Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Yet another new project begins

For some reason I'm bouncing all over the place this winter, one day on one body of work and then the next day on another so different that it doesn't even seem to be coming from the same person. Later this year I'll have to get focused on my Quilt National entries, but for now I'm happy playing with a whole lot of different things.

This week I've started a new project which is sort of a charity endeavor, the product of one of those daisy chains of friends-of-friends.  My art pal Keith Auerbach knows a young couple in Portland OR, Payal Parekh and Geoff Bugbee, who have a business selling artisan screenprinted clothing and scarves.  Several months ago when they were visiting, they saw Keith's Photoshop wizardry and asked him if he would design some images that would be suitable for silk scarves.

Payal's father has a silkscreen operation in India that makes scarves and other fine textiles for high-end designers, and he took Keith's designs and translated them into reality, choosing fashion-forward colorways and borders that will become one-meter-square scarves.  The theme of this collection is horses, and Payal and Geoff hope to raise enough money through a Kickstarter campaign to produce the collection and market it to horse lovers and racing fans; the campaign will begin in late March with fancy cocktail parties in Louisville and Lexington, the twin centers of the Kentucky horse community.

When they were visiting Keith, they saw a little wall hanging that I had made for him using cut-up postcards from one of his photo exhibits. (I wrote about it here.)  They liked it, and as plans for the Kickstarter parties proceeded, they thought maybe it would be cool to have a paper quilt made from their scarf images.  I agreed to make one, impelled by visions of some free silk at the end of the road.

A postage quilt from Keith's postcards

So last week I was thrilled to get a big package from Portland with proof sheets, I guess you would call them, of the scarves in the collection.  They are printed onto heavy paper, which I have cut into three-inch squares in preparation for making my quilt.  The paper copies are gorgeous; I can't wait to see what they will look like in silk!

Working with paper has some important differences compared to working with fabric.  In some ways it's easier to cut and sew, because it's naturally stiff and doesn't fray.  But in other ways it's harder: you can't make mistakes, because needle holes can't be concealed, and you have to take extra care not to crease the paper.

And you can't just slap the bits up on the design wall for composition, since paper doesn't stick to the felt backdrop the way fabric does.  So I had to improvise, and came up with this system:

Start with a strip of adding machine tape, fold it up to make a little pocket, pin it to the design wall and add a thread to hold the paper squares upright.

I've got the quilt almost entirely laid out, and after a day of contemplating the design I'll be able to start sewing.  I think the construction will go exactly like it does in fabric, which means I won't have to be inventing any more new techniques.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Good news!

So the good news is that my quilt has been accepted into the Marie Webster show at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, June 24 to September 4, sponsored by SAQA.  The juror was Niloo Paydar, the museum's curator of textile arts and fashion design.

You may remember when I talked about this show earlier that Marie Webster was an Indiana designer who built a nice business selling patterns and kits for appliqued quilts in the early part of the last century.  Although that style and genre of quilts has never particularly appealed to me, I was challenged to find something in her work that I could translate into this century and explore on my own agenda of interesting concepts.

The quilt I chose as inspiration was this white-and-pale-blue number with a design of little kids looking at the moon and stars.

Marie Webster, Bedtime

I simplified the design to fit the much smaller size requirements of the show (my quilt is just 27 x 21") but pretty much replicated the two figures from the original.

I made this piece by heavily machine stitching the blue areas onto off-white canvas, leaving the unstitched fabric to bulge and ruffle. Then to make it fit the official SAQA definition of a quilt, which wants layers, I added a back and quilted that down with additional blue stitches.

Here's what mine looks like:

Zoe and Isaac Stargazing 

And here's my artist statement:

In Webster's time a proper quilt was neat, attractive, symmetrical, perfectly executed to show off the maker's needle skills. Not her design skills, because the quilter would purchase the pattern, or perhaps a kit, from somebody like Webster, and follow the directions.  In the intervening century, many quiltmakers have chosen to become their own designers.  Quilts have come off the bed and onto the wall as works of art, not just functional decor.  A proper quilt can have non-straight edges, non-right-angled corners, non-flat topography and raggedy edges.

So much has changed, but there's still room in contemporary quilting to depict the wonder of children contemplating the moon and stars.  My riff on Marie Webster's "Bedtime" changes all the techniques but keeps the images.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Second in a series

I wrote yesterday about a new piece that I made by heavily machine-stitching onto heavy fabric that I then folded and sewed into a pyramid.  Immediately I started on another one, working to improve the technique.

In #1 I noted that it was hard to get the heavily stitched fabric to stay in a crisp fold, so my plan was to build the folds into the fabric, so to speak.  Instead of cutting a single fabric base that would have to be folded into the pyramid, I cut the shape into four separate triangles and sewed them onto a lightweight fabric.  This way no matter how heavily I stitched over the fold lines, they would be much thinner than the rest of the form and presumably fold much more easily. This new technique also has the benefit of being "layers held together by stitching," which is good enough to get you into most quilt shows, whereas #1 wouldn't qualify.

I also noted that the cut edges in #1 were a little messy -- no matter how enthusiastically I stitched over the edge there were little eyelashes of cut threads sticking out.  So in #2 I folded the edges of the lighter weight fabric over the heavier, ravelly base fabric at the very beginning so that subsequent stitching would secure a totally ravel-free edge.

I liked the effect in #1 of laying down a contrast color and later covering it with lots of stitching in my main colors.  Rather than find scraps of contrast fabric, in #2 I simply chose a print fabric with several different colors.

At an early stage of the stitching, I searched through all my spools and bobbins and found those with just a little bit of thread left, then piled the threads onto my pyramid base and stitched them down.  It almost doesn't matter what colors you use at this stage; it's like underpainting, in which you will see only a slight hint of the color after the top layers of paint go on.

Here I've laid down all the contrast colors and am starting to overlay them with red, which is going to be the main hue of the finished pyramid.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

First in a series

Well, you need to know that for a long time I have been thinking about how to make fiber art in three dimensions.  And in the last year I have been experimenting with heavy machine stitching onto canvas.  So when I got an inspiration a couple of weeks ago I knew what I wanted to do.  The inspiration came from visiting one of my art pals who was taking his photographs and cutting and folding them into little pyramids.  Why not make stitched pyramids, I asked myself?

All the while I was finishing up a couple of quilting projects against deadlines I was thinking about how I was going to make my pyramids, and finally a couple of days ago I got to clear everything away from the sewing machine and get down to business.  And here's pyramid number one.

It's stitched onto a dark red cotton, beefier than quilt-weight.  I laid some scraps of greenish-gold hand dyed fabric onto the red to give a little color contrast, but they pretty much disappeared underneath the stitching.  You can't really tell the color of the base fabric except at the cut edges.

Haven't figured out whether this should be displayed sitting flat on a shelf, or on a skinny pedestal so the hanging threads can hang down, or maybe suspended from a cord.

As I was sewing the pyramid together, by hand, I found myself fixating on the process and realizing how I could do it better.  So after a brief break to make a new cup of tea, I immediately started in on pyramid number two.  I'll show you that tomorrow.

Monday, February 1, 2016

ART 101 -- success!!

I mentioned to you that I'm taking a drawing class this semester.  So far I've learned that I like line a lot more than I like shading, that I like pen a lot more than I like pencil, and that my skills of visual observation and memory need a lot of improvement.  So last week I was astounded to realize that I have actually learned something on that last count.

We were privileged to attend a little salon/soiree in honor of the violinist appearing with the Louisville Orchestra last weekend, Augustin Hadelich.  The high point of the evening was a performance, and though we were kind of crammed in to a small room with obstructed views, I did have a good line of sight to Hadelich's face.  He has a striking face, and his deep-set eyes were in shadow most of the time due to the overhead lighting.

I set myself a challenge -- could I pay close attention to that face and memorize the details so that I could draw him when I got home?  With that assignment in mind, I was able to focus on his features and force myself to articulate a description (I know I do better at analysis and memory when I translate visual impressions to words).  Then the next day I whipped out my little sketchbook and did this:

Now that I compare the sketch to the photo, I think the only thing I got wrong was the lower lip -- the vertical dimension is right, but it's a bit too wide horizontally.  If I had been working in pencil I could fix it, but since it's ink I'll let it stand.

You might think this is an insignificant accomplishment, but I am over the moon!  This is the first time in my life I have ever drawn a picture of an actual person that ended up looking like him.  Please join my celebration, even if you may think it's not much to write home about.