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?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Let's have a big hand for persistence

Let's have a big hand for persistence. 

I'm working on an image of hands (a pair of dark-skinned hands working on a project with a pair of light-skinned hands) for an upcoming art quilt show centered on a theme of civil rights.  I'm using a technique taught by an art quilter named Susan Carlson

The photo of the hands was kindly furnished to me by Dani Abrams, whose mother, Jackie Abrams, owns the hands on the right.  Jackie was teaching basket-making in Namibia at the time.

Susan Carlson's technique involves using lots and lots of little teeny-weeny pieces of fabric, holding  each one in place with a tiny spot of glue in the center until all the pieces are in place.  Here's my initial attempt at that technique:

But after many hours spent on this iteration, I decided that the pieces had a more haphazard look than I wanted.  The hands looked...well, scabby.  Or leprotic.  Or psoriataic.  The skin on them looked as if it were exfoliating.

See what I mean?

So I started all over with a second pair of hands.  Here's what I have so far.

The pieces are still teeny-weeny, and the concentration it takes to place them is still intense.  But at least they don't look like they have psoriasis.

 I'm willing to put in the time because, well, I want this image to be good.  It will hang at the Hartford Public Library starting in about mid-December, for a show with a theme of civil rights.  It's worth doing right.

You know how they say art is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration? Well.

Persistence.  Let's have a big hand for persistence.

Saturday, November 1, 2014


When the Hartford Public Library invited my art quilt group, the Connecticut Fiber Arts Collective, to mount a show to honor the library's acquisition of two enormous murals by  African-American collage artist Romare Bearden, part of the deal was that the Library would produce a video about our group.

And so today, it came to pass.

 Pramod Pradhan is the Hartford Public Library's videographer
All ten members of the Connecticut Fiber Arts Collective met on a Saturday morning at Carol Vinick's West Hartford home, each of us bringing the piece we plan to put in the show, intending to work on it and talk about it while the videographer got it all down.  Did I tell you that our exhibit will not only honor Bearden, but also focus on civil rights, honoring the anniversaries of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965?

So here's Carol Vinick telling the camera about the stunning images of Rosa Parks which she's creating from tiny pieces of fabric:

Carol is showing Pramod the iconic photo of Rosa Parks being booked after being arrestred

Carol traced the photo and enlarged the traced version to create this pattern

How about that!  Are you impressed?  I am!

Carol is also creating this image of Rosa Parks on the bus, about to be arrested.
 And how about this portrait of MLK by Linda Martin?

Christina Blais is creating a quotation from pieced letters.  The quote is from--Christina, correct me here if I'm wrong--Rosa Parks, who said that when she was about to be arrested, she felt a determination come over her. Here Christina is showing us the pieced letters of the word "determination":

I think this show is challenging us each to stretch, to try new methods, to give her all to going out on an artistic limb.  Many of us are trying a new method of collage piecing which we learned in a recent group class with quilt artist Susan Carlson.  I know I'm stretching myself in my efforts to emulate her technique.  Here's my piece:

While all this art was happening, and Pramod was taping it, we enjoyed hanging out together:

Wanda Seldon, Christina Blais, Toni Torres, Linda Martin (partially hidden).

Christina Blais, Linda Martin

Rosalind Spann, Mary Lachman
We're working against a deadline of early December to have our pieces ready to be hung at the Hartford Public Library.  We're pumped!

The Connecticut Fiber Arts Collective.  Standing, L-R, Diane Cadrain, Carol Vinick, Karen Loprete, Rosalind Spann, Wanda Seldon, Carol Eaton, Christina Blais, Mary Lachman, Linda Martin
Seated: Antonia Torres