Chutzpah

“The answer is always yes.”
Sandra Brownlee

photo studio

I took a shot.
One shot
among many
that flashed
yesterday.

I took a shot
a year
like a flash
still crisp in memory.

I took a shot
and in a flash
I remembered something.
“The answer
is always yes.”

“The Courage to Create”

I’ve been working feverishly on a fairly large piece for the last three weeks. Large, in terms of the usual smaller size of my hand-stitched pieces and large for such intense hand-stitching. I’m stitching in every spare moment, when my fingers aren’t throbbing from pushing and pulling the needle through the heavy layers. The interaction with this piece has become an all-consuming, conversation with stitching and the story.  And, I’m considering a particular quilt show.

monodye layout
I haven’t entered a quilt into a show in many years.  That’s mostly because the work I’ve been doing has found no fitting category in a conventional quilt show where judges are trained to measure value by accuracy of stitches and finishes. But, it’s also because when I did enter a couple of quilts a while back, I was sadly disappointed in the process and the feedback. Not just an un-winner, but really feeling like a loser, hanging my head in a puddle of “they just don’t get it.” My quilts are outliers.

Kimono

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In recent years, more opportunities have been built into the judging prescription for “quilters” who wander outside the conventional lines. But tending to my fabric business, made it impossible for me to add personal competition to my list of must-do’s – one too many hats in the updraft to put my mind and needle to the test for a long time.

store single girl
Time has taken a new shape in the last few months. It began with the no-time-to-think rush from our old house, and turned into twiddle-my-thumbs time on my hands. Oh, I was house hunting, teaching an online workshop and working on a new identity by stitching this chapter, but real deadlines consisted of a three-month rental window and making sure the dog was walked.

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As things have settled, time is divided between a little job and tending to my stitching.  But, stitching can be isolating, especially in a new place with few contacts. So I’m getting out again by completing the lifecycle of my art and showing it in public.  I’m stitching.

TOM Fly2
Stitching leads to thinking and remembering and soul assessment. Even a few sleepless nights.  As I gave the stitches space and found a comfortable rhythm, the story emerged.  On my work table the cloth, now referred to as “Migration,” and the notebook sit together, capturing the story.  And I’m remembering patience.

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What else has emerged in the thought process that stirs while working on “Migration” were episodes in the past that relate to settling into a goal. Hopefully there’s a lesson here.

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Question 1:  Am I worthy?
While I believe in taking risks, looking failure in the eye, there remains that humbling question, “Am I good enough?” Lots of hard work and ideas seem to go nowhere when they are really the groundwork for the eventual right time. On occasion, I’ve had good outcomes and unexpected successes. The hard part is remembering they happened.

Question 2:  What am I afraid of?
It’s different for every situation. When first asked this question it made me think, “What am I holding back?” This time, I was afraid my beautifully dyed cloth would be ruined by covering it with stitches. I had constructed the piece into it’s 40 by 52-inch rectangle in such an easy, organic way. The dye had migrated perfectly across cotton and linen. The vintage silks punctuated the composition with contrast and complementary color. I almost thought it was done six months ago. The first notion I had to release was the preciousness of my cloth. And…
Question 3:  Where is the story?
When this question was asked, it wasn’t the first time I had been told I am “all over the place,”   A project starts in the imagination with lots of space around it, but the story emerges by pinpointing the focus. As an artist, you may lose sleep over unsolved questions with no google search categories.  You may have to wait out the answers until they are ready to reveal themselves. You will, without exception, have to have a dialog with your work to get to the end of it.
In the past weeks, I’ve stitched and looked, stitched and looked.  As stitches went into the cloth, I could tell what needed to happen next.  And sore fingers make for good places to rest and look some more.

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Remember you successes.
Address your fears.
Get the story straight.
Because of this, I am learning that preparing for a show serves a greater purpose.

Imprint…

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I love creative experiments and designing, but the plans for our move to warmer weather had barely been drafted when it happened, leaving me reeling as the suv slowed to a stop in South Carolina.   There are days when the color of life in this new place is drawn from a rich dye, deep and having developed to its full potential.  Some days, my head is barely above the froth and steam, reading a wishy washy shade of what-am-I-doing-here?  Moves are notorious upsets, this one unraveling the shape of my identity.

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Days can be up and down even when you stay in one place for a long time.  We’re not the only ones (or things) on the move.  But I need to set roots, however flimsy, as a point of reference for all the activity, in and out my head, as the next “home base” from which to launch.  The colors show truer from a steady vantage point, good or bad.”

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Number 9 is a small cottage that sits almost at the dead end of a curvy cul-de-sac, on a pie-shaped lawn, in front of the woods.   The sun rises in my kitchen window and sets in my studio.  My neighbors houses dot the road at neat intervals,  next to and across from mine.  And folks are friendly.

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Four months have spun a routine of sorts. I wake to tropical bird sounds, wishing I knew more about birds. *  I take my cup of coffee to my work desk, wishing it were easier to keep my daily journal promise.  I wind floss to a bobbin for morning stitching, then sit a while with the needle, waiting for inspiration.  Email, and sometimes take the dog out to a spot on the turn-around or through the “rabbit hole.”

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I usually bring two bags.  Yes, I pick up.  You-know-what goes in one bag.  And the other collects the booty of windfall that I use in my dyeing experiments.  Spring has offered me a variety of surprises in Low Country – unfamiliar trees and shrubs (that I’m trying to learn the names of), and my recent discovery of two types of deciduous oaks, wild roses and a fabulous cache of fern..   I’ve picked up fuchsia poly-noses as winter ended, and now a prolific maple shares its leaves.

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My neighbors might spy me pruning on occasion and I’ve mentioned in passing to the potter at #10, my pension for imprinting color onto paper and cloth on the stove. I had just unbound some freshly steamed bundles when my doorbell rang.  The potter also grows exotic house plants.  She offered a handful of robust philodendron and begonia leaves from the day’s plant-keeping.  So grateful, I invited her in to see what had just developed between the layers of watercolor paper.

feather imprint

As a potter, she has pressed the texture of leaves into clay projects for decoration. Seeing the delicate traces of plant color on the paper fascinated her creative instincts.  I directed her to roll a slab and cut it to my paper size.  We would experiment together.  Two days later, the slab is drying with a coating of mordant brushed on.   We are prepared for failure, but hopeful.

What do you think will happen?

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Chemistry and collaboration aside,  when I stand in place, even while wandering,  abundant nature will provide just what I need on any given day.

*(I always make the bed.)

Orange Matters

We are moving along the color wheel, once again with Jennifer Coyne Qudeen and  Julie B. Booth :: this month, ORANGE.  So look left-ish, around 10 o’clock  for the color of the month, with a peek at what lies ahead for the coming months.

What colors do with each other
look left

 

I have always been attracted to color and orange is one of my favorites.   This is a piece I finished in 2002, before orange had thoroughly returned to it’s 70’s popularity.

kimono art qult
kimono art qult

Artists use orange to attract attention or make a point.

What a paradox; he's amazingly disciplined!

Nature has it down pat.

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Orange hangs with other orange.

fiber exhibit yafo, israel
fiber exhibit yafo, israel

Sew orange.

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Ride orange.

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Shuk orange

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Read? orange.

shuk little building crop

Rust orange.

yafo door rust

Night orange.

caesaria, israel
caesaria, israel

 

Wedding Prep

The wedding dress project continues with lots of prep – just like a wedding.

I took the dress apart at the seams – which was pretty easy because the thread is reaching the end of its life.  The stitches broke away with no fight and a gentle crackling sound.  There are sixty-plus years of wrinkles to press flat before cutting the patchwork.  This takes quite a bit of steam.

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I took part of the project home, trying to stay on schedule and knowing that we would be snowed in. Nothing better than being by a toasty iron and an indoor project anyway.

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Strips were cut, based on my design: A center panel, taken from the bustles.  I could only get a 24″ square from that piece.  So I cut 6 1/2″ strips to bring the center/monogram panel up to 36″ square.

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Sewing  satin is a challenge.  I use a pinning combination that reduces slippage in both directions,  when right sides of satin are facing one another.  The pins are very close together as in “over-pin.”

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The pins stay in the whole time.  Some slip out, but the result is better if you can keep them in while sewing.DSCN2113

I’m pretty happy with the seam.  DSCN2114

I chain pieced anything I could.  This is a 12 1/2 piece stitched to a 4 1/2 strip.  They will be sub cut into a brick-type block that will give a woven effect when I’m finished.

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Press the seams open.  I’m really surprised at how well the satin takes the heat from the right side with no major adjustments to iron temperature.  I can smell 1946 in the fabric as it heats up.

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While I was pinning another strip for the center panel, I noticed how beautifully the satin draped over the edge of my sewing table.  Stopped to enjoy and take a picture.

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The finished center panel is draped over the back of a chair in my studio while I continue piecing.

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So far, I’ve gotten the basket weave patchwork laid out for sewing.

DSCN2131I will continue the process until the entire quilt top is completed.  Stay tuned a few more steps and the reveal.

A Wedding Story

One of the most enjoyable things I do, in the course of my work, is making something old, new again.  From a client’s mother’s 1940’s silk-satin wedding dress and several bathrobes his dad wore, I am entrusted to build an heirloom quilt .  I have had these pieces in my care for a couple of months.  I’ve sketched ideas to demonstrate the possibilities in the client’s price range, but it is not until I begin the work, that I actually know what will become of this tangle of wrinkles.

DSCN2083I have been scrambling to finish some hand binding on another job.  I love hand-work, but the urgency to keep on schedule steals my calm.  To regroup for this sentimental journey, I spent a good hour, communing with the fabrics in the shop.

I examine the details of the dress, the buttons, which I plan to turn into a central monogram, the button loops, a scallop of handwork that I think must go somewhere on the quilt, or be lost.

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The pleats in the side bustles, a store of wide fabric, folded and sewn so no raw edges would show.

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DSCN2092I marvel at the handwork that has remained secure for so many years.  The discoloration of the knot, a place where the seamstress left oil from her fingertips.  I imagine how adeptly were sewn the strings of covered buttons with one thread.

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scissor marks, perfectly straight lines os sewing machine stitches.

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I start to deconstruct, saving the buttons, a couple of silk roses, the scalloped fretwork, the train.

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I estimate 10 or 15 feet of trailing silk – a good piece for the 60″ pillar details I’m imagining for the sides of the quilt.  That should work nicely with the basket weave brick pattern I dreamt up the other morning.

Next episode: pressing, cutting, assembling