May 18, 2016

Web posting of Generation Q article about my work

About a year ago, Abby Glassenberg wrote an article for Generation Q magazine about my quilt "Self-Portrait, Year 2: Beneath the Surface."  She recently re-published the article on her blog, which makes it accessible to people who didn't see it in the magazine.  Thanks Abby!  Here's the link.  There are already some thoughtful comments after the body of her post.

One bit of further explanation about the last paragraph of the article, which has me posing the question "Am I a mother with [my son] gone?" It was actually online commenters who raised the question, and Abby wanted to know my response.  The text on the Self-Portrait quilt states, "I AM A WOMAN WHOSE CHILD IS DEAD."  Among the many online comments I received about the quilt was one thread that said something like:  "Why did you say 'woman' instead of 'mother'?  You're still a mother!" I think people felt I was being too hard on myself--that I shouldn't deprive myself of this cherished title, and that I would somehow always be a mother.  But the fact is this:  I was once a mother, a role that was very important to me.  But with my only child dead, I am no longer a mother.  When deciding on the text of the quilt, I didn't consciously make a choice between "woman" and "mother"; it simply didn't occur to me to write the word "mother."  Being a mother has certainly had a lasting impact on me, and I have continued to use what I learned in my eighteen years as a mother--with my students, when I was still teaching; with other children I interact with.  But that's very different from being a mother.  I am grateful I had that opportunity in my life, I am grateful that Jeremy was the child in my life, and, now that loss has replaced motherhood as a central experience, I do my best to continue a life that sustains caring relationships with others, even while they are very different from that between a mother and her child.

May 12, 2016

Change of direction

Back in early March, I started working on a final quilt in my series about loss, one that would focus on stones, and would include some kind of imagery of stones; see this post on the design, and then two more posts on dyeing, discharge, and stitching trials for the stones, here and here.   Then I had a chance to get some productive critique of the work when meeting with quilting friends in Chicago, and the work has gone through significant change since then.  I realized that I wasn't really interested in the kind of rectangular patchwork background that I had been working on, but rather on the stones themselves--they needed to be the central focus.  When something isn't working, it's a relief to figure out what's wrong!  Here's where my thoughts have been going since. . .

About ten years ago, I made a small piece, with the light gray area the size and shape of the headstone on my son's grave.  The idea behind the piece had to do with the Jewish practice of leaving a stone on the headstone of a loved one when visiting the grave.  I thought I would quilt stones into the narrow, dark gray band.  

Around the time I was working on this piece (2007), my friend Mary Beth came for a visit to Galesburg, and we went out to the cemetery.  Mary Beth did a couple of small, rough sketches, thinking about adding in stones, and maybe cropping the composition.  

I was moved by the drawings, but also was more drawn to abstraction.  I thought that even quilting in stones would detract from the abstraction of the composition.  Yet the piece felt incomplete without some gesture of stones, and I never proceeded further with it.  It's been folded up and put away for a long time. 

But now, having finished the piece on "Holiness," in which I aimed to capture something of the essense/nature of the stones placed on graves, I realize that I want to confront the stones "face to face."  In "Holiness," I worked with color.  For the final piece, I will come back to shape.  I took out the small gray/blue piece and decided the first thing to do would be to increase the size, and to also draw stones placed on top of the grave, so going back to Mary Beth's drawings.  I knew the stones would need to be larger than the small ones I actually put on the grave, but I wanted to keep them about the size one could still hold in one's hand--somehow that seemed important to me.  So, starting with stones that size, the whole composition ended up about 36 x 60.  Here's the sketch on newsprint:

But even though this is about twice as large as the gray/blue piece, it still seemed too small to me.  I made a leap and started sketching larger stones.   

Finally, I drew with the sweep of my arm, rather than my hand.  I'm down to two stones; each of these is about 36" wide.  It feels like I'm going in the right direction.  I like the idea of limiting it to just two stones, with the suggestion of more of the headstone to the right and below.  (There will be more space at the bottom--I'm not sure how much.)  It feels like David and me, visiting Jeremy's grave. 

Next steps:

  • work further on the shapes of the stones
  • do stitching trials for the stones--I'm thinking these will be "drawn" with a single line of stitches.  But I could switch gears and do these as large appliquéd shapes.
  • decide whether the top of the headstone will be indicated by a seamline between two slightly different colored fabrics (a light and light-medium gray), or whether it will just be a stitched line
  • decide on fabric (I've dyed light gray samples of a number of different fabrics; I'm thinking of using linen, either for the whole thing, or for the bottom piece if seamed.)  

And some influences: the work of Karine Léger (so beautiful) and this by Ellsworth Kelly.

April 8, 2016

More trials

I did more trials this past week, collected below:

Some are pretty awful (like the large piece done with deconstructed screen printing in top left); others are better.

stamps with Cleanline resist on gray cloth

Thiox discharge on gray cloth
Using stones themselves as a resist, suggested to me by Beth Berman.  I love the results, but not sure they're right for this particular piece.

Flour paste resist on white cloth with black thickened dye 
Stitching trials (done a while back in a workshop with Dorothy Caldwell
After all these trials, maybe I'll go back to stitching.  Still thinking. . .

March 31, 2016

Dyeing and discharge trials for images of stones

I'm back to working on the large quilt having to do with stones.  In my previous post on this quilt, I mentioned being unsatisfied with the composition of rectangles.  I have played some with that, but it's still unresolved.  I decided to work on another aspect, and come back to the composition later.  As indicated on the sketch of the quilt, I plan that some of the rectangles will contain some kind of images of stones.  This past week, I've done a number of trials, using all the surface design techniques I thought might yield the kind of gestural, abstracted image I'm thinking of.  Here are the results, with techniques listed below the image.  (The details about all this are as much for my own record as for other readers--feel free to skip over them!)

·       flour paste resist, drawn into and then discharged with Thiox
·       flour paste resist, drawn into and scraped with thickened dye
·       thickened dye, stamped on
·       clear print paste used as a resist, then scraped with thickened dye

·       monoprint with thickened dye
·       Color Magnet, painted and drawn
·       thickened dye, painted and drawn
·       Thiox paste used to paint and draw

·       Cleanline resist used to paint and draw

I started out with the intention of using line drawings, and thinking that the flour paste resist would give me the best results.  But I tested out painting and stamping more solid images as well, and am very glad I did, as I think those gave the best results.  Here are the ones that I will be following up with more trials:
Cleanline resist, painted onto light gray fabric, overdyed with medium gray, LWI [low water immersion]

Jacquard Color Magnet, painted onto white fabric, then overdyed with medium gray

Thiox discharge paste, painted on.  When I do further trials, I will cut off the discharge process sooner, for a less opaque result.

Thickened dye, painted onto grey fabric.  The monoprint images were very similar to this.

Thickened dye, stamped onto gray fabric.  I diluted the color too much, but definite possibilities using stamps.

Four years ago, in a workshop with Carol Soderlund, I made a number of stamps with shapes of stones.  Towards the end of my trial process this week, I remembered I had these somewhere, and dug them out.  Very glad I did.  In further trials, I will use these with discharge as well as with different concentrations of thickened dye.  Below are stampings I did at that 2012 workshop.

I am excited by these results and look forward to further trials using these selected techniques.  The discharge option is the trickiest, as the color the fabric discharges to varies according to the exact dye applied before the discharge.  I'll also have to keep better track of the concentration of thickened dye that I use for the painting/stamping processes.  Sometimes a quilter has to behave like a lab scientist!

March 20, 2016

Thinking about a red and gray log cabin quilt

I'm at the early stages of planning a quilt that will be a wedding gift for one of my son's best friends.  He and his fiancée really like scarlet and gray, so I'll work with those colors.  I'll have a good deal of hand-dyed gray fabric left over when I'm done with my current quilt in progress, so it will be nice to use that in another quilt.  I'm thinking of a log cabin quilt.  Here are some early trials for blocks.  The first group of three below is made of "logs" that finish at 1.5", with the block 3 logs deep on each side out from the center.  The grays are my hand-dyed fabrics; the reds are commercial prints.  Here I'm comparing three different fabrics for the center square.

light gray center
white center
black center

Then I did another block using all hand-dyes, a light gray center, logs increased in size to 2", and only two logs deep out from the center.  (These are reds I had on hand; if I go with solids, I will dye reds with less orange in them.)

I'm leaning towards a block that is just two logs deep, but I'm not sure on the width of the log or on solids versus prints in the red.  In the comparison below, I've folded under the last log in commercial print block, so both are just two logs out from the center.

Now I'll ask the couple what they prefer. . .  They decided on all hand-dyes (like the block at the left in the last photo).  How nice to have someone else make the decision!

March 9, 2016

Progress on "Holiness" and another quilt about stones

Holiness is now basted and the hand-quilting has begun.   Hand-basting on the floor took about a week.  Now that that's done, I can begin on the next quilt about stones.  I can only hand-quilt for about 30 minutes each day (to prevent injury to my hand,) so that gives me lots of time to work on another quilt.

Here's a small sketch I did a while ago, a quilt that would include some drawings of stone shapes, probably done through scratching into flour-paste resist, but with other methods also possible (direct drawing with thickened dye, monoprint, discharge, etc.)  I was thinking of an arrangement of the stones that would recollect the way stones are lined up on a gravestone.  When I showed the sketch to a friend, she said it reminded her of the layout of a cemetery--all the better.  (Thanks Louise!)

I'm thinking of this as a large quilt, about 70x80.  I redid the sketch, re-drawing to eliminate overlap in the rectangles, and then tried folding up yardage to size and putting it up on the design wall.  Very difficult to work with.  Then I put the drawing into Photoshop, and filled in spaces with different values of gray.  That got me further, but I decided it would be better to do a small maquette with actual pieces of fabric rather than continuing on the computer.  You can see a couple of results below. These are about 15x18."  I cut 3" strips from the various grays I thought I'd like to use, and then cut them further to size.  In the first trial, I used a range of values from light to dark, but with a preponderance of medium values.

I did several more versions, concentrating more and more on the medium values.  Below is the 5th iteration; mostly medium, but keeping one light in the corner and a few somewhat darker.  This is getting closer, but I'll try another step towards a narrower range of value, all medium.

Then I'll work further on the composition--I'm not satisfied with the relationships between the shapes. I'll start by tweaking the design I have, but I think I'll likely end up starting over again.  Having the range of values set may help me rethink the composition.

And not everything I've been working with is gray!  I'm just finishing up a hamsa for a friend who is in the middle of chemotherapy.  A hamsa is an amulet commonly found in Jewish and Middle Eastern cultures.  This website has many nice images and some explanation.  This hamsa is a little smaller than my own hand.  I enjoy doing the embroidery, and keeping my friend in mind as I sew.

I'm thinking I will face it with another piece of cloth, cutting it into the hand shape--like this one I bought years ago and carry around in my purse:

And here's another one I made for a group quilt, put together for another friend undergoing treatment for cancer.  The Hebrew word in the center is "Chai"--life.

February 13, 2016

From "Stones" to "Holiness"

In the last two months, I've spent a lot of time in my basement wet studio, dyeing many gradations of different grays.  After the first set of gradations, which went from dark gray to very light, I found myself especially drawn to the very lightest of values.  (The photo above shows scraps from the fabrics that were eventually cut into blocks.)  So, already having narrowed from a palette of neutral stone colors to gray, I found myself narrowing it further to very pale grays.  This inclination of my eye and heart led me to an understanding/decision about the aspect of the subject--stones--that I was moving into:  the quality of holiness.  The original commitment to stones as a subject goes back to the experience of the Jewish practice of leaving small stones on a grave.  I've thought about why one would leave a token of a visit, and why stones serve so well as such a token.  I've been drawing stone shapes for many years now, thinking that the beauty of the shapes would be the focus of a quilt--and it may yet still be.  But I also wanted to work abstractly, extracting from the stone as an object something of the quality that so draws me to it.  As I puzzled over my attachment to the pale gray fabrics, the idea of holiness settled into my mind.  The holiness of the place where the stones are left--the cemetery itself, as well as the grave of a loved one--and the holiness of the relationship--of the love, of the attachment, of the grief--that is embodied in the gesture of leaving a stone.

I had been thinking for a while about a composition that would be very similar to an earlier landscape quilt, "Late March."  I had adjusted the proportion of the rectangles to be more suggestive of the actual proportions of random stones--they would be 9x11" rather than 9x12".  But once I found the new subject of "holiness," rather than "stones," that seemed too small, and I scaled up the blocks to 14x17.  The final composition is 85 x 70." As I chose the colors and decided on the layout, I had these qualities in mind:  quiet, secure, solid, protective, encompassing.
Most of the quilts I've made in the wake of my son Jeremy's death--quilts like Loss, Shelter, Regret, and Accident--have been exhibited and then rolled up and put away--they are not meant to be used or hung on display at home.  But this one I can imagine actually using as a quilt.  It won't be for a while, though, as I plan to hand-quilt it, which will take some months.

This last photo is for those who are interested in details about what dyes I used.  Unmarked squares are from dyes I mixed myself from primaries; one other one I mixed is identified as "Carol's black"--the formula known to anyone who has taken a dyeing class with Carol Soderlund.  The 600-numbers are pre-mixed blacks from Pro Chemical and Dye; the "Black CWNA, Dark Black, and Black Bang" are from Custom Set Procion Dyes.  The second number is the DOS (depth of shade), where .03 DOS means 0.03% (or 0.0003 of weight of goods).  The orange that I mixed with one bluish black is a primary from ProChem, "Strong Orange."  Not shown here are the samples that I didn't use because they leaned too much towards green, blue, or brown.