Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Challenging Spring

It has been a challenging spring, mainly due to the screwy weather patterns, but long ago in February our local challenge group met and Susan gave us our next challenge: use a significant amount of one solid, use scraps gleaned from other members' scrap baskets, as well as some of our own fabrics, and make a small quilt on the theme of "spring," using any sense of the word we want.

After some weeks of fruitless contemplating, I decided to go to the fabrics and see if they suggested anything. I don't have a lot of true solids in my stash and the first one that popped into my mind was black. But how could I use black in a quilt about Spring, unless I made a quilt full of coiling springs or some such? About this same time I was also contemplating what to get for my daughter, whose birthday happens to be on the first day of spring. And the vernal equinox popped into my head: when darkness (black) and light (could be a nice hand-dyed yellow) were equal:
The right and left sides were the next part of the inspiration since I needed to use those scraps I had chosen before I know what I was making. So I decided to symbolize the movement from the dark grays, browns, whites of a normal winter to the brighter colors of a normal spring. I had wanted to try some weaving of fabrics in a quilt--another symbol of interconnectedness--and I thought this would be a great way to add those scraps. So I made some slightly wonky strips, turned the edges under,  and relived those hours of making potholders in my youth. 

I had one very small scrap of red and couldn't resist the hint of a red-winged blackbird, a true symbol of the arrival of spring for me.  I pinned the woven winter piece to a black background, the spring to a yellow one and sewed the center sections together. After pinning on the batting and backing, I added the perle cotton quilting stitches and included a sparkly thread in the black to pick up the sparkly moon shape from the center.

I wasn't sure how the woven sides would work with a facing but binding did not look right and they turned over just fine.  And I was even able to figure out how to face the extended center section by turning the two sides first and then turning the top center and bottom down over the raw edges of the side sections.

Ah! One challenge down. Another due tomorrow.

And if you are still with me, thanks for the company!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Is This April?

When the weather gods decided to experiment with a snowstorm in late April,
I decided to memorialize the occasion with a little snow dyeing--once the guys in the above picture got the power lines reattached after one of our huge old maple trees snapped them.

So here is what my quickie snow-dyeing produced: a lovely yellow that was supposed to have some ice blue mixed with it, which somehow disappeared, and a gorgeous purple that does have ice blue highlights and has some of that wonderful petal-ly texture of a good snow dye.

And then there is the ugly duckling that I made using up old (and I mean really old maybe one or two years old) fire red dye that I knew would not dye true, as well as some deep yellow and a touch here and there of ultra violet. When I was washing it out I had decided that this would be a good candidate for over-dyeing, but now I am not so sure.
The snow is all gone, except for the pile that came off the north side of the barn roof and we are back to April again. And if you are still with me, thanks for the company!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Creative Colors

I seem to have a built-in suspicion of studies that come up with definitive answers to the effect a particular color has upon us all.  Anybody remember the nausea green that showed up on the walls of hospitals, schools, and various institutions and even retail stores in the seventies, if I remember the time correctly? That was due to some study that found that that particular shade of green had a calming influence on people.  I can only think that the people in the study got quiet when they saw this color because they thought--If I stay very still, I won't throw up.

Nevertheless, I am finding the report of another color study interesting--even if I am not regarding it as scientific fact.  The study is mentioned in Imagination: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer, a fascinating book I am in the process of reading, and involves what colors may make us more creative. The conclusion: doing a task on a red background makes us more attentive to details, while working on a blue background makes us think more creatively. Now this article was published in Science so it did get some rigorous peer review. But unfortunately, it limited itself to only the two colors.  My workroom (I know I should call it my studio, but I wasn't considering myself an artist when I started working in it so workroom just sounds more comfortable) is a lovely shade of yellow (probably my favorite color), which I inherited from my youngest daughter when it was her space. Where does yellow fit in this creativity continuum?

And then there is the question of whether we are more creative when we work on a piece with lots of blues in it, and less creative when we work on one with lots of reds?  Was Picasso more creative during his Blue Period and more detailed and accurate during his Red Period?

On the basis of this one study, I am not about to rush out and buy blue paint for my workroom, but, when I hit my next creative block, perhaps I will drape myself in blue fabric and see if that helps. Couldn't hurt.
And, if you are still reading, thanks for the company!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Ever since my weekend at the SAQA conference one of the threads that has been running through my mind is what makes a quilt art (or you could say, what makes a quilter an artist). There are many ways to approach this question, but when Tom read me a passage from a book he was reading at lunch the other day I, of course, connected it with what I was thinking about. The passage (from James Gleick’s The Information) talked about how underneath all the veneer of order and rigid rules that the universe and the scientific world presents us, chaos is running rampant where laws are bent or broken or don’t exist at all.  

At the heart of the world lies chaos theory, quantum mechanics, and the uncertainty principle, and, as much as we long for certainty, for rules to tell us which path to take, for knowledge about how it’s all going to turn out in the end (let’s pause to give a cheer for the formulaic romance novel), they just don’t exist. 

When I run through all the fiber art that I saw in Philadelphia, there are very few common denominators, but one that does appear consistent is the absence of pieces with identical repetitions—the kind of repetitive blocks of many traditional quilts. Missing also is the absolute symmetry of those quilts or of a medallion quilt or of one of those amazingly perfect quilting designs. (These absences do not, of course, constitute rules because there are no rules either.) Is this at all related to the direction science itself has taken?  Now I am not saying that any of these artists has studied or even has any interest in quantum physics, although that is certainly not impossible, but these big theories do influence the way we all look at the world, and artists usually try to be true to their vision of the world.
"Between the Lines" by Lisa Kerpoe
There may be other explanations. This trend could be explained, for example, by the design elements taught in art schools: repetition is encouraged as a way to unify a piece but it is not an exact repetition—a repeated circular shape but in varying sizes or the same shape repeated but in different colors and orientation. And while they favor a kind of suggested symmetry that is more a balancing of the elements in the work, artists-in-training are warned about plopping something down in the center of their piece surrounded by two equally balanced sides—no classical symmetry.

But what about the fact that lines don’t seem to be straight any more nor are shapes perfectly square or round. Lines and shapes squiggle and bounce and curve and fade. Perhaps all this is an attempt to mirror nature where no two leaves are exactly the same and no line stays straight for very long, which may ultimately be just another way of looking at the uncertainty principle.

Speculating on the conscious or subconscious reasoning behind trends in art is just that—speculating--and an interesting way to try to connect things, something I find endlessly intriguing. But I know I, like many others it appears, like to look at and to try to make art where the human hand is evident, where the structure of it doesn’t break down into any easy formula and a bit of unpredictability creeps in.  Some would say this is a reaction against the mechanization and rubber-stamp commercialism of our technologized world, a view that is easy to agree with, but I find it amusing that science and art, often stereotyped as polar opposites, may share a world view and may, with a big emphasis on “may,” give a tiny clue to what makes a quilt art.

And if you hung in there with me on this long musing, thanks for the company!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Another Step on the Path

I just spent three days surrounded by art and artists, mostly of the fiber variety, at the joint SAQA (Studio Art Quilters Association)/SDA (Surface Design Association) conference in and around Philadelphia. I was there to connect with other people who might have interests, perspectives, goals somehow similar to mine, and at first I was getting the feeling most people were there to reconnect with people they already knew. But gradually that feeling changed and I talked with a whole range of people at various points on their artistic journeys--and came back with a list of things I want to try and more than enough energy to keep me motivated and inspired to get on with my own work.

And then there was the art. The conference was designed to coincide with the opening of Art Quilt Elements, which was also part of Fiber Philadelphia, a multitude of exhibits at various galleries throughout the city that all celebrated fiber art. I met several of the artists who had pieces in AQE and so I did get permission to post a couple of pictures. The first is one of the most memorable pieces there, a work by Susan Else, who has an wonderfully dry sense of humor and specializes in three-dimensional works. Her current series is fabric-wrapped skeletons!
This is called "Forever Yours" and required an amazing amount of delicate work.

A totally different piece was this immense flag:
It's called "Colors Unfurled aka If Betsy Ross Had My Stash" by Maria Shell.  It has 50 stars, each designed to represent a state, and thirteen stripes and celebrates the historic nature of President Obama's campaign.

On Saturday we were all bused into the city for an art orgy. Eleven exhibits!  And I could have seen six more, if the buses had actually picked people up according to plan. We saw everything from this beautiful graphic work by Adela Akers called "Gold Inside"
to a huge piece made of locks of human hair sandwiched between transparent paper with the different textures making a surprisingly interesting composition to an exhibit by members of Art Cloth Network who had produced 80-inch long pieces of fabric that had been dyed, printed, painted, stamped and otherwise manipulated to become something like this by Lisa Kerpoe called "Between the Lines." 

I will not start a rant about the quality of the bus service, which was more than a distraction to the day, but even with standing much too long on rainy, windy corners in Philadelphia, I went to sleep that night with the mysterious, ethereal images from an entire exhibit of new work by Emily Richardson cycling through my brain.

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