Monday, November 26, 2007

This is Not a Post!

I got sick last week, and wasn't able to make the yearly Thanksgiving trip up to my sister's place.
In terms of momentum on my immediate quilting goals, it wasn't too bad of a hit. I lost all of the primo handwork time that comes with hanging out with the family at the holiday, but gained tons of home-sick-not-able-to-do-much-but-quilt time. I made plenty of progress, actually, especially on Saturday afternoon during the sad dismantling of the so-recently great University of Oregon football team.

Not a Quilt For My Sister!

Since we were going to be at her house, I had really hoped to get a picture this year of a quilt I made for my sister a few years back, but never adequately photographed. I was going to share it with you in this very post.

In its place, here's Kandinsky's 1923 painting Black and Violet.

Not a Family Tradition!

Not travelling to my sister's place also meant skipping the holiday tradition my mother and I have: waking at 5:30 a.m. on Thanksgiving Friday and going down to the local JoAnne's to take part in the early-morning sales. We've been doing this for six or seven years. Even now that I'm too snooty to buy much actual fabric at JoAnne's, there's still plenty of other stuff on major sale; in particular, I usually lay in a year's supply of batting.

My plan was to take a charming little photo montage of this yearly adventure and to post it here for posterity. Alas, because I was sick at home, it never happened. So, instead of a cute shot of Mom as the two of us sneak out of my sister's house, here's Whistler's famous Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Artist's Mother.

This was going to be a picture of the other shoppers lined up in the rain and dark! Instead, it's a picture of a Depression-era breadline.

Obviously, since I wasn't there, I couldn't ask anyone to take a shot of Mom and me together. In its place, here's a picture of actor George Clooney with his mother.

The crowds inside were one person fewer this year, but if they were anything like usual they likely looked something like the chaos and horror evoked by Picasso's masterpiece Guernica.

That's Not All!

Actually, it is. I'll be back with a real post, one of these days.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Collaborating With Strangers

I seem to have a reputation as somebody who knows how to get rid of unwanted fabric, and I'm called on in this capacity more often than you'd think. I skim the best for myself -- of course -- but I also have a pretty good idea of which charities would be interested in which fabrics, and how to get the fabrics to them. And, I know when something is just garbage.

Early this year, a big cardboard box of scraps landed on my lap. Initially, I thought it was one of the worst hauls ever. Lots of shirting, much of it literally from old chopped-up shirts, and stretch fabrics galore in wildly unfashionable colors and patterns. I took the box home and ignored it for a while, and only a few days later set myself to the task of sorting it out. In the bottom, wadded up under all of the dross, I found this:

It is a complete quilt top. Each of the blocks has a woman's name embroidered in the center, most of them old-fashioned first names but a few "Mrs. x" and one, interestingly, "Mother." And that was that. No other clues at all.

It was a quandry. It represented far too much work, and was inherently too cool a thing, to throw out. But it was also far too much someone else's project for me to want to devote weeks to making it into a finished quilt... and what would I do with it then, after all?

Deciding it needed a good home, I put it on Ebay as an unfinished quilt top. It worked. It was bought by a woman in Salem who adores it, and who does intend to finish it. She has an interesting theory about its history. Like me, she thinks that its original construction dates to the 1930s. It seems possible that, after the person or people who made the blocks got them together, they suddenly looked way too much like a certain symbol being used by Nazi Germany. There's no way to prove this one way or the other, but it is an interesting and plausible theory.

Indigo Stars

The other treasure in the bottom of this unpromising box was the set of Indigo Stars I wrote about a few months ago.

Earlier this year, in a box of scrap fabric, I found a set of 20 hand-pieced blocks, a star pattern in indigo-on white. They are, in a sense, nothing special -- the craftsmanship is moderate at best, the fabric quality was poor to begin with and has not improved with age. Nor do I have any idea who made them; certainly no one with any connection to me or my family. And of course, I am completely smitten by them, and want to do something lovely with them.
The stars all look more or less like this:

It's a very handsome pattern, but the individual blocks vary by as much as two inches in height and width from each other, and many are in and of themselves noticably out of square. So, in order to incorporate them into a larger piece, I first needed to put a frame around each block, and then trim all of the new "block-in-frames" to a uniform size.

I am REALLY pleased with the way it is working out. The arrangement seems both to set off the uniformity of the original blocks to good effect, which is after all what you want in a traditional block quilt, but also, if you get up close and personal with them, to showcase each block's idiosyncracies.

Mrs.5000 and I have wondered a lot what my unknown collaborater, probably a woman of modest quilting skills (or someone whose most proficient quilter days were in the past or in the future) working in the 1930s, would think of what I have done here. I hope she would like it. She would probably be surprised to see me in my studio, listening to the football game and taking occasional breaks to catch up with my moves in online Scrabble games.

Game Plan

Having completed the face for Indigo Stars, I'll be putting it aside now for at least a few months. I've got a new set of short term goals, a little aggressive but I think doable. By the end of the next three weeks, I would like to have Two Complex Shapes and Ice and Fire ready to hang, the graduation quilt for Niece #1 basically pieced (excepting borders), and the quilting finished on Labyrinth.
Onward! I'll report back.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Progress Report at Week Ten

Zowie, it has been a quietly busy couple of weeks, but I've still managed to sneak in bits of quilting progress here and there, supplemented by an all day binge on Sunday. Time for an official progress report.

First Priority Projects

Ice & Fire -- Is done, except for the handwork. It still needs some threads buried, the binding tacked down, and a sleeve. But, with the handwork-intensive holidays coming up, that makes it as good as done.

Graduation Quilt for Niece #1 -- The pieceing on this sucker is going much faster than I expected, despite the complications of its irregular layout. I'd say it is 50 - 60% assembled at this point. I'm not showing any pictures of this one, though, since it's a gift.

Labyrinth -- I worked up my nerve on Sunday morning, which was surprisingly difficult, and started into the machine quilting in the afternoon. It is a big sucker, so the sheer bulk of it creates some difficulties even though I'm using a very straightforward quilting pattern. I'm surprised by how much fun it has been, so far. I'm quilting along the "path" through the piece, so it is kind of like I'm enacting the meditative practice of walking the labyrinth, except with a sewing machine needle. Here's what it looks like, from my perspective:

Three or four hours in, and I'm maybe 15% through the quilting.

Second Priority Projects

Somehow, I have completely skipped over the second priority projects so far this year. Funny how that worked.

Third Priority Projects

Indigo Stars -- This one has just FLOWN together, which makes sense what with my anonymous collaborator having done all of the heavy lifting 70 years ago. The top is 90% assembled. And might I add, it's going to look smashing.

The Four Seasons -- No particular progress on these. I need to buy a matching backing fabric for the two newer ones.

The Symbol -- Still WAAAAY back in the planning process for this one.

Two Complex Shapes -- This requilting project is, like Ice and Fire, all over except the handwork. I just need to bury (lots of) lose threads, and re-attach the hanging sleave. And it looks terrific, thank you very much, as long as you don't notice the patch I had to make for it.

Fourth Priority Projects

Well, I skipped over the Second Priority, but I didn't skip THAT far over the Second Priority.


Dogme: Addendum

Here's another little piece of Dogme. Or maybe Bunnyme. I don't know if this is a common thing or a local thing, or if my mom is maybe just nuts, but when she started me quilting she suggested you "should," in a scrap quilt, "hide a rabbit." In other words, there should be a fabric with a rabbit somewhere in the design, but inconspicuous.

In general terms, I think this means that it adds to the experience of a quilt if you incorporate surprises, things that aren't going to be noticed on first examination but might be discovered at second look, or third look, or several years down the road. So especially when I'm making a quilt as a gift, or for a child, I always try to hide some metaphorical "rabbits."

But I hide literal rabbits too. Here's the one in Labyrinth:

...aaaaand I'm outta here. Have a good day!

Monday, November 05, 2007

My Quilting Dogme


If you watch European movies at all, you probably remember the "Dogme" movement from a few years back. A group of Scandinavian directors came up with a list of fairly arbitrary rules, a "dogma," about what would and would not be allowable in their films. Because the rules they chose were pretty spartan -- no background music was allowed, for instance, unless it was music that the characters in the movie would hear -- most American audiences hated Dogme films. I kind of liked them, though, and I especially thought that the IDEA of the dogma was kind of interesting.

Regardless of what the rules are, actually, I tend to enjoy artwork that is created within a set framework. Whether its the limited vocabulary of shapes available to a traditional Haida artist, or the self-imposed mathematical obsessions of a piece by Sol Lewit, it's fascinating to see an artist react and respond to, and be inspired by, the constrictions of their own dogmas. (Of course, available technologies, as well as the cultural norms of artistic training and consumption, create subtle dogmas for EVERY artist. But we won't go there.)

The point of all this is that I've been thinking about my own dogmas lately. Mind you, I've never sat down and said, "The following are going to be the rules of my quilting." No, my dogma has evolved over time, according to what specific kinds of work I enjoy doing, and according to what I like my final product to look like.

I imagine most people who have made more than one or two quilts have their own dogmas, though they might not think of it that way. Some people only do hand quilting, some people are only interested in applique, some people really only want to work with batiks. Whatever. It's their M.O., their style, their artistic choices.... their Dogma!

My Dogme

I use Simple Geometric Shapes. Almost everything I've made has been an arrangement of squares, rectangles, and triangles.

I do Simple Straight Pieceing. People do tremendous work with paper pieceing, in which cut paper shapes are used as a foundation that adds a great deal of precision and allows the pieceing of very intricate patterns. But for some reason, I haven't been tempted by this technique yet.

I create Simplistic Quilting Patterns. This has more to do with my skill level than conscious choice. But, that's part of where dogmas come from.

I make Nothing Figurative. My quilts are relentlessly abstract by design. Anything pictoral has to come from the fabric.

I use No Photoimages. You see an increasing number of quilts incorporating photographs that have been printed onto fabric. But, you won't see this in my quilts.

I use Jewel Tones. I tend to use bright, saturated colors, along with very light fabrics that bring them into relief.

I use Single-Color Prints. I tend to gravitate towards fabrics with a pattern in a single color, rather than fabrics with a multi-color pattern. The exception is with batiks, which I love and which -- contrary to many other peoples' dogmas -- I will happily use side by side with conventional prints.

I use Straight Cotton. No silk, no wool. Very occasionally flannel. Anything else goes into the bin for "other" fabrics with the corderoy, jersey knits, and fake fur.


Longtime readers may know my ancient kittygirl, Yoyo:

But I don't think I've ever introduced my step-kittyboy, Caliban:

They are showing off progress on the "Indigo Stars" project, which has really been flying along. In fact, I've made a bunch of progress on several projects. I'll brag about it in a few days!