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.

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:

Trajectory: Escape Velocity

I have started a new project I’m calling Trajectory: Escape Velocity.  It is a story of evolution, beginning at the very beginning (let’s ignore what quantum physics tells us in favor of telling a more linear story for now) and ending with people leaving the planet. I don’t know all the steps in between. I won’t know until I’ve created them.  I post pictures of things in progress, if you are interested in those.  I am going to attempt to post as each phase is completed. So, here is phase 1.

In the beginning, there was darkness:

This is a little one inch black square.

This is a little one inch black square.

And then there was light:

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Starburst (19X19 inches)

Next up: The Primordial Soup. See a teaser DNA picture on Twitter.

Neuron collection: 3 new neuron quilts

Last fall I made a little purple neuron which caught the eye of Jennifer Wells (aka Jenthulu) on Twitter. After SfN14, she asked me if I would make her a new one as well as another one like Dancing, but in different colors.

Even though the request had been for a purple neuron, I got distracted and made a grey neuron highlighted with green flashes. For me, it is reminiscent of the micrographs with GFP (green flourescent protein).  Then I went and made the purple one, using different fabrics on the back as I had done before. I wanted it to feel fresh and as I said on Twitter last week, I’m not interested in reproducibility of results. I am constantly tweaking.

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Grey neuron quilt about 6X9 inches with metallic green flashes

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Purple neuron, dancing on a black background

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“Electricity” A green and pink neuron interact on a field of blue. Size is approximately 20in wide by 18in tall.

Then I set to work on the pair of interacting neurons. I wanted to try something different, so I used foil for the flashing synapses instead of angelina and where the connection was farthest, I added beads in the hopes of conveying the idea of little bits of information crossing (this is more along the lines of artificial intelligence, really, but I’m a fan of scifi too).

Initially I wasn’t sure how the different colors would play out.  I thought the red-pink background I’d made before with black neurons would be the only way to showcase them properly, but with a little time, I was able to figure out another solution. It was good to stretch outside my preconceived notions!

Letting go of fear

Nuno felting experiment

My phrase for this year is “letting go of fear”. I’m afraid of a lot of things. Most of them are quite silly. One of the reasons I love science is that it is all about facts. I find it very comforting to look at statistics, for instance. And I also love the spirit of investigation.

Last May I saw my first nuno felted scarf. I had no idea what it was, but I fell in love. I wanted to know how to do that thing.  In December, I met a woman who agreed to teach me and two weeks ago, she did indeed teach me. I took home four samples. It was so much fun.

Blue merino on silk, green yarn on blue merino, purple pleated, and red and purple grid

My life, with two kids with activity plus my own interests, is busy. I haven’t had the mental space or time to do something new, but I was starting to feel the pressure build. Use it or lose it. I went to two different yarn stores and bought supplies and today, I dove in. I let go of expectations and just tried, encouraging myself as best I could.

I am thinking this may be the chaotic, organic process my work needs. It’s messy, but easy to clean up, and unlike stitching with a machine, you lose a lot of control (over the shape of things). I love the textures you achieve in nuno felting.

I have no idea what I’m going to do with these pieces. They are experiments, but they are also building blocks.  Every time I can sidestep fear, it’s a good moment.

Dolphins and shells: teasers from a work in progress

Now that January has come and gone, I am hoping that the schedule will more amenable to some quality studio time again. On that note, I am posting a couple teaser pictures, which I posted earlier today, from a WIP.

This little quilt is about 12X 17 inches and is part of a group challenge. The pathway (mine is seaweed) connects all seven little quilts. It starts in the forest and ends at the beach. We were tasked with using two techniques we’ve explored in our group since we started. I have used paint and foil (so far), but have also incorporated some techniques I learned or taught myself since last year as well.  The curved piecing is courtesy of Karen Eckmeier, and the little tulle tube that encloses the sea shells is similar to something I did on the Blood Brain Barrier quilt I made last year.

Dolphins leaping in the waves. Stitched down with metallic thread and embellished with foil.

Real sea shells on fake (fabric) seaweed. Contained by tulle and then sewed down with a free motion quilting meander to make individual pockets for each shell.

When mine is done, and everyone else’s too, I will do a blog post that shows all seven together.

Tutorial for textile Artist Trading Cards

I have been incredibly remiss in talking about ATC’s here. I have posted most of what I’ve made so far on Twitter. I promise I’m going to do a mass ATC post here soon, but today, I have in mind to make a tutorial. It occurred to me that I had not seen a tutorial about making fabric post cards or ATCs in a format that appealed to me, so I thought I’d try my hand at a tutorial.

What you will need:

  • sewing machine
  • thread
  • microtex or denim needles
  • fabric
  • fusible web (I use Steam a Seam 2 lite — no affiliation)
  • Timtex
  • rotary cutter
  • ruler
  • scissors

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(Note: this method will work for larger pieces, like postcards (and smaller, as you can see on the stack). It gives you a finished blank canvas on which to work. Anything goes!)

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