Monday, June 29, 2009

New life for cemetery art: grave rubbing quilts

Susan Lenz found her way from custom framer to artist via Julia Cameron's "The Artist's Way." And it wasn't until recently that she stumbled upon the realization that she creates art quilts. The epiphany came while in a cemetery. She's turned her cemetery findings into a series of art quilts that presents the past for us to consider now and in the future. [ Photo: Grave Rubbings Quilt "17 Killed Instantly"] As I post this, she is in England where she just found a grave dated: 1659.

Here is Susan Lenz, in her own words:
My name is Susan Lenz.

Like everyone else, I'm many things: wife, daughter, mother, business woman, homeowner, taxpayer, embroiderer......but until last fall I wouldn't have included art quilter.

Working in this new medium is an extension of my love affair with needle and thread as it intersected a particularly inspirational page in Jeanne Williamson's The Uncommon Quilter. On page 85 one can find the following words:

"When you were a child, did you ever make gravestone rubbings?.....rubbing a big crayon over the surface....This same basic technique can be used to create textures on fabric. To make the design
permanent simply iron it in place."
I read this passage while at the MacNamara Foundation artist-in-residency program in the fall of 2008, on Westport Island, Maine. I had been awarded a six week opportunity to simply "make art....all day....everyday". (Heaven!) This was an incredible gift of time; time to explore new ideas, including a secret fascination for the world of art quilts.
Maine is full of old cemeteries and there were several family plots within a short walk. I simply had to try this unique idea, grave rubbings using a crayon on fabric.The first piece was Patience. I used the only plain, light colored fabric I brought to Maine. It was tea-stained muslin that I use for another series called Decision Portraits. Believe it or not, it was there in Maine, reading The Uncommon Quilter and Robert Shaw's definitive 1997 tome The Art Quilt, that I realized the Decision Portraits were all technically "art quilts". I had already finished the first twelve....three layers fastened with stitches! I just didn't recognize them as such!

Somehow the notion of quilting still didn't seem part of my repertoire; yet, collecting more grave rubbings was really appealing. So, I bought a pile of silk remnants and struck out into the local cemeteries. [Photo: Grave rubbings on silk yardage]

I had fantasies of making art with the results. It all seemed so bohemian and exotic --dancing alone in a cemetery with yards of silk fabric and a child's brown crayon. Dreaming about the art quilts I'd make. Letting nature and a sense of eternal peacefulness take control. Somehow, in the autumn sunsets and the picture-perfect setting, I thought this was just wishful thinking.

Logically, I thought I'd regret purchasing the fabric and wasting a perfect afternoon pursuing an idealized image of an "art quilter". I honestly hoped to make art...but never would have bet on actually doing it. The "censor" in the back of my mind chided me...saying, "You'll never really DO anything with all these grave rubbings".But, I did....and I still am....and likely always will be! [Photo: First of the series: Patience]

The Grave Rubbing Series was born from this early experience and is an on-going project.Making the rubbings is a wonderful experience. Collaging them with vintage linens and lace is even better. Meditatively stitching them is simply the best. The kantha styled quilts to which I'd been exposed while attending the Swedish Embroidery Symposium in the summer of 2008 with fiber friend Annica Linsten became my natural approach for these pieces.

Wikipedia's definition is perfect: "Kantha stitching is also used to make simple quilts. Women in Bengal typically use old saris and cloth and layer them with kantha stitch to make a light blanket or throw or bedspread, especially for children."

[Photos Father Mother Grave Rubbing and (2) below of close ups from Father Mother quilt and 18th Century Angel quilt, showing the traditional Kantha running stitches.]

What appeals to me about this approach to art quilting is the concept of recycling material and stitching by hand. More importantly, words on a gravestone are often selected by those mourning a deceased loved one. They create a memory of the past and are meant to speak to future generations. Using recycled and vintage materials with the rubbings expresses these sentiments perfectly.

Some of the materials I've used include a severely light damaged, heavy curtain salvaged from an old office; a felt covering used to send a kayak to a local outdoor store (it becomes the batting); damaged card-table clothes, aprons, and household linens; vintage buttons and lace; and even an old sepia photograph of an unknown little girl. Most of the pieces are stitched by both hand and free motion machine embroidery.

I started entering pieces from the series into national juried exhibitions and have been thrilled with acceptance. Memory is currently on display in Rocky Mount's Imperial Center, part of the all media exhibit juried by Anne Lemanski. Father and Mother will be in Art Quilts Lowell 2009 at the Brush Gallery in Lowell, Massachusetts from August 5 through September 19 but earlier was awarded "Best of Show" in the South Carolina fine craft show "Palmetto Hands", juror Cynthia Bringle of Penland. The Just By Faith Shall Live Again was most recently selected by jurors Eugenia Barnes and gallery director Roger Smith into the 2009 National Small Art Quilt Works exhibition in Groton, NY, July 23 through September 6.

With all this, I've had to readjust my thinking: I am an art quilter!

Other Grave Rubbing Series quilts have been submitted for other exhibitions; I'm waiting on results. It is very, very exciting; and yet, the best is that the series is on-going. I've created additional rubbings in Colma, California....a city with seventeen cemeteries; Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia; in the military cemeteries in Arlington and San Francisco; in two pet cemeteries; in Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston; and elsewhere. I haven't even started with the large cemetery only two and a half blocks from my house! [Photo Grave Rubbings quilt "The Just by Faith Shall Live Again."]

These quilts will also be part of a solo show I'm mounting at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios next February. This location is an artist cooperative setting with thirteen studios and a large, professional exhibition area. My studio is there.

The rental agreement entitles me to two free weeks of gallery use. Earlier this year I mounted CYBER FYBER, an international fiber show celebrating the global supportive community of Internet connected fiber artists. These were my "two free weeks" for 2009. Though I'd hoped to mount CYBER FYBER 2 in 2010, funding realities forced me to cancel almost immediately.

In its place, I decided to have my own show: Last Words and the Blues. Blues Chapel, an earlier installation, will fill the main gallery. It will have just returned from two months in the Greater Denton Gallery of Art in Denton, Texas. Blues Chapel transforms a space into a sacred setting focusing on twenty-four early female Blues singers....complete with church pews, triptychs, an altar, and plenty of fiber art. Since I've already "built the church", I'm now at work on the adjoining "cemetery". My vision includes the Grave Rubbing Quilt series coupled with a hanging installation of collected epitaphs free motion embroidered on the sheerest chiffon. These will be in the 80808 Gallery atrium.
I can hardly wait to see the art quilts together, creating the peaceful, serene environment that I feel when collecting the rubbings and stitching each work.

[Lenz's photo by Brett Flashnick, freelance photojournalist. Photo taken at Cyber Fyber.]

Thursday, June 25, 2009

My View: Learning from a legend via her book

by Dawn Goldsmith

A few years ago I checked out the legendary quilt artist Ruth B. McDowell’s gallery on her website.
Among her award winning and should-have-won-awards quilts was one that drew me to this woman and gave me a different perspective. I want to say the title of the piece was nude reclining, but it was a self portrait. When I clicked on the words my brain was trying to conjure up a woman who would post herself nude on her website. Most of us feel flawed and prefer not to flaunt it. How brave! Maybe a “Nude Ascending Stairs” kind of fractured image, I thought.

I stared at the quilt. Then laughed. Two ‘bare’ feet took up almost the entire little quilt blocking out any of the ummm more titillating parts. Yet, our feet are probably as intimate a part of our anatomy and the least seen, especially the soles. She was in essences baring her soul (sole). It was that moment that I knew I loved this woman’s sense of humor and sense of self. They shine through in everything she makes, this juxtaposition of empathy, caring and warped sense of humor that coordinates beautifully with her artist’s eye and passion for detail.
[Photo above: Daylily with ruffles. "Many modern daylily cultivars have a degree of ruffling along the edges of the petals. After doing the drawing for this quilt and figuring out how I could give a pieced interpretation of the ruffles, I went to my fabric stash to see what color daylily to make. It could have been anything from pale to deep yellow, orange, rose, red, burgundy or mauve. A lovely soft red hand-dyed fabric from Judy Robertson caught my eye. It had enough variation to make the large pieces interesting and could be selectively cut to make some lighter and darker areas as well. "]

But with my diploma still wet from graduating nine-patch piecing, and untried when it came to star patterns, I never considered making a Ruth McDowell type quilt until I picked up her book “Design Workshop, published in 2007 by C&T Publishing. It is a companion to her piecing workshops and takes for granted that the user is already familiar with her freezer paper piecing method as taught in her piecing workshops. But the book has value without any of those workshops or knowledge.

For me the ah-ha moment came when she discussed elements of pieced designs. I was raised by traditional quilters who took pride in perfectly aligned seams, points, corners, and lived by the word ‘precise’ when it came to quilting. Ruth pointed out that shifting end points wasn’t a mistake but a conscious choice, that in actuality these misaligned points could add interest and movement to a quilt. I didn’t agree when I saw her Lightning Strike quilt with the diagonal yellow bars not quite matching. I really wanted them to match. Needed them to match. Yet, in a diagram of a simple tulip pattern the striking difference jumped out between precisely pieced tips and the shifted edges of the same pattern.

She went on to write about moving diagonals away from the corners. Then she took my favorite little four-patch and discussed intersecting seams, demonstrating the effect of offsetting the intersection a bit. She pointed out that the continuous seam became stronger, visually, drew the eye to it, while the interrupted seam takes a secondary or weaker position.

The book includes a discussion of shifting focus in a landscape, fracturing to subdue an element, and using fracturing as a design element.
[Photo: Moo In the golden light of four o'clock on a summer afternoon, the colors of a herd of cows waiting by the barn stopped me in my tracks. Leaping from the car, I ran around photographing groups of cows, and later combined several images into this quilt.]
Perhaps art students understand all of this or it comes naturally to some, but this was new to me. I, who am excellent at misaligning and fracturing, embraced the fact that maybe, just maybe there was something in life beyond precision.

My life changed in only 14 pages, and 81 pages remained. Her section on preparing a piecing diagram simply blew me away as she taught about the various seams and intersections, what works and why, and some things to avoid that make piecing easier. She describes animals, nature, people, and landscapes in an effort to help overcome difficulties and learn the basics of each. Even a chapter or tessellation.

She speaks about beginning with a drawing, or a sketch from a photograph, and then she moves on into fabric. We who naturally collect fabric might need a few guidelines to make that stash as useful as possible and she addresses ‘building a stash.’ “You probably have more bright colors and medium-value fabrics than you may need, but not enough subtle shades and mixtures, large-scale fabrics, and light fabrics or very dark (not black) fabrics.”
[Photo: Baron Von Ruffhausen. My daughter Leah's Bernese Mountain Dog, Harvey, at about 7 months old. Loving, intelligent, polite and a confirmed pacifist, Harvey is also a giant - a Clydesdale of the dog world.]

She speaks of color choices, using plaids and how to use fabrics in landscapes. She walks you through her choices for Muir Woods, a lovely landscape piece she made in 1997. And then she uses the flamingo demonstration. Simple but effective in demonstrating how to visually read a quilt and place contrast where needed to bring out details. There are sections on backgrounds, borders, quilting and embellishment. For anyone who wants to move away from traditional and into the innovative, creative, one-of-a-kind ‘art’ quilt – this book is a fantastic intro to the world whether your background is art or quilt.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Want to 'needle' something -- try needle felting!

Barbara Potoczny's lifelong fascination with sewing machines, fabric, and collecting, has led to some of the most colorful, imaginative and inspiring fabric artistry you'll be lucky to experience. For the past ten years she has graciously shared her knowledge in workshops across the country. She's multi-talented making quilts, and art dolls, and as you can see here -- needle felting. She makes it look so easy! For those wanting to get started with these techniques, Barbara also sells fabric packs on her website-- Dawn

Here's Barbara in her own words:

Welcome to my world of Machine Needle Felting. Several years ago I was introduced to a new machine just on the market, the Embellisher. I wasn't sure just what I could do with this machine. It had 7 barbed needles and used no thread.

Now what?

It wasn't long before I was off and running. Since that time, I have added the new 12 needle Embellisher to my collection. I love them both for different reasons, and wouldn't part with either one of them.

I began this journey in machine needle felting by trying to punch all different textures and fabrics.

[See photo above for samples of materials I use]

Some worked and some didn't work so well. My favorite base fabrics for felting are duck cloth and wool. You can also embellish existing clothing, such as sweaters, jackets, blue jeans, and much more. These are all wonderful canvases for embellishing. The actual embellishing or what you needle felt into the base can be silk roving, wool roving, natural fibers, curls, yarns, felts, velvet, silks, angelina and whatever else you come up with.

Published Project

My project FELTING FOR FALL was published in Belle Armoire magazine, the September/October 2007 issue. [No photo available.]

This project was made from a thrift store sweater embellished with yarns and multicolor felted leaves cascading down the front, back, and sleeves. Extra pieces of my needle felting were made into a coordinating handbag. My favorite outings take me to thrift stores where I walk slowly up and down the aisles, searching for just the right color and fabric for the next project. I have such fun discovering just what new fabric I can needle felt.

I keep a basket full of samples as I try new items, making notes on each. My basket is over flowing with beautiful colors and textures, fabrics, fibers, yarns. This is why I love needle felting. It's a fiber artist's dream come true.

[Photo: Fish bowl -- base, polyester lining fabric, hand dyed handspun yarns, silks, wool. Once the needle felting has been complete the circular fabric was hand stitched onto my support ring. Complete directions will soon be on my blog. ]

Need for speed? You'll love this technique

One of the first rules to machine needle felting is "Keep you foot pedal going fast, and your hand movements slow."

This is important and prevents you from zipping through packs and packs of expensive needles. Once you get the feel of the movement needed for felting, you can needle felt for days or longer without breaking a single needle. I do, however, change my needles when I am working on a special project for exhibition. This gives the best look. When needles get bent or dull, the results will show on the fabric being punched down. Also, when using your machine for hours, keep in mind that these are fine needles, and when hot, could bend or break. Be sure to give your machine a cool down period for a few minutes every now and then.

Machine needle felting can be combined with quilting to achieve fabulous effects. Try to combine your needle felted pieces with other techniques, such as beading, painting, knitting, crochet, purchased fibers or hand dyed.
[See photo: Garden of Hope. The Garden Of Hope wall hanging was constructed by machine needle felting onto a black wool base. The wool base fabric can be found at thrift stores in the form of wool skirts or trousers. Once purchased I wash them in hot water, deconstruct then the fabric is ready to use. However, since this base is an integral part of this piece, I have chosen to use new wool for this piece. Embroidered and dupioni silks were used to create the floral designs. An assortment of fabrics including, wool, silks, woven cottons, and velvets are needle felted in place for the stem and all of the leaves. Using a variety of fabrics with different textures creates a much more interesting composition.

Shimmery fibers and yarns, glistening glass beads and tiny pink bows were added to complete this piece. The fibers and yarns were needle felted onto the wool from the front side, as well as the reverse side to show a variety of textures. The tiny pink ribbons have been placed randomly throughout this piece to honor Breast Cancer survivors. ]

I enjoy sharing my all of my tips and techniques and offer them in workshops across the United States. Needle felting is my passion and I teach techniques and uses that apply to all major embellisher brands. Information about my teaching schedule and workshops may be found on my website.

If you have any questions, feel free to email me at

And as a bonus, here are two more creations by Barbara:

This shoulder style bag is made from a variety of green silks and velvets in my mosaic style. A free form garden of rust colored silk flowers and handspun yarns has then been needle felted onto the base background. A marvelous green trim has been added around the bottom and then constructed into the shoulder bag with a beaded fastener. Note that the rings used for holding the bag handle are recycled belt buckles. I enjoy the challenge of recycling clothing and found objects in all my pieces.


This second purse, a shoulder style bag is a simple creation using wool fabric as my base and background. I have used simple flower and leaf shapes to create the floral tapestry by machine needle felting them onto the background. Recycled sari silk has been added with strips of the wool to create the handle and tassel.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Visual journals and bird flight....

Melanie Testa has a fantasy that is as bold and beautiful as her fabric art and just as inspiring -- she wants to be a bird. I can relate, having always wanted to simply fly up into the sky whenever and wherever I pleased.

Yet, while she's earthbound, she devotes her art to the study of her human form, nature and of course, what else, birds! Her exploration will inspire -- it certainly has given me a different perspective. And that (as Martha Stewart likes to say) 'is a good thing.'

Here's Melanie, graciously agreeing to share her Self and her art with us 'Subversive Stitchers.' -- Dawn

Hello All. This is my first Guest Blog Appearance, ever. You might imagine how pleased I am to be asked by Dawn to write content for a blog named: Subversive Stitchers: Women Armed with Needles! I feel Rad just be have been asked to participate! Thank you Dawn and hello to all your readers!

My name is Melanie Testa, I go by Melly and MellyMells across the web and in real life too. I am a first time author of the newly published Inspired to Quilt by Interweave Press.

Writing a book has been a long time goal for me, so this is a very exciting time. The focus of the book is technique oriented, I guide you though the processes used to create and make marks on cloth, then I show you how to take those ideas and create whole cloth quilts in two layers, cotton broadcloth and silk organza. The sheer nature of the organza and its top most placement in the 'quilt sandwich' allows for collage elements to be wedged between the layers and also lends a painterly effect to the overall quilt.

My approach to art and art making is varied. I love to journal visually. It started years ago while in college at the Fashion Institute of Technology for Textile/Surface Design. My teachers strongly suggested we keep journals where we would paint, tape in rip sheets, anything we thought worth remembering would go between the pages of our journals. The basic premise being that visual ideas are fleeting and need to be committed to paper as soon as they are developed.

Being a person who learns by total immersion in an idea or technique, I began collecting other people's published journals, Sabrina Ward-Harrison, Danny Gregory, John Copeland, Frida Kahlo, all have a special place on my night stand.

I view my journals as a place of personal connection to Self (and I do mean Self, with a capital S). Painting and drawing in my journals, clarifies my mind, acts as a form meditation and allows me to connect with my surroundings in a more intimate and personal manner. When you look at something in order to see, evaluate, and draw it as precisely as possible, it is almost as if, even momentarily, you have become one with it. It feels spiritual to me.

Until I wrote Inspired to Quilt, which relies on my journals as a place to draw inspiration from, I felt as though my journals were private. I had known that many people journal, that this activity was not specific to me or my approach, but still these books, page after page, felt like a private conversation. And although they remain that, I am excited to say that it feels as though there is a very supportive and active visual journaling community. To find my place in that community has been a joy! Having recently written an article for Cloth Paper Scissors (and gotten the cover photo!) I was amazed to find so many positive email responses to my article! It was a real eye opener.

The journal page (at the beginning of this blog post) depicts the view out a coffee shop window; telephone pole, newspaper box and bike. The bike was taken away before I could complete the image. Which in the end lent a bit of visual magic to the piece; the viewer gets to complete the piece for themselves. Much of my work, both journal images and fabric art, also play with the idea of decorative art. Shimmering elements that decorate and enhance for no apparent reason other than the joy of inclusion. I think this is related to my background in textile design.

Birds play a major part in my life and art. I have wanted to be a bird from a very early age but I have been placed on this earth in human form, so I make do by drawing and incorporating them into my art. My preference in working with birds as an aspect of series in my art form is to work with birds found on this continent or in places I have visited. This too is a means to connect with my surrounding on a deeper level. When I hike, explore or hang out at a local park, I am constantly on the lookout for birds. Friends comment on my ability to see birds wherever I am. And they find their way into almost every piece I can possibly manage it!

Chairs are a subject matter that has a round about story.

I enjoy making artwork centered around the human form. Preferably nude. Revealing and exploring our connection to nature through making art that places bare, exposed human form in a setting with natural elements is a concept that I have not seen to its completion as yet. It is rare that we, as human animals, get to go outdoors in the nude. There is a disconnect, a barrier between us and the earthly. This is both a point of protection and need. But it is my thought that we cannot forget that we are animals and part of an ecosystem and larger context. We are part of this earth, not separate. Our minds as well as our bodies reside on this planet, with the plants, animals and minerals that are both a part of and support to our very existence.

It is easy to forget that this computer screen, the book I read while eating lunch, the friend I look forward to speaking to on a regular basis are not the end or the means to life on this planet. As a good friend of mine likes to remind me when I get caught up in something, "There is a snowflake falling somewhere on this planet."

So why work in series as it relates to chairs? Because you cannot really have a chair without at least the implication of the human form. How many rooms have you entered that have not a single chair? When you see a chair flipped upside down, does it not make you think to right it again? After a long days work, does your favorite chair relieve and relax you? of course! There is a grace and beauty in chairs.

I really hope you enjoyed these thoughts into my approach and ideas. If you have read and liked my addition to this great blog, perhaps you will come and check out my blog and web site and say hello!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Blurred Boundaries Exhibit clearly envisions mixed media fiber art

Lynn Krawczyk is a tough lady to pin down. She's zipping from one project to the next with a determination to fill every moment of every day with art and promotion of art and her own creativity. Thankfully she took a few minutes from her overwhelming schedule to guest blog for Subversive Stitchers and tell us about her art as well as the upcoming exhibit she's curating. Listen up mixed media artists -- this exhibit is for you!

Now, here's Lynn! -- Dawn

I am incapable of creating flat fiber art.

It’s a rare occasion when a work of mine has just fiber and thread on it. I understand that the roots of fiber art come from bed quilts and I admire the artistry of those who paint a spectacular portrait with nothing more then moving thread around on the surface of fabric, but I crave dimension. [Note the photo, Natures Couture Spring by Lynn Krawczyk]

One of the easiest ways I have found to do this is to pull in other elements such as found objects. Many times my entire design process begins there with that single object and the rest of the work is built up around that. I find it exciting to allow something to lead me and to combine seemingly opposite elements into the same piece of art.

My love of fiber art grew into a small business called Lost Arts Stitchery that thrived for three years and focused on art quilting and crazy quilting. After the doors to that venture were closed, I moved on to organizing art quilt exhibits. I found I enjoyed it as much as creating art and have taken as many opportunities as I can.

I have organized exhibits for the American Sewing Expo in Novi, Michigan (most notably my Breaking Traditions Art Quilt Exhibit which is now in its fourth year) as well as for the
Studio Art Quilt Associates. I’ve loved every second of working with the venues and the
artists. Its extremely satisfying to hold another artist’s work in my hand and place it into
an environment that honors it for everyone to see.
Photos in order: Plastic Fusion by Sidney Savage; Eye-land by Susan Sorrell; Human Nature 7 by Virginia Spiegel.

So when Cathy Arnett presented me with the opportunity to curate an exhibit for her retreat, Fabrications in Kalamazoo, Michigan, I jumped at it. Her desired theme? Mixed media fiber art – exactly the style so near and dear to my heart!

And not only 2D work, but 3D work is to be included in the exhibit. It couldn’t be better! I quickly contacted Virginia Spiegel to see if she was interested in being the juror and she agreed. I envision an extremely exciting exhibit showing just how far past the boundaries of mainstream fiber art some artists are going. It made the title come easily – Blurred Boundaries.

This week long exhibit will be one of the main attractions of the retreat. It will be in the
centralized meeting area, giving it a constant flow of visitors and making it accessible to people outside the retreat as well. It will not only be viewed by the attendees and instructors, but it will be open to the public. Kalamazoo has a thriving arts community focusing on visual arts, music and cultural arts. It is the perfect fit for this exhibit.

Blurred Boundaries asks artists to submit up to three artworks for consideration. They may be either 2D (ranging in size from 48” max to 12” min) or 3D (ranging from 12” max to 6”min).

The defining requirement for artwork to be considered for the exhibit is that it must contain a minimum of 25% fiber. This opens up a wide door for a variety of materials and techniques that are being left at the sole discretion of the artist!

The deadline for submission has been extended to June 28!

And the process couldn’t be easier. Images may be submitted online, the entry form is filled out online and the $25 entry fee and return shipping may be paid with paypal or personal check. The exhibit is making an effort to eliminate some waste by taking out the requirement to send CDs and print out paper for entry forms. All the information on how to prepare your images for submissions can be found in the exhibit’s prospectus here (Links to the online entry form and the service to submit your images can also be found there.)

And this is not only an excellent show opportunity but it also a sales opportunity as well as a chance to win a $100 prize. A low 15% commission for sold work provides a wonderful chance to sell some of your work.

Exhibit attendees will be able to vote on the artwork that they like best and the one with the most votes will receive the $100 People’s Choice Award. All exhibit participants will receive a small package of mixed media supplies to be used in future projects. I am incredibly thrilled and honored to curate this exhibit and to be able to work with Cathy Arnett and Virginia Spiegel on the project. But more then that, I am so excited to work with like minded artists who love to marry fabric with other mediums and materials!

I hope you will join us for this very exciting show!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Lesley Riley, up close and personal

Lesley Riley sees art as more than the result of creative urges. When speaking of art she uses words such as 'magic' and 'eternal longing of the soul.' When looking at Lesley's art, you will find her there. You'll learn about her life and get to know her family. Her self and family twine in and out of the fabrics, paints, transfers and photos that make her work unique. Once you've seen some of her work, you'll be able to recognize her style. She has graciously agreed to tell us how her fascination began and how it grew. Sit back and enjoy the photos of her Angel in the House series as well as a look inside of Lesley Riley -- in her own words. -- Dawn

People who are familiar with my quilts and mixed media work associate me with photos on fabric. Where did my fascination with photos on fabric come from? I am so enamored with them, that I find it hard to make any fiber art that does not include a photograph. It just doesn’t seem complete without one.

I majored in Woman’s Studies, so I feel right at home here on the Subversive Stitchers Blog. We’re women armed with needles. I like that. When I went back to school in the 90s to complete a degree I started in the 70s (yeah, life got in the way), I was looking for a major that would accept my disparate accumulated academic credits (computer programming, accounting, systems management, interior design, art & design). The Women’s Studies department welcomed me with open arms and the requirement that I complete 30 credit hours in their program. Perfect, I was 30 hours short of the 120 required for a degree.

I am not a very political, radical or subversive woman, so I was worried about finding my place in this major. The University of MD has a very politically oriented and active program. The Women & Art class hadn’t been offered for years. All of my professors were just about my age, but they knew little about the art side of the women’s movement and even less about quilting. So I became their teacher. It was a wonderful experience. They taught me about being subversive and I taught them about quilting.

While I was in the woman’s studies program, I became interested in women’s untold stories. How lucky we are to be able to communicate our ideas and our passions, create the art we want and now, thanks to the Internet, show it to the world. For the most part, the women that came before us were silenced…except for the needle!

I have been collecting photographs for most of my adult life. Since the beginning, I’ve been drawn to photos of women – cabinet cards, daguerreotypes, snapshots of everyday life, from graduations to babies to dishes. When I finally picked up my needle again after traditional quilts and a slew of babies, I wanted to work with these photos.

My first efforts were done with rubbery T-shirt transfers from the local copy shop. My world changed when the inkjet printer was invented and I, along with everyone else, had access to color printing at home. Eager to tell the stories of the women whose faces stared back at me (some so very sad), I began creating quilts and Fragments to honor these women. And thus began my interest and drive to find the best way to get my photos onto fabric. The photos here are from a series I did while in school. They are based on a Victorian era poem, Angel in the House, by Coventry Patmore, but I discovered the poem through a CD and a song of the same name written and performed by Jonatha Brook. I used photos from my antique cabinet card collection, old aprons and laces, to portray a woman escaping from repression.

But back to photos on fabric. I’ve tried all methods – Bubble Jet set, various paper-backed inkjet-ready fabrics, direct printing with archival inks, transfers using everything from acetone to matte medium. They’re all good to varying degrees. Each has a unique look and many times I will prefer one over the other when it comes to the overall look I am working towards.

But while they all may have some good features, none of them has all the features I am looking for. Color brightness, image sharpness, washability, durability and fade resistance. And then one day, I found it; or rather it (and the manufacturer) found me – an iron-on transfer paper that gave me all the results I was looking for, and then some. As with everything I “discover”, I wanted to share it with my fellow quilters and artists. I named it Transfer Artist Paper and then one of my early testers gave it the nickname TAP.

I’ve only been using it for a few months and selling it since October 2008. I love what I’m doing, but the business side eats into my art time. The packing/shipping became so time consuming that I had to hire help (my daughter). There’s still a lot of time involved in the promoting and business side but with any new endeavor, the start up and learning the ropes is the most time-consuming part of starting a business (I hope).

I’m excited to see what effect the addition of TAP has on my art. But more importantly, I am eager to see what it can do in the hands of others. From memory to art quilts and all that’s in between, I hope to get everyone TAPping.

Visit Lesley's blog for more tips and insights. Or check out her book, Fabulous Fabric Art with Lutradur, published by C&T, and her Quilting Arts video Transfers Tried and True that highlights three kinds of transfers. The video has been reviewed on this blog.
NOTE: Visit Judy Perez's blog to see what she's doing with TAP and what she discovered using organza and TAP.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Dear to my heart

Today the ALS Association Florida Chapter has listed the raffle quilt information and photos on their website. It is a project dear to my heart. I mentioned on a previous post about Good Samaritans that Trish Bowman of Jersey Girl Quilts pieced and quilted the queen size quilt. We shopped together for the Hoffman batiks and chose colors that seemed to reflect hope and joy and a bright future, not to mention a bit tropical. But she used an Eleanor Burns pattern of double tulips and you'll note my favorite four patch pattern is included in the design. Trish Bowman of Orlando and a member of the Cabin Fevers Quilters Guild did an excellent job.

Well, I hope you will all find it in your hearts and wallets to purchase tickets for this quilt. If not for you, perhaps as a gift for someone you love. You see, the someone I love -- my husband -- Derrol. He has a slow-progressing, inherited form of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS. His is a rare form of a rather rare disease. But those of us intimately involved with the disease see numbers rising.

The disease is not usually inherited. It hits sporadically. No one is safe from it. It hits athletes (also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease), couch potatoes, men, women, children. Derrol's brother developed the neuromuscular disease at the age of ten and wasted away until he died at the age of 18. There is no treatment. There is no cure. They don't even have an understanding of what causes it.

But they certainly see what it does. Most people see their hands and feet begin to lose muscle. Then it works its way up from the extremities and when the breathing is compromised, the end is near. And the end for most people comes within 2 to 6 years of diagnosis. It wastes away the voluntary muscles. They lose their grip, their voice, and their smiles. But the person you know remains inside of that body, knowing what is happening to them and unable to stop it. It is devastating for those with the disease and those who love them.

We had an incident this weekend (read my other blog, Observations) where Derrol had to be hospitalized. All we can do is maintain his quality of life. But healthcare providers don't understand how fragile that is and we had a battle to maintain what muscle strength and freedom he has. It is so rare that most personnel are not trained to care for him. They don't understand that whatever muscle strength he loses, he will not regain.

But the good news for us is that his progresses slowly and he has bounced back from the hospital stay and I watched him drive to work this morning after a week of recuperation. He must use a wheelchair because his legs that once were so strong no football linebacker could move him have now wasted to the point he can't do more than take a couple of steps. But with the wheelchair and van, he's free again to live his life.

The ALS Association helps us hook up with medical suppliers. They gave us the name of who to contact for his wheelchair. And he told us about vocational rehab who helped with the van and remodeling the bathroom so he could continue working. And we just paid to have the carpet replaced in our house with tile so that he could move about the house. And we have purchased breathing devices and well you get the idea. Being disabled costs a lot. A LOT! But none of the raffle monies go to Derrol or me. They all will support the programs for the ALS Association.

The wheelchair costs as much as a new car. More in some cases. A walker cost him $350. And yet the ALS Association maintains a closet of donated items that they hand out without charge. They maintain support groups that totally saved our lives and sanity. And they are advocates for us. If I had been unable to get Derrol the care he needed in the hospital or if they were harming him, someone would have come to help me explain and stand up for his rights. They go to Washington DC and fight for a national registry and medicare rules that move the process faster since most ALS victims have no time for red tape.

All of this to say -- please participate in this raffle and help support the ALS association. The money raised will also help fund research -- and that's where my hope lies. We must find a cause, let alone a treatment and a cure.

I know that quilters and fabric artists have the biggest hearts. I hope you don't mind that I ask you for a personal favor. Ask you to please get involved to save my sons. For you see, they have a 50-50 chance of developing this same disease. But then again, don't just do it for my family, but for your own. Five thousand people are struck with this disease every year in the United States and there is NO WHERE in the world it is not found. Military personnel have more than 50 percent higher rate of contracting ALS -- no matter where they served. So all of our families are at risk. It is a mean vicious disease that always ends is a terrible death.

Please let us use a quilt -- a symbol of comfort. A symbol of hope, of family. A symbol of subversive stitchers armed with needles fighting for something better. I pray you'll help me with this project. Spread the word on your blogs. And please buy tickets. The ALS Association is small and administration costs are minimal so the money goes 100 percent from this project to fund patient needs and research.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Dawn Goldsmith