Thursday, May 27, 2010

Continuing with the Challenge

In working with June's challenge painting of the Little Rogue River, I promised myself I would not over-think or overwork it. One look at it and I could easily tap my own memories of time spent along similar rivers. What June captures is the dark undertones of water flowing over boulders, mostly blues shading towards black, but also a hint of dark green - mountain streams flow over beds of great variety, and sun and shadow play a part too. Spring run-off adds frothy white to the mix. I decided I wanted to continue working with the collage idea I played with in my challenge to June, breaking out of the neat and tidy arrangement and doing more overlapping of the shapes. I felt this would work well to portray an abstraction of the rocks mountain streams tumble over and around. To keep the shapes more irregular, I put a fresh blade in my rotary cutter and, from the fabrics I'd settled on during the auditioning process, cut random strips and squares freehand. I refrained from too much arranging and rearranging, reminding myself that some of this would be covered up later.

I let it sit overnight, and after viewing it fresh the next morning, decided no changes were necessary. This time I planned to attach the pieces by stitching close to the edge of each with monofilament thread - no fusible. I held the pieces in place with dots of glue-baste under each corner, then layered with batting and backing so that the machine appliqueing process would also be the quilting process. I don't usually use straight pins to hold the layers together, but with this small piece and the type of stitching I'd be doing, it seemed the simplest approach. My walking foot worked really well for the quilting process.

I wanted a lot of dimensionality so that my shapes would portray the feeling of boulders. Hobbs wool batting provided the loft I was looking for. I added quilting in the areas near the edge, following the shapes in the background print.

And then it sat for several days while I pondered the technical side of the next step: how to give the effect of the rushing water. Today I took the plunge and played with squares of white and blue tulle. Tulle does not photograph well, so it is hard to see what is going on here, but basically, I started pressing in creases and overlaps in each color tulle, then layered the blue over the white, folding some of the white over the edge of the blue. Tulle is springy so pins were necessary to keep things in place.

Once I placed it over my quilted background, I manipulated it some more, trying to get more of the look of a flowing river. But it looked blah to me.

Enter a piece of green silk organza placed behind the tulle (it's difficult to discern but the area above the tulle bundle that looks tan is that organza). It's mimicking that dark green water of June's painting and peeking through here and there creating more depth and interest.

But I'm not sure. I think I need to cut away some of the organza in the center. I need to add stitch to hold the bundle together and accentuate the sense of flowing water, but I don't know with what thread, or whether by hand or machine. I auditioned some threads including an embellishing thread from an Oliver Twist hand-dyed thread pack, then wondered if couching that thread directly on the background might be the better choice. Is the tulle addition too heavy, not abstract enough? The background doesn't show through as much as I'd anticipated. It has no luminosity, the netting giving a fuzzy effect not at all like water. Time to walk away and mull some more.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

If you liked the poppy... might like this pansy too. The close-up shot really turned out perfectly and needed no work at all for a change. Still, I couldn't resist running it through a few filters. This is simply a default seamless tiling that takes the single bloom from the original shot and makes it look like it is set down in a cluster of blooms. I succumbed to this lovely pansy when I went to the hardware store last week, and plan to pop the 4-pack into a pot for my porch. Freeze warnings of the last 4 days have prevented me from following up on that. The poor thing has been set out during the day, pulled back in at night. But the weatherman seems to think the danger is past, so I'd better get these planted.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunday play

I seem to be the most susceptible to idling away time with my Paint Shop Pro program Sunday afternoons. I've been thinking about padfolios again, the poppy pictures I took recently, and Beth Wheeler's displacement maps. I wondered if I could manipulate a poppy to print out for a padfolio cover. I was rather impressed with the results above produced by my program's plasma flame displacement map. Especially since the photo I started with (below) had its problems. Making silk purses out of sows' ears I'd say!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Challenge preview

I worked on my response to June's Little Rogue River challenge today. Last week I was digging out this fabric to make a sleeve for "Lights of Las Vegas" and thought it would make a good background for what I had in mind. The design and colors echo the theme I plan to pursue. I hate the term "serendipity" but that's what it was. I've pinned my paper window to it so I know exactly the size of the space I'll be working within.

The inevitable auditioning of fabrics - you can just see my print-out of June's painting on the upper left. Some of this got cut up and arranged.

And speculation about incorporating tulle or the silk organza I bought in Portland. I have an idea, but am not sure I can pull it off effectively. Mulling for now and will tackle it more tomorrow.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

There's a quilt in there...

These pictures are for Annabel who says I am so neat and tidy (and I am). I finished cutting up my strip sets into 3-1/2 inch half square triangle units yesterday. Then it was time to count to be sure I had enough. I couldn't resist stacking them in these staggered piles of twenty-five. The majority of these squares were cut in the last few days - 300 in all.

And already laid out in the bottom of the shoebox are the additional 60 I think I need for this quilt, plus extras - these were cut way back when I first conceived of this project and did my test strip sets.

Of course, there were pieces at the end of the sets too small for the size square I need, but big enough to cut smaller 1/2 square triangle units from, and then strips to trim into know, to go in the shoeboxes of pre-cut squares for some future scrap project. It's an old habit I got into years ago as a way to organize leftovers too small to return to the stash but too big to toss. Oh, and there were also triangle cut-offs that I paired and sewed and trimmed to size, some 3-1/2 inches, and of course, some in my smaller designated sizes: 2-1/2, 2, 1-3/4 and 1-1/2 inches. Yes, a little obsessive, but it's that "waste not, want not" thing of mine. I finished all the trimming today.

So after all the cutting and sewing and cutting again, from 20 fat quarters of fabric I got a total of 383 3-1/2" half square triangle units, the handful of smaller size units and squares, and this pile of scraps. I managed to glean a few more squares from the left hand pile, but basically these are all pieces narrower than 1-1/2 inches, and bound for the trash. And all the squares are bound for their respective shoeboxes, even the full-size ones. I need to work on a couple of other things before I start arranging them on the design wall.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Spring sprung?

The first poppy unfurled this morning...

It was all wrinkled like a piece of crumpled paper.

I also spotted the first bachelor button.

The lilacs also opened enough to bring a bouquet's worth inside. I love the scent now permeating the house.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Cutting cutting cutting...

Now that the "to bind or not to bind" issue has been settled, I decided to return to my half square triangle unit project I resurrected on my Hood River trip. As promised, I did not put the shoebox of squares and strips back on the shelf, but had left it on the work table to remind me I intend to finish this up sooner than later. I've gotten all the bias strips sewn together into large stripsets, trying to get as much variety as possible, and have moved on to the sometimes mind numbing, sometimes soothing process of cutting squares from them. Perhaps you can see the stacks of squares near the shoebox. I'm still not counting how many I have cut to date...only know that if my figuring is correct, I will end up with over 350 of them.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Mother's Day

Mother's Day is a non-holiday for me anymore. I never had kids, except the furry kind, and am without even that at the moment. My own mother died in 1989. But most churches make some kind of a big deal out of the day, and mine was no exception. Apparently it is traditional for the men to put on a breakfast after the service, a tradition that has been on hold while we renovated our "new" building to include a kitchen. Our congregation is aging, so many of us are in the same boat as I am - no living mother to honor. So on a whim, I suggested we bring pictures of our mothers to put on display, to honor those who could not be with us on this day. And then we made a guessing game of it. A few mothers were easy to match up to their "children" that we knew. Others totally stumped us. Everyone had great fun. This is the picture I took - my mother in the '30's, I believe right after she graduated from college. What a beauty, and so I was quite flattered that so many guessed correctly who she belonged to. Thanks mom, for passing on your beauty, and oh so many lessons that still resonate today.

Edge Finishes & Critiques

In the previous post, I solicited opinions about what kind of edge finish you readers would prefer on my "Lights of Las Vegas" quilt. A little conversation between Terry, June & me ensued in the comments section. I couldn't help noticing that both were quick to temper their opinions with the caveat that, since this was my quilt, I should do what felt right to me. I wouldn't have asked if I didn't want to know, yet here was Terry saying almost exactly what June had said when she saw it in April: "I would finish it without a binding...This design radiates out from a center point...All those lines that go out to the edges of the piece imply that they continue indefinitely, adding to that dynamic sense of space and depth. The border brings the energy to a screeching halt and boxes it in." That was not what I wanted to hear, because I'd decided I liked the binding I'd applied. The debate I'd had with June and then with myself started up all over again.

I've written about asking for critiques before, so went looking for the blog post. What I said in it's opening paragraph applies now as it did back in 2008:

"Olga made this comment on my post about the Anything Goes Exhibit and my past struggles to find my creative voice: "I think that finding one's own voice can be very difficult, especially if one is the kind of person who is used to listening to others." One of my great loves is doing research - a form of listening to others. And I often ask others' opinion in an effort to clarify my own thoughts, not necessarily to find answers. But she is right that by listening to others, we may allow seeds of doubt to be sown about our own vision."

If you read the rest of that post here, you'll find that it describes an almost identical experience of taking a quilt to show friends in Hood River only to have them disagree with my binding choice. Maybe I should quit taking quilts to Hood River for critiques! Seriously, though, the seeds of doubt sewn back in 2008, by June with this piece and anew by Terry have had happy outcomes for me. In both cases, I went with my gut feeling, but because of the questioning, I worked out why my gut was telling me what it was, and thus clarified my thoughts on more than just how to finish this one quilt.

My thought process went like this. I think Terry and June are saying no binding because it stops the outward movement because they are so used to seeing paintings and quilts without binding or frames, especially in their own work. We're getting very used to seeing paintings on gallery canvas hanging without frames. The art quilt movement ditched traditional binding methods early on as much to distance itself from bed quilts as to connect more easily with the fine art community. Terry did say she's not opposed to bindings in general, and neither am I opposed to edge finishes other than bindings (as in this journal quilt of mine). But I do think which direction one trends may be more because of one's personal aesthetic as much as what the piece calls for. After all, if "Lights of Las Vegas" was a watercolor painting, it would be matted and framed, which would have the same effect of "bringing the energy to a screeching halt." And now that we've had this conversation, June has found herself in an ironic position of working up a textile piece that appears to need borders, so she is rethinking her arguments and making similar observations about how we come to decisions. (See this post.)

Defaulting to the personal aesthetics argument felt like a weak defense in the end. So my mind kept grousing all evening over what Terry had said. I considered a "faced" edge finish and then mounting the quilt to a gallery canvas. I've seen my smaller works hanging in gallery settings and looking odd or diminished, which is why I've been moving towards methods that either mimic matting or are actually framed. Maybe just having it stabilized and not flat against a wall would give it the presence I feared it would lack without binding or framing. I even considered an undulating edge, similar to what Terry later suggested. I kept going back to this thing about the energy running off the edge of the piece and thought, but I don't think I WANT it running off the edge. I remembered what I'd been taught, and later taught my own students, that a binding is the final design decision, your last chance to make a statement. It stops the action. It contains what you have to say. This idea of letting the design run rampant beyond itself, if only metaphorically, is a bit foreign to me, and against my training. With this insight, I now understood why the look of a binding or frame appeals to me and is usually my first choice. I prefer a neat and tidy look, formal and contained. I still wasn't sure this was a strong argument, but I went to bed thinking, darn it, I DO think I want the energy and action stopped, and that is why I feel good when I look at the piece bound.

My brain must have cogitated on this all night because, disgruntled as I was when I fell asleep, I awoke knowing why I kept fighting against the idea of no binding, and when I peaked in at the quilt, I was sure. I didn't want the energy flowing out of the quilt because for me, I'd always seen the energy of this design flowing towards the center. So I really need that binding (or frame) to stop the eye and get it moving back towards what I see as the focus of the quilt: those rays of light emanating from the city of Las Vegas. I think it must be one of those
image perception things, like the picture of the old hag, or is it a young girl? It can be both depending on how your eye adjusts. Some people immediately see the hag and have to look really hard to see the other image. And others. see the young girl first, struggling to make out the hag. So I'm guessing June and Terry see it all rushing towards them while I see it all rushing away from me. Make sense? I need that binding to contain what I'm saying - look at the lights, feel the lights pulling you towards them. See how everything is rushing towards Las Vegas.

Most people may not need to go through this much analysis to come to design decisions, or at least to be comfortable with the decisions they make. But my analytical mind simply refuses to rest until it knows the why of things, especially if it's been challenged by respected friends who I count on to stretch me, make me doubt, hold me to a higher standard and remind me of my brilliance (really?) and my blind spots (so many!), to paraphrase Stanier's quotation. Thanks, and I'm off to make that binding permanent.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

"Lights of Las Vegas" Revisited

Hang out with people who stretch you, make you doubt yourself, hold you to a higher standard than you hold yourself, are kinder on you than you are on yourself, that can remind you of your brilliance and your blind spots. Find these people and invite them along to play.

I have several friends who match the qualities in the above quotation. June Underwood and Judi Kane who I visited last month are two of them. It is why I took along the finished but not finished challenge piece from February to show them. Something about putting it in a black frame like the rest of the challenge pieces didn't sit right with me. I auditioned different fabrics in different colors with the idea of binding it. I stumbled across a fabric that's been in my stash since near the beginning of starting a quilting stash and thought it met all the criteria I'd failed to find in other fabrics I'd tried. I was quite excited about it and eager to show June especially, but Judi too. I took it with the idea of getting their approval and sewing on the binding that weekend.

June immediately warned me off doing it. She gave compelling reasons, I countered with what I hoped were just as compelling reasons. June did not back off. Judi did not necessarily side with either of us but came up with her own take. I was confused, deflated, but value these two friends' opinions enough to say, "Well, I see your point. I'm going to have to think about this some more."

The next day at Judi's house, as we settled in to sew, I got it out and thought about what June had said. Judi wanted to know why I was letting June's opinion sway me. She asked specific questions, why was I resisting this option or that. Those questions helped me get to the bottom of my confusion. I let June's opinion "sway" me because I value it. It comes from more years of creating art than I have under my belt. It comes from advanced art classes, and reading, and critique groups. It is based in solid information more than on opinion, although it is difficult for any of us to divorce our opinion from unbiased analysis. I could understand her reasoning and had to decided whether to follow up on it or trust my instincts and follow my desires. I admitted to resisting the various options presented because I was tired of going a certain direction, wanted this piece to be finished differently. Not stuck in a black frame. Not bound in black (may as well just stick it in the frame then). But maybe this fabric wasn't the best choice. Maybe it was too busy. Judi helpfully pulled some fabrics from her own stash so I could see how a different color, one I said wasn't in my stash, would work. I could understand her reasoning, too. I could feel my resolve crumbling.

The experience of "inviting these two friends along to play" left me conflicted; this was not the right time to make the final decision. I folded up "Lights of Las Vegas" and worked on something else. Have let it sit on my work table since getting home. Have only briefly opened it up to contemplate it, quickly folding it up again, unwilling to face the decision. Until today. Time to quit avoiding it and make a bold move. Time to cut that fabric I was so excited about into binding strips, sew it on and see how it really reads on the quilt. Yes, I am stubborn once I get an idea in my head.

This is totally reversible, and I've just pinned it around to the back. Before I tell you my reaction, I'm curious about what you think. Come along and play. Does this edge finish add or detract from the quilt? If this were your quilt, how would you finish the edge? You can click on the pictures for a larger view. My apologies for the uneven lighting - the top is a little bit in shadow.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Next Assignment

June has sent along a painting of the Little Rogue River as my inspiration for our April Challenge. As usual, I ooh,and ahhed over it, and allowed my good feelings about it to block any thought of how I could creatively work with it. Oh, I had a few thoughts about white arcs and beading, but basically thought I'd better not look at it too much right now. Don't need to start on it right away, and I've been focused on getting my computer cleaned up and functioning properly again. Having succeeded there, I delved into catching up on my blog reading. Lo and behold, the right side of my brain got to work while I was distracted. A couple of things bubbled to the surface, and I knew I'd better jot them down before they disappeared into the recesses of my muddled brain. A couple of blog entries gave me ideas. More jotting. Gosh, I think I could dive right in on it now!

I've been working on straightening the studio as well as straightening out my computer. Frankly, it had become an undesirable place to walk into - fabric stacked on the floor, on the table, working space on that table reduced to mat size, things buried and hard if impossible to find. I've had so much nervous energy lately but difficulty focusing it on my sewing, or even this clean-up, but over a few days I've made real progress. It really was to the point that I couldn't continue with the Stack-n-Whack star quilt, or even very easily deal with the edge finishes on my last two challenge quilts. After yesterday's stint, a lot of table surface appeared, so maybe today I can actually do some work. A perfectly pristine studio may not inspire a lot of creativity, but an overly cluttered one can be equally uninspiring.

Addendum: After posting, I hopped over to June's blog and found she too had just blogged about our April Challenge. See what she has to say about color palettes, style and the benefit of working in challenge mode here.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

And then...

Well, that didn't take long - in just a bit, the tulips flung off their coats and said, "thank you!" Stunning, aren't they?

May Day

The weather can't decide what to do today. It is cold and rainy as it has been all week, but every now and then, the sun bursts through. I'd noticed that these tulips had been shut up tight all week - imagine them shrugged into coats and pulling up the hood. So I brought them in today to enjoy, since there's not much enjoyment outside in the forecast.