April 16, 2015

Paula Kovarik and a drawing of Jeremy's

I mentioned several weeks ago that I had sent a number of Jeremy's drawings to Paula Kovarik, who was planning to develop further the work she had been doing with children's drawings.  She recently completed a quilt incorporating one of Jeremy's drawings, a quilt she has titled, "Don't Go In the Basement." You can read her post about it here.

Paula Kovarik, "Don't Go in the Basement"

And here's the drawing of Jeremy's that makes an appearance in the lower right corner of the quilt:

Jeremy's drawing, 1991 (age 5-1/2)

It is very difficult to express what this means to me--to see something from Jeremy's hand enter a new life in a beautiful creation by another person.  I think Paula has pulled off an amazing combination:  being true to Jeremy's drawing--capturing the child-like drift and energy of the lines--and yet also making something entirely new and wonderful by putting it in an abstract setting and with other figures.  

Kudos to Paula!  May you go from strength to strength.  You can see more of Paula's work on her website.

N.B. To those of you who read Paula's post.  Paula knows that Jeremy died ten years ago, but chose to address him directly in her post.  Her choice moves me--that she speaks to him herself, not reducing him to a lost voice. . .

March 12, 2015

Working with words and shapes

It is almost six months since I participated in a week-long workshop with Claire Benn at the Crow Barn in Ohio.  The workshop gave me a chance to work on multiple ways of producing graphic shapes and lettering on fabric.  Most of the examples above will reappear below, as I describe the work.

The workshop was called "Graphics and Graffiti."  Most of the sample work that Claire took us through had to do with ways of using letters/words, but we were also encouraged to do graphic work more broadly.  Most of what I did falls into three categories:  writing/marking with ink (on both paper and fabric),  screen printing with shapes drawn from my "Regret" quilt, and using a paper lamination screen to print a large block of narrative text.

Writing/marking with ink:
The first day of the workshop was devoted to working with paper, using markers and then various implements with India ink.  Many of the exercises we did were inspired by the work of Denise Lach, who takes calligraphy into the world of abstract art.  Claire had us choose a phrase or sentence, and work with that over and over again throughout the day.  Several years ago, I asked a rabbi if he had a blessing for someone for a broken heart.  He replied, "The Kotzker Rebbe said, 'There is nothing so whole as a broken heart.'"  This sentence touched me deeply, and it's the one I chose to work with for these exercises.  My favorite version is the one below (which came late in the process), in which I formed the letters of the word broken with the fat end of a wooden shim.  The letters B, R, and O are in the top line, K, E, and N in the bottom line.

Screen printing with shapes drawn from my "Regret" quilt
I have long been drawn to repeated but varying abstract patterns, with some favorites being Matisse cutouts and Kuba cloth.  Early on in my quilting, I thought of replicating such a design in applique, but decided I would rather wait and come up with my own repeated shape.  Now, years later, it occurs to me that the shape I used in my quilt on regret might also work as a smaller repeated shape, with perhaps some other related shapes added in.  Here's an early attempt:  the shapes were cut out of freezer paper, adhered to a silk screen, and printed with black thickened dye.

 For this next piece, I used one large piece of freezer paper, with shapes cut out of it and set aside; pulling the dye through the shaped holes gave me black shapes on a white background.  The photo was taken after I had made repeated pulls of the same screen; you can see some of what just one pull looks like on the far right.

I added another pull or two for more overlapping black shapes, and then added some splotches of yellow.  I like this piece a lot--not so much as a whole composition, but as material to cut up to put on note cards or to be used in some other kind of composition.

Here's another screen made with the freezer paper shapes set aside from the piece above, screened five times on a large piece of cloth.

Then I went back over with the screen turned 90 degrees from the first pull.  When doing multiple layers like this, you need to wait for the first layer to dry a bit before printing again.  I didn't realized that the first pull after the wait would come out lighter--seen in the bottom left corner in the photo below.

This mistake led to a lovely variation in texture.

Using a paper lamination screen to print a large block of narrative text
One of the techniques totally new to me was making a printing screen out of a piece of polyester sheer fabric, with no frame.  This method allows you to make a very large screen, as the fabric is about 54" wide and as long as you want.  It's called "paper lamination" because the basic process involves making paper stick to the back side of the sheer, in whatever design you put on with liquid matte medium.  So, it's a great method for making a screened image of handwriting, or any kind of line drawing.  Below is a photo of part of the screen that I made.  Most of the image is looking at the front of the screen; I've turned over the sheer on the left side, so that you can see the back, with the paper stuck on.   (Double-click on the photo to see more detail.)  Sorry if this isn't clear--it's the kind of process that is better demonstrated than written about.  Just trust me that it makes it very easy to do a large screen with direct application of line drawing.

 The text I'm using here is part of a narrative of the night Jeremy died.  I wrote the narrative shortly after the accident, in 2004.  Writing down what happened helped me stop going over and over it in my mind.  Last winter I started a quilt that incorporated the text of the narrative, which I stamped into a mud-colored cloth.

The letters are 3/8" high, resulting in a piece that is 35x48." (I haven't yet posted about this quilt--I'm waiting to make a few final decisions about it.)  As Claire explained the possibilities of working with a paper laminated screen,  it occurred to me that I could work again with the narrative of the accident, but use a very different method, to a different purpose--where expressiveness would be more important than legibility.  I made a screen, trying out different kinds of handwriting styles: script, print, all caps.  I printed two versions, one with a range of color on white cloth, and a second all black on gray cloth.  I especially like the potential for expressiveness in the multi-color one.

 I have recently begun the planning process for a very large piece (about 80x90") done with this process.

And a couple of other things:
Flour paste resist is another possibility for a large piece using the accident narrative.  This method, too, would allow me to work very large.  This technique involves spreading a layer of a flour/water mix on the cloth, and then scraping a design in with a skewer or other instrument; thickened dye pulled over that leaves black letters on the white background of the cloth.

Another way to get black lettering is to use a soy wax resist on black cloth and then discharge the black, leaving only the lettering that stays under the wax (which is washed out after the discharge process).  I tried several versions at the workshop, of which this is my favorite:

But I don't so much enjoy working with the wax, and the paper lamination and flour paste resist give me plenty to work with.

Many thanks to Claire Benn for a great workshop!  She'll be doing a similar workshop again this fall at the Barn, if you're interested, as well as a second one on "Exploring Gray through Surface Design.  You can see more of Claire's work here.

If you've never been, the workspace at the Crow Barn is great, and the whole set up is very conducive to positive relationships with other students as well as with the teachers and staff.  Here I am with Stephanie Meisel and MJ Kinman, both of whom I first met at a Barn workshop taught by Dorothy Caldwell.  Students tend to come back to the Barn, so paths can cross again in later workshops, which is really nice.

March 2, 2015

Jeremy's drawings

I have long admired the work of Paula Kovarik, which features extraordinary, imaginative stitching on a variety of surfaces--sometimes abstract blocks of color, sometimes re-purposed linens.  A few months ago, Paula put out a request for people to send her children's drawings of robots, monsters, and beasts.  She had been using drawings from her own family in some of her quilting, and was looking for more images to work from.  I sent in a number of my son Jeremy's drawings, made when he was between four and six years old.  To my delight, Paula has posted one of Jeremy's drawings in the left side-bar of her blog, and another in a recent post about the project; you can see both drawings here.  It is lovely to have these glimpses of Jeremy out in the world.

Here are some of the other drawings I found as I went through the big envelopes of things I'd saved from Jeremy's childhood.  It was striking to see what a narrow window there is for drawings like this. Before age three or four, drawings were more scribbles, without recognizable figures.  After age six (first grade), the whimsical freedom was gone; Paula tells me this is typical.  

a butterfly

 I didn't make a note of the subject; I think it may have been a spider.

 a caterpillar

a grasshopper

This is perhaps my favorite.  I think it was done the first time we did drawings to make plates, something we continued for a number of years.  Such treasures. . .

February 24, 2015

Self-Portrait at QuiltCon

When I posted a few months ago about "Self-Portrait, Year 2: Beneath the Surface," I didn't include a photo of the full quilt, for reasons I explained in the post. Now that the quilt has been shown at QuiltCon, and many people have seen it, I wanted to share it on my blog also.  Bill Kerr kindly sent me two photos, and let me know that many people were looking closely at the quilt, and talking about it.  

I also received several e-mail messages from people I didn't know, who had seen the quilt, and took the time to track down my address and write heartfelt words of appreciation and support, which touched me deeply.  Then yesterday, through the thoughtfulness of Weeks Ringle, I learned of a Facebook posting on the quilt by Bill Volckening, a quilt collector.  His post, and the many many comments on it, leave me somewhat stunned.  For many years I lived with this quilt in private--years of working on a design and then months of executing it.  To have it out in the world, and then to see how it has touched others, is deeply gratifying.  You can see Bill Volckening's post, with the comments, here.

It is fitting that Bill Kerr and Weeks Ringle have a place in this story.  It was through their inspired teaching that I began to make quilts that helped me cope with my feelings of loss.  I took a week-long Design Workshop with them in 2005 and again in 2006.  In those workshops, I met the other quilters who have ever since provided support and the inspiration of their own work.  And I have continuted to meet with Bill from time to time over the years for crits of my work.  His comments on early versions of "Self-Portrait," including coaching on typography, were crucial to the work.  Thanks Bill and Weeks!  

December 28, 2014

Further progress with greens and purples

I've finished making the blocks for this quilt, and settled on a layout.  The next decision is what color sashing to use between the blocks and as a narrow border around the edge (1/2" wide, the same width as the narrow strips within each block).  This is narrower than in the "Glyph" pattern that I used for the quilt, but I'm going for a look closer to the "Mod Mosaic" quilt I made a while back.  I may well go with white sashing (which would give a look close to the blocks on my white design wall), but I have tried out many other possibilities as well:  various greens and purples, black, dark blue, tone-on-tone green, green batik.  I'll be near a fabric store on Tuesday, so will take a look for candidates there.

In the meantime, I thought I'd play around with the many scraps I have left from the fabric cut for the narrow strips in the blocks. 

I use the "mile-a-minute" method for piecing scraps, and put them together into this small piece, about 6x6."

I like the results, but piecing with such small bits is not my forté.  I will leave the rest of the strip scraps as they are!   I also have quite a few large pieces of yardage left from what I dyed for the blocks; I plan to pull from that for the back of the quilt.

December 26, 2014

Changing the stitching on "Plain Spoken"

Back in May, I made the decision to quilt my shot cotton "Plain Spoken quilt with embroidery stitches.  In the months since, I scoured embroidery books for a variety of usable stitches and began the stitching.  I enjoyed learning the embroidery stitches; it is quite amazing how holding the thread one way or another, or placing the needle here or there, can create a wide variety of designs.  But after doing about 80 different stitches, I decided I didn't like the way it looked on the quilt.  Too much variety of color, value, and pattern--all of which distracted from the flow of color in the quilt.   (Ignore the loose white stitches--that's just basting that will be removed when the quilting is done.)

And a close-up, with basting stitches removed.  No better.  

So I decided to go back to something simpler, and did trials with various weight threads in either a simple running stitch, or the "conversation" stitch that I used on my Regret quilt.  

I decided on the conversation stitch (thanks to Mary Beth for the suggestion).  I'm using two threads, a dark, dusky blue 20 wt pearl cotton (hand-dyed) in the darker strips, and 2 strands of 50 wt Aurifil sewing thread in a pale yellow-green in the lighter strips; varying between the two holds down the value contrast between thread and fabric.  I think this is better.  

The quilt is also secured with in-the-ditch hand-quilting in all the vertical seams, done before I began the embroidery.

December 22, 2014

3 trees

About a year ago, walking in the woods of rural Illinois, I made the drawing on the right above.  I was struck by the relationship between the three trees.  I also think of the drawing as "The Three of Us."  I don't think of it as each tree representing a specific one of us--we're somehow interchangeable in my ruminations on it.

I thought for a long while of translating the drawing into a large quilt.  I imagined swaths of dark fabric against a white background.  I made several thermofax screens from photos I'd taken of bark (first row of prints below), and I also scraped thickened dye on fabric to get other textures (second row):

I talked with Bill Kerr about these ideas last spring.  He asked, "Does it need to be so literally like trees?"  Right, no need for bark texture--more abstract is better.  "The line drawing is very nice as it is."  Yes, agreed, I really like the line drawing.

So, I started thinking about doing a line drawing with thread.  While in New York this fall, I bought several interesting threads/yarns made by Habu, the gray and black ones being combinations of silk, linen, and paper.  I spent some time trying out various stitches with these threads, working on old linen napkins, of which I have a large supply from my mother and aunt.

After deciding on a simple couched stitch, I made a 9x12" version.  Then I decided to go smaller, to the size of the original drawing, about 4x6.  Better.  Not everything has to be large.  Seems odd to end up with something so small, after thinking about it for more than a year, but I think it's O.K.

I decided to mount it on a stretched canvas, rather than quilting it.  I've been wanting to try this method of display for a while, and this project gave me the opportunity.  I worked from a tutorial by Lyric Kinnard, though I stapled the fabric rather than fusing it.

 I still notice groupings of three in trees.  Maybe there will be more drawings. . .