Friday, January 29, 2010

Last of the hand quilting...

...I think. This is the center of my big lone star quilt with a bit of Celtic interlaced bias tube design. There's a lot of reproduction fabric in that star, along with some batiks. All the bias tubing on this project was made from my own hand-dyed fabric. It's amazing how these very different fabrics work so well together.

When I basted the top, I wasn't sure how I was going to deal with this area in the center, since the star itself would be machine quilted. Thus the safety pins in an area that I now know is to be hand quilted, and so should be thread basted. I left them in anyway (not the first time I've hand quilted around safety pins, and yes, the thread does catch on them frequently), and in a couple of hours, the quilting was done.

Theoretically, that is the last of the hand quilting on this, unless I cave and decide certain areas really need a little more added. I'll decide after the rest of the machine quilting is completed. I plan a serpentine line of quilting through the diamonds in the star, and have yet to work out the border design but have several ideas. Needless to say, I am excited as the light at the end of the tunnel glows brighter.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Toots Zynsky

Mary Ann "Toots" Zynsky is another artist who took the Shelburne Museum challenge (see previous post). Like Richard Saja's, her work caught my eye because of its link to textiles. Although she is a glass artist, she has developed a method of layering glass threads to create bowls that mimic fabric as in the example above. One could truly believe it is shaped gauze or tulle. Her inspiration, Degas "Two Dancers," also set the color palette. She commented that "one of the things I realized on return visits to the museum was how many different colors Degas used in the white tutus." (The Magazine Antiques, September 2009)

For more information on Zynsky and her technique, and examples of her work, see, and Elliott Brown Gallery.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Richard Saja

Back when I was receiving packets of reproduction fabrics from a Keepsake Quilting Club, one grouping included a fat quarter of toile. Toile is basically a fabric printed with a complex repeat pastoral scene in a single color on a light background. Historically, toiles were used for curtains and upholstery, and when incorporated in a bedcovering, it would be used whole. It was a puzzle to me how I might use this small reproduction piece. But it is no puzzle to textile artist Richard Saja who's work is shown above. He simply takes the traditional toile and adds hand-embroidered embellishments. This example is one inspired by an oil painting in the collection of the Shelburne Museum. The Museum had extended a challenge to 8 contemporary artists to choose one piece from the collection assembled by Electra Havemeyer Webb that sparked his or her imagination in a new way and use it as inspiration for a new work. Saja would seem a perfect fit for such a challenge, as his career aim revolves around finding new ways of presenting old textiles while carrying forward the traditions of hand-embroidery.

Visit this post on Saja's blog and this article from September 2009 issue of The Magazine Antiques for more pictures and info about this embroidery. It has definitely given me ideas of what to do with my little piece of toile.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Wonky George

Felicity is busy drawing a portrait of my dog, Jesse (who is in doggy heaven) from some photos I sent her. At the time I took them, I didn't understand just how much detail one needs to take on such a task, and at any rate, photographing a black dog for detail is difficult at best. Suffice it to say, the photos were lacking and Felicity spent some time trying to find pictures on the Internet that would give her a better idea of what was going on with the ears, only to discover that my little Labrador has little in common with the looks of the standard Labrador one sees most often. In reviewing my photos, I was reminded of how wonky Jesse's ears were, sitting funny on her head and never folding down to form the classic triangular flaps on either side of the head. Once I shared this with Felicity, she could finally make sense of what she was seeing in my picture.

This conversation was going on while I was reading a science fiction book which includes a scruffy back-alley mutt named George as a primary character. From the description, George is no Labrador, but his ears as portrayed on the cover of the book certainly reminded me of Jesse's ears - a bit wonkier, but not by much. It was fun sketching this critter today while I wait for the much better portrait of Jesse that Felicity is creating. In fact, in a bit of serendipity, I've just discovered that she has posted it on her blog here. Pop on over and enjoy! She has captured Jesse beautifully.

And here are examples of Jesse's wonky ears:

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Another View

I feel badly that I haven't had my usual studio progress reports to post, but there's nothing much to show as I work on the hand quilting here. However, I am pleased to show you a new section that I will start quilting today. I am a little excited that this is the last major area of hand quilting (a small bit has yet to be done in the center of the quilt). I estimate I have 10-12 hours of hand quilting left, and then the borders to machine quilt. Barring life intervening, as it often does, it looks good for my goal of completing this by April. I'm holding fast to my resolution word: focus, focus, focus!

I've mentioned that this quilting is not coming easily because of several characteristics of this particular quilt. As if to emphasis that, last night I bent a needle trying to manipulate it through a particularly recalcitrant section, then for no apparent reason, a second needle snapped! You know it's rough going when a short and stout needle breaks and it hasn't hit anything solid...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Goodbye Dakar...

...Hello Figure Skating Nationals! Yes, I have a new distraction but at least it's just over two weekends. Here's my new little sketchbook made from a 14 x 17 inch piece of vellum Bristol drawing paper. Its 100lb weight is less than the watercolor paper which made for easier folding and a thinner stack. The smaller starting size of the paper has yielded smaller individual pages which I cut to produce a portrait orientation, slight as it may be. This paper is oh so much easier to draw on. Both of these sketches are from images I found on the Internet. I have both Prismacolor and Prismacolor Verithin colored pencils, but up until now, I haven't been able to use the Verithin because of the roughness of the watercolor paper. While the Dakar Rally car with confetti was done in the thicker, softer Prismacolor pencil, the skates are done with the harder and more precise Verithin - lovely to work with in such a small format.

I don't want you to get the idea that I'm an expert on drawing pencils and paper - I'm still feeling my way along and building on what I learned in the class I took last year, and what I've read since. Read all you want, the real learning comes with trial and error. And although copying from photos and illustrations may seem mundane, I am always amazed at how much I learn through the careful observation necessary. At first I usually don't know where to begin to draw (and as in the skates don't get the image centered very well). I start to panic & think I should give up and look for something simpler. Then I remember that I just have to start somewhere, with a single shape and build from there. I am using the trick of drawing the negative space a lot, which seems to get me past the initial "I can't do this" feeling. Before I know it, I am totally absorbed in my subject, and noticing more and more detail as I go along. I am finding it particularly helpful to study shading. Ok, this is probably obvious, but it's the shading that takes an outline and gives it dimension. Seriously, when I found the skates picture I thought this would be a quick easy line drawing. Only after I got some of the basic shapes down did I notice how some of the lines were a bit thicker to suggest a little shadow. I wasn't going to add the pink color but then I realized it was not just color, but the way the artist used shading to bring out details and dimension. Do this often enough, and eventually I will not have to copy someone else; I will see with my own eye how to use shading. It's all about observation and training your eye (and a little eye/hand coordination, of course).

Ultimately, I am hoping to transfer what I am learning through sketching to my art quilts, to more effectively employ these tricks of shading and negative space to bring a depth missing from many of my designs.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


I mentioned that I have been following the Dakar Rally, a 14 day rally raid that this year traversed terrain in Argentina and Chile. It should be no surprise that I used images from the rally to fill some of the pages of my sketchbook, pages that had swoops of paint that vaguely reminded me of some of the stages of the race. The last stage was yesterday which coincided with the last page of this sketchbook. So here you see that I teased out an overhead scene over two facing pages, superimposing the Dakar Rally trademark image over it. For fun, I used a brush and India ink to fill in the lightly penciled in basic shapes.

I have always been fascinated by this image. It is only angled slashes topped by a jagged line. Yet one can clearly see the desert Bedouin it represents. I wish my mind could easily reduce reality to such simple lines but I get caught up in literal representations of what I see, and not the basic components. Abstraction does not come easily to me. But viewing this image again reminds me I'd like to learn some tricks in how to approach abstraction.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Book Find

Look at the book I spotted at the library the other day. It is called "The Bizarre and Incredible World of Plants" and is full of "images of some of the most spectacularly hidden (without light and electron microscopy) but vital aspects in the life of plants hitherto largely unknown outside the scientific community." If you are looking for inspiration, unusual shapes or just a color jolt, this book will provide it. Not all is weird and wonderful, as the page I chose to sketch from, but all are stunning in their clarity and juxtaposition against black backgrounds.

The daily sketching has been a bit more difficult than I expected. I realized that it was hard to get excited about it without subjects I am really interested in, and casting about the house, I wasn't finding much of interest. I guess it's a bit like someone learning to quilt and having to suffer through a sampler class of blocks and fabrics that do not excite. I think we will always be more motivated to learn and practice on a regular basis if the subject and materials are ones we are drawn to. Thus, when I paged through this book, I knew to bring it home because I immediately spotted several images that intrigued, that I would not mind spending my time with.

The choice of paper for my little sketchbook has been problematic too - it really is too rough if I want to get detailed, and the colored pencils can't get into the low pockets easily. The painted background that I thought would help has turned into more of a hindrance. Some pages did indeed hold images to be teased out but many just got in my way, especially when trying to color over areas painted too heavily. Worse yet, there were days when I hesitated to sketch what I had in mind because it didn't seem appropriate or a "worthy enough" subject for the color on the page. When I make the next sketchbook to finish out the month, I will use a good quality drawing paper left white and monitor the difference in my reaction to it.

One other observation - I had the choice of setting up the sketchbook in landscape or portrait orientation, and chose landscape. Many sketching ideas were aborted because they work better in a portrait orientation. Until you are limited to a specific space and orientation, you do not realize how restraining it can be. Space configuration definitely matters in design.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Another Padfolio

In spite of distractions, I got another padfolio made yesterday - this one for a sister-in-law's upcoming birthday. I continue to be in love with this fairly quick to make and usable gift that I truly can get done in a few hours. I'm still experimenting with closures - in this case the length of crewel yarn gets wrapped around the two buttons in a figure eight like the closures of some manila envelops. This works really great.

I also love it when the bits and pieces of experimentation find a home. That's a stripset I made over a year ago (you can see it and others in this post), just sewing together random pieces from my "string" drawer. The navy on either side was just about the last of its kind - a strip plenty long but not wide enough. I sewed two lengths together, knowing that the center seam would be covered by the strip set which miraculously was exactly the right length. I really like this version and it has me eyeing my other piles of leftover strips and triangles that I've not figured out how to use yet.

The pockets are made from a fabric that appears in the strip set - lucky to find I still had quite a bit of it. The lining is from what was left of a regularly cut quarter yard of fabric that I think came from a mystery scrap bag purchase. It isn't really the sort of thing I would pick myself, but I am often surprised at how these "so not me" fabrics become usable and desirable. This carries on the flower theme in some of the stripset fabrics. And I could not resist inking the recipient's name onto the pocket. Done & in the mail!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


An unhurried sense of time is in itself a form of wealth.
Bonnie Friedman

Oh, to be wealthy in this way, but at the moment I am juggling distractions that are not allowing me an unhurried sense of time. There's the clogged sink that after 4 days and much back & forth with the landlord is running free again. There's the Dakar Rally requiring daily visits to the website to watch videos and get the latest news. And there's new frames to decide upon, a process complicated by blurred vision when trying to see what I look like in them. But I think I have made up my mind. This is what my top choice looks like on the outside:

But this is what they look like on the inside:

I can't help myself. It was either the conservative, stately pair, or these that made me smile every time I picked them up and put them on. A little artsy fartsy, wouldn't you say?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Moving along

I finished the quilting on the Celtic applique as shown in the last post, and shifted to this new section today. I couldn't remember if I'd finished one previously to this last one so was relieved to find that I had, meaning that two of the four appliques are quilted. I also was reminded as I shifted the quilt around, that there's some Celtic applique over the center of the star waiting to be hand quilted, but it is a much smaller area. Still, assessing how far along I actually am is encouraging. And for as much of a struggle as the hand quilting is through some of the sections, I'm finding enjoyment in the stitching.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Hand Quilting

Yesterday I said I wasn't sure which project would be getting my attention next. Today there was no question and if you're a long-time reader you may recognize this quilt. It's a lone star with different Celtic Applique patterns in the four corners. I'm doing a mix of machine and hand quilting on it - the star portion has been machine quilted and I've hand quilted Celtic motifs in the background around the star and applique. Now I am in a bit of drudgery stage of quilting, essentially stitching in the ditch along all that bias tubing that makes up the interlocking design. It's hard work since I've used cotton batting and a slightly heavy background and backing fabric, and quilting next to a seam is never easy at best. Small wonder that I haven't touched it much in the three years I've been here.

But I said one of the things I wanted to do this year is make time for handwork, which includes quilting, and attend to more unfinished business. This one definitely deserves to rise to the top of the unfinished business list. It is a wedding present for a nephew who will be celebrating his 10th anniversary in April. Ahem! In looking back at blog entries, I see that last year at this time I'd started quilting on it again with the resolution to finish it by the end of the year. Well, I didn't get very far on that resolution obviously. I don't have any notion of how many more hours of quilting remain (once the hand quilting is done, the border will be machine quilted), but I do wonder if I can get it done for this anniversary. I'm at least going to try (and harder than I tried last year). It helps that I've quit worrying about doing exhibit quality work. I'm sure the nephew would rather have the quilt in hand than perfectly spaced and tiny stitches.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Row Robin Ready to Send On

Here's the row robin top I've been working on. My row is at the top. The owner's starter row is the third one down. I'm not sure which direction that Celtic applique is meant to go - I may have this upside down, but of course, it is for the owner to decided which way is up. It has but one more row to be added.

I cut a stripe from the border fabric to use as sashing on either side of my row. Thank goodness the owner bought and sent along a lot of yardage so that I didn't have to piece the strip.

And now I'm wondering...what next? I really hadn't thought too specifically past this project., but there's much from which to choose. We'll see what tomorrow brings.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Seminole Piecing

Seminole piecing is the perfect choice for a row quilt, but this is my first chance to utilize it during this challenge. It is a deceptively simple process that produces complicated-looking results. I'm using a pattern out of a book I taught from, "Simply Seminole" by Dorothy Hanisko. Start with these two strip sets.

Then cut them into these segments. The narrow ones are 1 inch wide, not an easy width if one were cutting each piece individually and sewing together. Strip piecing makes it manageable for anyone.

Sew together four segments, flip flopping two of them.

The finished blocks will be set on point in the row.

But you'd never know it by the next step where you sew these spacers in between the blocks set square. This photo, by the way, is the most accurate representation of the fabrics' true colors.

An angled cut through the spacer magically creates triangles on two sides of the blocks. Much simpler than cutting triangles and sewing them on separately.

Now these units can be rotated and sewn together to form a row of blocks on point.

I'm off to add sashing and sew my row to the top...

Sunday, January 03, 2010

It's Sunday

I haven't been in church on a Sunday for a month, I realized. The first Sunday in December, I visited another church, then the next three I was too sick to go (although I did drag myself to the Christmas Eve service). I was pleased we had a good crowd in good spirits, even if we did stumble through some of the hymns. We've recently installed windows in the front of the church which frame pine trees. Our Celtic-style cross hangs in front of the center one. We take communion from a common chalice. It seemed appropriate to sketch these items today.

All but the chalice were sketched from images stored in my brain. I didn't trust my memory to get the shapes right. Once I got set up and sketching, the urge to fill my lovely wooden "chalice" with wine was overwhelming, but I figured sipping wine would lead to less sketching. Best to leave the imbibing as a reward to speed up the process!

I settled on the fabrics for the row robin challenge and got everything cut out today. It's a Seminole piecing pattern so I am ready to sew strip sets, cut segments and sew some more.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Baskets & Books

I could not shake the feeling it was Monday, so I worked like it was Monday, not Saturday. Yes, even though I no longer have a Monday through Friday job or attend school, I often have a hard time buckling down on Saturday because of years of it representing a day off. One of my Christmas presents was a set of fabulous birch baskets (there are three more nested inside this one). However, I thought those muslin liners were atrocious. So the first order of business was to slap a little paint on them to see if I'd like it better.

Here they are drying. I figure there's little to lose here. If I don't like the painted version, I can use the baskets with no liner at all, or make my own from prettier fabric.

Late last night I remembered that I'd intended to make a simple sketchbook as demonstrated on Nina Johansson's blog to encourage me to draw every day in January. One of the things I want to make time for this year is more regular drawing. It's not as if I don't have several sketchbooks and pads around. It's that I don't seem to use them much. A dedicated book - one with limited pages - might work better, I reasoned. I thought it might help with the inspiration part if the pages in this sketchbook had some color. So I got out my Dye-na-flow paints and randomly spread different colors on a sheet of watercolor paper.

Once the paper had dried & I tried out the method on a small piece of paper (that's what's paper-clipped to the instructions), I made the appropriate folds and cuts and accordion folds until it was a little book - it really was so easy. You end up with 16 pages to draw on - in my case, my watercolor paper yielded 4-1/2 x 6 inch pages. Obviously, if I plan a drawing a day all month, I'll need to make another of these. This may turn out to be a journal of sorts - I wanted to draw snowflakes for yesterday, because I'd woken up to snow.

Here's another example of how the color falls on the pages. Many are less zippy than this, more of a wash..

My first real project for the year will be adding a row to my next row quilt challenge top. I looked through a book til I found a pattern I think will work, and studied the beautiful border fabric that is traveling with this top. It seemed appropriate to practice a little sketching by drawing one of the flowers on the fabric and color it in with my Prismacolor pencils. I'm not going for masterpieces here - this is to get back into the habit of drawing regularly and improving my eye. And let me tell you, sketching a mum can get mighty confusing! After taking this picture, I decided to sketch in the pattern of the row I'll be making along the right hand side. A nice little record of the day.

Friday, January 01, 2010

The beginning of a new year

The two art quilts on either side of the center one are the last art quilts I made in 2009 as they hung in the last exhibit of the year. I picked all three of them up just a few days ago, frankly a bit eager to have them hanging here at home. A lot of artists are busy assessing 2009, recapping the highlights, listing the accomplishments, tallying up works completed, setting elaborate goals for the new year. I usually do that too, but find I have no compulsion to do so this year. I don't have the sense that I need to double check what transpired, prove to myself that I didn't fritter away the year, find empirical evidence of my worth. I am oddly content. My thoughts keep going back to how I felt after hanging my work for the ArtWalk exhibit. I remember working hard to have a lot of pieces ready, and I remember how the Azalea Mosaic idea blossomed naturally into a series. I remember how proud I felt at what I'd accomplished, and more importantly, how I'd fallen in love with my work again after a long spell of lukewarm emotion and only seeing weaknesses. I think I found myself in 2009, and along with it a freeing confidence I'd previously lacked.

This is not to say there weren't bumps in the road, moments of frustration, all out panic, times when I threatened to throw in the towel and go pursue some other filler of time. There certainly were those, and there will be more in the future, I'm sure. But somehow they are not what I remember of 2009 as the year wound down into the holidays. I'm remembering the times of satisfaction, the work I'm proud of. Rather than worriedly wondering what I will or should do in 2010, I'm looking forward to new explorations on my mind that I will allow to lead me where they will. I'm looking forward to wrapping up more "unfinished business" I no longer what to push to the bottom of the list. I plan to focus less on creating for exhibits, more on the work and the process itself. I'm thinking of ways to shake up my daily routine so that my outlook remains fresh and I don't get bogged down in details or unwise commitments, in or out of the studio. I'm hoping to be more efficient overall so that I'll have time for more of my interests, and the luxury to focus on handwork.

Focus. Yes, I do believe focus needs to be my resolution word this year. I've decided that part of being efficient has to do with focus. I need to get back to written lists - another aid to focus that works well for me. When I make daily lists, I get an amazing amount accomplished, I feel efficient, and seeing those items ticking off energizes me. If the lists are only in my head, I tend to sit around feeling overwhelmed, go into avoidance mode, then chastise myself for not doing more. I don't know what magic the written word has over me, I just know that it does. I've purchased an engagement calendar expressly for holding those lists, for mapping out goals, a week at a glance.

Tomorrow, it all begins. With the holiday over, I feel the first itch in weeks to return to the studio and get down to work. It was like a switch being flipped - yesterday no desire or thought of it, today a natural readiness and anticipation of the next project. The break did me good, I think. I'm ready to go.

Here's a closer look at that wonderful sculpture that sat below my quilts at the exhibit "That Thing You Do." I definitely got the impression many people's eyes never made it up to my quilts at the opening reception, and I couldn't blame them. It is called "Salmon Chasing Bear," and is by local artist David Baranski.