Monday, December 25, 2017

Friday, December 22, 2017

It Is What It Is

My choice of handstitching to create my pieces means that I am living with them in an unfinished state for a long time. And more often than not, there comes a time when I find I dislike or cease to believe in a piece. This could be an accurate evaluation of the work, but it happens so regularly that I have come to expect it and can usually find a way to work through it.

In early 2017 I launched into a new heavily textured piece that would use browns of varying hues-- a color that can easily become drab but I took that as a challenge. About a quarter of the way into the piece I decided it wasn't working. I shifted the colors a bit and it got interesting again. At half way through I was on the point of moving on to something else, moving it to some horizontal surface where it would quickly become covered with fabrics pulled out for a new project--when I changed the orientation to vertical and thought that worked. By the time I finished the top I hated it--until I realized that its orientation really was better the way I had originally envisioned it. But something was still wrong.

It sat on the design wall for a couple of weeks until I came up with the idea of beads. Ultimately, buttons were the perfect solution as well as some adjustments on the black outlines.

It Is What It Is       24" x 20"

It was no longer the piece I had originally envisioned but something new--and I liked it again. But I had moved between being pleased and hating it so many times that I was not sure whether anyone else would find it interesting. I christened it "It Is What It Is" because it is a piece I had come to accept not for my vision of it but for what it is, and, with some trepidation hung it in the Abstract Artists Group of New England show. It was noticed. It was liked! 

This piece, which kept moving from the dark to the light in my evaluation, seems appropriate for the solstice. 

Happy Solstice everyone! The light will return!

Linked with Nina-Marie's Off the Wall Fridays.

Friday, December 8, 2017


Some famous archaeologist, who discovered the skull of a major link in our evolutionary chain, once said that he only found what he was looking for and so, one day in October, I decided to look for a Wooly Bear, since we now live in an urban landscape where Wooly Bears are not an everyday occurrence. And there one was--right on the violets growing next to our front door.

In case you are one of the few people who has never seen one, here is a photo of one of the insects consistently described as "cute."

My Wooly Bear block is more symbolic than abstract this time, suggesting the main association of Wooly Bears and questions about the winter weather, one of the many vain attempts we humans have made to try and peer into the future and see what's coming at us.

I do understand why this guy was labelled wooly, but "bear" leaves me with another unanswered question.

And one more question of the week: will these hand-dyed half-yards fresh out of the washing machine dry in 45 degree weather with rain predicted any minute?

The answer to that was no.

Hope you are all contributing your light to this season of darkness!

Check out Nina's Off the Wall Fridays.

Friday, November 24, 2017


This year I began a new series partially in response to the rhetoric of certainty that seemed to surround me, partially in response to life. It is dedicated to uncertainty and  "Live Frugally on Surprise," a line from one of my favorite poems of Alice Walker's, could easily be its mantra.

One of the fruits of this series is Elusive:

The background is a product of a successful snow-dyeing session with some added silk screening and painting. The texture in the piece (the arcs or wing shapes) comes from another experiment this year--dyeing cheesecloth and hand stitching it to a background.

This piece is larger than I have been working, 43" x 25", and a judge liked it enough to put it into the Newburyport Art Association Fall Juried Members Show, where it was the only piece of fiber art. 

Since it is abstract, it is open to interpretation and I usually try not to limit those interpretations to what inspired me to create a piece. But if I am asked about a particular meaning, sometimes I try to get the viewer to look a little more closely at the piece. "Those are obviously planets. Why did you make planets?" But the piece is green, not a typical planetary color, and if the piece is about space, it is also about spaces.

It is Thanksgiving weekend and I am writing this as I sit awaiting the arrival of voices and smiles and energy with reminders of all I am grateful for. I am also feeling gratitude for those quiet spaces in between, for all the multiplicity of this amazing, ever-changing life. 

Hope your Thanksgiving gave you even more to be thankful for!

Check out Off the Wall Friday--another thing to be thankful for!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Loving Goldenrod

Since scientists have freed goldenrod from their reputation for causing allergy miseries (their pollen is so sticky that it does not float in the air easily), I am free to declare my love for the plant and to have beautiful bouquets of it in the house. And when it is in full glory in early fall, it also attracts a number of interesting insects, like the Locust Borer:

This guy is in the long-horned beetle family (note the antennae), but the patterning is what you can't help but notice. And so it was an easy decision to capture that pattern that is a bit different on every individual yet easily recognizable.

This beetle is more than just a handsome face. It does serious damage to Black Locust trees when it lays its eggs, but Black Locusts have become invasive in some parts of the country. I pull up hundreds of little annoying Black Locust sprouts in our yard every summer that come from our neighbor's tree. So this little bug--particularly this mating pair--cannot be easily labelled, like so many things in life, as harmful or helpful. 

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

I am linking with Nina-Marie's Off the Wall Fridays. Check out what some other fiber artists have been doing.

Friday, October 27, 2017


My newest textured work, which is finally complete enough to photograph:

This piece (25 x 18") is a little larger than I have been working. I seem to need to make a golden piece every now and then and so this began with that need as I played with various rough sketches that would suggest directions for textured rows. It is made with all hand-dyes and quite a bit of silk along with the cottons and then hand stitched with perle cotton thread.

I titled it "Experience" because that is the word it came to represent for me--in all the aspects of meaning that word contains.

This post is linked with Nina-Marie's Off the Wall Fridays. Check it out!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Discoveries Literary and Biological

One of the joys of living near a pond is seeing dragonflies, but that is also a source of frustration because many of them do not like to hang around and pose for a photo and, if they do, identification can be next to impossible. But a couple of weeks ago I found a very willing couple who decided to spend an extended period of their mating on a plant right near where I happened to be standing.

I at first thought that this would be an easy ID since that glowing sunset red had to be distinctive but, as I paged through the guide, the number of red dragonflies kept growing. There was hope, however. The stigma of this particular dragonfly (the tiny bar on the top outer wing edge that may help provide a counterweight in the aerodynamics of the wing) was distinctly red on the upper one and gold-yellow (or saffron) on the lower one. And yes, that was distinctive. Only the Saffron-winged Meadowhawk had stigmas of those colors, with the male on top and the female curved below. 

And so I decided to emphasize the colors in my journal block:

I spent the morning in the presence of another kind of journaling: the journals of Henry David Thoreau, on display at the Concord (MA) Museum, in celebration of his 200th birthday. I have read many things Thoreau wrote but this was akin to the difference between seeing the photograph of a work of art and seeing the work itself. Standing in the presence of paper and ink he actually used is a particular kind of experience that virtual reality does not capture. When he first began writing the journals that he kept for 24 years, he wondered whether they were a productive use of his time, but decided that he would keep at them and see what happens. 

And thanks once again for the company!

I am posting this on Off the Wall Friday.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Tigers and Potatoes

Reminded by Vicki Jensen's inspiring workshop at the SAQA meeting at ProChem that potato dextrin was sitting on my studio shelf, I decided to take advantage of the summer days we have been having this October and do some experimenting.

So I dutifully followed the directions to mix the dextrin, and, although by the next morning it wasn't quite the Crisco quality that Vicki described, I forged ahead and after diligent pinning, spread the glop on some already dyed fabric.

It took three days to dry to my satisfaction, but it was finally crackled enough to spread the thickened dye carefully over the surface. 

In the past I had used a brush to spread the dye but this time I opted for a sponge and pounced the dye on like a stencil. And after letting it batch over night, I rinsed off the potato dextrin in a bucket of hot water, and then did the usual rinses and setting in very hot water with synthrapol. 

And soon I had two pieces of newly mottled fabric drying on the line.

You may notice that those carefully placed rectangles did not show up much on the fabric so I must have left just enough dextrin on the fabric to act as a total resist--a learning experience. I began the next stage of embellishment with restoring the rectangles.

To be continued. . .

And of course there is an insect square--this time in honor of an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail that visited our deep purple butterfly bush in the front yard, just like it was supposed to do. 

And now finally October is feeling like October here in Massachusetts for a bit, and at least one part of my world is feeling less out of joint.

I am linking with Nina Marie's Off the Wall Friday. Check out what others are doing!

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Eyes Have It

A medium-sized brown butterfly called a Little Wood-Satyr seems to show up everywhere, at least in the eastern US. It is just about as common as the Common Wood-Nymph, and I would consistently confuse the two as they fluttered across our fields in Pennsylvania. So when a brown butterfly with eye spots showed up in our tiny yard in Massachusetts, it was time to figure out what distinguishes the two--and it seems to be the eye spots. The Little Wood-Satyr (which was the visitor I saw)

has two large eye spots on each forewing and hindwing, and so I focused on those eye spots in my weekly block:

But those two tiny white dots in the center of each eye are intriguing as well, although they don't seem to figure in the identifying process. And then there are the lines on butterfly wings that zig and zig and arc and curve--and that I love to add to my design.

It is satisfying to reach clarity on something in this confusing world, even if it is as insignificant as a brown butterfly.

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

Linking with Nina's Off the Wall Friday!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

My Favorite Color

Just had to celebrate the success of the few plants I transplanted last year. Turtleheads always make me smile because they are so aptly named. And this is just one patch. They love this shady, very damp place, where it looked like only jewel weed (and its companion plant that will not be named) would grow. 

And if an art lesson is to be learned, aside from just the beauty of these flowers, it is that, if you keep trying, you will find what works, whether it's a piece you are getting frustrated with--or your life. Don't give up on the difficult places.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Flies That You Don't Want to Swat

I have had even more reason not to be keeping up with my insect journey since I have been on a different journey--to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, where I renewed my spirit with scenes like these:

But I did manage to put the finishing touches on a few insect squares. The first was inspired by a Longlegged Fly that caught my eye on the bottom of Tom's kayak:

This guy gleams iridescent green with even more gold highlights than the camera picked up. There are many, many species of these flies that survive by eating other smaller insects (yay!) so I couldn't identify it more specifically, but the wing patterns are distinctive. So I took the opportunity to put some gilt foil on some fabric, something I haven't done in a while, and then tried to capture that rather Celtic-looking pattern on the wings.


And then another fly showed up serendipitously as we were eating breakfast on our deck one morning. It was unsuccessfully trying to hide under the top of the railing--a Summer Fishfly. These are quite common around ponds but I had never seen one before because they are nocturnal and usually more successful in finding a good spot big enough to accommodate their three inches during the day.

The larvae of these guys live several years in the water eating little bugs and even tadpoles. But look at the patterning on the veins of the wings. I thought at first its antennae were feathered but that would have meant it was a moth of some kind. Instead on closer inspection I discovered the antennae were pectinate (a new word for me, and obviously for my spell checker, since it is objecting)--like the teeth of a comb.

And now back to unpacking and catching up on things in Massachusetts.

I am linking to Off the Wall Friday.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Under Milkweed

I was searching the milkweed plants in front of the Joppa Flats Mass Audubon Education Center for any critters to show families on a Meet the Insects event when I happened upon this guy, who has a lot of visual impact, as they say in the art world.

This is a Red Milkweed Beetle so he was definitely in the right place. He belongs to the family of long-horned beetles, for obvious reasons. I was fascinated by those antennae and by the patterning those matching legs created.

I had to add that bright orangy-red color (which is actually closer to his true color than my photo) that advertises to potential predators that this guy has been feeding on the same thing that monarch do and might not taste so good.

And I am linking, while it is still Friday, to Off the Wall Friday.

Friday, August 25, 2017

More Winged Things

I didn't quite get a 5-inch square finished last week and I can blame the wonderful distraction of having old friends visit for much of the week. But they renewed my spirit, which was much more important than keeping to a schedule.

Luckily, I am way behind in posting about my already completed insect squares, so I have plenty to write about. I chose the next in the series not because of its beauty or complexity but because of its simplicity and ubiquity. The Cabbage White Butterfly is one of the most easily recognized, but I found myself having a problem creating an interesting block. The Cabbage White is not pure white (it can even have a yellow glow to its hindwing) but sports one (male) or two (female) smudgy black spots on the upper wing along with a black smudge on the top corner of that wing. Easy, I thought.

I just didn't like this. So a couple of weeks later I went back and added a black line for that black body that separates the wings.

This is still not my favorite block but I like it better. Perhaps it is echoing my feelings for the butterfly itself--not my favorite and it even caused me to think some destructive thoughts when I was growing a lot of vegetables, but I enjoy seeing it now.

My next block was also somewhat common around here but is new to me and is quite dramatic when you see one.

This is a Common Whitetail Dragonfly, a large member of this family. And perhaps I was overcompensating for the plainness of the previous week with the glittery overlay on this block, but I think it does capture what I wanted to capture.

So if you are still reading, thanks for the company--and hope you, too, have enjoyed the company of well loved friends this summer.

I am linking with Nina Marie. Check out what other fiber artists are doing!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

A Good Way to Spend an Afternoon

Yesterday I got a surprise. I went to the opening of the Contemporary Art Quilts Show at the Whistler House Museum of Art in Lowell (MA)--a beautiful show that I was honored to be juried into. And here are a few of the impressive works:
Channeling Ernst Haeckel 3 by Sandy Gregg

Three Figures by Valerie Maser-Flanagan
Growth Factor by Betty Busby

I was enjoying catching up with some other artists I had not seen in a bit--particularly an old friend who I had not seen in several years when it was announced that awards were to be presented: a juror's award from Wen Redmond that went to Poseidon by Marilyn Belford, and two Whistler awards, given by the director of the gallery, one of which went to Queen Bee by Nancy Turbitt and the other to my piece, Insight! Congratulations to my fellow award winners!

Poseidon by Marilyn Belford

Queen Bee by Nancy Turbitt

Insight (my piece)

It was quite a day!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Insect beauties

No creepy crawlies posted this week--just a butterfly and a moth that are both easy to love. As part of an overnight adventure at our house, I took my granddaughter to the Butterfly Place in Westford, MA, in the late spring, a magical place where colors and shapes flutter around you and sometimes land on your arm. Although I have been trying to keep my insect project limited to those that live around here, I couldn't resist adding just one, even though its home is in the tropics.

This is a Common Birdwing that had a distinctive design on its hind wing, which became the basis of my block a couple of weeks ago.

In early April I took a quiet walk in Maudslay Park, a 400+ acre estate formerly owned and enjoyed by a very few people, now owned by a forward-thinking state so that many can walk its winding paths. The spring frogs were vocalizing but I saw few insects until a bit of orange caught my eye among the leaf litter. It was a moth, quite active for the daylight hours. On investigating further at home, I discovered it to be Archiearis infans, also called The Infant, one of the first moths to show up in the spring. 

And so I had to celebrate it in some way.

I am realizing now that the orange in the photo of my block is reading a bit redder than the actual fabric. So just imagine the orange triangle as closer in color to the moth's hind wings.

And, if you are still reading about my adventures with the six-legged creatures, thanks for the company!

Linked with Off the Wall Fridays.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Looking Back

It's Friday and I am reflecting on a busy week--that is not over yet. The beginning of the week involved a successful artists' reception for Untitled, an annual exhibit at the Newburyport (MA) Art Association Galleries of works by members of the Abstract Artists Group of New England, which includes me. This year 23 artists were involved, working in a wide range of media, although oils and acrylics tend to predominate. It is show I am proud that four of my pieces are part of.

"It Is What It Is," one of my heavily textured pieces

I am always pleased when I see how well the fiber art integrates with the other works. 

"Elusive" on right, a work by Tricia Jones in center and works by Jennifer Burnham on left

Working on and at the exhibit plus some wonderful days spent with my favorite eight-year-old means that I am running behind again on my insect project, but luckily I am running behind in recording my little 5x5s. So here is my focus from a couple of weeks ago:

An Eastern Pondhawk, one of the more dramatic dragonflies, was flitting aAndround our front garden and then landed on the neighbors' house. And no, it does not have eight wings, just a clever shadow. This guy loves ponds, so she more than likely spent her early days in the pond behind our house, and I am labelling it a female, since the females are this lovely green and black, although immature males are also this color until they turn a solid powdery blue. The piece I made honors both the genders:

I'm linking with NinaMarie's Off the Wall Fridays!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Of Winged Things

I was walking down our driveway one morning when I saw this little beautiful little guy clinging to the clapboard on our house. I had never seen one before, but he looked a little like a crane fly--one of those giant mosquito-like insects that frighten many people who don't know that these creatures have no interest in human blood. So I began my search in the crane fly family and there it was: a Phantom Crane Fly, called a phantom because in the shadowy spaces under heavily leaved branches where it likes to hang out, all the black parts disappear and it looks a giant snowflake hovering in the shade.

And here is my rendition:

It has tiny wings, which it hardly uses because those enlarged black areas on the tarsi (toes) are a kind of air sack that makes it very light and able to catch the slightest wind so that it moves by being blown from place to place.

This is one cool insect!

The next week continued with more muted tones as I tried to suggest the patterns on a moth's wing (an ironically named Colorful Zale).

More colors will return next week. 

And I am linking to Nina Marie's Off the Wall Friday!