Thursday, May 31, 2007

I dyed but I'm still here...

I've been trying to think about how to describe my experience in Carol Soderlund's Color Mixing for Dyers workshop this week, and I've already said that I can't find sufficient superlatives to cover it. But you want more than just wild raving, don't you?

I figured that this workshop would give me a good foundation in dyeing, in contrast to the slapdash low water immersion fiddling I've been doing. But I am so pleased at how much I learned this week. I now actually understand how the dye process works, what the various chemicals do, why it is that pretty much every different book on dyeing you pick up has a process different from the others, and how the different parts of the process affect each other. We not only talked about but experimented to test what happens when you presoak with soda ash and don't, you use salt water or plain water, you manipulate your fabric more and less, you start with dry fabric versus wet fabric, and more.

More importantly, though, this class taught me how to control the dye process (well, as Carol says, "control" isn't really a word you can apply to dyeing...) to get closer to what I want. We learned how to get the hue we wanted, and also the value of that hue, and how to create color gradations, and even more. The first two days of the workshop were spent dyeing fabric in teams to create hundreds of colors for a massive color book. That was fun and educational and of course, the swatch book is gorgeous. But Carol has a really impressive system with the colors we dyed so that it'll be possible to dye and overdye and manipulate color and value so things come out the way I want them to.

Here, Carol T. sorts gradations for the color swatches. Can you believe that this is only a portion of the hues we did? There were piles like this all over the room.

The cool part of all of this is that it isn't just about saying "I want THAT blue" and measuring it up. It's also about selecting hues and values and shades that can be used improvisationally to create fun surprises, but with ME being able to predict more closely what the results will be, color and value-wise.

The class was also an amazing way to study color theory. Talk about hands-on exploration of color! Mixing and dyeing so many colors was such a great way to see how certain yellows changed certain blues, and how manipulating variables really changed things.

Although I don't generally work with solid fabrics (and don't anticipate dying them to be flatly solid) we did some interesting experiments to see how much manipulation was necessary to get which degree of "solidness" , and that was interesting. Here, Ann and Karen show their attemps at low-immersion solids.

And here are Louise, Suzanne and Linda with theirs. We all loved Louise's green result (and now we all know how to get it!)

Don't think that all we did was dye flat color. We played with low water immersion techniques and ways to get different textures. Here are Barbara (a first-time ever dyer!) and Marilyn with gorgeous pieces.

And look at what Marilyn, Ruth and Mary did! We learned about how to increase or decrease color separation, as we would like.

We also did multi-color dyeing, but didn't get a chance to share the washed-out results. (Mine are in the dryer as I write this...can't wait to see how they turned out!)

Carol herself is an absolute delight. She's funny and really nice and very clear in her information. I don't think I've ever had such an organized teacher, which is what allowed us to do so much and get so much information in those five days.

I'm so happy I figured out how to bring Carol to California for this class. It was purely selfish on my part so I could get this workshop, but everyone in the group seemed thrilled at how much we learned.

I simply can't recommend Carol and this workshop enough. I'm already working on scheduling Part II! Meanwhile, I'm excited to go forth and dye brilliant colors!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Dying to Dye

Look who I've been spending the last few days with! This is Carol Soderlund, dyer and teacher extraordinaire. I simply can't rave about her enough, so I won't try.

We are working straight out, dyeing and learning and having a great time. I come home each night and pretty much fall into bed, dreaming of colors.

And look what we did in the first two days!

Yep, this is just PART of a stack the whole group dyed in teams.

Here's another shot of some sorting going on.

Tomorrow's the last day and today was a very full I am off to bed to rest up! More soon.

But if you ever, ever, ever get the chance to take a class from Carol, RUN and sign up. She's amazing.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Ho, Balclutha!

Well, the school quilt is done. It's always a relief to finish this sort of project, I find. It was fun, but I'm glad it's finished. I made this quilt to commemorate the overnight field trip my daughter's 5th grade class on the Balclutha, a sailing ship now permanently docked in the San Francisco Bay. Preparation for the trip and learning about sea life, terminology, and the era formed a big part of the kids' curriculum this year.

Every kid in the class drew a candidate for the class flag they'd fly during their time on ship. So, I took each drawing and incorporated them into this quilt. It struck me while I was working on this how much my process used "new" technology and techniques. I scanned the kids' drawings and printed them onto fabric; I used photoshop to blow up my drawing of the ship and make a final-sized pattern; I used freezer paper to cut out the shapes and spray starch and machine applique to sew them down, and I used good old Wonder Under to fuse other elements. This quilt will be auctioned off at a big school event in a few weeks. Hopefully there are a few 5th grade parents who'll want it badly enough to start a bidding war.

Meanwhile, thanks for all of your nice comments and emails to commiserate and/or offer suggestions on the sleep issue. It's clear that this is not an uncommon issue! I'm beginning to understand why sleep deprivation is used as torture! I know I'm fortunate that I don't have to get up and get into an office at 8am every morning, so that's a plus. (I've been pretty whacked out and watching a lot of movies lately, instead!) I'm trying some different things -- including exercise and diet -- that I hope will help.

And this weekend, I'm launching into a 5 day intensive fabric dyeing workshop with Carol Soderlund that is sure to exhaust me! So I figure I'll be dropping into bed every night and hopefully sleeping like a rock. I've been planning this for a while so I"m very excited that it's coming right up. I set up the room and pick up Carol on Friday, and then Roger and I will take her out for a nice wine country dinner...and Saturday, bright and early, 20 of us will gather to dye yards and yards of fabric.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Facing Demons

I've had a rather odd week.

Over the last several months, I've been experiencing insomnia. I've always been a happy, sound sleeper, but in recent months I've been waking repeatedly during the night. It's not due to stress, or anxiety, or anything specific. My doctor tells me that for women "of a certain age," shall we say, insomnia is the number one complaint... before hot flashes, even.

I've been going along, getting tireder and tireder, until I hit a point where I was getting sort of crazed. So, last week my doctor prescribed some sleeping medication for me. The good news? I had the first, sound, through-the-night sleep that I'd had in ages. The bad news? The next day I had a whopping headache and blurry vision. I tried the medication again the next night, with the same result the following day. Okay, the side effects are worse than the insomnia. Scratch that.

Then he proscribed another option. I tried that, and not only didn't sleep but spent the following day feeling nauseated and weirdly spacy and wobbly. Scratch that.

Now, I'm just gonna try to exercise enough every day to make myself tired, and not take anything...except maybe the occasional nap! But today's the first day I've felt actually normal in a long time.

Which leads me to the sea demon above. In one of those "Why did I say that?" moments, I volunteered to make an auction quilt for my daughter's school featuring flags her class drew to commemorate their overnight fieldtrip on a sailing ship in the San Francisco bay. So now, pleased to be feeling back to my tired normal self, I'm working on my "Balclutha" quilt. Thank goodness for freezer paper and WonderUnder!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Remembering Shereen

I woke up this morning thinking about my friend and mentor, Shereen LaPlantz. Shereen was an amazing artist and teacher who introduced many of us to the world of artist books. Her book Cover to Cover is still the best and most inspirational book on the market on making books, and her second book, The Art and Craft of Handmade Books, is equally as gorgeous. (And you can find some work by yours truly in that one!)

I had the great experience of working with Shereen in a 3-year artist book program. Over the course of those three years, twice a year I and 11 others would travel up to Humboldt County in northern California to spend a 3-day weekend in Shereen's studio learning new techniques and book structures. I'd never experienced such visual stimulation and artistic excitement as I did on those weekends. It was then, for the first, time, that I started to think of myself as an artist...or, at least, someone who had the potential to become an artist.

Shereen was an incredibly generous teacher. She would teach you anything you wanted to know, always with a positive and encouraging attitude. One wall of her studio was lined with plastic drawer units, all filled with handmade books of every kind. There were books she'd made, books she'd been given, books she'd bought... And in between work sessions, we were free to poke through the drawers and look at books and figure out how they were made. It was like having an enormous treasure chest at your disposal, with the freedom to explore at will.

We remained friends after our class ended, and I went up to visit her several times before she died of a particularly pernicious cancer. The most significant thing I learned from her, I think, was how to cope with illness with courage and spirit and determination. I've never seen anyone more determined to appreciate every day left to her.

Shereen loved typography, and ampersands in particular. So, to celebrate Shereen's effect on my life, here's an Ampersand mosaic.

Do you have a significant art mentor in your life?

Monday, May 07, 2007

Random thoughts

It was a hodge-podge weekend around here. And in keeping with that theme, here are some miscellaneous things on my mind:

1. Did you know you can get a great deal on replacement rotary cutter blades on Ebay? I need new blades, and was going to send off my used ones to that guy who sharpens them...but I nixed that plan when I learned that even that costs $3 per blade. There are lots of deals on Ebay where you can get brand new Olfa replacement blades for around $2 per blade. Bargain!

2. In the new guilty pleasures file, I have just discovered "Tori and Dean: Inn Love" on the Oxygen channel. I find this show hilarious, and mostly unintentionally so. It features Tori Spelling and her new husband as they move "to the country" (ie, Temecula) from LA to open a fancy, cool, trendy bed and breakfast and live a "quiet" life. There are lots of vastly entertaining moments, where the rich city girl discovers life as normal people know it. ("What? There aren't any restaurants that DELIVER?") I think I find this so amusing because it reminds me of my college dorm experience, where I lived with a bunch of girls straight from Beverly Hills High School. I remember writing home to my mom within the first few weeks that I'd met a girl who didn't know how to make her bed. And frankly, Tori seems a lot nicer and more practical (in a very impractical sort of way) than the girls I knew.

3. I got to watch the Kentucky Derby while I was mid-way through Dick Francis' newest novel, Under Orders. I felt like a racing insider with all my Dick-Francis-acquired racing knowledge. I looked at the race in a very different way.

4. I'm listening these days to a lot of Alice Peacock. If you don't know her, she's sort of a cross between Sheryl Crow and Sarah McLachlan. If you want to sample her music, go here and scroll down to listen to a few songs. My favorite right now is "I'll Start with Me," which is a wonderful political statement that I find inspiring. And check out "Parallel Life," and "Leading with my Heart."

5. A little boy in our neighborhood, age 6, keeps dropping in to see if Caroline can play. The funny and rather adorable thing is that he pronounces "C" as "T." So, when asking for Caroline, he says "Tan Taroline tome out and play?" He's a very articulate kid, in terms of vocabulary, and he's really earnest in his delivery. He stopped by the other day, when Caroline wasn't home, and said "Tell Taroline I won a tontest!" Cute, cute, cute.

6. It's hot today, supposed to be up in the 90's. I think this means grilled fish tacos for dinner. I'll grill some fish and serve it with chopped lettuce, tomatoes, shredded cheese, and spicy ranch dressing. And maybe there'll be a margarita involved too.

Happy Monday!

Friday, May 04, 2007

Good news, bad news

You remember I told you about the great deal I got on a used Hinterberg stretch frame? It turns out that this is a huge, cosmic exercise to test my patience. I am gritting my teeth, taking a deep breath and being patient.

First, it became clear that the poles the seller had were simply too big for my space. So I'd need to buy new poles. Okay, fine. Then, I learned, you can't take the pole end hardware off of the original poles without probably damaging the hardware and certainly then making the 10' poles unusable in the future (and lord knows, I may need to quilt a humongous quilt one of these days).

So, I sent off an order to Hinterberg for the pole end hardware. No big deal, right?

Then I set about reading online to learn about preparing the fabric leaders (or hunks of fabric the quilt pieces will attach to on the frame). I ordered the appropriate striped fabric (the better to line things up straight, which is key) and a zipper system which SOMEDAY IN THE DISTANT FUTURE will allow me to save time. Ahem.

So, the leader supplies arrived on Thursday, and I spent an enjoyable afternoon making them (after just one call to the zipper set company because their instructions were so dreadful).

Anticipating the arrival of the pole end hardware, I also got my local hardware guy to cut me 5 pieces of the right sized metal conduit. I love buying weird stuff at the hardware store.

I was in a patient mood. I was zen-like in my calmness.

Then, this morning, the pole-end hardware arrived. Yee haw! I had everything I needed to get it all set up! I was on my knees, whacking the hardware into the poles in a heartbeat. And, some time later I had the frame assembled. I was impressed. My husband was impressed. Look, here's an end of the frame.

Then I set the sewing machine on the carriage, and realized there was a problem. I wasn't sure what the problem was, but something wasn't right.

See how the sewing machine is way out over the edge of that back pole? It's not supposed to do that. I simply couldn't figure out how to set the machine in the frame so that it'd work the way it was supposed to. Did I have it assembled wrong? I studied the pictures. No, the pieces were where they were supposed to be.

I pored over the pictures in the book. I called my buddy Angie, who had this frame, and got suggestions from her.

Finally, I took pictures and posted them on a Hinterberg discussion list, and asked for help. And patiently waited for some experienced Hinty frame user to figure out my problem.

Thanks to a lovely and helpful soul, I learned a fact that is not disclosed anywhere on Hinterberg's website: Hinterberg makes one frame for typical machines and another variation for people who want to use a computer-assisted quilting system called PC Quilter. Between those two frames, there are two parts that are significantly different. And if you have the PCQ one, it won't work with a normal machine without switching those pieces.

Guess which one I have?


I suspect that the seller, who bought the whole shebang from her friend, didn't even know that there were two different frames, so she didn't know to warn me that this was the PC Quilter one with a somewhat limited use. And given that the Hinterberg site doesn't really talk about this different one, I didn't know there were different ones to even ask the question. I guess this is one of the risks of snatching such a deal, eh?

Still, this will be easily remedied. Hinterberg will sell me the pieces I need, and the bargain I got on this frame was sufficiently fantastic that I'll still come out way ahead of the buy-it-new purchase price. So, really, it's gonna work out. I just have to WAIT.

Now, I will wait patiently until those new pieces come. In the meantime, I can clean the poles and apply the leaders so they're properly centered and ready to go.

I am patient. I am calm.

I think I need a big glass of wine while I wait. And some chocolate.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Liberal Patriotism

I've cut the pieces for a red, white and blue quilt, and I realized something about it: I'm embarrassed to be making a patriotic quilt.

It started when I got the top for my red and white house quilt together, and had a lot of red and white prints left over. Then I learned about an organization called Quilts of Valor, which provides quilts to physically and psychologically wounded soldiers returning from Iraq. Jan, a member of my guild (and a fellow quilty blogger), has spear-headed collecting "wounded warrior" quilts from members of my quild, so I've seen some lovely red, white and blue quilts through the guild's show and tell. And then, cruising the Artful Quilter blog ring last week, I saw that fellow AQ blogger Debra is collecting quilts for wounded female soldiers. Links led me to this article in the Washington Post, which really moved me.

So, I decided to gather some blue fabrics to add to my red and white scraps and make a donation quilt or two. And as I've been working with this fabric, so many conflicting thoughts have crossed my mind.

I've never supported this war, and I still don't. But from what I can tell, the soldiers who've fought and been injured or killed in Iraq are victims of something bad. Even while they've believed that they were fighting for justice and democracy and other important principles, we've learned how this war resulted from so many lies and has been bungled from the outset, jeopardizing soldiers' lives and innocent people and our country's reputation in the world. And then there's the continuing horror of the poor conditions for injured soldiers in veterans' hospitals, not to mention the way war veterans are underpaid and ignored by the governent once they have returned from war. It's deeply troubling, and very very sad.

So I've been cutting these red, white and blue fabrics, and contemplating what it means to me to be patriotic. I took my fabric to a quilt retreat this week to cut pieces, and I realized when people asked me what I was making how much I felt I had to explain, lest my use of red, white and blue be deemed support for what this administration is perpetrating in the world. Every single time someone asked me, I felt embarrassed.

Wearing or displaying red, white and blue is usually viewed as a sign of patriotism. But right now in this country, the concept of patriotism has been co-opted by the Bush administration. You're patriotic if you agree, and you're unpatriotic if you don't. And isn't that a shameful state of affairs in our democracy?

I'm proud to be a liberal who can't wait to see Bush out of the White House. I love my country, but I detest this president and his policies. I feel for the soldiers who were injured in Iraq, and I'm angry that they were sent there in the first place. I can write letters to my representatives in Congress, and I can speak loudly with my votes.

And I can make quilts to show I care.

If it's an art quilt, does the back matter?

I'm a regular lurker on the Quilt Art discussion list and find a lot of interesting ideas and information there.

Recently, someone complained that a judge had given her quilt a negative comment because the back of her art quilt wasn't as neat as it could be. This led to a discussion of why quilt show judges even look at the backs of art quilts. One guy disagreed with the analogy between art quilts and paintings, suggesting that quilts are 3 dimensional objects while most paintings are meant to be 2D. Then a number of people replied to disagree with him, supporting the position that the backs of art quilts shouldn't be the subject of judges' comments.

I couldn't help jumping into the discussion, and because it's one of those interesting art quilt "controversies" (or storms in a teapot, really) I thought I'd post what I said here. What do you all think on the subject?

I'm probably expressing an unpopular view by saying this, but I'm going to anyway: I think that by making art in the "art quilt arena," you have to at least acknowledge long standing QUILT traditions. You may not buy into them, you may want to change them, you may disagree with them. But many people's (and judges') perceptions about what a QUILT should be aren't going to vanish just because some artists think they're not important. If an artist wants his or her work to be judged by traditional "art" standards, totally divorced from quilt-related standards, then I think submitting them to judged "quilt" shows doesn't make a lot of sense. Yes, I know that putting avant-garde fiber work in quilt shows educates and surprises and pleases a lot of viewers. And that's a great thing, I think. But to complain that the judges aren't judging them fairly because they're looking at both sides of the work seems simply silly to me under those circumstances.

And I agree with Scott that the quilt tradition (from which art quilting has evolved) is different than the traditions of painting or drawing. Quilts ARE generally viewed as 3-d objects, and all of their dimensions have been viewed as aspects of their beauty. We've probably all seen art quilts hanging in shows or galleries to display both the front and back, and where the beauty of the back (even beyond a fantastic front) has drawn crowds of admirers. Even though many of us don't want to do that sort of work or don't have the technical skill to do that sort of work, it's nevertheless impressive.

Now, I know that some artists don't want to worry about that. And I understand that there are artists who want the work to be judged ONLY on the front. Some artists want their work judged only on color/composition/design and not on the technique and competent use of the media. Again, I think that's ignoring a long piece of quilt tradition (and quilt ART tradition) and I think it's potentially selling yourself and your work short. Quilt artists work in a medium that has benefits beyond painting and collage. I think quilt art would be advanced, not diminished, if artists acknowledged that the dual-sided aspect of it is one to enjoy and exploit. And, just as traditional art elements such as color, design, composition, etc. are significant, so are how the media is manipulated in conveying the subject of the work. Does the back always need to be stunning? No, I don't think so. But does it need to be passably neat? If you're entering a "quilt" show where you're submitting your work to be judged, then I think that yes, it should.

And, I'll confess, when people protest loudly that only the front of the quilt should matter, I can't help wonder why they're protesting so much? Is it the inability to improve their technique so the back is passable? Is it that they just don't want to bother with the detail aspect? They're not open to learning how to improve their technique? They don't think technique matters?

I really do see all sides of this issue. But to me, CONTEXT matters. Call your work "fiber art" and enter it in a art show, and the back will be ignored. Fine. But call your work "QUILT art" and enter it in a quilt show to be judged? The resulting suggestion that aspects of technique or the back could be improved don't seem inappropriate to me.