Kintsugi

2016 was a pretty terrible year for me. I experienced heightened anxiety that randomly started in April and it was August before I realized it wasn’t “just going to go away.” I spent another two months adjusting to meds before I realized how impaired I’d been. I cannot tell you what a relief it is not to have to worry that my body is going to dissolve when I go out though.  The meds do not “take the edge off”: they provide a sort of prosthetic skin.

So, when I got a commission in November, I was a bit cautious, wanting to understand what the person wanted, especially as it was for a usable quilt and I’ve not made anything other than strip quilts for a couple years.

The person wanted a strip quilt, as I’d done before and color preferences were for green, blue, and purples. So, off I went.  When I make strip quilts, I try not to think too much ahead. I just work with the colors I have in hand and make sure they work next to the colors around them.

This is good therapy for me. It’s useful for me to not overthink when I’m creating and let’s my subconscious do the driving.  I noticed as I got about half way, that it was no longer straight on both sides, so I added a sliver of orange/red, inspired somewhat by Leonard Cohen’s death and his lyric about the cracks being where the light shines in. That is why I call this quilt Kintsugi.  It’s about being made of pieces and mending the broken or wonky parts when we need to. It’s about letting all the parts of ourselves exist in harmony together, even if they seem disparate. We contain multitudes and we are star stuff.kintsugi

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.

 

Beth’s Garden (Dragon)

A dragon in the style of a crop circle in a garden.

A dragon in the style of a crop circle in a garden.

When Juan first approached me about the dragon quilt I finally finished this year, I was surprised that someone was interested in such a highly personal piece for themself. In fact, I asked him what it was he was interested in.  He told me that dragons were really significant for him and his wife, who died two years ago. He was also interested in the spirals.

So, I told him that I could probably modify the design and put it in an affordable price range and off we went! This was truly a co-mission. Juan gave me lots of personal details and I tried to weave them into this piece.

At the beginning, I was thinking of this as Beth’s dragon, but as time went on, I realized it was Beth’s garden.  Beth was a gardener (and quilter), and I wanted the base to be produce prints.  I checked with Juan to make sure there were none she hated or if there were any that needed to be included. Beth loved potatoes (and Juan still does), so I had to include those. I didn’t have any in my stash, but when I asked around in the quilting community, someone generously sent me more than I needed so I was able to make the back with potatoes too.

I used the same stencil for the dragon, but arranged it differently. You can see that I started with a more similar layout in the first tweet, but felt the second layout was much better.  Juan’s dragon is in a garden, not a field.  It’s much more intimate than mine.  

I am pretty sure the dragon comprises both Juan and Beth. It is gold for the sun because Beth was Juan’s sun, but the tail is all Juan, with the sharp, glittery black band and dots. The head is Beth, with the circlet of stars and all the bejeweled flowers (that she probably grew in her garden). Also, Juan told me they met because she lived across a field from him. There is already wheat and flowers in the background, but I wanted to bring the feeling of the field more to the forefront.

I wanted to include a yin yang in this dragon and when I went to put it together, I placed the two pieces separated. To me, they represent Juan’s broken heart. He carries her in his belly. But also, I think she’s in his throat (the bejeweled flowered piece).
Although there are many spirals in this quilt, the three central spirals represent their children. The youngest is the shiny spiral at the bottom and the two on top of that are his sons.

I feel honored to have been chosen to bring this dragon to life.  It was pure joy to work on and helped me find my mojo again.

Between the stars and sand

Sometimes you just need to go back to the basics. April and May have been incredibly busy and incredibly stressful. I was able to finish projects that just needed grunt work, but the creative part of me was inaccessible. That’s when I remembered “strip therapy.” At this point, I can’t remember who talked about it, but I’m pretty sure it was one of my internet quilting friends. I thought to myself, I can’t organize my thoughts around anything, but I can sew strips together. Furthermore, I was recently inspired by Carolyn Friedlander and Mark Lipinski to try Modern Quilting and focus on “Slow Stitching.”

Strips sewn in pairs and arranged for inspection

So, I dug into my scrap drawer of strips I’d already cut and sorted them by color and then by size since I don’t always use the same width. Then I started sewing colors together that I liked. I paired strips and arranged and dragged some more strips out and sewed them together and voila, I had a quilt top big enough for a baby (which I told my friend I’d make last year).

So, I’ve made my first practical quilt in two years. And it helped me break that block to some extent as I have started phase three of Trajectory: Escape Velocity.

Baby quilt done in the Modern Quilting style

What do you do when you have a creative block? How do you get back to work when your mind is just spinning?

Dragon Crop Circle Quilt

cropcircle

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.

dragoncropcircle

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?

Pictures of the quilts from SfN14

I have put all pictures of the quilts I had at SfN14 into a Picasa Gallery which you can also find in the Quilt Galleries link at the top of the page.  Many of these are still available, so please ask if you are interested! If you did not make it to the convention, many of these were not posted here before.

The only quilt which did not make it into this gallery (yet) is Synaptic Coral, which I’m including as thumbnail in this post.

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And please, if you have thoughts from SfN14 or neuroscience related thoughts or links you want to share, let me know. I love to talk about this stuff!

Another synapse quilt and a blood brain barrier too!

I have neglected to announce here that I will be in the Art of Neuroscience Exhibit at the annual Neuroscience Convention in Washington, DC from Nov 15-19.  Greg DunnLia Cook, Megan McGlynnMichele Banks, and Kathleen Childress will also be there. There are two sessions open to the public, the first is on Saturday, the 15th, from 11 am to 1 pm and the second is Tues, Nov 18 from 3-5pm (I believe).

One of the things I love about creating art in the neuroscience field is how wide open it is.  I can choose any number of things to focus on, from experimental subjects (like jellyfish and octopuses) to data (as in the action potential graph I did) down to the matter on a microscopic level.  These two quilts were inspired by images that were taken under a microscope. If the green one looks familiar, it should. It was inspired by the same image that I used for the black and white synapses.  The second picture is my rendition of a blood brain barrier inspired by this image by Ben Brahim Mohammed.

If you are looking for more pictures, I have posted a bunch on Twitter. (note that not quite all the pictures/videos here are my quilts, but most of them are.) Please feel free to ask me questions!

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bloodbrainbarrier

Storytime

One of the goals I have with my art quilts is to try to convey a sense of story. With that in mind, I want to show you the path my mind took to get to this quilt.

One of the images I came across when looking at pictures of neurons was a picture comparing galaxies to neurons.  I am pretty sure I saw that after I saw a picture of city lights compared to neurons. I thought, wow, that is awesome and tucked the thoughts and images away.

A few months later, I was at the Hayden Planetarium listening to the dulcet tones of  Neil deGrasse Tyson croon about the universe. Relaxed, I let his words wash over and through me as I watched pictures of stars, galaxies, and planets move overhead.  And then I thought “what if the universe were a brain? and what if galaxies were neurons?” And, “what if the ocean was a brain? and jellyfish were neurons?” I almost leapt out of my seat, ready to go play, but stayed tethered to watch the rest of the show.

Life got hold of me. It took me away from the sewing machine for a bit. But still I noodled with this idea of stars and galaxies being neurons.  Then I saw a picture of neurons that seemed like they could be shooting stars and I knew I had to make shooting neuron stars, but how?  One day, I walked into a sewing store and there before my eyes was this iron-on thread. I had found it! I knew how I was going to make my shooting neuron stars.

 

Shooting Neuron Stars

Irish Trees

When I started my art quilt journey in late 2012, I asked friends if they wanted to sign up to receive one.  I think I started with about 12 people.  I have now made over 50. Some for commission even.

This one is for a friend who was on that original list. She sent me an image that had meaning for her and this is what I made. She is thrilled with it. It was an interesting project for me in that I had made trees before, but not quite like this.  I was going for this particular shape which didn’t seem to be working with the strips I was used to working with. I just could not get them to work. I decided to switch fabric and voila, all of a sudden it came together! I ended up using the original fabric as leaves and I stitched over them with a metallic green thread because I cannot resist sparkles. It measures roughly 11 inches tall and 19 inches wide.

I’m calling it Irish Trees because the original image had Celtic knots involved, but that was not working for me and I was pleased with it without the knots.

irishtrees