Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Light's Inside of Me

Heaven on earth.  That's what I think of when I see clouds reflected in standing water on the ground.

Here's my latest effort to capture this image:

Today and for the next several days, I'll be working on my monthly free-lance legal research and writing gig for the Society for Human Resource Management.  But when I'm not on that, I'm gonna be on this.

Working on these images is going to get me through the winter.  Who needs Florida?  The light's inside of me.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Today in Art

 It's a snowy Saturday, and I'm taking the time to finish my first two pieces of 2015.  Both of these two new pieces were begun in 2014, and both are images of sand ripples.  I love the sinuous patterns left in the sand when the tide retreats, and images of those ripples, and of Cape Cod in general, are going to get me through this winter.

Low Tide, Eastham is ready to be put on stretcher bars and sit for its portrait with photographer Joe Rubin.

It's a whole cloth quilt, which means it's one big piece, not made of lots of smaller pieces.  It's one big piece of Pima cotton, painted with Inktense pencils.  I used a technique called thread painting to pick out details in the water and in the background, but you can't see them in this photo. You'll be able to see them after Joe takes a shot.

Eastham Low Tide is based on this photo, which I love enough to use as my Facebook wallpaper:

Until Joe gets a moment to mount and photograph it, Low Tide Eastham waits on the dining room table.

Sand and Sky is also ready to be mounted on stretcher bars:

This piece consists of a small square quilt mounted on a larger felted piece.  The small square quilt is raised, with a technique called trapunto, so that it looks like the actual ripples left in the sand by the retreating tide.

You can see how I made it, pulling puffy white yarn through sewn channels representing the sand ripples:

The larger felted piece represents the sky when the patterns in the clouds resemble the sand ripples.
 I just finished adding the last details to the clouds today, using curly roving called curly locks.

I deliberately folded the felted piece, rumpled one of its corners, and left another corner to turn up.

When these new pieces have sat for their formal portraits, I'll put them in the quilt gallery on this blog, where they'll have pride of place as my two newest creations...and the practice that's going to get me through the winter.

Monday, January 5, 2015

What happens when the days get dark

This past December, I participated in the Shifting Light Photo a Day spiritual practice, under which participants would receive a prompt of a single word each day, and some time during that day, take a photo of something the word brings to mind, and post the photo on the Shifting Light group page on Facebook. 

The practice helped bring me up out of my internal clouds at this darkest time of year.  I wrote this piece about my experience at the prompting of Rev. Cathy Rion-Starr of the Unitarian Society of Hartford, and shared it from the pulpit on January 4, 2015. 

Thoughts on the Shifting Light Practice

It’s hard to feel much enthusiasm for this time of year, as the landscape becomes drab and the days short and bleary. So I welcomed the Shifting Light practice as an opportunity to go out of my way to look for beauty in the natural world, and for that beauty to pull me out of the mildly depressed winter funk into which I might otherwise have descended.

Noticing the natural world is an ongoing absorption of mine, and photos of the sky, my garden, sand ripples, sun on water and paths in the woods crowd my electronic photo library and inform my work as a fiber artist.  But noticing the natural world is, well, natural, in a place of natural
beauty, like Cape Cod, 

or even my garden.

It’s much more of a challenge to extract and relish the beauty of nature once winter sets in, with its biting temperatures and bleak monochromatic palette.

And so I’m challenged to look for beauty at this time of year, and resentful that it is a challenge.

Especially so right now, in December of 2014, because my sister Jerol, who is the only remaining sister of the three I once had, fell down some stairs in the wee hours of November 15 and ended up with traumatic brain injuries from which she has yet to emerge into full consciousness.  I spend a lot of time worrying about her.  I also spend a lot of time driving to see her in the rehabilitation center where she’s currently a patient, which is in Lake Katrine, New York, two hours away.

The drive to Lake Katrine goes through some of Connecticut’s prettiest country, where the landscape tilts upward and melds into the gentle foothills of the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts and the Catskill mountains of New York State. 

But this one particular day, as a compassionate friend made the trip with me, transporting me in her car for the four hours it took to get there and back, I was having none of it.  Bleak, bleak, bleak was all I saw in the endless road with its scenery of broken cornstalks and dark ponds.

It took my friend in the driver’s seat to get me to notice that the trees were covered with white lace that day, snow that had fallen overnight and had not yet melted in the daylight—rare enough, as the snow on the tiny twigs is always the first to melt.  It took my friend to point out the fairy landscape, all the more beautiful because of its evanescently transitory nature.  And so, for the rest of that drive, I gloried  in that beauty, and on the way back, as twilight turned the hills over the Hudson lavender and periwinkle, and a few stray flakes crossed the headlights, I reveled in it again.

The point for me is how much we stand to gain from others in our spiritual quests.  By nature, I’m a vertical worshiper—the spiritual uplift is a direct path from me to nature and the spirit of the universe.  Horizontal worship—drawing spiritual strength from others on the same plane—is less my style.  But when something like this happens, I recognize the power and potential of people in a group to shine one another’s spirits in such a way that they share in something outside, and larger than, themselves.

In my Catholic religion classes, I learned that Jesus said “I am the vine and you are the branches.”  By that he meant that we have an indwelling spirit as a commonality among us.  When I got to law school, a trial practice expert told my class of his belief that when jurors retreated into a jury room, a spirit made up of themselves, but larger, would arise among them, informing their debates.
Which, I think, are two different ways of talking about the value and strength of community.  And that’s part of the point of the Shifting Light practice: drawing strength from one another in these darkest days.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The New Normal: Focusing on the Fixable

Many folks know these days that my sister Jerol remains marginally conscious with a traumatic brain injury caused by a fall on November 15.  If I'm not making the four hour round trip to visit Jerol at the rehabilitation facility where she's currently a patient, then I'm worrying about her.  Sometimes I'm doing both at once.

Whether I'm worrying or not, it's Christmas, not to mention Hanukkah, and I feel compelled to make an effort, if minimal, to acknowledge the season.

I haven't been able to  bring myself to deck my front hall this year.  Usually this bannister is swagged with garlands punctuated with gauzy gold bows.

I put the garlands on the bannister only because Jerol forces me to do it on the day after Thanksgiving.  I complain about the necessity and expectation of decorating for the holiday and Jerol says that if I want her to help I better do it while she's there visiting for Thanksgiving. And thus it gets done.

This year, no Jerol, no complaining, no garlands.

Plus, Joe and I got a tree--half-size this year to keep it away from our rambunctious puppy, Duncan--but have not been able to bring ourselves to decorate it.

The only room where I feel capable of creating any kind of holiday spirit is the dining room, where a dozen friends and family will be occupying the table a couple of times a day for a couple of days.  Here at least, in the room that will see the most use, I  could put down the holiday table topper. I made one in 2005.

This year, I put it on the table and decided it looked awful. The top and the bottom have never been flush with one another and always lie rumpled on the table.  That's because I never bothered to quilt this item.  I made the top, then layered it with the bottom, both of then with their right sides out, and no batting in between.  The bottom was 3" larger than the top on all sides around so that the extra fabric could be folded over double into a self-hem. The two pieces, top and bottom, were sewn together only at this edge.  No wonder it never stayed together right.

Every year when I lay that topper on my table for the winter, I wince at the wrinkles but, immersed in making the holiday happen, I give that chore a "Yeah, right, as if," because fixing it means taking it apart, squaring and evening out the top and bottom, and resewing them to one another, adding a layer of batting between them for stability, and finally giving it a decent binding.

This was the year. 

I may not be able to fix Jerol, and I may not have enough holiday spirit to decorate my house and my tree, but I can straighten out this crumpled mess.  Have you ever known anyone who loves to iron?  I know a couple of people who do.  I can understand the appeal of being able to smooth something out with such ease.

So I took the table topper apart, put it on my cutting table, and evened out the top and bottom, inserting a layer of batting in between. 

I got the quilt sandwich even and square, then quilted it in the ditch in only a couple of places, just enough to hold the three layers together.  At 58 inches square, it got pretty heavy once the third layer was added.  I made a simple binding and put it on the table.

Straightened and uncrumpled, with the waves removed from its edges, it looks so much better.  And I feel so much better having fixed it.  It's worth the effort of proper construction, and it's worth preserving.

I have to tell you that as I worked, with the the weight of mortality never far from my mind,  it occurred to me that my daughters will end up with this table topper after I'm gone.  That's not morbid, that's reality.

The new normal:  focusing on the fixable.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Life, Going On

These days, many friends know that my sister Jerol, who is the last survivor of the three sisters who were on this earth when I was born, sustained traumatic brain injuries in a fall on November 15, 2014, and has been mostly unconscious ever since.

Heartache over her condition has kept me away from the blogosphere for a few weeks...until now.

Jerol opened her eyes yesterday, for the first time since November 15, and obeyed simple verbal commands.

This is major.  Major for Jerol, major for the family, and major for me, as it will perhaps start to dissipate the black cloud of despair I've been carrying around inside me since November 15.  I'm planning to drive to Lake Katrine to see Jerol again as soon as I can, bearing an I-Pod loaded with fifties hits, the better to spark those synapses. 

Meanwhile, I feel I can let out my breath and take the time to show you what I've been doing while worrying about Jerol:

I finished this piece, which I'm calling Fragile Ties.  This is my first foray into two new techniques:  collage quilting and thread painting.  I find both processes absorbing and challenging

This piece is part of an exhibit at the Hartford Public Library, presented by the CT Fiber Arts Collective, which was just hung the other day.  The show honors the library's recent acquisition of two large collages by African-American artist Romare Bearden and takes as its twin themes jazz and  the civil rights movement.

Here's Linda Martin with her stunning portrait of Martin Luther King, which she also did in the collage style

Christina Blais with pieced letters

Here are all but three of the members of the CtFiber Arts Collective at the Hartford Public Library.  L-r Carol Vinick, Linda Martin, Karen Loprete, Diane Cadrain, Christina Blais, Antonia Torres and Rosalind Spann.  Missing:  Carol Eaton, Mary Lachman, Wanda Seldon.

Everybody is invited to the opening, Saturday January 17 from 1 to 3 p.m.

What else is happening?  Our daughters have brought some new significant others into our family, and those important people will be with us for Christmas, so of course they must have Christmas stockings. I went to Pier One and bought a couple of handsome ones, but then I had second thoughts about the price tags.  So I decided to make a pattern from one of them, return them to the store, and make my own homemade versions.

So I did.

I laid the stocking out on some lightweight nonwoven material printed with a 1" grid.

I found some fabric in my stash and used that pattern to make these stockings:

 The one on the right is herringbone wool with a silk cuff. The one on the left is made of home decorator fabric.

They're both lined.  I hope you're impressed.

Outside our house, Joe Rubin put some holiday decorations up today:

I give him a lot of credit because he wasn't feeling very well . He has a bit of a cold.  I don't know how he does it.  I must say I did hear him mutter "Poop!" as he did this.  But it wasn't "poop."

He's a mensch!

So, life has gone on, Jerol is getting better, stockings are made if not hung, the black cloud is dissipating, and happiness is leaking in.

Art, History and Social Activism: CtFAC Honors Romare Bearden

Date: On display December 17, 2014-March 13, 2015
Location: Downtown Library 3rd Floor Gallery

In honor of the recent arrival of two spectacular Romare Bearden murals at Hartford Public Library, The Connecticut Fiber Arts Collective (CtFAC) presents a special exhibit that pays homage to the stylistic works of Bearden, his commitment to civil rights and his contributions to the African-American jazz and art communities. CtFAC has created a collection of works in textiles, fiber, mixed media and surface design celebrating and recognizing one of the greatest visual artists of the 20th century.

A special reception to meet the artists of CtFAC will be held on January 17, 2015, 1:00 p.m.-3:00 p.m. in the 3rd floor Hartford History Center. This event is free and open to the public. - See more at:

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Background Check

I'm soliciting opinions.

I've finished this image of two pairs of hands, created in a collage style, for an upcoming exhibit at the Hartford Public Library. 

 Now I have to figure out what to do about the background for the hands, and I'm asking for opinions.

What about a plain background of one piece of fabric?  It would be quilted in some manner, of course:

Or what about a strip-pieced background like this?  Too busy?

Or what about a plain background, but with the central image offset in some way?

The offset portion wouldn't have to be squarer--it could be vaguely circular, with its edges following a pattern in the batik.

What if the offset portion had some bells and whistles, like triangles?

I'm leaning toward the plain background, offset with another color, but without the triangles, which I think detract.

What do you think of these ideas?  Can you think of any other kind of background?

To everybody who shares their views:  a big thank you!

Adventures in Thread-Painting

Ever since I took a course in the art of thread painting at Snow Farm, a Massachusetts art center, on Columbus Day weekend 2014, I've been eager to try out my newly-acquired, and still raw, skill.

I decided to use it on my fabric image of these hands, an amazing photo that came my way that same Columbus Day weekend when each of the teachers at Snow Farm presented a slide show demonstrating her work and its development.  The basketry teacher, Jackie Abrams, showed this image of her hands teaching basketry in Namibia.  Jackie's daughter Dani, who was serving there in the Peace Corps at that time, took the photo.  I knew this stunning image would be perfect for an upcoming quilt show to be presented by the Connecticut Fiber Arts Collective, of my quilting groups, at the Hartford Public Library.  The show will take civil rights as one of its themes.  I asked Jackie, and through her, Dani, for permission to use it, and gratefully received that permission.

I set out to reproduce these hands in a collage quilt style taught by quilt artist Susan Carlson

After one false start, this was the result of my efforts.  Once the hands were put together, I intended to thread paint the images because I had just learned the skill, and because I thought that the thread-painting might highlight the lights and darks and thus enhance dimensionality..

Here are some before and after images.

Have I done this image any favors by adding the thread painting?  In some cases it eases the transition between pieces of different colors.  In others, it accentuates shadows or highlights. It certainly enhances the dark outlines where the fingers come together.

Has the thread painting enhanced this one?  I admit my photo isn't the best. but at least you can see how I tried to enhance the shadow on the lower right part of the hand.  What did it add?

Did I do this one any favors by covering up those batiks with thread painting?  I wanted to enhance the darkness of the skin. 

This hand, I can say, was enhanced by the thread painting, because it enabled me to show the wrinkles in the skin:

This shows all four hands, after thread painting. 

The thread painting is done, and I'm not proposing to pull it out.  But I'm not sure of its effectiveness in all cases.

Next: what kind of background?