Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Til Death Do Us Part

(Above:  Til Death Do Us Part, in progress, detail.  Click on image to enlarge.)

Ten months ago I joined a national group called CLAWS (Crossing the Line: Artists at Work).  Membership is limited to just twenty art quilters.  Every six months each member creates a 24" x 18" art quilt in response to a theme.  Karen Musgrave heads up this group and is seeking traveling exhibition opportunities for the work.  Our first deadline was August 15th.  The theme/title was:  Women Who Broke All the Rules.  I stitched a portrait of Skirt! Magazine founder and editor Nikki Hardin.  The next deadline is coming up:  February 15th.  I hate looming deadlines, the "last minute" feeling, and the anxiety of time slipping away.  I love working in advance.  I especially loved the new theme (social issues) and the new title (Art Can't Hurt You).

(Above:  Til Death Do Us Part, in progress.  Click on image to enlarge.)

My social issue:  Same gender marriage!  I knew from that start that I wanted to use a REAL gay pride flag ... not just strips of color-correct material.  I went to google for help and learned that there is a standard/universal size for flags.  It is NOT 24" in height!  Most flags are 3' x 5'.  Finally, I found one site that had 2' x 3', sewn, nylon "Old Glory"/Rainbow flag for just $7.50.  When I went to order it, however, I accidentally clicked the wrong button ... and received the "Rainbow and Stars", 3' x 5' screen printed flag instead.  I re-ordered ... basically spending more on shipping than on flags ... TWICE!  Oh well!  The second flag was PERFECT.  I used the first one for the art quilt's reverse ... navy background with fifty white stars ... just like the US flag!

(Above:  Til Death Do Us Part, in progress with pieces of polyester stretch velvet.  Click on image to enlarge.)

The gay pride flag background is machine stitched to recycled, white acrylic felt with dense lines of rainbow colored threads.  In the meantime, I asked a few friends and neighbors for their left hand print and anniversary date.  Sure, none of these marriages are legal here in South Carolina ... but the vows, the occasion, the commitment are every bit the same!  Why a "left hand"?  That's where married people wear their wedding rings!  Almost every hand print I received had a "bump" on both sides of the fourth finger.  I stitched matching arrangements of beads on each couple's hands ... symbolic rings.

(Above:  My studio floor ... covered in a selection of polyester stretch velvet ... all with WonderUnder already ironed to the back.  This is my "stash" for creating faux-stained glass windows, something on which I've been working for the past few weeks.)

At first I was stumped by color choices for the hand prints.  I thought about "flesh tones" ... but what, exactly, is "flesh toned"?  Too many options!  Then I looked at my studio floor.  My palette of polyester stretch velvets are still all over the place.  All the perfect colors were right there!  I traced the hand prints, cut them out, and ironed/fused them in place.  That is also how the blue heart with yellow equal symbol was made.  (This equality sign was developed by the Human Rights Campaign, the largest gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender/queer political activist organization in the United States and widely known as a logo promoting equal rights for glbtq people.)

(Above:  Til Death Do Us Part, in progress with hands cut from polyester stretch velvet ... laying in place ... ready to be ironed/fused to the gay pride flag background.  Click on image to enlarge.)

Until this piece, I had only read about "fusing" shapes as a design option for art quilts.  It works!  I zigzag stitched around everything ... and it was then ready to embroider!  This was fun and easy!

(Above:  Til Death Do Us Part, in progress, ready for hand stitching and with the original flag "header"/binding with grommets.  Click on image to enlarge.)

I also carefully used my neglected seam ripper to remove the flag's header.  (That's the "official" name of the heavy fabric that is bound to the side of a flag.  It includes the grommets for attaching the flag to a pole!)  I hand stitched the following on the header:  For Richer Or Poorer. In Sickness or Health. Til Death Do Us Part.  On each hand print, I stitched the participants first name.  Their anniversary dates were also embroidered near each couple.  The dates range from within a year back to Thanksgiving 1980.

Unfortunately, I cannot share more images.  Why?  Well, the CLAWS group allows members to blog about the group, the issues/themes, and the design process ... but not to share images of the finished piece.  I've personally NEVER understood this strange thinking.  For me, the more exposure ... the BETTER.  The more images on the Internet ... the more likely more people will want to see the exhibits!  In the art quilt world, however, this isn't the thinking.  Instead, I've been told, "We want some suspense and to pique interest" ... like a "teaser".

I wish I could share the finished images!  I really like this piece and hope people will want to see the whole thing!

(I generally share most blog post on Facebook.  This particular post resonated with my cousin Monika in California.  Facebook really brought us back into contact with one another after decades without any correspondence.  Anyway, an insightful Internet conversation took place ... one I'd like to remember ... in association with the artwork that sparked our interesting words.  So ... I've copied and pasted it to the comments here.  It took three comments to include all the words!  Who knew that blog comments were limited to 4,096 characters? I'm also sharing this post on Nina-Marie's "Off the Wall Fridays", a blog with links to various "in progress" fiber art works.) 


Julie said...

Love the concept and the execution Susan and I shall look forward to the final reveal.

Lynn Cohen said...


Nancy said...

Great piece. Once again your concept and execution are spot on!

Megan, Rudy's mom said...

I like how you made the hands. I like the ease of the velvet. I've been working on a similar project for my library. My therapy dog and I worked at libraries and over time we collected the hand shapes of the kids we read to. Using cotton I traced out the little hands and sewed them to fusable webbing and turned them out. Once it's done it'll have my hand print and my dogs and the other teams prints surrounding a picture of a child reading and around will the hands of the kids that read to the dogs. It's been a long work in progress but now that my dog has left us its a great memory quilt.

Holly Hall said...

Beautiful sentiment, and beautiful execution. This is a subject close to my heart.

Wanda said...

Really great colors. This is an exciting piece which I look forward to seeing (when we're 'allowed') and especially since you said that YOU really like it. That alone piques my interest. Of course, a part of you goes into each thing you do but it isn't every piece that you actually say you really like it! Oh, by the way, I wear my wedding ring on my right hand. I've tried the left hand a couple of times. It didn't take. ha ha ha ha

Susan said...

This blog post was shared to Facebook. An Internet conversation with my cousin Monika resulted ... which I found quite insightful. Of course, I'll never find these words in relationship to the artwork unless I repost them here ... below and on the next comment post (as this entry exceeds the 4,096 character limit!) I really do hope to experiment with some of the concepts and symbols of "flags" and collect a rainbow of recycled but natural materials!

Monika Lenz: I’m certainly not an artist so you must excuse my input on a topic I know nothing about. I only look, I don’t always see art. My first impression of your flag, Susan, was that you chose the appropriate fabrics to portray marriage and I mean any marriage, gay, straight, dogs, cats etc. I know marriage, I was married for 24 of my years and have been in a relationship (straight) for the last 17 and I note that in the last 17 years I have almost no man-made fibers hanging in my closet. Nay, I have mostly plant-based fibers whereas in my 24-year marriage I succumbed to the textiles of which your flag is constructed. Those fabrics, they simply don’t allow one to breath -- probably your flag is suffering right now from asphyxiation or at least shortness of breath, feeling claustraphobic (sic) at the very least. I just don’t know why anyone would opt for marriage and certainly don’t understand a need to wave a flag about it but there you are. I suggest that gays, straights, cats, dogs etc, try wearing nothing but man-made fibers for a year prior to tying the polyester knot, just, you know, to be sure they can breath. So I know this comment doesn't fit the usual encouraging comments expected of such a post however I hope you'll take it with a grain of salt...preferably a smile and a chuckle, because I, as I mentioned, am not an artist and have had a glass of Merlot...

(to be continued on next blog comment!)

Susan said...


Susan Lenz: Monika, some day we'll share the Merlot! (Though currently Steve and I have been sampling various Malbecs just for the fun of it!) One of the biggest problems about the community of on-line artists and Facebook friends is the fact that it tends to be so very artificial ... in a nice way, of course, but bordering on false praise or at least expected compliments instead of truthful impressions. Most people only leave one word comments of support, an adjective, or some sort of symbol. While I always feel encouraged by multiple "thumbs up" clicks, it is a comment like yours that makes me think ... in a very good way. Your viewpoint is totally valid, insightful, and also full of creative potential ... not to mention the wisdom behind your words! As you probably know, I met Steve during my second week of college. He is my one and only love. At the time, this seemed completely normal. As time went by and friends' relationships ended, we learned that our experience is anything but average. I don't know how we got so lucky. I don't know why we stay so happy. If there's some magic secret, neither of us is consciously aware of it. We married four years later ... and that was 31 years ago. As for the fabric of my life ... or at least in my closet ... I shamefully admit I have no idea what the contents are! Why? I buy almost everything at a local thrift shop benefiting the animal shelter. If it fits, I buy it. I shop for clothing about a half hour a year. As a fiber artist, my "stash" is also almost entirely recycled material too. Your message already has me thinking about a companion piece in natural materials ... but without going to a fabric store and purchasing those colors new. I wonder how long it would take me to collect the material without intentionally shopping for them? Hmm? Great thought. Anyway, I'd like to add that the gay pride flag ... whether polyester or natural ... holds special meaning of acceptance for many friends. I know a man whose father would have preferred him in the army, willing to kill another man, than to have him love just one. I've seen Facebook photos from European countries celebrating love that isn't recognized in our courts of law ... rules that prevent a person from holding a loved ones hand in a hospital became the ill person's blood family is considered next of kin. Polyester or natural ... some things are simply hurtful and wrong. If six bright colors declare love, I'll wave it! Thanks for your insight ... and never suggest you simply "look at art" ... you are most assuredly seeing it! Thanks!

(To be continued on next blog post!)

Susan said...


Sandy Barry Gally: Monika, your eloquent words sent my mind a spinning. Please do not ever say you are not an artist as your words show you are. It is so wonderful when someone takes the time to write as you have and to have Susan answer. I, also, must admit I frowned at the mention of the man-made fabric Susan used because my small stash of those fabrics are kinda hidden and out-of-sight for those just in case moments.

Monika Lenz: I hope one day we can share the Merlot Susan. We already share the love of thrift stores. I too frequent our local thrift which benefits special needs adults. There is nothing I enjoy more than a good poke-around in a store full of "cast-off Americana". It is much like visiting a museum. I wax philosophic walking about in the isles. What are we? Why do we need this stuff? Why do we need so much of it? What makes us want it? Are we just Bower Birds, Pack Rats, Decorator Crabs? Why do we wave flags and banners and what are they symbols of really? Remember that Aids Quilt that was made up decades ago? I was attracted to the idea as much as confused by it. The Vietnam Memorial teared me up but also angered me. We shouldn't need memorials but for some reason we do. Are they anchors for our emotions? Something to focus on? Is a flag just another memorial? We follow them to war, we wave them in fear, we burn them, stomp on them, spit on them, fold them lovingly, lay them on caskets, kiss them. What amazing things flags are that they can embody so many emotions. So your idea of making a flag to focus on this aspect of marriage is probably very appropriate. Certainly marriage and the concept of two becoming one roils every emotion humans can conjure. I look forward to your companion piece to this marriage flag Susan. I may end up wrapping myself in it. Cheers

Sandy Barry Gally: Forgot to mention I think your flag is just perfect in its construction, fabric and idea.

MulticoloredPieces said...

Interesting discussion here. It is a relief to find work that has "teeth", that is, a driving idea behind it. There's so much eye candy out there, which is fine, always a pleasure to look at, but....
best, nadia