Thursday, May 28, 2009

Renegades Flourish in a Doll's World!

Cheryl Smith, of Toronto, Canada, is the creative energy behind Magpie Artworks. She's delved into fabric and fibre since childhood, both personally and professionally. She worked in textile manufacturing and related industries since the late 70’s and has been quilting since the early 90’s. Her dolls will take you on an imaginative journey into fantasy and 'what if.' But if you visit her website, you will see that her quilts are just as stunning and imaginative. Recently Cheryl made a doll that was presented to Mark Lipinski. I know you'll enjoy Cheryl's guest blog. -- Dawn
From the Magpie's Nest, Cheryl Smith in her own words:
Dolls! They get me through life.
Creating a doll takes me to a safe place where I can mix colours, fibres, textures to my heart’s content. There are no rules; renegades can flourish!

I am passionate about fabrics and equally so about colour. What good is a luscious fabric if the colour is mediocre? For me, both components have to participate in order to have a great fabric. I love to touch and caress and admire and imagine. Silk in all its forms sparks my interest, especially velvet, dupioni and taffeta. At 12, I used to send away for exotic fabric swatches. Yup! My allowance went to fabric swatches, well, and 45’s! Great fabrics can send me to a very happy place and can touch me deep within.

The doll seems the appropriate vehicle for honouring some of my luxurious stash. It feeds my personal need to amuse and be entertained. Dolls can accomplish that, but the jester takes me on a much deeper journey. They take on a life of their own and there’s a lot of chatter!

Entering a doll's world

After I exhausted my interests in sewing clothing, weaving, quilts and fibre art, my latent interest in dolls resurfaced. I tried making a few throughout the years, but with very limited success. I considered taking a class, but couldn’t find one in my area. So, left to my own devices, I bought some patterns and books and started making dozens of prototypes. I had worked in fabric development for years, so making endless samples seemed a natural part of the process. I kept at it until I got where I thought I wanted to go. The breaking point was when I realized that I had to let go of my fear of not being able to paint a face! I realized that with practise I would get there. I relaxed and moved forward.

I had been approached by a friend of a friend to donate a doll to a celebrity charity auction, an event hosted by singer Diana Krall. I was glad to participate, but somewhat trepidacious. I got over myself and made this little jester out of silk charmeuse, beaded his headpiece heavily and sent him on his way.

Joining group awakened possibilities

I was very fortunate to happen upon an amazing doll club in my travels, Creative Doll Artists, with Marianne Reitsma at the helm. This group awakened me to paper clay, polymer, armatures and endless possibilities. What a wonderful group. The club had acquired a tremendous amount of lace. A challenge to use some of it was expected.

I had decided to make a mermaid, and knew I wanted a prop for her to sit on. It would be a fish. It was a bit of a challenge as I kept layering through papier mache, paper clay and paint unsuccessfully; but, then it struck me that I could just glue some lace on it! I cut the lace apart, dyed it, and glued each individual piece onto the fish. The torso presented a bit of a challenge, but I managed my way through it.

Embellishing is always the most rewarding part of the process; I added beads and embroidery and needle felted some wool to simulate sea weed.

Entering the Grand National

The Grand National is an annual juried quilting event in Canada. I don’t usually take part in competitions, but was talked into it! The theme was “Fantasy”, but the trick was to have a quilting component as it was in fact a quilting competition. I brought Emma to life with hand dyed cottons, velvets, jacquards and lots of embroidery and beading. I made a box out of discarded lumber, covered it with some quilted fabrics and added some legs. I invited Miss Mary Maude to join her. I added a little crazy quilt to enhance the quilting component. This little ensemble managed an honourable mention.

Miss Mary Maude was quite small, so the urge to go bigger was haunting me and along came Gallagher. He’s almost 4 feet tall! I hand dyed some cottons to get the colours he liked and added lots of beads and embroidery. His face is needle sculpted cotton with cloth over and paper clay. His face was created with pencil crayon and acrylics.

I’m not sure when the notion struck me, but I decided to try my hand at wire armature. I had previously taken a sculpting class with Marianne Reitsma so had a basic understanding of the construction process. I made Edgar first, and then quickly added Percy and Oliver. (See top photo of the three.) Armatures are something else! They can bend and twist and do amazing things. I really enjoyed the detour with them and working with wools and coarser more textured fabrics.

Where I'll be and recent projects

This August I am fortunate to return to Gibson’s Landing, B.C. to teach doll making at their annual fibre art festival. This time I shall be teaching jesters and costuming them. I wanted a new class sample to take with me, and was half way through Agatha when I got a call from Judy at Sew-Sisters Quilt Shop asking me if I would take on a commission. She wanted to give Mark Lipinski a doll as a gesture of thanks for his contribution and new energy to the quilting world. She wanted to present it to him while he was visiting Northcott Silk, north of Toronto.
How could I refuse? Le Marquis is dressed in the finest of silks, hand dyed cottons and an abundance of beading and stitchery. And beside him is the ever adoring Agatha, wishing he would stay.
I have been adding beads to my work, especially fibre art, for over a decade. Beading is very addictive for me and worse than peanuts because I can never stop at just one. I made a little Chatelaine, or two, or three. See what I mean? I get started and can’t rein it in! The obsession is escalating as you can see in this beaded bird! He’s about 14” tall and pining for a friend!
Thanks for joining me!

And a special thanks to Dawn for such a generous invitation.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Some Eye Candy

I apologize for being so long between blogs.
We live in the House of Chaos at the moment. We are in the process of home remodeling and my office keeps getting shifted from room to room and I can't seem to focus when the saws screech and the smoke alarm goes off or the workers walk past. I know, these are only excuses.
I fitted most everything we own in two rooms, one of which was the sewing (crap) room and mostly I live in limbo until the floors are finished. I'm sure most of you can relate.
And most of you have probably coped much better than I am.
But I wanted to share this beautiful quilt with you from the National Quilt Show 2008. Cathy Pilcher of Sperry, West Chester, Ohio created this mixed media quilt that won Best of Show for Wall Quilt. Stunning. Absolutely stunning. And as you can see, I once again was drawn to the black and white squares -- the nine patches attract me like a bee to honey. Of course the movement and color choices, balance and beauty of it certainly makes me smile. From Cathy's other award winning quilt, I see she's a nut for checkerboards, too.
Way to go Cathy!!! Is anyone planning to make the trek to Columbus in June for the next NQA show?

I wish, I wish.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Recycled Memories and Materials make fine art

Edna J. Patterson-Petty draws on memories, experiences, her heritage, her hometown, and recycles all into art quilts that she often constructs from recycled fabric and clothing. In this first photo of her fabric art "You Got Soul," you can spot a bit of an old blouse. In the second photo, her art piece "Your Love," includes a recycled silk jacket. The spider-like image is an old necklace someone had given her. The last photo, but certainly not the least, "Lady Sings the Blues" dresses the lady in a recycled blouse fabric. Edna explains that "I purchase old and broken jewelry from flea markets. If I see an interesting pattern in an old dress, etc. at the thrift store or Goodwill, then I use that in the art piece. I seldom purchase new fabric by the yard unless I'm creating a commissioned piece. In memory quilts, of course, it is recycled clothing."

Here's Edna's Story in her Own Words:

For me, art is like an old friend. It is always there during my trials and tribulations, during my good times. I honor it and nourish it and give thanks for it. I am truly blessed.

When recently, I was presented with Grand Center Visionary Arts award for ‘successful working artist’ and then the very next day I found out that I had been nominated by my peers for another award in the arts -- it was blessing heaped atop blessing. To receive recognition for doing something that I am truly passionate about and to know what my purpose in life is. Who could ask for more? Regardless of what life throws my way, I have been able to make a living doing something I love.

Neither of my parents were artistic, so I am not sure how far back in my gene pool my creative sparks began sprouting. I went from the first grade all the way through high school without any teacher, or students for that matter encouraging me as an artist. Now believe me, I didn’t know what an artist was and didn't until much later in my life.

I am the oldest of seven children, yet I never felt that I belonged. I enjoyed creating, I saw designs in the clouds and fascinating images in the trees. I found beauty in things that were not so beautiful. My siblings, two sisters, and three brothers’, enjoyed the typical things kids love, I guess. I do know that they all thought I was weird. I was a very quiet child; I kept to myself on most occasions. I did play with them and had fun doing so, but when the creative urge visited me, I would become lost in doodling. As I grew older I began writing poetry.

What I did as a child was soothing, it was my way of escaping into another world.

My love for working with fabric came very early in life. I assisted my mom to recycle our old clothing in preparation for her making quilts to keep us warm in the winter. I was in elementary school at the time. My job was to rip the worn garments apart, the zippers were placed in a large plastic bag and the buttons were placed in a large pickle jar.

I did not learn how to sew until I entered high school and that is where I learned to make my own clothing. My mom sewed by hand, she did not own or know how to use a sewing machine. Once I learned to sew by machine, I was able to teach her. Many years, and 4 children later, I attended college for the first time as an art major, and when I began in my fibers class the flood of memories returned of those early days of ripping apart old clothing and watching my mom create bed quilts.

I learned so many wonder things such as hand painting, vat dying, weaving, etc. I was in heaven. Having to do numerous fabric samples in class, I knew that I did not want to waste the fabric. That is when I started to re-assemble the fabric scraps into a ‘whole’ thing of wonder. Many of my much younger classmates would throw their samples away, and I would wait until everyone left class and returned later to forage through the trash to gather the tossed scraps. That was the beginning of my fabric art, and I still to this day recycle. Here are images of a few art quilts where I recycled old clothing.

I was born and raised in East St. Louis, IL. and still live and love here. It is an impoverished city, but it wasn’t always this way. Many people look at only the negative things about the city, and over look the good. My city is very rich in talent: people such as Ambassador McHenry; Jackie Joyner-Kersee, sports icon; Lorna Polk, at one time was appointed by Pres. Johnson over education. The first African American FBI agent is also from my city. My husband, a former Peace Corp Director of 4 countries in Africa, also added to the city's rich history. Yet few see the core of strength, only our demise.

My love of helping people led me also into a career in Art Therapy. I completed a double Masters’ degree while in college. Art therapy is counseling using the arts. Over the years I have combined the skills of my fine arts training, my art therapy skills, my mother wit, and intuitiveness and genuine care for people in to a unique way of doing creative workshops. I also apply those skills into my fabric art. I have constructed many memory/commemorative quilts to tell other peoples stories.

Last year I received a NAACP award for the Arts and have received many accolades for my involvement in the arts over the years. Such great blessings, and I don't take any thing for granted. But being asked to create a quilt for the Presidential Inauguration was the icing on the cake. I am still very excited about that.

To see more of Edna's stunning fabric art and learn more about her successes, visit her website and flicker photos. And there are a few surprises of non-fabric art to enjoy.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Guest View: Mixed-Media One Page Book

“Mixed-media One-page Book” with Jane Davila (Quilting Arts Workshop) 51 minutes.

Reviewed by Carol Melichar, mixed-media artist and librarian. April 2009

This DVD in the Quilting Arts Workshop series shows techniques for making a small book using one piece of fabric and a variety of mixed media techniques. A list of materials is available on the back of the DVD case, which is good as there is little mention of needed materials at the beginning of the show.

Jane Davila mixed media artist and quilter demonstrates this relatively quick project. Using a traditional one sheet mini book making technique as her pattern, Davila begins by making a paper mock-up of the mixed media book to exhibit the layout of the cover and pages. She suggests sketching out the basic ideas for each page but reiterates that this project is well suited to a loose, playful experience.

The dimensions of this book creates a front cover, back cover and six pages that are 2.5 inches x 3.5 inches –the size of an artist trading card.

One point Davila stresses over and over is that perfection is not the object of this project nor is it desired. When she stamps a homemade stamp on fabric, she stamps a little off kilter.

When she uses the distress ink pads to alter the brightness of a stamped piece, she is not concerned that the color does not go on evenly. Davila emphasizes that the result of this project should be an object that appears hand crafted.

Davila utilizes a variety of surface design techniques on her eight pages: she carves her own stamps out of fun foam and foam marshmallows. She also uses a hand carved stamp block and stamps directly on the fabric. She uses water-soluble wax pastels to draw pictures on fabric scraps and paper. She has elements that are pre-printed on fabric with an inkjet printer.

She also demonstrates little tricks of crafting: protecting your work surface with palette paper, getting ink on an over-sized stamp by applying the ink pad to the stamp upside down to the way you’d think, She is good about reminding about simple tips: stamping with the lightest color first and having a damp paper towel handy to clean the stamps between inks.

As Davila puts the book together, she notes that one could plan ahead and back the elements with 'wunder under,' one can also work more casually and use a glue stick to hold the elements in place until time to sew. Some pieces need to have the de-fusible web.

When she has all the elements in place in the little book, she brings it to her sewing machine to sew the pieces down. Using a walking foot, to accept the variety of textured materials, she sews around the pieces to imitate sketching. Emphasizing again that perfection is not the goal, Davila uses a marker to color over white threads that show. She uses a variety of machine stitches: regular straight line stitching, free hand stitching and buttonhole stitches.

She suggests using a combination of variety and repetition to give the finished book unity.

In a short amount of time, Davila demonstrates a charming, very achievable project, revealing tips about the composition and the various supplies and a refreshing lack of concern for flawlessness.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Oh say can you see?

Memorial Day will soon be here and Independence Day won't be far behind.

Patriotism is in style regardless of the date. Yet particularly this time of year I yearn for some red, white and blue -- or some turquoise and gold as in Judy Niemeyer's starburst quilt.

Have you seen the beautiful patriotic fabrics for sale in every shop? I can't resist them and have used several in fabric bowls and a delightful Ohio Star quilt that is progressing VERY slowly.

It was the Ohio Stars included
in this 36x54-inch Colonial Flag Quilt that drew me to it. Perhaps this reflects my country roots. I can see this displayed on the porch of my childhood home.

And I can see Mom making a redwork quilt featuring patriotic themes stitched together with star spangled borders.

Memorial Day is a big deal in the little town of LaFayette, Ohio and that's probably where my heart will be on that date. A parade, flags everywhere, fire engines, marching band, antique cars, chicken barbecue served by the volunteer firemen, and most of all the reunion -- people return to LaFayette and reconnect with friends and family they may not have seen for years. So mixed in with my concept of patriotism and honoring those who sacrificed for my freedom, are all the familiar faces I've seen gather along the streets of my little home town.

And there is that element that I can't shake even though I've
been out of high school for wayyyy too many years. Memorial Day and the first days of summer vacation. What could be a more perfect combination?

This cool patriotic plaid pattern, free from Moon Over Mountain, looks like the flags that line the parade route. The curves simulate movement and the fabric combinations l
ook so rich.

If you need patriotic inspiration, take a look at Karey Bresenhan's book "America From the Heart" that includes images of 270 quilts "made in response to the events of September 11, 2001. It shared a message of sorrow, unity, and hope from quilts all over the world. These quilts are truly works from the heart, created in the six weeks following the terrorist attacks as an expression of the artist' immediate, agonized feelings."

Or maybe this Salute to the Troops 24x24-inch quilt will fit your needs, made by Janet Foggy-Befort."

Then of course there is no shortage of quilts that incorporate more opinion and history as with this Faith Ringgold's expressive controversial art quilt.

But I admit when Memorial Day arrives, I feel like waving the flag, not discussing it and its checkered past.

I enjoy this Obama era and don't want anything to spoil it, so I'm looking for a positive statement in a patriotic flag, it could even have a presidential figure with it -- like any of the Obama quilts.

This quilt reminds me of fireworks and celebration. I think of the beauty and patriotic music of those displays.

A patriotic quilt can be such a
n easy project -- as long as you combine red, white and blue, does the pattern really matter? And if you doubt you can make it before Memorial Day -- check out Eleanor Burn's Star Spangled Favorites. Yes, a 'quilt in a day' project.

Anyone who wants to share their star-spangled, patriotic quilts with us? I'll be glad to add them to this blog. Just add a comment and let me know where to get the photo.

Saturday, May 2, 2009


By Sue Bleiweiss

“What if:” Two words. Six letters. Gives wing to a whole lot of possibilities.

Those two little words when spoken together are probably among the most powerful tools you have in your studio. They have the power to take your artwork in a new direction. They invite you to step off the paved sidewalk and venture into new and unexplored territories.

Those two words can help during those times when you’re feeling blocked or unmotivated. The next time this happens ask yourself,

  • “What if” I tried working with a material I’ve not used before such as metal sheets, fine wire, knitted mesh, or paper?
  • What if I tried using paper towels, coffee filters or dryer sheets in place of fabric?
  • What if I painted them and then sewed them to something and treated them just like I would a piece of fabric?

(In the photo: Painted paper towel vase painted with Jacquard Dye-na-flow paint and fused with Mistyfuse to Timtex )

Or, what if I sewed them to a base fabric and then added paint, foiling from Laura Murray

Designs, hand stitching and beading? What if I took a soft metal and sewed it to a piece of paper

or fabric and then used ink to color it?

Or maybe you’ve been working on a piece and it just doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Ask yourself, what if I cut it up and sewed it back together again? What if I sewed the pieces back together again randomly, or used wire to sew them together instead of thread? What if I added eyelets or buttonholes?

Like a lot of fiber artists I like to paint and dye my own fabrics, and just like many of you I sometimes get less than stellar results. Recently I painted a large piece of fabric with colors that I don’t usually work with and the resulting fabric seemed flat and boring.

And then I thought, what if I added some scribbled text and squiggly lines using a craft syringe. Which then led to, what if I cut the fabric into smaller pieces and made postcards from it?

And then I thought, what if I used this same technique on a boring denim jacket?

Some of my most unexpected and wonderful discoveries have come from asking myself “what if”.

Next time you’re tossing something in the recycle bin ask yourself, what if I used this in my studio? What if I painted this paper bag with acrylic paint and treated it like fabric?

What if I saved tea bag wrappers and used them like little pieces of fabric by fusing them along with some painted cheesecloth to Timtex using Mistyfuse?

What if I fused that old pattern tissue to a base fabric and then used it to create a box?

“What if” has the power to turn boring into interesting.

For instance, recently I held one of my books in my hand:

It’s a beautiful book but, what if I added a different stitch pattern along the spine?

Much more interesting don’t you think?

Of all the tools I have at my disposal in my studio, it’s the question "what if" that motivates me the most. It's the exploration of finding and discovering new ways to manipulate and embellish paper and fabric that drive me into the studio and inspire me every day and it’s the power of the words “what if” that push me to look beyond the expected results.

My goal is not to create a perfect and flawless item. It is to create a piece that excites the viewers eyes when they look at it, makes them wonder when they hold it in their hands and inspires their own imagination when they consider how it was created.

What better way to achieve that goal than to ask myself “what if”?

Sue Bleiweiss is a mixed media fiber artist with a passion for surface design and book making. She lives in Massachusetts, USA, where she teaches classes at the Danforth Museum of Art. She also teaches online through her website. You can see more of her work on her blog at .