When queried about the yellow box in a recent piece I am stitching, I hesitated to respond. I know why yellow is vital to the piece. I like enigma in art and am not always prepared to explain.
Explaining my art can leave me feeling vapid, exposed and finally, curious: what does it mean to others to ask what it means to me. Then I reflect on that for some time and have to pull back. What do I want to share. How much of me do I share. I am not a selfish being. Helping people and volunteer work is a vital part of my life.
The desire to not share my feelings about my work comes from a place of being solitary. I like solitude. There is comfort in aloneness, making art and having a sense of peace. Spending years out in the country, alone and surrounded by nature, open fields and woods, that setting is a place of deep comfort. I don’t like a life thoughtlessly lived with abandon, but instead prefer focus and measured thinking, analytical and rational thoughts, philosophy and reflection.
Back to the yellow box. It is related to wisdom. And more.
The center. The viscera. Gut instinct. The fire in the belly. Desire. Power. Personal power. Energy . Vitality. Self control. Inner strength. Personal authority. Efficiency. Purpose. Perfection. Will power. Control. Anger.
Focusing on that space allows me to find a balance between inaction and overreaction. It says I have the power to choose. I travel into the yellow box, deep in the maze, amid the noise, the traffic, following the patterns that civilization has already prepared. Finding strength there and relating it to the purpose of my own life…the exploration of my power center. Being contained in the yellow space allows me to radiate this information through my own body space. How do i find my way there…? how do you…?
Many thanks to the vibrant and hardworking students of Kutztown University and their beautifully lit gallery on the main street in Kutztown.
These students are smart and resourceful and work hard to bring art to the community. They wrote and asked if I would be interested in having an exhibit at Eckhaus Gallery in the spring of 2016. I agreed and then they handled everything – all I had to do was show up on the appointed date and they were prepared to hang the show with me. After quickly explaining my required selection and placement of objects they set about measuring and hammering.
The conversation was rewarding and it was interesting to hear what they had to say about art and college and their own plans for their art or careers. We had a lot of fun working together – and they were so willing to assist in every way with carrying work, handling it carefully and with respect, arranging for posters, price lists, photographs, publicity and a signboard. Senior students provide structure and have interns working along side to provide support. Their willingness to lead, listen, support and general good nature is one of the reasons I truly enjoy working with student groups. The evening for the exhibit was March 18th and they provided food and drink, a sign board on the street, and interns were there for support to help collectors and guests with questions.
Danielle Notaro – a poetic collaborator dramatized her poetry while giving a tour of my works that were one display. It was a memorable early spring evening!
Several new series were born as a result of doing small studies this winter. The studies are being shown this weekend as a part of exhibition containing a few watercolors and some significant works in fiber that are eco-dyed, handprinted and hand embroidered. I am an irreverent quilter and don’t follow many rules. Sometimes I experiment with fusible, battings and surface design before I quilt. The purpose of it all is to find the look, I am searching many traditional techniques and then bending them to my own style to get a texture and quality that I am not ready to define yet. I’ll know it when I see it.
Cutting on the bias, using my sewing machine, or working by hand, washing, ripping, tearing, machine thread painting, hand embroidery, framing, binding, not binding, giving structure on wood panels, using bamboo to hang work, vintage silk, found objects, eco-dyeing, tea dyeing and over-dyeing, mono-printing, heliotypes, and beading are a few of the ways I am working with fabric now.
Emerging are what I call Spirit Cloth’s…they are worked in a meditative state and result in a pure form of hand and mind being one and the same, a positive flow of the spirit of the artist.
There are also images born out of my love for the earthiness of tilling and gentle farming of grains and vegetables. The works include deep night skies and are simply stitched by hand.
Its a great time for me and my need to explore what is available to me in fiber and art. Today I am scaling up one of the series and am excited to find new ways to bring the color and stitching to life…
Textiles have memory and can also take on new memory and shape. How we handle textiles, stitching by hand or machine, cutting straight, curvilinear or on the bias (diagonal), sewing curves, surface embroidery, and quilting all disrupt the weave of fabric.
This particular quilt began with a piece of white cotton fabric hand dyed and backed with cotton batting and a muslin quilt back. If I’m not hand sewing, the cotton batting works fine for machine sewing.
I quilted an overall pattern in a medium teal Metrosene thread and then began to add thread painting with shades of silver, graphite, burnt sienna, gold, black and bronze rayon embroidery threads. I added the top grey and bottom rust sections after the majority of the thread painting was underway.
Then the final quilting helped to flatten out the lumpy bumpy hillocks and creases left from heavy but uneven thread painting. Still wonky and now only a series of gentle rolling bumps and lumps the last step is to block before finishing. Photo below shows some of the warping that happens to fabrics that are stressed.
Before binding, the quilt will be dampened and blocked to de-stress the fibers and give it the shape I want it to have.
The blocks are an interlocking grid that can be used many times over. 9 foam blocks come in a pack and can be put together in many configurations. You can purchase double or triple sets if you need them for larger projects. These have a small footprint for storage and last for years. I know you can use large inexpensive insulation board or even a carpet. The insulation board comes in 8′ sheets and a carpet would need to be rolled up for storage. I don’t have that kind of extra room to store bulky objects in my studio. At $24.99 they are a good deal and they store on a shelf.
You’ll need the following:
Blocking grid or mat
T-pins (rust proof stainless)
Spray bottle filled with fresh clean water
I put enough blocks together to make the grid fit the quilt in this case 4 sections work.
Placing the quilt face down I spray generously with water and smooth it out with my hands. I flip the quilt over squarely in the center of the grid and spray the top with water. It should be damp but not soaking wet.
Next the pinning begins. Starting at the center of the top, taking a t-pin, I press it at an angle through the quilt edge into the foam block.
I continue to place a t-pin at each center point along each side–while gently stretching the quilt and smoothing it. Then push a t-pin 3″-4″ apart on each side of the center pins. Again, I gently smooth and stretch the fabric as I go. Repeat on each side until the quilt is fully but gently stretched. See the photo below – pins evenly spaced and sides of quilt look wonky. They will be trimmed after drying.
My home is very dry and if I do this at night by morning the quilt will be dry and flat. The next step will be to trim to the size I like and bind if desired.
Below is the next day – flat and free from ripples:
Note: I do not use an iron or steam unless it is absolutely necessary. I use a mixture of fibers and a hot iron could negatively affect delicate threads or fabrics with a hot iron set on cotton and would flatten the beautiful quilting textures. I also don’t use measuring guides. These are handmade, work of art and meant to meander and have shape and texture. I am not looking for perfection, but want it to hang crisply and neatly.
Valentine’s Day 2016.
This day marks the time when my love for making art results in the Spirit Cloths that are in my hands most days.
Several hours daily are going to embroidery and hand stitching. The machine comes in to do some laborious tasks. There is less quiet time, but the movement of my hands is slow and there is a zen to it nonetheless.
Once the embroidery was completed, the batting and backing attached, the machine quilting is being completed.
As a visual artist I see. Everything. Upon entering a new indoor space I want to see everything. I catch myself furtively peering but trying not to look as though I’m not looking. At. Everything. I feel it may not be polite. In spaces I visit often, the same spaces, it’s easy to get lost in observation of additions and changes. I’m not terribly interested in looking at people. It’s the shape, space and color that stimulate me, causing brain chatter. In 2014, I visited the home of a new friend in Coopersburg. She designed and built her home with her husband. She invited me to spend time looking…saying something like I imagine you want to look at things, please feel free to do that and we will talk later. What a gift. I didn’t ask her if it was obvious that my eyes wandered even though I tried so hard to focus on getting to know her. She has an easy kindness that I’ve come to appreciate. I enjoyed wandering about her home and I looked with an open heart.
With slowing time to make art, and limiting my focus on few colors and no intentional noise–no music–no voices–I hear. Everything.
Today. Rattling. Windows. West Wind. Sweeping through this end of the valley it rolls over the open cornfields. Lower Macungie is the windiest place I’ve ever lived. The house faces south and the bedrooms are like a bulwark to the west. I often wonder if this is what it’s like on the Yorkshire dales and moors.
Rory barks from his post on the balcony. I get up to see what he thinks needs attention. The squealing of the postal truck as it pulls around the bend out of view is all.
The wind is blowing and whipping, sweeping the snow across the pavement in undulating patterns. Rory stands guarding, his long coat blowing with the gusts, he turns to come inside. As he brushes past I feel the chill still in his fur. The wind pulls at the door as I let it close.
Needle back in hand my thoughts are back to the movement of the stitches, how placing the needle through and over a single thread in the weave can change the angle of a stitch slightly. Does it matter if I correct the angle. When will I stitch in a way that doesn’t matter which direction the threads go. Should I create a piece like that? What would it look like….there go my thoughts…bring them back to focus on this piece. This needle. This brown thread. The seed stitch.
There are moments I think this might be a madness, to slow time and stitch by hand when I could make a quilt in day as promised by the popular book series. No. Not madness. But it is a desire to live more fully and be mindful of what I’m doing now. Not in the past thinking of loves lost and regrets or concerns for the future.
My fingers feel fatigue, I stretch them and change projects for a bit. I pick up a larger crewel needle and perle cotton to fill in a small square in deep gold.
When machine stitching I end up with a lot of extra threads on the front surface of the fabric. Its commonplace and happens to everyone. I’m often asked how to resolve this problem. You could choose to snip them closely but the ends fuzz up and look mussed. Instead of snipping I choose to pull them through to the back. When presented with thread ends too short to pass through a needle eye the solution is an easy to thread needle.
Once I started to use the calyx eye needle it became my preferred choice for all thread pulling.
This needle is commonly known as an easy threading needle. It is made with a small slit above the eye so you can pull the thread through the top. By inserting the needle in the fabric first you can pull the thread through to the back with ease. See the step-by-step tutorial below.
Choose a thread that needs to be pulled to the back:
Insert the calyx eye needle as close as possible to where the thread comes out of the fabric.
Pull thread firmly down into the eye.
Push the needle through to the back: pulling the thread through with it.
Repeat until all the excess threads are pulled through to the wrong side of fabric.
Once finished the right side looks smooth without clipped threads.
Lately I’ve been admiring reverse appliqué and thought it might work for a piece of fiber art I am planning.
You see this piece of fiber art exists loosely in my mind, it sort of has a little film attached to it that I play often. The colors change. The fabrics change. But the foundation of the work is essentially the same. It consists of many modular pieces that are similar in size and hue. The black square below is an example.
I’m eager to get the work started and get the film in my head into real world action. This Saturday past I started playing with reverse appliqué sewing. After several pieces were finished the results were different than expected.
About midnight – my creative witching moment happened. Cleaning up the perle cottons and re-organizing threads, dropping scissors into their cases, needles neatly arranged in the drawer…I passed by the stack of recently completed art quilt studies.
The studies are of my beloved Pennsylvania farmlands which are rapidly disappearing.
New housing and commercial structures are chowing down the land for 3 solid meals daily.
I know this land. Its of my people, my youth, my later adulthood. I’ve come back to the gentle hills that my grandfather held in reverence.
No reference photos are needed. I’ve walked the dusty dirt roads by the farms with my dogs, rode my horses through the brown-green-gold fields, tilled the ground with my hands to plant native species and cut flower gardens. Moonlit nights resplendent with fireflies, moths and bats while seated behind the farmhouse in the deep of night are treasured moments for me.
As I passed by the studies I saw the round shape I have been slow stitching for weeks.
The familiar round moons or suns are exactly what I’ve been planning but I couldn’t know that. Instead of the reverse appliqué, this embroidered style that has been my meditative practice for weeks is it!
The search over, the technique was in my hands all along.
Needles breaking. Threads breaking. Again and again. Adjusting tension and trying little tricks to keep everything running smoothly.
It happens with hand stitching too. Knotting up, catching a thread on the back, tangling. Sometimes it’s that kind of stitching: tangling and knotting.
Learning to wrestle wrought threads.
This is the nature of thread work. It teaches me to allow anger in and out—no withholding of breath. Letting it be its own nature. Turn off power and tidy the sewing room. Go to relax and read a bit
morning. opening the sewing desk and do my morning ritual of preparing the machine with basic maintenance. Open the bobbin case. Get the dust remover, brush and oil. Ahah! The culprit exposed in the sunlight streaming through the window. A tiny speck of shredded rayon thread is barely visible under the auto cutter. Another fine long strand is found at the bottom of the case
I remove the threads, flush with air, brush well, oil bobbin and put it all back together.
Last night I did that twice. But I couldn’t see the small specks of thread. Even with my Ott Light.
Under light of day everything is exposed and seen with clarity.
Learning balance and timing, during fatigue and frustration was not the time to problem solve. Bernina sews like herself again.
jonas kept me indoors and stitching while the white flakes were flurrying furiously out of doors. stitching while drinking copious cups of constant comment tea. time to think while i stitch. stitching and staying present. the needle keeps my mind fresh and fingers nimble. watch the thread, like a bell, a prayer wheel, staying with it. mother reads and cleo snores gently. rory guards our home while we sit out the storm.
moving through the piece
sharing the process
time for more tea. Thoughts come. Go. Pass through the wheels.