Friday, May 30, 2008

Installations, Cohesive Work, and Other Thoughts

The POAC exhibit will be coming down in a little over a week (you have through June 8th to view it), and I finally got back to study it without the distraction of lots of milling people. I promised to share better pictures and some additional thoughts about the exhibit and reception when time allowed; after studying all the art quilts with the eye of a viewer and not an exhibitor, I find some of my initial impressions hold, while new discoveries surfaced.

One of the things I originally wanted to comment on was the way my two pieces were hung. I knew the two pieces would fight if hung together, and hoped that those hanging the show would see the importance of giving them some distance from each other. First lesson learned - do not count on someone else solving your problems. As you can see from the picture above, most of the small work was grouped together on one wall. As I observed it during the reception, my first thought was, now why couldn't they have traded the position of my work with the dark blue one on the right? In fact, that whole wall did not seem well thought out. Granted, they had some breaker boxes to work around, and a wide variety of colors and styles to make work in one space. Still, the rest of the installation showed more thought to juxtaposition of pieces, and did not necessarily hang both of an artist's pieces together.

So I stood there thinking, this is a good lesson learned. When selecting pieces for consideration into an exhibit, they should relate better to each other, show some cohesiveness, have something going on in them that would be a clue that they belong to a particular artist. There's nothing similar about these two pieces. And then I saw it. Although in one they are undulating and in the other straighter, both works have the parallel quilting lines spaced approximately 1/4" apart. Interesting!

A particular quilting style tied together another artist's work, even though the pieces themselves were quite different. Above is Marilyn Henrion's Etude #6 and Fugue #1. One hung on the balcony while the other hung on the stair landing, but the large circular quilting immediately let you know these two pieces might be by the same hand.

There were others who used the wider spaced parallel lines as I had, but in such a different way on such stylistically different work that I don't think anyone would think them mine. Pat Budge used it to great advantage on her Edges #4: Fissures. Here they go off in all directions to emphasize the varied shapes in her design. Any more narrowly space and it would have been overkill or lose its impact, any wider and it would not have done its work.

Rita Hutchins also used parallel stitching lines, alternating both wide and very narrow spacing, dependent on the space to be filled. I greatly admired Follow the Yellow Brick Road above also because it is totally pieced, and the smallest of those units is less than an 1 inch square. It had a certain freedom in that the squares and rectangles were various sizes and not perfectly formed, yet when looking at the piece as a whole, it isn't chaos and all randomness. The heavy quilting around the tiniest squares made them pop in more than one way.

My last example of the use of parallel quilting lines is Brian Dykuizen's Fractured Female. If you click on the pic for the larger view, you should be able to see the effect of the variegated thread he used. With the quilting lines angling across the piece in a fairly regimented way, some of the variegation left an impression like rain.

Kay Hall's Sundown was my overall favorite at the reception. I was surprised that I didn't like it quite as much seen in daylight. It seemed to loose some of its depth and saturation, and the quilting I thought so perfect now struck me as not quite right. I simply didn't remember the very light ribbon like motif across the sky, and it made no sense to me on this second viewing. It is still an impressive piece, though.

One of the most talked about piece at the reception was Kristine Calney's Tidal Tresses. It may have been where it was hung that led people to believe this was something just thrown together. Or it could have been the traditional quilters in attendance who were whispering that this couldn't have taken any time at all to make. As you can see from the detail shot, this is made up of blocks where strips of fabric 1/2 to 3/4 inch wide have been laid down and stitched through the center, leaving raw edges slightly raised and ragged. It was only in different light and thorough study that I could appreciate what went into the planning and execution of this piece. Not haphazard at all with a lot of intertwining of strips to play out her tidal theme.

The other most talked about piece was Joan Renkerts What's That In Your Pocket? As I commented in my reception review, this was the one piece that really pushed the definition of a quilt. In fact, I really do think it falls in a different category all together, but technically, I suppose it meets the definition.

Overall, I think the exhibit is successful in meeting its theme "Art Quilts: Beyond Tradition" yet there were several things going on at the reception that impressed me as muddying the waters again whether quilts can really be art. While the art quilt being raffled off was unquestionably a piece of art, the book they had in the silent auction was not about art quilts, but about a modern technique for making traditional quilt designs. And I literally cringed when I overheard one of the exhibitors going into great technical detail of how she rendered her piece. "Yikes!" I thought, "This is what quilters do at quilt shows, stand proudly by our work and answer all those questions from fellow quilters about how we managed to do what we did." I don't know it for a fact, but it's hard for me to believe that artists in other mediums do this at their openings. I doubt that those attending such openings would even think to ask such technical questions. I know my non-quilting friends who attended weren't asking such questions of me. I suppose that was when I realized that the reason so many people attended the exhibit opening was because the quilting community had come out in force. I erroneously believed the art community and its supporters as a whole would be attending, and realized that it was their opinion and impression that I was hoping to learn, not the quilting communities opinion. I already KNOW what the quilting community and even the art quilting community thinks. It's the rest of the art world I want to know about and learn from.

And with that thought, I conclude with a comment from a friend who is neither a quilter nor an artist, but someone who enjoys and collects art. She took one look at Marty Bownes quilt (shown next to Joan Renkert's quilt above), and said - "Don't like it, it looks like a baby quilt." Well, that took me off guard because I'd been admiring the artistic qualities of that very quilt. So I had to ask what about it gave her that impression. "It's the size of a crib quilt and laid out in blocks like a crib quilt." Ah...then I could see it, and thought this excellent information to remember in my own designing. A simple change in orientation or number of blocks would have dispelled the crib quilt look. But as a quilter, the similarities had not registered. Perhaps the very same design done in some other medium would not have evoked the same response, but since we operate on a fence between the quilt world and the art world, I think we need to be conscious of little things like this that might impede our being taken seriously as artists. It's the very thing driving art quilters who work small to mat and frame their work, the better to dispel any confusion about this being art.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

More Stitching

I put in three more hours of stitching on the tree trunks and think I am done with the thread painting. I seemed to be "in the zone" today, and finishing up the moss had a hypnotic quality to it, just circled away without much thought. I felt I was finally getting the hang of it, having learned not to keep such a straight "line" and leaving some holes. I don't think it shows well in the picture, but I used three values of green, working the middle value in to soften the starkness of the very darkest. The very light minty green is the threadlace lichen - I've just placed them on here as they probably will be attached after the quilting.

Kimberly wanted to see a larger view of this piece, so here it is - first before the thread stitching:

And after as it looks today, the jpg cropped to way I think I will trim it in real life, although I have to admit, I really like that tight shot up top. Still haven't quite decided how I will shape and place that overlay of willow leaves on sheer:

Annabelle praised me for my patience, but I think it was more my stubbornness that kept me going. My feelings about this have been up and down throughout the process and I've had to take major breaks from it, both to reassess where I was headed and to gather up my resolve to tackle it again. Looking at the before and after pictures, it's easy to see that the threadpainting transformed a flat plain piece of fabric into tree trunks. But during the process, the progress was slow to come and not easy to see. Couple that with the fact that what was happening on the cloth was not what I'd envisioned in my mind, and you can see why I despaired along the way, wondering if the effect I was going for was really happening.

Once I accepted the fact that it wasn't going to look like my original concept, but still looked like tree trunks, I could better judge my results. All of you who commented with thumbs up at how it was developing certainly helped me reach that point. Once again, I learned that I must see and judge my work for what it is and not for what I hoped or envisioned it would be.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Stitching, Stitching

Here's the other thing I worked on this week - my March Take It Further Challenge. Yes, March... I'm trying to shade my fabric with thread painting to create the detail of bark and moss on these tree trunks, and it has not gone as I anticipated. After hours and hours of stitching back and forth on this thing, I needed to give it a huge break after adding the white thread - see detail picture below. (This was the one color I'd been avoiding because I thought it too stark, but which turned out to be just what I needed to bring out some highlights.) My session this week was to start adding moss.

One reason I let it sit was that I was contemplating how to render the moss. With green velvet? (I thought I had some in my scraps, but couldn't find it.) With more thread lace like the lichen? (Because I'd need so much, I wasn't thrilled about that idea.). I finally went to Ben Franklin to see if they had some fake moss I could stitch in place. I found something on a fine wire base and brought it home, but I couldn't bring myself to use it. Not only would it create too much dimension compared to the rest of the quilt, I found the green mossy bits shed off the wire quite easily. I returned to Ann Fahl's book for inspiration and found it. No more straight line thread painting, but tiny circle thread painting. This is a bit like the garnet quilting stitch (see this post for an example), except the circles are quite small and filled in with stitching. The motion is a bit like the thread lace motion, but for some reason, I'm tolerating it better done directly on the fabric.

Ann warns that this will take quite some time to do, and she's right, but you know me - I soldier on no matter how long something takes if it gives me the results I'm looking for.

Testing, Testing

It always take me a bit to get back into the swing of things after a trip - so much catching up to do and the lovely lingering afterglow from a great vacation to savor. But I did get back into the studio last week, if only for a few days. Rather than store away the projects I took with me and dive back into any of my art quilt projects, I decided to take another step on the applique project I worked on at the retreat.

Although I still have a few design details to work out in the borders, the sashing pattern is ready to go. I was curious to see if a method I learned a few years back would work on this project, so rather than complete the designing process, I went straight to preparing the applique for stitching.

As I often do, I'm combining methods from several experts. The idea to design the vine and leaves as one unit comes from Elly Sienkiewicz in her Baltimore Beauties and Beyond book. It appealed to my lazy nature in that I wouldn't have to figure out how many yards of bias to cut for the vine and I wouldn't have to trace and cut out tons of individual leaves. One rectangle of my applique fabric per sashing or border strip background is all I need. Simple, simple simple.

Wreath of Strawberry Leaves rendered by Jean Stanclift

However, Elly has you trace your pattern on freezer paper, cut it out and iron it to the right side of the applique fabric where it stays as the guide for turning under the seam allowance as you sew. On the Wreath of Strawberries Leaves block I made using this method, I struggle with the freezer paper popping off, and eventually used sequin pins to hold the freezer paper in place. Not the best method for a project that may be a long time in the making. So I wanted to try Jeana Kimball's method which, under her class supervision, worked beautifully. It's a little labor intensive, but once all the prep is done, the appliqueing is a breeze.

You start by tracing the entire applique pattern on the back of the background fabric using a lightbox. Then you position the applique fabric on the right side, pinning in a few places to hold it in place, and stitch a short running stitch exactly on the drawn lines from the back. This is done with cotton hand quilting thread and one of her larger straw needles - a size 8. (See picture at beginning of the post.) Yes, this is time consuming, but the beauty of it is, when these basting threads are removed, they leave holes that act like perforations, and the seam allowance rolls right under along them. Even Jeana was skeptical when she first saw this method, but once you try it, the advantages over other ways to mark and turn applique becomes obvious.

I appliqued just enough of this sashing piece to be sure this method is right for this project, and it seems to be working as planned. The basting stitches come out just far enough ahead of your stitching to allow turning under, and as both Elly and Jeana recommend, the excess applique fabric is trimmed back to a narrow seam allowance also just a bit ahead of the stitching. This helps keep fraying of the applique edges to a minimum.

Even so, I didn't have to take too many stitches to realize I'd done it to myself again, staying true to my subconscious motto of, "Wait! How can I make this harder for me?" The dark blue on the medium blue is reminding me of when I hand quilted a black background with black thread - so hard to see what you're stitching, even with really good light. And yes, those leaves are pretty small, there are a lot of them, and the turn into the stem is pretty tight. This is fussy work and isn't something I'm going to complete any time soon, even if I work diligently at it. However, I really am all about process, I love hand stitching, and I know I wouldn't be happy with the look of a faster method like fusing. For me, it's as much about the journey as it is the destination. Good thing, huh?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Travelogue Part 3 - Post-Retreat

I failed to mention in yesterday's post that, in addition to food, no gathering of quilters is complete without a trip to a fabric store. St Croix Falls is right across the Minnesota/Wisconsin border from Taylors Falls and has a nice little quilt shop which we visited. The owner obligingly had a sale going on, which included 20% off precut 1/2 and full yards of batiks. These two looked like a good addition to my current collection - I'm heavy on toned colors and often wish I had something brighter to add a spark.

I didn't head straight home after the retreat, instead adding a day in Eau Claire, WI. to my trip. This is where I lived prior to my move to Idaho, and where I had set up a Memorial to fund a chapel ceiling restoration project at the Episcopal Cathedral there. The initial cleaning had just been done, and since I was so close, it would have been a pity not to go see how the project was progressing and meet the new Dean.

Here's a circa 1943 picture of the chapel - its claim to fame at that time being that it was always open and "devoted to war-time prayers and meditations, for people of any faith." I spent many hours in this chapel staring up at the faint rosemaling and imagining how I might incorporate some of the motifs in my quilting. (This is the same chapel that inspired my angel quilts.) I was pleased to get some pretty good pictures to bring home with me, and also pleased that after 7 years, the project is finally under way. (Remember you can click on any picture for a larger view.)

I also visited with several friends before heading back to the train station in St. Paul. It's definitely more civilized to board the train at 11:00 at night rather than 2:30 in the morning. My porter was waiting for me, had my bed turned down, so it was put in the earplugs and go straight to sleep. And when I woke up, there was the morning paper again. Although it was the same 26 hour trip, it seemed to go faster than the trip out - probably because now I knew what to expect, and I'd be arriving back in Sandpoint before midnight - didn't even ask for the bed to be turned down again.

When I was 3 or 4, I took a train trip with my mother. This and old movies were my point of reference for what train travel would be like. My 21st century train was decorated with vintage posters like the one above, but trains these days are not like those of the 30's, 40', or even 50's when I last rode.

In those days, the cars were more like these refurbished ones I saw at the St. Paul depot, not the double deckers (with the possible exception of an observation car) that all Amtrak cars are now. I didn't expect to have to climb to the second level to move from car to car.

Here's the narrow passageway through the second level of a sleeping car devoted to the bigger rooms. On the lower level, the roomettes are on either side of a center aisle with slightly larger rooms on each end - no through passageway to another car on that level. Only up and over to get to the dining and lounge cars.

There was another wine tasting, and by dinner we were back in the mountains. Here are some of the views I was able to catch before darkness set in again.

Flathead River is fed by glaciers, which accounts for its greenish color.

Still lots of snow.

At dusk I spotted a deer near the tracks, then a herd of elk in a field. Then darkness fell and it was back to reading. The train was running late (Amtrak leases use of the tracks, so often gets shunted to a siding to let freight traffic through - is your car in the container above?) so it was nearly 1:00 a.m. by the time we rolled into Sandpoint.

I was amazed at all the activity - many more people getting off and on the train than I expected. Here's the side deboarding passengers see. For such a dilapidated little station, it does a lot of business, I guess. According to a Wikipedia entry here, it averaged 16 passengers a day in 2007, and the station was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in the 1970's. For more about the rail lines through Sandpoint, see Matt's Railfanning Site.

I'm curious about the history of this station, but couldn't find much on the internet - just that it was in Revival style. Guess that accounts for the balls and arched windows.

It even has this odd little turret thing over a bay window on the track side of the building. And crowding into the picture, the modern day metal communications tower.

That huge crack running up the wall next to the window was one of the first things that caught my eye in daylight. Then my eye noticed the peeling paint, the broken gutter and other evidence of neglect. The freight door fits my image of the style one would expect to see on a building of this vintage.

And finally, what quilter could resist snapping a picture of this brickwork - as it fell apart toward the edge, I thought of quilts showing a similar freeing of regimentation as geometric designs break free of their grid.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Travelogue Part 2 - Minnesota Retreat

Our informal retreat was to be held at a relatively new facility - a farmhouse renovated with the quilter and scrapbooker in mind, near Taylors Falls, MN. We had booked it sight unseen on the recommendation of a trusted friend. We all had directions stating the white farmhouse would be on the left side of the road, yet every one of us spotted this house on the right and wondered if it was it.

Oh dear! let's hope not or we'd been sold a pig in a poke!

Ah, no, there it is over on the left as advertised. It was a gorgeous place inside and out, accommodating up to 10 people. There would be 8 of us and a little more room to spread out.

It sits on 30 acres of woods and cornfields a few miles outside of town.

The large barn is the current renovation project, being prepared to host the wedding of a woman who grew up in the farmhouse.

A closer look at the weather vanes sporting cows.

Vintage farm machinery dotted the yard.

But enough of the setting - time to get inside and to work. Here Bonnie and Cindy work at a table near the door to the deck. Friday was nice enough to sit out there and do some handwork.

LeAnn had never done a retreat like this before, but she quickly got into the swing of things.

Cindy had brought a tiara which was quickly placed on the head of the first one to declare a project finished. Poor Barb (Cindy's mom) was the first but took it well.

Nearly everyone had brought UFO's to work on, some quite near to completion, so the tiara traveled quite frequently. Mo was next. Here she consults with the other Barb.

LeAnn also joined the ranks of, "Hallelujah, I've finished something!" but decided to let her sewing machine wear the tiara. After all, it did a lot of the grunt work.

Cindy joined a Jo Morton club and worked on one of the projects from that. Here's the applique block that would be the center of a small wall hanging.

I forgot to take a picture of my project as it was laid out. I'd brought exchange blocks and worked on designing an applique border and sashing for it. Laying out the blocks really changed my mind about which of my ideas would work so I'm glad I packed them. By the time I'd gotten input from others and mulled things over, I came up with a version that included ideas from both mock-ups (see this post) plus a new idea. Here is my pile of stuff about ready to go back in the suitcase. No tiara for this kid - I only got the sashing and 3 of the borders drawn and a little bit of hand quilting ufo's are still ufo's.

No get together of quilters is complete without food - and we had lots of it. The remodeling of the kitchen opened the area up to provide this island big enough to sit around for meals and a chat.

I also failed to get a picture of the room I shared with LeAnn. My, the walls were VERY pink. The other bedrooms were more calmly decorated. The basement bedroom held 4 beds and had its own bath. There was a single on the main floor with a powder room, and the upstairs had two bedrooms with its own bathroom. Besides the main workspace complete with ergonomic chairs and raised cutting station, there was a small "parlor" where one could relax with coffee or that hand work.

Our three days sped by and we were reluctant to leave such a beautiful facility and part from old and new friends. Are you surprised that we started planning next year's retreat almost as soon as we arrived?