Sunday, October 24, 2010

My View: Quilted Symphony by Gloria Loughman

Kimberley Mistique quilt by
Gloria Loughman of Australia

There once was a time when I thought life progressed in a linear fashion. Birth was of course the starting point, ending with the inevitable death. Between those points, life threaded its way through major passages -- turning sixteen, 21, love, marriage, baby carriage... That's as far as I could see or wanted to see my timeline progress at that point of my life. Pretty clear cut journey.

I certainly was naive!

No one told me that once you achieved 21 -- yes, you achieve the age of adulthood-- but then again the progression doesn't stop at the mountaintop but proceeds to 22 and 32 and 42 and 52 and people expect someone of this certain age to act appropriately. And I was, if nothing else, raised to please others and meet their expectations.

It has taken me several decades to realize that the only expectations I should consider seriously are my own. So, here I am, not having achieved any of the goals other than traditional (wife, mother....) and wondering why I wasted so much time trying to be what others wanted me to be. I think I was trying to achieve that straight life line with as few deviations, risks, pitfalls as possible. Yet by doing so I also avoided the joys and celebrations and serendipitious surprises.

But my efforts to live a straight line showed me only that there is very little in life that I control. After expending all that effort to live a 'normal' life, I find that my life meanders. Even with a plan it cuts its own design on the face of time. When I think about it, that straight line is boring, absolutely boring compared to the whirls and dips and peaks and valleys, roller coaster turns, and 360s my life has taken without my consent.

As a quilt lover, I think a map of even my relatively uneventful life would make for an interesting quilt -- maybe similar to those made by Gloria Loughman of Clffton Springs in Victoria, Australia. You may be familiar with her Kimberley Mystique which won Best of Show in her state exhibition and also the prestigious Australian National Quilt Award. I can dream that my little quilt could look like hers!

My husband and I have moved so frequently that I'm no longer sure what my home landscape looks like. If it could look like that depicted in Kimberley Mystique, I'd be a happy woman.

Quilted Symphony by Gloria Loughman
Published by C&T Publishing
March 2010; $29.95
 Currently home is a housing development with manicured lawns, a few stately and noisy Sandhill Cranes walking through the neighborhood and maybe a palm tree or two. It sounds boring, yet as I read Gloria's book "Quilted Symphony" I realize her words, "For abstract quilts, design is very important because its elements, and the way they are manipulated, are the key to producing work that is eye-catching and powerful."

Line. Shape. Color. Value. Texture. Harmony. Repetition. Contrast. Balance. Focal Point. Direction. Movement. All are part of designing an abstract quilt and when you think about it, part of a life well lived. I see my sedate little landscape transforming. The flat lands begin to roll. The houses tip, the sandhill cranes grow bigger and my house smaller. The landscaped lawns converge and snake around the houses in a vibrant patchwork. Sidewalks turn into trails featuring the flying geese pattern and round faces appear helter skelter.

In Gloria's book, which she says is for those who  "...would like to experiment with patterns and colors and want to take that next step but don't know where to start, then this book is for you," she suggests sources of inspiration. And she begins with a doodle. When approached in this manner, there is an element of Zentangle in her quilts. Not that she necessarily uses that technique, but her doodles take on a zen like quality in their repetition and harmony. She transforms three simple leaf shapes into a jungle of design and texture with a few lines and circles. I also like her suggestion to take a photograph and then use a portion of it as inspiration for an abstract quilt.

Looking at her examples and photos of inspiration, it wasn't long before I would look at things as shapes -- my monitor is a rectangle. The lamp shade a triangle, my book shelves are a collection of varying sizes of rectangles.

Gloria devotes a whole chapter to color with the ever present color wheel for these types of discussions. But she also concentrates on intensity and hue, value and color schemes that go beyond monochromatic and complimentary. She brings out triadic and tetrad color schemes. What!?

She moves on past drawing the design to actually constructing what you've created. Prepare the base, make segment patterns, decorate the segments, invisible fused applique and so on and so on. In her abstract designs appear familiar traditional patterns -- flying geese for example or snail's trail. diamonds and pyramids, even my favorite lowly nine patch.

Beading and braids give way to painting and sun printing and Gloria takes readers into satin stitches and thread choices, even bobbin tension and right into free motion quilting and how to find your speed. Decorative stitches are even addressed. Foundation piecing is a must as well.

Quilters know every quilt has a border, whether you do art quilts or traditional the edges border on to the rest of the world and how you finish them can make as much of a statement as the quilt itself. Gloria offers various suggestions.

Then she also offers several projects to try out all of the things taught in the 103 page book and she includes a students' gallery to give you hope and inspiration. Included are full size patterns to use in the projects.

After a quick trip through her book, I will be returning and see if I can't turn my life's journey into a visual symphony of fabric, texture and design worthy of her masterful instructions.

CT published "Quilted Symphony," released in 2010. Cost is around $30. For anyone beginning the journey into abstract quilts, or stepping away from prepared patterns and finding your own voice, this book may ease you into this new fabric landscape of symbolism, shape and design. If nothing else her own creations will give you inspiration. I'm looking at leaves in a whole new way.

I'm also preparing to create a more exciting life journey so that future quilts have a more interesting terraine to replicate! It is time to embrace whatever opportunities and challenges come my way. Maybe the best way to depict my life to this point would be ostrich with head firmly planted in the sand. But I'm shaking sand from my eyes and looking around in wonder.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Something Special: Ellen Lindner and love

It may have been via Facebook that I first saw Ellen Lindner's art quilt: Reconciliation. She has given me permission to post it here and I'll include a link to her website as well.

It was unexpected and what I needed at that exact moment. It brought tears to my eyes. She has other quilts made using a similar technique with the sillouette borders that are equally strong and emotional. I do hope you'll visit her site to enjoy her work. Art truly feeds the soul and often brings us back to life.

Lindner's Reconciliation came for me at a time when my husband and I are celebrating our 39th anniversary. October 16! I started to write 'birthday' instead of anniversary -- one of those meaningful typos.

Our wedding was a rebirth for both of us. We were one. No longer alone facing a bewildering world, but two people together who drew closer as adversity surrounded us. Sometimes I forget how much we lean on each other and how much we hold each other up.

Through these years I've had some 'materialistic' moments and I'm not talking fabric or stash. But me selfiishly wanting grand gifts and declarations of love and romantic gestures. Roses! Diamonds! Romantic getaways! Once or twice roses if I guilted him into it, maybe he'd make dinner. Maybe I'd add candles. But mostly he just lived each day showing me love in everything he did for me -- and I took for granted. I'd stew and get over it and go on loving him each day with the little things like making sure his peaches were free of fuzz or not serving creamed peas or mending his pants, or buying shirts that had pockets, or turning to kiss and hug him every chance I got. We are always touching.

We have a cat who doesn't like to be held. He likes to sit beside me with his back foot against me. He just needs that connection to know I'm there -- to keep track of me. It is something like that for Derrol and me. We don't need to be coddled or fawned over, just need that touch for reassurance. Maybe we both have a bit of awe that we were lucky to find each other.

Lately it seems like we've become more nurse and patient as we struggle to keep him as healthy as possible. As I remind you all too often, he has ALS and the recovery rate from ALS is ZERO.

Our touches have more to do with health care and trust me there is NOTHING romantic about a man on a breathing machine. Nothing until I look into his eyes and see that twinkle and suddenly we are both 19 and very much in love all over again. Maybe we have never grown up.

The Reconciliation piece for me is more about reconnecting. It has been a long time since my husband could stand and hold me in his arms and so Reconciliation is a nostalgia piece as well.

What did he give me for our anniversary? You will laugh and groan but for me it was the best gift ever. He called me in to his bed this morning and said, "You gotta see this." I saw a naked old man with skinny legs. SKINNY LEGS! We've been battling edema (swelling) for years and today the swelling is gone. It was the absolute BEST gift. What can I say, he knows me better than I know myself. Better than diamonds, roses and a Hawaiian cruise all rolled up with a big red ribbon. He is the best gift of all and I pray he hangs around for a very long time!

Please enjoy Ellen's special quilt. I just had to share this and our special occasion with my good friends -- you are my community and I don't know what I'd do without you.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Lynn Krawczyk's Fabric Making Freedom Song

Detail of Virginia Spiegel's Then and Now art quilt using
thermofax technique
Virginia Spiegel first introduced me to the concept of thermofax printing. Other than the difficulty of finding a thermofax machine and its high cost, I fell immediately in love with the technique and freedom and versatility of printing one's own fabric.

Virginia has done a great deal of experimenting with fabric painting and thermofax among other techniques. Here are two examples of her work: "Then and Now" and "Once."

For more information about her two quilts, and her about to begin Birthday Bash where we can buy bundles of her fabric, go to her website. Her Birthday Bash info is available through her blog.

Once art quilt by Virginia Spiegel
Then I saw Claire Fenton's "Demystifying Thermofax Screen Printing" DVD from Quilting Arts Workshop and it came together. She built a piece using headlines from the Hurricane Katrina disaster. I fell in love with making fabric tell a story.

The DVD may not be glitzy but Claire gives the nuts and bolts of making one's own screens as well as does and don'ts and how to save a bit of money and not waste inks, etc. She gives a most informative demonstration. It really got exciting for me when she begins creating her own fabric. I'm a words person and adored the idea of thermofaxing favorite newspaper clippings and articles. my own clippings, onto a fabric that only I could make. My indulgence in thermofax techniques for fabric making continue to ferment.

After hearing Lynn Krawczyk's song of freedom that printing her own fabric gave her -- I'm heading for the garage to make a space for some fabric printing!

I think you'll find inspiration in Lynn's work as well as her words! Here is Lynn Krawczyk in her own words. -- Dawn

Lynn Krawczyk:
I've come to regard my studio as a sort of diary of the ten years I've spent creating fiber art. My decorating sense in that room is not of the variety of plain white walls and no distractions. I pile and layer -- not distractions but inspiration - everywhere, both mine and acquired. I want to be encased in all things creative. My mind slips into proper order the moment I walk through the door.

Photo of Lynn's design board and various creations in all stages of design.

Where I started and where I am now are related but in the way that you stand next to a cousin and think, "I could see where we are from the same family." The studio connection past and present is there along with evidence of the search to find that sweet comfort spot. It is a kind of tilling and combining of elements and finding the ah-ha beauty that draws an unconscious comfortable sigh from me, telling me that I am home.

Lynn's Big Orange Chair with White Background. What a
delight and so original!

It wasn't until I started creating my own fabric about a year ago that I knew I was almost there. I know I'm not the first to do it and I know I won't be the last but what it has given me has changed nearly everything that goes on in that little room at the end of the second floor hallway.

If I said that I didn't own or use any commercial fabric, that would make me a liar. I am, after all, a bona fide fabric addict. But I find myself reaching around the commercial bin in my studio when I'm creating wall art. (The funky batiks and prints make their way into other projects these days. The plushies I create are more then happy to sport colorful stripes and bizarre swirls on their tummies.)

I've tried long and hard to explain the things that I love most about hand printed fabric. I smooshed all the reasons into a Top Ten list that perfectly sums up my affection for the whole bit:

(1) Fast food vs. homemade. I admit that I do love me some fast food but I also admit that it can't really begin to compare to homemade food. I think a big part of it is the difference between who is making it: a hormonal disgruntled teenager vs. your mom. Mom adds love - an ingredient that shows through in the final product. Its the same with printing your own fabric - your emotion becomes embedded in the fibers.

Photo of thermofax screen printing process

(2) Freedom. Freeeeeddddoooommm! Freeeeddddooooommmmm!!! Instead of searching
high and low to find the fabric that I want to use to convey a message, all I need to do is hunker down in my studio for a couple of hours and I've got exactly what I need.

(3) Magic. No matter how many times I use thermofax screens to screen print or slop soy wax on to create batik fabrics, it never gets old. I won't say this for sure but its possible that I shout "Ta-da!" each and every time.

Painting Soy Wax, just one of the options when making your own fabric
 (4) Connection. I love that I can spill my mood out onto something tangible. Its easy to convey whatever I'm thinking since I have control over the whole process from start to finish. Its a sort of fabric journal, a documentation of what I was thinking on that specific day.

(5) Be specific! I tend to print fabric as I need it for a project rather then creating it for my stash. (Although there is a little stash fabric in there as well.) I can bend the fabric to my will rather then the other way around. There is no compromise on the final product.

On the Line, a combination of planning and serendipity
 (6) Pass the soap please. I get to make a mess. A valid, necessary, unapologetic mess. Paint, wax, dye - you name it, I have a reason to involve it all in the mayhem. The day that I realized I required an apron to avoid making my entire wardrobe studio clothing is the day I realized I was right where I needed to be.

(7) Intentional serendipity. I enjoy surprising results when creating something but there comes a point and time where you want more control over how things are coming out. I can assemble my every growing stack of thermofax screens, my paints, my dyes and while I cannot see the results entirely in my mind when I begin, I can guide it along the path I want to get what I need.

(8) One of these things is not like the others. Its impossible to create the same piece of fabric twice. No matter how hard I try (and I normally don't), its wasted effort. Knowing that each one is different and unique
and an only child makes each one my favorite. And that's a happy place to be.

Lynn adds graphic hand stitching to her thermofaxed fabrics
 (9) The star of the show. I like to do graphic hand stitching, simple and to the point. Creating a piece of work in which the hand printed fabric is the star of the show, the stitching is there to compliment the design and add those little tweaks of happiness. The fabric is the star and everything else in the work moves around it to make sure that it stays that way.

Adding layers to create the design
(10) Joy. Printing my own fabric is a joyful process. It makes me happy. Plain and simple and to the point. And sometimes, that's more then enough reason to do something - to put a smile on your face.

Creating art is about finding your joy. There is no right or wrong way to find it, you just have to plod along until that "a-ha!" moment settles over you. It can be dramatic and come out in a shout or be quiet and as simple as drawing paint across a silk screen.

However you define it, move forward. Keep working. Don't question. And never doubt that you are an artist.

Happy creating!

For more of Lynn's beautiful work and inspiring words, please visit her website, her blog, and her Etsy shop.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

FYI: Early American and African American exhibits open in October

Early American Quilts Exhibition at Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

A traveling exhibit of the world’s finest collections of early American quilts will come to rest at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts from October 9, 2010, through January 2 of 2011.

The exhibit originates from the Winterthur Museum in Delaware, famed for its period room settings featuring the remarkable collection of furniture, fabrics, quilts, and decorative arts collected by Henry Francis du Pont (1880–1969).

This is a first.

For the first time ever a selection of more than 40 of the most stunning quilts are traveling for a strictly limited period. Visitors have the opportunity to see these works in detail.

Perhaps just as exciting, the exhibition also explores the lives of their makers, as well as the political, economic and technological developments that shaped production of the quilts. The exhibition will offer an absorbing insight into women’s political, social, and cultural lives in the formative period of the early American republic (1760–1850).

"American Quilts" also includes several rare prototypes of bed coverings that were imported to this country as luxury goods from Europe and East India.

American Quilts: Selections from the Winterthur Collection is organized by Winterthur and curated by Linda Eaton, Senior Curator of Textiles at Winterthur. This exhibition is supported by the Elisabeth Shelton Gottwald Fund and the Lettie Pate Whitehead Evans Exhibition Endowment.

VMFA members can enjoy this for free! Otherwise, tickets are $15 for adults. For Seniors 65+, students with ID, adult groups of 10+, and youth ages 7–17: $12 Children 6 and under: Free. Buy tickets online, on-site, or by calling 804.340.1405

New England Quilt Museum to Open
African-American Quilts Exhibit

The New England Quilt Museum, a showplace for contemporary quilts will feature a new exhibit: African American Quilts Today: A Celebration of Motherhood, Sisterhood, and the Matriarchs

The exhibit features the work of noted contemporary African American Quilt artists Sonie Ruffin, NedRa Bonds, Sherry Whetstone and Michele David. The quilts include a variety of themes, styles, and techniques that were inspired by family, friendship, religious and spiritual issues that resonate with women of all generations. Dr. Pearlie M. Johnson, whose scholarship examines the work of these artists, is guest curator.

She notes, “The ways in which the four fabric artists juxtapose African fabrics with American fabrics has produced works of art that, in some cases, resemble multi-pattern designs in traditional West African textiles. Building upon the quilting traditions established by their ancestors, contemporary African American quilters are producing fabric art that expresses ideas related to contemporary society, a society in which they grew up, live, and work.”

African-American Quilts Today will run from October 21 through December 31, 2010. The opening reception, featuring a program by Dr. Pearlie Johnson, will be on Saturday, October 23rd at 1 p.m. In conjunction with the exhibit, the Museum will host two trunk shows: Sisters in Fibers Guild on Saturday, November 6, starting at 1 p.m, and the Sisters in Stitches guild the following Saturday, November 13, also starting at 1 p.m.

This announcement is brought to you courtesy of Quilter’s Muse Publications

Friday, October 1, 2010

Fish n Baskets Quilt: A family story

I've been away from blogging for too long and today -- the first day of a new month -- my marriage month -- seems the perfect time to jump back in. I need to stay focused on the beautiful art of quilts and fabric and find a respite from the fears and uncertainty of daily life.

As many of you know my husband has ALS -- an incurable, untreatable, degenerative disease where 100 percent of the patients die. But his is slow progressing and he's doing marvelously right now with some assistive devices and a wife who refuses to allow him to die because he hasn't written his will, yet.

But now we're focusing on the fun stuff and forgetting disease.

Recently the fun and delight of fabric and quilts has come home to my house. In the 1980s Mom found a UFO that was passed on to her by her mother. It was/is a pieced basket quilt top.

Recently my 98 year old mother informed me that my 'Fish and Baskets' quilts that I've dearly loved for all of these years wasn't pieced by my grandmother, but was pieced by HER grandmother. So what I thought was probably made in the 1900s was most probably made in the 1800s. I'm taking a new look at this quilt and some quilt historians and appraisers are doing the same.

The little Fish and Baskets quilt came to be named thus because my Great Grandma Leah Hetrick made a mistake. She put one of those basket squares on sideways when she was piecing the squares together and didn't notice until she had several rows completed. (Photo 3 shows the fish)

I believe I inherited Leah's dislike for ripping and redoing things. Instead of ripping and fixing, she tossed it into the 'later if ever' pile of items to be fixed or repaired or forgotten. I'm so glad she did. And I'm glad Mom is a packrat and did not throw out that 'rag' that she found among her mother's possessions. That little fish makes all the difference to us and endeared it to my two sons who were too old for 'blankets' and too young for girls at the time of the quilt's first appearance. They were the ones who named it the Fish and Baskets quilt based on a Sunday School lesson.

Mom took that little top and added a wide brown border, muslin backing, and hand quilting before binding it and sending it home to our house. She saw it as utilitarian. I saw it as a family heirloom, a piece of family history and promptly added a sleeve to the back and hung it on the wall for all to see. Mom wasn't pleased with that choice because all she saw were the uneven stitches, the wavy border, the things she should have ripped out and done right but didn't see the need since it was old and utilitarian. Poor Mom. She and I never did think alike.

Not only did the quilt offer a sense of family, it habored its own little secret. I stumbled on it one evening when insomnia sent me searching for some herb tea. Times were tough, money in short supply and my husband had been a casualty of massive layoffs. I needed a sign that better times were around the corner, things could change for the better.

Moonlight streamed in the window highlighting the quilt, but it wasn't MY quilt. It was a geometric aberration with Grecian urn shapes and triangles. It was the sign I needed. I herded my sleepy men down stairs to see the quilt's transformation and we shared a moment that brought our family together in a lasting way.

Our Fish and Baskets quilt has been tucked away for the past few years. But when Mom dropped her bombshell on me, I had to take it out and look at it again. This time I'm asking the experts to date the fabrics. According to the family story the fabrics are leftovers from the shirts that were made for my grandmother's five brothers. So anyone who wants to wade in or comment about the quilt, fabrics, possible date, era, or the unusual pattern. Please do! Note the strange green fabric in photo number 4 -- this is that illusionary background that steps forward at night.

Several have wanted to see the photos that I posted on my Facebook page. So here they are for your enjoyment. I've taken close ups of several of the fabrics in hope you can get a date from them. Almost every basket is of a different fabric.

Also, one of the many essays I've written about this quilt (before finding out about Great Grandma's hand in the making of this) can be found at the Christian Science Monitor's archives. It is titled "A patchwork of warmth and hope -- in 10-inch squares."

I hope you enjoy my little Fish and Baskets quilt. I'd love to hear about your quilts and their stories!