Monday, August 21, 2017

Grandchildren and fiber art 3

Several weeks ago I posted a photo of Vivian asleep while I crocheted.  At the time, she had spent practically all of her time with us asleep, a source of frustration to grandparents who wanted to play with her.  But I predicted that pretty soon she'd be up and about.

And sure enough, she's now awake.  My dear friend Uta Lenk from Germany, whom I met years ago at a quilt workshop and have been close with ever since, is visiting the States this month and brought her knitting along.  We noticed that Vivian seemed transfixed by watching Uta knit -- was it the click of the needles, the light reflecting from them, or just the repetitive motion?  Whatever, she watched Uta intently all evening.

Uta promised to come back and teach Vivian to knit when she's old enough.  Uta learned when she was six, taught by her grandmother who rewound balls of yarn to include coins and little toys, an incentive to keep going.  What a great idea!  Only five and a half years till we can try it with another little girl.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

My favorite things 34

My parents traveled frequently to South America and brought home various souvenirs that my siblings and I now own.  One of my favorites is this fragment of weaving from Peru, made by the Nasca people in about 1500 A.D.

It's not the oldest thing I own, but is by far the oldest textile, and is well preserved; the dry climate of the coastal deserts west of the Andes has kept lots of cloth in excellent condition over many centuries.  It has the traditional birds, steps and spirals of ancient Peruvian textiles, and its red and gold colors are still relatively bright.

After I'd owned this for many years, I bought a contemporary piece of embroidery that shares the pre-Columbian sensibility, a small piece by my very good friend Bette Levy.  It has four mask/faces painstakingly executed in couched metallic threads, onto a frayed linen background that looks a whole lot like the real antique.

(My apologies for the reflections and glare in all the images, because both textiles are framed under glass.  I know that glass protects fragile art, both from dust and flying objects and from UV light, but I always wish that textiles would be open so they can be better seen and appreciated.)

Of course the two pieces had to be hung together, and that's how they have been for a decade, keeping one another company across the centuries.

Friday, August 18, 2017

At the State Fair 2

Today was opening day at the Kentucky State Fair and I was in attendance, which I haven't done in several years.  Yes, I would go out three days in advance to judge the textiles, but not show up for the actual festivities.  This year reminded me of what I have been missing, and I loved my favorite pastimes of watching the border collies herd ducks, observing the animal judging and eating a pork chop sandwich.

Towards the end of a long day, I didn't have the stamina to look at every quilt on display, but I was surprised to see that they've added a new category since I used to enter.  This one is called "Quilt Top" and is described: "The quilt top may be hand and/or machine pieced, no serger.  This class is for a quilt top only -- the back will be displayed.  This class is to show the skill of the quilter in constructing a quilt top."

I guess this is the natural culmination of the quilt police mentality that has always reigned at state fairs and similar venues -- not only will the QP judge you on the number of quilt stitches per inch and whether you sewed your mitered corners shut, but now they want to see inside!  I think it's sadly appropriate that in this class you get to see more of the back than you do of the front.  After all, who cares about design, composition, color or artistic vision as long as those seams are beautifully pressed in the right direction?

Here's the first place quilt, of which I would have liked to see a lot more of the front and a lot less of the back:

And a couple of more in the same category, all beautifully pressed.

And here's one that you can probably deduce wasn't going to get a ribbon:

If you want my opinion, the skill of the quilter in constructing a quilt top is pretty damn evident from looking at the finished quilt.  When that one just above is quilted, for instance, you're going to detect lumps where the seam allowance flipped from one direction to another.  You don't need a separate category in which people are going to be obsessing over trimming the fraying edges off the back of the quilt (the big difference I could see between the blue ribbon winner and the also-rans).

Because what good is it to trim the fraying edges out of the inside of your quilt?  Other than winning a ribbon, that is?  I'd much rather the state fair encouraged people to obsess over important things like how the quilt looks when it's made up and hanging on the wall or lying on the bed.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

At the State Fair 1

This is the third or fourth year that I have been asked to judge the textile entries in the Fine Arts and Crafts division of the Kentucky State Fair, and yesterday was my day to do the deed.  I'm not going to reveal who got the ribbons until later in the week, since the Fair doesn't officially open till Thursday, but I do have some thoughts to share.

One of the five textile categories is for "Traditional Textile Techniques, Non-Textile Materials."  It's a category that every year I think should bring forth exciting and exotic works of art, and every year doesn't.  No different this year.

When I contemplate this category I think of many memorable artworks that I've seen in other shows; here are several from the Surface Design Association show at Schweinfurth Memorial Art Center last year.  The show was called "Transgressing Traditions" and a lot of the entries would have fit nicely into my category.

Eszter Bornemisza, Next Page (detail) -- X-ray films sewed into a huge, spectacular tapestry

Emily Dvorin, Urban Ephemeral -- basket made of plastic tubing, cable ties, wire and other stuff

Roz Ritter, The Great Unknown (detail) -- hand embroidery on paper

Christine Holtz, Ten Second Rule (detail) -- junk food wrappers sewed together

There are a lot of fine fiber artists in our part of the world, many of whom like to enter the State Fair, and I don't know why there's this blank spot when it comes to non-textile materials.

Perhaps it's simply because fiber artists love working with fibers -- drawn to the material rather than to the technique.  Using one's knitting skills, say, with wire instead of yarn, may seem too conceptual or arid.  (Also it may hurt the hands.)

But I'd still love to see more work like this, to push the boundaries of what we think of as fiber art, to be a little more edgy, to take a few more risks.  Maybe next year.

What do you think?

Sunday, August 13, 2017

My favorite things 33

Many years ago, the League of Women Voters saved my life.  I was back from three years living in Germany, but feeling like a stranger in the city we had returned to; instead of a young single woman working at an exciting career, I was a slightly less young married woman with an almost-two-year-old, no job and precious little to fill the day besides library books, grocery shopping and changing diapers.  Life seemed not particularly rewarding, it didn't look like that was going to change any time soon, and I was feeling desperate.

My friend Dot Ridings, called me up one day and ordered me to come to a League meeting next week.  The next thing I knew, I had a job doing the newsletter and was thrilled to be able to spend several hours each week with adults talking -- and doing something -- about affairs of substance.

Dot went on to a distinguished run as national president of the League of Women Voters and several other high-power posts in journalism and non-profits, but at the time she too was a young mother, on leave from her own career and searching for something meaningful to fill the gap.  She told me the League had saved her life, and if would save my life, and she was right.

The League became so important to me that after my second child was born, we detoured on the way from the hospital to visit the office before he even got home.  The first child remembers fondly being a brat on camera while I was being interviewed by a TV reporter about voting procedures.  Both children remember stopping off at the polls on the way to or from school so they could be lifted up to "help" me vote; sometimes the whole carpool got to "help."  The League had a little dummy voting machine, about the size of a ream of paper, that I would take to school for demonstrations as election days approached.

Eventually I held practically every job there was on the local board, including president, and when we had a major remodeling job, I rescued this sign from the dumpster, and now it hangs outside my office.  It had hung over the back door of the League building for decades, inviting women to come in and put their formidable, but so often underutilized, talents to work for the public good.  It's hard to remember how quickly society's expectations have changed, how within my own adulthood the majority of educated women did not have paid employment, did not have that many outlets for their energies and intelligence and ambition.

For so many other women, as well as myself, the League -- and other volunteer organizations focused on social change and good works -- was indeed an ENTRANCE to a world in which our skills and energies were developed and appreciated.  I treasure those years of volunteer work and the organization that was, and is, almost always on the right side of every issue.  Would that today's political scene still valued the informed participation of citizens in government.

Friday, August 11, 2017

What's the opposite of an artist?

So often a day late and a dollar short, I just saw among the "most read features" in the New York Times one called "What Is Your Opposite Job?"  Somebody thought to tap into the Labor Department's breakdown of the skills and tasks required for every job, and make an interactive feature where you can enter your job and learn the "polar opposite."

Not sure why you would want to know this, although the article suggests that "breaking a job into its component parts helps us look beyond the obvious and think clearly about the things that people actually do."

So I typed "quilter" into the box, and got no results.  Apparently nothing starting with Q is on the Labor Department's list of occupations.  Typed "sewing" in and chose "sewing machine operator" and when I selected that, my opposite job popped up -- chief executive!  Ouch!  So perhaps that explains why my corporate career stopped three levels away from CEO -- it was because my sewist's "ability to quickly and precisely adjust controls on a machine" is hardly ever used by CEOs.  (Maybe that's why my personal CEO always had to holler for his secretary to retrieve his voice mail.)

Intrigued, I tried "fine artist, including painter, sculptor and illustrator"  and "craft artist" -- and the opposite job for each of these was physicist.  Apparently "thinking creatively," "originality," "visualization" and "fluency of ideas," all skills that artists allegedly use the most, mean nothing in physics.  (Tell that to Einstein.)

But then I scrolled back to the top of the article and found these teasers:  "The opposite job of a kindergarten teacher is a physicist."  "The opposite job of a chief executive is an agricultural grader (whatever that is)."

So following the rules of logic, if this algorithm has any substance to it, you would expect that "fine artist," "craft artist" and "kindergarten teacher" all have the same skill set, and that "sewing machine operator" and "agricultural grader (whatever that is)" have the same skill set.  Hmmm.  Actually when you look at the skill lists, artists and teachers have zero items in common.  Kindergarten teachers, for instance, apparently have "geography" and "philosophy and theology" among their top ten skills, whereas you may have noticed most artists don't.

On the other hand, it gives me, and perhaps many other sewing machine operators, a certain degree of comfort to know that this is our polar opposite:

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Form, Not Function 4 -- more machine quilting

More machine quilting that I liked in the FNF show --

Barbara Nepom, Emergent (detail below)

The contrast of diamond-shaped puffy unquilted areas with perfectly regular straight lines gave some excitement to a calm composition.

Erika Carter, Refresh IV (detail below)

Dense echo quilting in the background, sparser meanders on the flower forms made the flowers stand out.  The quilt won an honorable mention.

Deborah Hyde, Sam in Sunlight (detail below)

For the second year in a row, Deborah's clever technique of letting a portrait emerge from a traditional around-the-world piecing pattern wowed FNF viewers.  The composition alone is worthy of admiration, but more subtle is the use of quilting to complement both pictorial and geometric elements. Contour quilting emphasized the facial features and helped them emerge from the background, while geometric quilting lines flattened the other areas and made them more like a traditional quilt.

Several posts to go before I exhaust the possibilities in this excellent show.  It's on display at the Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany IN through September 16.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

My favorite things 32

I received a Cuisinart for Christmas 1979.  Food processors were relatively new consumer items and I felt like a daring early adopter; didn't take long for the little machine to become an essential part of my life. It also didn't take long for the new models of the machine to start getting "upgraded" with features and gewgaws that I read about in ads and didn't think I would like.

By 1992 I had started to worry that my machine would some day die, and would I then have to buy one of these overpriced, over-accessorized models then on the market?  In particular, I had noticed that the new models were engineered to save me from myself, with convoluted "safety features" that would, for instance, not allow me to push new basil leaves into the machine while it was running, thus doubling the time to make a batch of pesto.

Fortunately my mother was downsizing, and had never loved her Cuisinart (the very same model as mine) enough to take it with her to the retirement community, so I called dibs on it.  Imagine my dismay when she and my sister phoned one afternoon to update me on their packing up the house, and they told me they had taken the Cuisinart to the Goodwill store that morning!  My shriek could have been heard in Virginia without the telephone.  They got in the car, went back to the Goodwill and ransomed the Cuisinart, which made its way to me.

Sure enough, my machine died one day, but I was able to haul Mom's machine out of the closet and set it to work.  I also ended up with two bowls, two tops, four blades and two pushers, which has forever made it easier to work without having to stop and wash up.

But the poor dear Cuisinart is showing its age.  I have no idea what I did to put that horrible burn/melt onto the pusher.  The bowls have ominous striations that look like the plastic wants to shred under stress; some of the little hooks and tabs that lock the bowl and top together have broken off; the spring sometimes sticks in the ON position instead of releasing when I turn the top; one of the plastic blades broke earlier this year; the cord has electrical tape wrapped around where it comes out of the base.  I figured this sort of thing happens in old age, but the Cuisinart, like me, would continue to soldier on despite aches and pains.

But last week something really bad happened.  I affixed the bowl to the base and the machine turned on, even though the bowl hadn't been turned into place to trip the switch.  The little red spot, right above the second I in Cuisinart, is a plastic membrane that protects a switch underneath; the vertical tube on the bowl has a spring-loaded piston that is supposed to depress whatever lies underneath the red membrane.  But it seems that the red membrane has disintegrated into cruddy bits, and that seems to be enough to render the switch permanently ON.

What to do now?  I made pesto the other night by inserting and pulling the plug out of the wall to turn the machine on and off.  Worked OK, but I feel vulnerable, especially when a spark flies upon pulling.  I guess life has really and truly run out for my wonderful machine.  I am too depressed even to start to research what is available in food processor technology these days; I'm afraid it will be just like in the late 80s, way too many protect-you-from-yourself features and way too expensive.  User testimonials welcome.

I do know one thing -- I have to figure out a way to incorporate this machine, or at least some of its parts, into my art.  It's been too close to my heart, too necessary to my life, for almost 40 years to just deposit it in the recycle bin.

Friday, August 4, 2017

QBL leftovers

The last time I taught a multi-day workshop I had the idea to ask my students to each give me a couple of leftover bits from their projects, and I sewed them together into a little souvenir quilt.  I enjoyed that exercise so much that I wanted to do it again at Quilting By the Lake.  But this time instead of asking for contributions, I decided to simply go around and raid the scrap bags at each table.

The last three days of the workshop were fine line piecing, but the scrap bags didn't acquire many bits with fine lines; I think many people packed up everything on their worktables to take home and finish their projects.  So most of the scraps I rescued were simply strips and pieces of solids.

I got a lot of piecing done during the workshop, and by the time I came home I had perhaps two-thirds of this quilt sewed, or in large modules ready to put together.  But scraps breed in the dark, you know, and whenever I thought I was about finished I would realize that there was still quite a bit of fabric there.

You can see how I added several long strips on various edges, expanding from the original center of about eight rectangular modules.

And you can also see how the quilt gained a final border when I found Jayne's scrap bag, which I had stowed in a separate place in my car and didn't come inside until yesterday.  Jayne had pitched a substantial chunk of maroon fabric with fine orange lines, which I cut up to make the dark borders.  There wasn't quite enough to go all the way around, so the top border is quite a bit more random than the other three, not to mention a half-inch narrower.

When I got the quilt this far I had to admit this was the end.  All I had left was a pile of truly miscellaneous scraps, mostly too narrow to accomplish much with.

I sorted through and found a small pile of pieces large enough to do something with, bagged them up neatly and put away.

And then -- yes, I did -- I threw the rest away!!  The old Kathy would have dumped them into a grocery bag and stashed it underneath the worktable, just as I kept three bags of scraps salvaged from other people's throwaways for two and a half years after my last trip to the Crow Barn.  The new Kathy pitched this whole pile (not without a few second thoughts....)

Thursday, August 3, 2017

How-to -- the long version

Reading the New York Times this morning I came upon an article headlined "How to Go Makeup-Free to Beat the Heat."  Because "summer's heat and humidity make a face full of makeup feel oppressive.  But how to go without?"

Having decided to go makeup-free when I retired, I thought the answer would be pretty simple: just say no.

Silly me.  Turns out that in order to give up your makeup you might need to do all kinds of substitute routines or advance preparations.  Such as:

-  Laser treatments to remove your dark spots

-  Pulsed light treatments to implode your spider veins

-  Microneedling to shrink pores and build collagen.

-  Botox to shrink pores.

-  Rhofade cream to reduce red veins

-  Injections of hyaluronic acid filler under your eyes to puff out skin and eliminate baggy circles (aka "tear trough correction")

-  Chemical peel to take away excess melanin under your eyes and eliminate dark circles

-  Injection of "semipermanent fillers" to smooth wrinkles and camouflage bumps

-  Latisse serum to give you thicker, longer, darker eyelashes

-  Eyelash extensions  

-  Microblading, a tattoo procedure that simulates eyebrow hairs.

Of course, there are tradeoffs.  Many of these approaches require several sessions.  Some are painful.  Rhofade and Latisse require prescriptions.  And almost all of the treatments are expensive, whether done by a dermatologist, plastic surgeon or makeup artist.  

Having read this article for you, I will offer my own bottom line: just say no.  If you feel that your naked face looks too awful to go out in public, take it into your studio and make art.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Form, Not Function 3 -- machine quilting

Most of the quilts in Form, Not Function are machine quilted, which isn't really surprising (what surprised me was how many quilts had both machine and hand quilting).  But few of them had what I might describe as fancy quilting -- most of them simply had parallel lines of straight stitching, or perhaps two sets of parallel lines to make a grid.

I'm not one to poke fun at this method of quilting, since it's my default design, but I did think that some of the quilts in the show would have benefited from a little higher degree of complexity or pattern in the quilting.

The only really masterwork quilting in the show was done by Sandra Palmer Ciolino, whose very large quilt won an Award of Excellence presented by River City Fiber Artists.

Sandra Ciolino, Precaria #8: Crucible  (details below)

Sandy is well known for her wonderful free-motion quilting, in which she frequently changes designs as she moves from one part of the quilt to another.  And this quilt did not disappoint.

I also liked the machine quilting on Beth Schnellenberger's quilt, which won the Inspired by Nature Award, presented by Juanita Yeager.

Beth Schnellenberger, Scorched Earth (detail below)

More quilting in tomorrow's post....

Monday, July 31, 2017

The grammar queen is not amused

From the Associated Press today:

"Officials say a Spirit Airlines flight leaving Las Vegas was briefly delayed after a passenger removed all their clothes while boarding...."

OK, I do not condone, but I do understand, using "their" as a singular pronoun when you don't know the gender of the antecedent person.

I find it difficult to imagine that excuse applying in this situation.

More from QBL

After two days of Improvisational Strip Piecing, my workshoppers at Quilting By the Lake moved on to three days of Fine Line Piecing.  Although I've taught this technique in many different formats, ranging from one day to five, I'm always happiest with three or more days so people have the chance to explore both "large-to-small" and "small-to-large" approaches. And I was really proud of the work people did last week!

As usual, the last day of a longer workshop often is marked by people sewing as fast as they can, wishing they could finish up before it's time to pack up and go home.  Some people did finish attractive compositions, as shown below:

Others stopped in midstream and I'm hoping they'll (a) finish up their pieces when they get home and (b) send me pictures!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

My favorite things 31

My older son is a largely self-taught wizard of all things useful, and many of his talents have shown up as artwork, mostly of the Arte Povera genre.  Here's one of his earliest productions, dating back to his career as a beginning welder.

It's a pair of sculptures, made from coat hangers.  I have always been in awe of artists who can masterfully come up with the simplest line that perfectly depicts what they're trying to draw.  George Washington clearly qualifies in that regard.

The second sculpture is actually a mobile, because the spectacles are balanced on a notch on the support.  It's too heavy to move in the breeze, and besides there isn't much of a breeze on the lower level of my cocktail cart where these pieces live, but when you pick it up or touch it it will wobble endearingly but always regain its balance.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Strip piecing at QBL

I'm teaching at Quilting By The Lake this week, two days of strip piecing and three of fine lines.  I was really pleased with the compositions that people did with strip piecing!

First, each person made six strip-pieced panels according to specified color recipes.

Then they cut up and reassembled the panels.  Some started at the edges and worked inward, while others went from the bottom up.

Some people cut their panels on the diagonal, some stuck to rectangles.  Two very different feelings.

Lots of good work!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Pixels and show entries

I had a back-and-forth the other day with somebody who was trying to get images onto a website, trying to clear up some confusion about how high the resolution needed to be.  After that question was settled, she wrote me back and talked about her frustration with trying to enter a juried show through CaFE.

"CaFE requires a pretty small file to be uploaded.  I don't remember the exact size, but I know that I was disappointed with how the photo looked when I tried to zoom in.  Of course, they also allow a detail shot.  Is this how things normally work when entering photos of artwork to be judged?  Why can't I send my 2 to 4 MB awesome photo for clarity and detail at the thread level?  Could you answer this or write a blog?"

OK, I'll take a shot!  The disclaimer: I'm not a computer geek, so those who are may correct me on the details.  But I know I'm right on the overall concept.

First off, some definitions.  Resolution is a technical term that way predates the invention of digital images; it stems from the printing industry, where photographs were translated into tiny dots of ink instead of the continuous tone of the original photo paper.  Much like pixels in a computer.  The more dots or pixels, the crisper and clearer the image.

If you have a certain number of dot/pixels in your image, it may or may not be enough to give you good resolution -- that is, a nice crisp, clear image.  Here's a photo of adorable baby Vivian, sized to a relatively stingy 100 pixels across.  If we display/print it as a tiny thumbnail, it looks OK.

100 pixels wide
But if we stretch it out to huge, we lose the definition.

100 pixels wide

Printers would deal with this issue by talking about dots per inch.  Tiny Vivian's 100 pixels are spread over a bit more than an inch, yielding 80 dpi, while large Vivian's pixels have to go farther, only 17 per inch.

So dpi is not an absolute term; it's totally relative to the size at which you display or print the image.

Why then do a lot of show sponsors specify that an image needs to be so many dpi?  Because they don't really know what they're talking about. Point 1 about misunderstanding: don't think about dpi when you're preparing your images for submission or posting.  Think about pixels.

OK -- how many pixels are we talking about?  Your point-and-shoot digital camera probably produces images 3000 to 4000 pixels wide.  A cellphone camera might give you 4600 pixels.

So why don't we just submit those big, data-rich images to the show and let the jurors zoom in for close views as they wish?  Two reasons: one technical, one human.

First, because too much data takes longer to transmit (from you to the site, or from the site to the jurors) and bogs down the server. And if you're looking at an image on a computer screen, you probably can't tell the difference between a 4000-pixel photo and an 800-pixel photo, so why even collect all that extra data?  (Maybe your computer will let you zoom your view of the two photos below and see how big you have to go before the lower one gets a whole lot nicer than the upper one; I had to go to 250% before the 800-pixel image started to break apart.)

800 pixels wide

3024 pixels wide

Second, because jurors don't want to take the time to zoom in here and there and everywhere searching for something or other, and because they don't want the responsibility of choosing which part to zoom in on -- they want the artist to choose the detail that is most telling.

Side note:  as a longtime juror, I can testify that your choice of detail shot is extremely important in making your submission attractive.  We can talk more about that in another post if anybody is interested.

Sometimes show rules will specify two or three different measurements.  There's almost always a pixel rule:  the image must be 1800 pixels on its longest side, or it must be at least 1200 pixels, or it can be no more than 1800 pixels.   That's the rule I look at, and the rule by which I resize my photos.  I always submit the most pixels I can, on general principles, just in case the image is going to be projected on a big screen for jurors to look at.

Sometimes there will be an additional rule about the image size in MB.  But here's point 2 about misunderstanding: the size of your photo in MB has nothing to do with the resolution.  It is simply a measure of how much data is stuffed into the package.  For instance, if you have futzed with an image in Photoshop, perhaps to remove a stray thread in your detail shot or lose a distracting bit of the background wall, it may end up with more data than it started out with.  The only reason show sponsors would need to specify a maximum size in MB has to do with their system: too much data takes up too much space and time.  But my suspicion is that it's much like the dpi rule, sponsors who don't know what they're talking about, and specifying the size in pixels would accomplish almost exactly the same thing.

But if you see a MB rule, check the size of your image.  If it's too big, you can either resize the image to include fewer pixels, or if your photo editing program allows it, you can choose a lower degree of resolution.  Photoshop Elements, for instance, allows you to save a 3024 x 4032 image at 100 quality (4 MB) or at 75 quality (2.36 MB) or at 60 quality (1.82 MB), or any other number you type in.  Again, if I have to lose bytes, I'll work downward, trying different settings, until I'm just barely below the rule.

And finally, sometimes there will be an additional rule about the image size in dpi.  If they have already specified a pixel rule, just ignore anything they have to say about dpi.  Remember, pixels are absolute; dpi is totally dependent on the use to which the image is put.  People who ask for both don't know what they're talking about.  At best, such a rule is redundant; at worst it's confusing and contradictory.

I hope this explanation helps.  Ask more questions if you want and I'll do my best to answer them!