Decay, Disintegration, Distortion

Charity Janisse recently posted a picture of rusted metal on Twitter, which got me thinking about decay. I realized that I tend to focus on themes of vitality in my work and working on the flip side could be interesting.

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Flame taken by Charity Janisse and posted in this online article.

 

Then Lorie McCown came and gave a talk about her work to my quilt guild. She uses a lot of textiles in her work with frayed edges. Boy did she get me thinking about disintegration (as well as making your mark). You can find some great detail shots of her work on her Instagram account here.

And I’ve been talking to people who do computerized generative art. I think it was Anders Hoff who got me thinking about distortion when he posted these.

 

So, when I found myself with a week with one kid who was going to be gone from 9-4:30 every day, I jumped on the chance to work on a series of 5 panels which I dubbed “Obsessive Stitching 1-5”.  My initial idea was to work with all over patterns, as I had done in the Trajectory: Escape Velocity initial and final panels, but after two days of that, I got bored.

Here is day 1 and day 2.

 

I had hoped that the above finished panel would be more buckled (as it was promising to do below and like the panel from day 1), but it smoothed itself out in one dimension, while warping the shape!

Day 3. Here’s what happens when I do the same thing over and over. I have to change it up. This one needs more quilting, but I wasn’t able to finish it in one day.

 

Day 4 I decided to go back to the all over pattern and not worry about distorting the fabric. I was focused more on accentuating the pattern that the dye had created and adding texture. I used two metallic threads (black and red) in one needle (one eye, not two). Here is the result. It’s very subtle. I am quite pleased with how this turned out and think I might add some beads before I call it completely done.

By Day 5, I was exhausted, had run out of food, and had other things to attend to, so I only had a couple hours in the studio. I decided if I worked small(er), I might be able to get something substantial done. Initially I was going to make coccolithophores in space, but that seemed too daunting by Friday afternoon, so I switched to jellies instead. This picture is a bit of a cheat because I only made three jellies the first day. Also, the tweet is misleading. There are 12 jellies on that panel.

All in all, I have to say it was an interesting week. I rarely get concentrated time like that to work, and certainly never 5 days in a row. Working only with hand dyed panels felt very different to me. It is certainly a way to more easily incorporate organic patterns into my work. I also don’t usually focus on the stitching. That has typically been a way to just hold the thing together and add color. Using stitching as way to get to texture was very satisfying, especially as I think of my work more and more as 3d.

I look forward to playing more with stitching and themes of decay, disintegration, and distortion.

 

Making mistakes work for you

Many of us have this notion that mistakes are things we learn from so we can do something better, but what if you make a mistake and you can’t fix it? As an artist, this is an opportunity to make your work more exciting.

Usually we have this idea that when we make a mistake, we learn from it so we don’t do that thing again. For instance, how many times did you sew two pieces of fabric together in the wrong orientation? Didn’t take too long to figure that out, right? Or how many times did you cut improperly? These sorts of mistakes are good because they make us more careful in our work.

But, then there are the “mistakes of planning,” I’ll call them. They aren’t caused by the same inattention the above errors are. When these mistakes happen, your stomach drops because you feel there is no return from this sort of mistake. Don’t get me wrong, I still get that feeling, but it doesn’t last as long because some of these sorts of mistakes have lead to the end product being much more interesting.

This quilt, with the spiral in the middle, I’d initially intended to have bugs and music on it. When I went to the store, the best I could do was this lobster print. It was black and the lobsters were big, but they were important and I couldn’t release them. Instead, I worked them into the design and put them into the flying geese, which was when I discovered another mistake: one of the lobster parts was flying backwards. Baby quilts are a great place to experiment with design because the baby won’t care.

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Another mistake turned into a feature was when I made my older daughter’s bed quilt. I got to the borders and discovered I didn’t have enough of the fabric to go all the way around. Ok, fine, I thought, I’ll just do one edge pink and the other salmon. Which worked if I didn’t have any fabric in the corners. Back to the drawing board. That’s when I realized there was a secondary pattern in the main pieced part of the quilt that was a sawtooth star. Great, problem solved! I would just put sawtooth stars in the corners! It’s now my favorite part of the quilt.

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Fast forward a few years and my work is diverging from traditional quilting. The mistakes I’m making now are real opportunities to stretch as an artist.

My normal mode of operation is very “think out loud.” I try not to fasten anything down permanently unless I’m sure, but sometimes things happen that I didn’t prepare for and then I have to adjust.

The last panel for Trajectory: Escape Velocity, in my head, was going to be quilted in the same manner as the first panel. So, off I went and quilted the panel — without looking at the first panel. This time, I quilted it much more densely than I had done with the first panel. Oops, it buckled like mad. I figured, I’ll cut a hole in the middle and then it will be flat and then I can figure out how to cover up the hole. I remembered someone talking about doing something like this. And the panel was unique; it was made from a piece of hand dyed fabric. I couldn’t just scrap it and start over.

 

 

 

Well, I cut the hole and it was still wavy. And that was after I enlarged it at least twice. I put it down and went to bed. The next day, I came back. I couldn’t bring myself to cut into it more. Then I found myself thinking, it’s fabric. Why does it need to be flat? What if I make this work for me? I decided to go with it and it has become a dimensional panel with a hole in the middle. These are special features of this panel. It suits the message I’m trying to get across and it actually is much more interesting than if the panel had been flat with no holes.

 

So, sometimes mistakes are an opportunity to practice flexible thinking.

Warping the Fabric of Time and Space, panel 8 of Trajectory: Escape Velocity

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Here we are, the end. The last panel of Trajectory: Escape Velocity. Starting from the beginning of time, we have skipped and hopped, stroboscopically, from the Big Bang through early life and some key points of evolution (at least from the human perspective) to the future. Or one possible future.

In this panel, rockets are leaving earth, heading for the depths of outer space. This panel differs from the others in that it was hand dyed.  As soon as it was done, I knew it would be the last panel. I never expected it would look like this. I will have a post about that issue in the future.

This picture was also taken by Ron Freudenheim.

Here’s a picture I took yesterday which shows how much warping there is. I sewed 16 gauge wire to the each edge to get that effect, among other things. Again, more on that later.

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Trajectory: Escape Velocity Part VI: Grandpas in the trees

Grandpas in the Tree

Grandpas in the Tree

Panel 6 brings to primates. I attempted to arrange them in some semblance of evolutionary order, although it gets tricky as a lot of them are more parallel in development, rather than linear.

In this panel, you’ll note that the animals get more numerous at the top and also a bit more rambunctious, looking almost as though they might leap off and into your hand (or perhaps onto you heard) to go exploring.

The title of this panel comes from a line in a song by Dillon Bustin. I’m not sure of the actual title of the song, but it is a song about evolution and he refers to his “grandpa in the tree” in the last stanza. I’ve always been charmed by that and was pleased to be inspired by it here.

This picture was actually taken my by someone who knows what he’s doing, so Ron Freudenheim gets the credit here.

The Oceans are Teeming: Part IV of Trajectory: Escape Velocity

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I know some time has elapsed since I posted about the last panel, but fear not, I have been working away! I finished panel IV this week. I’m calling it “The Oceans are Teeming.”

This is a story told in stroboscopic post hole moments.  I hope the leaps I’m making aren’t too grand.  In this panel, there are some small fish at the bottom, but as your gaze travels upwards, the number and complexity of organisms increases.  Note that the fish don’t fit tidily. They are pushing out of the boundaries of the space they are allotted.

Most of the fish on this panel were cut out (during my daughter’s swim lessons, which I found rather apropos), but I did create a trio of jellyfish, one lone octopus, and a little squad of cuttlefish.  A treat for someone who stays to linger a moment or two extra.

Next up: dinosaurs and an abstract allusion to evolution. Hopefully that will be done much more quickly.

Black Smokers: Part III of Trajectory: Escape Velocity

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I was reminded the other day that I had not posted this yet. Sorry! Family life overtook me for a while there and I forgot to blog.

This panel represents black smokers, where early life was thought to have originated. I felted roving on top of silk to create the black smokers which I then appliqued onto the background. Then there was white silk sticking out, so I painted around the edges with a metallic blue fabric paint.  I also put a big plume of smoke in the middle, its base hidden.

The ribbon that is couched on represents streams of smoke or bubbles.  I fused some very small metallic pieces I picked up at Scrap DC to represent those early single celled organisms.  They start out small in number, but as they rise to the top, they become much more numerous. Look for this theme in future panels, as populations rise and create tension over habitat space.

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These are tweets of the black smoker in progress:

Dragon Crop Circle Quilt

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In 2011, my local quilt guild ran a challenge based on food. I got bread. I thought bread was awfully pedestrian and asked if I could do some free associating. I was told yes and off I went.

Bread, I reasoned, is made from wheat. Wheat is a crop and there are these things called crop circles (I was thinking corn mazes), so I went home and googled crop circles. Boy was I blown away. They were awesome. I found a great serpent one and that got me thinking about my favorite lizards: dragons! I have yet to learn how to draw, so I asked around and a friend offered to draw me a crop circle inspired dragon.

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This is what I had to work with. I figured out how to get it the size I wanted and set to work making it into a stencil. Because of the way it was designed, I figured I would adapt it some for fabric and embellish with beads.  I didn’t realize what I was committing to when I started this project, which is why it took so long to complete.

So, the dragon is in the middle, surrounded by fields (made with the Bargello method, for those who know what that is).  There are flowers at the edges because you find flowers at the boundaries. The binding is blue for the sky.  The last touch is the glittering red spirals at the corners because what’s a dragon without a little magic?

Primordial Soup: Phase II of Trajectory: Escape Velocity

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Last month I brought you the Big Bang. The next phase in my story is a little quieter, but equally as dramatic. Primordial Soup is where elements appear and combine and DNA pops out! The DNA is made of wire and beads and really does stand out from the quilt base. All the crystals represent different elements and some molecules. I lost count of how many crystals I used, but I’m pretty sure it’s over 400.