Thursday, September 25, 2014

Fiber Group Swap

This summer my fiber art group (FiberArt NorthEast --FANE) hosted a swap. Our ultimate goal: make 4" x 4.5" pages that we would swap in the Fall.  Each of us brought in a paper bag filled with supplies that we thought might fun to work with.  We could put in surface design supplies, fabric, or embellishments.  We blindly swapped the bags among the participants, making sure none of us got our own bags.

The bag I received contained beads, perle thread, cotton floss, paper clips, ribbon, and bon bon cups (like mini cupcake liners).

Can't wait to find out who filled this bag....
I didn't have a clue what to do....

I briefly contemplated using the paper clips and bon bon liners for  surface design but wasn't inspired.  (Having played with the materials I'm more inspired now, but that's a story for another day.)  Instead, I decided to use the supplies as embellishments to add texture and shape to my pages.

Taking a cue from the colors of the liners, I started by painting some cloth.  First I used yellow paint and bubble wrap; not knowing entirely what I would do, I thought it would be a good idea to mimic the circular shape of the liners.

I had just looked through the August/September 2014 Quilting Arts Magazine and decided to use one of the techniques described in Lynn Krawczyk's article to add more organic ink color to cloth.

Page from Lynn's article in Quilting Arts Magazine

One lesson learned: if you use cloth that's larger than 12" x 12", don't use rubber bands. I didn't have good success getting the ink to soak through all the layers because the rubber bands hold them too closely.  Instead, I simply smooshed the fabric in a plastic container (as suggested in the article) and kept "folding" it, as if I was baking.

Ink dribbling on my scrunched up cloth in a plastic bin

Look at the lovely color that process made.

Fabric post ink dribbles 

Front and back of the cloth
For some reason, I felt the cloth needed a few larger "true" circles, so I used a bit of painted fusible and scattered them across the surface.  The weren't glaringly obvious, but I felt they were enough.

After the addition of circles

A painted fusible circle -- love all the layers of color!

At that point, I felt the fabric was done and ready for quilting.  My first thought was to stitch large irregular circles around the red, but I didn't like it.  I had created unattractive mounds lost on the fabric. Eww.  They needed to disappear so I maniacally stitched swirls and circles all over the fabric in an attempt to flatten the mounds.

My crazy quilting, as seen from the back

Quilting, quilting, quilting

Post quilting

I liked it, but I felt that the fabulous texture  the stitching had created was too hard to see..... so I painted over it all with white paint, a la Deidre Adams.

I really like being able to see the quilted texture

Side view of texture; LOVE it!

There, now I really liked it.  Reluctantly I cut up the cloth to add the embellishments, but how?   This is what I decided: cut up the candy liners, open up the paper clips, and stitch them down using the thread from the bag.  Occasionally use some beads... and viola, here they are, ready to trade:

Can't wait to see what I get in the swap --  I'll post pictures when I get them.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Melly's Breast Pocket Project

Last year, Melanie Testa shared her thoughts, frustrations, and feelings about her experiences post-breast cancer.  For those of you unfamiliar with Melly's story, Melly chose not to have breast reconstruction following her double mastectomy.  Melly's experience isn't unique -- a significant minority of women choose not to have post-operative breast reconstruction -- but nonetheless, the "world" seems unprepared for women for whom this path is best.

Amidst all the other stuff she had to deal with, Melly found it difficult to find shirts that didn't have darts, shirts made for "flatties" (her term).  In response -- and in frustration I imagine, Melly put out a call for artists to make breast pockets in honor of breast cancer survivors, regardless of their post-op choices, and to help raise awareness about the choices women have about reconstruction.

Melly's frankness wasn't the way things were dealt with in my family.  Oh no.  If a conversation had to deal with "feminine issues", it became taboo and hush-hush.  It was so private that I didn't find out my mom was going in for a lumpectomy until a hospital nurse confirmed all the pre-op procedures and administrative details with me on the phone, assuming I was my mom.

Oops.  That was not an ideal way for me to find out.

I've clearly survived the shock and have come out of it believing that talking about medical issues is important.  Everyone doesn't need to be as open as Melly, who has shared her experiences broadly and bravely across social media.  But it IS important for members of a family to talk about whatever is going on: cancer, mental illness, whatever.  So many things are influenced by genetics and/or environment that it seems fool-hardy not to talk with those who are most likely going to be impacted by health issues.

But getting back on track here, it's no surprise I responded to Melly's call for pockets last year.  I wanted to make something for my mom who went through three lumpectomies and countless aspirations.  One pocket  I made dealt with my mom's beloved cup of coffee; after her surgery, she was advised to avoid caffeine under the notion that caffeine could speed metastasis.  This was almost as hard to deal with as the surgery.  My mom never had an empty coffee cup and our house forever smelled of coffee.  The other pocket was made with fabrics my mom had said, at one point or another, that she loved.  It seemed appropriate to give my mom some method of expression on a topic she otherwise felt she wasn't "supposed to" talk about.

You can see my two pockets flanking the bottom corners of the title of Melly's article in the October/November 2014 issue of Quilting Arts magazine.  (Imagine my surprise to discover them there -- thank you Melly and QA.)

(Apologies for the photo; my scanner is broken)
Melly's article tells her story, shares a pocket pattern, and puts out another call to further raise awareness.  I will be sending in more pockets -- perhaps I can make one in honor of my mom as a survivor and another for Lisa Quintana who fought valiantly for years before succumbing to the disease.  I hope you'll all read Melly's interview and decide if you can do something to support her cause.   You can find details in the issue on news stands now.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


Where did you go, August?  You flew by in a whirlwind. Here's a blur of a photo tour (that dips a toe into the beginning of September):

My parents visited for a week and we laid my sister's ashes to rest.

I spent two days marveling at the absolutely glorious Tetons.

I picked up The Youngest from camp; she was named Rodeo Queen 
(she had highest accumulated score in rodeo and riflery events)

We shared a brief family vacation that included a fun visit to the
Monterey Bay Aquarium and its fabulous octopus exhibit.

I dropped off The Boy at school -- sniff, sniff.

I had a chance to visit the talented and welcoming Jamie Fingal
in her studio.

I wore out my dogs with hiking and playing (not an easy feat).

I tended to my garden and harvested its bounty, like this 10 lb watermelon.

I went to the Notre Dame v. Michigan football rougame , my first ever, and got to spend time with my daughters (The Boy had to stay at school) and family.

I got to share the game with my husband, an ND alum.  It was wonderful to spend time with him in his old stomping ground.

And now we're back to our regularly scheduled Fall programming: school and school events, driving The Youngest to her extracurricular activities, docenting, hiking, and helping to manage SPUN.


Friday, September 12, 2014

SPUN Fiber Exhibition

I went on an unplanned blogging hiatus.  The main reason?  Time and travel with my family and friends. I simply absorbed every possible moment I could with those who make my life so special.

Now, the school year has begun and everyone's involved in other activities -- including me!  I'll tell you more about my summer later, but now I want to (belatedly) tell you about the exhibition for which I am the Assistant Director: SPUN

I am working with Jane Davila of  Art Quilt Workbook and "Minding Your Business" fame to bring a new fiber exhibition out into the world.  This exhibition is targeted towards small 2D and 3D artwork (no dimension larger than 24"), made in the last three years that's either made with fiber or that references fiber traditions.  The juror for the exhibition is Bartholomew Bland, the Director of Curatorial Affairs at the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, NY.

Jane and I have been immersed in the details necessary to bring a high quality exhibition to the public and announcing it here, sadly, slipped through the cracks.  Hopefully you all read about SPUN on various social media sites where I've been shouting from the rooftops.  If not, please visit for details.  The submission deadline is September 15 at midnight so there's no time to waste; please get your entries in!!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Moody California

I decided to meet up with a friend who was at the Blogher conference in San Jose while everyone in my family was busy doing other things.  We took a trip to Pt. Lobos on an uncharacteristically cloudy summer day.  The weather was downright moody, with stiff breezes followed by humidity, crashing thunderclaps followed by moments of sun.  It was an odd day and made for atmospheric pictures.

Unknown flowering ground cover that captured my eye with its color and shapes.

A grove of cypress trees bent by the wind

Plant life clinging to the sides of rugged cliffs, adding spots of color and interesting shapes

The sculptural quality of a dead tree

The sun debating as to whether or not to poke through the fog and clouds
I continue to be fascinated by the way the seasons and the weather affect the views I've seen many, many times.  I never tire of it.  Do you have a place that you love to visit over and over again?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Charles James at the Met

There's a spectacular exhibition about the designer Charles James at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  I went to see it with my mother-in-law, daughter and niece and we all loved it.  The exhibition is divided between two galleries on two separate floors -- not ideal and a bit hard to find -- but that's a small detraction from an otherwise superbly executed exhibition.

James began his career as a milliner in Chicago and hats from his earlier days were on display.  It was said that he would mold the hats on his more courageous clients heads to ensure a personalized fit, with a brim that perfectly suited their face.

In the late 1940s and 50s, James made seemingly innumerable gowns, cocktail dresses, and elegant coats.  He was a master at sculpting and draping cloth in fascinating and compelling ways.  His patterning and construction technique was so unique that he kept muslin forms so others could learn from his designs.

As lovely as the muslins are, see how the patterns translated when used with finer materials:

(The lighting in most of the exhibition is very low; I altered the exposure so you might see more, but these colors aren't true.  The red is much deeper and richer.)

Part of the focus of the exhibition was to help viewers understand, to the extent a layperson can, the way the pattern pieces were sewn together.  All of the gowns in one of the galleries had a small camera-like light before it which highlighted sections of the dress.  Next to it, these sections simultaneously appeared on a flat screen.  The pieces were then animated so we could watch a virtual construction of the dress, from skirt to bodice.  It was fascinating.

Many of James' gowns have names, such as the Butterfly Dress and the Tree Dress.  I couldn't take notes in the darkness of the rooms so sadly, I can't share them with you accurately.  But suffice to say they added an element of delightful whimsy to the elegance.

Here is a storyboard of sketches and articles, gathered together for a planned autobiography (1958-64).  I'm in awe of the fluid lines of James' sketches and I found it fascinating to read who wore these works of art.

Though made more than a half century ago, the style of the dresses have withstood the test of time.  I can imagine this dress appearing in today's fashion magazines or on the red carpet.

Fashion students were sketching, staring, and taking notes in abundance in the smaller, brighter gallery. Though not a student nor someone who sews clothes, I too was looking closely and examining the garments as much as I could.  I was amazed at how James took predominantly geometrically shape pattern pieces and, with well placed seams, fashioned soft drapes and gorgeous lines. If time allows, I would like to go see this again so I can absorb a bit more.  I hope you'll find the opportunity to go see this fabulous exhibition, too.

Thursday, July 17, 2014


My "lazy days of summer" have been jammed packed with activities: a week at my youngest's national dance competition, hosting my in-laws for a weeklong visit from the Midwest, and docent-ing. Yes, I know that docent-ing isn't technically a word, but I believe it should be.  In my experience, the act of being a docent is a verb.

Let me explain....

STEP 1: When I began my inquiries into being a docent for the Katonah Museum of Art, the head of the Education Department made it clear that being a docent was akin to taking a new art-related college course every few months in preparation for each new exhibition.  Practically, what does that mean?  It means that three to four weeks before an opening, all the docents attend several hours of lectures/presentations to familiarize us with the artwork in the upcoming exhibition, along with all the interesting factoids, personal stories, and tidbits that are all fodder for interesting and accurate tours.  For the current exhibition at the Museum, Iceland: Artists Respond to Place, we also had group lessons on the correct pronunciation of the Icelandic artists' names.

Detail of "Untitled" by Eggert Petursson, included in the current exhibition

STEP 2:  I have to learn this material, inside and out.  There is typically at least one single-spaced page of information on each artist and their artwork.  Some artwork is more familiar: Jasper Johns prints didn't require a huge learning curve because I was already knew bits about his career and recognized his work.  Nothing was familiar about the Icelandic artists.  (I did learn that one of the artists in the KMA exhibition, Olafur Eliasson was also responsible for the 2008 installations called "New York City Waterfalls", a Public Arts Fund project.)   Other than this reference, all the material was new to me.

New York City Waterfalls, Olafur Eliasson; photo credit, New York Times
NOT part of the current KMA exhibition

I have to prepare a tour.  It's one thing to be able to spew facts about artwork.  It's a completely different thing to be able to present the information in conjunction with the artwork, not sound like a robot AND do it all in 40 minutes. This preparation starts with a lot of thinking and then requires walking through the exhibition (nothing beats seeing it in person) and really contemplating the work, anticipating what is unique about each piece, and finding ways to present the work in an interesting and engaging way.  To facilitate this, the Museum always has a seasoned docent give a "first look" tour to the rest of the group.  Attending an advance tour has multiple benefits: anticipating questions, understanding pace -- it's harder to do than you'd think -- and establishing a flow between the artwork.  More thinking follows.

Once I feel ready, I have to give a one-on-one practice tour to the head of the education department.  This is the time I am evaluated so the Museum can determine if I'm ready to be in front of the public on their behalf.  I'm evaluated on a slew of criteria ranging from eye contact to my transitions between artwork and my overall thesis.  This evaluation is necessary to ensure that we are ready to be engaging experts and very public faces of the museum.

I give tours.  I'm pleased to report that I've passed my evaluation and have been approved to guide tours for the Iceland exhibition.  This exhibition is open through the end of September, at which point I'll have already started the process again in preparation for the next exhibition.

So what do you think?  Should docenting should be a word?