Saturday, March 28, 2020

Aprons for the Clothesline Installation

(Above:  The Clothesline, an installation in progress.  Vintage household linens and aprons with found fabric hand prints fused and zigzag stitched to both sides.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

It is hard to fathom that on this absolutely beautiful spring day the world is in crisis ... but it is.  Tonight at midnight, Columbia, South Carolina goes under a total shut down of non-essential businesses ... which means Mouse House, my home-based business, is shutting the doors for at least two weeks.  We aren't supposed to go out except for groceries, food and beverage curbside pick-up orders, trips to the drug store, and for real emergencies.  No longer are we to gather in groups of just three even while maintaining social distancing of six feet from one another.

(The Clothesline, full of aprons donated by local mother and daughter friends Yolanda and Sandra Wardlaw.  THANKS so much!)

For the past two or so weeks, Mouse House has been open ... because it's been years since more than three people ever came at the same time!  Steve has been disinfecting the doorknob and the sales counter ... but that is going to cease.  We will be closed ... non-essential.  At first, I was mildly depressed.  All my upcoming art opportunities were canceled or postponed (mostly "indefinitely").  Now, however, I'm experiencing this unique period in time as if an unintentional art residency in my own home!  Productivity, creative ideas, and a sense of time "standing momentarily still" are replacing my normal schedule. 

Serendipity is also at an all time high.  Just after finishing the last pieces for my Clothesline Installation, I got a message from mother and daughter local friends Yolanda and Sandra Wardlaw.  They had a box of vintage linens to donate.  Inside was an amazing collection of vintage aprons, several yellow fabric placemats, and a few other items.  I adore aprons!  Aprons are subtle, visual reminders of PEOPLE.  These are exactly what my Clothesline Installation needed!

One of the donated embroidered table runners reminded me that I had similar pieces in my cedar chest.  Surprise, surprise!  I also found a dish towel I stitched in the early 1980s when teaching myself embroidery from the Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Needlework.  Why was I keeping it?  Because it was too "precious" to use?   How silly!  Especially since I've presented an entire TEDx talk called Precious: Making a Plan for Your Precious Possessions.  There was no hesitation.  A found fabric hand print was fused to the reverse.  Like all these hand prints, I zigzag stitched around the entire outline ... so that the edge of image is shown on the opposite side.  After all, a clothesline is seen from two sides, not just one. 

Each piece for The Clothesline Installation was carefully designed so that it would look good from both sides.  This is especially apparent on the sheer fabrics used for many of these aprons.

Today Steve and I took all the finished aprons and assorted linens outside for their photo-op.  Birds were singing ... loudly ... because the city traffic is so minimal as to not drown their melodies.  The dogwood trees are in full bloom. Azalea adds lots of color.  Our yard looks wonderful.  Hopefully, this sense of slowing down, appreciating the natural surroundings, and doing things BY HAND will be repeated in the future when the Clothesline Installation gets an opportunity to hang someplace in public.  Until then ... I'm going back to my studio to stitch, stitch, stitch!

Friday, March 27, 2020

Time Standing Still, a mini art quilt

 (Above:  Time Standing Still, detail. Click on any image to enlarge.)

As news of COVID-19 spread into Italy, events in America started canceling.  My once busy April calendar cleared.  Soon, events in May were canceled or postponed (often indefinitely).  Restaurants went to curbside "to go" delivery service after dismissing most of their staff. Stores closed. Schools closed.  Toilet paper and hand sanitizer became rare commodities.   For the past two or more weeks, Columbia's residents weren't supposed to gather in groups numbering more than ten ... then five ... then three. Starting at midnight on Saturday, Columbia, South Carolina will get even tougher in its fight.  We will go into "sheltering in place".  No more walks around the neighborhood.  Everything deemed non-essential will have to cease operation.  This means, Mouse House will be closing its doors for at least two more weeks.  This means that I will be confined to my studio.  As scary as this virus is and despite my depression over the lost art opportunities, I'm truly going to have an art residency in my own house.  I'm guessing, this is a silver lining.  At least I'm hoping it is!

(Above:  Time Standing Still, a mini art quilt. My digital image printed on fabric and embellished with both hand and machine stitching.  12" x 12".)

For the past two weeks, I've been amazed how quiet night times are. There is no sound from the highway (just four blocks away).  I'm equally astounded to wake to birds chirping ... loudly.  When I get up, I have to think ... which day of the week is it?  Time seems to be standing still.

(Above:  Time Standing Still, reverse.  Included is a piece of lace from an amazing stash donated to me by art quilter Gay Lasher.  Thanks, Gay!)

The sensations remind me of art residencies, days when the only thing on my "to do" list is "make art".  Yet, this is different from any other art residency.  While away, I'm being influenced by new surroundings and different people.  I have only the materials and equipment I brought with me.  There is almost always a proposal for the intended work.  Now, however, I am in a very familiar place:  my own home and studio.  I am not alone (like most residencies).  I have Steve here with me ... cooking and cleaning and providing feedback and suggestions ... basically, I have company!  Most importantly, I have everything ... absolutely every tool and scrap of fabric, every button, every book, every EVERYTHING.  Plus, I can do whatever I want.  There is no expectation, no proposed project, no obligation, and no ending date on which to pack everything up and leave.

In one sense, this is amazingly easy!  In another sense, I am finding myself almost ready to start too many things!  My mind is swirling with new ideas and seeing potential in every found object I own.  I need to be very, very careful about what I do.  As tempting as it is to act on all these plans, time really isn't standing still.  It just feels that way.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Cross Creek and the Clothesline Continues

(Above:  Cross Creek, mini art quilt. 12" x 12". Hand and free-motion machine stitching on a digital image printed on fabric.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

I spend most evenings watching whatever program Steve selects on television but utterly engaged in hand embroidery.  Combining running stitches and tiny seed stitches with free motion embroidery makes the surface texture quite diverse.

 (Above:  Cross Creek, detail.)

When traveling, my lens is often aimed at buildings. I love the lines of architecture and have thought to myself, "Susan, wouldn't it be fun to stitch these lines? Enhance the composition with threads?" Well ... it is fun and I will likely upload more of my pictures to Spoonflower in order to get the digital information printed on basic cotton fabric.  Wouldn't it be nice to have a small collection of different buildings?  Maybe this will happen ... especially during this period of isolation due to the COVID-19 global health scare.

 (Above:  Cross Creek, reverse.)

For the reverse, I used an old doily and a piece of delicate cross stitched crab.  It seemed most fitting ... a creature from the edge of the water ... in cross stitch ... for the back of a mini art quilt about Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' home at Cross Creek.

(Above:  New pieces for my Clothesline, an installation focusing on the benefits of line drying, conserving household energy, and doing things by hand.)

The same friend who gave me the cross stitched crab donated a couple pieces of linen.  I knew just what to do with them!  Turn them into new additions for my Clothesline installation.  While the world is practicing social distancing and everything around me seems to be closed, I find it amazing how important it has become for me to "do things by hand".  The air seems ripe with memories of "olden times", days when laundry meant going outside and using clothespins, when time seemed slower and more deliberate.  Returning to my Clothesline installation felt right.

Just after finishing these new additions, I got an email message from another friend.  She has had a box of vintage linens in her car for several weeks ... meaning to drop them off.  Her mother is at high risk.  She wondered if I might want to pick up the box instead of her coming to me.  Of course I said yes!

I'm so glad I did.  The box contained mostly old aprons!  So ... I'm back to tracing my hand print onto fabric, fusing the hand prints with an iron, and stitching around each one!  More are coming.  This is a great way to wait for my copper slating nails to arrive!  Stay safe and healthy!

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Nike's Advice VII and VIII

 (Above:  Nike's Advice VII, detail.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

It all started back in the spring of 2016 at an annual art crawl called Artista Vista. I conducted a performance/installation art piece over the weekend:  Nike's Advice.   I suspended a bolt of unprimed canvas from the ceiling and (with help from the public) painted 130 feet.  Nothing used was bought new.  All the paint, oil pastels, inks, and fabric came from auctions, yard sales, and through donations.

(Above:  Nike's Advice, 2016.)

I blogged about this unique experience HERE.  I also worked with two videographers who documented the project.  CLICK HERE for a one-minute time lapse.  My concept involved a challenge to myself ... to paint ... to finally abandon my own preconceived ideas of "painting" and JUST DO IT!  Another challenge was to actually USE all this stuff and materials ... you know ... reduce, reuse, recycle ... JUST DO IT!

(Above:  Me with Nike's Advice I when it was at the St. George Art Museum in Utah in a show called Things that Matter.)

I really didn't have any firm plans for the painted fabric until receiving an invitation from art quilter Sandra Poteet to participate in a show called Things that Matter.  (Catalog available.)  That was another BIG challenge.  The work was to occupy a 60" x 60" space.  I used a section of the fabric and stitched Nike's Advice I and wrote an accompanying statement about recycling ... as in JUST DO IT!  I've stitched several other pieces since that time.  One of which went beyond stitching.  I used fabric stiffener to seal the surface and then poured UV filtering epoxy over it.  I really liked the results!

(Above:  Nike's Advice VII. 26" x 28" ... on the window sill ... ready to attempt photographing it.) 

Some time ago, Steve and I unrolled the rest of the painted canvas.  Most of it was hideous (and that's putting it kindly!)  Painting with the public doesn't necessarily result in a high quality artwork, especially when absolutely no instructions or guidelines are given. Sections, however, held some promise.  I salvaged eleven, small pieces.  I started stitching on them before going on my art residency in Illinois.  I finished stitching over a week ago.

(Above:  Nike's Advice VII. 26" x 28". Acrylic paint and assorted inks on canvas applied to foam-centered board and nailed to heavy-duty stretcher bars over which UV filtering epoxy has been poured.)

Steve built heavy-duty stretcher bars to my outer dimensions.  All the sides of the stretcher bars have been painted in colors to coordinate with the artwork.  Foam-centered board was cut to the same dimensions and edges have been painted too.  Nine of the pieces are in various stages at the time of this blog post but two of them are finished!

(Above:  Nike's Advice VIII. 26" x 28" Acrylic paint and assorted inks on canvas applied to foam-centered board and nailed to heavy-duty stretcher bars over which UV filtering epoxy has been poured.)

First, the foam-centered boards were glued to their painted stretcher bars.  Then a few dabs of glue attached the artwork to the foam-centered board.  Next, 3/4" copper slating nails were hammered through the artwork and foam-centered board ... right into the stretcher bars.  Finally, UV epoxy was poured over the surface. 

(Above:  Nike's Advice VIII, detail.)

It is really, really difficult to get a good photo of these pieces.  The epoxy is quite reflective.  Yet, the surface is truly unique ... somewhere between art quilt and painting and something resembling "glass".  As the other pieces progress, I'll be posting them.  With the current COVID-19 crisis and quarantine, the work is actually progressing quite rapidly.  It almost feels like an art residency at home!  I am, however, waiting on more nails.  These short, pretty copper nails were ordered from Jamestown Distributors.  Thankfully, they are "in the mail" already!  Can't wait to get them!

Thursday, March 19, 2020


(Above:  Quarantine. 12" x 12". Digital image printed on fabric with both hand and machine stitching.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

I don't remember playing with dolls as a child.  Two of my three younger sisters did, but two of us (the older two) played outside and rode bikes.  We did have paper dolls though.  I made all their new paper clothes ... but paper dolls just aren't the same as three dimensional infants.  Of course, I don't remember thinking dolls were creepy.  They just weren't for me ...

 (Above:  Quarantine, detail.)

... until walking into the doll room at the Museum of Childhood in Edinburgh, Scotland. That was back in May 2012.  All those staring glass eyes were DEFINITELY creepy.  I've never again looked at dolls with the ambivalence of my childhood.  Later, I used thirty-five images of those dolls to create a photo series called Talky Tina after the 1963 Twilight Zone episode in which a wind-up doll managed to kill the overbearing father played by Telly Savalas.  Still later, I altered fourteen of the photos into a series called Doll Stories

 (Above:  Photo of dolls on a table lot at Bill Mishoe's auction.)

Now, I can't help but to snap a few photos when there are old dolls on a table lot at Bill Mishoe's auction.  I don't bid on them.  I just take pictures ... like the one above. Just as COVID-19 was starting to make international headlines, I played around with this picture using various functions and filters on Photoshop.  There just seemed to be "something" about creepy dolls and a deadly virus that led to me ordering the resulting image from Spoonflower.  The way I added tiny red seed stitches was also a response to the pandemic.

(Above:  Quarantine, reverse.)

For me, these dolls just seem to exist in a parallel universe ... a place where the lifeless live, a place where microscopic particles can threaten the whole world, a place that is ... well ... creepy.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Oswald Home Laundry

(Above: Oswald Home Laundry. 44" x 61".  Digital image transfer and paint on antique Irish chain crib/lap quilt with buttons and a hand-stitched outline.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Quite a few of my pieces go through an "ugly phase", a time during which I question my original idea and intended action plan. I bite my lip, make changes, and hope for the best. When things work out, I'm especially happy ... and today I'm very happy!  Oswald Home Laundry almost didn't happen.  Something went wrong ... but something else saved the day.

 (Above:  Oswald Home Laundry, detail.)

It all starts with Linnie Rose Oswald. She was my Great-Grandmother, the eighth of Elnore Rose's nine children.  (All but one were girls.)  During the 1920s she operated her own business and posed for a photo beside the laundry's vehicle.

 (Above:  Linnie Rose Oswald and her laundry truck, circa 1924.)

Family stories tell of a feisty red-headed woman with a will of iron, a temper, and a very strong work ethic who drove down the middle of Huntington, West Virginia's city streets as if she owned them.  In all likelihood, Linnie needed these qualities.  Being a female business woman in this era had to be hard! She would have gotten the right to vote around then.  Later, Linnie owned almost a block of town and rented apartments.  I remember her from the days when managing her apartments was problematic.  Linnie lived to be ninety-six years old but dementia took her years beforehand.  I was in college when she died in a nursing home in Kentucky. The last time I saw her, she wasn't aware of the visit.  Her mind was elsewhere ... talking about the clothes she was making and the quilts she would stitch.  What a woman!

 (Above:  The first print for the art quilt.)

In order to get the very small original image onto the crib/lap quilt, I did a lot of work in Photoshop.  The scan was first enlarged and slightly cropped to dimensions suitable for the quilt.  Then I increased the contrast ... both overall and also in the isolated area that was my great grandmother.  Finally, I flipped the image ... backwards.  This mirror image is needed in order to have the orientation correct in the final product.

(Above:  The crib/lap quilt being prepared for fabric stiffener.)

At 44" x 61", this vintage quilt might have been a large crib quilt or a small lap quilt.  I'm not really sure ... and as an ART quilt, it doesn't matter at all.  First, I applied GAC 400 fabric stiffener to the entire surface.  It dried overnight. It was flipped over and the back was also stiffened.  The fabric stiffener dried perfectly clear. 

(Above:  The stiffened quilt in my small Seal dry mount press.)

I press the quilt in sections in my dry mount press.  This was done to flatten the quilt as much as possible.  Peaks and valleys are problematic to any image transfer method.

(Above:  The black-and-white, oversized print ready for a coating of matte medium.)

The digital image was printed at FedEx Office on their oversized machine.  This is just the basic, thin paper, nothing fancy.

I coated the entire print with matte medium and allowed it to dry.

(Above:  The print ... ink side down ... gelled to the quilt.)

The next morning, I applied another coat of matte medium to the surface of the quilt.  Onto this wet surface, I placed the print ... ink side down, toward the quilt.  This was allowed to dry.  Then, I flattened the entire thing, section by section, in the dry mount press.

Acrylic media complete adhere/fuse to one another, wet or dry.  Each piece had a dry layer.  They were put together with a wet layer.  Once dry, the dry mount press assured no air bubbles and a very, very strong adhesion between the layers.  Then comes the "fun"!  

Using a semi-wet wash cloth, I started to scrub off the paper, exposing the ink which is embedded into the acrylic.  Everything seemed to be going very, very well.

It is much harder than one would expect to completely rub off all the paper.  Even though I had flattened the quilt twice, there was still an uneven, textural surface.  Tiny indentations, itty-bitty dents and dimples seemed to catch the nearly microscopic paper's lint.  I kept scrubbing ... until too much of the ink was also gone.  I hated the results.  I thought the whole thing was ruined and almost quit.

Finally, I returned to my digital image.  More contrast, added lines, and several filters later, I had asecond image.  I printed it at FedEx Office, coated it with matte medium, let it dry, and then brushed the quilt's surface with another layer of matte medium.  I carefully lined up the second print right on the first one, let it dry, flattened it, and started scrubbing the paper away for the second time.

The results were better but not what I wanted. There's too much paper left on the surface.  It's caught in the crevices and the textural surface.  If I scrubbed more, I knew I'd also lose the ink.  What's an artist to do?

With nothing to more to lose, I grabbed some black acrylic paint thinned with matte medium.  I started to paint and liked what I saw.

Later, I added charcoal paint.  Finally, I mixed a very, very small amount of blue acrylic with a lot of matte medium.  The solution was quite transparent.  It covered the blue squares but allowed the ink and the original fabric to show through.  Finally, I liked the results.

Of course, I wasn't finish.  Assorted vintage buttons were stitched on the white border.  Getting a needle through all these layers of fabric and acrylics isn't easy but was worth the effort.  I used a royal blue #3 perle cotton to add a running stitch along the edge of the photo transfer.

Yesterday I made a hanging sleeve from unprimed canvas.  I stitched it to the upper edge of the back ... going right through the button's holes and the upper line of running stitches.

Today I hung the work on the garage and took pictures.  From a near disaster, acrylic paint saved the day!  I'm quite pleased with the results and I think my Great-Grandmother would be too!

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Welcome to the Gayborhood, an altered cross stitch

 (Above:  Welcome to the Gayborhood, an altered cross stitch.  Framed:  16" x 26".  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Charleston, South Carolina is a major center for tourism. Many will take a carriage ride over cobblestone streets to take in views of the harbor and to slowly pass by the colorfully painted houses known as Rainbow Row.

(Above:  Charleston's Rainbow Row.)

Over the years, I've framed countless cross-stitches featuring some or all of the thirteen buildings. There are still several patterns readily available on-line. Some of the designs use different colors for the structures. I'm guessing that paint colors did change over time.  The history of these buildings is rather interesting.  Frankly, I find the Wikipedia listing much more interesting than any of the cross stitches ... but that's probably because I've seen too many patterns and spiked pastel shades.  Plus, I know that only a wide angle lens can capture the whole street.  The human eye can't really take in the entire expands from the sidewalk on the opposite side of the narrow, two-lanes of East Bay Street.

(Above:  Welcome to the Gayborhood, detail.)

For me, Rainbow Row has never been much more than a busy street in Charleston, a nightmare to navigate while driving a cargo van.  (I had a framing client whose office was just off Rainbow Row.  Driving and parking in Charleston is not a joy ride.)  Beyond a geographical location, Rainbow Row was for me an equally dreadful cross stitch.  Few cross stitch clients wanted to understand the efforts/costs needed to correctly frame their work.  (Sticky boards are NOT acid-free!)

Honestly, I never considered any of the cross stitches of Charleston's Rainbow Row to be "vintage" but that is how the patterns are now listed on eBay!  I never thought about altering one of these cross stitches ... but apparently a dear friend had such a cross stitch, saw my altered vintage pieces, and donated this piece (done by a distant aunt) to my stash.  My friend even suggested the words!  How could I possibly resist?  I had a great time adding a little rainbow and a pride flag too.  For me, Rainbow Row now has a wonderful new association!  I loved transforming this cross stitch!

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Home Series

 (Above:  Home Series, Nine vintage photographs with hand embroidered phrases and blanket stitched edges. Hung as a grouping at 46" x 52".  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Several months ago I purchased a "table lot" at Bill Mishoe's estate auction.  I don't remember what was on and under that table that I wanted but it wasn't the stack of vintage photographs featuring this incredible Victorian house.  These pictures just came with all the rest of the stuff, like a "bonus". 

(Above:  Home is Where Secrets are Kept.  All but one of the photographs were mounted on heavy paper mounts measuring 10" x 12".  One ... the one I put in the middle ... is only 8" x 10".  Each frame measures 17" x 15".)

I don't know if this house is still standing.  I don't actually know where or how to look for it.  It could be anywhere.  I do know, however, that the images weren't all snapped on the same day.  Some of the pictures include other buildings that aren't in other pictures.

 (Above:  Home is the Place of Denial.)

The size of the images and type of mounting boards change too.  Nevertheless, it is a stately house.  The people who lived in it must have been proud.  Most of the photos include some of these anonymous people.

 (Above:  Home is Where Walls Divide.)

In my imagination, this is just the sort of house that is envisioned when reading the words "Home Sweet Home".  It is just the sort of place at the end of "over the river and through the snow ... to Grandmother's house we go."  But, the family didn't keep these pictures.  They ended up on an auction table to be sold to the highest bidder (like me, a real cheapskate because I honestly don't need any more heirlooms that weren't even mine.) There has to be a story ... one touched with sadness or regret ... some sort of bittersweet reason why these pictures aren't still treasured.

 (Above:  Home is the Site of Betrayal.)

Perhaps the house was destroyed by a tornado or flood.  Perhaps the family lost it in foreclosure.  Perhaps hard times meant neglect and eventual bull-dozing.  Perhaps it became the focus of lawsuits when family members sued one another for ownership.  Perhaps they just moved away and couldn't bear looking at the images of the special place they left.  One way or the other, the photos weren't kept and I can't imagine a truly "happy" reason for letting them go.

 (Above:  Home. Is it really SWEET?)

Perhaps the knowledge that something sad must have happened prompted me to use these photos to question the truth behind "Home Sweet Home".

 (Above:  Home is the Site of Betrayal.)

Not all homes are happy.  Not all homes conjure up sweet memories.  Not all outward appears accurately reflect inward truths.

(Above:  Home is Where the Lies Begin.)

In fact, I'd bet that even the happiest of homes also has its share of sorrow.  I was reminded of this while in Springfield, Illinois touring the Lincoln home.  In the fancy parlor, Lincoln was asked to run as the Republican parties candidate for president.  What joy!  In the same room, about eight years earlier, nearly four-year-old Edward Lincoln, Abraham and Mary's second son, died. What sorrow! 

 (Above:  Home is Where Dysfunction Rules.)

There have been hundreds of movies and books featuring a beautiful place that functions as a facade for all sorts of evils.  This plot idea isn't new at all. 

 (Above:  Home is Where the Heart Breaks.)

I'd like to say that my feelings of "home" aren't a mess of great joys and tremendous grief, but I can't.  Personally, when I think of "home" as a "sense of place", sweetness isn't what comes to mind first.  That isn't to say I don't have fabulous memories, special feelings, and my share of happy thoughts.  I'm just aware that it wasn't all wonderful.  I'm not someone to sugar-coat parts that include tears.

(Above:  Home is Where Hypocrisy Lives.)

When I think of my home now, I don't envision a building at all.  The first thought is of my husband Steve.  As long as we are together, home can be anywhere ... and most of that really is better than good!