Monday, November 29, 2010

Busy holiday!

After all my travels, my promise to myself was to sew over the four day Thanksgiving weekend. And I did. It was wonderful. Trust that everyone who was celebrating Thanksgiving had an equally enjoyable time.

I was able to quilt and finish another quilt for our Guild's Comfort Quilt project.

Then I was able to finish the binding on a quilt that Val Schultz had done an awesome job of quilting for me.  I have another quilt back from Val that I hope to finish in the next few days.

Detail shot
I also started working on turning those two photos I wrote about earlier this month into art quilts. For both I am using Mistyfuse for part of my fusing so these are both experimental pieces for me.

I made good progress on the leaf picture. Pieced together a background and started shaping some trees with Mistyfuse.

Leaf background plus beginning of fused trees
 I also drew some leaves that I will eventually fuse to the piece in fall color fabrics. I created a 'map' of the leaves and cut out freezer paper for each leaf (and numbered them). I will play with different colors for the various leaves before I fuse them to the background.

Map of the individual leaves

And I fused the petals on the clematis art quilt.

Life will get a little hectic again for the next two weeks but I hope to have both art quilts done by the end of the year.

Friday, November 26, 2010

While in Seattle....

While I was visiting Seattle I stopped by to see the Picasso Exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum. I was curious to see my reaction. The exhibit is on loan from the collection of the Musée National Picasso in Paris which is under renovation. I had toured the Musée when I was visiting Paris a few years ago and really enjoyed touring the Musée and seeing Picasso's works. The Musée is housed in an old historic hotel in the Marais district. Seeing Picasso's works in Seattle just didn't have the same mystique for me. Perhaps I don't understand the work on exhibit in Seattle well enough.

In any event, I always enjoy seeing the resident works in the Seattle Art Museum. Here are a few that really attracted me.

These pieces were by modern artist Rashid Johnson. I guess it is no surprise that I enjoyed them. They were painted fabric, spray enamel on polyester, to be precise.
This is an untitled work by American artist Sam Gilliam. I loved the explosive feel of it. I have to admit that it reminds me of one of my own pieces.

Finally, there is always blown glass in Seattle. This piece is by William Morris.

Hope that everyone in the U.S. had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Back from my travels

It has been a hectic few weeks for me. While I will be continuing to travel through December and January, nothing will rival the past few weeks.

My most recent trip included a chance to visit one of my favorite spots, Undercover Quilts, near Pike's Market in Seattle. I spent about an hour and a half browsing and chatting with owner, Linda Hitchcock. She has the greatest taste in fabrics for her store so I can just get roam the aisles studying the fabrics. I tried to be conservative in my purchasing this time as I am attempting to get the size of my stash under control. :) So, I purchased more half yards than yard pieces. Here's a photo of my purchases. I had Linda ship them home for me and they were waiting for me when I staggered in from a long day of flights delayed by weather (I got out of Seattle just as the serious snowflakes were starting to fall):
Most are for possible use in my next projects, except for those blues which I just couldn't resist. That piece in the bottom left is actually a grouping of fat quarters that I plan to use to experiment with the approach suggested in Rule-Breaking Quilts that I wrote about in my last entry. I promise to share my finished project.

As I mentioned, Undercover Quilts is near Pike's Market - a place I always enjoy visiting in Seattle. It is filled with tourists and there are wonderful seafood, flower and craft vendors in the market. While I was walking about, the sun broke through the clouds and I took a few photos of blue skies, harbor and skyscrapers.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Discoveries in Books

I have had two books come across my desk recently that I am enjoying.

Art + Quilt - Design Principles and Creativity Exercises by Lyric Kinard

I found Lyric's book while browsing in Borders. It was published in 2009 and is offered on It presents a series of exercises in design that I am going to enjoy playing with. Each exercise in the book is accompanied by several examples.

Lyric's writing is extremely upbeat. She spends several pages in the beginning of the book encouraging everyone to find the artist in themselves. There are some great quotes in the section too.

One of the things that I find I am really enjoying about the book is are the insets in each section called "Gathering Inspiration." These passages have some wonderful suggestions for going beyond the exercises in the book. I also liked that there is a section with suggestions on how to offer critique at the end. And in the final pages Lyric critiques some of her samples used earlier in the book, pointing out that she has never made a piece she thought was perfect. All of this opens the reader's eyes to critically viewing works, both their own and others.

I bought this book just before my trip to New York and read it on the plane down to New York. Probably the best illustration of the value of this book is that, even without having done any of the exercises, I realized that I was viewing so much of what I saw while walking around New York with a deeper appreciation of design elements.

Rule-Breaking Quilts by Kathryn Schmidt

I learned about Rule Breaking Quilts on a blog and it sounded like a fun book to push my limits a bit on free form design. Kathryn wants people to avoid the "Quilt Police" and explore what happens when you let go of the rules of traditional quilting. She asks you to invest six fat quarters in designing an art quilt and takes off from there.

Because she makes it so simple to try her approach, I am looking forward to purchasing six fat quarters in colors I love and playing with her technique and lack of rules. I suspect it will be another step in following through on my Pat Pauly workshop of a few weeks ago.

Friday, November 19, 2010

When is a Quilt 'Art'?

I read a journal entry by another SAQA vision member this week where she pondered if it was okay for her to use a traditional pattern that she was drawn to use with some fabric or if she needed to come up wih an original design, if she needed to be always thinking "outside the box".

Her journaling reminded me of some questioning that I sometimes find myself caught up in as I find my way in this world of Quilt as Art. When is a quilt art? Does it have to hang on a wall to be called art? Obviously, if it is designed for a wall, it is easy to define it as "quilt art." But does that mean that if it is wearable or the size of a bed quilt that it isn't art?

Sometimes I think that in our reactions to misguided comments like "Is that a potholder?" or "Can I sew those together so I can use it on my bed?", we can make the mistake of defining "quilt art" too narrowly in our minds and that can limit our creativity.

Quite honestly, any quilt that I make is art - whether it will go on a bed or not. It is the fact that I am an artist and I have created it that makes it art. As I explore this world of art quilts, I find that sometimes I want to create a wall piece, but other times I am simply in the mood to create a bed quilt. I have learned not to judge myself harshly for having that desire to create an artistic quilt for a bed. The truth is that I am just getting used to defining myself as an artist and as I get comfortable with this "hat", I am finding that I don't want to take it on and off depending pun the potential usage of the piece that I am creating - it's all art - because I made it.

In the end, this is more a matter of semantics and where we are in the creative process. There is a need to have quilts as art pieces recognized in the world. I totally respect that need and that movement. What I am addressing is the issue when, early in the design stage, a quilt artist finds his or her creative force being limited by a perceived constraint on what they can create as artists. It is an interesting trap that we should all be aware of. At least, that's how I see it!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Quilt Artist - Kathleen Mc Cabe

I recently met up with Kathleen McCabe on the opening weekend of Quilts=Arts=Quilts at the Schweinfurth Art Center in Auburn, NY where she had two quilts on display. I was interested in interviewing Kathleen as she was curating SAQA’s traveling exhibit, “No Place to Call Home,” which included one of my own pieces.

I had never met Kathleen before and didn’t know what to expect. Her website bio was a little intimidating – a long list of juried exhibitions including Quilt National and Quilt Visions, a solo show, and representation in many other exhibitions and publications. I need not have worried. Kathleen’s warm smile and vibrant, sparkling eyes can put anyone at ease.

Kathleen’s  bio had said that she started sewing when she was 9 years old. I began by asking Kathleen how she got involved with quilting and particularly art quilts.

I was living in Southeast Ohio very close to Quilt National and my kids were young. I felt kind of stuck - with the weather, you couldn’t go outside much in the winter.  I was desperate for creative expression. So I started making pictures with my fabric. I kind of made things up myself. I figured out that if you put batting behind the fabric, the stitches stayed in better.

Then I started getting some magazines and followed directions in them. That was kind of boring because you followed someone else’s design but I still learned some things. I found a book about machine quilting and learned all I could from that and just began to read anything I could get my hands on. I started selling my pictures, a nice way to have some income, and things just sort of took off from there.

Kathleen had a piece in Quilt National in 2009. Since she mentioned that she lived for a while in Ohio near the Quilt National site, I wondered if she had been to QN back when she was starting to explore quilting and if that had influenced her.

I happened upon QN while I was living in Ohio – just chanced upon it, probably about 1983 or 1984.  I said,  “Oh, other people do this. I am going to be in this show.

Kathleen with Protea – currently on exhibit at Quilts=Arts=Quilts
Kathleen was very active in Quilt Visions for a number of years.

I found Quilt Visions when I moved back to San Diego which is my home.  I became a member and eventually I was invited to join the Board.

With so many achievements, I wondered about burnout and why she keeps quilting.

I have to do this.  It’s my meditation when life gets crazy. The only thing that can calm me down is having time to work on my art. I don’t always get to do as much as I want…..this year has been a difficult one. I just need to work on my art to keep my perspective.

We also discussed her experience curating "No Place to Call Home."
SAQA came up with ‘curator in training’ program where you could submit an idea. I had actually considered putting a show together once before – it was after I was no longer involved with Quilt Visions. I was used to being active in an organizational community and I thought it would be fun to put a quilt show together and find venues for it – particularly a show about homelessness. I was familiar with St. Vincent de Paul and the Alpha Project which does outreach to the homeless. I thought it would be fun to contact people and see how I could do this.  It turned out to be a really overwhelming task so it wound up on a back burner.

But when the curator in training opportunity came up, the venues were already in place for an exhibit. So, I submitted a proposal and it was accepted. I just went from there. There was lots of info on SAQA website on how to curate. I have loved doing it and would love to do another exhibit sometime.

Kathleen has two works in the current Quilts=Arts=Quilts show in Auburn, NY.

Flight Crew
The one of the officer and sailor is called Flight Crew. The officer in the back is the pilot is my father-in-law and when he passed away several years ago, someone from his past navy career sent it to my mother-in-law. Nobody knows who the sailor is.  They think he was at Whigbey Island at the time doing surveillance patrols. It was just a photograph in a hangar. A sailor in front and that mop. I just loved the photograph. 

The other work is called Protea. We have a protea plant in our front yard and it is just beautiful in the spring. I actually made that piece for a traveling show on the seasons. I had planned to do spring, summer, winter,  and fall but I didn’t finish winter in time. Protea was my spring piece. 

I have only shared a glimpse of Kathleen's amazing quilt art. If you would like to see more, you can check out her website.  Enjoy!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Scents of Kerala

This past weekend I traveled to CT for a board meeting of the Franciscan Family Apostolate, an organization I belong to that assists families in Alleppey, India. It is something that my family has been involved with since the 1970's. A number of the board members visited Alleppey a few weeks ago. One of them brought back gifts of spices for the rest of us. She wanted to share the scents of India as we began our meeting.

I took one look and immediately thought 'art quilt'. Take a look at these spices. Included are cardamon, caraway, fennel and star anise. They smell absolutely wonderful and totally inspire me. The star anise is particularly brilliant.

I did pay attention for the meeting but, in the back of my mind, an art quilt was forming. :)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Cross-training: Marathoning and Art Quilts

Checking out the finish line with my son-in-law the day before.
Last weekend I ran in the NYC marathon with a singular goal. I was determined to run throughout. It was less important to me to achieve a particular time goal than to simply keep going until it was over. This is my fourth marathon in four years. In the other three, there has always been a point where I was reduced to walking for long periods. And, usually, when I evaluated my performance after, I realized that my head was typically the problem - telling myself that I couldn't keep running any further. So, this time, my goal was to run throughout. And, I did.

I mentioned just that earlier this week in journaling for the SAQA Vision project and another artist astutely pointed out that my self-confidence in one area of life transfers to other areas. How true. The encouragement and support that I have received from people in the past year in the Vision Project has propelled me well into the realm of art quilts. There are still moments of self-doubt, but the network of participants is quick to remind that we can do anything we set our minds too. I have no doubt that my newfound self-confidence in art quilting strengthened my determination in my marathon. And, I am sure that my success in my marathon will feedback into my art.

The power of the mind is amazing. Countless books have been written about overwhelming odds being overcome when someone decides upon a course of action and dedicates to it. In the mind/body workshops that I have taught with Tom Crum, we have a saying: "True power is energy flowing freely towards a vision." I have a poster in my bedroom closet where I dress to go out for a run that alludes to the same concept. It is from Olympian marathoner Deena Kastor and is signed, "Believe and Achieve."

I am sure you can think of many more sayings that express the same basic truth. The important thing is, of course, that we all make the choice to live this idea. It doesn't happen unless we choose to try.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


While I was in New York last weekend for the NYC marathon, our family visited the Museum of Natural History. They had a butterfly exhibit – 500 butterflies flying around! I grabbed my camera and started capturing the beautiful patterns. Enjoy!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Quick Binding Tip for Aligning Colors

I had a foot square piece with a straight horizon line where I wanted the binding to match the quilt colors.
To accomplish this, I tried a variation on a mitered binding technique that had been taught a few years ago at our local guild meeting.
  • First, I measured the length of the sky and the sea and added about 8 inches to each measurement. 
  • I then cut 2 inch strips of the sky and sea fabric to those lengths and sewed them together with a simple straight seam. 
  • I folded the strip in half lengthwise and ironed it so I had one long continuous strip that was one inch wide. 
I then placed the strip on the left side of the  piece, aligning the colors of the strip along the horizon line.
Aligning strip with horizon line
Sky half sewn
 I then began sewing the binding to the quilt top with a 1/4 inch seam, starting at the horizon where I had matched the binding and continuing around the sky to a few inches before the horizon line on the right side of the quilt.

sea half se
I then stopped, and returned to the left side and stitched in the sea color part of the binding to within a few inches of the horizon line on the right side. (It is ideal to have at least about 8 inches left unfinished on that right side - with a 12 inch quilt, I was pushing it a little!)
To finish off the binding, I laid the two ends of the binding strip over each other and trimmed them so that there was one inch of each end extending on each side of the horizon line (a two inch overlap).

I  opened the ends of the binding and pinned the right sides together. (You need to fold your quilt top a bit to be able to do this.)
I then seamed these two ends together,  exactly one inch from the end. (Your quilt top needs to be folded to be able to do this.)
I then trimmed that one inch seam to 1/4" and flattened out my quilt top. The binding lies flat against the quilt top with the seam between the two fabrics aligned with the horizon line.

All that remains is to complete sewing the 1/4" seam around the quilt and then fold over the binding to hem the back.

If you have any questions, please ask!

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Design Week

I am heading off to New York to run in the NYC marathon on Sunday. It is the start of some 'in again, out again' traveling for me for the next few weeks. As a result, I have been finishing up some existing projects and shifting my attention towards projects that I can take up when my life settles down a bit again. I picked a couple of photos that I've taken recently and wanted to explore as possible art quilts.

One is the fall leaf photo I posted last week. First I turned it into a grayscale image.
Next I reduced it to some simple shapes on tracing paper.

A trip later this month will take me to Seattle where I am looking forward to visiting Undercover Quilts again. They have an incredible selection of batiks and I can search for some possible fabrics if I decide to go further with this piece.

I also started playing with the clematis I had photographed earlier this year.  I turned it into a grayscale as well and removed the background in Photoshop.

After tracing onto paper, I broke the flower up into value variations. I am fairly sure that this will be one of my next projects when I am back at my machine as I can draw upon my stash for the necessary hues.

Photoshop is great fun for playing with images. Even though I have some batik in my stash that I think will work perfectly for the background, I experimented with different effects for the background. This was one of my favorites.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

More Stretching Exercises

A few weeks ago, I shared a brief video with a suggested stretching exercise that you can do while you are sewing. It was enthusiastically received so I thought I would share an additional exercise with you.  I would like to thank both my friend, Nancy Hicks, for video taping this piece for me and Linda Fellows, owner of The Bobbin Case in Brighton, NY for the use of her store.

If you would a bit more review on the posture form that I mention in this video, you can check out this previous post. In the coming weeks, I hope to share some more ideas on stretches and on the mind/body state of center.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Quilts=Arts=Quilts First Take

First prize, Stacked Mummy Bags 2010, Pat Pauly
I visited the Schweinfurth Memorial Art Center for the Quilts=Arts=Quilts exhibit this past weekend. The show runs until January 9, 2011 and I really hope that I get to go back again. Why? There are 88 quilts in the show and it is a bit overwhelming to take it all in during one visit. Each and every quilts deserves attention.

I found the exhibit intriguing on a number of levels. As a metaphor, an onion comes to mind - except for the tears! The more you walk through the exhibit, the more you see in terms of levels of analysis and experience - a bit like an onion that comes apart in layers revealing more and more aspects of its being down to a core.

If I had to use one phrase to describe the art quilts in this show, it would be technical mastery. The stitching in each piece was impeccable. At times, in fact, I felt overwhelmed by the perfection. I had to keep stepping back and getting beyond technique to take in the compositions displayed. It was at this level that I could appreciate the diversity of the works. There were abstracts, landscapes and portraits. I would look across a room and notice the use of contrast to draw the eye - but then be drawn over to a piece that didn't use contrast at all. What fun! Similarly, there were many very linear quilts, but just when I would think this predominated the show, I would begin to notice all the beautiful curvi-linear pieces. There was indeed diversity of fiber - silk, cotton, wool, velvet, canvas, and linen to name a few. Many works used hand-dyed fabric but when I searched, I could find some that were all commercial cottons. There were some digital prints and quite a bit of hand painting. Viewing the exhibit from another perspective, there were pieces representing artists from around the world.

Foliage in Transition, Carol Taylor
All of this diversity left me intrigued about the jurors themselves. I didn't envy their task. I found myself wondering at times exactly what went on in their minds - in a good way, of course - as they made their selections. They had managed to represent many different facets of art quilts - was that intentional? There was such perfection in the stitchery that I began to wonder what didn't get in. Were there some rejections that were equally intriguing but perhaps less rigorous in rendition and therefore rejected? I am not even sure if that makes sense but it was fun to ponder it. I almost wish that there had been a folder of the rejects to glimpse at so I could have grasped a better understanding of why these particular quilts.

Any show that makes you think this much has to be good. Did I have favorites? Of course. I was delighted that a member of our local quilt guild, Pat Pauly, whom I had just taken a class from, won first prize for her quilt, Stacked Mummy Bags, 2010. There was something about Anthills, Study in Gold by Sue Dennis that I really liked - probably because it reminded me of a trip to South Africa where I saw unbelieveably big anthills. I found it impossible not to be drawn to the huge figures in Nancy Erickson's piece, In the Beginning, which greeted you when you entered the exhibit. I loved Carol Taylor's Foliage in Transition as it seemed to honor the traditional roots of quilting but express repetition in a wonderful display of colors. I could go on......

Anthills, Study in Gold - Sue Dennis
I guess the final layer for me as I peeled back my 'onion' of experience of the show was perhaps what touched my core, or heart. Every piece in the exhibit was, as I said earlier, awesome in a technical sense. My favorites, I think, spoke to me in a way that allowed me to go beyond awe at technique and enjoy their subject matter.  Finally, though, there were a few that touched me at a deeper level, in my heart. From the moment I walked in the show, I wished I could meet the men portrayed in Flight Crew by Kathleen Mc Cabe as I was drawn to them. Randall Cook's Tangled Timbre captured my imagination and sent me off pondering the story of those limbs. And, then over in a corner, was Hallowed Ground by Cathy Stechschulte and Paula Swett of Lewisburg, PA. There was no statement with the piece that I could find but the geographic location of the artists brought me to an interpretation of the piece that it honored the memory of those that died on 9/11/01. That touched my heart in yet another deep and profound way.

So, there you have it, my personal take on the show. If you live nearby, I hope you will take the time to visit Quilts=Arts=Quilts. I am sure you will find plenty to admire and to like. If you are unable to visit, then I hope you have the good fortune to visit another art quilt show soon and that it takes you on a similar journey of appreciation and challenge.
Tangled Timbre, Randall Cook