Monday, January 25, 2016

Pit Bulls and Praises

Today at the Chrysalis Center,, Kenny was all set to make a portrait of his pit bull, Truck.  We'd both planned on it, and Kenny told me he would bring in a photo of Truck to go by.

Just in case he didn't remember, I downloaded images of pit bulls in full face view.
I even traced the outline of this one onto a piece of felt, figuring that it would be a start, even if it wasn't Kenny's dog.

But Kenny remembered, and came in with a photo of Track.  He was able to work with the outline I'd made for him,and he started making a felted portrait of his dog.

While he worked, Kenny told me about cooking, and his experiences with it, in his own family and in the cafeteria kitchen at Chrysalis.  That kind of kitchen can be a hazardous workplace.  My own mother worked in school cafeteria kitchens for decades and always came home with huge burns on her arms and scrapes on her legs.  Once she fell sideways on or into something and had abrasions all up and down that side.  

Kenny also told me he'd been in Desert Storm, and described the experience of watching a buddy die nearby in an explosion.

Based on this conversation, I have to conclude that the military is a more hazardous workplace than an industrial kitchen.

Kenny made a great start on a felted image of Truck.  Here he is with Electa, an old friend of his and another Chrysalis kitchen worker.

Meanwhile, in another part of the room, someone else was making a felted valentine, and quietly, at the next table, Danovan Andrew Rhule, who goes by Andrew, worked on an image of a dove for his Global Ministries.  GM.  Andrew praises the Lord with music. 

He also has a musical West Indian lilt.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Trying and Trying


All this trying and trying.  It's  pretty trying.

Today's challenge:  trying to use fiber to show the strange and beautiful pods of the golden rain tree, koelreuteria paniculata.


There's no question that the pods are dramatic:

They can be two different colors, depending on the tree, but the tree on which my work is modeled, which grows in the atrium of a Unitarian-Universalist church in San Antonio, Texas, seems to develop the lighter-colored ones.

Aren't they lovely?

But their loveliness turned out to be confounding, as I was unable to live up to it.

I set out to reproduce the pods in silk, and not just any silk, but slubbed silk in two different colors, rose and ivory.  I tried and tried.  I outlined the delicate magenta veins on the pods, first with fabric marker, then with thread.

From among these, I chose the most symmetrical, cut them out, leaving a turning allowance, and very carefully hand-appliqued them to the square for the golden rain tree, which represents fall.
On the left hand side of this square, the top half represents the flowers of the golden rain tree and the bottom half the pods.

But I thought these silk pods, made over the course of the better part of a day, were weak, and so did my husband Joe, I guess, because he tactfully suggested that they gave the piece a folk-art look, and suggested photo transfer as an alternative.

And so it was to be.  We enlarged the image of the pods on the tree in San Antonio, then tailored that image to the size of the space it was to occupy on the stole.

 Here's the altered image, with the silk appliques removed and replaced by the photo transfer of the actual pods.  Ignore the seam allowances; this patch is going to end up smaller than it appears here.

I should have known I wouldn't be equal to the delicate beauty of nature as expressed in the pods of the golden rain tree.  I had to let the tree speak for itself:  arbor ipsa loquitur.

So another effort draws to a conclusion.

All this trying and trying.

It's pretty trying.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Project that Stole my Week

This stole project has stolen my week.  But I'm loving it.

I've been commissioned to make  a liturgical stole to mark the installation of a new minister at a Unitarian-Universalist congregation in San Antonio, Texas.  The congregation has asked that the stole somehow represent the four seasons, as symbolized by four trees in the atrium of the congregational building:  Yaupon holly (ilex vomitoria) for winter, redbud (cercis) for spring, crape myrtle (lagerstroemia) for summer, and golden rain tree (koelreuteria paniculata) for fall.

To reflect those seasons, the stole will be reversible, with one side representing fall and spring and the other winter and summer.  Last week I finished piecing the fall and spring sides, and this week I  finished piecing the winter-summer side.

The trees themselves will be represented by a patch at the bottom of each side.  I've just finished the patches for winter and summer.
Winter patch
This patch shows Yaupon holly, the tree for winter.  On the right, I used photo transfer for an image of the tree as it appears in the atrium. On the other side, I made a closeup of leaves and berries, first sprinkling fabric confetti on the background then sewing down big berries and embroidering smaller ones.  For the leaves, I chose the garter stitch leaf pattern from Nicky Epstein's Knitted Embellishments

Image result for nicky epstein knitted embellishments
But I had to go through a lot of different patterns and colors of yarn before I chose that pattern and that color.
I chose the garter stitch leaf because I thought it came closest to representing the serrated leaves of Yaupon holly.  They don't look quite like the holly we associate with Christmas.

The patch on the bottom of the summer side shows a crape myrtle growing in the congregational atrium. 

I was challenged by the flowers of this one because this tree grows its flowers in panicles of florets, millions of them.

I did my best with silk ribbon and pearl cotton.

 So the winter and summer patches are done.  Now I'll turn to the autumn and spring patches.  Wish me luck: how am I going to show the pods of the golden rain tree?

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Chalice challenge

 I had no idea it was going to be that tricky.

When I learned that there was to be an image of a chalice, and not just any chalice, but a particular chalice, on the nape of the neck of the liturgical stole I'm making, I thought, no problem, I'll just take a photo of the chalice, and print it out, and cut out the shape and use it trace it onto dark blue fabric and use paints for the highlights.

Wrong.  SO wrong.

Okay, that didn't work, I thought.  So I'll try thread painting on silk.  I'll just take that chalice shape and trace it onto some beautiful dark blue silk and use thread to outline the shape and fill in the highlights.  And it will be beautiful.

Again:  Wrong.

Nevertheless, I sewed some of these silk images to a background, and was appalled at the results.

Okay, I thought, I'll just practice my thread painting.  Maybe it just takes practice and a steady hand.  So I switched to dark blue synthetic, because it's much less shreddy than silk, and I traced that chalice outline, and I practiced and practiced.

Again:  No.  Just NO.
OK, no problem, I thought, I'll just recreate that image with hand embroidery.

No.  No no no no no.

Surprised at these crude results, I considered two other options.  One would be recreating the image of the chalice on fabric with Inktense pencils.  The other would be using photo transfer to print the image onto fabric, from which it could be appliqueed onto the stole.

I tried the Inktense pencils first.  I treated the fabric with GAC 900, a medium that makes fabric more hospitable to pigment.  When it dried, I recreated the image onto the fabric with Inktense pencils, moistened with more GAC 900 to bring out the colors.

Finally, finally, finally, an image that doesn't embarrass me. So it will be.  I've now recreated this image onto the nape of the neck of both sides of the stole (spring/autumn and winter/summer)

It's been a lot of trial and error, requiring all my studio time over a period of  about two days.

I had no idea it was going to be this tricky.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

In today's liturgy

In today's liturgy, Diane is working on a liturgical stole commissioned by a Unitarian-Universalist congregation in Texas.  It's to be done by the end of this month.

A liturgical stole is a long, narrow garment worn around the neck by Catholic priests and Protestant ministers while conducting religious services.

Like many of the accouterments and accessories of Christian worship, the stole finds its antecedents in Judaic practice, specifically, the prayer shawl or tallis.

I've already made one tallis, a few years ago, for my daughter Julia, who is an ordained cantor in the Jewish faith   I wrote a piece about it for the print publication of the Unitarian-Universalist association, the UU World  You can read about that tallis here:

But I digress.

I've been commissioned to make a liturgical stole for a congregation in Texas, and here's what I have so far.  The right side in the image below represents the fall, and will end in a square piece bearing the image of a golden rain tree.  The left side represents the spring and will end in a square on which I will construct the image of a redbud tree.  These trees grow in the atrium of the congregation's building, in which a total of four trees represent each of the four seasons.

The stole will be reversible, and on its other side, yet to be constructed, the end squares will represent summer (crape myrtle) and winter (yaupon holly).

All four end squares will probably be done in a combination of applique and embroidery.

Also, at the nape of the neck, there is to be a representation of the congregation's iconic chalice.

This project is proceeding apace, and it better, as it must be done by the end of January at the latest.  To my dismay, up until now, there's been a long learning curve, as I floundered while I realized that I did not have the commercial stole pattern I thought I had, and that I would have to make a pattern out of an existing stole.  I borrowed one from one of the reverends of my congregation, the Unitarian Society of Hartford

I stumbled on the portion at the back of the stole where it crosses the back of the neck.  See how it's sticking up in this photo below?

When I flattened it out, I realized that the two arms of the stole are actually at angles to one another.

With the help of the folks at the Sew Inspired quilt shop of Simsbury, Connecticut,  I finally realized that the pattern had to be constructed on the bias.  This matters because bias cuts take up a lot of fabric, which is the opposite of what you might expect with something so long and narrow.  But as store employee Donna Della Camera pointed out, I could separate out the nape of the neck part, and just cut that, and not the whole pattern, on the bias. Thanks, Donna!

Once I wrapped my mind around that construction detail, I used Pellon printed with a 1" grid to construct the pattern accordingly.  I also figured out how to add an extension to the back of the neck to accommodate the image of the chalice.  Here's my husband Joe modeling the extended pattern.

Making that pattern was the hardest part, and it set me back more days than I had counted on.

Once I had that down, though, I went right ahead and used that pattern to cut two foundations of muslin, one for the spring and fall side, the other for the winter and summer side.  These foundations are the bases onto which the colorful strips are sewn.

Now the project is ready for one of the most enjoyable parts of the construction:  sewing the fabric strips to the foundation in a chevron formation.  The joy comes from handling these lovely batiks, juxtaposing their colors, and even relishing the heat of the steam iron I keep close by to press each piece as it's sewn.  Here are the first two sides, spring and fall.
Tomorrow I'll start the side representing winter and summer.

And I did look up today's liturgy.  In the Catholic tradition, the liturgy of the day is from the first book of Samuel, Chapter 3, verses 1 to 10 and 19 to 20.  In this story, Samuel was a sort of servant to a holy man named Eli, and one night, Samuel woke up to hear Eli calling out to him.  When Samuel went to Eli to see what he wanted, Eli said he hadn't called.  This happened two or three times until Samuel finally realized that God was calling to him, and the next time he heard it, he told God to speak because he was listening.  What did God say, and what did Samuel do about it?

Who knows?  All it says about that is,

"Samuel grew up, and the LORD was with him,
not permitting any word of his to be without effect."

Sheesh, what kind of an inconclusive ending is that?

I looked up the  Jewish Torah portion for the week and this one at least had a little more verve.  First, I learned that in Judaism, the readings go by the week, not by the day.  This week's Torah portion, I learned, is Parashat Bo.   Following the provided link,,  I  learned that this is from Chapter 10 of the book of Exodus.  In that reading, God tells Moses and his brother Aaron to go to Pharaoh and share God's complaint that Pharaoh doesn't respect Him.  They go to Pharaoh and complain and even threaten Egypt with locusts if Pharaoh doesn't start respecting God and letting the Jews worship Him.

It goes on from there.

I like my own liturgy better, in which Diane works on a liturgical stole.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Gifts from Rosie

In a late-fall funk, I'm finding I have to make a major effort to reach my spirit out to something larger than myself.  I've been reaching for The Soul's Companion.

I've been using it every day as a way of focusing on issues outside the mundane.  The other day, whn I was roiling with an exquisitely bad mixture of fatigue and anxiety, the day's reading happened to give me an insight that was breathtakingly applicable to the emotional desert of the moment. The reading ended up reframing my day and transforming it into one of deep spiritual enrichment. I'll tell you about that later if you really want to know, but now, I need to say that this book, and the sustenance it provides, are a gift from my friend Rosie, who died in 2010.

Rosie was a quilting companion, and an art companion, and a sojourner along The Artist's Way.

It was in the context of The Artist's Way, a class based on the book by Julia Cameron and offered at the Unitarian Society of Hartford,, that Rosie mentioned The Soul's Companion, saying that she read it every day.  I bought the book on her recommendation, and so the spiritual skyrocket it gave me the other day was a gift from Rosie.  This extension of her influence beyond her death gives her a type of immortality.

Another gift from Rosie:  this apron.

The apron was pristine when I got it, stiff red cotton duck.  I received it when Rosie's husband handed off Rosie's sewing equipment and supplies after her death. 
Rosie had christened it with a stylized graphic of her initials, RWR.  But she kept it pristine, and even though I'd never seen the apron before, I knew why she kept it that way:  It was a hard-won apron.

She got it at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, establishment in Maine to which she had applied multiple times before being accepted into one of their summer programs.  It was an accomplishment that made her proud, and the apron was her emblematic souvenir.

But it wasn't MY emblematic souvenir.  To me it was an artist apron, and I needed one, so when it came to me, I used it. 

 And I know Rosie would be okay with that, because a few months before she died, I had a first: one of my art quilts was accepted into a juried show.  When Rosie learned this, she told me, "You're the real deal." Her statement warmed me, and her confidence in me boosted my own.  I think of this, and of Rosie, and Haystack, whenever I put the apron on, and again, it warms me, every time.

 The Soul's Companion, another Rosie bequest, gave me a bespoke gift of courage and grace the other day, tailor-made to the spiritual and emotional exhaustion I felt at the time.  

I'd just been to the Chrysalis Center, a Hartford nonprofit serving folks with mental illness, substance abuse, and a number of other needs.  I've been teaching fiber arts there once a week, and the experience gets my adrenaline going far in advance and leaves me drained and useless in the aftermath. 

This adrenaline rush makes me feel something like the way I did when my girls were young and I was about to host one of their birthday parties.  I switched myself on to become a fountain of fun and activator of activities.  As activator of activities, I was responsible for all materials and instructions, and as fountain of fun, I was responsible for the having of all fun.  

I would get the same adrenaline buzz before going to the Chrysalis.  And the same drained aftermath.

It was in that post-teaching drainage mode the other day when I read the day's entry in The Soul's Companion, which stated that receiving is a form of giving and advised me to open myself to the gifts of others.  

Then I was able to see my work at Chrysalis as not only an act of giving on my part, but one of receiving, too, when I see folks' reaction to my offerings.  Yes, I'm giving, but look at the results, and those results are my gift in return.

I wouldn't have been able to reframe the day in such a soul-satisfying turn if I hadn't read the November 30 entry in The Soul's Companion, and I wouldn't have read it if not for Rosie.

Rosie, thanks for the book, the apron, and the inspiration.  In those objects and their recurring effects, you live on.