Wednesday, June 20, 2018

A YoYo Couple of Days

 (Above:  The Cocoon, in progress.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Just as I entered my second of a five-week art residency at the Rensing Center outside Pickens, South Carolina, my faithful old Bernina sewing machine started to give out.  It is currently at We're In Stitches, a Bernina dealership in nearby Greenville. Amazingly, the machine continued to operate even after all the teeth on one belt had been worn totally away.  There's a broken screw and a faulty wheel ... and parts are now on order.  I had no other choice (other than to drive back to Columbia for my other machine) than to turn my attention to some hand stitching.

(Above:  Detail of one of the panels showing the saved, crocheted edge from a doily stitched attached by buttons.)

Originally, my plan was to construct as many panels as needed to fill all the pipe assemblage that I bought with a grant from the SC Arts Commission.  I got enough to build a 20' x 20' enclosure.  Knowing the size of my apartment/studio, I thought I would only be able to build a 10' x 10' cube.  I planned to construct enough panels for the smaller size, take them down, and build the same amount again.  After all these panels were constructed, my plan was to turn my attention to the hand work.


Yet, the ceiling isn't uniformly high enough to build the cube.  Basically, my plan was shot on Day One!  So, what makes the difference if I start the hand embellishments early?  Not a problem ... especially since the sewing machine is in the shop!

 (Above:  Photo of collected belt buckles and just a few of the YoYos.)

After returning from the Bernina shop late on Monday morning, I decided to tackle the two yoyo quilts with a seam ripper.  Both were falling apart.  I thought it would be simple disassemble them, but I was SO WRONG!  Just because some of the pieces weren't stitched together well, it didn't mean the rest weren't very, very secure.  I must have stabbed myself a dozen times.  What appeared like a couple hours of work turned into the rest of the day.  I didn't actually finish.  I'm only at the halfway point with either yoyo quilt!  Yet, I did manage to end up with plenty of individual yoyos to stitch onto The Cocoon!

Of course, once I ripped out the hand-stitching that held these yoyos together, it was a matter of hand stitching them to my project!  One at a time!  Often standing on a step stool!

But don't they look great?  Don't they add to the feeling of a comfortable, soft, safe, nostalgic, and "homey" atmosphere?  Isn't this the setting for story-telling and family memories?  Isn't this a scene for a quilting bee and all the gossip and friendships that surround communities of people who make things by hand?  This is exactly the environment I'm trying to create!

Even though I can't erect my intended cube, I did find a location just inside the front door where another set of pipes can stand!

(Above:  10' length of panels just inside my apartment door.)

I've been working really hard to finish up both this side (above) ....

... and it's other side!  Why?  Well, tomorrow an upright washer/dryer is to be installed in my apartment/studio.  I don't think the machine will fit through the front door with my pipe assemblage there!  It needs to be moved ... so it needs to be done!  Hopefully by later tonight, I'll have this entire section FINISHED (and taken back down!)

In addition to the yoyos, I attached several gloves, belt buckles, and a few articles of clothing, including this once fine christening gown.  It was damaged beyond expectations for any infant to ever wear again, but it certainly adds to my installation.  What memories it must hold!

Next to the christening gown is this enormous crocheted doily.  It measures close to 40" in diameter.  It would not lay flat.  In truth, it is pretty ugly ... but it looks great on the floral tablecloth ... and it only took a couple of hours to hand stitch it there!  If this isn't bringing new life to old, neglected textiles, what is?  Hopefully, my machine will be repaired soon and I'll be back to fashioning more panels on which I can hand stitch more embellishments like this!

(Above:  The Pickens County Recycling Center.)

One way or the other, I'm not spending every minute with a threaded needle.  I've been daily walking down to the little waterfalls that are on the back of the Rensing property.  I'll share photos later!  Plus, I've been to the Pickens County Recycling Center!  It's a blast!  Everything has its place and the people are friendly.  Recycling is fun!

I am linking this post to Nina-Marie's "Off the Wall Fridays", a site for sharing fiber arts. 

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Finishing up the first week at the Rensing Center

 (Above:  The Cocoon, in progress.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

My installation, The Cocoon, is progressing very nicely here at the Rensing Center outside Pickens, SC.  During this first of five weeks as as an "artist-in-residence," I have figured out several ways to overlap the odd shaped and often damaged pieces of vintage linens.  Several poorly constructed quilt tops have been taken apart and put back together into panels for the pipe assemblage that I was able to purchase with a grant from the South Carolina Arts Commission.

With each panel, I'm learning something new. Mostly, I'm imagining the Thanksgiving dinners served on some of the stained tablecloths and the birthdays, anniversaries, and many Mother's Days that meant these linens were "gifts".  Lots of the napkins still have little paper stickers reading "Made in Japan" or "Irish linen".  Though never used, these pieces show the inevitable foxing of age and permanent discoloration on the folds.  It is wonderful to finally fashion them into "something"  ... even if it wasn't their intended use. 

In my TEDx talk, I tried so hard to impress listeners to USE THEIR PRECIOUS POSSESSIONS!  Even as I said these words, I knew that no one would really use "Grandma's doilies".  I talk about "Grandma's doilies" a lot in that talk.  (CLICK HERE to see the entire video.)  In a very real sense, this installation is meant as a personal response to my own, collected stash.  It was high time for me to USE these things.  The installation will hopefully become a physical place for the public to donate a doily, stitch on a button, and USE all these things to remember and honor the past women who embellished their homes with the handmade.

Part of my stash was already donated to me.  In fact, many people have given me their family's doilies and household linens because they don't want to use them and can't bear to sell them at a yard sale.  They tell me, "Here, Susan, you make art with them".  So, I am.

Undoubtedly, the most beautiful donation came from printmaker Steven Chapp.  He sent me his mother's 1948 wedding gown.  Now, I knew it was lovely when I opened the box, but until ironing it, I didn't truly appreciate the gorgeous, heavy white satin.  I love the back with its tiny covered buttons, bow bustle, and long train even more than the princess styled front.  I would have worn this at my wedding.  (In fact, I like it a lot more than the dress I wore!)  There's no way for me to cut it!  Yet, it occurred to me that I could just suspend it from the pipe assemblage.  Conceptually, the wedding dress puts the suggestion of a woman into the enclosure.  As it is now, it is too high ... but I'm really liking this way of incorporating such a special garment into the installation.

I am, however, incorporating other garments, especially some of the dozens of infant clothing, into some of the panels.

This is the back of the newest panel.  The entire installation is meant to be experienced both as an interior and an exterior.  Because of the flexibility of the telescoping upper pipes, I will be able to erect this enclosure in a variety of sizes.

I have used most of the linen calendar towels.  I have an entire stack left over.  They are duplicates of the same scene.  I have also started adding a few buttons and other things by hand stitching.  More detail shots are further below.  Just keep scrolling down!

 (Above:  Ellen Kochansky, noted fiber artist and Rensing Center executive director, filleting a baked red snapper.)

Of course most of my time finds me in my studio space stitching, but not all the time!  Every week there is a potluck dinner at Ellen Kochansky's on-site home.  I am a little like this red snapper, a "fish out of water".  Everyone brings some exotic, generally locally sourced or hand-picked, delicacy.  Before dining, each person gets a few moments to explain their culinary choices.  One person brought a roadkill deer tenderloin prepared according to a recipe found in The Sioux Chef cookbook. 

Ellen prepared a fresh red snapper with a salted meringue, a coating that allowed the scales to simply peel away with the meringue once baked.

The conversations are always enlightening and generally very scholarly in the area of the arts.

Anyone knowing me is aware that I pride myself on my lack of domesticity.  At home, I don't cook, grocery shop, do laundry, dust, scrub toilets, sweep, vacuum, or work in the backyard ... at all.  (Thank goodness for Steve ... and HAPPY FATHER'S DAY!)

So, what did I bring?  Deviled eggs.  The only thing I can say on my behalf is that I was creative with a serving container!  Now, scroll down for detail images of what I actually can do ... create an installation from mismatched, odd shaped, much loved and also neglected old linens!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Arrival at the Rensing Center

(Above:  Me and my very filled cargo van just before pulling out of the driveway to go to the Rensing Center.)

It's been over a year since I dreamed up the idea of creating a spacious, soft enclosure out of my enormous stash of vintage household linens and lace.  I started calling the project The Cocoon.  I wrote a proposal, got a SC Arts Commission quarterly project grant to assist with the cost of the convention center piped booth assemblage, and secured a five-week art residency at the Rensing Center outside Pickens, South Carolina.   I've been talking about the project for months, but during the last couple of weeks, I started to get nervous!  Could I pull it off?  Could I really turn the foggy vision in my head into a reality, a safe place for future public art engagements?  A major fiber installation where people could share stories about embroidery and quilting done by past generations of women?  A location where someone could donate a doily, stitch on a button, learn to thread and needle and pull it through hanging yards of tablecloths and pillowcases?

 (Above:  "The Pottery", one of the Rensing Center's self-contained studio and living spaces ... named because it was formerly a ceramic studio.)

Thankfully, Ellen Kochansky, a noted fiber artist and Rensing Center executive director, believes in my ability to pull things off ... even giant projects that only exist on paper and haven't yet been tested!  So, last Sunday Steve and I hauled all the boxes of linen, the new pipe system, my sewing machine, and supplies for the next five weeks into the cargo van.  I drove out of our parking lot and off on this new adventure. 

 (Above:  The Pottery's kitchen.)

My home for the next five weeks is called "The Pottery".  It's down a short gravel drive off a meandering driveway.  It is a self-contained efficiency apartment and studio all rolled into one with sliding glass doors overlooking the woods.  It is secluded and beside a trail that leads to a hidden waterfall.  I have everything I need and time to work.

As soon as I arrived, I unloaded the van ...

... surveyed the space and moved all the furniture ... order to finally set up the pipe system.  I hadn't anticipated one important thing.  The ceiling isn't eight feet except on one side of the big room.  No matter!  I was able to set up enough to get started.  I will certainly be able to work, step back and review, continue, and envision the space I'll be creating.  It is actually kind of exciting to know that I will work for five weeks, seeing sections at a time, and not see the finished product.  It is exciting because this means the final "unveiling" will be at a different time, something that can be arrange, publicized, and open to the public!  All in all, this is perfect!

I couldn't wait to get started sorting all the boxes into piles.  I also hung up a special donation, a satin wedding dress donated to my cause by Steven Chapp, an extremely accomplished printmaker who only lives in nearby Easley, South Carolina.  I haven't quite decided how this vision from the past is going to figure into The Cocoon, but I know that garment automatically infer a human element ... and wedding dresses infer a special day, a beautiful ideal, and this one perfectly belongs among all the table runners and formal damask napkins and other fine occasion textiles.  I am sure the gown will let me know how to use it!

 (Above:  The sofa covered in vintage garments.)

The wedding gown isn't the only garment.  While sorting, I was amazed at just how many pairs of bloomers, sleeping dresses, and especially infant clothing I actually had!

The collection of yoyos was much larger than I thought too!

Although this looks like a lot of crocheted doilies, it isn't quite as many as I had in 2012 when I made The Canopy while on another art residency in Galesburg, Illinois.

Nor is this stash of lace trim as plentiful as I had then.

Yet, I have never had as many gloves, baby bonnets, and lace collars!  Ever!

I have already learned that I can rip the elastic out of the late 1960s gloves ... which I like better!

I made piles of pillowcases, linen dish towels sporting printed calendars, tablecloths ...

... and quilt blocks, tops, and scraps.

On Monday I started stitching.  The first panel took forever and looked dreadful.  Well, maybe not "dreadful" but certainly not promising.  I thought I'd bitten off more than I could chew.  I had to stand back and think about my own concept.  I wanted LAYERS, not just a flat, pieced panel.  The plan was to EMBELLISH the larger pieces with the smaller ones.  So, I continued through Tuesday and this is how far I've gotten.  I am much happier, especially after I added some yoyos, gloves, and infants garments.  Putting doilies onto tablecloths and adding quilt tops (no matter how poorly constructed!) improved the dull, flat look for the first panel.  Color brightened the initial day!

This is how the back looks.  Actually, it's not really "the back"; it's the exterior!  After a day of doubt, I've returned to excitement! I can already say with confidence that this project is going to be a success ... after about a million stitches!  I can and will do it!

 Further below are plenty of detail images.  Please take a look!  Scroll down!

(Above:  A ring of old, rusty keys and two sheets of antique buttons.)

As much as I have to do ... because I have enough pipe system to create a space measuring 20' x 20' ... I will not tax myself completely!  I will have fun, walk to the waterfalls, looks at the stars, and go to the nearby Pickens County flea market on Wednesday mornings!  Today I scored a ring full of rust keys and two sheets of very nice antique buttons.

(Above:  Gallery 80808/Vista Studios last Saturday night.)

There's one more thing I'd like to share!  On Saturday evening, right before leaving for the Rensing Center, I returned to Gallery 80808/Vista Studios, my first studio ... from 2002 - 2016. I learned to "be an artist" in this studio and almost everything I ever made happened on the small patch of dark blue paint in the photo above. I moved out two years ago, just before the landlords closed off the large exhibition area that had been over the back wall of my studio.  The landlords started a gradual transition for their warehouse.  By this year, the remaining artists had to move out.  Most went to a new, more expensive complex called Stormwater.  My mentor, Stephen Chesley and Carl Larson ... who occupied my space after I left ... got permission to use the space and showcase the last piece of art they made in  together using the leftover wall and floor paint.  The permission was for one-night-only ... last Saturday.  So, I went to visit my "old haunt", my sacred space, and soak up the atmosphere.

Please note, the landlords are about the most wonderful, supportive people ever.  Gallery 80808/Vista Studios existed with low rent for nearly thirty years.  Early on, the area had been a little sketchy but more recently it turned into a bustling urban setting full of restaurants, hotels, bars, and very little parking.  It was time for the landlords to make changes and start the process of cashing in our their warehouse investment.

I didn't know what to expect after all the studio partitions were removed.  I hoped for a little mental clarity and I got it!  It was amazing to see just how tiny my little space was.  Change is necessary for growth.  I started making art in that space ... seventeen years ago.  Where will I be in seventeen years? There's no way to deny "mid-career"!

I took a photo of my own feet in the exact place I used to stand.  That was then.  Now I'm ready for the future, the next phase of my studio practice, and for working on giant sized projects that couldn't have been done in the past.  I'm on a new adventure ... onward and upward!

Now ... details of the major fiber installation on which I'm working!  Scroll down!  Check back!  I'll be blogging regularly from the Rensing Center where my new life is already underway!

I am linking this post to Nina-Marie's "Off the Wall Fridays", a site for sharing fiber arts.