Thursday, March 31, 2011

why I make quilts

Something was up. Yesterday I suddenly began getting comments on a blog that I posted way back in November. The gist of these comments were all pretty negative--I didn't know what I was talking about, I had no business appointing myself as an art critic, my quilts were fine but they didn't like them. Clearly there was something behind this besides lots of passion. But why?

An e-mail I received in support of my position let me know that my blog post had been mentioned in an article on a large Yahoo group that I am not part of. OK. That post raised the question whether the American Craft magazine should have published an article on the "modern" quilt movement. Was this what American Craft was about? For those interested you can read the post here and the comments are the last five.

Now I welcome all readers to my blog and am interested in their comments--I try to raise issues that I interest me. Isn't that what blogs should do? However,  I do wish they had read further posts--if they had they would discover that I have also questioned whether some of the quilts in the so-called Art Quilt movement are art. What is craft? What is the relationship between craft and art? Can art be functional? Indeed the essential issue I keep returning to again and again is what is art--if that question matters and where do quilts--and in particular my quilts--fit within this framework?

An interesting question and one made even more difficult within the context of one of the traditions of quilt making--the reliance on patterns.

Now I will be the very first to admit that I love many of the so-called traditional quilt patterns. My sister--alas--received the double wedding ring quilt that my grandmother made. I remember as a child sorting through the patterns that Granny had clipped from the newspaper back during the Depression. Not that she would ever purchase a pattern--there were much better uses of her hard earned money after all. But these patterns were the beginning of dreams--quilts that could be. It is my understanding that many of the so-called traditional patterns were actually designed back then.

Indeed the first quilt that I made was an Ohio star. Yes, I even sewed it by hand. Oh those long endless seams. Green and brown calico fabric. How excited I was though to see the patterns within patterns that evolved from such a simple design.  I still enjoy looking at the quilts that guild members have made when I give a presentation. There are so many colors and designs my mind always spins.

But--and this is a large but--I think that quilts can go beyond this--to a place where they do become art. Now art is of course a concept that is hard to define. Is it something you know when you see it? Is it a universal? And where does the craft world intersect the art world?

Good questions. I think of the work of Heather Allen-Swarttouw that I saw at CraftBoston. Clearly that is art. You can read about it here. The quilts of Erin Wilson that I saw at the Baltimore Craft Show--you can see some of them here. I think of the quilts that I can visualize way of in the horizons of my mind here--the ones that I strive for. The feelings that keep me going and that are both personal and universal.

I pick up my latest copy of American Craft magazine. Along with their reviews and bright pictures of what is new I also see a quiet article--a retrospective of the pottery of Karen Karnes. The retrospective is now showing in Asheville, NC--you can read about it here. Now I actually met Karen once ages ago. We were both doing the Philadelphia Museum of Art Show. She at the end of her career and me at the beginning. The image that comes to my mind is of Karen and her partner dollying her work into the show just like the rest of us. Craftspeople commenting in amazement that she was still doing shows. How I wish I had purchased something then--I should have. Her work was simple, elegant and functional. So basic and essential.

And this is the concept that I see in my quilts. That distant horizon that looms in the distance. That desire to find what is simple and essential about quilts. This is my vision--this is what my questioning is about. This is why I get up in the morning and what I think about as I go to sleep at night.

And you--what is your vision? Why do you get up in the morning? Is there a universal concept as to what art is? What do you think?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

hooray--it's "mud" CraftBoston

Ah mud season--for those who follow my blog you already  know how much I dislike mud season in western Massachusetts. As the frost leaves the ground, the mud grows deeper and deeper. My ties wear deep ruts that I hope I can get out of. Rain washes the mud into vast gullies. Roads become almost impassable.  There is nothing you can do--shoveling it only makes the gullies deeper, the clay more gooey. Finally the last of the frost leaves and once again water can seep into the underground.  I can only hope that the worst of mud season ends before I head home from CraftBoston.

But now before the show ends I must celebrate some of the best of the mud at the show. First stop for me is the booth of Heather Allen-Swarttouw from Asheville, NC.  Heather Allen you may say--isn't she a quilt maker known for her wonderful use of spiraling stairways as metaphors for life? Well she used to be but now she has returned to her first love of ceramics to create absolutely compelling mixed media art.

Again the work is deep--about her life and journeys--recording the events of her life using complex symbolism of archetypal boats and anchors. The vessel as the symbol for the person. Interaction between the vessel and the relationship between people. Such fascinating work--deep and universal. The type of work you want to study and return to again and again. So many different pieces--all asking similar questions but from just slightly different angles. So that the sum of her booth is so much greater than the individual pieces within it.

How hard I found to capture the effect of her work as an image. Here is one small piece. It is I believe in fabric--manipulated quilted pieced with the wonderful shimmer of metal. I love the lines outlining the boats. Are these waves? The progression. Why is one boat larger--metallic with the hull cut out as entryways. What is inside. While the other boat has what remains. The center. Is one more ominous and funereal? Or is the smaller boat almost a ghost--a memory. On the smaller boat note how the wake is visible--as though there is movement and speed. So many questions. I want to study it and absorb it like a poem made with care and precision conveying a knowledge that is not verbal. Don't you love it? And guess what--it is ceramics that just looks like fabric. Wow.

She asks similar questions in these two vessels also.  See I told you she uses ceramics. One the hull hollowed out with the beams showing. The other with almost a skeleton remaining inside. Are these vessels also boats? She also works with the symbolism of  tatting needles and pods--similar shapes and beings. Where is the self? Why these two vessels? So many questions so thoughtfully asked.

She is teaching a workshop in Asheville on using journals to create change.  For her the journal becomes a record of her journey. Her life. So thought out and examined. I asked Heather about the personal process of creating the change from her quilts to mixed media--she said that her marriage allowed her the personal space to make the jump--but even then the process was long--even longer than she had anticipated. Customers who owned one of her quilts did not always recognize her as the same person. I wonder where this will lead.  If I lived closer I would love to take her workshop.  To learn more about her thought process and evolution. For now do check out her web site-- her artist statements and make a mental note that this is a serious artist--one who should be followed.

My next stop is the booth of Rick Epstein of Longmeadow, MA. I have known Rick's work for a number of years--indeed I was across from him at a Paradise City Show a couple years ago. What a great opportunity to study an artist and get to absorb what he does. How much his work has changed in the last year or two. He used to be known for his wonderful landscapes--trees, rivers, lakes. Very pictorial. All made of sculpted clay. Isn't this piece so lovely and serene?

 Yes, those are slabs of clay that he manipulates and paints. Now he is branching out even further. I just loved this large views of the sky through the forest. What a magical vista.

And this more abstract ocean. Very cool. It looks like a great new direction.

But my absolute favorite was this ocean view. The waves are sculpted a couple of inches tall. Careful examination shows layers and layers of paint colors appearing as the colors of the water the more you carefully examine the art. When I asked him about the inspiration, he said he was intrigued by the contradiction between clay and water--two such dissimilar materials. But I do think he has used the one to create the feeling of the other. Wow.

To learn more about his work check out his web site

My final stop was to the booth of Maya Machin a potter whose work I had never seen before. But when a friend of mine told me that she lived near me, I had to check it out. Wonderful wood fired pottery in great essential shapes that made me want to feel it and hold it.

 Simple and honest. But also strong and complex. So essential. She said she loved the communal aspect of the wood firing. One person cannot do it themselves and so groups get together and fire their pots. A process where you never know if the pot will succeed until after the firing. What a level of risk. Just look at the wonderful shape of this teapot--so cozy and snug.

And of course the master piece--this huge urn--maybe three feet tall. What does it hold? What stories does it tell? Can you imagine the relationship between this pot and the people it encounters?

Maya's work can be found at

And then it was time--well actually past time to return to my booth. But what fun I had. What do you think? Seen any great "mud" recently? Had any good mud season stories?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Chords--sometimes you get what you need, not...

Well, you must know the words to that song--probably better than I do--but I do know that it often happens to me. Take this morning for instance. I arrived at the CraftBoston show with half an hour to spare--not because I wanted to be early but because I had to take three separate subways to get there and I wasn't sure how long the ride would be.

Now I could have gone inside and looked at more of the art--there is so much more I want to study and think about. I could have re-arranged my quilts.  But it was a sunny morning and I hadn't been down to the waterfront in Boston for several years so I went for a walk. Planes taking off from Logan. The smell of salt water. A few trawlers, the Fish Pier was still there. Lots of new construction. Then the cutest little park.


Well, I was public and if they wanted to welcome me that was fine. I love sculpture gardens. Abstract sculpture in stone and metal--count me in and this one is just fabulous. It is called Chords designed by David Phillips a Boston area based sculptor in 2000. Thinking about high school math I remember that chords are angles relating to circles and spheres. It is also a term of measurement in astronomy. And of course chords are harmonious musical notes. What a great concept.

And that is exactly what this park is exploring. Different relationships between spheres and lines. Space and being. Perfect and the natural.

Now I love round spheres of stone--is it because they transcend the nature of stone and show a perfection I want to touch? Is it their simplicity or the constant variation in the light and shadow? The delicacy of their balance or its very precariousness?

I am always awe struck. Then there is the power of a sphere  bisected by metal.  Two such different materials. Such force and contrast. Raw and strong.

In this park the concept continues in so many ways. Circles and patterns of circles on the ground. Different textures. But there--reiterating the designs.

Then there are the complex sculptures. Rocks left after the sphere has been removed. Again bisected by metal.

Spheres that come out of rocks. Spheres bisected by discs of metal--some torn. So many riffs on the sphere and angle. Little spheres. Spheres on discs. Spaces as spheres.  Hidden areas to examine--all relating to the sphere. The circle. The universe.

The stories being told. The questions asked.  So complex in such a small space. So many different aspects of the chord that it really does become a chord. Oh how I want to push my quilts to do just that. I am enchanted with this idea and want to see it again and again in different light and different angles. I even reflect on the squirrels nest high in the tree--and see that too is a sphere.

I take a lot of pictures. Can't show them all. I am not sure I even want to discover them all--at least not just yet. But I love thinking about it during the quieter moments of the show. Even sketch a couple of quilts.

What a way to start the day. And you--have you seen this park in Boston? Are there other parks like this that you know? Have you ever gotten inspired to push an idea further and further?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

meditations on straight seams

Recently as those of you who have been following my blog post know, I have been thinking a lot about straight seams. What is a straight seam? What is straight enough? What "tricks" can one use to achieve a straight line?

Now I know there are many of techniques out there to create straight seams. Paper piecing. Special machine feet. Why I even saw on the internet a sewing machine that will make mitered corners for you--seriously, it feeds the fabric through at just the right angle. I am sure there must be machines that use a computer program to sew a straight line.

Now I am not a purist. I love my sewing machine--a re-conditioned machine from the sixties that only goes straight. Doesn't even go backwards. That would have cost me a $100 when I bought it in 1983 and back then I did not have the money. I know that I could get a fancier machine--I could afford it by now. Indeed if I wanted to use a quilting machine there is one just up the road from me that I could rent by the hour.

But--and this is a big but--is this really the effect that I want? For a long time I avoided the whole issue by purposefully sewing curved seams. Indeed I think of the quilts of Gee's Bend where part of the charm is that the seams are not perfect.  Now though I have this vision of quilts that need a straight seam.  How to do it.

Do I really want to learn all the techniques out there to create perfectly straight lines? Now I know there are those who manage to use these methods and still retain the human touch. I think of the quilts of my friend Pamela Hill--as she put it, she is "the queen of straight seams." Her geometric designs needed perfect seams and she succeeded. Later she needed the exquisite machine quilting designed specifically for each quilt. But there are so many quilts where the straightness of the seams seem to be the whole purpose of the work--but the pieces lack feeling.

Alas it is no surprise that I have been thinking of the craft traditions of Japan right now. I take down my book by Bernard Leach on Hamada: The Potter. This is one of those books I can only sample on occasion and in small doses. In this book first published in 1975 Bernard Leach a leading English ceramics artist interviewed Hamada in a series of dialogues about art, pottery and the process of creativity.

I  love Hamada's pots--so simple and essential. The glazes and the colors flow together as though they just happened. Hamada describes his process of pouring the glaze standing at a particular angle and then rotating the pot all the while not thinking about the process. It only takes about fifteen seconds but it is so inherent in his body that he knows what to do.

I also love his explanation as to why he can charge so much for his pots. As he said, each pot takes "sixty years and fifteen seconds." (Page 208.) The movements and techniques learned over many years.  The right way is simpleness and naturalness.

I must reread this book and learn more about his convergence of aesthetic and technique. I think of my own recent quilts. The pillows that I am making for the CraftBoston Show and the new wall hangings. Yes, that is the approach I want. Simple and natural. I practice sewing the straight lines using just my pressure foot and a few guidelines to keep it lined up. Not quite perfect but when I square off the piece I find I am off by only 1/32nd of an inch. Not bad.

How meditative these are to make. How I love the colors when I finish. Are these seams straight enough? What do you think?  Where do you draw the line? (Yes, the pun was intended.)

Friday, March 18, 2011

the thrill of discovery...

Ah yes--another warm beautiful early spring day. My legs were still more than a little weary from my adventures at Tower Hill yesterday but still I knew I had to get to  the Paradise City Arts Festival early. Check out my booth--pillows need a bit of straightening. Turn on the lights but not bad if I do say so.

Then I got to wander the show a bit. What a treat--the thrill of discovering artists I had not seen before. Seeing new pieces friends had created over the winter.  This is one of the many reasons I love doing craft shows. This search for work that makes me stop and go "wow". What will I find?

It didn't take me long to stop at the booth of Tarja Cockell--a fiber and mixed media artist who maintains a studio in Lowell. Yes, these were original. I had seen her work last fall but now she has a whole new series of wonderful abstracts. OK--I need to know more.  It turns out she was born in Finland where she studied weaving. Later she took this skill and used it in combination with painting and stitching in layers to produce the most haunting and elusive work that shimmers with depth and texture. Her work is about colors and shapes--changes and angles.

She warned me they were hard to capture on camera--in person the many layers interact with even more depth and movement--but still I find them spectacular.

If you look closely at this piece you will see in the lower left hand corner a zig zag movement that was actually made with stitches on the bottom layer. So much to see here. She tried to explain to me how she did it, not sure if I "got it" but I am sure that the techniques don't matter. It is the effect.

What do you think? Aren't they spectacular?  Her web site is Her studio is in Lowell and is open once a month on a regular basis. I wanted to ask her more--to linger and learn about her work but I also wanted to see the show.

My next stop was at  my friends Johnny and Kathy Robinson--rug hookers from West Virginia. I have known them for many years but always there is something new. This time they have been doing lots of exploration of space and depth using their wonderful color sense.  This was one of the newer rugs. Yes, it really is flat but I love how they make the shapes pop.

Another favorite is this new rug. From a distance the colors seem to roll together. Simple and complex  at the same time. Isn't it amazing?

Their website is Some of their work is more pictorial and most can be ordered in whatever size works for you.

My final stop was at the booth of Robert Alan Hyde. I confess I had never seen his work before--which surprised me. He is a metal sculptor from Washington, MA. Just look at the detail that he achieves. This piece is about 2 by 3 feet.

 Up close you can see the geese flying overhead.

And look at the contrast in the pond, grasses and tree trunks at the bottom of the work.

He also does animals. I loved this little wolf--it was only slightly larger than the size of my hand but look at the detail and motion.

There were larger pieces--sculptures of people and animals.  Oh so much to see and study. Such great movement in the design. Definitely worth seeing in person. For more information his website is

Alas though it was time for the show to start but as I returned to my booth I thought of a conversation I had had with my friend Laura Baring-Gould. She noted that after doing a show she always felt more inspired by the wonderful work she had seen at the event. How true that is. So much to learn and absorb. I could spend the day just walking the show looking at this art and asking questions about it.

And you--what do you look for at a festival? What are some of the favorite things you have seen? Does it inspire you?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

spring fever

As I promised in my last post, as soon as I began setting up for the Paradise City Arts Festival this week-end spring came. Now obviously part of the reason is that I am in a warmer area than Shelburne Falls. Of course. A few hundred feet lower and closer to the ocean. There is almost no snow here. Also as luck would have it, the weather did turn delightfully warm and sunny.

So what is a quiltmaker who is tired of winter to do? Well I decided that I just had to set up as quickly as possible and head out to the Tower Hill Botanical Gardens in Boylston, MA--less than 10 minutes from the show. Now I confess I had driven by the sign for Tower Hill many times--even picked up their brochure once or twice--but I had never been there. However, I couldn't think of any reason not to go. Sometimes when spring comes you just have to enjoy it--right?

So I got the directions and drove--it really did not take long until I got to the entrance--what was it going to be like. The volunteer taking my money smiled and said just enjoy it. I drove up the road--past the apple orchard--it turns out they have 115 varieties of heirloom apples and there it was.
Wow. This place was so much more than I expected. Beautiful vistas. So many different gardens. The lawn garden itself has 350 different varieties of trees and shrubs--almost all of which are very carefully labeled. Outside there were snow crocuses and snowdrops. 

I headed for the Orangerie. I must say I love those large horticultural buildings with lots of glass and plants. Isn't it wonderful?

Inside so many types of oranges--most of them bearing fruit. And yes, lots of sculptures everywhere in many different styles.

Trees almost to the top of the roof. And color. Look at the bright red on this bromeliad. There was an entire area that emphasized red. Bromeliads, coleus. Red palms. And they were all bright and alive.

There were fountains with exotic flowers floating in them. Wonderful arrangements made with the patterns of the leaves. Of course I loved this fan palm. So simple and elegant.

This succulent had great designs too--I forgot its name.

Outside a lovely courtyard with two turtles as fountains in the pond. Another pond in the courtyard--the algae pond had rock that was once underneath Lake Erie in Ohio. Such great texture.

Then time to explore a bit outside. Of course I had to hike to the summit of Tower Hill. Now don't think I overextended myself--the summit is only 640 some feet high but look at this view of Mt Wachusetts with the Wachusetts Reservoir. And of course throughout there were lots of benches for sitting.

Then off to see The Folly. Follies I knew were once built in castles in England--to look like abandoned architecture. This one was built by a woman to commemorate her husband. On my way there I learned that Henry David Thoreau was actually the first to write about the succession of growth in forests. He was actually working on a book about Forest Ecology at the time of his death. His office had been near the Worcester Horticultural Society which runs Tower Hill. I learn something new every day.

Isn't that fun? Then alas I realized that I still needed to price my work but not before deciding that I may just have to get an Alaska Weeping Cedar--what a wonderful tree that is. And I know I will now have to come back soon. I saw so many daffodils just peeking their heads up out of the ground. So many shrubs and perennials. I never made it to the Rustic Pavilion or the Moss Steps. I even have a daylily group that meets here once a month--I may have to start attending their meetings.

But then until today I had also never made it to Tower Hill. Have you? Don't you just love little adventures like this? Do you have any finds to share?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Another day in March--cloudy, grey. We are having what the weather people so politely call "a wintry mix." Personally I can think of other words for it. But this is after all a family blog so you can add your own descriptive terms--OK? Besides--today I will pack my van for the Paradise City Arts Festival in Marlborough this week-end. For me, this show is the definition of spring and I can hardly wait.

Instead I want to discuss the color or shall I say colour yellow. I was just on a wonderful chat where I learned that "Appreciation" is the tone for 2011 and yellow is the color of the year, at least in Great Britain. Don't you love it? Yellow--that wonderfully complex bright happy color is color of the year. Don't believe me--check out this wonderful blog site from--of course--Great Britain--here. Just look at all the wonderful yellows she uses, a soft greyed yellow. Black and that wonderful yellow with a bit of blue. Not sure I agree that yellow should not be used in the bedroom--but that is me.

I check out the etymology of the word yellow in my OED. Of course, this is a word that goes way way back. Think of how important gold was. Gold, yellow. The color of egg yolks and buttercups. Essential.  Both gold and yellow seem to come from the same root. Interesting--it used to have a meaning of jealous. Yellow press--sensationalism.

For those who know my work, I  love to use splashes of yellow. Think of that wonderful block in october sun echoing out through the quilt.

The hint of yellow in last light. Doesn't it define the piece?

The splashes of light in summer sky.

The bold line of yellow that defines by the sea in this installation shot I just received yesterday. Doesn't it look great in its new home?

And you what do you think? How do you use yellow?  Do you force forsythia? Are you dreaming of daffodils and buttercups? Will I see you at the Paradise City Show?

Monday, March 14, 2011

in search of spring--back to basics

Ah the approach of spring. The time to prepare for new growth. This week-end my DH and I spent time pruning our grape arbor. Now this arbor was a thing of wonder--old locust posts with the bark still on them.  An arch formed by metal bands from a wooden silo went up and over it. Birds nested in the spring. Cats lounged in its cool shade on hot summer days. Long, long grape vines intertwined and matted with the detritus of dead leaves.

Unfortunately the winter's snows crumpled the arbor. Twisted the metal onto itself. The grape vines collapsed into a tangled mess of snow, dead leaves, long new vines. I read on the internet that the strength of the vines is in the roots. Time to cut out the mess. Rebuild the arbor. Dirty nasty work. Tugging long vines. Take this--oh tsunami that hit Japan. And that--you politician that threaten my beloved NPR. A great and vigorous morning until finally we could see what was left. Stark gnarled vines standing there alone. Will green buds grow this spring? Will clumps of grapes form next year?

I've been doing the same with my quilts. Every few years I need to cut back. Change. See what is basic and essential. How to use color and fabric as the essence. Working in blocks. Simple. Works of substance that go beyond quilts. That sing with color.  Half awake in the morning I can catch glimpses of the art I want to make--still in the distance. Still waiting to be discovered.

Meanwhile  I go into the studio and study, learn what I need. I play on the design board and make pillows. I analyze and step away. Finally I finish the first wall hanging. Simple and elegant. I love the feel of the work. Strong and basic.  Should it be hung long--a story board of color?

Or horizontal? Over a bed--echoing a table? What will the public think? I am doing the Paradise City Art Festival this week-end. Time to get a reaction. Will they like this direction? Will they be enchanted in its substance and vigor? Or am I just playing games? Did I just waste my time?  And you--what do you think? Do you ever want to work with just the basics? And my grapes--will they grow back?

Friday, March 11, 2011


OK--today I have been thinking about the word "pink". Not sure why--maybe because it is one of those very grey rainy days in March. Still snow on the ground although gradually it is melting and turning into the dreaded mud season leaving the detritus of winter behind. Fog. Haze. Did I tell you it it is grey and dreary? Now in winter there is not a lot of pink around--the colors of dawn and sunset. The light reflected on the snow. A few branches in the distance can create a wonderful pink color. Birch bark peeling shows a bit of a pink color. But no--it is more the color of spring and summer.

Pink hyacinths. Pink cherry blossoms. Tulips--ah the pink of tulips so bright and cheerful. Then cosmos, zinnias. Some wonderful pink iris. Even the occasional pink daylily. Such a delight amidst the reds and yellows.

Think of the word itself. Strange isn't it. Say it out loud. "Pink" does not sound like the color pink does it.  Think of the rhymes--pink, mink, blink, stink, wink,sink....I look it up in my OED. Where did the word actually come from? Now this is actually most interesting. They don't know. Can you believe that? They don't know. Shakespeare used pink to mean the finest flower--embodied excellence. Dianthus were called pinks--maybe because of their scalloped or pinked edges. (Think of pinking shears.) There is even speculation that pink may have come from pink-eye. Banish that thought--UGH!!! According to my OED it wasn't until the 18th century that pink began to refer to that pale light red color--and especially the color worn by fox hunters. Fascinating isn't it?

Now I don't normally use that much pink in my work. Sure it occurs in the quilt--colors of my garden. I needed that pink to transition from light to dark red. See.

A bit of pink in rainbows of summer. Pink in the dawn of summer sky. Pink as a transitional color or a highlight. I used to use pink more when I made baby quilts but that was eons ago. Recently though I heard a great discussion on Interior Design Chat about the color pink. Pink with brown, pink and grey. Pamela Farrell on her wonderful blog had a post about the color pink--check it out here. More pink art than you can imagine.  Maybe that was also stirring in the back of my design brain--not sure. I do know they have recently added some great fabrics in pink--or maybe I just noticed them.

Anyhow I decided I had to make something pink. Now a pink wall hanging probably wouldn't sell. Sure someone would buy it but it could be custom ordered. But pink for pillows. They would add a nice spark to my selection. I learned a long time ago that the colors you display must look alive and varied enough to give customers a choice. To let them have the fun of choosing. Isn't that one of the reasons they come to craft shows?

And of course I do have to play. One of those new pieces I am thinking of? Maybe not quite this combination but there are possibilities here. What do you think?

And you--do you find yourself working with specific colors as the seasons change?  What do you think of the color pink?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

change change change

OK--finally the seasons are turning. The snow pack is shrinking. There is even one tiny place in the lawn where I can see dirt. Wow--spring will come.

I have been thinking a lot about change recently. There are new quilts haunting me that I need to figure out how to make. For me this is not unfamiliar territory. After all I started making traditional quilts, then began making the piecing more intricate and varied until I got tired of the technical aspects and switched to simple works in silk. I wearied of hearing that my seams were not straight and I began making tiny curved seams--got lots of great awards but few sales. Again the technique began controlling the quilts and I wanted to simplify and work larger.

I switched back to cotton--oh the fabrics were gorgeous by then. Had to practice my techniques to work in the cottons which did not manipulate as easily as the silk. Finally I began my abstract landscapes. Indeed yesterday I posted quilt images on Do check it out. It reminded me how much I love endless fields and moonlight. I had forgotten light on the ocean.

Now I am most proud of the fact that throughout these subtle changes my quilts have always been identifiable. There is something about the colors I use and the look I am creating that I know is distinctly mine. But--and this is a big but--I have been thinking about making more refined, simpler work again.

And I worry that my work may be looking a little too ordinary. After all there were four other quiltmakers at the Baltimore show who used commercial cottons. Nice people. Their designs were much more traditional than mine. Most of them used quilting machines. Yes, my work is very distinct from them--but is it sufficiently different. One browser even suggested I used a pattern that she had seen published in a magazine. OMG!!!!! Is the quilt world catching up to me again? This happened to me before when many assumed that I was using the techniques for water color quilts to create my much more intricate color progressions. Been there. Done that.

So what is the solution? It is something I have been pondering for some time.  Last summer I tried to make a quilt with very tiny strips of fabric to enter into a certain major quilt show. That quilt had some significant problems--the techniques were harder than I had anticipated. I was not a master of the effect of the tiny strips and did not understand how to manipulate them.  Time to practice, practice, practice. (Isn't that how one gets to Carnegie Hall after all?)

Luckily I can see wonderful squares of color adjacent to each other. I see subtle movements and designs in my mind. Oh why is it so hard to take these vague images and actually create a quilt? There are so many steps there. Don't you just love that question--how long does it take you to make a quilt? This is the time that they are not counting? Argh!!!

OK--I have done this before--it is much much harder than you would think. And I do love my wonderful large quilts that envelop the viewer. But there is something about a challenge, isn't there? And who knows--after Paradise City and CraftBoston I may be singing a different tune. After all, they are smaller more intimate shows.

And you--do you ever want to change how your work looks? I would love to hear your choices, the challenges that you have faced and any tips that you might have? I have a feeling this is a topic I will explore more.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

when will spring come?

OK--let's face it. March in New England. We still have 18 inches of dense packed snow on the ground. Our driveway is covered with ice. I can't even walk from my studio to get a cup of coffee without hanging onto the rail. Oh this is becoming a drag. No sun in the forecast for days.

Now I know that it is only a few weeks--14 days, 14 hours and 56 minutes as I write this--before the calendar turns. And this is the time for sugaring. Yes I do love my maple syrup on pancakes so maybe I shouldn't complain too much. Besides the next season is mud season. Oh the joys of that. UGH!!! So maybe I shouldn't complain so much.

I just returned from the Baltimore Craft Show. It was good--not great--but good. Pillows sold well. Yes--it is always nice to have a new item. I had spent a lot of time making them and I am still excited about the concept. There are several orders that may still come in which would make it better.

But still I did better last year. Oh well. Was my booth too dark? Bad location? Just luck of the draw? Do I need to update my work a bit more?  Not sure. But I have a couple of shows at the end of this month--Paradise City Arts Festival in Marlborough, MA--love that show--and CraftBoston the next week-end. (Will I be lucky enough to have mud season come and go while I am away? Sweet thought.)

For now I just need to make a few small wall hangings in spring colors. Bright soft blues. Lavenders. Something green and cheerful. A few pillows in those colors if I get a chance?  That is after all something I have control over. Long ago I learned that after a show that didn't meet my expectations the most effective thing is to quickly learn all I can and then concentrate on my next show. The next plan. Isn't that the best approach? Isn't tomorrow another day?

Here's a snapshot of the first new one. What do you think? Cheerful, happy colors. Thoughts of spring?