Category Archives: Commentary

The Final 5%

I know I’m not the first creator to feel the finishing touches of a work are the hardest to do. After the heady rush of creation and then the sometimes frustrating sewing, ripping out, redoing, and quilting steps, the last bits of edge finishing and hanging sleeve making can get put off. Sometimes they can be postponed a long while. As for labels, I write the quilt’s title, my name, and the year of creation on the backs. I admire beautifully embroidered labels, but done is better than pretty.

I have been forcing myself to do those last bits within six months of finishing a piece. Some of my earlier work has never been displayed because I never made a hanging sleeve. Over the years I’ve forced myself to fix that defect, but there are still some pieces without sleeves. They may stay that way as they are large works, and I can rationalize that they are lap quilts and don’t need sleeves.

Over the past two weeks I have totally finished three quilts. Two had been quilted months ago with binding strips cut, but left hanging in the closet. The third I managed to get faced within a month of quilting it.

“Homage to Escher” 21.5″ wide by 41″ high

I chose the darker fabric for the upper left triangle as it better reflected my mood following current events. All the quilting was done with my walking foot.

The other two quilts were made in Florida last winter. After I did basic walking foot quilting and bound them, I washed them to get a lovely crinkly texture.

“August” 26″ square

“March” 32″ wide by 33″ high

Both continue the month theme for what is now a quartet of quilts. Most likely I have enough scraps to make eight more, but I may fill in the remaining months with other already made quilts like “January Blues.” Now I have only seven more months to go.

“January Blues” 33″ wide by 24″ high

Speaking of finishes at long last, I want to share a photo of a years-in-the-making Dear Jane quilt. Jackie Vogel, its 92 year old maker, is proudly showing it off.

Jackie with her Dear Jane quilt

Sadly, Jackie has had a stroke and most likely will sew no more. Her family shared her fabrics and sewing supplies with local quilters, and I hope to put some of the fabric to good use. My visit to her overflowing sewing rooms convinced me to either finish projects or give away what I know I won’t get to.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Fridays.

10 Comments

Filed under Art quilts, Commentary, Completed Projects

The Original Selfies

It seems you can’t escape people posing for selfies wherever you go. Most selfies show a fish eye lens view of their subjects, often in carefully rehearsed poses. I have run into this celebration-of-self behavior at restaurants, museums, hiking trails, and tourist attractions. I even saw one mother trying to take one of herself and her child on top of a wild buffalo in South Dakota. The buffalo didn’t cooperate.

But my snobbishness was brought up short when I realized that artists have been producing selfies for centuries. They’re called self portraits. One of my favorites is by Elizabeth Louise Vigee LeBrun, an 18th century French portrait painter. I love it because it is by a successful female artist from a time when such creatures were as rare as unicorns. Then there’s such panache in her hat, though her hair looks a bit unkempt. Finally, she proclaims her calling by showing her palette and brushes.

Painted in 1782

I am not someone who takes selfies, in part because I hate to have my picture taken even by myself, but I needed one for a Wanderlust class exercise. We were to paint self portraits using the three primary colors plus white. To give us a start, we were to take a selfie, posterize it to get the main blocks of values in our face, and trace the outline of our face onto paper or canvas.

At first I thought I’d skip this exercise, but then I changed my mind. It didn’t require butterflies, birds, or inspirational sayings, so it stood out from many other assignments. I duly took a selfie, posterized it in PhotoShop Elements, and transferred an outline to watercolor paper.

I used the high tech window method to transfer the outlines.

Then I began to mix skin tones from my four paint colors. My initial doubt turned to amazement when I saw how to do that thanks to teacher Christa Forrest. In fact, after a while my paint palette looked like I had been smearing it with makeup samples.

A coffee filter I used to clean my brushes.

The first passes were crude, with uneven skin tones.

The eyes are so wrong

Looks like I was rubbing bronzer on my chin and neck.

Once I was satisfied with my skin, I added collage paper to the page bottom and coated everything with clear gesso. After that dried I used colored pencils to fine tune details. The gesso gives enough tooth to grab the pencil lead and add texture.

Finished portrait. My eyes aren’t really that green. My hair is that gray.

I spent more time on this exercise than on any other ones to date, but the teacher broke down the process and made it doable. To judge from the work posted in the course forum, I don’t think as many students did this exercise compared with others. As was noted in last week’s discussion about classes, sometimes you learn more when you reach beyond just having fun.

10 Comments

Filed under Commentary, Completed Projects, Techniques

Why Do You Take Classes?

In the week since I wrote about the Map Play class I took with Valerie Goodwin, I read two posts about art classes. The first by Jane Davies responds to a student’s comments that she wanted to play and have fun at a workshop and then had a meltdown when she was asked to dig deeper.

From Jane Davies’ blog.

Making art IS about play and it IS fun, but that is not all it is, usually. If you are always playing and having fun, with no angst or frustration, and you are also generating images that really speak to you, that you find compelling, then that is just GREAT! Congratulations. Most of us also have moments of frustration and occasional meltdowns or at least self-doubt. Learning how to navigate these skillfully is part of the process.

The second, Chris’ Quilting Universe post, Am I Addicted to Taking Classes?, reviews all the quilt related classes Chris has taken and the work that resulted from them. She has taken a wide variety of classes, ranging from year long master classes to online multi-lessons to one shot workshops.

Do you take classes to learn a process or leave with a product? Do you want to learn to make art like that made by the instructor? Do you want a two hour class at a quilt show or a five day immersive course? Do you want a deep dive into one teacher’s methods or a potpourri of many teachers’ approaches?

A further permutation is in-person versus online classes, and a distinction between live online and prerecorded. An additional nuance with any online class is the amount of interaction possible with the teacher and other students. I have taken classes where I had access to videos with no interaction, to videos with a class blog, and to videos with some sort of proprietary discussion forum. Some classes use Facebook.

These are very different animals, and I believe one’s expectations should reflect the differences. For example, I took a three hour Zoom class on sewing paper collage with David Owen Hastings. I learned a well explained technique that required a minimal amount of supplies. All interactions occurred during the class, with no subsequent followup.

I love using the curved bits from monoprints.

I also took Elizabeth Barton’s year long master class that required a deep commitment to developing designs and executing them each month. While the students could and did comment on each others work, the main focus of the class was improving our designs through Elizabeth’s critiques, which were copious. Each month we developed sketches in response to a theme, chose one to turn into a quilt, and then made the quilt.

“Mean Streets” was made in Elizabeth Barton’s master class

Right now I’m taking a year long set of mixed media classes called Wanderlust. The classes are loosely organized around basic art supplies like gesso, acrylic paint, modeling paste, etc., but each instructor pretty much presents her own thing. (I have yet to see a male instructor.) While I have learned a lot about materials and techniques, I find some of the instruction to be overly focused on “playing and having fun” and what I call greeting card art. To me the missing element is learning to evaluate your work. With so many instructors and students, comments on anyone’s work is pretty much limited to “great,” “nice,” “how sweet,” etc. It’s hit or miss whether the instructor comments on student work.

“An Octopus’ Garden” made for a modeling paste segment of Wanderlust

Such an approach is great if your goal is to play. I have to say I had hoped for less overlap of techniques and more building on previous techniques. Again, that’s probably not doable with so many instructors. I have learned there are as many ways to glue paper as there are teachers.

This week I’ve reflected on all the quilt/art related classes I’ve taken thanks to Jane and Chris, and decided that the ones I benefited most from were process related, with a critique/feedback component. The absolute worst class I ever took was on paper and cloth marbling. All the students shared one container for marbling and we were to take turns. Let’s just say there were some interpersonal issues. I figured the two fat quarters I marbled cost $25 each, and they were ugly. I won’t try to name the best class I ever took as there are too many candidates.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with art classes, both in person and online. Do you have any recommendations for outstanding classes/teachers?

12 Comments

Filed under Art quilts, collage, Commentary, mixed media, Techniques

A Lovely Parting Gift

It’s hard to say goodbye to a friend who is moving many hours away. I know, it could be much further away, with visits possible only by cross country or ocean trek. Still, the easy spontaneity of living a mere 20 minutes from each other will be gone.

Since we are both arty types of course we gave each other handmade farewell gifts. I created (with the help of Shutterfly) a book of my friend’s photos she had shared with me. In return she created a mixed media piece she called “Expecting to Fly.”

“Expecting to Fly”

And it was accompanied by a handmade card.

Thank heavens email and Instagram make it easily possible to continue to share our artistic journeys. Alas, they aren’t so good for seeing shows in person and talking over each piece. I’ll miss you P.

10 Comments

Filed under Commentary, mixed media

Transforming Old Clothes to Art

Today’s topic came to me as I wandered the aisles of my local Village Discount thrift store looking for bargains. Once I got over my surprise that used bras were on offer, I checked out the men’s extra large shirts. There’s lots of material in a $2 cotton dress shirt.

I didn’t go home with any shirts, but I did remember Sue Benner’s piece made with shirt cuffs which I saw at Quilt National 2017.

Another view of Sue’s Body Parts 3: Cuffed that shows how see-through it is. It cast intriguing shadows.

Sue shops in thrift stores, and even finds uses for garment parts like shoulder pads. If you were around in the 1980s you may recall that most women’s clothing had big foam pads sewn into the shoulders.

Sue Benner, Body Parts 2: Padded

It was a short step from that memory to a trawl for other fiber artists who work with cast off clothing. SAQA Journal helped me along with an article (2022, Vol. 32, No. 1) about Susan Avishai, who transforms shirt collars, cuffs, and other parts to often ethereal work.

Cuff’d, Susan Avishai
Detail from Susan Avishai’s One Place to Hide a Dark Heart

Denim is a favorite clothing material to recycle. I’ve written earlier about Ian Berry, and have always loved the Gee’s Bend quilts made from old jeans.

Lutisha Pettway, “Bars“ Quilt, c. 1950

A new to me artist, Jim Arendt, said that he simply asks people for their old jeans, and hasn’t bought materials in some time.

Jim Arendt
Arendt’s work area in his garage.

You can enjoy his talk on rules for creating art on YouTube.

While the artists above cut up clothing, their work doesn’t feature paint on surfaces. Los Angeles based Aiko Hachisuka prints and paints on second hand clothing she bundles together in large foam stuffed lumps which the art world calls soft sculptures. I’m not a big fan of her work, but I’m intrigued with her way to use discarded clothing.

Aiko Hachisuka, Untitled, 2017, Silkscreen on clothing, kapok, upholstery fabric, foam on wood support, 76 x 63 x 20 inches
Detail shows the printing and painting done on another piece. You can see part of her process at https://nyti.ms/3ip2C7c

I have done my small bit to repurpose clothing in work like Damask and Denim and Shirtsleeves.

Damask and Denim
Shirtsleeves

My husband tells me we have a coupon worth 50% off at Village Discount, so maybe a return visit is in the works once I figure out a project made with men’s shirts.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Fridays.

12 Comments

Filed under Art quilts, Commentary, Inspiration

Fix It Or Forget It

As I’ve mentioned before, I am going through my oeuvre to decide what to keep and what to toss. Yes, I throw out quilts, especially small ones that have brought me no joy. Others I look at with an eye to fixing them up.

Here are some examples of tops that I had to decide whether to finish.

I kluged the above together from many surface design experiments, and found it just didn’t work. I was ready to toss it, but then I looked at the back side.
What painterly effects, and the raw seam edges add so much texture. So, it went into the repurposing pile. Maybe I’ll stencil over parts.
The center is a leftover from a modern quilting class. I added some borders. I might quilt it and add a hot pink binding. It’s in the maybe I’ll quilt it pile.
“Flag Day” was made from fabrics created during my month of lines. It hung quilted but not bound in my closet for close to a year. Then I realized that once you name a work you can’t throw it out, so I sewed on binding.
As yet unnamed, this work is the offspring of two earlier works. I had sewed together the leftovers from my staircase top. I decided to expand it with leftover fabric I created from a photo. The triangles are appliqued on. I’m not masochistic enough to piece them into an already created design. I plan to quilt this one, eventually.

Finally, I had thrown out the piece below, when I realized I could mess it up with gesso and paint, guilt free.

I made this at the height of my improv big stitch phase. I tried to give it focus with the circles, but there’s just too much going on. I just started painting over sections with gesso tinted with acrylic paint.

Initial paint over
Final. I could do more to it, but the gesso and paint are getting thick and I melded the sections together better than they were. Still don’t know if it’s a keeper.

I realize that when looking at my work, as Jamie Wyeth said in a 2014 interview, “All the inadequacies jump out at me. … I don’t really finish a picture but it gets to the point of diminishing returns, and I just say, enough.” However, sometimes saying enough means saying goodbye cruel world.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Fridays.

17 Comments

Filed under Art quilts, Commentary

Meditative, Schmediative

For some years crafters and quilters have extolled the virtues of slow hand stitching. They say it’s a soothing meditative process that will relax you, make you appreciate the process, and be mentally restorative. The implication is it will make you a better person.

My latest attempt to reach such a zen-like state was sparked by a free online course called Stitch Camp taught by Gwen Hedley on textileartist.org. We began by making random marks on two pieces of white/off white cotton with two contrasting colors.

Initial painted fabrics

Gwen used twigs to apply paint. My first deviation was to skip the twigs as the ground was snow covered. We were to use diluted acrylic paint. My second deviation – I used textile paint that I watered down too much and it made blobs. We were to mark one piece of cotton heavily and the other one lightly, then cut up the cotton however we liked, rearrange the pieces in a way that connected the marks, and hand stitch the pieces together. My third deviation (do you see a pattern?) was to zigzag my pieces by machine and to make two rearranged pieces from them. They were still ugly.

Pieces cut up and arranged into one.
Two starting pieces with some bits left off

Then, we were to use hand stitches to emphasize the connections between the sewn together pieces. After I backed the pieces with fusible fleece, I began to do elementary stitching in red, navy and off white threads. After what seemed like days, I had stitched two long lines, done seed stitching, running and back stitches, and loose satin stitches. I added small bits of fused fabric. (Gwen did small hand sewn applique additions. Deviation four.) The awful looking piece still looked awful, and the only thing I was meditating on was a toss to the waste basket.

Appliqued and embroidered

I figured the piece would become less ugly only if I embroidered over every speck of the surface. That wasn’t going to happen. Every stitch I made annoyed me more as one of my fabrics had a very tight weave that was hard to pull the needle through. The process didn’t make me calmer as Gwen (who stressed this was about process not product) had confidently said I’d feel. I saw many ways the ugliness could be eased, but none involved thread.

Out came the paints and Posca markers. I painted two layers of paint over the piece I had embroidered to help the contrasting colors meld more. I got creative with markers on the unstitched piece and found that process calming.

Painted over and still ugly, but my eye doesn’t skitter everywhere as much
No hand stitching, all fused applique and Posca pens. I think my pen strokes reference many embroidery stitches.

It’s not that I don’t get the tactile pleasure of hand stitching. I enjoyed embroidering my felted wool squares because the colors were bright and wool felt so good to sew. Lots of small pieces to embroider are a better fit with my limited hand stitch attention span. I could finish one square in 15 minutes. However, when my starting point is ugly and stitching is a struggle I am not going to persevere with a project that seems endless. I don’t think my path to process nirvana is hand stitching. The fault is in me, not the instructor. In fact, I could happily fall asleep to Gwen’s soothing voice. I guess Stitch Camp did have some meditative qualities for me.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday.

17 Comments

Filed under Commentary, In Process, Stitch

Slouching Into 2022

It’s close to the end of January and I haven’t really thought through my artistic goals for the coming year, much less considered my achievements in 2021. Somehow, there doesn’t seem to be a clear delineation between the years, just more of the same. In some ways I guess my goal is to just do the work, with no inspirational word of the year.

I know that sounds bleak, but I feel the need to be realistic about what I can achieve. I am optimistic about the renewed artistic curiosity mixed media is giving me. A whole new learning curve there, plus the supplies and products take up far less space than fabric and quilts. I’m certainly not giving up on quilting but my emphasis is shifting toward more personal, make what I feel like, work.

In years past I have created work with an eye to entering exhibits and shows, but I am kinda over that. Right now I have pieces in a regional and a national show, but I am entering far fewer shows. Why? One, I recognize that many exhibits prefer large pieces as they show much better. My work is getting smaller. Two, costs of entering shows and shipping (if the work is accepted) are getting higher, easily reaching $100 or more per item. If my work doesn’t sell and if I’m not trying to boost my name recognition, why bother?

I have drawn up a list of projects for 2022. Most are continuations of work I began in 2021: my unknown family series, my felted wool squares, and my small quilt tops. My first start of 2022 is a series of four strip scrap medallion log cabins. So far I have no must-make new project, but I have the fabric for several possibilities.

A blurry photo of all 25 felted wool embroidered squares.

The wool project is awaiting inspiration as to the best way to sew the squares to the background wool. That wool is soft and floppy despite repeated hot water washing and a spin through a hot dryer.

Unknown Family, panel 1

My family photo project is also awaiting some technical solutions as I try to combine fabric, paper, and old textiles. It occurs to me that the subdued color palette is tamping down my enthusiasm.

Gold log cabin, 25″ square

While in Florida I produced four small log cabin tops, ranging from 25 to 35 inches square. The one above is quilted; the others are in my quilting queue.

Speaking of that, I find myself with 5 or 6 other small tops to quilt, in addition to what I call my staircase top. I know I’ll quilt the last, but am wondering if I should use the small tops as quilt backs rather than spend more time on them. I have enough completed quilts I don’t totally love already.

My final goal for 2022 is to pare down the number of quilts I have, either by selling or gifting them. I’d love to finish 2022 with fewer quilts or at least no more quilts.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Fridays.

20 Comments

Filed under Art quilts, Commentary, Completed Projects, In Process

Getting Warmer

Just after Christmas my husband and I headed south to Fort Myers, Florida, for a stay at my brother in law’s condo. After enduring lots of traffic bottlenecks (no, not that one in Virginia thank goodness) we arrived to temperatures in the mid 70s and mostly sun.

I brought a few projects with me, including my long running felted wool embroidery, but I’m spending more time walking in SHORT SLEEVES and totally ignoring any inclination to find a fabric store.

Four of the circles I’ve begun embroidering.

So, the beach

Barefoot Beach in Bonita Springs

The Ringling Museum in Sarasota (go here for links to the collection)

Museum courtyard
View of Sarasota Bay from the 8,000 square foot terrace of Ca’ d’Zan, the Ringling’s palatial home

One advantage Florida has is year round locally grown vegetables. We went to Southern Fresh Farm for hydroponically grown tomatoes and lettuce. While there we sampled beers from the Crazy Dingo, conveniently located next door. I had to get a photo of this visual pun.

Because we drove I was able to pack my portable sewing machine and a bag of scrap strips, including already sewn together strips. After lots of mindless sewing I’ve composed four large log cabin blocks in yellow, blue, gold/brown, and red/orange. I have a vague idea of combining them into one, but that will wait until I’m back home.

The strip rows are sewn but are not joined together yet. The center is an orphan block.
One joy of working with scraps is remembering when I first used the fabrics. The middle of this one is cotton stamped with bleach and then stitched.

Most likely we are driving back to chilly Ohio as you read this. Next week I’ll tell you about another art museum I visited, and anything else we’ve done besides stuffing our faces with Gulf shrimp.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday. This week I learned that tangents are shapes that touch or connect in a way that is visually bothersome.

11 Comments

Filed under Commentary, Everything Else

I’m Now Post Modern

For many years I’ve been a member of The Modern Quilt Guild, and was part of a now defunct local modern quilt group. I’ve watched a movement that began about 2009 go national in a big way; capture the quilt book and fabric markets; and launch many teaching, fabric and pattern design careers.

For a long time I was enthusiastic about this alternative to traditional quilting groups and made many quilts that to me had a modern aesthetic. I was always a bit puzzled about the exact definition of a modern quilt, which seems to have morphed a bit over time, as the definition expanded to include neo-traditional efforts. At first modern quilts were made of solid colors almost exclusively. Then, prints were added to the mix, especially after modern fabric lines were produced. Early modern quilts were often wonky. Nowadays, engineered precision is a hallmark of some modern quilts.

A big feature of the MQG is the annual QuiltCon. I gather there were over 2,000 quilts entered into the 2022 juried show. That means many, many “sorry, but” emails went out recently. I received one of them. Here’s my reject, “Calliope.”

Previous years’ rejects include:

“Arches”
“Not Quite Nancy”

The quilts selected for the 2022 show had better be great, as many of the quilts shown on Instagram under the #quiltconrejects hashtag are show-worthy to my eyes. I was surprised to learn that some quilters submitted up to 10 entries. Obviously I’m an amateur with my one measly entry.

Shapeshifting almost always comes about in a new movement as it matures. However, I’m at the point of wondering what are the differences between traditional and modern quilt groups, besides the kinds of fabric prints used and age ranges of participants. Both kinds of local guilds seem to have similar structures and activities; and books, magazines, teachers, notions, patterns, etc., geared to their interests.

For this discussion I want to separate modern quilting from the organization called the Modern Quilt Guild. I have learned much from early advocates of modern quilting, and had hopes that the MQG would be different from previous quilting organizations. Alas, I find that professionalization and marketing are increasingly important elements of the MQG. The freshness, the “wow, check this out,” seem overwhelmed with the marketing of stuff.

I have not found recent offerings on The Modern Quilt Guild website useful. Lots of patterns and basic sewing videos are featured. I understand this is what many members want. The number of webinars seems to have decreased, though a recent one on zippers was interesting. While the MQG is listed as a participant in the Textile Talks series, it has offered fewer programs than other groups. Of the 78 Textile Talks listed on YouTube, none are sponsored by the MQG. I find this disheartening, given the size of the organization compared with other more active Textile Talks participants like SAQA and the Quilt Alliance.

The proverbial straw? The day after I received my “sorry” email another one arrived announcing an annual dues increase. Talk about bad timing! I had kept up my membership so I would be eligible to enter QuiltCon. Since being juried in seems an unlikely event, I see little reason to continue as a member of the MQG.

That doesn’t mean I’m giving up on modern quilting. It does mean I’m out of sync with what the MQG offers. I think that over time I’ve integrated modern quilting with art quilting, and my focus is more on the art side. Of course I’ll check out the quilts on display at QuiltCon, and admire the many wonderful works, but I am bowing out of the modern quilting organization.

13 Comments

Filed under Commentary, Modern Quilting