Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Palouse Progress

Last day of the month and I had hoped to have another quilt completed. However, I'm still fighting a bug which has slowed me down. Still, I am pretty close to having my Palouse hills piece done. I finally gave up on the hand quilting, and as machine quilting, my original thread choice (a Valdani hand-dyed thread) worked pretty well. But I could not eye-ball the contour lines to my satisfaction. As I threatened early on, I pinned my tracing paper pattern to the front and stitched along the penciled lines. Really takes the pressure off for me. Downside of course is the time it takes to remove all that paper.

And did I say I was going to put more stitch in my work this year? Yes I did and this piece has it! All those thread tails had to be pulled to the back and tied off though, a time consuming job but it simply would not look good doing the pull the bobbin thread to the top and take tiny stitches to lock. This is a slightly heavier thread for one thing and I've tried that method with it on another quilt - not a good look. Once that was done, I couched an Oliver Twist hand-dyed rayon braid along the outline of the hills.

Because I will be attaching this to a pre-made "mount" all those thread tails pulled to the back did not have to be buried, than goodness. I'd still probably be working on that! Rather than regular batting, I used a synthetic felt made from recycled pop bottles (which made me feel slightly better about not using a natural fiber). I was afraid that regular batting might beard through the weave of the silk. I thought I would get a little dimension, especially with the machine quilting, but the surface of the quilt is very flat. Not really an issue with this piece and its atypical fabric choice.

Today I carefully folded back the top so I could trim up the felt to square and trimmed the top fabric about half an inch larger. That extra was turned to the back and glue basted in place to create a clean edge finish. The mounting fabrics and decor bond that will stabilize them are cut, so with any luck, I can put the finishing touches on this piece tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

First Quilt of the Year

"Brilliance of the Night Sky"
Hand-beaded Art Quilt
8" x 10" framed
Sheila Mahanke Barnes 2012

Fever be damned, I was determined to finish beading this little quilt with the found pin yesterday. I ended up putting more on than originally planned but I am pleased with the results. Feeling better this afternoon and I couldn't resist getting it stretched over canvas and mounted in the floater frame. I guess running across blog after blog showing "my first finished quilt of the year" has had a motivational effect on me. It feels good to have another quilt from my list for exhibits done, and it amuses me that completing it was not one of my January goals. It apparently took the place of the discharge quilt, still waiting for its final touches.

This is hard to get a good picture of - don't know if you can tell I used two different bugle beads, the bright silver-lined kind and a gunmetal grey twisted one (click on the picture for a larger view). Each arc has a different configuration of beads. I like the center one the best - it looks the most art deco to me. I'm not sure I'm not sure I like the silver-faced floater frame as much as I'd anticipated, but it may grow on me. I think part of my problem is that it needs something other than a white wall behind it to be effective. The dark around the outside of the picture is not part of the frame, although I wish it was. I should have taken an angled shot so you could get a better idea - it's a deeper gallery frame than I've used before. It almost works like a shadow box since the canvas the quilt is mounted on is 3/4" and the frame is 1-1/2" deep - perfect since the pin and beads raise off the surface.

These frames come in a gold facing too but I don't think I'd buy them again. I only tried them because they were the only floater frames on deep discount. I think I paid less for these than the narrower plain black ones so it was a reasonable risk to take. But in the future, I think I'll stick to plain black.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Another troubled week

Emerging design.

Non-emerging design.

For all my optimism, it was another week of stumbles and restarts. The good news is, after another round of trial beading that was removed because it did not work, I think I have resolved the patterning in the arcs on the found pin piece and have only a few scattered seed beads to apply in the space between the arcs to be done. My floater frames arrived and as near as I can tell (barring more vision gaps), the silver-faced floater will be the perfect complement to this quilt. So near done I can taste it.

The bad news is, after trying several more thread choices, I have come to the conclusion that hand quilting simply will not give me the look I want on the Palouse piece. I should have reasoned that with the heavier weave of the silk fabric, hand stitches would have to be large and out of proportion on this small piece (but might work just fine on a larger version). The thread you see in the picture that looks so much like the doubled basting thread is a buttonhole weight silk thread. If it were variegated, I might be able to live with the big stitches, but it is definitely not the look I had in mind. I'll do a trial of my original variegated thread which may very well show up fine in machine stitching, and if that too is a failure, well, I'll just be reassessing my options again.

In the meantime, I've been laid up this weekend with some sort of a bug. Lots of sleep, lots of fluids, a bit more upright this afternoon. Taking it easy.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Bright Ideas vs Reality

The vision gap that kicked off last week continued no matter what I picked up to work on. Compared to the previous week when I felt I was making great progress, in week 2 most everything I tried had to be taken out, redone, and maybe that taken out too. I redrew my guidelines on the beaded piece, tried different spacings and colors of beads, unbeaded and rebeaded until it was time to set it aside for more thought. I happily switched to the idea from the Palouse sketch which I didn't think should pose any problems - I even had the thread picked out. I basted the main lines as you can see in the above picture, quilted two lines of quilting and pulled them out. The thread simply disappeared on that heavy-weave silk, even though it was heavier than traditional quilting thread. It took some clever mind games to keep me from feeling defeated and convincing myself I'd wasted the week. But in truth, I think I've hit upon a plan that will work for the beading (after three tries) that is better than my original idea.. And I've picked out a new set of threads in a darker color that I think will work on the Palouse piece. I think I've learned a lot through this process, things I would not have learned if not forced to assess and reassess. The week begins with optimism (fingers crossed).

This gap between what the mind sees and how that plays out in the real world is not unlike the gap that often exists between the goals and resolutions we set and what we actually accomplish, I've decided. The notebook where I jot down my monthly goals has other things recorded throughout it, including a list of quilt ideas a page and a half long. I think that list was made before I moved to Idaho which would make it about 6 years old. Yes, I've completed some of the quilts on it, and others are in process so have a chance of being finished some day. But I fear for the rest, quilts I still think I want to make, ideas I still want to pursue, but the problem is, new ideas don't just stop materializing because I've started a list. It's a handy thing to have around though, for those rare times between projects when I'm wondering what I should work on next. The reality may be, though, that I will never get to them all, mostly because the newer ideas intrigue more and are fresh in my mind.

Also in the back of this notebook is a list of "book recommendations" which I see includes some dvd titles as well. I've even paperclipped reviews cut from magazines to this page. Frankly, I'd forgotten it was there, and while some of the titles still intrigue, I've changed my mind about the need for some of them, even on a lending basis. My book shelves have no room for more books & I have quite a few purchases from the last couple of years still waiting for me to read through them. I think I would be better off saving my money for thread & batting & frames. The gap between books I thought I needed and what I actually need to add to my collection is pretty big.

Finally, I was very surprised to come across my Goals/Resolutions for 2007. This would have been just a few months after I made the big move to Idaho which also signaled my big move to focusing on art quilting. I guess then, I shouldn't be surprised that this list takes up an entire page. It includes everything from "process & organize new fabric" and "finish putting up design wall fabric", to "contact local art quilters/art organizations, follow-up and GET INVOLVED" and "have studio open house". As I scan the list, I can see it is very focused on ways to become more professional with my art quilting - making contacts, identifying juried shows, beefing up blog content, revamping my documentation filing system. Only a couple of items refer to the actual making of art: This was the year I made monthly journals quilts with friend Judi & that shows up near the top of the list. There are references to upping my hours spent creating and how to schedule that, and an admonition to continue exploration of surface design techniques.

The check marks tell me I didn't do too well reaching those goals in 2007. I didn't actually do much with the "contact local art people" until 2008 (and a note in the margin indicates that was only somewhat accomplished). Many things are still waiting for me to complete (and I just may someday), while others, like the identifying juried shows to enter aren't on my radar anymore. Yes, my vision that year certainly exceeded reality. Yet look at what has happened with that GETTING INVOLVED goal. Several years down the road, I started exhibiting more frequently with the local arts council, and eventually was invited to join the visual arts committee at a time that was much better than if it had happened in 2007.

Wasted effort then, these lists and goals and resolutions we make? I don't think so. There's something about getting an idea out of your head and into this visible reality that is useful, even if it is off. Just like my beading, or my quilting that I thought was set and ready to go, these lofty thoughts once written out and considered can be revised and reworked and much learned during that process. New connections can be made leading to a better set of goals, a process that may not happen while the thoughts are just floating around in your head. And rather than remaining in the ether of our imaginations to be forgotten or blown out of proportion, here they are, a record of our thoughts to be revisited, smiled over, considered again, because these thoughts are where we thought we wanted to go and where we may still want to journey now that we are reminded. If not, realizing that helps clarify the direction we need to take, want to take. The trick, I suppose, is to remember to use lists and goals and resolutions as a tool, not to let them use and rule us.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Vision Gap

Ah, beading...you are so addictive. What starts out simple begins to build, more ideas, more beads... This is what I worked on today, thinking that as long as the 8 x 10 background was quilted, I could quickly add the beads I had in mind to enhance the pin and play out my idea. Alas, it is not taking shape as envisioned, not moving quickly either, and I fear the beads added today will be removed and redone tomorrow. I would despair if not for my beading mentor, Mary Stori, who also sometimes beads with optimism only to unbead and try something different. I think I've identified the problem and there's not too much to undo. In the picture above, I've set out the beads I bought for the project, shoving them around in approximation of how they will be positioned - too closely it has turned out. I've marked some guidelines with the white Clover pen that disappears with either dry heat or steam. I may be redrawing them as well.

I'm still operating a bit disjointedly, but when I get an uncontrollable urge after so many months of no uncontrollable urges, I feel I must act. Since the beading needed to stop while I pondered what was going on with it, and there was still time to fill, I took the first steps on my Palouse contours idea. I'd done a drawing from memory in my bigger sketchbook (above) and have been thinking of ways I could transfer the design for quilting. Remembering Mary Stori's trick of basting along the main lines to provide a guide for beading, I thought I could do the same for the quilting. So I spent some time with tracing paper over the sketchbook page to transfer the design. I'll scan it into the computer for future reference (I'm thinking I may want to play with it in a larger size), then pin it to the back to do the basting. All along I've intended this to be a hand quilted piece, but I may change my mind and machine quilt from the back. Yes, I can see I may need to do some samples.

Friday, January 06, 2012


Today was pretty grey but yesterday the sun made a stunning appearance, lighting up the willows I can see from the front porch with a shimmer I couldn't explain. Beautiful, unexpected, difficult to capture. A lot of life is like that.

With all my mutterings over the last few posts, I haven't talked much about artistic direction, although I hinted that I thought I might see a common thread amongst the quilts I want to work on this year. That common thread is thread, and mostly applied by hand. I find that interesting, primarily because I love hand quilting and other hand stitching, but often deny myself the pleasure because of time constraints. Here I am, definitely dealing with time constraints, and all my thoughts lead to projects requiring the slowness of hand work. It makes me smile.

At the beginning of last year, I was doing very minimalist work with very little stitch of any kind. I'd closed in on myself and it was all I could do. With only a few exceptions, I couldn't muster the energy or patience for much handwork, was unconvinced of my ability to do good machine work. As the year progressed, I sensed I needed to start working larger and put more quilting in my work but it was slow in coming. That need for expansion and complexity was confirmed as I viewed the quilts at the APWQ show in Tacoma back in August, and mirrored the personal expansion I was feeling in my life. As I stood before one incredible quilt after another, I knew that was where I wanted to go with my work, a return to a type of expression that would be more demanding but also more rewarding. A few tentative steps have been taken, and now that I have begun the hand quilting on Masks, I feel myself getting comfortable again, setting doubts and nay-saying aside. Yes, my direction this year is definitely toward more stitch, and I'm hoping to up the size too. Some of my ideas definitely need to find expression in a larger format.

I've also realized that I want to create some art that will surprise those that have gotten comfortable with my nature-themed art quilts. Masks will be one of them, I think, the discharge piece another. I've always had the odd quilt that has caused those who know my work to doubt it really came from me. But those ideas are in there too, with the leaves and the birches and the mountain landscapes. They perhaps challenge me most of all and are the most rewarding...when they work.

I'm counting on my resolution phrase, "balance and harmony", to help guide me in these old but neglected directions.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Settle down - or not

My last post talked about the scattered feeling I had as I assessed my progress toward the upcoming exhibits. I've thought a bit more about that, knowing that part of the scattering is just the way I work. I try my best to focus on one idea and project at a time. But as I work, other ideas and variations and possibilities suddenly flood my mind and before I know it, I'm off on another tangent. Yesterday was a darn good example. I'm stuck a bit on the 3 x 3 discharge piece (Fading & Forgotten may be its new title), unsure how to proceed with quilting around the outside. It is slated for an exhibit with a "found object" theme. But long before I picked up that metal plate from the side of the road, I'd picked up the costume jewelry pin above, also from the side of a road. I've had the idea for using it in a quilt since I held it in my hand 7 years ago. I would love to have it done too for this exhibit, but if I don't, it can be in a different one later.

But out it has come because it occurred to me that the quilting motif I'm contemplating for the discharge piece would make a great quilting motif for the pin to rest on - something I had not resolved in my contemplation of its design. Since the background is the same fabric as in the discharge piece, maybe I could get a better idea how this garnet stitch might look without actually doing it on the other piece. I have spent several happy hours stitching round and round and marveling as the texture emerged.

But wouldn't you know it, this exercise presented an option to use in the future that never would have occurred to me either. Since I will be wrapping the finished pin quilt over canvas to mount in a floater frame, I decided I did not need a layer of backing under the batting. That's Hobb's 80/20 black batting (on the right), and when I'd done a bit of quilting and flipped it over, I was quite taken with the look and feel of the batting so heavily quilted. Sigh...see? there's no end to the ideas that present themselves and I need to be a better manager of my time if I'm to get to even a small percentage of them!

So creative idea generation that sends me off in different directions aside, I've targeted why it has become more of an issue at the moment. This is perhaps the first time that I have had so many exhibits all converging at approximately the same time. They are all sponsored by my local arts council, and all are giving opportunity to get going on quilts that have been in the planning stage for a long time. Not all are themed, but of the ones that are, I am not trying to come up with an idea to fit the theme, the theme is conveniently fitting an idea I already have. And I have long used themed exhibits just that way - I seem to need that deadline or excuse to bring an idea to fruition. If this causes me to jump from one type of design to another, it doesn't usually pose a problem when exhibiting opportunities come one at a time months apart. I work on one or two quilts, hang them in the show, take a little breather, then start on the next. Fresh start, fresh direction perhaps.

I went into this round knowing I wanted to be involved in all of them, but also knowing if I didn't get something made for one or two of them, it would be ok. ArtWalk is my main focus, a place where I feel I can shine and show off my latest direction. Now that I have taken a more reasoned look at my original (and I'll admit a bit panicked) plan, my direction is becoming more clear. I can do this, and enjoy the process, explore away but know when to rein that in as well. Frankly, it feels good to be working like this, and bit by bit, I see common threads, how some may work together, how things may shuffle, what needs to be set aside for another time. The important thing is, I'm working - with enthusiasm.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Brainstorming for 2012

I have not been able to coalesce my thoughts as to where I want to go with my art this year and other aspects of my life. Instead, I've been leaving bits and pieces of ideas and perhaps longings all around the internet on other sites. My focus for months has been these up-coming exhibits and it's difficult to think beyond that. As day 3 of the new year arrived, and I continued to run across my favorite bloggers lining out their goals for the year, I knew I needed to sit quietly in the studio, sketchbooks and notebook at hand, and organize my thoughts a bit better, scoping out not only "the plan" for this month, but the peripherals that also must be addressed in the next three months.

Earlier in the day, I'd checked out the sale on aswexpress.com and discovered they had some of the floater frames I fell in love with on deep reduction. I was sitting at the library using its high speed connection so couldn't do my usual check and ponder here at home. I decided to make a few quick decisions, casting about in my memory to recall what designs I have pending that would look good in these frames, and then what sizes I might need. It forced me into decisions I otherwise might have put off until too late to take advantage of these prices, but it did something else too that surprised me. It made me pick a size for a quilt idea barely fleshed out, and by doing so, I suddenly felt I could confidently move forward with the idea. That's pretty much backwards to how I usually work but by doing so I felt it propel the idea forward. That's when I knew it was time to gather my thoughts, brainstorm a bit and clarify my direction.

What I found was that each of the exhibits are so different that the quilts for them are scattering my focus. No wonder I feel like I'm jumping from one thing to another, no continuity in what I'm doing. I don't think that is totally bad, but it is, I realized, keeping me from pursuing several ideas that exploded in my head as options for a series. I'm not sure I can do anything about that at this point, but it is a reminder how quickly I can become distracted from exploring an idea and really developing it.

I became the most concerned about my ArtWalk exhibit. I only need two pieces done and photographed by April to submit with the application, but need additional pieces to display by the opening at the end of June. I'm planning on Masks to be the centerpiece of my exhibit and suddenly questioned whether the quilts I'd jotted down as possible ArtWalk ones, especially the ones for the application, work with that quilt. During my time exhibiting with POAC, I've learned the value of a cohesive grouping, works that follow a theme however loosely. I need to give this more thought in order to set my priorities over the next few months.

So instead of getting any actual sewing done yesterday as I had planned, I worked on a plan, keeping in mind my resolution phrase of balance and harmony. I'll be needing both as I work towards these exhibits and keep on top of the rest of the daily activities. I did better than I thought I would addressing the goals on my December list. It has given me courage to come up with a list for January equally as ambitious:
  1. Finish quilting the 3 x 3 discharge piece. Resolve cutout/suspension detail.
  2. Quilt background for found jewelry piece (as tryout for motif to complete above quilting.
  3. Stitch/threadpaint purple seedheads.
  4. Consider companion pieces for Masks.
  5. Sketch and/or mark quilting pattern for Palouse on silk over felt.
  6. Continue developing abstract willow. Test runs on pieced background?
  7. Continue hand quilting on Masks.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

A New Year

Gotta tell ya, seeing this movie in the theater today was a great start to the year! Kinda made up for the fact that The Rose Parade, which I faithfully watch each New Year's morning snuggled under a quilt and sipping champagne-spiked orange juice, is postponed until tomorrow. I always forget they do that when the New Year kicks off on a Sunday. I haven't done much else today, except lose myself in a new novel and sit down with my calendars to transfer birthdays/anniversaries and note any meetings and appointments already clamoring for my attention in the days to come. As always, I also use this exercise as a chance to review what transpired during the year - trips I took, visits from friends, exhibit openings, dental traumas. For the most part, the memories are excellent.

As I've been reading others' blogs, I was reminded that I now do the resolution word to keep me on track throughout the year. Geez, I realized I couldn't remember what I'd picked for this year and had to look it up. Oh, yes: refocus, because in 2010 my word was "focus" and I'd gotten totally derailed by medical issues, anger and resentment (see this post which manages to put a positive spin on 2010 anyway). I'd gone into survival mode and not only struggled with my art, but struggled with relationships, essentially shutting myself off and throwing up defenses. But before the year was over, I knew I couldn't keep living like that, didn't want to keep living like that. So in addition to refocusing in 2011, I soon added a second resolution word: engage. The only way out of my hole, I realized, was to engage with life again, and not let opportunities slip through my fingers out of fear, laziness, inattentiveness or the other myriad ways we allow life to pass us by. Engage I did, and what a difference taking on that word made. Slowly but surely, I started taking risks, opened myself to others, tested various waters, healed both physically and emotionally, and began to reap the benefits of that openness in the response of others. So many wonderful experiences came my way in 2011 and as the year came to a close, I could see how far I'd come from where I started at the beginning of the year. It was months of hard work, actually, realizing just how much I'd lost myself that bad year, and lost my passion for quilting, what a mighty struggle it was not only to reclaim either but even remember what either had been like. But eventually, I got my feet under me once more, partly due to the engaging with life again, and the people I engaged with that helped me along the way. Not sure the passion has come back totally, but at least by the close of the year I again felt enthusiasm for my work. Throughout the year, few more ancient projects got finished, a couple of "problem" quilts got fixed, a few old ideas finally made there way to the "let's get started on this" phase, and new ideas kept bubbling up.

So what to choose for this year's word? That took about 2 seconds to
decide and is actually a pairing of words: balance & harmony. It was the focus of my last yoga class of 2011 and I immediately realized what a perfect emphasis that would be for my life right now. Who doesn't want harmony in their life, especially the internal kind and balance is always something I've struggled to maintain, being such an "all or nothing" person. Balance and harmony are also elements I struggled to attain in my designing. So balance & harmony it is!

Happy New Year to you all, and may you too find balance and harmony in 2012.