Sunday, December 19, 2010

Completion and catharsis

Today, the second banner, "Growing in God's Grace," is completed and ready to be presented to the United Methodist Church of Hartford.

Next:  an entry for Volusia:  Wrapped in Fiber.  Deadline:  Tuesday, December 21.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Now, it's a quilt!

Now that the quilt top is completed, I layered it with batting and backing and tacked the three layers together.  Then it was time to stitch the layers together.  I decided simply to follow the outlines of the branches.

Wanna know what it was like to cram this whole creation into the tiny throat area of my Viking Lily?
 It was difficult!

But look at the beauty of the stitched outlines on the back.

Once the quilt stitching was in place, the next step was to finish the edges by folding the front edge over the back and carefully hand-sewing it down.
 So, while I was hand-sewing the edge to finish it, I listened to Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay, The American Scholar, on my IPod.  Well, that essay is pretty dense, so I decided I needed to follow along on the printed page as well.  I dug out my old college copy of Emerson (it cost 75 cents), held it open with the coffeepot, and started reading along as I sewed the edge.  Multitasking.
I hope you're impressed.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The creation creeps toward completion

Today I added twigs to the tree, using brown thread and satin stitch.  I also sewed down the edges of all the fused-on branches, as a precaution lest the fusible web dry out over time and leave the branches flapping.
It's almost ready for me to construct the quilt sandwich and then quilt it.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Birth of a Banner: The Saga Continues

The second banner for the United Methodist Church of Hartford is coming along.  Today, I cut out the tree pattern that had been chalked onto the tree fabric before I painted it brown.  Fortunately, the chalk lines were visible through the rust and brown paint, so once I bonded Steam A Seam to the back of the tree pieces, I was able to cut out the tree images on the chalk lines and place it on the prepared background.
But before I could bond the tree to the background, I needed to put the foliage down.  So it was time to choose the greens for the leaves.  Who knew I would have this many green fabrics in my stash?
In the background of this photo you can see the tree image I'm using for design inspiration for this banner.
Next I had to cut those green fabrics into confetti-like pieces to scatter across the blue sky:
At left in the photo above is a photo of one of the murals in the church.  I'm taking my color cues off it and the other two murals in the chancel.
My rotary cutter and Omnigrid ruler were essential for that.  I ended up with piles of tiny pieces. 
Next, I used old towels to transform my cutting table to an ironing board.  Then I spread the blue sky fabric onto the towels and covered it with Misty Fuse,  a heat-activated adhesive with the consistency of a spiderweb.  By putting Misty Fuse onto the sky background, I was providing the glue that would fasten down the confetti-like leaves.

Once the Misty Fuse was down, I could sprinkle the "leaves" onto it.  If I then cover the whole thing with a layer of tulle and apply an iron, the Misty Fuse will melt and bond the leaves and the tulle to the sky background.  Can you see why they call this process "entrapment"?  Many thanks to Laura Curran for teaching me how to do it.
Now the confetti-like leaves are sprinkled on top of an all-but-invisible layer of Misty Fuse, a heat-activated adhesive.

I put a layer of tulle over the leaves because when the Misty Fuse melts, it will bond both the leaves and the tulle to the background, with the tulle holding the leaves in place.

If I didn't cover the whole thing with parchment paper before ironing it, the adhesive would melt directly onto the iron.

So I set my iron to cotton and apply heat with a little elbow grease

Once the leaves were bonded down, I placed the pre-cut tree images over the whole thing and bonded them down.

I think it's looking pretty good.  Next step:  sewing down the trunk and branches, because you never know how long the glue of fusible bonding will last over time.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Working on a new banner

Today I continued work on the second of the three banners I've been commissioned to construct for United Methodist Church, Hartford.  This second banner reifies the concept, "Growing in God's Grace."

Today I taped three pieces of lath to the pattern so I could stand it up and use it to refer to:

This is my full-size pattern with three pieces of lath taped to the back.

Next, I painted the fabric that will comprise the trunk and branches of the tree.  But before I did, I placed the UN-painted white fabric over the pattern and traced the pattern outlines onto the fabric, using a chalk marker.  I wondered whether the outlines on the fabric would show through once I painted the fabric the browns I wanted to use for the tree.

I used the following combinations:
Lighter tan/rust:  yellow/vermilion/violet
Darker tan/rust:  yellow/orient red/violet

I sprayed the fabric lightly with water, then, using a sponge, I applied first the lighter color, then the darker color to give the tree trunk and branches what I hope will be a sort of mottled look.

And look at this!  The chalk lines show through!  Now I won't have to cut out my second copy of the pattern and painstakingly cut it out and trace it onto the painted fabric and then cut out the painted fabric.  This way the pattern is already there under the paint.

To ensure the mottled look, I sprinkled the wet painted fabric lightly with salt.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Death of a Name: Downside of Marriage?

Creating a New Banner

A few months ago, the United Methodist Church of Hartford commissioned me to create a set of three banners, each one illustrating a phrase of the congregation's mission statement.
I completed the first banner, Rooted in God's Love, around Labor Day 2010.  Today I started work on the second banner, which will illustrate the phrase Growing in God's Grace.
I chose an image of a tree for the second banner.  This one looks so alive it's just twisting itself up into the air, and because of the photographer's use of infrared film, the branches and leaves seem bathed in radiance.

I traced part of the image and came up with this:

I brought that to a copy shop and asked them to blow it up to approximately 22 inches by 60 inches.  The result was this pattern, which I glued to poster board to give it some body.  I made two copies, one to cut up and use as an actual pattern, the other to refer to.

The next thing is to color the fabric which will form the background of these intertwining branches.  It'll be blue, of course, for the sky.  I'll use Pebeo Setacolor paints and the technique taught in Mickey Lawler's Skydyes.  Check it out:
But before I put the color onto my white pima cotton cloth, I'm going to place this pattern under the cloth and use a chalk marker to show me where the branches will be when it's time to add them:
Will the yellow marks show up once this cloth gets its treatment with blue paint?  Who knows?

Speaking of paint, I auditioned five colors:  very light cool blue, evening blue I, evening blue II, brighter slate blue, and slate blue.  Here are the samples I mixed:

I chose very cool light blue and evening blue II, which are on the left and in the center of this photo.  The blues have to be complementary with the blue colors of the paintings in the chancel of the church.  For example, in this one, Mary's blue robe looks like it has a touch of green in it, almost like robin's egg blue.

I chose the 2 colors that I thought would best complement that painting, which is front and center in the chancel of the church.  Then, using a sponge, I applied them to the fabric.  And I can still see the yellow chalk marks that will tell me where the branches will go when I reach that step.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Spiderwebs of October

All over my neighborhood, the bushes are festooned with these flat spiderwebs:

If you get closer, you can see that each web features a tiny open tunnel, about 1/2 inch in diameter, leading down into the bush:

Can you see the small black opening in this spiderweb?

There's a light brown spider in the tunnel.  Sometimes it skitters away as you approach, but not always.  Today, in the rain, I was able to see one:  an elongated oval with pointed ends, about half an inch long, beigy-brown, with at least one dark stripe down the length of the body.  I was able to photograph one,  but it doesn't show up very clearly:

Does anyone know what kind of spider looks like this and builds this kind of web at this time of year?

The tunnel is structurally elegant, fragile yet functional.  I commend its reclusive creator and its goal in life, whatever that may be--presumably catching prey, digesting it, and using its nutritional value to lay eggs.   Whatever their goals, I wish the spiders success, especially now as the temperatures begin to fall.

Scientists say it's a mistake to attribute human characteristics to non-human creatures.  So I won't say the spiders are brave, because they're not, really--they just doing what they're programmed to do.  Still, there is a bravery to the spiders, their webs, and their vigilance within them.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Off with the Air Conditioner, On with the Comforter

It's a time of transitions:  air conditioners taken from the windows, shorts taken from the closet, and both carried up the stairs to the attic, down comforter taken from the linen closet and spread on the bed.

I hate to watch the summer dwindle, but I'm not in mourning yet:  my fall garden is in its glory.  Along the weathered fence on the north side of our tiny yard, for example, is a narrow strip of rocky dirt too small for intentional cultivation.  Yet some of the hardiest fall-blooming perennials thrive there, taking all summer to soak in the sun against the warm south-facing fence.  They're weeds, really, but the truth is, every cultivated perennial began its existence in the wild.  I call this my volunteer garden:  in gardening, a volunteer is a plant not intentionally planted by human hands.  These volunteers--solidago fireworks, which is a form of goldenrod, and eupatorium coelestinum, which is called hardy ageratum for its ageratum-like blooms--originated in a different, intentionally-planted garden elsewhere in the yard. Once these volunteers appeared in this narrow baking spot, bound by an asphalt driveway and a fence, and once I realized that almost nothing else would grow there, I decided to allow these volunteers to stick around once they appeared. 
Volunteers:  eupatorium coelestinum (blue) and solidago fireworks (yellow).

Elsewhere in the garden, aster tartaricus Jin Dai, often the last color in the fall, is just starting to hit its stride, and maintains a stately posture compared to the acrobatics of solidago fireworks:

The fall garden:  Aster tartaricus Jin Dai and solidago fireworks

I may have carried my shorts up to the attic today, but I cut a bouquet, too.  Here it is, and may it be one of many fall bouquets to come from this postage stamp of a back yard:

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Huppah huppah hurray!

Yesterday I finished the wedding huppah I've been working on for the past several months.  Today I took it to Temple Habonim, Barrington, RI, where my daughter Julia  will marry Marc Katz on 10/10/10.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

More tales from a huppah: Ripping it out and starting over

Today I finished sewing on the quilt binding.

Then I ripped out all yesterday's work, hours and hours' worth.

It was frustrating, but it had to be done.  The work was too messy.  True, I was the only person who would ever notice.  But workmanship has become a bit of a sensitive point with me since my first quilt ever was accepted to a juried show this past spring.  After the show, the quilt was returned to me with a pointed statement about poor workmanship from one of the judges.  Until then, I'd known some of the work needed improvement, but that judge's acknowledgment of it carried a sting that I still feel.

After using a seam ripper to remove yesterday's wobbly uneven stitches, I was fortunate to have my neighbor Edith, an experienced hand quilter, swing by and show me how to hand quilt in the places where my sloppy free-motion quilting had been.  So here I am, baby, hand quilting, thimble and all:

Compared to the stitching Edith demonstrated, my stitches are big and sloppy.  But that's okay.  Hafta start somewhere.

I like to listen to a book on tape while I work.  Right now I'm listening to Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Quilting the Huppah: I Faced my Fear, and the Result was a Mess

So what if free motion quilting is one of my fears?  I deserve credit for facing it.

Today, I faced it.  I did it.  And I produced some of the poorest looking work I've done for a long time.

I may get an A for courage, but a C- for workmanship.

This is not going to be an inspiring story of triumph over adversity.  Instead, the experience reminded me of what a vacuum cleaner does.  You know.

To do free-motion quilting, you need a spring-driven jobby like this, called a darning foot.  No problem.
You also need to be able to drop the feed dogs. No problem there, either.

The PROBLEM was this marvel of Swedish engineering, this piece of clear plastic from hell:

The Husqvarna Viking quilting table is supposed to help by 1) spreading the weight of the quilt around, and 2) making the quilt easier to maneuver by elevating the work to the level of the sewing machine bed.

But the Husqvarna Viking quilting table does not help.

It skootches around as the quilt moves, causing my hands on the quilt to skootch around with it, making big loose sloppy stitches in places where I did not want them.  Sometimes it even gets under the needle and breaks the needle.

The result was some of the sloppiest free-motion quilting I've ever done.  It looks so bad, I'm not even going to show you.

I'm reminded of Thoreau's statement:  "We are become the tools of our tools."  It's true.  But it's no consolation. 

I faced my fear, and the result was a mess.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

I don't know what I'm doing, but I'm not letting that get in my way.

That's my artist's statement for today.

If I let the fact that I don't know what I'm doing get in my way, I wouldn't have spent the past few hours sitting on the sandy path down to the bay in a rickety rocking chair with my pastels on a milk crate beside me, applying color to paper, messing up my shirt, and expressing myself about this extraordinary place as best I can.

I had to save this view of this place, and I wanted to do it badly enough that, every time I messed up, like the time I blew the pastel dust away so hard it baptized the paper, I kept going.  I figured out how to cover up my mistakes and go on.  I learned, for example, that an exacto knife can double as an eraser in removing unwanted pigment from textured pastel paper.

How else am I going to learn, if not by doing?

Keep going even though you know the results  might make Grandma Moses look like Albert Bierstadt.  That's my artist mantra for today.  If there's one insight I internalized after six years of following Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way, it would be that.