Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Cocoon is Growing!

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

This is the halfway point in my five-week art residency at the Rensing Center where I'm busy creating a giant, soft enclosure called The Cocoon. It might not look like it from the image above, but The Cocoon is most assuredly growing and the stash on the floor is shrinking in proportion.  Because I can't set up my pipe system in a full cube, I have improvised two additional sections on the corners I was able to install.

 (The Cocoon, in progress.)

These two, wide panels are hanging from one of my sectional cross beams ... which is resting at an angle on top of the previously installed pipe!

If my literary skills were lacking in that last sentence, here's a photo!  I now have two sections hanging from two different corners!  It is working, but I will be taking some of these panels down soon.  Before starting this project, I hadn't thought up a way to transport and store the work. This problem became apparent almost immediately and I found a package of 36, heavy-duty, chrome bedspread/tablecloth, 22" wide hangers on-line.  They've been ordered (and temporarily delayed due to some internal error between FedEx and Amazon ... but I will get them eventually!)

Also apparent is the fact that I can't iron all these panels every time I install them.  Many have garments and other vintage embellishments hanging from the larger, fabric background.  I will be needing a nice, professional steamer.  Perhaps I might look into another SC Arts Commission quarterly artist grant.  They helped with the cost of the pipe system!

Two of the "embellishments" are these adorable baby bonnets.  They have a lovely story.  I received them in a padded envelope six years ago from Virginia Dameron. Virginia Dameron is my husband Steve's aunt.  Steve's parents had pretty much estranged themselves from their families.  Steve did not grow up knowing a grandparent, aunt, uncle or cousin ... ever! But toward the end of his life, my father-in-law did reach out to reconnect with his younger brother and sister.  Steve took him to a family reunion and later Steve and I attended a wedding for Virginia Dameron's grandson.  She knew I used vintage textiles.  Frankly, I was stunned that she sent them.  They weren't from her side of her family; they were from her husband's family.  According to her note, they were made in 1919 for her husband.  She wanted ME to have them.  I've kept them in the original padded envelope but think it is high time they are seen, appreciated, admired, and part of this project honoring all those "makers" of beautiful household linens and special occasion garments.  Thank you Aunt Virginia!  I know you are looking down from heaven.  Aunt Virginia died on August 5, 2015 at age 92.

Someone undoubtedly wore this silky nightgown ... probably on her honeymoon.

This little infant's dress came out of the donation dropped off by Jinny Cherry.

Above is the other, wide panel hanging from a cross beam positioned at an angle on top of my earlier erected corner.

I have no idea who wore this little, newborn sleeping kimono but it sure looks great surrounded by napkins and crocheted doilies.

Because I have two sections hanging at angles on my original set-up, I now have two triangular enclosures behind the new panels.  Stepping inside really does feel like "being in a fabric cocoon"!

Also, the lighting (which is admittedly pretty poor for photographing this work in progress) is such that shadows from the front of the panels are cast on the back ... inside the triangular spaces.  To the left of the green tablecloth square, one can see the shadow of ....

... the blue-on-pink butterfly quilt block.

I have focused on using the guest and dish towels too.  These panels aren't wide at all but have provided unique spaces for doilies ...

...including some that are otherwise next to impossible to incorporate.  This sort of frilly doily was never meant to lay flat.  Yet, folded in half, it hangs really well from a dish towel.

(Above:  Lucy Stone, in progress)

Because I had to travel back to Columbia to collect my other Bernina sewing machine, I was able to pick up the daguerreotype cover images I ordered from Spoonflower.  It is nice to switch to a little free-motion embroidery after so many days of straight, functional sewing.  I have two of these to stitch for my 3D piece on suffragist Lucy Stone.  I blogged about this HERE.

I won't be spending too much time on other things!  After all, The Rensing Center is going to host the first public viewing for The Cocoon in its library on Thursday, July 12 from 6 - 8!  If you are in the area, please consider yourself invited to 1165 Mile Creek Road, Pickens, SC 29671.

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

Monday, June 25, 2018

Two weeks completed at the Rensing Center

 (Above:  Detail of The Cocoon, a fiber installation currently under construction at the Rensing Center.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

I have just finished up the second of a five-week art residency at the Rensing Center, a program located just outside Pickens, South Carolina.  My project involves turning a large stash of vintage household linens, garments, lace, and assorted textiles into a giant, soft enclosure called The Cocoon.  I secured a SC Arts Commission grant to assist with the pipe system on which the installation is being created.  I got enough pipes to build a 20' x 20' cube ... even though I cannot actually build a 10' x 10' cube in my residency studio/apartment. Initially, I thought I'd build a 10' x 10' cube, take it down, and build another cube.  That isn't happening, but the idea was to build enough sections so that in the future I can be very flexible about the size ... depending on locations.  My plan was to create at least two sections per week.  Happily I am on schedule!

 (Above:  My second Bernina on the counter with one completed section hanging inside the studio/apartment front door.)

I had to work hard to keep to my schedule due to issues with my sewing machine. My old Bernina limped through last weekend, went into the shop on Monday, and didn't managed to get repaired during the week.  Parts were ordered but not received.  I spent most of the week adding yoyo-s, buttons, and garments by hand.  When I received news about my machine in the shop, I decided to drive back to Columbia on Friday morning.  I retrieved my second Bernina and worked through the weekend to catch up with my scheduled work!  (Why I just didn't load both sewing machines into my cargo van will remain a mystery! LOL!)

(Above:  Newly erected section ... in front of the bed ... using the extra height under one of the skylights.)

Since my last blog post, I've switched some of the panels around, added more yoyo-s, and erected another section in one of the only available places.  (The pipe system is 8' in height.  Unfortunately, the ceiling isn't uniformly 8' in height.  I have carefully positioned several pipe ends under the open space above several skylights.)

Another thing that has happened since my last blog post is hearing from a few people who are already reacting to my installation.  These comments mean the world to me because they validate my original concept and deepest hope for the entire project.

M. A. Corkin sent me the following email message. "As I follow the progression of your work through your blog, I am beginning to toy with some ideas of creating something special with two of my mother's high school gym shirts. They are embroidered with signatures of classmates whose memories deserve honor.  Your energy is infusing life into the silent strength of feminine hands who left a powerful legacy via needle and thread."

My message back included the following:

"From the beginning, I've wanted this fiber installation to do several things.  I wanted to have a place where a mother and child could thread a needle, fasten a button onto a piece of cloth or learn a basic running stitch. I wanted people of all ages to share stories of family members who quilted, stitched, made all the garments for their family or crocheted doilies for the house.  I also wanted to inspire others to DO SOMETHING with their treasured textiles.  Perhaps (and most hopefully!) I've inspired you!"

Up until this important correspondence, I had concentrated mostly on "how to build the installation" and "how to pay for the pipe system" and "where to find the time and space to work in". I hadn't really thought about ways to continue the project into the future even though I plan for future opportunities to show the work. The more I thought about it, the more I knew that the installation is going to need some sort of documentation, a signature book like those in fancy bed-and-breakfast accommodations or at weddings and funerals or at some art receptions or even on-line reviews. I need a "guest book" but one that is really just a three-ring binder.  Using this system, I can print emails like the one I received, include photographs, allow visitors to leave comments sharing the stories of their stitching relatives, and share the inspiration they've felt!

It's a good thing I got this message and thought about the future opportunities to show the work!  Why?  Well, an amazing thing happened!  The Rensing Center is going to host the first public viewing for The Cocoon in its library on Thursday, July 12 from 6 - 8!  If you are in the area, please consider yourself invited to 1165 Mile Creek Road, Pickens, SC 29671.

Another wonderful thing happened just yesterday!  Rensing Center Executive Director Ellen Kochansky took me to Greenville Little Theater's production of Beauty and the Beast!  That was yesterday, my birthday!  What could be a more wonderful way to spend a special day than stitching all morning, a musical in the afternoon, and sushi for dinner!  Thank you, Ellen!

By the way, one of my Facebook birthday messages included this comment: "Just reading your blog about the vintage linens makes me see my grandmother's tablecloth as a piece of fabric instead of a holy relic."  This is EXACTLY what I most hoped might happen to people experiencing this installation!

Also, my friend Jinny Cherry donated these beautiful linens to the project.  She dropped them off at Mouse House back in Columbia ... and I brought them back to the Rensing Center with my second Bernina.  Can't wait to include some on future sections of The Cocoon.

The rest of the images are details of The Cocoon.  Please take a look and check back as the project progresses!

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!