I've let too much time go by since my last post again. I have to admit that I've had trouble focusing lately. Feeling at loose ends is a fairly rare thing for me, but then there's been more turmoil in the world than I've ever experienced before. First there was a base level of chaos from the Trump administration and it seemed like daily decisions that made me cringe. Then we added campaign for the Democratic nomination; so many well qualified, inspiring candidates, but so difficult to know who would have the best chance of ousting Trump. Now the pandemic is disrupting life even more - a cancelled vacation, questions about whether my niece's June wedding will go ahead as planned. My little internal pep talk tells me that my lack of focus is understandable.
Understandable yes, but I also realize that I need to focus on something to get me through this period. Thankfully, an idea came to me sometime in the night a couple of days ago. Of course,it involves art and sewing. Though I haven't made a bed-size quilt in close to 30 years, I decided to make one for our king-size bed. I figure that's a project that should keep me focused for a few weeks!!!
I've spent a good part of the last couple of months doing random piecing, using up scraps. It's my keep-me-going activity when I don't know what to do next. I made perhaps a dozen "squares" ranging in size from about 24"x24" down to 6"x6." I just kept going even though I had no idea what I'd do with them. I just knew that they'd be more usable than bins of tiny bits.
I did find a use for one of the pieces when I made banner for the tent I use for outdoor art shows.
Making that kept me focused and busy for a while. When that was finished, I wasn't ready to go back to random piecing. I kept going with handwork projects, but I have to limit how much I spend on stitching to avoid sore hands. I needed a machine-sewing project too. It was such a relief when I thought of making a big quilt.
I spent maybe an hour thinking about making one following a pattern with regular-sized blocks. I looked at a bunch of books and found a couple that I liked and could imagine working on. I even started figuring out block sizes and whether I'd do a straight or diagonal set. Pretty soon I realized that doing that much preplanning would take much of the joy out the project for me. I much prefer starting with only a vague idea of what I want to do and figuring things out as I go. I wondered if I could follow that method for this.
So...I had several of the random pieces I'd already made that were in the colors I wanted to use, some bigger, some smaller. I took them downstairs and laid them out on our bed to get an idea if I could make bunches of random sized pieces and just fit them together to make something attractive. It seemed doable. So I made some more and I looked up instructions for the "quilt-as-you-go" method to see if it would be feasible for me to do machine quilting . It did, so now I had enough of a plan to commit to it. Yesterday I ordered the batting. This morning I did one more test layout to see if I could incorporate the 2" fabric strips my son gave me for Christmas as lattice between the "squares."
It's pretty crazy, but honestly I'm having a ball with it. I know the look will settle down more as I rearrange and add to it and when I am finished it will be a quilt full of memories. I'll keep you posted. Now I am going to piece some more.
2020 is off to a good start for me personally. I have completed two artworks that I will drop off at the Williamsburg Contemporary Art Center tomorrow. Along with my Seeking Truth (described in a previous blog), they will be part of a special exhibit of works from the artists who won awards in their annual members show last year. I was fortunate enough to get third place in that show for my Ode to Maria. (Read about that here.) So not only did I receive a nice check then, I am able to display three more works in the current show. Here they are:
Though times are well in my little bit of the world, the larger world seems to be getting ever more chaotic. As I've said many times, creating art is one of the ways I try to keep the chaos at bay, keep calm, and bring a little joy to the world. I've called these recent works Slowing Time because that's what they help me do. Working on them forces me to concentrate on the current moment and let go of the things roiling around me. I stitch as much as I want to without worrying about how long it will take or whether I'll meet some deadline. I just keep going till I think I'm satisfied that every part of the design that needs stitching has it. As you can see in the detail photos below, I kept going for a long time on these.
I stitched on the background first, then I added the skeleton leaves and stitched some more. The skeleton leaves have been fused down, but I still like to stitch over them for added texture as well as making sure they are securely attached.
As an aside, you may have noticed that I've used skeleton leaves in many of my recent works. They are symbolic of my love of trees, my concerns for our planet and my hopes that we can get our priorities straight before it's too late. Let's keep working on that.
This has been a crazy month. Those who know me well know that I like to do lots of baking during the holiday season. I have many family cookie recipes that I trot out, making as many as I can. This year that tradition went by the wayside. As I was about to begin baking in earnest, my mother-in-law died. The next day Jim and I headed to Wisconsin to help his sister with all the arrangements. We got home two days before we were to celebrate our family Christmas. So things were a little different this year, but it wasn't a sad Christmas by any means.
Vivian Lee would have been 100 years old next May. Though she had become very frail the last few years, she'd still had her faculties and some level of independence until very recently. Thankfully she didn't linger too long after she was not able to be up and about and she had a peaceful end.
When you lose someone, you naturally think back on their lives and the gifts they have given you over the years. Vivian gave me two things that changed the course of my life. Many of you have heard me tell these stories, but I don't think I've ever written them down. I feel compelled to do so now as my year-end tribute to her.
First, I give credit to Vivian for my interest in quilting. Though I had sewn and done needlework since childhood, I'd never tried quilting until Vivian gave me a couple of quilts that her mother had started and never finished. This was perhaps 40 years ago. One of them was a double-bed-sized hand-pieced Grandmother's Flower Garden. The other was a set of 20 machine-pieced eight-pointed stars. I was honored by the gift and felt compelled to do something with them.
I decided to start with the flower garden, since it "just" needed backing and quilting. It didn't need to be pieced together. Since it had been pieced by hand, I thought it should be quilted by hand too. To be honest, I started it mostly out of a sense of duty. I thought the quilting process would be deadly boring. Famous last words. Though I didn't do anything imaginative with the quilting pattern, I just outlined the circles, I found the stitching immensely soothing and satisfying. When that one was finished, I pieced together the eight-pointed stars (by machine) and then went crazy hand quilting it. I was hooked. Not only was the stitching calming, I saw that quilting was a type of sewing that I could be creative with, and I haven't stopped. I was intrigued by the way you could put all these disparate fabrics together to make something totally new. I also loved the texture and dimension the quilting stitches added. I am still intrigued with those things.
Here are those first two quilts. Many memories in them. When Vivian would look at them, she'd point out various fabrics she remembered--ones from old dresses she'd had for example. So special. Of course they also contain my own memories as well.
We used the Grandmother's Flower Garden quilt on our bed at our house in Maine until it started to come apart. Even then I couldn't just get rid of it. After spending a good while in a future project bin, I decided that Vivian's upcoming 90th birthday was a good reason to dig it out again. I cut it apart, saving the sections without holes in them. I stitched some of them back together again and added some embroidery to create "Revisiting Grandmother's Flower Garden" for a birthday gift for her. The stitching tells the story of her gift to me and what it meant to me.
We brought it back from Wisconsin with us. Now it hangs in my kitchen reminding me of her and her gift.
Several years later, more pieces of the original quilt made their way into another quilt I called "Keep the Old." It was made for a joint exhibit with my daughter Sonja. The show's theme of Wabi Sabi--a Japanese concept of making something old new and beautiful--seemed perfect for using those pieces. Here's that one.
The other big thing for which Vivian deserves credit is bringing me back to the violin. This happened much later, but still, probably 25 years ago. This time, she'd found her father's violin. She called to see if my son Peter was interested in learning to play it. He was intrigued so she sent it to him.
I had played my grandmother's violin in elementary and high school. I quit after the 11th grade so I could sing in the choir instead. All the adults in my family tried to talk me out of quitting, saying I'd regret it some day, but I was adamant. I could not imagine ever going back to it. More famous last words.
When Peter decided to try the violin, I thought it might be fun to take lessons with him. We could learn together. So I ate my words again and we started lessons. To my surprise I really enjoyed playing again and though I've had a couple of pretty long breaks from it, I've stuck with it even though Peter no longer plays. I have my own violin and am currently taking lessons in Scottish fiddling. I play with the Williamsburg Strathspey and Reel Society which meets a couple of times a month. It's a great bunch of people and so much fun to play with others.
So as I reflect back on 2019 and the loss of my mother-in-law, it is with great happiness and gratefulness. Vivian's gifts have brought me such joy and satisfaction. I hope that you also have as much satisfaction and joy in your lives. Happy New Year and best wishes for 2020.
I am sitting here staring at the blank screen trying to decide where to start. Lately I've been sort of jumping around from project to project. Some projects are related to getting ready for holiday shopping -- Trying to figure out what might induce people to add something of mine to their lists. Other projects are purely for fun.
For the holidays, I've added some new small items to my inventory and I've decided to try a holiday sale in our Etsy shop. Starting the day after Thanksgiving and continuing through December 29, my lined jackets will be on sale for 50% off. That sale will be public, but I wanted to give you first dibs. You can get the discount right now by entering the coupon code JACKETFFA when checking out or using the link www.etsy.com/shop/FriendsFabricArt?coupon=JACKETFFA . (This coupon is good only until the public sale starts.)
I've also added some new stocking-stuffer items to Etsy. I've recently been busy creating needle keepers, business card holders and luggage tags from my little stitch meditation artworks. It has been great fun to figure out a use for the stash I'd built up. Now I have motivation to keep playing with that idea. I had taken a break because I'd built up such a pile and wasn't in the mood to make more cards or collages.
I need to keep reminding myself not to let that nagging question "what ever are you going to do with that???" keep me from creating. More often that not, even if I don't know where a project is going at the beginning, it develops into something eventually. So these are the latest somethings...
In between making these, I have also been having fun with stenciling again. I have done hardly anything with fabric paint since moving to Virginia. My new studio is carpeted so I was hesitant to use paints here, but I've finally overcome that hesitation. I just need to be a little more careful is all. Several of our hand-dyed silk scarves just seemed to need a little more, so I decided to add some "glam" with stencils and Stuart Gill metallic paints. Here are some that I've finished. I'll be doing a few more over the next couple of weeks.
These are all projects I've been doing during my daily studio time, but I always need an evening project too - handwork to do while watching TV. For that I've decided to two coordinating pieces using some of the squares I'd pieced from Maria Testa's scraps of hand-dyed silk. I love working with these. The colors are so intense and vibrant and the textures are lovely to stitch on. My plan is to do lots of random stitching to add even more color and texture and then to overlay the skeleton leaves before mounting them on pre-stretched canvas. Here's the preview.
So I think that brings you pretty well up-to-date with my latest mischief. I hope you're having as much fun as I am.
If you've been reading our blog you know that I've just completed three weekends of art fairs--the last two were both 2-day affairs. It's been exhilarating and exhausting. You never know what to expect in a day at one of these shows, but I always have memorable events. One of those memorable moments from Occasion for the Arts came Sunday morning just after the show opened when the Colonial Williamsburg Fife & Drum Corps stopped right outside my tent to play several tunes. It was a rousing start to the day.
I always enjoy seeing them perform. They are "just" teens, but they are so professional in their demeanor and so into their characters. Their seriousness and precision never ceases to impress and move me.
One of the things I will remember most from the Port Warwick Art & Sculpture Show was really a series of moments, not a single event. It's really a small thing, but I just loved watching the shadows on my tent created by the tree right next to me. They constantly changed, but I thought they were a very apropos background for my "Seek Truth" artwork.
Of course it's also exhilarating when your work finds a new home. That brand new jacket that I highlighted in my last blog post has a new owner already, while an older one was just the thing for an upcoming wedding. It really does make you feel good when your work brings joy to others. And you never know what connections you will make. At the Contemporary Artisans show a friend from my water fitness class came by with a friend visiting from Rhode Island. Turns out her friend's daughter had just moved to Lowell, Mass. Sonja and I were tickled to be able to share tips on things to do in Lowell, like Western Avenue Studios and Mill No. 5 and recommend our favorite hairdresser. We hope her daughter loves that place as much as we do.
Of course, there's always more work to be done even when the show is over. After the car's been unloaded, there's still accounting to be done, inventory to be sorted and stored, and a myriad of details to take care of. It's Friday and I'm just beginning to get back to my normal routine again.
Though I took time this week to make sure that Dahlia's and A Touch of Earth had new scarves for the upcoming holiday season, I also made sure that I made time for creative work as well. (Side note - if you click on the links for these wonderful shops, be sure to look carefully at the pictures to see if you can find my scarves!! I was pretty excited to see them.) I spent time at the sewing machine--doing the piecing that I do when I'm not ready to commit to a major project. Starting with a pile of blues, my favorite color, I just kept piecing the scraps together trying to use as many as I could. It was "mindless" time well spent. I think I'm going to have pieces big enough for another jacket.
Evenings I continued to work on my latest "therapy" quilt. I think it's nearing completion. I wasn't too sure, but yesterday I tacked it up to my design board and added some skeleton leaves. I'm continuing to study it, but I think with the addition of the leaves, it will be ready for the basting stitches to go and for binding.
This one doesn't have a definite name yet, for now I'm calling Nature's Bounty. To help me cope with and renew my feelings of optimism, this quilt riffs on all the joys we gain from our time in the out-of-doors. I hope it evokes calm and motivates us to do all we can to sustain our environment for our children and grandchildren.
I just finished loading the car. I have to be downtown right after lunch to set up for Williamsburg's Occasion for the Arts. The show opens tomorrow morning. It runs from 10 am to 5 pm both Saturday and Sunday. I'm in space G 54. I hope if you're in the area, you'll stop by to see me.
I finished one more jacket this week so I'll have VERY new inventory. I mentioned this one in my last post, sharing the crazy mix of fabrics I'd picked out. My fabric selections often look kind of crazy to me when I first start, but the stack of colors always connect somehow. Then getting the design to work together usually just involves getting the right arrangement and the individual pieces the right size. This time it didn't work. The fabrics looked good together in a stack, but I just couldn't find an arrangement that looked pleasing to me. I didn't end up starting all over, but only about half of my original fabrics ended up in the final design.
Just to remind you, here's the set I started with.
Here's the completed jacket.
I decided to make the half-yard cut of Indonesian batik I'd purchased last spring the focus fabric. This one really needs to be seen in person to really appreciate the intricate patterning in the batik. (Side note - I bought this fabric from Usha of Handloom Batik. She sells at many quilt shows and has wonderful fabrics and wooden stamps and such. Look for her. You'll be glad you did.)
I am going to have to discipline myself to post updates more often. I've let too much build up again--even though it's been only 3 weeks since my last post.
This week I am heading into my second busy show time for the year with events each of the next three weekends. This Saturday, September 28 I'll be at "Williamsburg Celebrates Contemporary Artisans" from 8 am to 3 pm on Duke of Gloucester Street right on the edge of the historic area. This show is particularly fun because all the participating artisans are required to demonstrate their processes, not only sell their wares. I'll be working on fabric collage and meditative stitching. If Sonja's schedule permits she will join me too. That will make it extra special.
The next weekend, October 5-6, I'll be back at nearly the same spot for Williamsburg's Occasion for the Arts. This is the area's biggest event of the year and it's my first time to participate. I'll have my jackets and scarves for this one.
The weekend of October 12-13, I'll be in Newport News for the Port Warwick Art & Sculpture Festival. It is my second time to participate in this one.
With these big shows coming up I've been working hard to add to my inventory of unlined jackets. I've three more for you to preview. The details are really hard to capture in photographs. I hope you'll be able to come by my booth at Occasion or Port Warwick to see them for yourself. (They'll also be available on Etsy soon.)
This morning before starting on this post I went through my stash to find fabric possibilities for another one. This is a pretty crazy set, but I think I can make them work. I love a challenge.
These jackets have been just about pure fun. There have been some technical challenges in the seaming (I use all French or flat-felled seams), but mainly it's the pure joy of working with all the colors and patterns. On the other hand, my mind has been fully engaged in my most recently completed artwork--"Seek Truth."
I have been so bothered by the full frontal assault on truth telling by the current administration that I had to create my own bit of protest art. It is filled with quotes and sayings about the importance of truth to not only personal integrity but also to democracy. We need to remind ourselves of this every day right now. We cannot take it for granted. Finding and sharing the truth takes hard work and diligence.
Well it has been a long time coming, but we have finally finished putting together a document describing workshops that Sonja and I could teach. For a quick look at the possibilities, click here. If you want all the details including pricing, supplies and room requirements use this link. Don't hesitate to contact us if you have other ideas or questions.
Apart from getting the word out there about our workshop offerings, I was also anxious to give an update on the jacket project I was working on the last time I posted. The jacket is now finished and I am quite pleased with it. I learned a great deal in the process of making it. Not only did I learn more about putting together patterned fabrics, but I also learned more about using French seams.
As I mentioned in my last post, this jacket started with pieced strips that I'd created when I couldn't decide what to do next for a big project. In trying to put the pieced strips together with other fabrics to make enough for a jacket, I discovered that a patterned fabric worked better than a solid to create a pleasing overall look. I'm still surprised when I look at it finished.
After finishing this, I am now hooked on using French seams in places I'd never expected to use them. I even tried out using them for attaching the collar and cuffs on this one. Attaching the collar that way was a little tricky, but worth the trouble. I love the additional bit of subtle pizazz added by the tucks down the front and on the sleeves. I'm definitely going to use them again on my next one.
Here are the fabrics I'm planning to use next. We'll see how it goes. This time I'll try pairing the pieced strips with hand-dyes. One is fabric from an old damask tablecloth that we dyed, the other I believe is a piece from Helene Davis.
If you've ever read my artist statement, you might recall that one of the things that I like to do is to put together very disparate fabrics to make them work together as a unified whole. You might also know that when I don't know what I want to do next, I create yardage to keep myself going. I color-sort pieces from my scrap bin and start piecing them together. Today's post is about how those two things have come together lately.
I didn't have a good idea for a new jacket so I've been making yardage. Usually when I do this, I have no end use in mind. I just try to put enough small scraps together to create something large enough to be the basis of a project or at least a major component. This time I wanted to make sure that the pieces I created could be used in an unlined jacket. I want to make sure that the insides of these jackets look as nice as the outsides. That means that I can't do just plain seams. Even if I pinked or zig-zagged the seam allowances, the insides of the pieced sections would look really messy. I need to do some type of special seam that hides the raw edges. For the main seams of these jackets I do flat-felled seams (like those on denim jeans). For a number of reasons I didn't want to do those for piecing small bits.
After much thought, I decided to try French seams. These are usually done on sheer fabrics. Each seam is stitched twice. First you make a narrow seam with wrong sides of the fabric together. Then you fold the sides back on themselves so the right sides are together and stitch another slightly wider seam that encloses the raw edges. The resulting tuck ends up inside the garment. For this project I decided to start with the fabrics right side together so the tuck would end up on the outside adding a textural dimension to the finished piece.
I had expected that I would need something nearly plain or with just a subtle pattern but nothing like that seemed to work. Then I decided to look at some bolder patterns just in case. It still surprises me that all these patterns go as well together as they do.
Then yesterday I got that same kind of surprise for another of these projects. I'd pieced together lots of black and white fabrics thinking I'd intersperse them with plain black for another jacket. Then when I dug out out my black fabrics, nothing was exactly the right color or weight. So I set aside those strips and went on to piecing another set of colors. When I finished with that color set, I went back to the black & white. Just for the heck of it I pulled out a really bold black and white batik to see if it could possibly work. To my great surprise (again) it seemed to pull the pieced strips together into a whole much better than the plain black. When I look at the piece on the right, I see stripes and individual patterns. When I look at the center picture I see a blending of colors and patterns with little standing out. I think that will happen even more when it is all put together.
So you'll have to wait a bit to see how this all works out in the end. I've got a lot of work to do on it yet, but I think I have a plan - even if it isn't the one I originally had in mind. If there's a lesson in all this, it is -- just be brave, just try it. You might be suprised.
So that's where I am with my jackets, but as I mentioned I've also been pushing ahead with my wall art. My evenings are usually spent watching TV and stitching. I'm not a good couch potato. My hands have to be busy.
I've been working on two related pieces created from some of my gelatin prints layered over pieced, hand-dyed silks from Maria Testa. The titles for these two came from a book I read just recently, though I'm afraid I can't remember which one. The one on the left is finished. I've called that one Begin Where You Are. The one in progress will be called The Rest Will Follow.
Those titles pretty well capture how I work in general, but especially now as I try to just let my heart lead my work.
More will follow...
Mother & daughter, Ann Lee & Sonja Lee-Austin share their joys and struggles in their art and lives.