Saturday, June 26, 2010

Everything old is new again in Mary Kerr's world

Vintage to some are those musty stained remnants of another era. A reminder of grandma's handiwork that is relegated to a cedar chest. We stand clueless as to how to rejuvenate them or integrate them into our current art, quilts or lives.

But for Mary Kerr vintage is the vision for something new and exciting. She challenged several friends and colleagues to use vintage and this lead photo shows Cyndi Souder's interpretation. Old certainly never looked so new! You will be surprised and amazed at what Mary can make out of something old....

Please welcome Mary Kerr in her own words. -- Dawn

I love all things old…. rustic furniture, old friends, driftwood at the beach and antique textiles.

Lots of antique textiles!

I have collected vintage quilts for years and have a large collection that travels with me to teach and lecture. In addition, I hoard fragments of quilts, orphan blocks, linens and sewing “stuff” ---- buttons, lace, sewing cards, etc. I have never been picky about condition and often find myself bringing home the runt of the litter --- that tattered piece that no one else can imagine as useful. My passion is to incorporate these cast-off pieces into contemporary quilts.

My work ranges from traditional to art.
I am not bound by a single genre as long I am able to incorporate my vintage pieces into each design. Stars for Grandma Kay (See Photo 2) was included in the IQA Quilts in the American Tradition exhibit that traveled in 2007-2008. The central appliqué unit was found in my Grandmother’s home and is circa 1940. I pieced the stars and saw tooth border using vintage fabrics and incorporated a fragment of a damaged Flower Garden top from the 1930’s. Only the black fabric was purchased new. It was hand quilted by Didi Salvatierra.

The art piece, I Would Dance (See Photo 3) was created for my local guild challenge. Each participant was given a fortune cookie and challenged to create a quilt inspired by the fortune. Mine asked, “What would you do if you had no fear?”

I created this piece using fragments of lace, linens, jewelry and buttons that had belonged to my grandmothers. The foundation is a scrap of a cutter quilt and the pieces are layered beside the image of me dancing.

This was my first vintage collage quilt and began a series of quilts that all incorporate those nontraditional pieces we find in our sewing baskets, jewelry boxes and dresser drawers. I love teaching this technique and watching as my students get excited about incorporating these treasured pieces into their quilts.

I will frequently work with orphan blocks and finish them in a variety of ways. This set of four small quilts was created during a beach retreat when I was playing with techniques and design. Each of the 11 inch quilts incorporated a vintage pink and white star block, circa 1940. Edisto (See Photo 4) features marbled fabric by Linda Cooper and found objects from my morning beach walk.
Happy Hour (Photo 6) plays with folded fabrics and button embellishment.
Tropical Smoothie (See Photo 5) showcases a woven technique with thread painting.

Pretty in Pink (Photo 7) is a cascade of buttons over a simple pieced background.

As I played with various sets of vintage blocks, I began to wonder what would happen if we divided a set of blocks among a larger group of artists?

Would anyone else want to work with the vintage pieces? In 2006, I sent out letters to a group of friends asking them to play with me. My invitees were an eclectic mix of friends and quilting acquaintances. Within the group we have art quilters, quilt historians, judges, appraisers, hand quilters, a textile artist and new quilters. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into as Vintage Revisited was born.

Over the course of two years, I distributed six sets of vintage blocks to these adventurous artists. The block was theirs to play with! Each artist received an identical block. They could add to it, cut it up, embellish it, recreate it, improve upon it, and more. The only requirements were that the finished quilt be their original design, that it measure 24 x 24 inches, and that the original block be included in the final project.

The second block in the challenge, shown here (Photo 8), is an Odd Fellows block from 1880. The color combination appealed to some of my artists and others were appalled. Here are a sample of their interpretations:

A Pennsylvania Sampler by Barb Garrett

It's About Time by Cyndi Souder

Two Roads Diverged by Pam Weeks

Not Odd Anymore by Karen Dever

There was a wide range on interpretations and every quilt was unique and exciting. I loved that we were able to create a challenge that allowed each artist to create in her own style. It is a project that allows everyone to participate at their individual pace, level and comfort zone.

When I started this project, my initial expectation was that we would display the quilts at a couple of shows. Today this collection of 117 has been exhibited all over the country and is currently scheduled to be traveling through 2014.
The single magazine article has blossomed into a wonderful book that captures the voices and talents of each of my artists. A Quilt Block Challenge: Vintage Revisited was published in May and is now available at my web site, through Schiffer publishing and hopefully at local quilt shops around the country.

Working with this group of women has been a joy and I am so very blessed to be a part of our amazing quilt community!

Check out Mary Kerr's website.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Susan Shie's Insightful "Philadelphia Freedom"

On first glance the background looks like a machine quilter gone mad with stippling. But on first glance you should also know that this is a Susan Shie. Her distinctive style is easily recognized. Every inch of this quilt is covered with words. Meaningful words that may meander across the cloth like stippling. But they are powerful, couched in emotion -- thoughtful rhetoric and carefully placed. If ever there were griots -- they are Susan Shie's fabric art. 

A true member of the hippy era, a step away from the Kent State shootings, and always, always, always, marching to her own drummer, Susan makes her voice heard, and loves fiercely. She's a true Subversive Stitchers armed with not only needles but courage and determination. And most of all she is the sweetest most generous woman I've ever had the opportunity to work with. Just know that she has a core of steel and will not stand down when it comes to defending what she believes in. We are so lucky that she has taken time to guest blog about her latest project: Philadelphia Freedom.

I believe the photos are self explanatory. The final two are of 1. Susan Shie and her Granddaughter Eva Miller and 2. Eva's depiction of her lemonade stand, etc. Another generation of the Shie talent growing before our eyes! -- Dawn

Susan Shie in Her Own Words

Lots of Baby Boom artists have designed their own Tarot decks. Mine is the Kitchen Tarot, which I decided to make, because it would allow me to work with many symbols of women, family, and nurturing. I believe that cooking for those we love is an exercise in the gift of healing, a supreme act of love. And it is my feminist choice to celebrate the strength that women pass from one generation to another, of providing for our families. Extend that out from the stove and table, to the community, the country, and the world. As the Communist Chinese used to like to say, “Women hold up half the sky.” (I think it was them!)

In making my Kitchen Tarot series of quilted paintings (art quilts), which I began in 1998, I’ve finished the 22 major cards, and am 5 art quilts into making the 56 minor cards. For the Major card quilts, I proceeded in chronological order, but for choosing which Minor card to work with next, I randomly draw a card from a traditional Tarot deck. This is because I think it would be boring to do all of one of the four suits all the way through, or one of the card numbers all the way through, etc. I like variety and surprises!

In the 13 years I’ve been making these pieces, their sizes and shapes have varied considerably, and they’ve shifted from being intensely hand stitched, mixed media, and beaded, to being very simply painted, written all over with tiny airpen writing with paint, and mostly machine, simple grid sewn. My art’s topics have shifted from being mostly personal diary imagery with a small amount of actual writing, to a mixture of personal, community, and world-events diary and imagery, with a stronger and stronger political lean since 2003.

Through the magic of Photoshop, all the actual Kitchen Tarot “cards” come out the same size, in spite of their physical disparity. The deck of my major cards coming out in August is a tidy packet of 3.5 x 5” cards, even though the actual art quilts vary from 32” to 93” high and are of varied proportions. (You can pre-order them now through Amazon)

In this blog I want to show you some aspects of the piece I began painting on April 10 and finished on June 4. “Philadelphia Freedom” is also my Kitchen Tarot card “the Two of Paring Knives.” Paring knives are my more kitchen-tooly version of standard Tarot’s Swords suit. Swords sound military and violent, but paring knives seem useful and practical. I love my paring knives in my kitchen! (My four Kitchen Tarot suits, compared to the traditional Tarot suits are: Pyrex Cups for Cups; Wooden Spoons for Wands; Potholders for Coins; and Paring Knives for Swords.)

Early on in making this Kitchen Tarot series, I would concentrate on the meaning of the traditional Tarot card and interpret it in terms of kitchen symbolism, throwing in a little personal diary, whose writing I would hand embroider over. Now I work more with current events or situations from history, lacing them with my own diary thoughts and commentary.

Often now the Kitchen Tarot aspect is very secondary to the current events / history stories. The political side of me, suppressed after the Kent State killings in May, 1970, started coming back to activism in the early 2000s, and my KT deck has had to accommodate that shift. (We artists get to be the boss of at least our own work!)

In 2007 I began putting Barack Obama into my Kitchen Tarot and all of my pieces, my work became much more polticial, and Obama and politics remain as strong elements in my work. So let’s use President Obama as the way to shift from taking about the whole Kitchen Tarot deck to the specific piece that I just finished, “Philadelphia Freedom.”I knew I wanted to put Obama into my next Kitchen Tarot piece. But then I was asked to participate in Michelle Flamer’s exhibition project “The President’s House: Their Untold Stories in Quilts,” which is about President George Washington keeping nine slaves illegally in the President’s House mansion in Philadelphia, the temporary US Capitol during his and John Adams’ presidencies.  

I did a LOT of sketches to figure out how I would illustrate this historical fact, and one of my first ideas was to have Obama sit down with Washington and have something similar to one of those “beer summits,” to try to work out the problems. But that seemed not nearly serious enough, even though I meant it seriously. No matter how I wiggled it around, it was going to come off as humorous, which was not at all what I wanted.

In a March 27 drawing, I showed Washington with the slaves as birds in a cage, under the Liberty Bell, then turned Martha’s skirt into a cage with the birds in it. Many sketches later, on April 10, I decided to jump in and make my final decision about how to portray the Washington slaves issue, so I could demonstrate drawing on a large piece with an airbrush, for my students at my home Turtle Art Camp. 

That morning the students and I had met a woman in downtown Wooster, who was walking her Cockatoo, in a sort of baby-carriage/birdcage combination thing. And that threw me back to my earlier idea of Martha’s skirt being a birdcage. But as I got ready to paint, I made one more sketch: of a larger Barack Obama reaching down and opening the door of the cage, so that the slaves could fly out. These slaves were people with wings, and the woman with her Cockatoo was walking past. But the slaves looked like dead people, angels, since I’d given them wings. So I went back to the earlier idea of them actually being birds, but now they were escaping, thanks to Obama.
When I actually drew the images on my big blank cloth, using my airbrush, I wasn’t looking at the sketches, as I don’t like to get inhibited by trying to copy from my planning drawings. I like for the sketches to just help me develop my ideas, and then I like to just sail off into making the big drawing in free sweeping motions with my airbrush. I drew Martha, then George, and realized I didn’t have room for a much bigger Obama above them. So he became another bird, facing the ones flying up and out of the cage. I decided that he was the beacon of hope for the slaves.

After I made the airbrushed painting on the 82” x 72” fabric, I made a drawing of how the painting came out, since it didn’t follow any of the sketches much. It was after making that drawing, during a “library time” in our art camp class, that I got the name “Philadelphia Freedom” for the piece.

It is, of course, the name of an Elton John song, but it seemed perfect, to me, to serve as title for the piece, since slaves in Philadelphia were, at least in MY VERSION of the story, being freed.

Then I switched to taking weeks and weeks to write on the painting with my airpen and fabric paint. Washington’s slaves were the main story, and the secondary one was the murders at Kent State, for which this year’s May 4th was the 40th anniversary.

I never know what will end up as my writing topics, when I begin one of these Time Capsule pieces, essays of life as we move through it. But I try to include anything I feel to be significant, and it’s even better when there’s a connection to the work’s basic theme. I think Kent State and the President’s House have a common thread of the injustice of authority’s hold over common people. There are lots and lots of other current events stories here, including the start of the Gulf Coast oil spill and the new immigration law in Arizona.
It was after I showed my big painting on fabric to Michelle Flamer, that she mailed me a rubber stamp she had created years ago, for making a Juneteenth card. It said “Fly away,” and my piece reminded her of the stamp and the song “I’ll Fly Away.” I told Michelle that I would use the stamp on my piece somehow, but during the long time when I was writing all over the piece with my airpen, I didn’t add the stamp. 

When the painting was finished and I’d machine quilted it, I felt I still really needed to use that stamp. It would mean a lot to me, to collaborate with Michelle in this way, plus it would be fun to take the risk of using it, when the piece was done! I had never stamped on a padded quilt before, so let’s go!!!!

It worked, only the first time I stamped upside down by accident - right on President Obama’s face! After a short freak-out, I hit on the idea that this would be code for the slaves: Fly Away (upside down!) I flipped the stamp right side up, to stamp onto George and Martha’s faces, Martha’s ankle, and the hem of her skirt. I used red paint, so it would be very visual and look kind of cautionary.

To read my full statement about this piece, visit my 2010 Gallery on my Turtle Moon Studios site. When you read this statement, you’ll go through a list of some of the current events topics I wrote about, besides giving long explanations of the main event of this piece. You’ll see reference links to my airbrush painting development of the composition and to Edward Lawler, Jr’s articles about The President’s House. Please note that, though here I’ve referred to the nine people as slaves, the better term, as chosen by descendants of slavery, is “enslaved Africans,” because this shows them as who they were, before the condition of slavery, which was thrust upon them.

My writing used to be all off the top of my head, just like you’d write in a letter or email or diary. Since Obama’s campaigns, I’ve gotten used to adding long copied articles and speeches, sometimes verbatum, sometimes paraphrased. What I want is for people to really learn something, if they take the time to read my stories on my work. But at the same time, I have to anticipate that some, maybe most people won’t read any of my writing. So it has to work visually, as a design element in my composition. I try to make the writing flow with the shapes and lead your eye around the painting nicely.

I think the small words now take the place of the massive amounts of small embroidery stitches I’d gotten myself into, before I got my airpen in late 2002. By 2006 my fingertips were numb from hand sewing, and I had to back off. I started switching to machine free gridwork sewing in 2004, and after the hand numbness, have almost completely stopped hand sewing. To me, it’s the messages in my work that count.

If you’d like to see the photo essay of me airbrushing the painting for “Philadelphia Freedom,” (with photos taken by my students at my July, 2010 Turtle Art Camp here in Wooster, Ohio, most pix taken by Marsha Boasso, but also by Kathy Zieben and Bonnie Zieben), please visit here.  

Susan Shie
Wooster, OH 
Turtle Art Camps for Summer, Fall 2010 now listed

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Divorce Quilts: Share your stories and your 'therapy' projects....

Fabric artists and quilters stitch up alot more than fabric with their needles and thread. In the article featuring Judy Coates Perez, Kathy York, and Katharine Brainard that I wrote for HandEye Magazine, these women made quilts as a form of therapy to get them through one of the most traumatic of times -- divorce.

I know these three women are members of an army of women and men who have used quilts and fabric to get them through to the other side of a life crisis, health crisis, loss or passage. I do hope you will share your stories with us and the quilts and projects you made to get through a rough time. It is important in this quilting and art network to be able to share the tough times as well as the good. You all know about my tough times. And I know I am not alone.

Please send your stories and photos to or send a suggestion of someone you know and I'll contact them. I will post them all here. I'll be glad to link to your blogs and websites or relevant urls.

The photo here is Judy Coates Perez's "Take These Broken Wings" which didn't start out as a divorce quilt, but the message that evolved proved cathartic. It is one of two of her quilts featured in the article at HandEye Magazine.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Disappearing Nine Patch for ALS Challenge

I've been lax lately and apologize for not getting you fun and frivolous or exquisite and breathtaking or informative and awe inspiring blogs lately. My brain has been in a fog and as you all know I've become a caretaker.

My husband, a longsuffering patient man is heading for saint hood. No, he isn't dying!  At the moment he has regained most of his strength and has returned to work so now I'm more of a chauffer than caretaker. Hasn't quite got the strength back to do his own driving. Which is really difficult for both of us since 1. He doesn't have his hands on the wheel and is in control. 2. He sits in the back and mumbles directions or says things like 'there's a car mumble mumble'.... I freak out and yell, "What! Where?" And he replies, "There's one of those crazy cars that look like a box on wheels and is painted that glow in the dark green...."  And did I mention 3. He's not driving, I am.

Okay, maybe watchdog is a good term for what I do these days. Poor man. I am always watching for signs of problems. Remember that first day when you were totally responsible for your newborn baby and you would watch to see if it was breathing or poke him to make him move while he was sleeping? Yep, it is kind of like that. Keeping this man healthy is like herding baby chicks. They run in all directions darting out of control at a whim and sometimes the whole group switches direction like a little military unit and takes off for parts unknown. That's my husband's health. One day he's strong, standing and taking a few steps. Another day he doesn't even want to eat. His legs swell no matter what we do and his breathing always scares pulmonologists. This weekend we realize how quickly his health can turn. Just an hour or two watching a friend repair our water heater exhausted and dehydrated him. Of course he was sitting in the Florida heat in a stuffy garage without a bottle of water and too much pride or too little sense to ask for one. So he's recovering. More than you wanted to know.

Well, to keep my mind off of health issues (while I watch him every second) I began making a little quilt for Kathy Thompson's ALS Quilt Challenge: Hopes and Dreams Quilt Challenge. I'm running out of time. I think she's ending it in July. None of the terms I use for other people's quilts apply to this one. Not exquisite, awe inspiring, but definitely utilitarian and cheerful.

Most of all cheerful was what I was going for. I see first hand every day what a struggle it is to make his fingers move to button a button. I see the way he gracefully accepts that he needs help pulling up his pants and getting his shoes on. He's given up cooking, slicing and dicing. He doesn't have the strength to control the knife. He sits in a wheelchair or a lift chair and it is a rare time when he is standing and looking down on me when I am not beside him propping him up. He knows it will only get worse. There are simple things he can no longer do and breathe -- he cannot lean back or lay down without a breathing machine. Things we just take for granted. There is no cure. There is nothing to ease the muscle cramps and  random flashes of pain. There is a terrible future. He knows there is 100 percent mortality from this disease. And so does everyone who gets this diagnosis. So, I wanted a workhorse quilt that would deliver comfort and cheer. The hope aspect of this quilt is included in the prayers said over it while it was being constructed.

Anyway, now I need to figure out how to quilt it -- suggestions are welcome. And then bind it and ship it off to Kathy to give to someone who is quickly dying from this disease.

An elaborate quilt that would take months or a year to make would never do because most people die within a year to six years of diagnosis. That would be a lifetime! They go from a weakened grip or stumble in February to totally immobile, unable to speak or swallow by November and dead by December. Some last longer. But the decline for most is so rapid that Medicare has an expedited service for ALS patients. By the time normal red tape is cut through, they no longer need that service but have moved on to the next plateau. And our military, our fighting men and women have such a higher rate of developing this disease. No one knows why. But it is a fact.

My husband has a rare slow progressing form of ALS and it is inherited. He's lost several cousins, aunts, uncles and yes even a brother to this disease. We were assured at the time of his brother's death and our marriage that it wasn't a problem. Have kids, live your life.... We did. Now our two sons have a 50-50 chance of getting this disease. So we have a really strong reason to want a cure NOW!

If anyone is so moved to make a quilt for the challenge. Thank you. And if you want to donate funds to aid research, I beg of you. Please contact the ALS Association in your region and give so that we can find a cure. Since this is a neuromuscular disease, a cure for ALS could open the doors to cures for Parkinsons Disease, Muscular Dystrophy, and Alzheimers Disease just to name a few. By the way Ami's auction is going on right now -- until the 10th. She has some lovely quilts to auction to benefit Alzheimer Disease research. I've written a blog about my own brush with Alzheimer's as a remembrance to my father. It seems to have been well received. If you haven't read it, click on this link.

Well, I didn't mean to end this as a plea for funds for the ALS Association or Alzheimer's. It was just meant to introduce you to my lowly little quilt. And I wanted to promise that I will do better at posting to the blog. Thanks for all of your support and kind words and prayers and friendship.... If the disease continues unabated, it is only going to get worse. But that's a place I don't want to visit right now.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

News Around the Quilting Frame: Judith Baker Montano's book wins award; AAQI gets new supporters

Raise those needles high in tribute to a fine woman whose work resulted in an award winning book. Congratulations Judith Baker Montano and Dragon Threads for winning this prestigious award. Subversive Stitchers: Women Armed with Needles recently reviewed Judith's book and featured Judith's guest blog. Below I've posted most of the press release from Dragon Threads publisher Linda Teufel. -- Dawn

Dragon Threads, publisher of textile arts books, has received the Independent Book Publishers Association’s Benjamin Franklin Award™ for Best Craft Book for the book Fibreart Montage: Combining Quilting, Embroidery & Photography with Embellishments by internationally-renowned quilt artist Judith Baker Montano.

The book features full-color photographs of the newest mixed media techniques perfected by Judith Baker Montano, a leading expert on crazy quilting and embellishment.

Named in honor of America’s most cherished publisher/printer, the Benjamin Franklin Awards™ recognizes excellence by independent publishers. Publications, grouped by genre, are judged on editorial and design merit by top practitioners in each field. The Benjamin Franklin Awards™ are highly competitive and are regarded as one of the highest national honors in small and independent book publishing.

More than 4,000 publishers submitted books to be considered for the Benjamin Franklin Awards™ this year. All three finalists in the Craft category were quilting/needlework books.

Linda Teufel, owner of Dragon Threads, was on hand to accept the award at the Benjamin Franklin 2010 Awards™ presentation ceremony held at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City, on May 24, 2010. “I am thrilled about winning this award,” said Teufel. “It is an amazing honor for me, Dragon Threads, and author Judith Baker Montano!”

Dragon Threads has been publishing sewing and quilting books since 1994. This has been an especially exciting year for the company as Fibreart Montage also won the 2010 International Book Award in the Crafts/Hobbies/How-To category, given by JPX Media.

Fibreart Montage: Combining Quilting, Embroidery & Photography with Embellishments by Judith Baker Montano is available at

Other news happening around the quilting community:

The Alzheimer’s Art Quilt Initiative Gains Allies

Through the "Rose of Sharon" Project conceived by quilter Sharon Pederson and her Nine Patch Media business partner Elizabeth Phillips, the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative will receive support. Companies partnering with Pederson in the Rose of Sharon project are supporting the AAQI. These Rose of Sharon partners include Martingale & Company who will publish Sharon Pederson's Rose of Sharon book due out this fall, Island Batik who is coordinating a "Roses of Remembrance" BOM (block-of-the-month) for quilt shops with fabrics used in original quilt, and Aurifil who is offering two Rose of Sharon thread collections.

Pederson's project premiered at the recent International Quilt Market in Minneapolis. More than 850 different blocks were digitally submitted by designers in 11 countries last year in an EQ6 online contest hosted by The Electric Quilt Company. Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims selected the final top 12 designs for Pederson's "Roses of Remembrance" quilt. Designers were asked to share their connection with Alzheimer's (if any).
The AAQI is very pleased to have these generous allies in the fight against Alzheimer's. The Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative is a national, grassroots effort to raise awareness and fund research. It auctions and sells donated quilts through the Priority: Alzheimer's Quilt project and sponsors a nationally touring exhibit of quilts about Alzheimer's. The AAQI has raised more than $407,000 since January 2006. Ami Simms of Flint, Michigan is the founder and executive director of the AAQI, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation operated entirely by volunteers. She is a quilter. Her mother had Alzheimer's.

For more information on the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative or to make a donation, contact Ami Simms at

In addition, AccuQuilt is offering licensed Rose of Sharon Go! and Studio Dies for all the Rose of Sharon appliqués, and Oklahoma Embroidery Supply & Design (OESD) has digitized Rose of Sharon blocks for machine embroidery and/or appliqué. Nine Patch Media has created a Rose of Sharon instructional DVD.