Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Documenting My November

As hard as it is to believe, this is the last day of November and so the last day of the Document Your Life challenge. They wrapped up the month with the task of documenting the sky. I thought it would probably be more of the featureless grey cloud overcast but I was wrong - there was lots of variety as the clouds swirled and broke to blue sky. I can't seem to get away from these references to sky and clouds lately.

I thought it would be fun to put together a collage of the entire month's documentation. Each picture is labeled with that day's task. Some days were surprisingly difficult while others were efforts to come up with something other than the obvious - well, any decent challenge should challenge. Some of them may puzzle you but I really can tie each image to its task. Click on the picture for a larger view.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


I did my part yesterday in shopping locally at small businesses. I've been waiting months for the alpaca rancher to dye up some alpaca yarn like this - at last she had a wonderful selection in her store. Also succumbed to some wool/silk hand-dyed yarns at a new weaving shop in town. I look forward to knitting these yarns into wonderful scarves.

Cyber Monday gives us more opportunities to patronize small businesses and artisans. Don't forget, I have calendars of my work as well as notecards and gift items available in my cafepress shop:

2012 Fiberart Wall Calendar
2012 Quilted Birches Calendar

And if you shop on Monday, November 28, Cafepress is offering this one day only coupon special:

Cyber Monday Only! Free shipping on orders over $40*. Coupon Code SHOPNOV28. Details:

Friday, November 25, 2011

Inspiration on a Blustery Day

I'm saving my shopping for tomorrow (shop local independent business, not big box) but still felt the need to get out of the house today. I've been meaning to check out Lakeview Cemetery for a long time. I think it's oldest one in town, with familiar names of the early movers & shakers such as the first headstone below - a park is named for him. With my "Document your life" task for today being document a stranger, I thought, why not document the strangers in this cemetery and finally get a look? And yes, it does have a beautiful view of the lake. Enjoy some of the unusual detail on these headstones, some of which just might end up in a quilt.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

In Praise of Gray (or is that Grey?)

Well! I see from the comments on my last post's question (What do you see outside your window today that inspires a particular palette for your art? ), gray is getting a bit of a bad rap. Wow, nothing inspirational there, seemed to be the sentiment. I feel compelled to come to its defense. And on a day where I myself am mostly looking at gray, fog and rain. So let's consider for starters, how gray can make a dramatic backdrop such as in the bucolic scene above.

Colors placed over a gray background get an extra bit of pop, like these autumn leaves seen outside my studio. No competing here with brilliant blue.

I've used the lovely neutral gray as background for some of my quilts, like this Willow Leaves II. Was not thinking of cloudy skies, but of leaves on pavement...

...such as this leaf I found lying on the grass. Totally boring and hard to see against the green, it becomes a star when placed on grey as its supporting actor.

But even without any color, grey in all its values can be stunningly dramatic. I'm no Ansel Adams, but my photo of a December view across the lake is reminiscent of his stark black and white nature photos. He may not have been looking at totally grey landscapes, but that is how he rendered them in his art.

But I also ask you to look beyond the general dreariness of a gray rainy day. I'm betting there is some color there somewhere if you just shift your focus a bit. Here was the scene outside my studio window not long ago. Yes, there's still green grass and leaves on the trees, but yuck - it was a wet dreary day.

And yet, my eye kept straying out to that grass - what was it exactly? Oh - I see. It's NOT just green. It's not just different shades of green. There are other colors mixed in there too.

Run through a color analyzer, this is the resulting palette that I could use in my art. Granted, not the zippiest set of colors, but still, not totally boring either. At least not to me.

Here's the photo run through the pixelator filter of Paint Shop Pro. One could easily ramp up the contrast and values for a less neutral look.

Still not convinced that there's anything of interest out there on a rainy grey day? Then consider what this AP photographer captured in the midst of Portland, Oregon's heavy rain yesterday. I'm inspired!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Enjoying the snow

This is our third measurable snowfall in a week, and finally the crew is out plowing the driveways. No matter, I've been snug inside hand quilting away. Sorry I've got nothing to show - in spite of steady time put in, it doesn't look like I've made much progress. I think it's because I'm jumping from area to area trying to get some basic lines in rather than concentrate on finishing an area before moving on.

I was quite taken with these snowcaps on the mountain ash berries and thought, huh - maybe that's what inspired some of the antique red and white quilts. It certainly makes ME want to make something so simple yet striking.

What do you see outside your window today that inspires a particular palette for your art?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Slow & Steady

As I wait for the part to arrive, I quilt some each day on "Masks" while catching up on recorded Masterpiece Theater episodes - quite pleasant. And as I study my cloth, searching out where to place my stitching lines, I consider that this process is not unlike my life right now: thinking I see a pattern, then losing it; diving in even though unsure, because it is the only way to make progress; focusing on an area until I can go no farther because of a barrier, then stepping back to see the larger picture; sometimes satisfied, sometimes seeing an error to be fixed. Sometimes I feel in charge, then just as quickly the job at hand takes on a life of its own. It's slow going, this hand stitching, this negotiating of life. Both take a lot of imagination, a lot of trust.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

An Unexpected Gift

A lovely surprise was waiting in my mailbox when I got home last night. It's the niece again, such a lovely, thoughtful young woman. I'd gushed over the wrapping paper she'd used on her last gift to me, so she has picked up these hand-made papers that she spotted at an art store. I'm to have fun playing with them "for various bookbinding or other creative projects." I love that permission given to strike out and try something outside my usual purview.

I can also feel somewhat good about using these papers - they have an interesting origin.

Monday, November 14, 2011

November Skies

Not today's November skies, but recent November skies. The streakiness of these clouds made me think of colored pencil strokes or strokes of a fine brush.

We've been having some stunning sunsets too. These were actually taken at the end of October, as I endeavored to catch that lovely crescent moon over sherbet skies.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Minor Setback

I'm surprised I did not view what happened as the gods conspiring against me. Above you see the type of screw that holds the needle of my sewing machine in place. Next to it you see what came off in my hand when I went to loosen that screw to change needles in preparation for a major round of machine quilting. The stem broke far enough down the shaft that there is no way to back it out. Not even my trusty repairman could help, save to order a replacement part which is small and easy to switch out. This would not be quite such the game stopper were it not for the fact that the needle stuck in the machine is the smallest size, suitable only for monofilament or 100 wt silk thread, neither of which I'd be using on the two pieces ready to quilt. Oddly, this turn of events did not even elicit a disgusted sigh from me.

Instead, not being able to proceed with machine quilting has merely freed me up to start the hand quilting on "Masks". It's been basted ready to go for weeks, but I've put it low on priorities because it IS hand work and the machine work always takes undue importance when considering what's next on my list. I've also been putting it off because of the confusion I experienced when pulling out the thread I thought I knew I'd be using. Suddenly it didn't look right, maybe I wasn't remembering properly and before I knew it, I had 5 options laid in front of me. I always dread making that final decision, which is in fact the first step. Today, I just said, open up the quilt and don't think about it. Just grab that lighter thread that you instinctively know is right. And also don't think too much about how you will be quilting, where best to start. Just put the needle in and go! So far so good.

And quite amazing the sensation that quickly comes over me once I start plying that needle in and out of the fabric.That's why I was so interested in this off of Austin Kleon's Tumblr:

When you do meaningful work with your hands, a kind of neurochemical feedback floods your brain with dopamine and serotonin. These happy brain chemicals are natural antidepressants, and we've evolved to release them both to reward ourselves for working with our hands and to motivate ourselves to do it some more.

How could I forget??? Now go get happy!

By the way, thank you to those who gave input about my orientation dilemma regarding the poppies and peonies piece. Just like with the thread choice for "Masks", I instinctively knew which was best but allowed myself to doubt that instinct. I guess I'm more comfortable with safety in numbers.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Connecting the Dots

I've had two days now of sun streaming into my studio - very uplifting! I've been getting the 3 x 3 discharge piece and the poppies and peonies piece ready for quilting. I've added Decor Bond interfacing to the backing for the discharge piece, hoping it will provide the extra stability I'll need for suspending the found metal plate within a cutout. Unknown territory here. Still pondering exactly how it will be quilted as I audition threads and try to envision the look I want in the finished piece.

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they've had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people. Unfortunately, that's too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven't had very diverse experiences. So they don't have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one's understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.

- Steve Jobs in a 1995 Wired interview

I really do agree with this quotation and have experienced that sense of guilt when producing something that just seemed obvious to me but others seem blown away by. Be that as it may, lately I've been struggling to connect the dots, beginning to feel very linear and not sure how I've come to this place. I don't seem to be getting the same sort of stimulation from experiences, or the gap between the dot nearest me and the next one is too far to bridge. But I keep trying, like with poppies and peonies. I now need to decide orientation before beginning the quilting - how I quilt it definitely depends on which way is up.

So I need your help, need your opinion. Which orientation makes the more interesting quilt, is perhaps less predictable, is a less linear way to connect the dots? You should know I plan to couch a variegated orange yarn along the edge of each of the pieced strips which will set them off a little more.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

A Fiber Twist on Newspaper Blackouts

I'm still doing the weekly exercise of Newspaper Blackout using the Sunday obituaries and posting them on my own blackout blog here as well as following others' efforts. I was quite surprised to see some fiber-related interpretations such as Patch Poem by Jenny McCabe. You'll have to follow the link to see it, but essentially she has overlain printed text with a gauzy fabric and cut portions out to reveal certain words - the fabric provides the blackout rather than marker. She's also added stitch to hold the gauze in place, and similar stitching to the fabric that abuts it - actually, the photo is just a close-up of one section of a larger piece. It reminded me of a journal quilt I did where I stamped words on muslin, layered tyvek over it and then burned away spots of tyvek to reveal some of the words underneath (see this post).

Another extraordinary fiber blackout is The Desert by Jen Bervin. Here a poem has been created " sewing row by row, line by line, across 130 pages of John Van Dyke's, The Desert: Further Studies in Natural Appearances (1901). I used atmospheric fields of pale blue zigzag stitching to construct a poem “narrated by the air”— “so clear that one can see the breaks.”" Again, follow the link as I do not have permission to post pictures of these works. Maybe you will be inspired to try your own version of newspaper blackout.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Document Something Old

As in so much of life, "old" depends on your perspective. So when I read that today's task for the Document Your Life challenge dealt with something old, my first thought was old buildings. But I didn't plan on going anywhere where there would be truly old buildings. Then again, turn of the 20th century buildings are definitely old, but so too are turn of the 21st century buildings when compared to something completed in the last few years. Furniture is similar - I have antiques, the definition being over 100 years old. But I also have furniture I bought less than 10 years ago that is striking me as old. For that matter, I could take a picture of myself - I'm old compared to a lot of people I know, but to my older friends, I'm still young. I settled on photographing "Falling Leaves" above, newly finished as of today, but old because of how long it has been in the works. It's that perspective thing, and you can't imagine how glad I am to have this "old" quilt resolved so that I can move on to the next "old" quilt. I wish it were a better picture - I was working under uneven lighting and my camera balks at that background batik color.

When last I reported on this quilt (see this post), I was inking in backgrounds and my pen had run out of ink. With fresh pen in hand, I finished up the inking yesterday. The photo above shows one square in progress and how the green ink darkens the fabric just enough for the inked leaves to stand out more.

I like this effect - an echo of the two main squares of hand-dyed fabric, not equaling or overpowering them. As one moves closer to the quilt, the other quilted leaves can be detected - I'm thinking it's that thing they tell you about leaving some of the details only discernible upon close inspection. I'm wondering though if they too should be inked in red. Any thoughts? I still think there are balance issues with it that are somewhat mitigated by changing the orientation to landscape, but other than that, there's nothing more I can do about that. Except remember what I've learned the next time I'm confronted with a similar design.

It's been a soggy day, but at one point as I sat stitching the sleeve on this quilt, I realized the room was lightening. I looked out the window to see Mr. Sun doing his best to make an appearance. Ahhh, I thought, now THERE"S something old!

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Document Happiness

My niece has done it again - sent me an interesting link to intrigue and perhaps inspire me. It's the website which runs monthly challenges. This month it is Document Your Life, and each day you are given a task to capture in a photo, documenting your day. I already feel I photo document more of my life than the average person, but it was difficult to pass up this challenge. It reminds me of the "Sketch a day" or "Quilt a day" challenges which I know can be a very good incentive yielding positive results. So today's task is to document happiness. I was scheduled to attend this program at my public library today, and decided that public libraries really make me happy - books, videos and cds to borrow, magazines and newspapers to peruse, computers for those who have none, internet wi-fi access for my new laptop until I manage to arrange for something at home, rotating displays in the lobby and educational programs - my tax dollars at work and no additional charge for the services. How can that NOT be happiness!

Some of you may be familiar with Rosalie Dace, today's speaker. I met her last year through a local fiberartist who provides a place for Rosalie to stay in between her various teaching gigs in the United States. I missed her presentation to the local guild, though, so didn't get a chance to see much of her work. I very much enjoyed her slide presentation, showing not only her quilts and what influenced them, but also a bit of her homeland in the Republic of South Africa. She also had a few of her quilts with her, to better see her use of color, fabric, stitching and embellishment. She shared many things I've heard before but needed to hear again, especially the thing about not including every detail in your work but leaving something for the viewer to fill in from their own experience. And the bit about serious artists putting in serious time because it is our job. She spoke of the meditative healing nature of hand stitching (but that she was not a purist about it, mixing in machine stitching when appropriate), designing from a small sketch indicating values but then working organically to let the piece evolve (so happy she did not use the tired terms "intuitively" & "serendipitously"), and using a mix of fabric types (velvets, cottons, silks, barkcloth, synthetics) because she thinks it creates interesting contrasts and effects, and why not since "these are not going into the washer."

I remember this necklace from last year - perhaps because I marveled that she would travel with such a chunky piece of jewelry. Someone asked if she had made it and she confirmed that she had. She also shared she has not seen her husband since July (or her two little dogs) and so includes photos of them in her slideshow - hello there, I'll be home soon! As you can imagine, it is not cost effective for her to fly back and forth even if there is a sizable gap in her teaching schedule. I can only think, that's dedication.

Back to the "Document Your Life" Challenge, November 1 task was documenting street style. Mmm, I didn't really make it out onto the street as I was busy finishing my leaf bagging. But because I stack the bags for pick-up at the end of the sidewalk that only leads farther up the driveway, it was a perfect documentation of my day. If you check out the website, you can view slideshows of selected photos for each day as submitted by participants. Just as artists interpret themes in radically different ways, you may find these photographers interpreting tasks in unexpected ways as well.