February 23rd I wrote a blog about not just what I was sewing, but also about how excited I was that carpet was being installed in our basement and my sewing room the very next day. After the basement flooded in August, it was a long haul to get everything fixed. Drywall was in shipping containers coming from China. Paint was in very short supply because a year ago Texas had ‘snowmageddon’ and most paint is produced using chemicals in a base that is manufactured in Texas. Because of the freezing temperatures, millions of gallons of paint were lost before it could be mixed and shipped. Who knew? Finally, I was pretty jazzed that my design walls were going back up. I was using thin, wobbly sheets of pink insulation propped up against the walls in our front entry way as a design board…not ideal. I was sewing on our dining room table and ironing in the living room. Not ideal. My Ott light and Oliso were destroyed that day in August when the ceiling came crashing down, soaked in all directions. However, after the carpet went in, things would be back to “normal” or so I thought.
With horror, over the next 24-48 hours the world watched as Putin invaded Ukraine.
It was as if the horrific black & white newsreels of WWII had come to life and were now being streamed in 24-hour news cycles. Putin is a madman.
Within a moment, my small inconveniences of running up and down the stairs to sew and iron paled in comparison. I was embarrassed that I was happy about carpet going in when there were innocents being attacked, bombed, and, it turns out, shot in the streets.
Towns and cities were decimated, some eventually almost wiped from the map, and while historical buildings could be rebuilt from the rubble, people cannot.
Like many I have spoken to since the attack on Ukraine began, I was horrified and somehow completely indecisive about what to do, and how to help? Instead of working, sewing, or moving furniture back into my sewing room, I sat with my face glued to the news.
I wondered how ‘art’ would help? Does art matter when the world is crumbling in places like Ukraine?
I wondered how I could help? What could a single person do to make a difference?
Then Yo-Yo Ma set up his cello on the sidewalk in front of the Russian Embassy and played. He wasn’t dressed in a tuxedo, he didn’t have an audience of hundreds or thousands, and he wasn’t looking for accolades. As an artist, a musician in the highest musical echelons, recognized around the world, he simply set up his cello and began to play among homemade signs and sidewalk chalk statements protesting the Russian invasion.
Art matters, even when the world is in chaos.
Music matters, even when bombs can be heard in the near distance.
People matter, down to the last man, woman, and child.
So I stopped feeling lost and stuck, and began to do things.
I donated to Samaritan’s Purse because they were already on the ground helping the displaced refugees. Just this week (April 25, 2022) they delivered 15 metric tons of supplies to Poland where everything from hygiene kits to toilet paper will be trucked into Ukraine and the border area. They have also distributed thousands of hygiene kits (toothbrush/toothpaste, soap, washcloths, shampoo, etc.) to refugees flooding out of Ukraine. They have DART teams (Disaster Assistance Response Teams) in Moldova and Poland, in addition to Ukraine, many of whom are providing medical assistance to refugees.
I donated to UNICEF because their priority is getting clean water and medicine to people still in Ukraine, along with the refugees flooding out of Ukraine. They also focus on helping the children being displaced, along with the family unit, or whatever is left of a once-stable family unit.
Eventually, my husband installed one design wall and I have been sewing every day, often with the news on, but more often than not, music in the background. Yo-Yo Ma and his Goat Rodeo album, along with the follow-up album, Not my First Rodeo. I listen to Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Jimmy Dorsey, Ella Fitzgerald, Handel’s water music, Mozart, Journey, Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Holly, Beethovan, just to name a few.
I may never be able to stop bombs in another part of the world, but I can pray for and support the people and organizations that have boots on the ground, helping people I cannot reach by myself.
The Ukrainian people are amazing, brave, relentlessly optimistic, and will prevail.
Once I pulled my face from the 24-hour news cycle, I also began to sew.
Happy January, 2022! Apologies for not posting sooner, but C19 hit our household in December and for a number of weeks it was a slog. Very little sewing was happening, but it’s a beautiful day, the sun is shining, it’s new year, new day, new goals to be met, and projects to finish.
Last weekend I took a virtual Quiltfolk 2-day workshop featuring Kaffe Fassett. What an interesting designer, quilter, knitter and character! His sense of color, and his work in the fabric industry has been an integral part of the fiber movement all around the world. He has a new line of ribbons, manufactured in France, and they are gorgeous! Much of the interviewing of Kaffe and his partner was done by Jenni Smith, who has worked with Kaffe in designing quilts. Getting a peak into his house was an eye-opening experience. Color, pattern, more color, more pattern, mosaics, knitting, quilts, ceramics, paintings… you name it, it’s probably in his house somewhere in glorious and casual display. From the paintings in his living room to his antique quilts 3 stories above, there is something that grabs your eye in every square inch of space. I’m going to keep my eye open for workshops, as he’s coming to the US later this year. In the meantime, I’m thoroughly enjoying his newest book, “Kaffe Fassett In the Studio: Behind the Scenes with a Master Colorist.” It’s decadent and yummy!
As an update, I’m quilting ‘Chaos’ using stitch-in-the-ditch. After some tinkering, I decided this was the best way to highlight each individual block. It’s a little bit of a slow process, but I believe will be worth it in the end. When I get the first 2 rows done, I’ll post pictures. It’s boring from the back – maybe not boring, exactly, but really just a grid pattern that goes from side to side and top to bottom.
This morning I also finished the next small work in my Jazz series. This has been a really fun diversion from the grid mentioned above, and yes, I really do listen to jazz music when I’m sewing this series. For time management purposes (which I’m trying to work on!) I set aside 2 hours for these small quilts every morning. Yo-Yo Ma and the Goat Rodeo is one of my favorite albums to wake up to, along with Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington in the Songbook series, Count Bassie, Pat Metheny & Lyle Mays, Jaco Pastorius, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk… and 100 others, all brilliant and inspiring in their own right. It’s been interesting to also read about ‘Kandinsky’ by Helmut Friedel (author) while improv jazz is on in the background. Maybe it’s just me, but improv jazz makes me happy and I think a little more creative when I’m working in a completely improv way.
Jazz 103 was a completed top in December, and Jazz 104 was completed this morning. The Jazz 103 uses a gorgeous orange ombre I had in my stash, but I don’t think it photographs as beautiful as it is in person. The same is true for Jazz 104, although similar, it’s a Cherrywood red, much like a ripe, red tomato ready to pick from the vine and eat while it’s still warm from the sun. It’s difficult to see the design or suade-like pattern that is unique to Cherrywood in the pictures, but it, too, is much more colorful in person than in the pics. Each is 21″ W x 30″ H
With the temporary shift is sewing rooms, it’s been something of a challenge to get this next strip of ‘Chaos’ done. Three more strips to complete! The strip column on the far right is just pinned in 7 blocks. It was a dig-deep couple of weeks, not just with the basement drying out from the flood, but because I would be working in cleaning off all of the shelves that have to be moved and suddenly come across something else ruined by water. Cleaning is kind of a drag, but sewing is therapy!
As I began to look over the whole of what is complete so far, I wondered if I was still using a wide enough variety of my scraps. I have used a lot of smaller pieces that were socked away in bins, but I think there’s more variety when I first started than now. Here is the comparison to one year ago when this first seemed like a good idea.
It’s been just over 2 months since the basement and my studio flooded, but it feels like a long process before it will be back to “normal” at my house – sometime after Christmas. While I like sewing on the dining room table, I’m easily distracted by what is outside. We live a stone’s throw from a huge metro park, and every year we have Sandhill cranes that nest in our neighborhood. They wandered into our yard one day this past week, likely getting ready to migrate south. If you have never heard them talking to each other…they sound what Pterodactyls must have sounded like. It’s also a little hard to tell, but they are huge birds, standing about 4′ – 5′ tall.
After taking Rosalie Dace’s last workshop, I have started a series of small quilts. The impetus was partly as a reprieve from making 3/4″ finished blocks, but also looking at utilizing some of the many leftovers from other projects. I cranked some Myles Davis, Dave Koz, Pat Metheny & Lyle Mays, and just put blocks together. No plan whatsoever, just working improv with my new earbuds cranked.
And to the campfire…first one tonight if it doesn’t rain!
Make something beautiful today, whether it’s a quilt or a pumpkin cheesecake…
I haven’t posted much recently, mostly because we had a hell-of-a-month I’m going to call August. Like many other parts of the country, most of southern Michigan has had lots and LOTS of storms this year. Wallopers! So it stormed here and we were without power for 5 days. Five. Days. Unless you have hand-work or slow-stitching ready at a moment’s notice, not much actual sewing happens.
Fortunately, I always do my binding by hand and was working on 2 small crib quilts. I worked on that during the day… when there was light. Sometimes you take the small things for granted – like walking into the kitchen and turning the light on. Again and again. It was probably 3 days before I remembered that no matter how many times I flipped the switch, no power was forthcoming.
So the following Monday morning I went down to my studio, about 5:45 a.m., not just because I like to get an early start, but because the Baltimore Oriole feeder was empty, and the jelly jar had been emptied the day before. The grape jelly is in the pantry on the left directly behind my sewing machine. I stopped on the bottom step for a moment wondering what was happening with the ceiling, but I’m grateful I could flip a switch and lights came on:
Now bear in mind, it’s not even 6:00 a.m., no coffee on-board, and I’m a huge SciFi fan. Star Trek (Chris Pine, hello?!), Star Wars, yep, all of them; Stargate (movie and 215 episodes on SyFy network)…you name it. Don’t judge. I’m also a huge fan of J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkein, Jane Austin, the Bronte sisters, and yes, even War & Peace, although that was a slog since none of the French was translated in the text, but located at the bottom of the page. But I digress. This was like a scene out of a SciFi movie. It took me a moment to orient that parts of the studio ceiling seemed to be peeling off. Like a brain surgeon, I said out loud, and to myself, “Huh. That’s weird.”
Then I stepped off the last step to walk over to see what the deal was when the carpet beneath my feet went SQUISH, SQUISH, SQUISH.
I immediately ran upstairs to grab my DH, who is happily sound asleep on his first day of a vacation, and inform him that there’s water pouring into my studio, and all hell broke lose. Apparently the water line from the kitchen sink to the ice-maker in the refrigerator split and water had been dripping, pouring, running all night long, over my sewing table and iron boards, gel pro mat for standing, the Ott light, pretty much everywhere.
Good news: Bernina wasn’t damaged, although other smaller items were. Yellow Oliso iron I call “Ollie” hit the floor, ironing board won’t stand up, etc. Just discovered about an hour ago that most if not all of my Aurifil thread not still in it’s plastic is covered with ceiling debris. I thought I covered it pretty early on in the process of stopping the damage, but pictures look like it was much later than I remembered. Panic will do that to you I guess.
Bad news: Studio won’t be completed (or even have a ceiling) until after Thanksgiving. Don’t get me wrong, with the pictures I’ve seen in the last couple of weeks from the hurricanes, I know damage in those bigger storms makes my studio disaster just a hic-up, but there have been a lot of tears nonetheless.
In related news: 5 days after the studio flood I started a zoom workshop through the Schweinfurth Museum with the talented Rosalie Dace. So grabbing what I determined were a box of leftovers from Human Form #15, I’m working off the dining room table, mostly using paper but sewing some too, unrelated to the workshop itself. It’s all about design principles, and it’s fabulous to be able to interact with her half-way around the world. She’s a delight.
I would say I’m going to work on ‘Chaos’ now…but then I’ll cry again!
I’ve been working on this ‘Chaos’ piece since back in October, 2020, since that’s what I was feeling. Every day, there was election chaos, Covid chaos, people on fb saying things they would never dream of saying to somebody’s face, so social media chaos… I needed to express that I was feeling overwhelmed no matter where I looked.
Now, what seems like a l-o-n-g time ago from my starting point, I’m making the push to finish this work. In the past month I’ve made more than 780 blocks that will be 3/4″ finished.
So counting and sorting gives me a pretty good idea of how many blocks of 12 x 12 I am able to make, as well as getting my cutting table cleaned up and less chaotic. As I was counting the smallest units and putting them in piles of 10, I realized that I was focusing much more on the goal of finishing this top, and much less on the journey of making it. I had turned a corner somewhere in my thinking and approach to this piece of work.
Textiles, quilts, baby quilts, art quilts, knitting, weaving, needlepoint, woodworking, even gardening and photography – whenever I work with my hands I love the tactile nature of it. Working with your hands is honest, even when we use tools from a needle to a spade to a camera. Until I slowed down and counted what I had made, I was focused on the goal of finishing.
With all of the work of making these small blocks, and the (seemingly) million decisions that have gone into it so far, I’m now slowing down to enjoy the making of it without feeling overwhelmed. I actually stepped away from my studio to go to a quilt shop. A real-life, full of people and glorious fabrics, bundles, patterns, books, machines, thread, and ideas – Decorative Stitch in Shelby Township, Michigan. It was awesome – this is one of my favorite shops, as their fabric selections are vast, and right up my alley, including an entire wall of solids. Lovely shop, lovely staff, lovely experience every time I go in!
Refreshed and with a better attitude, I’m off to the studio now to sew a lot of small blocks together. I’m once again going to enjoy the journey of making.
I clearly have a love of this crazy, tedious, colorful piece I’m working on, but I also have a love of design. The question, daily, is how to design and construct a work that must appear completely random?
So far, I believe it means making 1,001 design decisions a day.
Principles of Design are pattern, rhythm, proportion, balance, unity. You can expand the number of principles to include color, line, shape, negative space, etc. depending on what medium you are talking about, but these 5 basic principles are pretty universal. Even though I have chosen the size of each block, and decided early on that each tiny block would have 3 different fabrics, I did not decide, and do not decide, how to sew them together until I see how they all begin to play together.
Currently the 2 most critical principles for me in this work are proportion and balance. There is sort of an ebb and flow between principles when you’re working in what I’m going to call ‘structured improv’ but the bottom line is simple: make each & every decision like it’s the most critical decision of the day. Even though they are a mere 3/4″ finished, each individual block should be beautiful, dynamic, and vibrant! Proportions must change from block to block.
It’s easier to see changes in proportions using a B/W filter, as well as to gage whether or not you’re using values in different proportions. This art would be very dull indeed if all the proportions were the same:
The colors and size of the blocks will convey the idea of ‘Chaos’ as your eye zips over the top with no place to rest. Balance comes primarily in color for this buzzy, busy top. Color and value (light to dark), repeated again and again in similar sizes of the same block creates both balance and pattern/rhythm.
Yes, I’ve been busy sewing, and will post an update of the quilt itself in the next blog. I’m digging it!
Sometimes the hardest thing about making art is literally taking it one step at a time. For Jackson Pollock it was one layer at a time, one paint at a time, step back, evaluate, then the next big splash. Evaluate again. Splash. I love his work!
If you have ever admired an Old Master painter from centuries ago, you’ll know that many had apprentices who would lay the groundwork for the canvas, working at the initial layers of paint for backgrounds, figures, or scenery. When I first learned this I thought, “That’s cheating!” but then I realized it was also the only way some of the Masters were as prolific as they were, and it was excellent training for the apprentices.
In my case, the CHAOS piece I’m working on currently is a challenge in that each “block” is so small when sewn together (3/4″ x 3/4″) that it has to be absolutely precise. It’s like the large Lone Star quilts which have possibly 64+ seams across the top, and if each seam is “just 1/64” off, you know your quilt will have waves.
So my challenge is 3-fold: first, that the blocks I’m making today look enough like the blocks I began making last October & November that the quilt will be cohesive, even though it’s visual texture and chaotic.
Second, because the blocks are often bias on at least 3 sides, they must be both precisely cut and precisely trimmed so the fabric bias won’t affect how they lay in the end.
Third, I have to knuckle down when the blocks become tedious and just keep going. This is hard for me, as I like NEW challenges, and NEW projects, and NEW ideas. Squirrel! At this point my Grandpa Day’s voice rings in my head… “Suck it up, Buttercup, get it done.” He was usually referring to some menial task that to this day, I don’t love (like mopping!) but it’s also a foundational life lesson. Nobody became an Old Master in a day. It was years and years of work as an apprentice, sometimes perhaps tedious. No beautiful work of architecture was erected in a day. The garden at Versailles didn’t bloom in one day.
Each endeavour worth our time is also worth our best effort.
Over the weekend I was pondering the meaning of art. My MIL used to say, “I don’t really understand your quilts, dear, but they are very pretty.” I was never really quite sure how to take that!
She was an excellent quilter and made many beautiful quilts over the years, most of which she hand-quilted, but she always followed a pattern. Meticulously! I have copies of patterns that we worked on together, and her notes were really a wonder to behold. Looking back at 2020, I wonder if she would perhaps now see a bit of what’s in my head and what I’m expressing in my art? Alas, she has passed on, but I often think of her when I’m sewing, especially since I often make decisions in a completely intuitive manner.
Last week was very productive, and I’m forging ahead with what I think, hope, and pray will be a pretty cool statement of “CHAOS” without using any words to describe what it feels like…
I’m getting a pretty good sense of what the final work will look like – and there are those who will love it, and those who will hate it! Isn’t getting pushed out of our comfort zones what art should instigate?
My current project, ‘Chaos’ is taking up quite a bit of time. The original plan was use my scraps and strips from other projects, make something busy, make it fairly small, but visually challenging. This original idea has morphed into something large, insanely busy, and wildly challenging to look at – meaning there’s no place to rest your eye. Some people love this kind of work – some people absolutely hate it because, again, no place to rest your eye.
The hardest part now is to just keep going when all the blocks begin to look the same. This week’s blocks, which seem to be legion, are similar to my original blocks back in October when this started, but in using up scraps, have a slightly different character:
Working with a finished block that is 3/4″ square is challenging, in that each block has to stand on it’s own. This isn’t like a large block, 12″x12″ or 16″x16″ which usually has just a little wiggle room when piecing as part of a larger top. When working this small, each block has to be precise. Period. To that end, I’ve started to think about each block like it’s a little work of art which could stand on it’s own merit.
Each block should be dynamic, interesting, have different scale than it’s neighbor, as well as having balance in color.
I have decided the finished piece will be (7) 9″x9″ rows wide by 9 columns down. It will be 27,216 pieces, or 9,072 blocks.
OK, that may be a bit optimistic, but in quilting, as in most important or meaningful goals in life, you have to keep working at it. Life is a journey, not a destination – enjoy it!
I’ve worked in a number of series in the last decade or so, but this last couple of months have flown by while exploring this piece called Chaos. First let me admit that sometimes working in a series is challenging. It’s easy to get bored or less inspired after you’ve explored the same theme or piece in a number of different ways, but to really grow, I find that pushing through that initial sense of boredom opens doors I never thought of prior to the exercise.
One of the most challenging factors in this piece is limiting my fabric selection. For the most part I started with using strips from 3 different containers, and I’m down to my last one, many from projects a decade ago. I’ve used many solids, also mostly leftovers, hoping that the juxtaposition between solids, which are mostly vibrant, and the myriad of patterns keeps it visually interesting.
Another significant challenge for me has been continuity. If the blocks made this week have a different composition or feel to them, the piece changes in a materially important way – no pun intended!
So the balance is continuity with continuing visual interest:
I daily, and sometimes hourly, refer to the design principles pinned to the top of my design wall: pattern, rhythm, proportion, balance, and unity. An example of proportion is this same pattern, free-hand cut but different size finished “blocks” of 3 pieces each:
It might be a little hard to visualize the finished work that is currently being done, but Rhythm is easy since it’s the same block again and again. The challenge is balance using color rather than size or proportion. I’ll keep you posted!