked earlier this week, the fake account doesn't seem to be there any more.  I cannot explain it, but I'm happy.

Today's instagram post shows three collages from 2013, all using little angels that I cut from a book of copyright-free images.  I pasted them onto scenes of assorted calamity and destruction, and gave them speech balloons.  Obviously we can't tell exactly what they're saying, but in my mind they are really pissed off at what they're seeing.  

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Book report -- 2020

The pandemic had its bright moments, and for me one of the highlights of the year was more reading time.  Thankfully our library, though all branches were shut for several months, kept its digital services going and seemed to be buying new e-books at a faster rate than it had Before.  As an avid reader of the New York Times Book Review, I would frequently read about a new book that looked interesting, pick up my phone and put in a request for the e-book.  Nowadays if a library hasn't purchased a book yet, it will still show you the blurb for the book and allow you to "recommend" it.  If it's purchased, you go to the head of the line to check it out.

I know exactly what books I read last year thanks to my new habit of writing an excerpt from each book as my daily calligraphy, on the day I finish it.  And I can go back and read those passages to revisit any book that I have forgotten the details of.

I read a lot of nonfiction last year, mostly about social justice, American history and politics.  I particularly recommend Evil Geniuses by Kurt Andersen, which outlines how our political system has become so polarized and hateful in the last decades.  (Hint: it wasn't accidental.)

After reading several books by black authors, I was at times outraged, at times frustrated, at times both over the state of race relations in the US.  I had always known about slavery, of course, but even as an American history major I had never heard about many of the darker aspects of our sorry past.  My eyes were opened, but the negative emotions were overwhelming.

Somehow I got the idea to read Barack Obama's first book, Dreams From My Father, written in 1995 when he hadn't achieved any public prominence.  Of all the authors who grappled with the dilemma of being black in America, Obama seemed to me the most thoughtful and nuanced.  If you can only read one book about race and social justice, read this one.

But my nonfiction reading wasn't all heavy and discouraging.  I loved The Wave, by Susan Casey, who finds existential meaning in rogue waves, tsunamis and giant wave surfing.  Unless you live in a low ranch house on a barrier island, this is wonderful escapism! 

I won't recommend fiction, because tastes are so varied that the book I love is very likely to be one that you wouldn't read if they paid you.  And vice versa.  But I confess that having to write down every book I read has been a subtle nudge in the direction of less trashy trash, which makes me proud.

Despite doing a lot of reading in 2020, I chalked up a lot fewer books than the year before -- 59 books, compared to 79 in 2019.  That's because in 2019 we spent six weeks on cruise ships, mostly crossing the ocean rather than doing port calls every day.  That means a lot of time to sit on the balcony and read.  By contrast, during pandemic I spent many hours in the studio and in the kitchen instead of with a book.  

I'll keep up the book diary this year, so if you every want to check up on what I've been reading and see if it's up to your standards, look on my daily art blog.  This link will show you just the weeks in which I had a book diary entry. 

Meanwhile, what have been your favorite books from the last year or so?

Monday, January 11, 2021

Instagram -- off to a bad start

I wrote a few days ago about  my new Instagram practice, to post every day with images of my art, past and present.  I was so pleased to see dozens of new followers, many of them from blog readers, and kind words from many of you left here on the blog and on Instagram.

But then I realized last night that the account has been -- I don't know the right word: hacked? cloned? spoofed? hijacked?  Somebody stumbled on my real Instagram handle:  kathy_in_ky   and created a fake handle:  kathy_in_ky1.  Then they stole my photo and the first eight days of my posts to populate the fake account.  I have no idea how they did it, but apparently they next figured out how to make the fake account appear in our regular feeds.

This morning my daughter-in-law got a strange message from the fake account, which led her to realize the discrepancy.  She and I have both reported to Instagram, whose automated system has promised to investigate and block.  So far the automated system has let me know that they see nothing wrong with the fake account that would cause them to take it down, but said I could try again.  So much for automated system response.

If you are one of those who have signed up to look at my work on Instagram, please be on the lookout for the hijacked account.  If you see new photos every day from now on, you're safe, because the fake account is not putting up new content.  But if you see a reference to     kathy_in_ky1, they've found you too.  You can hit the three dots to the right of the account name and block this sender.  If you're feeling vengeful you can also "report user" and say that the account is pretending to be somebody else.  

And then, if necessary, I hope you'll sign up again with my real account!  Because I'm having lots of fun finding photos of my art to share with you.

Here's what I'm going to post today:

Daily calligraphy

Friday, January 8, 2021

New Year's resolutions: Instagram

I've had an Instagram account for several years, set up mainly so I could see photos of the new grandchild.  That was before I owned a smartphone, so I was not able to post anything (you can read but not write to Instagram from a computer).  And even after I succumbed to the 21st century and upgraded my phone, I never made a post.  

first day's post: Janus (front and back)

I can't exactly say why I resisted, but on the afternoon of New Year's Day I decided that this year I would not only make Instagram posts, but do it every day.  It's not "daily art" in the sense that I usually practice it, because I'm not making anything or following rules.  But it is going to be "daily."  

second day's post: from a recent walk

I realize that I have made an awful lot of art in my lifetime, and much of it I'm even proud to show in public.  So I'm going to go through my bazillion photos and find something different to show you every day.  Some will be art or photos from the past; some might be new work or even work in progress. 

If you do Instagram, I invite you to take a look, at   <  kathy_in_ky  >.  Maybe it will even cheer you up through the dark days of winter pandemic. 

third day's post: imaginary maps

Monday, January 4, 2021

Want to learn magic cross stitch?

I like to teach a process that I call "magic cross stitch," not so much a stitch as a way of approaching a hand-stitching project to incorporate spontaneity, serendipity and surprise.  It's listed on my "workshops" page, and this fall I got an inquiry from a quilt guild as to whether I could do it as a virtual workshop during pandemic lockdown.  I declined, since the process requires a lot of individual hands-on help, and people would probably be disappointed at trying to learn it online.

BUT -- in further discussion with the person who made the inquiry, I decided to write a detailed tutorial on how to do magic cross stitch, then offer individual consultation by email or phone if she had questions or wanted feedback.  And it seems to be working -- she has already made a good start on her project and the last time we emailed, she says she's ready to really get on it in the new year.  

One of the things I am most proud of in this tutorial is that it comes in two versions -- right-hand and left-hand.  The direction of stitching is vitally important in getting good results, and in avoiding wrist agony.  Thus in workshops I spend a lot of time giving directions twice.

But now lefties can read their own instructions and see illustrations of actual left-handed stitching, instead of being the by-the-way afterthought to the "standard" instructions.  

for lefties                                            for righties

The tutorial shows you how to make the "magic" stitch -- by working from the back of the fabric.  This gives you cross stitches, just like the ones you may have learned from your grandmother, but with a whole different mindset. I explain it in the text:  

How can you use this wonderful basic stitch to do original compositions without the stiffness of perfectly arranged rows and columns of Xs?  My method allows you to make stitching that looks lush and painterly, dramatic, textures, spontaneous and improvisational.  It involves no graph paper, no sketching in advance, no counting, no worries about the exact size or shape or placement of your stitches.

If you can thread a needle you can do magic cross stitch.  In fact, if you're a beginner at hand stitching, or if you've long since forgotten the fine points of what your grandmother taught you, you may even be better at this technique than people who have done a lot of cross stitch using more structured designs. 

I like to add french knots toward the end of a magic cross stitch project, so there's lots of instruction on how to master that stitch, too.

But the tutorial doesn't stop when you have learned how to make the stitches -- it helps you plan your color palette, your composition, your placement of colors and accents.  And it guides you through the different methods of finishing your work so it can be displayed on the wall or used functionally.

If you're thinking that you need a nice handwork project to get you through the last grim months of pandemic isolation, this might just be your thing!  Send me an email at < > and I'll get you a PDF of the tutorial.  Pay $25 for the tutorial, and $50 an hour for subsequent consultation and mentoring if you want it.