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"!

Monday, July 06, 2020

True Blue

(Above:  True Blue, vintage, shrunken wool wedding bodice with hand embroidered marriage vows suspended on a padded coat hanger.  19" x 19" x 6".  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Before going to bed every night, I spent time with a threaded needle.  It is relaxing.  It is how my day winds down and how I spend time watching television with my husband Steve (who has the remote control!)  For the past several weeks, the object being stitched was a tiny, shrunken wool bodice.  It was worn by a friend on her first wedding day.  That marriage didn't last (though the second attempt is now in its 56th year).  As a felter, she once threw the bodice into a hot bath, shrinking it to an impossibly small size.  Recently, she donated it to my stash, and I immediately started stitching on it ... like THAT NIGHT!

 (Above:  True Blue, reverse.)

I was so excited!  I knew that it would become part of an upcoming anniversary installation.  Thankfully, I snapped a picture before starting.  I knew exactly what I wanted to do with this bodice ... stitch it into some that spoke to the promises (whether realized or not) that happen on a wedding day ... the exchange of vows, the hope for the future, the gem of love held in words of forever.  The small size seems perfect.  It seems like a view to the past or the tiny silhouette on a distant horizon.

(Above:  The picture I posted on my blog on June 5, 2020 ... including a photo of the front and the back of the little wool bodice before being stitched.)

The anniversary installation is underway.  I'll be blogging about it soon.  So far, I've got seventeen wedding gowns.  Twenty-three more are needed in order to have enough to represent all forth years of my marriage ... next year ... September 11th.  I've purchased another, heavy-duty rolling garment hanger to hold them.  I've got a list of 3D objects I plan to make, pieces that represent the traditional materials for anniversary gifts.  I've read plenty of on-line articles detailing the exorbitant expenses of many weddings and the commercialization of "the big day". 

In the meantime, I've been stitching on True Blue.  First, however, I had to determine the words I wanted.  I researched that too.  For the most part, I used a page from The Knot.  The article was called 'Transitional Wedding Vows from Various Religions' ... and used bits and pieces from several of the listings in order to come up with:

In the presence of God and these our friends, I take you to be my spouse, promising to be loving and faithful, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, to comfort and honor, forsaking all others, till death do us part; and thereto I pledge to be yours and yours alone. This is my solemn vow.

For the most part, I was trying to come up with as many phrases as possible ... because I knew that this garment (regardless of its small size) was going to require lots and lots of letters!  I was right!  These vows were stitched nearly twice on the torso and almost once in its entirety for each sleeve.  I cut a padded coat hanger down to size, suspended it in front of a golden damask background, and shot these images.  I also used a monofilament to force a rotation for a video.  CLICK HERE for that You Tube video. 

Friday, July 03, 2020

Black Lives Matter

(Above:  Black Lives Matter, a series of eight.  22" x 46".  Altered cross stitch profiles with affirmative phrases mounted in 10" wooden embroidery hoops.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

I'm lucky in so many respects but one of the important ways is the fact that people donate various fiber related items to my stash.  Sometimes I know exactly what I'll do with a particular object or piece of fabric.  Sometimes I wonder, "What on earth could I ever do with this?"  When the wonderful and talented Jody Pilon gifted me these eight cross-stitched profiles, something a friend of hers once stitched, I said, "Thank you!" but I thought, "There's no way I'll ever use these."  Yet, I kept them.  Some little voice in the back of my mind added, "One day, Susan ... one day ... you'll be glad you have them.  The right project will come along!"

And so it did!

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'. (Thank you, Laura Brady, for this link!)

This isn't a new interest.  I've always known I was lucky to live in the "land of opportunity", but as an artist, I've explored the limitations of this myth upon occasion, especially since 2006 when making American Dream, an altered book.  That book had a statement:

As the daughter of an immigrant, I was raise to believe in the American Dream.  Hard work, courage, and determination always paid off in dividends of prosperity, security, and a place of my own.  For me, the American Dream is my wonderful home and family. At least that's how it worked out for me.  Yet, the older I get, the more I've come to know that this widely held belief doesn't always work out so well for others.  Too many women aren't living the American Dream.  Too many are abused, homeless,and struggling despite their best efforts. The pages of this altered book are meant to show the coexistence of the dream and the nightmare. Hopefully, readers will be inspired, like I am, to contribute to charitable causes and help those who are less fortunate.  The one thing I've learned is that achieving prosperity is not quite enough.  One must be willing to share it.  Only then can the American Dream be fully realized.

As a woman, I've always known gender discrimination.  Perhaps that's why Peggy McIntosh's 'White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack' struck a chord with me.  It allowed me to see white privilege in a context compared to feminism, something I already understood.  This article will stay with me for life ... like an article I read years ago called 'The Cowardice of Silence'.  At that time, I learned that living my life "color blind" was not enough.  (I dream of a world where race doesn't matter ... but we don't live there!)  After all, if one isn't part of the solution, one is part of the problem.  Speaking up and speaking out are necessary.  Sending Constant Contact bulk messages supporting Black Lives Matter is easy ... but it isn't enough either.  Action is necessary, and as an artist, my support had to be more than mere words.  It had to be ART.  This is series is my statement.


When I thought about an artistic response, these eight cross stitched profiles came to mind.  Why?  Well ... when receiving them from Jody Pilon, I didn't think I'd use them ... because they were profiles of idealized women ... fancy, elite, privileged.  The lone man looked as if he stepped out of a Rembrandt painting, from a century that didn't question race and gender inequality.  The different colored thread really didn't hide the "whiteness" of these figures.  Thus, they became the perfect place for an updated phrase ... a way to alter past preconceptions with relevant words.  Once I landed on this idea, it only took two days to transform them.

 (Above:  Mounting the altered cross stitches into 10" wooden embroidery hoops.)

The back stitching only took about the same amount of time as the research settling on eight phrases.  Next came the mounting.  Each one was then fitted into a 10" wooden embroidery hoop.  I already had them.  These hoops were the leftovers from a bulk purchase needed for The Feminist To Do List.  I cut mat board circles and glued them to the edge of the inner hoop, stretched each piece over the mat board, and taped down the excess fabric with acid-free tape. 

 (Above:  The back of each piece in the Black Lives Matter Series.)

Another, slightly larger mat board circle was then glued to the back, outer wooden hoop.  A label went on each one.

I am pleased with the work but mostly that my response to recent event is deeper than a bulk email message.  This is a lasting work of art that speaks a truth, allows me to be part of the solution as opposed to being silently complicit with the privilege to which I was born, and able to use a donation to my stash that I thought would never come in handy!