Saturday, August 23, 2014

Burning holes -- Plan B


Earlier this week I was frustrated in trying to burn holes in fabric with a stick of smoldering incense.  Plan B was to use the high-tech approach instead of low-tech -- a woodburning tool which my son helpfully produced (he owns every tool known to mankind, I think, many of which he graciously loans to me or uses on my behalf).

Plan B was a 97 percent success.  It produced nice uniform holes, didn't scatter smoldering embers to burn unwanted holes in your fabric or your hand, and never needed to be relit.  I have only two quibbles: the holes were a bit too uniform for my taste, and I don't think the edges are as charred as with the incense, which means they don't have the dramatic black halos that will highlight the grid pattern.

I dealt with the first quibble by pulling the tool to the side occasionally to make oblong burns.  I dealt with the second by holding the tool in place after it had burned the hole so it would char more of the surrounding fabric.

That cut down on my speed, of course.  I could average a half-second per hole if all I did was punch the hole and move on; if I held it long enough for more char it took two seconds.  But even so I was moving along much more steadily than with the incense and after several hours at it yesterday I'm almost finished with the whole piece.



Thursday, August 21, 2014

The juror's advice


I have the great honor and privilege this year of being one of the jurors for Quilts=Art=Quilts, the annual show at Schweinfurth Art Center in Auburn NY.  Earlier this week we got our first look at the entries, and I spent all afternoon going through the images online (next month we'll get together in person to make our final decisions).  I've said it before, and I'll keep saying it, there are things you can do to improve your chances of being chosen for shows that are juried from images -- which means practically every important show in the world.

I am not one of those jurors who will immediately rule out a work because it is poorly photographed.  If your husband's feet protrude from the bottom edge of your quilt because he's holding it up for the camera, that's not very professional, but I can still distinguish between the quilt and the feet and understand that the latter isn't actually part of the former.  I've always believed that the job of the juror is to choose the best quilts for the show, not to choose the best-photographed quilts.

But no matter how hard you try to keep an open mind, strange photography is like a blob of spinach on somebody's chin -- you can't help but notice it, and I suppose subliminally you take off brownie points from whatever it was in the photo.  So here are my cautionary words for anybody who plans to send in images for jurying in a show.

First off, check over your images before you burn them to your CD or upload them to the entry website. That way you won't submit the overall shot twice instead of the overall plus a detail.  And if you look at the images on a large screen you'll notice that stray thread sitting there on your detail shot, yes, that same stray thread that you would pick off if you saw it on your quilt in the show.

don't submit this shot unless that stray thread is part of your artistic vision

If you must photograph your quilt against your picket fence or shrubbery or other non-uniform background, at least do me the courtesy of cropping out all that distraction.  I saw a photo today in which the actual quilt made up less than 15% of the total area of the image.  When I first looked at the thumbnail shot I thought the picket fence was part of the quilt, but no, it was just the background.  The entry allows you a certain number of pixels to impress the jurors, so why not use them on your artwork instead of on your background?

your tripods and your hands are fascinating, but I'd rather just look at the quilt
















I saw another quilt that was photographed hanging on the maker's design wall.  That's fine -- design walls make excellent photo sites because they're big and flat and you can pin the quilt up without using distracting clotheslines or hanging rods.  But please crop out the quilt in progress on the other panel of the design wall!

Similarly, if you must shoot your quilt in some makeshift spot such as the wall behind your stairway, please try hard to position your camera so that the stair rail doesn't show up in front of your quilt.

And yes, size matters.  When I can see the quilt more clearly (so make sure your photo is in focus) I am more likely to love it.  And when I can see the quilt larger on my computer screen, I am more likely to see things in it to make me love it.  If the show specifies a maximum size for your image, use every bit of it, by cropping away as much of the background as you can.  And if if doesn't specify a maximum, then send the highest-resolution image you can, every pixel that emanated from your camera.

I was intrigued (but not in a good way) with the number of images that I saw where the detail shot was taken at an angle to the surface rather than head-on.  Is this some kind of new trend?  Is somebody writing books or blogs telling people that slanted views show the texture of your quilting better than straight-on shots?  If so, somebody should go to his or her room.

Yes, you can sometimes get better photos of surface texture when the light slants across the surface, but you achieve that by putting the lamp over to the side, not the camera.  Taking the photo at an angle simply renders a good part of the image out of focus, the giving me less to look at (and potentially fall in love with).

Nor is it a good idea to tilt the camera so the detail shot is oriented differently from the overall view. Some of the images I looked at apparently should have been rotated 90 degrees.  (This was true not just of detail shots but of overall views, and let me testify that jurors don't like to crane their necks to see what the quilt is supposed to look like; the online jury platforms don't allow us to simply rotate the image as we could do if we were using our regular slide-view programs.)

When I look at a detail shot I like to be able to quickly identify which part of the overall image I'm looking at.  If the detail is sideways or on a diagonal, this makes my task harder, and while I'm trying to orient myself I'm subconsciously getting annoyed at you, which you probably would rather not happen.

Finally, a word about artist statements.  Some shows ask for them solely so they're on hand if your piece is accepted, whereupon the statement will go into a notebook or onto the wall signs.  But others, like Q=A=Q, provide them to the jurors.  I don't rely on the statement much in decision-making, but I am annoyed when it provides irrelevant information such as your name, your day job or your home town.

Jurying is supposed to be done without knowledge of who has submitted what.  Of course I can identify some of the artists whose work I am looking at, having attended dozens and dozens of quilt and fiber art shows and bought the catalogs for many more, read thousands of blog posts and websites, and met hundreds of my fellow quilt artists in person here and there.  But I try to make my decisions based on the work, not on the name  (and sometimes the quilt I think was made by Suzy Q turns out to have been made by Scooby Doo).

Blind jurying is supposed to be good for the artists who enter, as well as for the show.  It's supposed to help you get a fair shot, even if you're not a Famous Artist, and get new work into the mix instead of just the usual suspects.  So please don't shoot the system in the foot by telling me who you are.

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Update: I'm linking this to Nina-Marie Sayre's weekly fiber art roundup.  Check out what other fiber artists are up to.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Frustration du jour


When Dorothy Caldwell was here conducting workshops we had a wonderful day playing outside, burning holes in things with incense sticks.  Because the incense smolders rather than actually burns, you can poke it through paper or fabric, burning a nice neat little hole with charred edges.  I had do much fun with this method that I was determined to try it on a larger scale.

So yesterday I set up shop with an elaborate apparatus to hold the fabric relatively taut and started burning holes.  And almost immediately ran into frustration.  Let me count the ways, meanwhile observing that NONE of these problems occurred at the workshop.  Apparently the incense I bought this week is a different kind than what we had at the workshop.  And I have no idea who brought the kind I liked to ask her

The incense didn't want to stay lit.  Well, sometimes it did, but sometimes after three or four holes it would go out.  So I had to keep a candle burning and frequently re-ignite the stick.

It created a lot of smoke and of course it smelled sickly sweet -- kinda like incense, you know.  So after I first started working in the kitchen, I realized this was not an indoor sport, even with windows open and ceiling fan on high.  So I moved my entire setup outside onto the deck.

The incense didn't burn evenly from the end of the stick; sometimes it would go out (as mentioned above) but sometimes a half-inch or more of stick would be nicely white-hot.  A half-inch of smoldering incense stick doesn't plunge neatly through the fabric to leave a nice hole; it tends to break off, showering little white-hot coals down onto your hand or your lap or the fabric.  Or maybe it breaks off right there in the hole, continuing to burn until your neat little hole is now a big messy big hole.

Sometimes I would get a good burn going and could do fifteen or twenty holes before I had to put the stick back in the flame.  I had a lot of fun during those brief moments.  But other times I only got two holes out of one ignition.

Parts of the burned grid look fabulous, exactly what I had in mind when I embarked on this project. Other parts look like crap.  I stopped after an hour and a half to contemplate what to do next.

Today is Plan B, for which I have high hopes.  I'll report back soon.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Bad moments in quilting


So here it is August of an even-numbered year, and people all over the world are frantically trying to finish up their entries for Quilt National.  This has been my "summer vacation" since 2002 and yet again I'm wrestling with big rolls of quilt.

This one is being done with my usual parallel lines across the short way of a rectangular quilt, with my usual neatly rolled package that can (sort of) easily be manhandled through the narrow harp of my machine.  I can't tell you how many quilts I've done just like this, and you would think that I wouldn't make dumb mistakes any more.






















But no, the drapery-weight fabric I'm using as backing is acting passive-aggressively, probably because it's a hand-me-down and its previous owner apparently put it through the washing machine.  That made it limp rather than stiff and thus prone to pleats on the back side.

In fact, the very first line of quilting that I sewed resulted in a pleat on the back side, which I had to unsew and restitch.  Off to an inauspicious start.  So I was kind of paranoid, checking the back of the quilt after every row of stitching to make sure I had done it right.  That lasted for days, but yesterday afternoon I got complacent.  I'm more than halfway through, getting toward the home stretch, and I guess my eagerness to be finished led me to move too quickly toward the next row and the next without checking the back.

Then I did check the back and OOPS!  I had not only sewed a big pleat into the back of the quilt, but I had crossed it with six rows of quilting.

I had a brief conversation with myself as to what to do next.  Option 1 was to do nothing, and if I were a Real Artist instead of a fiber artist that would have clearly been the preferred approach, "sloppy craft" being all the rage these days among the Art Establishment.  But even as I was considering whether I could live with myself under Option 1, I found myself with a seam ripper in my hands, going at it.

I took out all the seams to about three inches either side of the pleat, spritzed it damp and then pressed it flat.  Basted all through the area that had to be resewed, then flipped over to the top of the quilt and cut and sank all the thread ends.  Finally, restitched the ripped seams -- this time checking the back after each one to make sure the pleat hadn't reappeared.

This whole foray into non-sloppy craft occupied three or four hours.  I felt exceedingly stupid.  But now it's all fixed and I've finished that whole section of the quilt and moved along.  Had this occurred one week before the QN deadline I might have chosen Option 1, but I guess I'm glad I did Option 2.  After all, I would have known, even if nobody else did.