Just Around The Corner

I’m still on vacation so here’s a post about one of my favorite quilts. It is visually pleasing and conveys a pointed message in a humorous way.

My recent visit to the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Jazz Age exhibit revealed a surprise near the end – a quilt. The exhibit features scads of diamond and platinum jewelry, stylish but uncomfortable looking furniture, impractical coffee and tea sets, flapper dresses, intriguing textiles, and all sorts of room interior designs. However, its sleek styles didn’t find their way into period quilts.

Yet as a portent of the 1930s, Mrs. Shaw’s Prosperity quilt can’t be beat.

Herbert Hoover’s quote “prosperity is just around the corner,” inspired this wonderful humorous quilt created by Fannie B. Shaw between 1930-1932.  It is 72″ x 86″ and is hand appliqued, pieced, and quilted. It’s in the collection of the Dallas Museum of Art.

The applique figures depict women, businessmen, baseball players, a farmer, a cowboy, and more peeking around the corner expectantly. Mrs. Shaw even included herself in her hallmark apron.  She used a variation of the attic windows pattern and quilted footprints in the sashing to show movement and the search for jobs.Apparently the farmer behind the plow represents her husband, a Texas farmer.

In the lower right corner, Uncle Sam finally arrives with farm relief, money, and legal beer. Priorities priorities. Mrs. Shaw included the Democrat donkey and the Republican elephant in her blocks, maybe “a plague on both your houses” sentiment or a suggestion that both parties need to work together.

Some contemporary “message” quilts strike me as unduly heavy and shrill. In contrast, the Prosperity Quilt is fun to look at, inventive in its use of the attic windows block, and yet it conveys effectively the widespread distress of the 1930s. You can catch more flies with honey …

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Family Treasures

While I’m on vacation I’m republishing old posts. This one ties to my posts about my unknown family quilt series.

Some families pass along Confederate swords to younger generations. My family passes on sewing notions. My grandmother, mother, and aunts all sewed; and I’ve ended up with much of their sewing stuff because I’m the one in my generation who sews. Much of it is useless and good only for the landfill, such as 60 year old elastic. Some is sentimental, and some is still useful.

What’s left are buttons, Singer sewing machine attachments (and one Singer machine,) hooks and eyes, awls, tracing wheels and paper, wooden thread spools, and my grandmother’s thimble. The strangest legacy is a very heavy button covering machine produced by the Defiance Manufacturing Co. I don’t know what happened to the patterns and zippers my fore mothers used, but none survive.

Here are just some of the goodies.

I always wanted an awl, and now I have one. There are more buttons than those shown. Maybe a few have some value, but most seem to date back no farther than the 1950s. I now have plenty of snaps and hooks and eyes, plus plastic rings.

The Singer machine accessories include a gatherer, lots of feet, buttonhole and zigzag stitch attachments, and some unknown gizmos. I’ll look into the used accessory market to see if these have any value.

The instructions and order form for the button covering machine, which was purchased in 1951 by my grandmother, were preserved, along with business correspondence between her and the company. The manually operated machine is heavy, and I think some parts are missing. My cousin was thrilled to offload that.

I had my mother’s Singer machine already. It’s billed as portable, but weighs about 25 pounds. I learned to sew on it, but haven’t used it in decades. If anyone is interested in a Singer 99-13, made in 1930, let me know.

My favorite item is my grandmother’s thimble, of course. My aunt had a jump ring put on it so she could wear it on a chain. It’s now part of my jewelry collection, and you never know when you might need a thimble in one’s daily rounds.

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Revisiting the Unknown Family

About a year ago I began a project that involved unlabeled family photos. I envisioned a three part series featuring groups of people, women, and children; all with no identifying names. After finishing one with groups of people I stopped working on the series as I hit a mental block. I just couldn’t make them into art quilts, and the colors were very muted. That was understandable as I was working with old linens. However, I wasn’t ready to take on a huge amount of embroidery to add color, and I wanted to keep the vintage theme.

All I know is that the people in the photos lived in Ireland or Manitoba.

A week ago I hauled out the remaining women and children photos and set to work on developing visually pleasing layouts. I realized that these won’t be art quilts, but are more fabric scrapbook pages. Once I made my peace with that I was able to find a way forward.

The women piece features a wallpaper sample, a linen napkin, pillowcase ends, a hankie, lace, old photos, and crocheted pins.

I had done natural dying on the old pillowcase some years ago, so I was stuck with the muck green color. The central photo may be one of my mother’s cousins. I know it’s not as old as the surrounding photos, which were probably taken in Ireland. The original of the stern matron has the name of a photographer in Letterkenny, Donegal, at the bottom. The crocheted pins were made by a friend of my parents, while the flower filled oval came from a scrap I was given.

I’m not thrilled with how dark some of the photos are, but I don’t have the originals to scan in and edit.

While I still have some hand tacking of edges to do, in my book the women are done.

I can’t say the same for the children. The photos are a mix of studio portraits and casual snapshots. The latter are under or over exposed, but again I don’t have the negatives. The fabrics here are another linen napkin, an embroidered small pillowcase given to me by a friend, hand knit mittens and a hand embroidered bib that may have been made for me. There’s no one left I can ask.

I think it needs an edge treatment but I have nothing suitable.

So, one will go back in my undone pile, while two will go in the completed pile. These aren’t works to be entered in a show. For one thing, shipping would be difficult as they can’t be rolled up or folded. For another, they aren’t works of art, but family mementos. Maybe I can convince one of my cousins they are perfect for their family photo wall.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday.

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Another Stash

So far my goal to not buy fabric is holding up well and I’ve been patting myself on the back for my restraint. I don’t count fabric I’m given as that’s simply recycling. Then I look around my studio and notice that I have substituted mixed media supplies for fabric accumulation. Oh dear.

It began with paint and a bit of glue. I already had fabric paint, but I got serious about decent acrylic paint for gelli printing. Since different collage artists use different glues I added several types to my stash to see if I liked them better than matte medium. Then of course I needed different types of paper (sulfite, mixed media, watercolor, bristol.) Followed by markers – Posca, india ink, Stabilo; I had inherited colored pencils and an assortment of drawing pencils, but found I needed markers that could work on different surfaces. And speaking of surfaces, I learned about white, black and clear gessos; and what they could do. Then came good watercolors and good watercolor brushes. Supply accumulation was somewhat easy on my purse as my family was happy to give me Dick Blick gift cards and I was happy to use them. Also, a friend generously shared her extras with me.

By this time I had swapped a small chest of drawers for rolling supply carts, and built up a stash of collage papers. Some are paintings and prints that aren’t works of art but are starting points for more work. Others are old books and music scores to print on and children’s board books to use as journals. I scrutinize all our mail for collage possibilities.

I also have magazine holders filled with fodder.

I found there are whole classes devoted to creating collage fodder. That’s one area I don’t need help with as fodder creation is the easy part. The good thing about paint and collage is that the work goes fast; the bad thing is it can go wrong really fast. Of course painting or pasting over such areas is easier than ripping out seams as long as you let the paint dry enough.

My latest mixed media forays attempt to blend fabric with paper. I enjoy all the work on paper, but so far I don’t think the compositions are as strong as my fabric work. Of course I haven’t been at it as long.

Bottom layer is a thermofax print, next layer is book page with watercolor and bits from a gelli print, next layer is fabric scraps from a curtain, final layer is markers and colored pencils

I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday.

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Tweaking The Wall

My version of tweaking involves my design wall, not meth, just so you know. Since last week I have been futzing with minor revisions to “The Left Coast” and a shaggy improv piece inspired by fabric designed by Katie Pasquini Masopust. Both works have spent time on the design wall, as I drop by to squint at them, add/subtract bits of fabric, and take a photo. This process was repeated several times each day. My husband calls it “staring at the wall.”

First, thanks for all the comments on “The Left Coast.” I really wasn’t trolling for compliments, but I appreciate all your kind words. I also appreciate the thoughtful comments as to how it could be made even better. Since I don’t want to disassemble the piece I will leave some ideas to apply to any other version I make. I’ve been playing with other ideas, especially the notion of adding something to the upper right hand side, the sky/water area. Since there are many rock formations off of Big Sur I decided to add some to my work. You’d think it would be a simple thing, but I’ve tried several permutations of color, shape, number and position.

“The Left Coast” with rocks

“The Left Coast” original

I know there are color variations between the above photos. Time of day makes a big difference in how this piece photographs, which is actually an unintentional reflection of the Big Sur itself. I’d love to get your reactions to the rock additions as I’ve looked at it so long I can’t tell whether it’s better or not.

The improv piece has two starting points; the fabric and the backside of a failed mixed media piece.

“Square Dance” fabric

The mixed media piece featured hand painted and printed fabric, but it was awkward and just didn’t work. As I balled it up to throw in the trash I looked at the backside and decided I liked it better than the front. Between the lively fabric and the backside of failure I decided to make a wrong side out piece, where the seam allowances would be on top. Further, I decided to sew raw edge fabric bits onto the whole thing. Since my blog is about the good, the bad, and the ugly, I’ll show you what resulted.

Part of my tweaking has involved pulling off fabric bits as I went overboard with them. After I reached the stage above I decided that major surgery was needed.

The above photo cropped to eliminate the right side.

I think I crammed too much into the space so it comes across as Fibber Magee’s closet. I’m not so old I remember the show, but my father used to tell me about it. Instead I’ll create two quilts. The right hand side will become a table runner with fabrics added to the ends. The left hand side will become an experiment with decorative stitching and any embellishments I can scrounge. It’s already a mess, so what the heck.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday.

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Marching To My Own Drummer

I would love to find discussions that address my current artistic quandary: at what point do you want to/should you defer to the opinions of others when they have a very different take on your work than your own? I refer specifically to work you feel much more positively about than others do. And you respect the opinions of these others.

Case in point, my current piece that I’ve named “The Left Coast.” It is based on my memories of Big Sur in California, though it’s meant to be evocative rather than representative. I chose to focus on the cliffs rather than the ocean.

“The Left Coast”

I began with a drawing that I turned into templates after enlarging it with the old fashioned grid method. Then I went through my stock of hand dyed fabric.

You can see my high level math as I worked out the grid.

I had a subtle set of gray/purples from Vicki Welsh (she calls it thistle) that I thought would work well. Other gradients dyed by her and batiks completed my choices for the cliffs. The sky/water was more vexing. I tried three different blue and purple gradients, all of which overpowered the cliffs. I resorted to a pastel batik (no idea where I got it, maybe Lunn Fabrics?) that I spent a lot of time recoloring with Neocolor II pastel crayons. At one point I decided the piece was turning into a painting.

Original fabric.

The piece is now sandwiched for quilting. I am using a pieced top I could never get to work right for the backing. It’s part of my use it up campaign.

I have made at least three attempts to redeem it, but lack the energy to try again.

I suspect time will be the ultimate arbiter of whether “The Left Coast” is good art or variations on a bruise. It may be my opinion is like loving a man that all your friends say is bad news. When hindsight shows he was a jerk and it’s a good thing you didn’t marry him, your friends were right. Luckily, the quilt is just fabric and the consequences of misjudging its worth are minimal.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday.

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Fallingwater

Tucked away in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands, east of Pittsburgh, is one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpieces. Fallingwater was built for the Kaufman family in the 1930s as their summer retreat. Its setting is fantastical – partly suspended over a waterfall – and totally impractical. It is a triumph of vision over reality.

For my birthday this year my husband arranged a trip there. We drove by such tourist attractions as Jellystone Park (Yogi Bear’s home) to reach the long drive up to the visitors center. Timed small group tours take you through the main house and guest house. The house has 9,300 square feet, which seems large, but 4,400 of those feet are outdoor terraces. In fact, the interiors are expansive, but not much larger than one of today’s suburban homes. The common areas flow into each other, but bedrooms and studies provide privacy. This computer graphics video will give you an idea of how the house fits into its site.

An incredible amount of labor and reinforced concrete went into construction, and some of the techniques Wright used were untested. The visitors center has a fascinating display on the building process. As was usual with Wright projects, the original construction cost estimate of $35,000 ballooned to $148,000. Our guide told us that the annual maintenance costs alone now come to about $4 million. Wright’s beloved flat roofs create a lot of problems, as do the stucco exteriors.

Still, it was wonderful to immerse myself in the home. Videos cannot prepare you for the effect of Wright’s cramped staircases exploding into light infused expansive rooms. Since Wright was a control freak who decreed every detail, excluding the dining room chairs (the Kaufmans won that battle,) you get a chance to see his artistic vision realized. I have been in contemporary design homes with flounced curtains, so I have some sympathy for his dictatorial ways. Another Wright trick was to have almost all the furniture built in so the owner couldn’t rearrange it.

One of the spacious terraces. This one is off a bedroom. Check out the window corner where glass meets glass.

Floating outside stairs. You could definitely base a quilt on the massed shapes.

Sitting area with walls of windows, stone floor. This area is filled with the sound of the waterfall.

Built in desk

I don’t know how livable the house is, but I’d be willing to try it out. The only part I really have doubts about is the open steps off the living area terrace that go down to the stream. It’s one of many features that aren’t ADA compliant. And one more defect – very limited closet space would require severe pruning of personal stuff.

The steps are blocked off for tours.

I am linking to Off The Wall Fridays.

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Rags To Riches

One of my favorite surface design tools is thermofax screens. These screens are sort of like silk screens, but a lot easier to use. You need fabric paint or ink, fabric or paper, some kind of squeegee (an old credit card will do,) and a container of water large enough to hold your screen once you use it. If you clean the screen promptly it should last a while. If you don’t, it gets clogged and you can’t push ink through.

You can buy such screens online from several venders. You can also make them yourself IF you have a thermofax machine, an obsolete piece of technology used in schools a long time ago. The ones I used this month came from Susan Purney Mark. I like them because they are asemic writing, something I have struggled with doing. I printed on top of painted and dyed scraps (I think some were mop up cloths, aka rags) and old linen napkins. I also printed on tissue and paper, and found that works well.

Speedball fabric printing ink on a painted scrap and a painted napkin

More printing on painted scraps

Overlapping printing on a piece of dyed tablecloth

I branched out to use stencils for printing as well.

Stenciling on canvas scraps

And while the paint was out, I did gelli printing on Pellon 830 easy pattern with hand made stencils.

What happens to these experiments? Most wait patiently in the closet to be chosen for the right piece. Many are subjected to more surface design, which often improves them though some end up in the trash. One experiment with toilet paper roll printing has become a throw pillow after free motion quilting.

12″ by 18″ pillow that began with overdyed ticking

I’m linking to Off The Wall Fridays.

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The Bloomin’ Quilting Is Done

Bloomin’ is defined as “just a casual swear word” by The Urban Dictionary, and I used a few while quilting Rhody. As I recounted in an earlier post, I have been developing an impressionistic floral piece made with fabrics I had dyed, painted, and printed.

My original plan called for an undulating circular walking foot quilting design in several thread colors. Then, I decided to create the illusion of leaves around the edges. I had already reached the limits of walking foot quilting on the circular part, so I knew FMQ was the only way I could do leaves.

It turned out there was a lot more edge area to quilt than I had thought, so the FMQ went on for a few days, to allow my shoulders and temper time to recover. I tried several thread colors and weights to emphasize the leaves more, but I declared it was good enough when I found myself quilting the same leaves more than twice. Of course I managed to catch a bit of the excess backing fabric in the quilting, but the facing will cover that up. Only you and I will know about it.

I used seed stitch and french knots to give the flower center texture. It was backed with fusible fleece and satin stitched to the already quilted top.

“Rhody” about 33″ wide by 37″ high

Here are detail shots, plus a view of the back. As always, the back was made with whatever fabrics I had that were large enough. I pay attention to nice backs for working quilts, but not for wall art.

Of course the really boring chores – facing and hanging sleeve – remain. The fabrics are measured and cut, but sewing them on will await a time when I get stuck on my next new project and need thinking time.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Fridays.

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Paper Work

While I’m resting up my arms and shoulders from a quilt wrestling project (why did I choose a circular quilting design?) I’ve been playing with paper. Some efforts I’ve framed, and some I’ve created as part of Willa Wanders‘ free Fodder Challenge lessons.

After living with so-so framed art for many years I decided new art in the frames would be nice. One is a collage, two are gel plate monoprints, and one is a weaving of collaged strips sewn onto paper. I had forgotten what a pain it is to frame stuff.

In between faulty measurements, I watched several Fodder Challenge lessons. Many were too cute for me. I cannot collage inspirational sayings with a straight face. However, I tackled three projects in my own way.

First I used Drew Steinbrecher‘s collage methods for gel plate printed papers, where you create one large collage and then cut it into several smaller collages, which you work on individually. The last work was done in a board book, and uses illegible words stenciled with modeling paste on tissue paper.

Next I tackled paper strip weaving with Rebecca Sower, an easy way to use collaged papers. Besides the framed weaving shown above, I wove another with strips leftover from that one, and yet one more that used a quilt calendar photo as the base. Some challenge participants wove cool diagonal versions.

My last challenge project involved Jane Chipp‘s button collage with printed tissue paper. The instructor used vintage photos printed on tissue with a home printer, and her results were charming. However, I found that my glue would smear the ink from my printer, so I used a sheet of deli paper I had brayered off on and then drawn and stenciled on. You need large, flat-back buttons, printed tissue, gesso, and matte medium (plus patience) to do this.

Finally, since I had all my collage supplies out, I made two more mixed media pieces from previous starts. My goal was to see how far I could go before the piece was overworked. I toned down some of the black on the left hand piece, which helped pull it back a bit from the overworked edge. The right hand piece began with gold blobs and ink lines on watercolor paper, got some paper glued on and cording sewed on, and ended with Posca pens and acrylic ink.

Now that I have gotten almost all the matte medium off my fingers, I hope to return to quilting in the round. Maybe next week I’ll have a finished quilt to show you.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Fridays.

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