Monday, March 16, 2015

Seeking a Path

I'm having a solo show at the Clare Gallery at the Church of St. Patrick and St. Anthony in Hartford, at the end of 2015, tentatively titled "Seeking a Path."

With an eye toward that show, I've been creating pathway images these days, and I'm just about to finish my latest one.

This piece started out as a photo of my daughter Leah on the trail leading from Great Head, a stunning promontory in Acadia National Park, Maine.
I printed the photo out as an 8 x 10, then traced it.  I brought the traced version to Staples to have it enlarged.  Enlarged, it became a full-size pattern for this piece.  I used a lightbox to trace it onto a piece of pima cotton which I had first brushed with GAC 900.  GAC 900 is a fabric conditioner which made the fabric more hospitable to the painting treatment which was to follow.

Once the traced version was on the fabric, I then went ahead and put the color down with  Derwent Inktense pencils.  Many thanks to the ladies of Women Against the Grain, who introduced me to those pencils.
Here's what this piece looked like during that part of the process.

Once I got all the color down, I layered the painted fabric with batting and backing and stitched through all the layers to accentuate each area of color.  I guess you could say it's a technique that combines quilting and thread painting in one swell foop.

My big question for myself was how I was going to show the leafy foliage.  I wanted to lay down little bits of fabric, sometimes called confetti.

Want to know how you make these?  My quilting friends know this but possibly not everyone does. You cut a piece of fabric into tiny strips and then cut the strips crosswise into tiny squares:

They're fabulous for creating a pointillistic effect, but the question is how to fasten them down.  Until now, my go-to approach has involved holding them down with an invisible, heat-activated bonding agent (such as Misty Fuse) and a piece of tulle.

That technique is kind of labor-intensive, so I decided to see whether there could be an easier way to get those teensy weensy pieces to stay down.  I discovered that my felting machine could work for that purpose.

This is a Baby Lock Embellisher, aka felter.  I own one of these, and have now discovered that its tiny barbs are effective in sticking these tiny confetti down to a quilt surface.

 Once they're scattered on the fabric, the confetti have to be arranged and spread around, because they tend to clump.  That can be kind of labor intensive in itself:

Nevertheless, eliminating the bonding agent and the iron is a major step forward, and I like the effect I get:

I did put down a layer of tulle over the confetti.  I've never used this embellishment technique on a quilt before, and even though that confetti was stuck down pretty convincingly, I didn't want it falling off at any point.  Thus, I put down a layer of tulle over the foliage parts of the quilt.

For the final step, I laid down strips of fabric printed in the black and white of birchbark:

Here's the final result of all those processes:

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The grackles sing avant the spring

Have you noticed that the birds are starting to activate these days?  I hear them cackling and whistling and calling just about every time I go outside.  Their sounds--a reaction, I'm sure, to the increased sunlight of March--are on some days the only thing capable of reminding me that spring is coming.  When I hear them, I think of the Wallace Stevens line, "The grackles sing avant the spring."

Common Grackle

Stevens, America's most distinguished poet of the twentieth century, lived on Westerly Terrace in Hartford's West End, within walking distance of my home in West Hartford. 

From Westerly Terrace, he regularly walked down Asylum Avenue to his job as an attorney for the Hartford Fire Insurance Company, now the Hartford Insurance Group. He composed poems as he walked, and neighbors used to say that they would see him walk by at a  measured pace, stop, rock in his footsteps, and proceed.  When he arrived at work, he would dictate his poems for typing.

I figured if Stevens heard grackles avant (before) the spring, then grackle voices must be among those I'm hearing these past couple of weeks.  You can go to this site and listen and tell me whether you've heard anything like that outside these days.

I know I hear blue jays and cardinals.

This time of year, those crackly bird voices are to me a fragile crackly bridge across to greater sunlight and warmer weather.  If the birds are getting ready, then spring must be approaching.

Today I decided to look up the Stevens poem of which that line is a part.  I found this:

Snow and Stars
by Wallace Stevens

The grackles sing avant the spring
Most spiss-oh! Yes, most spissantly.
They sing right puissantly.

This robe of snow and winter stars,
The devil take it, wear it too.
It might become his hole of blue.

Let him remove it to his regions
White and star-furred for his legions, 
And make much bing, high bing.

It would be ransom for the willow
And fill the hill and fill it full
Of ding, ding, dong.

How do you like his expression of the sound the grackles make?  Spissantly--it's brilliant.  The man had a way with onomotopaeia.  And to rhyme "spissantly" with "puissantly"?  He's a combination of snooty and cuckoo, like Katharine Hepburn on LSD. 

And what the heck is "high bing"?  Is it the opposite of high dudgeon? Never mind--I know exactly what Stevens means when he tells the devil to take this robe of snow and winter stars because it might look good in his domain, and because his legions might like it. 

And yes--what a concept--let that robe of snow and stars be ransom for the willow.   Are you looking forward to seeing a few greening willows?  I am.

 Wallace Stevens' poetry is often obscure and his image enigmatic at best.  But he got it right about this late-winter Connecticut wish that the never-ending snow will stop and the willow will green.

P.S. Did you know that Stevens' wife Elsie was the model for the liberty head dime?