It's a rainy Monday morning. Perfect time to sit down at the computer and fill you in on the last month. As Sonja wrote last month, it's been challenging for her--working full time at home with a 5-year-old in the house. I've been helping out a little, going over for an hour or two each day to play with Tyler.
It brightens my day and certainly keeps me on my toes. I never know what to expect when I walk in the door. I've been to the hot pepper planet, saved him from hot lava and a sea of slime, been the queen of electrocution one day and the queen of comfy another. He's always in charge, I just go along for the ride. And what a ride!
On this day we were spies. He built our headquarters, complete with a one-way glass window and a key-pad entry system (using a little cash register to let you put in your pass-code).
As of today, I'm off duty again. Nick's school year is over so he's got Tyler duty for the summer. Then we'll see what the fall brings. Tyler is due to start kindergarten, but there's no definite plan yet for how or when the school year will start.
While I've been home, I've continued to work on that king-size quilt I've written about before. I am making good progress. I have 8 (of 24) "squares" already quilted and the first 5 squares stitched together for the left side of the quilt. The quilt as you go method is working out well for me. Each section presents new decisions for what to do in terms of embroidery/quilting and gives me a sense of completion when it is finished. Here are a couple of the most recently completed squares. (The number tags indicate the upper right-hand corner and the order for putting them together.)
In addition to this project, which is purely personal, I've also started a collaborative project with my sister, Sue Gilleland, and my daughter, Sonja. This project arose from an article I saw in the most recent journal from the Surface Design Association. The theme of the issue was collaboration and one of the articles was about The Wondermakers Collective. Everything about their work resonated with me. The two women, Mindy Sue Wittock and Jenna Freimuth, are from Minnesota and Wisconsin. (I grew up in Minnesota and my husband in Wisconsin.) They create these vibrant embroideries by sending the works back and forth in the mail, with each one adding to what the other has done. When I read about it, I immediately thought that it would be fun for Sonja and I to do something like that. And then a couple seconds after that I thought it would be fun to include my artist sister, who is currently living in Anchorage.
Sonja and I talked about it in one of our art nights and figured out some parameters which we proposed to Sue. She approved and we got started. Here are our "rules," such as they are:
There will be more to come on this project. We haven't finished with the first set of six, but we've already decided to keep going. No decisions yet on how long we'll do this or what we'll do with the finished ones. Main point right now is to have fun; staying connected by making art together. Both become more important with each passing day.
I hope you are also making time for fun and social connection too.
All my best,
This weekend our family theme was Silly Tickle Days. I realized since we are home pretty much all the time, we needed some way to clearly differentiate the weekends from work days for our 5 year old son, Tyler, and for me and my hubby, too. Working at home has been interesting. Try talking "professionally" about work on the phone when a kid is climbing over you. My coffee went flying on Monday because I tried to pick Tyler up off my office chair and he kicked the coffee mug while wiggling.
One of the challenges has been trying to convince Tyler that Mommy can't have playtime all the time with him. The other big challenge is attempting to convince him to get dressed and not stay in his PJs all day. Everything I try seems to be only a temporary fix - other than letting him play games on his Kindle which he will do all day (in his fuzzy monster covered PJs), if we let him.
Some days he is perfectly happy to play Legos most of the day all on his own. When he does that, he makes the best stuff. Other days the refrain is "Mommy play with me" (in a whiny voice).
So anyway today started and ended with tickle time. The weekend was also filled with random moments of silliness. Silliness creeps in other days lately, too. We've been composing our own verses to the tune of Parry Gripp's catchy "Baby Yoda (Floating in a Pod)" song. Made up verses usually revolve around our newest family member, Leo the dog. Try it, it's addicting. Warning - the song's tune will get stuck in your head! It's a super easy tune to make up words to. Here are some Leo verses for example:
Leo, Leo, wants a belly rub. Leo, Leo.
Leo, Leo, going for a walk. Leo, Leo.
For silly artwork with Tyler, we drew a monster with glasses for all three eyes. Tyler has also been putting googly eyes on everything.
Tyler also decided to take goofy photos and star in his own silly video clips using my phone today.
On top of that, some irises opened up in the garden that remind me of clowns because they have the most vibrant orange and purple colors with frilly petals like a clown's color.
Happy Silly Tickle Day!
Time to take a break from my sewing and fill you in on my progress on that king-size bed quilt I talked about in my last post. As I mentioned then, once I had settled on this project I decided to just jump right in with only the most general plan for what it was going to look like. I thought I'd share some of the fits and starts of this "figure it out as you go" process. Perhaps some of you planners would like to give it a go and what I've learned can help you. I'll try to include any details that I think might be helpful to you.
It's definitely iterative: start forward several steps; check your progress; make corrections; move forward again for a while. I've tried to check my direction often enough that I didn't end up forced into a direction I didn't want to go.
My original plan was to create random-sized squares of my random-pieced blocks and fit them together however I could. I had a bunch of blocks already made, but needed lots more. I dug out all my scraps of "blue" fabric and kept piecing. One rule for selecting fabrics was that they either "read" primarily blue or picked up on colors in the other blue patterned fabrics. A second rule was that the fabrics had to have been used in some other project; I wasn't going to use previously uncut fabrics.
The point of the second rule was to use up scraps. The unintentional result was a trip down memory lane as I pieced the blocks. I dug to the bottom of my stash and came up with fabrics I hadn't seen in years. I began thinking about where the fabric came from, what it was for, and what happened to whatever I made with it. It added another level of joy to the process.
When I am doing this random piecing, I keep a pile of scraps of various sizes on my cutting board. I try to keep them sort of "organized" with the smallest ones nearest to me and larger ones toward the back. Obviously though it's mostly a jumble. I pile in more as the pile starts to go down. I start each block with one of the smallest pieces and begin building out around the edges, sort of long cabin style. I like to start with an odd shape or a triangle, rather than a square because I am going for an irregular look. I decide what to add on where based on what fits and looks good next to the fabrics already there. I try to add on the smallest piece I can to waste as little as possible. I use narrow seams, 3/8" to 1/4." Consistency on the width is not important in this method.
After each short seam, I trim the seam allowances if need be and press the seam--usually away from the center, This is definitely not a speedy process, but I like the rhythm of it. (Also, I figure I need the exercise of getting up, walking a few steps, and sitting down again; over and over and over--especially now.)
I think you can see just from this small bit that I use a WIDE variety of fabrics. They are almost all cottons, but there are a very few silks and a few unknowns. I learned early on that when you are cutting fabric up into smallish pieces, the pattern becomes almost irrelevant. The more patterns included, the more they blend together into something new. Then it becomes fun to look at the results closely to see the elements individually.
I keep adding to the sides, trying to keep the pattern as irregular as I can until I am getting close to the size that I want. When I am within 1-2" of the dimensions I want, I begin to figure out how to square it off. I line up one of the edges, usually the longest, with the 0 line on the bottom of my cutting board and widest point with the 0 line on the side. That shows me where and how much to add. I try to square up one side/corner at a time.
As I mentioned, my original plan had been to make enough random-sized pieces to cover the bed. I'd just fit them together as I could. After creating perhaps 10 squares, I decided I should check on my plans. I did another round of laying them out on the bed to see where I was in terms of how far along I was and how hard it might be to put them together. Lucky I did. I realized that putting together bunches of random-sized blocks would be really difficult. (L seams are not impossible, but they are definitely harder and I didn't want to have to do a whole bunch.) I also realized that the final size I'd planned on (based on a google search of quilt/bed dimensions) was larger than I needed.
So I took a step back and actually made a drawing of a layout that would work. I decided on 3 basic sizes for the width of my blocks. Most of the blocks would be square, but I needed a few rectangular blocks to fill in spaces at the bottom. Once I did that, I had a clear plan of how many squares I needed and how I'd put them together. Some of the blocks that I had already made were smaller than I needed, but it was easy to add on to bring them up to size. I also had a couple that were larger than I needed. Instead of just cutting them down to size, I cut them into quarters and used them as the centers of new blocks.
So I kept piecing, and piecing, and piecing, till I covered the bed. I laid them out once again rearranging them until I was pleased with how they went together. Then I pinned numbers to the upper right corner of each block to indicate the order for sewing them together.
I bought a big piece of black cotton batting and cut backing squares from the duvet cover I am replacing. Then I had to decide about quilting it. I had already decided on using the quilt-as-you-go method, thinking to do machine quilting. I don't have a long-arm machine and the object of this project was to keep me busy. So sending it out to be quilted was out of the question. But when I got close to actually starting, I had no idea what to do. I have basically no experience with machine quilting and I began to think that any machine stitching I'd do at that point would only detract.
I mentioned my dilemma over dinner one night and my husband suggested hand quilting. I'd been resisting that idea because machine quilting would be faster and hand-quilting is always my default. The suggestion did plant a seed that maybe going to my default is okay. It's not like I have a deadline for finishing, or any other pressing project to attend to. Then, when I picked up the first square and it was decision time, the answer was obvious. I took one look at the block and had a bunch of ideas for embroidery stitches that would coordinate with and enhance various patterns in the cloth. I pulled out 8 or 10 spools of Oliver Twist hand-dyed variegated threads and got to town. Here's the first one--the full block and a detail shot. In addition to traditional quilt stitches, I've got lazy dazy, chain , stem, straight, chicken, and herringbone stitches. May be more.
Just 23 more to go! I thought about just hand stitching every other one, but I had such fun with the first, I decided to just go all the way. It'll be done when it's done.
I've found a way to make my stay-at-home time productive and enjoyable. I hope you have too. Stay well.
Everything is weird these days. No one knows what "normal" is anymore. Not that I could say that I ever felt "normal" myself. I've been attempting to focus on the little things that I am grateful for. I am grateful that as of today my family, friends, and I still have our health and livelihoods. I am grateful for the healthcare workers, the grocery and other essential store workers, and all who are trying to help everyone get through this emergency situation.
I have been painting some more watercolor cards using a circle template as a starting place. I did this one based on some mandala drawings I do any moment I can find the time. I am grateful for the color of watercolors and I enjoy the technique of flooding a tiny area with water and then dropping in the colors to see how they flow.
Many of us also now have a new perspective on toilet paper. Trying to fit some humor in, I just finished my "Ode to Toilet Paper" watercolor card. I caught myself one day getting a bit too philosophical about toilet paper. I am grateful for the trees that make toilet paper possible, the workers that help to make toilet paper in factories, the people who transport the toilet paper to the stores, and the people who sell it to us!
I am grateful for having a new house with an amazing garden which I am slowly learning to take care of. I even enjoyed weeding this weekend! This little beauty showed up in our yard. It looks like it has been splattered with watercolor paint.
I am also grateful for the extra time to spend with my son Tyler. It is challenging to have him home while working at home, but it's amazing to see some of the things he makes out of Legos.
I wish you, your family, and friends health and gratitude for the little things.
(Ann's daughter, the one that hasn't written a blog post in ages...)
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.)
Mother & daughter, Ann Lee & Sonja Lee-Austin share their joys and struggles in their art and lives.