Sunday, August 29, 2010

thoughts on potholders--why not?

Yes, I confess I make potholders. Have for a number of years. Except for the one year when I got all sorts of fancy fellowships and grants. Quite frankly I couldn't sell a thing that year. Everyone would walk by my booth and not even look at my work--how disheartening.

So after thinking about it and realizing that there was nothing in my booth that I could afford, I brought back the potholder. And my sales rose immediately. At the first show, I sold a large wall hanging to a woman who had come into my booth to "look at the potholders." Her friend bought a smaller piece as well. Besides which it kept me in my booth talking with customers. I don't do well not selling.

At one point I used to make a lot of potholders--in my hay day I could sell a couple hundred at a craft show. Now this was back in the good old days. It was also when potholders were a significant portion of my income. One of the factors to figure in when calculating the price of an item is turnover rate. If you sell out of potholders several times a year you are making more money than if you have an item for the same price that you sell only once a year since you can re-invest from the potholders to make more money. Think about it.

Now you must realize that I do take great pride in my potholders. After all if you are going to be associated with an item, you want it to be well made. Of course there are many different theories as to what makes a good potholder--I want it to be a usable size with enough cotton batting to actually work and I want them to have a fun element. Both for me to make--I get to use all those wonderful prints that wouldn't work in my quilts--and fun for the customer to choose. I need to have enough selection to make shopping fun. I also want to respect all the people who look at my work knowing full well that many cannot afford most of what I make. That's just me.

Yes, I do get weary of making them sometimes. I only sell them to a few very select galleries anymore.  But they are great for those days when I just don't feel inspired. I rarely feel like I don't know what I am going to make next because I can always pull out a set of potholders and start sewing. Soon I am working with fabric and plotting something new. Then there is the problem of pricing--after all, how much are you willing to pay for a potholder? Seriously. I recently had a customer who had purchased from me in 1996 want to replace her potholders. (See --they do last.) Anyhow, she wondered why I would not sell them to her for the same price as I did in 1996. Seriously.

That being said, I looked at my stash recently while getting ready for the Long's Park Craft Show. I need a few more colors and styles. I had been thinking of using up the last of the dog bone fabric--great colors and a great gift for dog owners. I always follow certain rules I have established--I want them to always work together. First I play with the fabric to get the colors right--I want the center to be lighter than the other rows. Think of them as a take-off of Josef Albers with a yellow center. This dog bone fabric has certain challenges since it has a dark background with lots of lighter designs.

Then I cut and sew and have to choose a fabric for the back. I want the fabric to feel like it is the back for the potholder. That one is too light.

The brown is too dark and the wrong color.

The brick red is actually interesting. OK. A bit of a stripe that actually echoes a stripe in the fabric. I even take time choosing the color of the loop.

Now I need to make something for cat lovers. Meanwhile I am thinking of a new smaller item that I can add to my collection. What about you? Do you have smaller items? Do you think its OK to make potholders?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

rolling hills--one piece at a time

I love working with the wonderful grey and taupe fabric I just got. So complex and subtle I have to study the patterns and colors to find the hues within it so haunting and reassuring. Reminiscent of those big granite mountains up in New Hampshire. 

I start a new quilt in the rolling hills series using these colors. I want it grey and haunting--not too warm. With different shades of light flashing through. Soft peach and mauve. This piece will be six studies in this color. Each similar but also different. I must get more work for Long's Park.

I pull out all the fabrics I have in these soft colors. The cutting board is piled high. Each block has to be thought through--every strip either works or doesn't. I start the next block. Because the seam does not go the length of the fabric I pull up the threads and tie them off.

I want the backs to be neat.

I keep adding. Because I started more or less in the middle I can sew on both sides before ironing. But what color comes next. I don't want the piece to get too warm in color. I lay potential candidates down and look.

That brown on the bottom is too warm. Too many dots.

I pull out more fabrics.

Yes, that is closer. When in doubt, I sew what I know.

With the cooler brown-taupe, I can now add just a hint of the rust-brown. I'll sew it so there's only a hint.

What do you think. I pin the piece up and look. It is starting to take shape.

What do you think? I want to make more. Maybe grey and yellow? Hmm. So many possibilities. What do you think?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

too soon, too young

Grey skies. Another rainy day. A chill in the air. I go up to my garden. Where there had been a jumble of the bright pure colors of my daylilies,  now only a few late blooms. Each one more precious by its solitude-- poignant in its last colors. Gone are the extravagant ruffles and patterns of the summer. Now there are the subtle soft hues of the simple flowers. Little hints of edges. Colors complex only as they echo the sun lessening in its warmth. Colors made even softer by the gentle mist falling.

 The throats a soft yellow. The ribs a hint of white.

Almost a quiet cry of the season passing.

The first maples turning against the green. Precursors of October.

The weather, the change of the seasons echo my mood. My heart is aching. I have learned of the unbearable loss of one too young, too talented, with too much promise. Gone. Suddenly.  Not one I knew as well as some--but one cherished by those whom I cherish most. To his family an incomprehensible, unspeakable tragedy. To the community and all who knew him devastating.

I cannot wrap my mind around this. Stunned and silent, I go outside and tear wild grapes strangling trees in the woods. I pull grass from the iris beds.  Never have they been so clean and tidy. There is purpose and anger in my actions.

At The Textile Co. only the muted colors of autumn intrique me. Soft complex colors of memory and sorrow. The greens of longing. Dark purples and greys, mauve and soft salmon. These are the colors that speak to me. The quilt I must make.

Soon the sun will return with the lush greens of September, the  brilliant reds and oranges, golds and purples of October. Crisp clear days. Then pure white snow. I will remember the smile. The twinkle in his eyes. The sense of adventure and sureness. But not yet.

Rest in peace oh absent one. You will be missed.

Monday, August 23, 2010

how quickly the seasons change

After a hot dry summer of no rain, crunchy grass and sleep-depriving heat,  the weather in Shelburne Falls has turned cool and rainy. Autumn is definitely in the air.

Clouds hang from Massamont. Soft and subtle colors. Ghost like plumes of fog against the green.

The colors of my quilts switch from bright pure primary colors to the softer hues of fall. I start the new quilt. A slice of yellow--again not bright--calm and haunting. How lonely it looks there. How much these five seemingly simple blocks will predetermine the quilt.


I spend an evening thinking about the colors that come next. Lots of staring at the quilt. With the rain, the studio is quiet. I add to the quilt.

Now the yellow does make a statement. Slowly the quilt grows. One piece at a time. I make a block and stare. Pull out more fabrics. What colors will work without being too strong?

Again I work on the quilt. The top dark row takes shape. What row for the bottom. How dark should it be. I pin up samples of soft green. Will it be too dark? Too strong. Nothing to do but start. See what happens. I may even have to start sewing the quilt to see. What do you think? Always this uncertainty that carries me forward.

So much to do. I think of other colors that I want to use. Time for more colors of autumn. Do you also choose your colors based on the seasons?

Friday, August 20, 2010

for every season--time to start a quilt

How quickly it happens.  Already I can feel the seasons starting to turn. We just had a front go through--alas no rain--but crisp clear air--a precursor for autumn. Invigorating. The days are getting noticeably shorter. The light more angled. Peaches and tomatoes ripen.

I must get ready for the Long's Park Show Labor Day week-end. Suddenly I have used up much of my bright blue and red fabric. Now is time for the softer tans and browns. But what to make?

A customer mentions the quilt autumn dawn. This one I made for a vacation home up in the Adirondacks. I love the piece but hadn't thought of it for a while.

Great colors.  I think I will do it as one of my 45x45 inch squares. I like how that size works--they are easy to show in my normal 10x10 foot booth and they can also be shown in groups like they did at the Landmark Show.

I look at the quilts I have--autumn afternoon will be at Long's Park. Flip it and it is almost the colors of autumn dawn.

I don't think I need another piece just like this. There are also the colors of first mountain.

A piece that needs a specific home but I love those soft browns of the plains and I know I am not alone. Not sure if I need/want those soft greys. I will have to think about that.

I wonder if I am wrong to make a quilt because I know it is colors that customers may want. Yesterday I had a client come through hunting for a quilt for her house. Now she is a person who has lots of art including many quilts. One of those customers we all dream about--knowledgeable, thoughtful, understanding.  She wondered if I thought she was wrong to want her quilts to match her decor. As she put it, she wouldn't buy a pastel to match her colors. Nor if she bought a Picasso would she want it to match. But she liked her quilts to coordinate with the colors of the room.

How do you answer that? I gave a generic answer--you know the basic--it depends on the house and the quilt. She asked again. I mentioned that most pastels are smaller than one of my quilts and my colors can be intense. Maybe that was the reason. I suggested that she could make the quilt fit the room by her accent pieces just as she might with a Picasso. I did like this conversation. After all, she was acknowledging that quilts are or should be art and yet she treats them differently. Is this right?

And now I find myself making a quilt to match my display. I wonder if this is the right thing to do--though I also know these are colors I want to work in. I need a break from blues and reds. I need to shop for new fabrics. More of that later--for now, I start the quilt. What do you think? Do you make quilts because you know it may sell? How do you reconcile the two?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

shona macdonald at saint gaudens

As many of you know, recently, my DH and I went up to the Saint Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, NH. It turns out that they have rotating exhibits of contemporary art in one of the buildings.  I had not previously been aware of the work of Shona Macdonald but her show 2 Northeast was there and I now have another favorite artist.  As she explains in the handout, she grew up in Scotland and now lives in western Massachusetts. In this exhibit she is interpreting the landscapes of the these two areas.

There is a haunting quality to much of this work as it explores the complexities of the landscapes frequently using tiny strips cut from envelopes to create a wonderful layering effect. Yes, there is fiber in the work. Some of the pieces were even created on a gauze. For instance this piece was on the floor so you could see it from above.

Is it layers of earth, the ripples of water? Is it coming out of the corner about to take over the room? Water lapping at the beach?  Later we saw Ripley Falls with the water flowing in similar ripples. Endlessly different but also the same. Why is it so mesmerizing?

To me this piece seemed more joyous and lyrical with the patterns of the envelopes showing the history. It is almost as though it is telling a story that circles around and then comes back over to embellish. There is something musical about it.

There were also a few drawings in pencil detailing the possibilities of the landscapes. Look at this fence circling back on itself and defining the space.

In the other room there were paintings using color to create a haunting feeling of landscape and moments in time. Such a glow of color and light with a pattern--is it a road--running through it.

Another favorite actually combined both painting and the thin strips of envelopes to create a dreamlike surreal effect with the ocean moving in waves and the tangled "branches" framing the sky. Wow.

This is a small show but very intense thatonly goes until September 1 so if you are in the area, I suggest you don't want to miss it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

it's summer--time for bright colors

I don't know if it's just me, but I frequently find that the hotter the weather, the brighter the colors that I want to use. Last summer  I made quilts of my garden. It had rained a lot and my daylilies were brilliant reds and purples, pinks and yellows. And so were my quilts.

This summer it has been very very dry and hot. Now I grew up on a farm in Illinois and if there is one thing I do not like--it is having no rain. As a child I learned to look at the sky and hope the distant rain clouds would come and relieve the shriveled corn. We would hang the wash out, leave the windows open and even mow the hay just to tempt the rain gods. (As farmers you have to do everything.)

So I couldn't make quilts the colors of dry grass and dust. Instead I dreamed of rainbows and clear skies. Blue lakes and brilliant green moss. Lush hills. 

I just got images back from my photographer, John Polak. What do you think? Are these the quilts of summer?

This is rainbow of summer--99x99 inches. The color progressions were difficult since there are always some fabrics that you want that are not "in style" this season.

 Rainbow hills is 45x45 inches. I love the curves in this design.

Blue rainbow hills is also 45x45 inches. This was actually made as a test sample for a custom order. Such a wonderful simple design. Very calm.

And midnight ocean also 45 x45 inches. Again those deep rich blues and purples. I love the idea that these three quilts could be hung together or separate.

 Do you find that your colors change with the seasons? What colors do you use in the summer?

Friday, August 13, 2010

mt washington b & b

Sometimes luck is just with you. I know it certainly was with my DH and I when we were planning our vacation this year. Every summer we choose a location that we don't know and explore it. This year I wanted to go to the Gorham/Berlin area of New Hampshire--just north of the White Mountains. I had been there once before when I worked as a waitress one summer during college at a now dead resort in North Conway. On my day off I would explore the neighboring area. I remembered cute little towns where real people lived without the hustle and bustle of North Conway.

The fact that the Mt Washington Bed and Breakfast was in Shelburne, NH didn't hurt. My studio is in Shelburne Falls, MA. We've been to Shelburne, VT and Shelburne, Nova Scotia--do you see a theme there? Besides the owner had posted sample breakfast menus--apple cinnamon pancakes, french toast, yum. What more can one want?

As soon as we got there, we knew we had made a great decision. How charming and friendly the house looked. A bit larger than expected but look at the wonderful porch where hummingbirds were fighting to get the hanging fuschia. I never knew how territorial they could be.

And the view from the parking lot--off to the left in the clouds is the actual Mt. Washington. I had forgotten how big the Presidentials are.

Inside it was charming. Old painted pine floors.  Comfortable, inviting, cozy--and not too grand. It turns out the B and B was built in 1853 as an inn and is reputedly one of the two oldest continuously operated inns in New Hampshire. Isn't that cool? I found myself dreaming of the visitors from a bygone era--wondering what they talked watching the mountain on the porch.  I could almost feel the memories of past vacationers as I walked on the old pine floors and examined the lay out of the rooms.

I was fascinated watching Mary Anne the owner run the place. There are so many different things one has to do to make guests feel welcome. When we were there, the guests included a retired navy couple who took the Cog Rail up Mt. Washington, a pair of English school teachers in the States visiting family, a family of three who went up at least one mountain in the Presidentials every day, and us. She  had to chat with each of us--provide us with restaurant advise, suggestions for places we might want to visit, and make us feel at home--only to have new guests arrive the next day. And of course feed us breakfast--maybe peach-almond pancakes today. This is the collection of blue bottles in the dining room. Homey, isn't it?

The rooms are all named after local birds--the eastern Phoebe, the Bald Eagle, we had the Nuthatch room. Each door has its own little guardian angel doll looking out for it. Of course each one is different. And the beds all have quilts. Nice thick quilts--in traditional patterns. This is the quilt in the Bald Eagle Room--sweet isn't it? 


So it was no surprise to me that in her "spare" time, Mary Anne makes quilts. She told me that come November she gets out her sewing machine.  Our room had this very sweet moose design--isn't the pine cone border the perfect edging.

There were basket quilts, bear paws, I couldn't see them all since most of the rooms were occupied. My favorite though was the moose quilt in the dining area. Interesting use of a more modern design.


This is actually a batik with these wonderful moose. She told me another story how she gives a special piece of fabric to her friend who then makes a quilt and sends her a picture for her scrapbook. 

Isn't that wonderful fabric? In November she has a Quilter's Retreat package where they make a mystery quilt, there is a Beginning Quilting week-end planned and who knows--maybe other quilt events.

See--I told you we were lucky. And we even made it up Pine Mountain--which is the last of the Presidentials (and no please do not ask me about President Pine but it was a great hike.) Are you ever lucky with your vacations?

Monday, August 9, 2010

a great discovery--Saint Gaudens

Recently my DH and I found the most wonderful hidden place to visit. Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, NH just a couple of hours north of Shelburne Falls. I had heard of the name of Auguste Saint-Gaudens but really didn't know much about him or his work--have you? However, we decided that since it only cost $5 each to get in, it would be fun to explore.

What a treasure. The site was his summer home for a number of years. Set overlooking the Connecticut River with a wonderful of Mt Ascutney. There are a number of different studios, stables and outdoor installations including a marvelous meadow that goes on forever.

First we saw his sculpture of Admiral David Farragut. As luck would have it my DH is related to Farragut's family--don't ask me to explain. I can't. I do know he built a house in Ashfield--although he died before he ever lived there.  A simple sculpture.

Then I started looking more carefully. Isn't this fish along the base just wonderful. So much texture.

OK--I was hooked. I had lived in Boston for a number of years and of course remember the Shaw Memorial of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment--the first African American regiment during Civil War. Have you seen this it?

I started looking at this piece more carefully. Look at the wonderful rolled blankets of the soldiers--such texture--simple but also complex.

And the feet--each one realistic but also artistic. I love all these designs.

And here is the mass of faces and the swords. So alive and full of motion.

It also turns out he sculpted Lincoln Standing. Lincoln Sitting. These are statutes that we all know. Look at the folds in the fabric. I love the expression of his face--complex, thoughtful.

I started noticing his use of texture and fabric. This simple shawl with the fringe.

 The robes in this garment.

And finally this is the last piece he did--it was of his wife. He was trying an impressionistic style. Interesting. So much to see--so much to look at that I would not have thought would interest me until I was there. . We had a wonderful time. Have you ever been? The gardens are also magnificent. And there is a special exhibit that was amazing--but that will be for another day.