Thursday, January 31, 2013

I could design a quilt in my sleep

I am not a good sleeper. It usually takes me a long time to go to sleep and then, often I wake up for long or short periods through the night. I read and that helps. Or sometimes I try to relax by designing quilts in my head until I finally nod off. I actually get some usable ideas from time to time.

Last night was really bad. I could not sleep for the longest time and I lay awake thinking about what I might do next in this series of architectural quilts that I am working on. Finally I fell asleep, but the design process did not stop. I continued to dream design. I considered so many ideas, all building on the Latin American cities and architecture I have been working on. At last I hit upon, what seemed like a brilliant insight. My dream self realized that the buildings don't matter! The art is all about the layering of structures—structures with walls and depth and height and a sense of weight and presence. And I knew that the best subjects for portraying all this were not buildings. They were pots and pans! And I began cutting pots and pans from fabric and positioning them on a background. Yes. It was the perfect piece. But wait, something was missing. I studied and puzzled until I knew that a carrot hanging from the handle of one of the pots would finish it. I stood back and said, "yes, that carrot really makes it pop." Then I woke up and lay in the dark wondering what that was all about. I made a little sketch, because I have been thinking about it all day.

Here is a peek at a real quilt, in progress.

 This is just a part of the whole, unquilted and unfinished, so please don't Pinterest it! (Yes, I see where people have pinned photos I posted of work in progress—at least wait until it's finished to steal pin it.)  Oddly, now that I have posted this photo I can see similarities between the pots and pans and the buildings, even a domed lid. And look at that tree behind the big, red dome. That is totally an upside down carrot. And it (and another like it) was the last thing I added to the composition, because it just seemed to need it. That tree was not in the original plan. Hunh.

I hope I can sleep tonight. No dreams, please.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The black outlines

Sandy asked about the "black" outlines that I use in my quilt designs. I am glad to explain why and how they are there.

I thought for a long time about how to create dark outlines in fabric, that had the qualities of a hand-drawn line. What I mean is a natural line with slight wavers and variations in thickness. You can stitch a satin stitch around the shapes, but a satin stitch is quite uniform in width and has a mechanical quality that wasn't what I wanted. I came up with the idea of cutting the shapes from fabric and fusing them to a dark background fabric. Sometimes that is a black fabric, sometimes another dark color. I like dark blue which has a less harsh look than black, and that is what I am using for the piece I am currently working on.

For fusing I use a liquid called Liquid Thread.

I like it better than fusible web because I can fuse only the edges of the fabrics, and the piece stays soft. It also seals the cut edges and prevents raveling better than fusible web. I do find it too thick and hard to control as it comes out of the bottle, so I dilute it with a little water and put it into a smaller bottle with a small tip.

Here I am running a narrow bead of Liquid Thread around the edge of a piece I will fuse to the larger piece of navy blue fabric.

Here I have fused the three pieces of a building shape to the navy background piece, leaving a narrow line of the dark fabric showing between the pieces. After fusing, I use a very narrow zigzag stitch around each fused shape. It is barely perceptible when a matching thread is used.

Then I flip the piece over and run a bead of the fusible around the outside edge of the zigzag stitching.

Then I lay the piece, fusing side down, on a teflon ironing sheet and press until the fusing liquid melts and adheres to the ironing sheet. I let it cool for a few minutes then carefully peel it off the ironing sheet. The fusible liquid has melted onto the fabric, sealing the threads of the fabric and making a shiny line.

Then I trim the excess dark fabric away, leaving a narrow outline around the building shape.

Now I have a shape to add to my composition, with its dark blue outline and fusible along the edges on the back side, which can be activated with an iron when I am ready to attach it to the rest of the composition.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Component parts

I have been working on a new piece, which probably will be my submission for the High Fiber Diet "Simply Red" show. It is also a continuation of my series of Latin American architecture. It is based very roughly on my photo of the basilica in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Typically, if I were making something based on a photo I would start by laying out the sky, then working my way forward, fusing and stitching the main pieces into place. Then I would go back and add in details and finally I would add whatever decorative stitching and quilting at the end. My village quilt gave me a different idea. For that piece I made all the little houses, including details; then the background and then started assembling  the component parts. It occurred to me that I might want to actually break bigger buildings and compositions into component parts to assemble. This helps me see how they are fitting together and how the black stitching and outlining are working and makes it much easier to rework just a portion if it isn't coming together the way I want.

Dome components pinned into place

Foliage and tower

As you can see I am taking a lot of liberties with the photo. In fact I am not working from the photo at all, rather from a very simplified sketch of the photo. That foliage is an idea. It may not work, but it's a component piece so I can ditch it or replace it if I decide before everything gets put together.

I am pinning all the pieces, as I go, to a piece of thin, papery, non-woven interfacing that I drew a grid on, as well as a kind of suggestion of where pieces will go. Eventually all the pieces will be fused to the interfacing and it will be layered into the whole deal and essentially disappear.

Have you ever worked this way? How does it/did it work for you? I am liking the flexibility it gives me.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Our world has been covered in frost. Frost is something we don't get here in Portland too often, but it has been so cold and dry this past week that our compensation has been this beautiful, mysterious frost. Above, Oregon Grape seen on our walk this morning. Below, pine needles all frosty and beautiful.

It is so beautiful I began to wonder if anyone had been inspired to make art based on frost. I googled "frost art" and, duh, I found art made by people by the name of Frost. Here is a painting by Phil Frost.

And another.

I loved reading that often the white overpainting is done with correction fluid! Besides it being his name, doesn't his work kind of make you think of frost? And that last one made me think of Mark Tobey's "white writing" paintings. Was he thinking about frost, do you think?

There are things in nature that, in my opinion, are better left unpainted, unstitched, undrawn in a literal way, because they are so ephemeral and unreal in nature that as art they never really work. Sunsets are one—and frost. But to translate the impression, the feeling—that is intriguing. After seeing Phil Frost's paintings (which I really like), and thinking about Mark Tobey, I had to try my hand at something frosty. That's what the collage bin is for.

Not so great, but it's an interesting idea. No?

Sunday, January 20, 2013


I have a friend who I see only occasionally, but she is such a smart and interesting person that I look forward to those rare get togethers. She is not an artist, but works in technology, so I was a little surprised the last time I saw her to learn that she has become very excited about collage making. She had brought along photos of many of the small collages she has been making, assuring me that this was not art, but something else. I think this is the program that she is involved in, so I suppose it is something like art therapy. All a little woo-woo for me, but what I could see in my friend was the thrill of creating had seized her with these little collages. This is something I totally understand and really hope that everyone experiences in some realm of their lives.

So—collage. I have been thinking about collage since I saw her collages. Today I cut up some card stock, in neutral colors, into 5" x 7" cards. Then I pulled pages out of several magazines and catalogs and along with scissors and a glue stick, I now have a little collage supply bin. I plan to make two or three collages a week. These are exercises, just for me. I think collage is a great exercise in composition, and along with vowing to draw more, I hope these disciplines will improve my eye and hand and influence all I do in a positive way.

So, I made two today. Here they are.

Collage #1

The elements of this are all cut from magazine pages. Posted here it is hard to tell if those are real buttons or real metal. They are not real. They are photos from magazines. I cut that little guitar out of a separate photo and leaned it against the wall here. I kind of love the surreal quality of that.

Collage #2

There is a real "free association" thing going on with these. Neither were planned. I just started with one piece, added another and then another and...  Knowing when to quit could be problematic. I was going to add a lot more to the second one, but I got that far and liked it. Minimal. Hmmm. There's a lesson already.

Thursday, January 17, 2013


Since my word of the year is "discover" I am trying to be all about seeing, tasting, experiencing and discovering something new this year. I will share if I find anything interesting.

My first discovery of 2013 is Archie McPhee's—a store for the kid in all of us.

We went up to Seattle last week for a couple of days with our friends Norm and Paula. Paula took us to Archie McPhee's. I had heard about it, but never been there. Toys and novelties are what McPhee's is all about. Goofy stuff.

How gross do these items sound?

Larger-than-life stuff. Always a hit.

I was seriously tempted by this full-head latex chicken mask, then I remembered how hot and smelly latex masks are, but what a great chicken! They also had dogs, sheep, pigs and a horse head that would be terrifying to find in your bed.

Pretty funny stuff. It was easy to find a couple of silly gifts for the grandkids.

If you don't plan to be in Seattle anytime soon, they have a website.

Today I set out to discover what would happen if I cut up a less-than-successful quilt and then put it back together in a new way, which was something Elizabeth Barton suggested when I posted my latest work the other day. Remember this boring number?

I grabbed my rotary cutter and attacked it with glee. Then used narrow black strips to put it back together.

Kind of fun. Kind of interesting.

I would need to trim it. Maybe like this.

Or maybe a more drastic trim.

I'm not sure this produced anything very good, but I do think it is more interesting than it was!

More cutting and resewing? What do you think?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Working in a series

Last fall I took a class with Elizabeth Barton called "working in a series." I had been in a funk and dissatisfied with what I was working on and it was a wonderful class that actually gave me a lot of new ideas to work on. I decided I would start a series of work around images of Latin American architecture. I love old buildings especially and in traveling in South America and Mexico I have been fascinated with the grand, but often crumbling buildings left by the Spanish and how they contrast with the more colorful, humble buildings of the native residents of these countries.

I started with this smallish piece.

There are a lot of things I like about this piece. I was able to really simplify the shapes and I used Elizabeth's ideas for creating groupings of value. I especially liked putting aside the realistic colors and using a palette of my own choosing. What I did not like was that I felt I was only partially successful in using a looser more spontaneous way of working. There are areas that feel tight and really fussy to me.

Then I moved on to this piece.

Ugh. I got so bogged down in that big, gray building, which in real life is quite an interesting building that is obviously very old and crumbling. It lost all its character in my translation.

At this point I was quite discouraged. Something was just not coming together between my head and the cloth. My friend Kristen LaFlamme knew how frustrated I was and commented that I seemed to be able to work in a more free-spirited way in some small pieces I had done.  Like this:

I thought and thought about this and finally came to the conclusion that it might work to construct small elements that I could then combine into a larger composition and this is the result.

THIS makes me happy. It really expresses my feeling about that wonderful architecture and doesn't feel as fussy and forced. I am not adhering to all the things I learned from Elizabeth Barton, but I am grateful for what I learned and where it is leading. This piece actually feels like the beginning of a series.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

The January thing

Every January I get this urge to organize my life and my surroundings. This year was no different. I joined the hordes at IKEA on Sunday buying magazine boxes and bins for sorting paper. I understand it. I do it. I can't help but notice that with Facebook and blogs and the internet in general that this is the time of year that lots of people want to help you with this urge. They want to demonstrate how wonderfully efficient they are at scheduling and organizing and prioritizing and deciding "what matters in life." Just follow their example and you too will see your productivity soar. There are all those very authoritative lists: "How to get more done in 2013." etc. etc. I have been reading a blogger's series on how she accomplishes so much. No TV for one thing. Cooking and freezing meals for months at a time at one go, letting (encouraging? requiring?) her teenager  cook her own meals and do her own laundry. Not sleeping much. Multitasking. All fine. All helpful if you are truly looking to streamline your efficiency.

In the interest of showing another model, I thought I would post my secrets for "not getting all that much done and enjoying the hell out of life."

1.  Watch TV. Not mindlessly, of course, but contrary to some thinking, there is a lot of great stuff on TV. Shows that challenge, that inspire, that make you laugh (and you know that is very good for you) and blow your mind with their beauty and creativity. Especially if you are an artist, you should expose yourself to other artistic minds. Don't tell me "everything on TV is junk." Not true.

2. Go to movies. Go to plays. Go to concerts. Read books for fun. See #1 above.

3. Go to museums and art shows. One of my most favorite ways to "waste time." Tapping into what other artists are doing is thrilling. Yes, thrilling. It makes me want to be better. It feeds my need for visual excitement and it makes me think. It gets my adrenalin pumping.

4. Cook something really good. Preferably for people you love. And for yourself, of course. I know cooking is a drag most days. If you do it right it seems like it takes a lot more time than it should. But sitting down to something really good and sharing it, is very special. It is totally worth the shopping and peeling and chopping and stirring. Not every day, but often enough.I don't know this firsthand, but I suspect this is especially gratifying for people who live alone.

5. Spend time with your family—especially the kids. Duh. You know why this is important. And good for you. And good for them. And good for the world. And fun.

6. Allow procrastination. Sometimes something beckons on the way to the waiting task. Sometimes it turns out to be something great. Don't take the chance that you will miss it.

7. Allow yourself to be sick. Sometimes you are. Get over it and take care of yourself. The other stuff can wait.

8. Doodle. Sometimes great things emerge when you let your subconscious take over.

9. Sleep if you need to. There is nothing immoral about an afternoon nap.

10. Stay in your pajamas until noon. Sit in your most comfortable chair. Drink coffee. Watch the birds outside the window.

I should probably add "don't feel guilty." I'm sure there are many more ways not to be marvelously efficient. What are yours?

Monday, January 07, 2013

Light therapy

You know how sometimes you didn't know how sick you were until you feel better? The winter weather here is kind of like that. You don't realize how much the dark and rain gets you down until you get a decent day. I have felt like I took off my sunglasses today and let the sun shine in. It puts a positive spin on almost everything. I felt like I had more energy today and that things were just better than usual and then I realized it was that it had warmed up and it wasn't raining and the sky was—almost blue instead of gray.

I spent a couple hours in the studio putting things away and cleaning up from my newly finished project. Folding and organizing fabric was sort of nice. This stack of fabrics seemed so clear and bright. They made me happy.

I photographed my new piece and it made me happy. Here's a detail.

Marco spent the day with us and he was a cherub. He is generally a happy little guy, but he was in crazy good spirits today. There really was something in the air today.

I walked out to check the mail and the air smelled clean and fresh. Down the road, in the distance, beneath the clouds,  I could see sky. Blue sky? Yeah, I think so.

The weather app on my phone says we'll have rain tomorrow. That's OK. We had a nice break today.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

And sew it goes...

Spent a good day in the studio finishing up the piece I have been working on. Photos to come.

I kept looking at my little reminder banner for my word of the year. It needed something more. "Discover," I decided needed a map. I had some scraps of fabric that I printed with a map of Oregon. Fortunately I had a bit with with the Columbia River, the Pacific Ocean and the area where I live. Lots to discover here.

Much better. Now it is finished and gives me a better sense of discovery.

Another goal for this year is more drawing—an ongoing goal. I made a little pouch for a small sketchbook, pencil, pen, eraser and pencil sharpener. Hopefully I will remember to toss it in my backpack or in the car when I am out and about.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Ten years of walking

Ten years ago my friend Beth and I were at a New Year's eve party and got to talking about our need for some exercise. Beth had had foot surgery several months before. I had retired from my full-time job. We both felt like slugs. We decided to try walking together several times a week and made a plan to meet the following morning near the Garden Home section of the Fanno Creek Trail. The walk was beautiful, the conversation was fun and the coffee afterward was delicious. It became our habit to walk most days and it has lasted for ten years.

Yesterday was cold and clear, with the moon quite visible in an unusually blue January sky.

We took a goofy photo to commemorate ten years.

I have blogged about our walks many times—about our fight with the Portland Golf Club to remove the razer wire they put up along their section of the trail; about foggy mornings and sunny mornings; and silly moments; rare sights; new friends; rainy walks; fall color; critters and encounters. When I moved to our current house we moved our walk to another section of the trail near the Koll Wetlands and the historic Fanno Creek Farmhouse. For the last year my friend Paula joins us when she can. We have learned about the history of our area and the wildlife and started so many days with friendship, fresh air, beauty and inspiration. We agreed we would keep walking as long as we could find something to talk about. I don't think we will run out of topics soon!

Here is a little sample of ten years on the Fanno Creek Trail.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Starting a new year

No resolutions, but again I chose a word for the year. Discover. That's my word. I think the roots of creativity lie in the curiosity to learn and discover something new every chance you get!  Here's my reminder. It was a quickly made little banner. I may embellish further if something strikes me.

It joins my previous three words on the studio wall.

Thrive, Appreciate and Intention.

This is also a good time to ponder how I used last year's word "intention." I think it has been in my head this year. At one point I wondered if I had lost track of my intentions, by focusing so much on work made to fit show themes and sizes and if it had any real meaning to me. I think I managed to refocus my intention and pull back to following my own goals of making work that has personal meaning to me. Maybe this year I will discover what that actually is!

For years one of my New Year tasks has been to put together a little book for the STASH group for the year. It has a schedule of meetings and contact info for each of us. Last year I never did get it done. We went all year wondering whose turn it was to hostess the next meeting. It is a simple thing to do, so I just did it. I know we all now have all our contacts in our phones and could easily coordinate our calendars, but I love these little booklets and enjoy making them.

There are a number of places on the web that show you how to fold these clever little single sheet booklets. No glue, no staples. Here is one.