Friday, January 27, 2012

Making Art out of Needles and Thread

The forecasts of snow on January 10 proved once again illusory, and so I made the hour's drive to the gallery at the Pennsylvania College of Technology to meet an artist and her work. Anila Quayyam Agha was billed as a mixed media artist, but I knew one of those media involved thread--and, I assumed but wrongly as it turns out, textiles. She does her stitching on paper and uses the traditional associations of making stitches with women and also with mending and nurturing to imbue her works with meaning.  One of her pieces took up a whole wall in the gallery:
Anila is originally from Pakistan and, while there recently, visited a necropolis, a huge cemetery where the grave markers for men indicated the careers they pursued while alive; those for women were beautifully decorated but identified them only as wives, mothers, or daughters, even though some may have been doctors or teachers. Anila created this wall of traditional designs in homage to these women, who even in death were viewed more as ornaments than as persons with identities of their own. To make each square she first drew a background design (you can see the faint flowers in the background), then stitched the intricate pattern into the paper, added black ink, and finally applied wax to seal the surface.
Another of her works is a series of nine larger black and white squares that deal with the devastating floods in Pakistan and the stitching symbolizes mending and rebuilding, the putting of things in order after the chaos.
Her most striking piece was difficult to photograph--it was about a ten-foot square created out of 870 pieces of thread hung on a grid from the ceiling, each threaded into a needle that hung just above the floor. About a foot from the ceiling a tiny silver piece was tied into the thread, giving the effect of drops of water--or tears. As you moved around it, your angle of vision caused the whole huge cube to shift impressively. Much symbolism here again with the needles suggesting the pain of injustice and oppression as well as the need for and hope of finding a way to mend the situation.

We talked about dyes--since she dyes the paper she uses--and about thread. She uses an undyed raw silk thread for her work and sometimes dyes it black, as she did for the stitching around the circle in the above piece. I am going to have to see if I can find that thread somewhere since it makes a very fine stitch with a bit of a sheen to it.

And if you are still with me on this journey to art nearby, thanks for the company.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Monday, January 16, 2012

Inspired to Work

I haven't posted anything recently because I have been immersed in an online course taught by Elizabeth Barton. It's called "Inspired to Design," and it's--well--inspiring. Elizabeth Barton is way up there on my list of quilters I respect and admire, and I had wanted to take her course ever since she first offered it online through Quilt University a couple of years ago, but it would fill immediately whenever registration opened so I kept missing the opportunity.  Finally I made it in and am now well into the second week.

Some parts of her design process are things I already do, but her basic approach is different from the one I use and that has proven challenging. Yet it is very stimulating to try a new perspective and her methods force me to look more closely at the focus of my design and at the world in general. I am seeing patterns and design possibilities even more than I did before, and I like that. It is a real gift to be able to open someone's eyes and Elizabeth has that gift.

I am not sure where this will take me and what, if anything, I will have at the end to show for all the hours I am putting in, but I feel it will have changed me and my approach to quilting.

And, if you are still reading, thanks for the company, before I immerse myself once again in design possibilities.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Of Wisdom and the Lack Thereof

So it's January--that time of evaluation and re-evaluation: everything's new and everything's still depressingly and reassuringly the same. I was going to look back on what I had actually accomplished last year, where I had traveled in my quilting journey but got smacked by one of those why-am-I-doing-this and just-who-does-she-think-she-is moments. The project I was working on was not going well--not going well at all, yet there was a deadline looming, along with a couple of others that required me to get started on other projects.  I had tried a new technique on this project, as I am so often doing, and had begun to believe that I had finally skated onto such thin ice that it was cracking under me.

Much of what I am doing is not in my comfort zone. I was never the popular extrovert when I was young and I became expert at following the rules in school.  I did teach classes of eighteen-and-up-year-olds and hosted large gatherings in other jobs I held but neither involved the self-revelation that writing a journal blog or making art does. And I don't have an art degree that says that at least somebody thinks I am qualified at all this.

And why do I feel the need to break the rules? I even break the blogging rules by writing posts that are much too long. Perhaps, as I have gotten older, I have come to mistrust certainty and well worn paths that always come with lots of rules. Yet certainty sings a siren song.

My husband, who is a wise person (and also a wise ass, but that's another story), reminded me that, if I am looking for myself, I need to accept what I find, and part of me is the unsure part, the part that questions what I am doing and why I am doing it, and that also becomes part of the work I create.

All of this has brought to mind the two words I chose at the beginning of last year--dare and dance--which have worked magic several times and still have some usefulness left in them because I obviously haven't learned all their lessons.
There is always going to be a bit of daring in the next steps I take, if they are really my own--and I, being who I am, will question every step. That's the way it's gonna be. Just gotta learn to dance to those rhythms.

In the middle of writing this post, I took a break to take Terra on a walk and there in the middle of our path was this dandelion, blooming its little heart out. Now it has been a bit warm around here but it is still January.
--Poor deluded thing-- I said to myself . Here obviously was a sign from the gods about the foolishness of those who break the rules, who try to create beauty or meaning in the off season. But then I noticed this about two feet away:
Now that little dandelion may be laughing all the way to the gene pool at all those other dandelions who are following the rules and waiting for spring.

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