Friday, April 21, 2017

Of Birthdays and Butterflies

Having reached an age on my birthday on March 17 that I should be able to do what I want, I began a series that follows an interest of mine since I first became aware of life beyond eating and sleeping. One of my first memories is watching bees visiting the hollyhocks that ringed my sandbox and I have been fascinated with things that creep and fly ever since. And in the past couple of years I have begun to look closely at all the tiny creatures that inhabit our world--and to try to remember their names and idiosyncrasies. I began to think that translating what I am seeing into fabric and stitch might help my memory and my observation. So I challenged myself to make a five-inch square each week based on an insect.

I am now on my fifth week--more on the first four next week. And this time I focused on a butterfly I photographed a couple of years ago that is strangely called the Red-spotted Purple, even though the red is more orange-red and the purple reads blue and black with maybe a shimmer of purple. But this butterfly looks entirely differently when seen with wings open or wings closed (I could make a connection at this point to how differently we look when we are on guard or relaxed, but I won't).

And here is my abstracted version of the Red-spotted Purple cut by a horizon line with colors of the underwing forming the sky and those of the dark upper side suggesting the earth: 

It was concept to finished five-inch square in one very busy week!

This is linked to Off the Wall Friday so check out what others have been accomplishing this week.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Carpe diem but which diem?

I awoke this morning with amazing opportunities before me. But it was such a long list that I as usual could never start down all those paths so I had to choose. It was similar to a day a little over a week ago when I woke up to this:

We had not had our usual amount of snow so far this season and there was always the possibility we would not have more, but there were many things beckoning to me, urging me to choose them to fill the finite amount of time provided me each day. I did choose other things for most of the day, including the requisite snow shoveling, but by late afternoon I headed downstairs to soak some fabric in soda ash to prepare for snow dyeing. 

The next day I had two interesting pieces of fabric hanging on the line:

In the one snow dyeing I had done last winter I had been frustrated with washed out colors that did not have as much texture as I wanted. But these were quite successful. I had seized a moment and the right snowfall cooperated.

A snow earlier in the month, a very dry snow that I thought would not work, produced fabric almost as successful:

And the middle piece is the product of an experiment.The Feb/Mar Quilting Arts issue ran an article by Susan Purney Mark about a shibori process that used a wine bottle instead of the long tube I was usually used and this process was perfect for seeing what would happen with shibori snow dyeing. 

The result looks very good, but I am not sure how different it looks from the regular shibori process. It is worth another try at some point. Ah, but that will depend on the whims of the weather gods, who seem to have gotten a bit confused about the seasons this year, and whether I seize that opportunity if and when it comes.

And if you have chosen to read this, thanks for the company!

I am linking this post to Off the Wall Friday. Take a look at some interesting in process and finished work there.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Frog or Prince

February always sneaks up on me each year and I suddenly realize I need to come up with something to slide under the dinner plate of my life partner on Feb. 14, as I have done for so many years past. I have been itching to use more digitally printed fabric in my work and, since I use this opportunity to try something a little new or to revisit a technique I haven't used in a while, I began searching photographs for some inspiration and soon came upon what I thought had some possibility.

Photoshop drained it of color and enhanced its textural qualities. The color was going to come from the funky hand-dyed fabric I would print it on, flipping the usual process of foregrounding the photo on a blank or neutral background. I found the print intriguing enough to keep going, adding two kinds of hand stitching and letting the the straight rows run off the bottom of the piece.

By Valentine's Day all was done, except for sewing the facing down in the back and adding a sleeve. These pieces are always small, this one 10 x 8", so I can actually get it reasonably finished in between my bigger projects. And so Tom opened the folder that protected it, looked at it for a minute and said, "Oh, I like this. Do you want to tell me about it?" 

Now I have confronted enough drawings from young grandchildren who proudly present me with something that I have no idea what I am looking at, and that question is always how I begin. So I knew there was a problem here until I realized he was looking at it sideways. On the third turn he had it right side up and began commenting on the design. There was still a problem. The piece was remaining abstract for him and not resolving into a bullfrog (actually one of the many bullfrogs in our pond last summer). 

Were you able to see it? I can see it immediately but I started with the original that was very clear and I knew it was there. So far I have shown this to three other people, all of whom had varying degrees of difficulty seeing the frog but then see it clearly after it is pointed out. I wanted to obscure the frog's presence a bit, as it is in the pond world, and I did succeed in doing that. But I am now trying to decide if I was too successful. Tom, on the other hand, has convinced me he likes it.

The title of this is Centered, something that may be as difficult to achieve as seeing a frog among the duckweed.

And if you are still reading, thanks for the company!

I am linking this to Nina's Off the Wall Friday.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Live Frugally. . .

"Live frugally on surprise," said Alice Walker, in one of my favorite poems. Today I went out looking for a little peace and found some on the Plum Island dunes:

But I found something else -- one of those moments of connection, of Wow! as I stood just a short walk away from a sleeping barred owl. I had never seen one before and it is a real presence in the woods.

The picture doesn't do the moment justice as I had come unprepared for this surprise and had to rely on the limitations of an Iphone camera. But the primary importance of this moment was not the recording of it but the feelings of wonder and awe it generated. Those terms were fresh in my head from reading an article in Orion by Christopher Norment, who teaches Environmental Science at SUNY Brockport and feels the most important element of his students' education is that they somehow experience a sense of wonder in their interactions with nature.

And that sense of wonder was certainly there a couple of weeks ago in a Massachusetts Audubon class I was taking as I held a just-banded blue jay in my hand until it decided to seize its freedom and fly.

But wonder and awe aren't just for nature. I have felt them strongly as I stand before a piece of art that makes me see just a little deeper or a little more clearly. I once thought that this should be a goal to strive for in my own work, but then I realized that, just as setting out to experience wonder is a fool's errand, so it is to try to create it. 

So I return to living frugally on surprise and know that when it happens, it has been a good day.

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Propaganda of Color

As if I didn't need another reminder of how we misread or just miss so much of the world and misuse the words we rely on for communication, I was startled by a missed fiber-art-related connection the other day. I am deep into reading H Is for Hawk, a fascinating journal of Helen Macdonald's training of a goshawk as she mourns her father's death. At one point she mentions that hawks can see so much more and so much more clearly than we can, partly because they can see into the ultraviolet range on the color spectrum.

I had just finished mixing two new dyes from Dharma Trading Company and, I am assuming, named by them. One was Jet Black, the other Ultraviolet, colors I had used many times before.  Now naming colors is a difficult--and sometimes silly--business, as any trip to a hardware store to buy paint can attest. But thanks to Macdonald, I realized that, if this dye was indeed ultraviolet, it would not be the beautiful deep purple it is, but would be colorless, completely invisible to our eyes.

So it is a strange name indeed to name a color. But the namers may have been counting on our not really thinking about the name, just being drawn to this shade (and buying it!) as some kind of ultra purple, and we all know that, if purple is good, ultra purple must be fantastic.

This is a fairly trivial realization--much ado about nothing (or nothing visible), you might say--but how often do we miss these connections? And if I miss the small stuff, how much of the important stuff am I just not seeing? I am also amazed at how serendipitous our understanding of situations is. If my reading had not coincided with this dyeing session, I might never have thought about the name.

Jet Black, by the way, is an absolutely appropriate name since it refers to a very black rock that is a precursor to coal. 

And of course I am quietly delighting in the fact that a color that is unseen was the cause of my seeing all this. 

Happy New Year! And may we all come to see some important truths that are sitting right in front of us this year.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Visions and Changes Therein

It was a few days before Christmas and all through the house preparations were making me tired and cranky. So when snow was predicted Thursday I envisioned a change of focus with part of a morning dedicated to a quiet session of snow dyeing.

While my newly mixed dyes cooled, I made the mistake of making what was supposed to be a quick call. On Monday night the oven refused to light in our range that is still new enough to be under a warranty and that night I was assured someone would call me back promptly to schedule repairs. Thursday I was checking why my definition of "promptly" seemed to differ from theirs. Two hours later I was still on the phone as the agent, who gets A for persistence but D for solving the problem, searched for a repair person--and as the threat of the snow turning to rain was closing my window of opportunity for enough snow to dye with.

With my stress level rising I took a deep breath and changed my vision. My quiet time all to myself changed to sharing, with the phone call becoming an annoyance instead of a destroyer. I discovered the cordless phone signal reached to the patio as one of the long pauses on hold gave me time enough to cover the fabric with snow, and, to soft strains of generic jazz (they couldn't even play Christmas music!), I poured dye on the snow mounds.

And today I have two pieces of snow-dyed fabric drying in the wind. Now snow dyeing always has an experimental zing and there is a puzzling part to this session: you will notice, above, that one of the bins is basically purple, the other black and those are the two dyes I mixed. But there is no black in either piece of fabric hanging on the line.

It simply washed away, leaving the tiny bit of purple I added to dominate and warning me that perhaps the black dye powder has lost its strength--or perhaps it was something else. They were both in the same soda ash so that is not the problem since the purple made a beautiful strongly colored piece of fabric. Something more to investigate--on a day when I can focus only on dyeing! 

(The oven is still not fixed and it may not be for at least another week.)

Merry Christmas to all of you who are looking for some focused time this busy season. May you find it--or something close enough!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


I have been feeling overwhelmed lately--by endless reports of disturbing situations and decisions that will have repercussions that may ripple down the years, impacting my grandchildren's lives--and by trying to decide what I, in my seeming powerlessness, can do about them. So I turned to doing what was in front of me. I stitched on one of my current projects.

And at lunch I picked up the latest SAQA Journal that often leaves me inspired and motivated but today I read about how mastering the art of online video helps connect you with the world and then another article on new opportunities provided by the SAQA seminar, where we can watch videos of master fiber artists, interact with other fiber artists, and even join a stitch session and the list goes on. These are all good things, things that many people have spent much time on and that make a contribution to the arts community. But I am overwhelmed again--not too much bad news but too many opportunities.

And so I asked my spouse and animal companion if they would like to go for a walk on the beach. And both thought that was a great idea.

And seeing the actual waves, instead of the metaphorical ones that threatened to crash upon me, cleared my mind and gave me my perspective back. I cannot do everything but I can do something.