Monday, December 31, 2007

Too much Pain

I haven't spoken much here about my fibromyalgia and the pain that goes with it - not where/how I want to spend my time & energy. But a constant Fact Of Life nonetheless, and I do belong to a Yahoo group for fiber artists with fibro, called, logically enough, Fibro Fiberartists. Here's the link:

I was thinking about what I wanted from this group today, and here's what I posted to the forum:

"As others have said, while I really appreciate a community of
fellow "fibro-fiber artists", I personally don't really want to focus
so much on the pain & disability here either...There are other forums for that, and I have chosen to stay away from them most of the time, because too many people there seem only focused on their pain & disabilities. I refuse to define myself by my pain!

I do believe that in order to move ahead it is necessary to acknowledge the pain, the anger, & all that "stuff" that goes along with having fibro, and to mourn what we have lost, and I think that this is a legitimate place to share whatever comes out in our art
from that process, if that is of value to you. It isn't gonna all be pretty, that's for sure!

If there's anybody here who's familiar with
the SoulCollage process (, I made this card for Pain.

One of the gifts fibro has given me, in a roundabout sort of way, is the gift of time. Because it forced me to just plain STOP everything else for a while. Because it has taken me right off the formerly all- consuming treadmill of working-doing-going-being-it-all and plopped me right smack into my SELF. Because the pain and stress has led me into techniques of healing breathing, meditation, ways to calm myself inside so I can see what's really there. Because it has changed so many of the things about me that used to be so central in my life, so that what is truly the ME inside me can actually shine more clearly for me.

So those are some of the things I like to focus on, and my creative work seems to be all coming from that place of illumination. I might not have found or really appreciated some of these inner places if it hadn't been for this fibro."

So I'll ask anybody who is interested: what are some
of the better things that have come to you as a result of having
fibro? Be honest and tell the truth!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Ragged Cloth Cafe musings: What makes textile art unique?

In a recent article on Ragged Cloth Cafe (well worth reading & thinking about! Jeanne Beck posits the question: "Are there attributes that are as unique to textiles as selectivity, instantaneity and credibility are to photography and if so, what might those attributes be?"

I guess that the attribute that to me makes quilts unique as an art form is softnes/flexibility. Not softness as in "comfort", with its implications of warmth and caring, but the tactile experience of the quilt's traditional medium of fabric. Fabric is soft to the touch - even relatively scratchy fabric - and flexible in the hands of the maker. You can stretch it a little if you need to to make it work. Its edges won't scratch or gouge or splinter. It has give and ease. You can fold it, scrunch it, drape it over the back of your chair, spread it on top of whatever mess of random items might lie beneath. Even in the more cutting edge art quilts (ha! see, that's what I mean - cutting edge meaning literally "sharp") that incorporate numerous materials and elements other than fabric and thread, I still think of a quilt as being essentially soft, flexible, bendable, sometimes even limp.

This is an attribute that perhaps is experienced more by the maker than the viewer. I do fabric, I don't do steel beams. Hell, I don't even do rust, though I see that it's the hottest thing going right now. In the eyes of the viewer, I think people still do associate quilts, even "art quilts", as being made of fabric, and I think, though I can't really know because I can no longer see these things with the eyes of a non-maker, that this quality of softness and flexibility is still part of the perception of what makes an art quilt a quilt as well as a work of art.

For me, coming from a background of sewing, embroidery, weaving, and other skills working with fiber, I naturally gravitate to the medium I am most comfortable working with. I don't do hard-edged things - wood, metal, things that don't give, or that your can't fudge by "easing" a little here or there. I have ventured into mosaic work, the one exception to my otherwise soft-core endeavours, but it hardly counts because of the spaces between the bits of glass - plenty of fudging-room there! And mosaic work is essentially piecing & patchwork done in glass. Similar design elements, different medium, different feel. More cuts & slivers. Lots more difficult to be accurate. And I don't think I could enter a pieced glass mosaic into an art quilt show, even if I did contrive to have it meet the "three layers bound together by stitching" rule.

Lots to think about with this question, though. What do others have to say?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Bead For Life

Today, while randomly following my nose down down the rabbit hole into the Wonderland of the internet, I came across a site that moved me deeply. It is for an organization called Bead for Life; now, normally I skip right away from anything containing "for life" in its title, fearing either an anti-choice organization, some rabid fundamentalist religious cult, or yet another site infested with the dreaded symbolic pink ribbons and sappy phrases meant to sustain hope in those fighting breast cancer. No disrespect to any of the above, most particularly to the breast cancer awareness people, whose work I respect highly and whose services I earnestly hope I never have to call upon - it just seems to me that something with more "oomph" than is conveyed by watery pink ribbons and little plucky words written in a flowing yet somehow unconvincing script on a banner held by bluebirds or bunnies is needed for the cause.

Anyway, back to my new discovery: This is a group of women in Uganda who are working together to try to improve their extremely difficult lives through making & selling paper beads. The beads are colorful and beautiful - also very light weight, which is an important consideration for those of us with fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions, for whom most jewelry is too heavy to wear - but, perhaps even more important, the struggle is so great and the stakes are so high, and this is one way to provide a tiny bit of help. When you learn that all of the beaders and tailors (all women) in the cooperative are supporting themselves and their families on less than $2 a day, and that 93% of money raised goes directly to the women for their families, and you think about how far the $15 or whatever you decide to spend on their products can go in this nation struggling under the three curses of poverty, illness, and war, I don't see how you can fail to want to help - and do a little Christmas shopping at the same time!

Please, please, take a look at the website:! As an artist, a craftsperson, a woman, or a human being living in the comfort and relative wealth of the so-called "first-world nations", I don't see how we can ignore our sisters struggling against such huge odds just to survive and raise, educate, and feed their children. Please read the information on the site - I can't explain it as well as they do, but I know that if you visit it and read the stories of the individual beaders as well as their community development plans (they are building a whole Bead for Life village, in collaboration with Habitat for Humanity!), you can't help but be moved to help in any way you can.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Now Here's a Funky Old Thing...

In 1969, back in the Glory Days of all things hippie, I first decided to try my hand at batik-making. I was swept off my feet by the beauty and diversity of the "new" (well, maybe to this 16-yr. old American girl!) fabrics I was seeing - the Indonesian batiks, the tie-dyes, the exotic block prints and embroideries and sheisha mirrors, even the dreaded macrame. Of course I had to try them all! I'll spare you the results of my first adventures in tie-dye; suffice it to say that there was a lot of excited activity involving Rit dye, rubber bands, and white cotton Carters' Spanky Pants around the ol' kitchen stove...

Not too thrilled with the washed-out colors of those experiments, I moved on to trying my hand at batik - and this was my first attempt. As an impulsive and impatient young girl, I lacked most of the requisite supplies for making true batik - no beeswax, no tjantjing or tjap, and above all no patience for the complicated process of layers and resists and repeated ironing-out of wax from fabric. What I did have was good old Crayola crayons, paraffin, an electric skillet, Schaeffers Permanent Black ink, and one of my father's white cotton handkerchiefs, snitched from the laundry basket. Voila -"batik", American-teenaged girl style, 1969!

The piece lingered on my dorm-room walls for awhile, and then sank from view, as such things do, until the inevitable churning of household detritus tossed it up unexpectedly when we moved to our new house last year. Who knew the silly thing was still around? It's not like it was ever, even when it was first created, anything important; it was just my early doodlings with wax, color, and crackle, a Sunday afternoon experiment the summer before I started college. But still (or again), when it came to light again after nearly 40 years, it struck me as playful and spirited and worthy of a space on the wall, and I just stuck it right up there, in a public part of the house, for all to see.

Sophisticated art? Hardly! "Art" at all? Who cares? But there is something in it of spirit and fun, and of a part of myself that I am happy to be reminded of every time I see it. So maybe now I know how to batik and dye and block print and embroider and quilt the "right" way - but I still remember how utterly thrilling it was to lay down these colors of melted crayons on my Dad's stolen handkerchief: the suspense of waiting for the wax to chill in the freezer so I could crackle it up & give it its final wash of black ink, the pure burst of surprise in my heart when I saw how those black lines just made the colors pop right out - that joy was as honest & real as any I've gotten from any more mature, sophisticated, technically-correct creations since then.

And I don't want to forget it!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Ace of Clubs - or is it?

Ace of Clubs
Originally uploaded by cathyb53

And another non-quilt item, just for fun. Last Christmas I made a set of playing cards, using a blank deck of cards & painting, stamping, transfer printing, & other fun techniques. To see the complete deck, you can look down my list of links on the right side of the screen, to:

My handmade playing cards-12/06, for Matthew

Maybe I'm the Ace of Clubs, releasing my 3 now-grown children into the world? But wait, it's a well-known fact that I'm the Queen of Hearts...except in this deck, I seem to show up as the Queen of Clubs, if you believe the images on the cards...Or maybe a person shouldn't delve too deeply into interpreting what comes off of one's work table at any given time!

In the Land of the Lotus Eaters

Not fabric/quilt art - this is a collage I made last winter while we were in the Bahamas, where there's a lot of flopping around mostly naked. Something about the indolent heat of August here in upstate New York brings it to mind.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Matthew's 30th birthday

Wish I could remember to take decent pictures of the things I make before I give them away! This is my son Matthew, celebrating his 30th birthday, in Maine; he's holding the little quilt hanging (which you can't see very well - the best part is below the frame of the picture) I made for him. I know, pretty girlish present, huh? Anyway, the little quilt was made entirely (well, except for the black) of my own hand-dyed & printed fabrics; below the frame of this photo are the beaded-bead embellishments and the tiny "liberated" log cabin squares. The label on the back is a fabric-printed old photo of me holding him at about a month or so old, as well as some more piecing of my hand-dyed fabrics.

The point of making this piece was to force myself to begin cutting into my own dyed, painted, & printed fabrics and using them as if they were "normal" (commercial) fabrics. A small start, and a nerve-wracking one, but at least I did it, instead of just hoarding up my "special" pieces and admiring them as cloth. More to come!

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Saturday, August 11, 2007


I wish that I were more focused these days. I keep being pulled in so many directions, creativity-wise, that the end result is paralysis. Or the desire to start a new project leads me to frantically rearrange my workspace. Or to tidy my sewing space by stitching all of the little snips of fabric on my sewing table into other crazy little bits of improvisationally-pieced, slightly larger, pieces. Or to re-categorize and re-shelve my paints, beads, or other supplies. Or to decide that I simply must unpack the random boxes of stuff that have been sitting in the middle of my studio since we had the new floor put in a year and a half ago; of course the reason they haven't been unpacked & put away before now is that they're down to the "stems & seeds" of the household items - long-expired sunscreens & itch creams, Ace bandages that have disintegrated from old age, old mattress pads that aren't ready to be chucked but are no longer needed for daily use, linoleum blocks I carved in high school, cat "toys" that send my funny little cats scrambling out of sight in fear, the old notebooks filled with the pitiful household accounting and somewhat-impressive Scrabble scores from life with my first husband 35 years ago...... Good grief!

When what I really want to do, of course, is Make Art. Not just the stuff I know I can do already, but the fantastic, make-me-drool-with-desire work I see on the blogs & websites of other art quilters, beaders, and surface designers. It's fear, of course, that keeps me always starting to play with new techniques & materials but never quite pulling it all together. Because what if what I finally do put together just makes me feel ashamed that it's not "better"? It's so much more comfortable to think that of course I could produce work like the rock stars of the art quilting world, if I would just get around to it, than to face my own limitations.

Of course, this is just a form of the dreaded Block, or Resistance. Hey, I read the books, I know what's what! I even know what to do about it: just Go Do It. But which "it" should I focus on? If I'm working on learning new dyeing & fabric painting techniques, I'm not sewing. If I'm sewing, I'm not working on developing complex cloth. And I haven't gone near most of my beads for a year or two, and.........Not even to mention that the time I'm spending on-line seeking inspiration & knowledge is LOTS of time not creating anything at all. I truly don't know how so many people seem to manage to do so much!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Wild Birds Art Quilt

Wild Birds Art Quilt

This small art quilt was inspired by lyrics to a song by Jan Harmon; I sing a lot of folk music with my similarly-inclined friends, and this was a song I have always loved, especially when sung by my dear friend Jo Houghton. The chorus, part of which is the words on the front of the quilt, is:

"They're all dressed up in feathers with colors outrageous,
They soar from this earthly-bound kingdom of cages
On delicate wings, so small and courageous,
Thank heaven for wild birds."

I started it last fall, when the rich autumn golds and oranges and purples were all around me. I used my own hand-dyed fabrics, commercial fabrics, rubber stamps on painted watercolor paper (the birds) and fabric (the lettering), and beads. Instead of using the more traditional batting, I fused front & back on to Fast-2-Fuse (a stiff, heavy fusibile Timtex, the stuff the bills of ball caps are made with); this allowed the machine quilting to be purely decorative & free of the necessity to hold all the layers together evenly.

I admit it - I did get carried away a bit on the back! The frame around the "label" portion is a digital copy of a paper-and-scissors collage frame that I made 3 years ago as part of my daughter's wedding quilt - I'm quite fond of it, apparently.
Sadly, it was not accepted into this year's Small Art Quilts show at Main Street Gallery in Groton, NY. This was my first submission to a juried show, though, so I'm not too discouraged. And who knows, it may be accepted into another show - or I may just hang it in my living room, where I can see it every day!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

And Another...

Part digital, part real-world cut-and-paste. The Force no longer appears to be with me today - try as I might, I can't get much father in the (so-called) Digital Darkroom, so I just did a little of this, a little of that...and came up with this.
The background is two of Matthew's photos, digitally altered & layered. Then, the Spirit of the Photoshop having departed my presence, I just did a little rubber stamping on top of the print.
What does it mean? I don't know, it's just what I did this morning.

My First Digital Layering Attempt!

Spent all day yesterday (Valentines' Day - a big snowstorm) knocking my brains out trying to figure out how to do some very rudimentary work in Photoshop, and this is one of my 2 results.

Since I've been working with various methods of inkjet transfers and getting very frustrated with the lumpy uncertain results I've been getting (still working on it though- it's lots of fun!), I thought I would try to achieve similar results digitally - the ol' digital darkroom and all that, dontcha know. Well, since I don't know the first thing about working in Photoshop (and I'm in an old version, 6.0), my puny attempts felt like reinventing not only the wheel but all of civilization from the original primordial grains of dirt. But I DID IT! (with lots of IM help from Matthew, who was most obliging and very patient with my ignorance).

So what is it? Well, I started with a really cool photo of a weathered, rusty culvert that I snitched from Matthew's Flickr photos (, and I messed around with hue, saturation, and contrast till it looked pretty much nothing like the original, just a layer of texture & color. Then I took a scanned image of a very beautiful painting of a water lotus (someone else's work - don't know where it came from or who made the original), layered it on top of the altered image from Matthew's photo, and made it semi-transparent, so that the lotus flower emerges in a ghostly fashion from the background. I'm not entirely satisfied with the finished result - but I am supremely happy that I have made the first steps towards learning how to manipulate images digitally.

Sounds so simple, doesn't it? I'm sure it is very simple, for anyone who knows how to do it. Well, isn't everything pretty simple once you've mastered the skills necessary for each step? But I am a rank beginner, working with my usual scientific method of randomly pushing buttons whose names don't seem to have any relation to their actual function and are therefore utterly inscrutable to me, until something happens. Then, should I manage to achieve an effect I like, I am unable to replicate it since I have no idea of what it was I did. But I will continue to work with the digitals, stealing the incredible photographs done by my artsy kids and layering them with odd snippets and seeing what I can come up with. At least all this working in Photoshop doesn't get my fingers all gluey or use up my precious supplies.