October 31, 2015

Getting back into the studio: A crayon quilt

I'm easing myself back into the studio, playing with scraps of color for a baby quilt.  I'm working from this pattern from American Patchwork & Quilting.  Who wouldn't like a reminder of the pleasure of a new box of crayons?

American Patchwork & Quilting, Supplement to an issue sometime in the last year--sorry, no date given on the pages

The pattern calls for piecing together 2.5" strips of assorted fabrics, but I wanted to use the variety in my scraps, some of which weren't that wide.  I think the results look fine.  I kept the crayons the size in the pattern (cut at 5" x 40", plus the crayon tip cut at 5"), but made just six and turned them vertical, to make a smaller quilt.  I haven't sewn the crayons together yet.  Here they are in rainbow order:

 Not sure I like the red and orange next to each other.  Here I've moved the red over to the right side:

But I think I like it even better this way:  primaries (red/yellow/blue) on the left and secondaries (orange, green, purple) on the right: 

When I put the photo of the pattern at the top of this post, I realized it has the crayons arranged with half the points up and half down:

Not sure which I like better.  With all the points up, it reminds me more of a box of crayons, but I also like the balance of the alternating forms.  Comments on color order and point arrangements welcome!

I don't often make a quilt totally from scraps.  It was a pleasure to handle scores of different fabrics, remembering favorite projects, or wondering how I happened to have a particular fabric at all.  Also very nice to not have to buy or dye any fabric, but just dive in.  

October 25, 2015

Studio break--White Water Rafting in the Grand Canyon

I generally limit this blog to posts about my work in the studio, but it's a convenient place to archive some photos and reflections on a recent trip to the Grand Canyon.  Feel free to stop reading here if you're not interested!

Twenty years ago, David, Jeremy, and I went on a 4-day white-water rafting trip on the Lower Salmon River in Idaho.  We really enjoyed the trip, and were very impressed with O.A.R.S, the company that ran it.  The guides recommended that we think about doing their trip down the Grand Canyon some day--the ultimate in river trips.  It's been in the back of our minds ever since, but we never got around to it.  Then a couple of years ago, we thought of taking a trip to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary plus our retirements.  Our first thought was to go to Paris, a favorite place of ours since the mid-1970s when we did dissertation research there.  But then we thought of the Grand Canyon.  Paris we could do even if we had to use walkers, but it was probably now or never for a physically demanding river trip.  During the time we were thinking about it, I happened to mention it to a fellow quilter, Janet Jo Smith (we were taking a hike in a state park, the day before a Carol Soderlund dyeing workshop at the Crow Barn), and she said, "Do it!  Take as long a trip as you can, the longer the better.  I did the trip and it changed my life."  If not for her insistence on a longer trip, I would likely have looked for a shorter one, but we did it--signed up for a sixteen day trip on the river, from Lees Ferry to Diamond Creek.  You can see a summary of the itinerary on the O.A.R.S. website; the photo series in the upper right of the page gives you a good overview of the scenery, including whitewater shots.  I didn't take a lot of photos on the trip--I didn't want to be distracted from the pleasures of the experience by looking out for good photos, and I didn't want to have to think about taking care of the camera on the boat or during hikes.  So, my own photos were almost all taken from one or another of our camping sites, and were done more as a record of how daily life was organized.

The trip turned out to be different--and even better--from what I expected.  I knew from the river trip in Idaho, and also from a week-long canoe trip in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota, that I would love the quiet, remoteness, and beauty of the surroundings.  Even though the trip is described as "white water rafting," most of the time is spent rowing down calm water.  (The guides on this trip do all the rowing.)  The advantage of a river trip (or protected lakes like the Boundary Waters) is that you can get right into remote, unpopulated areas without having to backpack.  I did a little backpacking in my 20s--enough to know I didn't find it fun to carry 50 lbs on my back. . .  The expectation of the calming to my spirit of floating through the canyon was certainly lived up to.  One reason I didn't feel like taking photos on the river was that everything was beautiful--one could compose a different photo every six feet, and all would be stunning.  The surprise for me on the trip was how much of the hiking I did.  I knew that hikes were offered on the trip, but I thought I would go on few of them.  I love walking in the outdoors, but I don't enjoy going uphill, and it's hard on my back.  So I figured I'd go on a couple of ambles along the river, if that was possible, and otherwise just sit out the hikes.  But the first full day on the river included a sizable hike up a canyon.  The trip leader described it as possible for all, and reassured us that the guides were there to help anyone who needed it, so I gave it a try.  It involved significant elevation, and much scrambling over large stones.  With helping hands, an occasional push from the bottom, and a kind guide who stayed with me when I needed to rest for a while, I made it up the ridge.  Another day, spurred on by the promise of a clear pool of water and a waterfall, I did a hike that included edging along a cliff, toes in on a ledge about 10" wide, fingers gripping hand-holds in the rocks.  The trip leader had wisely not told us about this part, knowing we might hold back when she knew we could do it.  There was a hike or two most days and I went on all but a couple.  It was also nice to have time to myself in camp on the occasions that I opted out of the hike. I couldn't believe what I was able to do--and enjoyed--in the hiking.  This is the same person who had bannisters installed on the stairways in our house last year because I could feel my balance getting shaky.  My participation in the hikes was possible because of the very knowledgeable help provided by the guides, who could coach us about where to place our feet and hands in difficult spots, and who were always there to encourage and help.  Turns out the water part of the trip (despite concerns from watching the orientation video about what to do if you were thrown from the boat, or if a boat flipped) was the easy part!

Even more fun than the rapids was when they let us jump off a 15 foot cliff into a part of the river they knew was very deep (here's a video of David and me doing the jump; thanks to Lynda Murphy for the video), followed by the chance to swim a rapid (one with plenty of waves, but no rocks near the surface, and an eddy below if we had trouble swimming back to the raft).  The other hard part--almost as challenging as hiking--was camping out for that long, breaking and setting up camp fifteen times, lugging gear up from the shore to our tents, dealing with soggy stuff, the rarity of feeling clean, etc.  But all definitely worth it!  I would recommend this trip (as well as any other trip by O.A.R.S.--they do trips across the country and around the world) to anyone with the interest, time, and financial resources.  It is worth saving up for.

People talk about feeling their life has changed from this trip.  I didn't feel the trip as "life-changing," but it did clarify some things for me:

  • That I really like being out in the natural world--even though I have spent most of my life at a desk, in classrooms, at libraries, or more recently, in a studio.  David and I tend to do vacations in big cities, to balance our daily life in a smaller town, but maybe we'll start alternating with outdoor trips.  And hey, it's nice even to take the newspaper out on my back deck rather than reading it at the kitchen table.
  • That I can do more physically challenging things than I imagined.  My back stood up fine throughout the trip!  (I did exercise regularly in preparation for the trip.)
  • That I can do fine with fewer possessions, especially clothing.  I winnow my closets with each change of season, but when I got home from the trip, I dumped all the clothing out on my bed (by category, as recommended by Marie Kondo), and stuffed three large garbage bags with things I was happy to let go.  The things left are now organized so I can actually see what I have, and I've pared down enough that there's very little to pull from storage at the next change of season.

And now for some photos and details about how things worked on the trip:

This first photo shows a typical camp set-up.  Our six rafts have been pulled up on shore.  While on the river, four of the boats had four passengers and one guide (plus personal bags for those on the boat); the fifth and sixth boats had two staffers and carried much of the other stuff needed for the trip.  The routine when the boats landed at the campsite (usually in late afternoon):  Guests rush off to claim a camp site for their tents, and the staff set up the common area:  folding chairs where we eat dinner and breakfast and socialize in the evening, a cook area where staff prepares meals, an hors d'oeuvres table for those snacks before dinner, purified water to fill up water bottles, and--tucked well out of sight--the porta-potty.  This photo was from one of the earlier days on the trip, when the river water was clear.

The next photo is another camp site, one later in the trip, after a couple of days of rain.  Streams/rivers coming into the canyon from areas of rain brought in mud, which turned the river to a coffee-color for the rest of the trip.

I'm sorry I don't have a photo from a hike that shows how far up we went, or some of the beautiful spots that we went to.  Here's a photo of the group in the middle of a long hike; we're stopped for a lunch break.  One gets very attentive to finding a comfortable rock for sitting. . .
photo by Lynda Murphy

How do you get clean when camping out for 16 days?  You bathe in the river, not as pleasant as it looks here as the water temperature is a steady 50 degrees (because it comes out of the bottom of Lake Powell, the lake created by the Glen Canyon Dam).  Some people brought solar showers with them, and I borrowed one a couple of times, but if you want to use soap, you still have to stand in the river, holding up the shower.

About 30,000 people a year go down the river, so there are strict rules for keeping the area as pristine as possible.  Everyone has to pee in the river (one soon gets used to seeing the females in the group squatting by the river), and poop has to be in the porta-potty.  The porta-potty is always placed in a private area, with a beautiful view of the canyon--the photo below is one example.

And here's the actual set-up: The yellow bucket is for pee, the metal container for poop.  (This was one location where the umbrella was needed for a bit of extra privacy.)  The pee is dumped in the river when we leave camp.  The poop container goes back on one of the baggage boats.  With 24 people on the trip, we needed 7 containers for the 16 days.  Yes, they are all collected on one boat and emptied out only when taken back to Flagstaff.

Back to the campsite--here's an example of one of the places we pitched our tent.  The blue bag at David's feet is his "day bag"--the waterproof bag he would have in the boat with him every day.  The larger white bag to his left holds the rest of his clothing and miscellaneous gear; we each had one of these in camp, but then it was stored on a raft between campsites.  We each also had another large white bag with a sleeping bag and pillow.  Tents, tarps, and sleeping pads were also provided.

Below, another campsite.  Sometimes we set our tent up in a sandy nook, with quite a bit of privacy.  The colored items in the bushes are wet clothes put out to dry.  Often things would dry quickly, but sometimes we didn't get to camp until the sun was setting, and if it was raining (two days of rain out of 16), we carried around lots of wet stuff.  One day early in the trip, I washed out a bunch of our stuff, but getting it all dry was no fun.  After that, I only washed out underwear. . . As in other photos, I'm not commenting on the beauty of the rocks, river, and canyon, but constant awe at the natural beauty was a basic feature of the trip.

Another campsite with a stunning view.

The campsite below was on a lovely wide beach.  There were no tent sites inland, so we were all closer together than usual.  On the other hand, all the sites were flat, a big plus!  One of the challenges each afternoon was finding a place for the tent where we wouldn't roll in one direction or another.

One rock fall that I was able to take a photo of from camp.

Here's a nice photo taken of four of us on the raft: David at the left, then me (yellow rain jacket hood), guide Lars, my cousin Adele, and her husband Mark.  Rain gear was worn not only when it was raining, but also when we were likely to get soaked from big rapids, and then go through a long stretch of shade in the canyon.  It was probably 90 in the sun, but because the canyon is narrow and it was October, there were stretches with no sun.
Photo by Lynda Murphy
To give you a sense of action on the river, here's a video of some rafts going through the biggest rapid on the trip, Lava Falls (video pulled from youtube, not of our trip).

The possibility of a boat flipping on Lava Falls is high enough that we were instructed not to wear our rain gear for this rapid, so that we could more easily swim in the water if we flipped.  Happily, none of our boats flipped on that rapid.  We did have one flip on the trip--not a boat with passengers, but the poop boat, rowed by a very experienced oarswoman who was on her first Grand Canyon trip. Seeing the flip was actually reassuring in a way, as we could see how the other boats immediately went into high gear to pick up the two people in the water (the rower and another staff person), to recover the boat, and then to pull it over to shore to flip it back over--not an easy task, as each boat with all its gear weighs over a ton.  Here's the bottom-up boat on the shore.  The guides have rigged ropes, and enlisted everyone to help turn the boat.

photo by Lynda Murphy
 Here's the boat more than half-way there.  You can see how much gear there is--all so well strapped down that nothing was lost.

photo by Lynda Murphy

Our last evening on the river--a no-host cocktail party up on a ledge above the kitchen area.  Our great trip leader is the third person from the left, Ashley Brown.  And about the meals--they were all great.  Each raft has a large, high efficiency cooler.  Meat and fish stayed frozen until the last day (our last dinner was filet mignon), and there were always fresh vegetables and salad.

One of the pleasures of the trip was travelling together with my cousin Adele and her husband Mark.  This photo was taken on the last morning of the trip--can't believe we don't look more bedraggled!  These were the clothes we wore almost every day.
photo by Kris Dodson
 And here's everyone in our group, just before boarding the rafts for the short trip to the take-out on our last morning--a great group of people.  It happened that David and I were the oldest in the group (68 and 67).  Two passengers were about 30 (children of one of the women in the group); the other young people are staff.  I'd say everyone else was in their late 50s or 60s.  So, the trip is definitely possible for folks our age, but I'm glad we didn't wait any longer!
photo by Jeff Berkey

 I didn't go on the trip looking for inspiration for my own art work, but I have a couple of ideas I might pursue.  I was fascinated by the irregular ridgelines in the canyon.  I can see doing stitching using lines like these:
sketch of ridgelines
I was also enthralled by the solid cerulean blue of sky against the textured orangey/red of the canyon walls.  Perhaps I'll explore the contrast in fabric.  Would be an interesting dyeing challenge to come up with the contrast of colors and texture.

The Canyon has definitely left its mark on me. . .

 Sunrise on our last morning.

September 28, 2015

Other summer projects

Starting in May of this year, the main project I worked on was Accident 2, still in progress.  On a large, difficult piece like this, I need smaller projects to give me occasional relief, and there were also stretches where I was waiting for a dyed piece to batch for a week or two when I could turn to other things.  This post will give you a glimpse of the variety of other things I've worked on this summer.

I needed bandanas for myself and some friends going on a camping trip, so I decided to dye some of the ready-made bandana blanks sold by Dharma Trading Company.  I really liked six out of these seven, and dyed several others after this as well.  (Double-click on any photo to enlarge it.)

I used two different thermofax screens (done from photos of tree bark) to see if I could print on a T-shirt.  Came out quite nicely, although I like the back (blue/black) better than the front (red/black)

I made a few baby quilts, starting with a Cobblestones quilt from Kevin Kosbab, The Quilter's Appliqué Workshop.  I stayed close to the color scheme shown in the pattern, which I liked very much.

The back is hand-dyed fabric, made by pinning the fabric to a clothesline, and dripping two colors from the top.

 Fun to get a photo of the baby on the quilt!

I miscalculated how many squares of color I would need for the cobblestones, so I had a lot left over.  I used them in a "disappearing nine-patch" technique, that yielded the central column for a second quilt, with side panels using other leftover fabric.  When I started, this was going to be the back for the first quilt, but I liked it enough to make it the front of a second quilt.

And its back is another piece of hand-dyed fabric, this one shibori-dyed around a large piece of plastic pipe left over when our main sewer line had to be repaired earlier this year.  Dyers are always on the lookout for tools!

When I was on Whidbey Island earlier this summer, visiting my friend Mary Beth, we went to a quilting shop where I found this lovely turquoise fabric for the background of another cobblestone quilt.  Mary Beth encouraged me to "shop her stash" for some small pieces of novelty fabric, to use for the "cobblestones."  I decided that circles of these fabrics looked better than the improvised squares.

For the binding of this one, I put on a "faux-piped" binding, orange for the piping and light blue for the binding, both fabrics I happened to have on hand.  I like the way this finished.

I also finished the hour-glass quilt that I started this spring (see this post for details on the pattern from Modern Quilt Studio and some early choices).  I finished this with a "pillowcase binding," no batting, as I made it to use as a tablecloth for the large table at my synagogue where we gather for Shabbat prayer when we have a smaller group.

Here's a glimpse of the backing, which is one large piece of hand-dyed fabric.

I saw a pattern for a small zippered pouch on the Crazy Mom Quilts blog, and it looked like a fun way to use up small pieces of some favorite fabric.  I actually made six--I sent one away before I thought to take a photo.  I think I have to make a few more. . . 

That got me in a sewing mode, and I decided to try an Anna Maria Horner dress pattern that I'd bought a while back.  I've tried making a few garments in the last several years, but am usually disappointed with the fit or how it looks on me.  But this one came out quite presentable!  I used only fabrics I had on hand; the color of the side panels is not optimal.  But when worn, they're less visible.  Great pockets, and a comfortable fit overall.  

My favorite part was learning how to do a loop buttonhole with pearl cotton (back neck closing):

Moving over to knitting, I finished an afghan I started about 6 months ago.  Since retirement, I've been watching an hour (sometimes two) of TV in the evenings, so I've been getting a lot of knitting done!  I don't think I could watch TV without it.

 When I finished that, I needed another knitting project.  I found a modified log cabin pattern in Mason-Dixon Knitting, their "Moderne Baby Quilt."  I've changed the colors and dimensions a bit, otherwise following the pattern.  Here it is about one-third done.

And finally, I'm in search motifs to use with stamping or screen printing--something I've been wanting to do for a while, but have yet to settle into.  One thing I did this summer was to take some sketches of mugs that I did a while back, import them into Photoshop and try some arrangements and colors.  I would like to take these further at some point.

So, along with Accident 2, that's how I spent my summer!

September 2, 2015

Accident 2, top done, and the context of the original Accident quilt

The top is done. It measures about 60 x 100."  

I do not have the full sense of satisfaction that I sometimes feel when I complete a piece--that I have gotten just what I wanted, or so close that there are no thoughts about going further.  But I am content enough to work further with this top to bring it to completion as a finished work.  I am thinking of doing hand-stitching through the top and a second layer of fabric (no batting); I have begun stitching trials.  It is less an issue of what stitching will add to the piece, as my needing to sit with it, stitching.

I have been thinking all along that I would leave a white rim around the printed area, maintaining the rough visual edges where the dye was scraped.  But I may decide to turn under the edges.  With the help of Photoshop, here's what it would look like:
If I later decide to do a different version of this piece, here are the things I would repeat and the things I would change:

  • the colors of turquoise, blue, ochre, and black
  • overdyeing most of the text, but leaving the key phrase in white
  • the size/style of the lettering
  • Work on making a better transition between the turquoise and the blue.  (I would need to get help with this--I tried various methods on samples, and could not get the look I wanted.)
  • Try a version with the ochre placed differently.  I'm satisfied with the slash in this version, but could see trying something else also.  Of the small watercolor sketches below, I'm most interested in #2 or 3.
  • If I leave a white rim, watch the shape of the large black area.  I didn't mean for it to get narrower towards the bottom.  (This is one thing I could adjust on the existing piece, if I decide I want to--I can just add more black.)
  • And more radically--and perhaps the most likely one of these I would do--I could change the scale and focus by cropping to the area immediately around the highlighted line.  I didn't think of this until I took a detail shot of that area of the quilt.  I think this could be a piece in itself.

* * * * * *
My intention is that when I show this quilt, it will be in close proximity to the first Accident quilt, a small piece (35x48") in which I stamped a narrative of the night my son died in 2004.  I want the viewer to be familiar with the narrative--so that it is recognized in the second piece, without a need to decipher the obscured text.  The focus instead is on expression through color and shape.  For Accident 1, I intended the reader to stand and read the narrative.  

I hope the narrative will be legible to you on screen here (double-click for a larger image), and if you read it through, I think you will see why I chose to highlight the phrase that I did.  

The color of the cloth is the color of the mud that covered Jeremy's body.  I dyed many pieces of fabric before I came to the color that matched the evidence I kept as well as my memory of it.  I incorporated much of this fabric into the back of the quilt.  I used the same color dye for the diagonal slash in Accident 2.

* * *
I could not have done this piece without a great deal of help, inspiration, and encouragement.  Thanks first to Claire Benn.  I signed up for her September 2014 workshop on "Graphics & Graffiti" in order to get more ideas for using text on cloth.  In addition to getting a lot of practice with text, it was there that I learned the technique of making a paper laminated screen; a small version I did at the workshop using a couple of lines from the Accident narrative was the beginning of this piece.  Claire had mentioned that one could work very large with this method, but when I started to think about doing just that, I realized the many challenges of upscaling.  When I wrote a few questions to Claire, she suggested that we talk it through on the phone.  I am deeply grateful for her encouragement to work this large, despite the challenges, and for the time she took long after the class to explain in detail how I could adapt the technique to this scale.  Thank you so much, Claire!

Thanks also to my husband David, who is my steady interlocutor for many aspects of this process.  He understands as no one else can the grief (and the process of living with grief) that shapes this work.  I often rely on his eye to help with design decisions as well.  And for this piece especially, he was my studio assistant, as I relied on his physical help for setting up the huge print table, and other tasks in the printing process that I could not do on my own.

Finally, thanks to my friends in the Quilters by Design Group.  They have seen all my major pieces in progress, and I depend on their supportive critique to move the work forward.  I am especially grateful that our teacher, Bill Kerr, has been able to come to some of our gatherings; the response and advice he's given on these two works on the accident have been especially important.