Thursday, August 27, 2009

Liberated Log Cabin

And here's another one I'm working on - Liberated Log Cabin, per Gwen Marston's method. I think this will be a pillowtop; I added a 2" solid dark purple/blue border all around, to rein it in a little, and now am busy procrastinating on the part I don't like, all that business with getting it backed and finished, with enough overlap so that it doesn't come busting out of the velcro or buttons or whatever. Simple, huh? But I've come to really dislike the "drudge" part of making quilts!

Making pieces like this one and the previously-posted one is, I'm sad to report, how I "clean up" my sewing space, which is why these two pieces have so many of the same fabrics in them. They come about by a combination of serendipity and an obsessive-compulsive-like fervor to use up ever-smaller bits of fabrics. I wander into my sewing room and see the exciting heaps of scraps, and before I know it I find that I'm sitting at the machine and "just sewing these little bits up to clear off my work area". Hours or days later, I emerge from the mess with a bunch of crazy looking blocks and strips and chunks, and an even-smaller pile of tiny scrips and scraps. Usually, I just put the newly-pieced creations away in what I like to rather grandly think of as my "Parts Department" (a la Gwen Marston & Freddy Moran), rarely to see the light of day again. But, like all true fabric nuts, it makes me feel happy to know they're there, a resource safely stashed away just waiting to be used some day when I "need" them - like what, the day I run out of fabric??? Not bloody likely, at least barring a major act-of-God-proportioned disaster, in which case the loss of my fabric supply will be the least of my problems!
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Sunday, August 23, 2009

"Are There Hummingbird Gardens in Gee's Bend?"

So here's a very rough shot of what I've been working on this week, unfinished and still up on the design wall. Its working title: "Are There Hummingbird Gardens in Gee's Bend?", because the colors and general wild, bright layout are inspired by my own hummingbird garden here outside of Ithaca, NY, and because it is done in a very spontaneous and not-straight-line manner of construction. A little not-too-straight cut with scissors here, a little curved line piecing there, a little Nancy Crow meets the quilters of Gee's Bend meets Gwen Marston.

It's not that easy, when your mother has spent your whole lifetime training you in the skills of precision and exacting measuring and cutting, to force yourself to throw off those careful habits and sew things crooked on purpose! And by no account would I claim to have mastered the free-piecing skills of the Gee's Bend and other traditional African-American quilters, but I'm trying.
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Monday, June 8, 2009

Matthew and Naomi's Wedding Chuppah

First, the Disclaimer: the color in this picture seems, at least on my monitor, a little off - the border, for instance, looks turquoise on my screen, but it's not, it's more a deep medium blue. Other colors are similarly skewed in the direction of too much yellow. I don't know how to correct it, or I would.

It's been a long time in the making, but Matthew & Naomi's chuppah is finally ready! (Good thing, too, since the wedding is next Sunday, June 14!) As I look at this simple photo of it, it really doesn't look like that big a deal, but what this chuppah really is is a physical repository of all the love and dearly-felt good wishes I hold for Matthew and his bride: it holds the slightly bewildered amazement of a mother that her firstborn child, that glowing round-cheeked baby boy, has grown into this lean, sensitive, funny, creative, brilliant man who has the wisdom to choose for his wife a woman that seems like his perfect counterpart. It is made "with love in every stitch", as we always say in my family, with deep, dear love in every stitch and brushstroke and bead and dye-swath, and with hope and joy, and even with some stabs of pain at other loves that didn't turn out the way I'd planned. This childish assemblage of silk and paint and thread and beads holds it all, as well as my hopes for a future as filled with joy and abiding love as any soul dares to aspire to. No limits: no limits on my love for my son as he has been since the moment I was gifted with him, and no limits on my wishes that he and his beautiful Naomi will make a strong and happy future together. Past, present, future - it's all in there.

OK, enough sap - now for the details. Including the border (which is cropped in this photo), the finished size is around 58" x 76", more or less. The fabric is silk on the face you see here, and cotton on the back. The background (earth, water, sky, and golden sun) is hand-painted with (mostly) Setacolor transparent fabric paint, with occasional touches of shimmer (all right, it's glitter, but don't tell the bride & groom that!). The entire process of painting on silk was new to me, and I spent a lot of time practicing and testing and generally fiddling around, with the result that now I have a big pile of painted silk to cut up and play with in the future and a whole lot of new methods in my arsenal. The scribbly, sketchy grasses along the water and at the base of the tree were added with permanent fabric markers and I think there's a bit of Shiva paintstick in there too. It's hard to see in this picture, but the water has waves done with paintsicks and rubbing plates. And, trust me on this, the whole thing is much more beautiful in person - I'm not just saying that because I made it, but because the luster and play of light on the silk just doesn't carry through very well in pictures. The border is hand-dyed as well, of the same silk/cottonj fabric. I haven't yet attached the beautiful "tzitsit", the fringes that observant Jews have on the corners of their prayer shawls (tallit); they are made, in this case of a very soft ribbon-type yarn, by tying and winding the yarns prescribed number of times in a specific sequence. Often the groom's or an honored relative's tallit has been used as the chuppah or wedding canopy, and my addition of the tzitsit is to honor that tradition.

Inside the "circle of the sun" (a reference, by the way, to a song that my folk-singing friends and I have been trotting out at every birthday and wedding and change of season and any other occasion, momentous or not, for most of my children's lives -Matthew "gets it") stands a Tree of Life, laden with shimmering leaves and fruits. 18 fruits, to be exact (well, if you count each bunch of cherries as 1 fruit), because 18 is an important and lucky number to most Jewish people, including the bride. The leaves & fruits are cut from all different bits of silk & cotton, many of them my own handpainted & printed & stamped fabrics; they are fused with MistyFuse (as is the tree itself), and then hand-embroidered and embellished in whatever ways the spirit moved me or necessity dictated. I tried not to get too carried away in my addition of small beads - as much because I figured the chuppah didn't need any extra weight pulling it earthwards as for artistic reasons.

The Tree has 6 strong roots, as Matthew & Naomi have 6 strong and loving parents (Matthew has 2 "bonus parents", that lucky boy!) Just like life, just like their marriage will, the Tree bears many and varied wonderful fruits - their future children, the work they produce together, their many creative endeavours, the joy they generate, the offspring of their minds and spirits and bodies, are there in those crazy-looking fruits. Along the water's edge on the left-hand side is some Hebrew script, a quote from Proverbs3:18; it says "It shall be a tree of life to those who hold fast to it, and all who uphold it are happy".

About that Hebrew script: I don't know Hebrew. Hell, I'm not even Jewish! Naomi chose the verse, which is lovely. After a whole lot of internet navigation, I managed to find & order a set of Hebrew alphabet rubber stamps. Just the letters, not a stamp with the words all put together. Got a copy of the Hebrew text (actually, many variations & varieties of the Hebrew text...) Spent many long hours making sure that I selected the right character for each letter, hoping that the final outcome would not end up saying something like "It shall be a pillow of bacon that blows a blue balloon to the jug of vinegar" or anything nonsensical like that - I really hope I did get it right! Check in with me next week to see if I managed to offend anybody! I had great help with this over the phone from my friend Debra, who is Jewish & has recently had 2 kids in Hebrew school; we went over it letter by letter, so I'm fairly confident, but I'd be lying if I said I was 100% sure about it!

To support the canopy, the couple will be using strong wooden poles and weighted bases made by Naomi's grandfather. Both her grandfather and her father enjoyed working with wood, and so the Tree of Life motif seems to suit this wedding well. I feel very proud that my son has chosen so wisely. I am a realist in the sometimes-grubby world of marriage and relationships, but I feel that these two have a far better chance than average of making a long & happy life together - I certainly wish it for them with all my heart, and there's not much more I can do for them than that. And if all else fails, I'm pretty confident that I've managed to impart to my son a sense of the great adventure that life is, with whatever it brings us. Above all, I hope he and my daughters will always know that they have always been and will always be loved beyond all my powers of expression, that their presence in my life has been a gift of pure, undeserved radiance to me; I hope they know that. Beyond that, their lives are their own - they are grown now, and it's up to them to trample out their own pathways!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Bamboo and the Deep Blue Sea

More Playing with Paint. A very ugly bit of pink & purple cotton that resulted from an earlier experiment with scrunch dyeing, stencilled over with Shiva paintsicks. Still ugly.

The blue and green fabric is silk, painted and manipulated into folds while still wet, then sprinkled with coarse salt. I've never had much luck dyeing with salt, but this is almost OK. It has a wonderful feel, since it's a very luxurious 11.9 mme silk charmeuse. I'm really getting hooked on working with silk! But what to DO with it, once I've dyed & painted and stamped and stencilled my little heart out on it - I still hate sewing with its squirmy, slithery self!
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Pomegranates and Pistachios - a Visual Feast?

Here are 2 little bits from my Playing With Paint class (Quilt U, Lyric Kinard). The assignment was printing with fruits & vegetables, so I dutifully made a nice vegetable soup and carefully saved various stumps & interesting little pieces and set them aside to dry. Next day, they're nowhere to be found - my dear sainted husband had foolishly considered them compost, and off they went to enrich my garden. Hmmmm, there's a song in there somewhere - no, wait, it's already been done, perhaps by Pete Seeger...And I know, I know, how much complaining can you do when the man is tidying up the kitchen, eh?

Anyway, not being in the mood to embark on any further cooking when I was in printing mode (what, again with the dinner? I don't think so!), I was left with a dried out old pomegranate and some pistachio shells to print with. The base fabric is some previously hand-dyed cotton that was loitering around in the vicinity of my desk. I used at least 2 closely-related colors to print with, one of them a "shimmer", but you can't see that in these pictures. The purple "smudges" in the green piece are very fine prints of a shell I found in the Bahamas - they show up very well in person; I guess this is a crappy low-res scan. Also better in the flesh: the repeated but barely visible print suggesting wild grasses that I mad a long time ago by glueing some leftover slivers of fun foam on a piece of box cardboard.

And then, because everything looks better with a little sparkle, I whisked a little "shimmering pearl" and/or some very diluted metallic gold hither and yon over the whole thing.

I have to admit to loving the little pistachio shell prints - so clean, so shapely, so available, so free of any preparation other than eating them! I predict that they will be making future appreances in my work. And I learned something useful about pomegranates, too: even when they appear to be all dried up past edibility, the seeds inside remain juicy and fully, edibly, tasty. Handy to know, huh?

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

More Playing With Paint

Or "Evolution of a Colonoscopy"... after I ironed out this piece of scrunched & painted silk , I noticed that it looked like, well, something best not seen outside of a gastroenterologist's office. So I tarted it up with Shiva Paintstick rubbings over a couple of my hand-carved rubber stamps and a little piece if plastic needlepoint mesh that was lying around. Because it is silk, it has a nice flow and drape. Still don't know if I like it, but it's growing on me.
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Monday, February 16, 2009

Elizabeth Gilbert's TED talk on creativity

Here's a link to one of the most amazing talks I've ever heard:

Unlike many artists, I am amazingly bad at talking about The Creative Process. What is creativity? Where does it come from? "Where do you get your ideas?" - now there's a conversation-stopper, at least when it's addressed to me! Why do some people "have it" while others "aren't creative"? (heinously not so, in my understanding of the way things work, but a surprisingly ubiquitous view).

And why am I so mute when someone tries to engage me in conversation on the subject? ME! A normally bright, funny, opinionated, articulate person, and certainly not loathe to blather on about almost anything. Whether or not I know anything about the subject at hand! Yet when it comes to the topic of how/why I do what I now spend my days doing, about all I can manage is a self-disparaging "Oh, I just make stuff. Small art quilts. Surface design. You know, fabric..." Well, nobody's too sure what that means...must be code for "Beware - Flaky Artist on the scene; better get your crystals out and align your chakras!"

I could go all mystical: "I don't really know - things just happen. I just like to play." (Kinda true, but incomplete, inadequate, insufficient.) Or I could go cerebral, launch into long theories and "process" talk, most of which leads directly and in short order to the kind of pompous, self-congratulatory mental masturbation that drives me right straight crazy. Or there's always the time-honored Tortured Soul route - that's an archetype that our society has a definite place for. (And how come, by the way, we have no tradition of the Cheerful Artist? The Gleeful Soul, who creates for the sheer joy of being in the Universe?...Ooops, I see that leads right back to The Flake!)

Mystical Flake, Fatuous Narcissistic Ass, Tortured Artist: surely the creative life deserves more! Gilbert comes closer to expressing my own experience and understanding of creativity and the artist than any I've come across so far. I'm not going to recap what she says here; just, please, if you're interested in the subject at all, take the 19 minutes and watch this video!

And then let's talk!

Monday, February 9, 2009

"Playing with Paint" class

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While not particularly lovely pieces of fabric, these are the first 2 in the class I'm taking through Quilt University, taught by Lyric Kinard. Couldn't figure out how to send them to the class gallery, so I'll just put them here. (I'm inordinately proud of having figured out, for the first time all by myself, how to get the pix out of the camera and into the computer. Maybe tomorrow I'll progress further!) The first cloth is done by drawing the tree-ish lines on white fabric with plain ol' Crayola crayons (I broke a whole bunch of them in the process; good excuse to go buy a new box, since I find broken crayons very disturbing!), then washing over the whole mess with fabric paints. I used various mixtures of blues, and you can't see it but there's a little pearly sparkle going on. I was too impatient to wait for it to air-dry properly, so I zapped it with the heat gun for a while, then ironed it between clean newsprint (all right - it was kinda dirty newsprint), and voila: the fabric dried, the wax came out into the newsprint, and the color stayed in.

Second piece: just swashing color around on damp cotton, then scrunched up a bit to dry. But again I was too impatient, so I ironed this one dry rather than waiting. I know if I'd just let it sit there till tomorrow, there would be more contour-type lines, but oh well...

It struck me as I looked at these two side-by-side that they reminded me of November (or December, or January, or _____)in the Bahamas and the same winter months here at home in upstate NY. Guess which is which!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

OK, I'll play: 25 Random Things About Me

1) Some days I spend hours just communing with my little cat. Some days, she's the most "human" contact I have.

2) I love to handle fresh produce - fruits, vegetables, berries, roots: Bring them to me!

3) I consider myself to be shy, although invariably anyone who knows me bursts into hilarious laughter if I say that. Maybe my social friendliness & interest in you lets me avoid revealing anything much about myself - ever think about that?

4) I am deeply ashamed of how badly I sucked as a step-parent. It still baffles me, how that could have happened, but there it is. (But girls, if you should happen across this, I love you all, and value your presence in my life very much! It's all better now. And it was always about my issues, never about you.)

5) I had no idea when my first husband & I started out together those many years ago what wonderful strong, smart, kind, creative, interesting people we would create. Who knew? I stand forever humbled in the face of those 3 miracles! Start with little babies, and end up with fine, full people - who could believe it?

6) I will read and take an interest in almost anything. Except for a few things that are dead to me - techno, vampires and elves and unicorns, mathematics.

7) I read the Tarot cards sometimes. I dream of creating my own deck one day, but that's a lotta cards, and I have lots of other stuff to work on. And I also am good at interpreting dreams (It's a Pisces thing...)

8) Speaking of dreams - I LOVE my dreams! Such a fabulous source of entertainment, and occasionally wisdom and insight as well, arriving all unbidden and FREE to boot - how could you beat that?! I love my daughters' dreams, too.

9) I have an almost supernatural sense of smell. I can tell by the way the bathroom smells which kid has last used the toilet. I have detected dangerous hemorrhages in patients just by smelling blood as I whisked down the hall past their rooms; I've diagnosed liver disease in newborns by smell alone. And on the lovelier side, I hoard essential oils and yummy-smelling soaps and bath & cleaning products voraciously. I believe in and use aromatherapy.

10) But why, given all the all-natural all-organic cleaning and washing products I use, does my house always smell of burnt coffee when I walk in the door? This bugs me, every time.

11) Some days I think I am just lazy, rather than disabled and in pain.

12) But most days, I just WISH #11 were the case. Maybe both things are true...

13) It turns out that I have not been a good friend to most of my friends, even those I love dearly. I am not good at "reaching out"; I don't call or write, even though I often think of them; I am much better at listening than I am at offering up my own troubles. I often can't even show up at gatherings, due to my physical limitations, and I don't share about myself very well. It feels like the chronic pain issues have built a wall around me; I don't like to be seen when I'm not at my best, and I sure as hell don't want to moan or whine. Oy, such angst!

14) Some days I watch Court TV (now called In Session) all day. Well, listen to it, while I do other stuff.

15) I would like to break into this blog-world thing, but whenever I try I feel like I have nothing to say. Or more precisely, why would random people be interested in what I might have to say? Love to write, will write about almost anything, but go mute when faced with a blank computer screen. Maybe I need an assignment, like in school.

16) I am one of the only people I know who has a simple, uncomplicated, and loving relationship with my family-of-origin. Happy childhood, even happier adulthood. No unfinished business with my parents & sibs - I just love them and appreciate them. It's all good!

17) I may be the only person in America who does not feel over-stressed, overloaded, torn in too many directions. Been there, done that, didn't like it. In one of those good-things-disguised-as-a-bad-thing twists life brings, the injury that took me down also allowed me to step off the crazy merry-go-round.

18) I meditate. Quite a lot. I love it!

19) These are my favorite things in this life (besides my family & friends, of course): music, color, singing, the beauty and awesomeness of nature, the ocean, the mountains, the sky. Trees. Flowers. Well, and the babies, of course.

20) I don't know how the creative process works, or where it comes from. I don't even know where my own best work comes from.

21) Apparently I am a pacifist. I can't seem to find any war I can get behind, so I must be. "C'mon people, smile on your brother, everybody get together and try to love one another right now". Or at least - People: let's use our brains and our words to solve these problems!

22) My secret talent? I am a Sex Goddess. (Don't laugh! Saying "eeewwwww" may be appropriate.)

23) Goals? The word gives me hives - I don't like to be told what to do, even by myself! But I am working towards developing more productive work habits (it's hard when your "work" is equally your "play"), and towards building practices that will lead me towards better health. And world peace... (picture little winking emoticon here - I don't know how to make them).

24) Not only do I love my kids, Liddy, Molly, and Matthew, beyond measure, I admire them tremendously, each for different reasons: their humor, their passion, their willingness to engage with life as it is, their tender-heartedness, their creativity, their brightness of spirit as well as of intellect. But that's probably no secret!

25) I am so empathetic that it's often painful. Too much of other-peoples' energies rushing in on me. It's why I hate crowds.

Now, is there something further I'm supposed to do with this thing? Is there a game I don't know about going around? Clue me in!