Monday, August 10, 2020

Dreaming During COVID-19

(Above:  Dreaming During COVID-19, a mini art quilt. 12" x 12".  Manipulated digital image printed on fabric with free motion and hand embroidery.  Click on either image to enlarge.)

As this pandemic drags on and more events, exhibits, and festivals are cancelled, I find myself stitching yet another image of vintage and antique dolls.  The change of colors reflects the way our world has changed.  The textural surface reflects the virus itself, infecting society.  The pose, however, is as if asleep and dreaming.  Some of the slumbering visions are a nightmare. There's something shocking in these dreams, like the shock of seeing people who refuse to wear a facial mask.  It is a nightmare to read about spiking numbers of newly confirmed cases and more notices of death.  Yet, there is something beautiful in this image too.  Like these dolls, I am dreaming of a better, healthier, more respectful tomorrow.  May that day come soon! 

 Below is a photo of the reverse side.  It reflects so many good things ... because much of the materials used were donated to my stash!  Gay Lasher once sent the lace used for the hanging sleeve.  Jinny Cherry and Dolly Patton donated the doilies.  Billie Hunkler recently sent the crocheted circle.  That's the world in which we pull together.  It is still with us and will win over this virus ... one day!


Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Biodiversity and a new kitten

(Biodiversity, 37 1/2" x 42 1/2". Recycled frame and vintage, crewel embroidered seat cushions with buttons and collaged letters.  Hand stitched.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Some ideas stew for weeks, even years.  This one, however, was instantaneous.  From the moment I saw the raw material (six vintage, crewel embroidered seat cushions) to the first stitch took about two days.

(Above:  Stitching Biodiversity with our new kitten, Ernie.)

The button hole stitching around all the elements took a lot longer but I had company!  This is Ernie, our new kitten!  My husband Steve and I had no intentions of getting a kitten.  We thought we wanted a people-friendly, adult cat who would greet everyone coming to Mouse House, our custom picture framing business (which is the first floor of our historic home in downtown Columbia.)  We went to a nearby no-kill shelter to "interview/audition" cats, but Ernie stole our hearts.  He is also stealing the hearts of every customer because he has taken to his new job like a champ!

(Above:  The seat cushions.)

So here's how Biodiversity came about!  I was gifted these six, crewel embroidered seat cushions from a close friend.  Her grandmother had stitched them.  Even though they became discolored and tattered, they had been dry cleaned and kept for years.  Upon sight, I wanted to transform them from antique household objects into an artwork with a contemporary message.  Within a minute, I knew the piece would reflect an environmental issue. 
(Above:  The six, crewel embroidered seat cushions before alteration.)

Arriving at an environmental message wasn't rocket science!  All these exotic plants and pretty insects automatically conjured up "nature".  In fact, the variety suggested "biodiversity".  It reminded me of an earlier work I'd made, A Picture of a Plant.  I went and looked at it.  I remembered researching global warming, plant extinction, deforestation, and land exploitation.  Although I had my theme, I had to figure out how to use these seat cushions to convey my ideas.  I knew I couldn't keep them on their linen backgrounds.  I would have to snip the embroidery away, leaving only about a quarter-inch of the material around each element.  They'd have to "go on something else", some other, appropriate, vintage material ... somewhere in my stash.
(Above:  Before and after tea dying the background fabric.)

As luck would have it, the first piece of fabric I found was this wool embroidered piece of upholstery material. It was too bright and too "white" but I had an idea.  I don't know where I got it.  (Probably in a box lot from Bill Mishoe's auction.) It was an odd shape.  I cut off the "extra" and put the larger piece into a jug of tea overnight. The wool took the tea very, very well.  The background didn't turn out as "dark" but I really liked the contrast.

While the fabric line dried, I tried to imagine the pieces of crewel embroidery on it.  It was hard until I decided to use an old frame (also from Bill Mishoe's auction).  I needed to visualize the edges in order to compose the individual elements.

(Above:  The fabric and frame on my living room floor ... where I arranged the elements.)

The gold painted, spandrel frame was originally purchased for its potential to become part of my Anonymous Ancestors installation. I thought I'd cut a multi-opening mat for a dozen or so anonymous images, but the fact of the matter is that I don't have another solo show scheduled for this exhibit. I'm no longer sending out exhibition proposals for it.  So, I don't need another piece for this show. The frame has been leaning up against my mat cutter for months.  Perhaps it was waiting for this project!  I played around with the embroidered elements until satisfied, pinned them in place, and stapled the background fabric to a stretcher bar.  The stretcher bar was cut to fit inside the rectangular wooden strips on the back of the gold, spandrel frame.  I installed two work horses in the living room and have been stitching every night ... with Ernie!
(Above:  Biodiversity, detail.)

Thankfully, my stash also includes a pile of Appleton tapestry wool.  For hours, I put button hole stitches around the edge of every element.  Some of the smallest insects required a minimum of sixty stitches.  With Ernie often sitting on the piece (usually asleep ... because he tends to want to chase the thread!), the work got quite loose on the stretcher bars ... but that was okay!

(Above:  Acid free foam-centered board inside the lip of the stretcher bars.)

When I finally finished stitching, I removed the piece from the stretcher bars.  Acid-free foam-centered board went inside the lip and was glued into place.  Then, I restapled the piece to the stretcher bars.  Then, I used heavy duty thread to stitch through the piece and the foam-centered board.  I stitched horizontal lines every few inches.  This was done so that no part of the fabric had to support more than a few inches of the whole. 

Then, the stretched piece was installed in the frame, the corners stitched closed, and 1/2" off-set clamps screwed into place.  I added a heavy-duty hanging wire.  As an extra touch, I stitched a ring of buttons around the edge of the frame ... directly through the foam centered board and the piece.

(Above:  Collaging letters to the frame.)

Before installing the artwork, I collaged words onto the frame.  At the top, it reads: Biodiversity which is flanked by the words Protect and Preserve.  Around the rest of the rim:  Plants are the backbone of our ecosystem. Habitat destruction, exploitation, and climate change are killing the natural world. Support conservation efforts now!

I keep individual letters in two containers.  One holds the older, black-and-white letters.  The other (the one I used here) has the newer, colorful letters from magazines. 

Today I snapped photos of the piece while it hung on the garage door.  The daylight was perfect.  It took about twenty minutes to eliminate the garage door from the final photo.  Thank goodness for Photoshop!  Ernie seemed to approve of the finished piece ... but he tried to knead it with his little claws.

To keep it safe, it got hung about the door between my sales room and my mat cutting room!  Below are additional detail shots!

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Misfits, a mini art quilt

(Above:  Misfits, 12" x 12".  Manipulated digital image printed on fabric with free-motion and hand embroidery.  Click on either image to enlarge.)

I honestly thought that by now COVID-19 would be mostly under control, fewer art exhibitions would be "virtual only", and that I wouldn't be stitching yet another image of creepy dolls as a response to this pandemic.  Yet, that isn't the case.  Just yesterday, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) announced 1,666 new confirmed cases and forty-eight confirmed deaths. Our total numbers stand at 85,423 confirmed cases and 1,551 confirmed deaths.  Our numbers are dreadful.  We are among the states that experts suggest should shutdown again.  

(Above:  Misfits, reverse.)

Many people talk about wanting to "get back to normal" or "come to the 'new normal' ", but that can only happen when we "get out of the woods".  We aren't there yet and the edge isn't in sight.  I guess I'll start stitching on yet another digital images of creepy dolls.  I wonder how long this will go on?

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The Clothesline Continues Growing

 (Above:  New additions to my Clothesline Installation.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

There's something special about this installation.  Perhaps it is because I started it while enjoying a wonderful art residency administered by the Springfield Art Association in Illinois.  At the time, I was like many others, blissfully unaware that COVID-19 was starting to spread across the globe.  These vintage household linens with all their fabric hand prints remind me of the last things I was making before the world became a different place.

Yet perhaps this installation seems special because of the pandemic.  Hanging items on a clothesline is like stepping back into a simpler time, when most people didn't rely on a the modern convenience of a dryer but did chores by hand.  The Clothesline Installation requires me to relish the easy tasks of ironing, mending, and going outside to use clothespins.  There is a joy in this on-going project that always makes me smile.

There are hundreds and hundreds of fabric hand prints in the collection.  During a recent road trip to Wildflowers Too in Barnagut Light, New Jersey, I cut out lots and lots more.  Why were Steve and I headed to this charming art gallery?  Well, the owner had been following the progression of this installation since it started and wanted it to be part of her summer season.  All the other pieces are now there and are to hang during August.  I'll post images when available.

I had a reason to cut out more hand prints.  What reason?  Well, I found another pile of linens in my own stash plus a friend donated plenty more.  After zigzag stitching around all the hand prints, I hung them up.  They filled my clothesline two-and-a-half times!  These are the images I took.

The fact of the matter is, I ran out of hand prints cut during the road trip and had to trace out more of them.  Now, I have a bunch of hand prints waiting for more household lines.  I'm sure more will find their way into my stash!

Friday, July 24, 2020

Little Things Make a Big Difference

(Above:  Oswald Home Laundry, a mini art quilt.  9 3/4" x 13 3/4". Digital image printed on cotton fabric with free motion stitching, hand beading, and button hole stitched binding.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

The original image is tiny, less than three inches in width, but it speaks volume to me. This was my great grandmother Linnie Rose Oswald in the 1920s.  I knew her.  She didn't die until I was in college.  It still amazes me just how short a time has passed since women fought for the right to vote.  This small snapshot reminds me how recent the history of feminism really is, and how little things can make a big, lasting difference.

I used a digital scan of the original image to create a large piece.  (CLICK HERE to access.)  Yet, I wanted to also stitch something that more exactly looked like the photograph.  Spoonflower printed the scan on cotton.  I free-motion stitched it and added the suggestion of halo with a few beads.

(Above:  Oswald Home Laundry, a mini art quilt, detail.)

The figure itself was stuffed from the reverse.  This is a technique known as trapunto.  It adds a dimensional quality.

 (Above:  Oswald Home Laundry, a mini art quilt, reverse.)

My great grandmother was a quilter.  The few quilts I know she made included lots of pink fabric. Thus, I used a scrap of a pink bedspread for the reverse.  The title and my signature were stitched on a delicate, shadow stitched coaster featuring the initial B.  Because I couldn't think of an appropriate title for the piece starting with B, I hide most of the letter with a couple artificial flowers collected from cemetery dumpsters.  

(Above:  Nails.  Approximately 8" x 8" and matted to 16" x 16".  Handmade paper with wrapped rusted nails and beads. $60.) 

Some times, little things inspire me.  Nails have always inspired me.  Symbolically, a nail is most often associated with Christ's crucifixion and with construction.  In both cases, there is a bittersweet truth.  Christ's crucifixion is salvation for Christians but it is also a horrible way to die.  In construction, nails are pounded into planks of wood to build a structure but from that moment on, neither piece will ever be pristine again.  Such little things!  Nails!  I love them.

(Above:  Someone Struggled, 3 1/2" x 5 3/4".  Antique photographs cut and stitched together with collaged quotation by Susan B. Anthony.)

Another "little thing" I made this past week is Someone Struggled.  It was created from two larger, sepia toned photographs on thick, heavy mounting board.  I made this piece for Bonnie Smith who is putting together an artist book called She Votes.  (The linked page does not include the extended deadline for receiving the donated submissions which isn't until July 31st ... so I made it in!)  When I think about it, there will be plenty of other artworks by all sorts of female artists going into this book.  Each one is just a "little thing" but collectively, the book will make a big difference.  How do I know this?  Well ... the connection got me to join the Women's Caucus for Art.  This organization is currently forming a Carolinas chapter and I'm going to be part of it!  One new member for a bigger mission!

Sunday, July 19, 2020

How Lucky Am I: White Privilege

(Above:  How Lucky Am I: White Privilege, an artist book. When hung on a wall: 14 3/4" x 9" x 4".  Thirty-one pieces of 12" x 9" painted canvas with zigzag stitched edges and hand embroidered statements, mounted on a vintage clip board.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

I've had the vintage clip board for at least a year, maybe two, maybe three.  Yet somehow I knew it would come in handy.  In fact, I sort of imagined it as an artist book. I just didn't have a subject and no ideas for what kind of pages it might hold ... until a couple weeks ago.  Then, two ideas flashed in my mind like neon lights.  The first was easy and quick to accomplish:  Black Lives Matter, a series of eight anonymously stitched cross stitch profiles mounted in 10" wooden embroidery hoops.  When I blogged about them, I included the following paragraph:

Horrifying videos of police brutality, recent protests, and especially the number of email messages from businesses and non-profits with racial equity and justice support messages got me thinking and wanting to better educate myself in regards to white privilege and justice for minorities.  I haven't gotten through the entire list, but I've been reading article after article listed on American & Moore's '21-Day Racial Equity Challenge'. 

This second idea took much longer!  First, I had to paint a large piece of primed canvas.  I had the canvas already, rolled up and tucked away in a corner.  It was leftover from a roll purchased for works made back in 2012 as a way to express the colors and reflections in the waters of Key West.  (Blogged HERE.)  I drew and dabbled and sponged and sprayed all sorts of acrylic paint over it.  It dried and then I ripped it into as many 12" x 9" pieces as possible.  All the edges were zigzag stitched with a pretty variegated King Tut cotton thread.  Finally, I was ready to hand stitch the sentences I wrote.

The list was inspired by  Peggy McIntosh's 'White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.  For this exercise, Peggy McIntosh listed the many advantages she had due to white privilege.  I did the same.  Each sentence was printed in a large, block-styled font on ordinary paper. Each piece of paper was pinned to a piece of canvas.  Black DMC floss was used to stitch the sentences ... right through the paper.  Afterwards, the paper was carefully torn away, leaving just the embroidery floss.  I used a hand-held paper punch on each page and installed them on the vintage clip board.

Photographing the work was a challenge.  Each page was shot, flipped up, and held in place by large clips ... so that the next page could be digitally captured. The statements went in randomly, just as each one was finished.  There is, however, a clear beginning page and an intentional last page.  The beginning reads:  I was born with white privilege.  Race was never discussed at home.  I had to learn about my advantages. This is an incomplete list.  The last page reads:  How lucky am I? VERY but I promise to speak up and speak out until the world is a better, more equitable place.

The image above is the first in a series of composites.  The rest of the pictures below show three pages at a time.  I do hope that this piece expresses more than just words.  It is meant as my active response to systemic racism and my hope to be part of the solution rather than part the problem. 

Thursday, July 16, 2020

The New York Times

(Above:  Black & White and Read All Over: The New York Times, fiber vessel and contents made from two, Wednesday, July 15, 2020 copies of the New York Times.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Late yesterday morning I got an email from a photo editor for the 'At Home' section of the Sunday New York Times print edition.  I nearly fell over.  The message said that my work was noticed on the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show's website featuring last year's accepted artists.  I was asked whether I might write a simply set of instructions for creating one of my fiber vessels out of the actual newspaper.  There were links to earlier articles.  Each one was really a paragraph or two for very easy, straight-forward, DIY projects.  (One showed how to fold a sheet of the New York Times into an envelop.  It's HERE, just in case you want to do this!)

Sure ... I knew that my fiber vessels aren't hard to make and that I already have a free, on-line tutorial for them ... but I also knew that making a fiber vessel from The New York Times wouldn't be so easy.  Yet, the challenge was on!   After all, I've said dozens of times, "I can stitch anything!  If I can get it through the cording foot, I can turn it into a fiber vessel!"  So, could I?  Could I turn The New York Times into a fiber vessel?  There was only one way to find out!

First, Steve had to run to the local grocery store.  Our subscription to The New York Times is a digital one.  He returned with two copies.

I started tearing the first copy into approximately one-inch strips.  It took about a half hour to learn a few important things.  First, only one strip would work.  Doubling it up caused problems.  Second, it was next to impossible to overlap the strips in order to make one, continuous piece of cording.  Third, it was possible to stitch individual strips together.  So, I ripped up the first twenty-five pages of the newspaper.

One end of each strip was rolled between the palms of my hands.  This was forced into my cording foot.  Almost 1200 yards of 100% cotton grey thread went into the project.  First, each strip was zigzag stitched into a length of cording.

 It was important to roll and squeeze the paper together in order for it to go through the cording foot.  Pulling caused the newspaper to tear.  Anything that held up the progress of the paper from easily gliding into the foot caused the newspaper to tear.  I knew I'd need lots and lots of corded strips.

I zigzag stitched hundred of strips into individual lengths of cording.  I really liked how the newspaper's photographs gave hints of color.  All these zigzag lengths of cording were then attached, one end to the next ... zigzag stitching over the two ends ... using a wide, open presser foot.

I rolled the resulting cord into a small ball.  This ball represents about one fourth of the cording needed.

Finally, I had what I hoped was enough cording.  It was time to start the fiber vessel.  The beginning is a small spiral.  Using a wide-open presser foot, I started zigzag stitching the piece. My fiber vessels are constructed in the same way as a 1970s braided rug, a spiral that grows with each rotation.

Soon, the coil was almost as wide as the base of my sewing machine.  I removed my plastic table and continue stitching.  My hand movements are such that the continued stitching happens to force the formation of the vessel.  It just sort of happens because the surface on which the piece is sitting is no longer flat.

Soon, the vessel is forming.  The sewing machine has to be placed at the edge of the table in order for the vessel to continue growing.  Steve even shot a few second long video of the stitching.  It's HERE on You Tube.  Finally, I put a red rim on the vessel and titled the piece with a joke from childhood, Black & White and Read All Over: The New York Times.

The rest of the first copy and the entire second copy were then ripped, rolled, and stitched into the contents for the vessel.  Carefully, the words The New York Times are seen on every piece.  There's no way to suggest this is an easy, DIY project but it was a successful challenge.  I did write to the photo editor with photos and an apology.  Who knows what will become of this project but at least I know that I really can "sew anything"!