Saturday, August 29, 2015

Time's Running Out...

... to enter SPUN, the fiber art exhibition for which I'm co-director with Jane Davila.  The on-line entry deadline is SEPTEMBER 4, just six days away!  Don't miss out on your chance to have your work juried into this show by Robbin Zella, Director of the Housatonic Museum.  The maximum size for 2D and 3D art is 24"W x 60" L.  I look forward to your entries!!

Prospectus details can be found at 

Time's also running out for me to create a piece for my fiber art group's upcoming show at the View in Old Forge, NY.  I have an idea, but now it's pedal to the metal to get it done on time.  I took the first step today when I went paint a piece of fabric on my driveway.  (I just love the texture the asphalt makes.)  I complicated things by adding in some pieces of cheesecloth.  Lesson learned: start painting over cheesecloth by dabbing with a sponge, NOT a brayer.  The unsecured cheesecloth pieces just got stuck on the brayer and wrapped around it.  Oops.  Also, it's also best to paint in a more protected area; breezes, while lovely on a hot day, don't play well with cloth just barely held down with stones.

Little flecks of dirt are now part of my artwork forever.  Oh well.  Character, right?

The cloth is back inside, resting on my work table.  Tomorrow's task: adding bits of color texture to make this a bit more interesting and complex.  Shall I fling paint at it?  Rub with oil sticks?  Both?  I'll decide tomorrow.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Fun with Riffs

In my last two posts, I've been hinting at the pleasure I've had reading Kathy Loomis's new book, Pattern-Free Quilting, Riffs on the Rail Fence Block.

I'm also honored that Kathy asked me to provide a review of the book.  Put simply, this is a great book to have on your shelves.  Why?  Let me explain:

1) Kathy is an excellent writer.  It can get dull reading pattern books but Kathy's lively writing style, anecdotes, and examples make it interesting and entertaining.  As I noted in my previous post, I love Kathy's analogy of creative quilting to cooking; recipes evolve with the addition of an ingredient here or the subtraction of another there.  Using the rail fence block as the starting point -- the basic recipe -- we can each modify this traditional pattern so that it transforms into something that's uniquely our own.  Even more advanced quilters can get ideas on how to manipulate an idea to take it to the next level; Kathy makes suggestions throughout on how to up the ante during the design process.   Because of this, I think this would also be a good book for anyone interested in working in a series and exploring how to keep the ideas fresh.  She shares thoughts on
    -- color combinations
    -- fabric selection
    -- shape manipulation
    -- free hand vs. ruler cutting
Yep, plenty there to keep you busy!

2) The book includes many images, both quilts and line drawings, to illustrate the variety of ways blocks can be arranged to different effect.  So often we forget that a 90° rotation creates lots of options.  And this leads to Kathy's mantra of Sew First, Plan Second.  Just create a stack of blocks and see where they take you.  It's liberating, sometimes scary, but always fun.  It is, really, the best way to learn to develop your own voice and to listen to it.

3) Some of Kathy's art quilts are in the gallery and it wasn't until I read the book that it registered that these were all crafted from manipulated rail fence blocks.  I really liked that there was a simple reference chart after each quilt summarizing the elements: how the rail blocks were created, in what arrangement, the color decisions, etc.  For beginners and advanced quilters alike, sometimes we just want to know "How did she do that?"  Kathy's book takes away some of the mystery and makes the creative process accessible to even the most beginning quilter.

After reading the book, I decided to try my hand at a rail fence project.  I started with a group of fabrics my sister had once compiled (she loved the color purple and Japanese-inspired fabrics):

Since I'm on a circle kick I decided to sew blocks in such a way so that, when laid out, they'd resemble a circle.

NO, NO, NO!  This was a mess and probably didn't work because 1) I forgot about the Sew First, Plan Second -- I was trying too hard, and 2) there was too much pattern inherent within the fabrics to look good like this; they didn't mesh well in a "blob".  So I took the blocks off the wall and wondered what to do.  I realized that some of the blocks were, in fact, lovely together; they just needed more breathing room.  Aha!  I cut several blocks apart to make new rail fence units and ultimately arranged them in the basket weave pattern after fiddling with other layouts as well.

This has the makings of a nice table runner that I think I'll set out on
my sister's birthday.  I think that will be a nice tribute to her.

Much better.  Yes, I ended up with a more traditional-looking arrangement of block but, ultimately, my goal was to showcase what my sister had collected and this layout supports that goal.  Forcing the fabric grouping into a preconceived idea wasn't going to work or make me happy.  I had to listen to the fabrics and go from there.  To quote Kathy's book, "I believe that the fabric will let me know whether it’s happy with what I’m doing with it, and give me clues about what I should do next. That’s where the excitement comes from!"(page 9)

Yes, it really is fun to throw planning to the wind and to see where you end up.  Give it a go with Kathy's excellent book as your guide.  Don't worry; you won't end up floundering.  You'll find your own path and that's exciting!!  You can buy the book here.

Monday, August 17, 2015

My Bedside Table, Summer 2015, Part I

My reading has been all over the place lately.  I've read How Dogs Love Us, written by the neuroscientist Gregory Berns, MD PhD, about his efforts to train dogs to lie still -- while awake  --within a functional MRI machine.  The goal: to map regions of the canine brain to scientifically determine if dogs have theory of mind and can, indeed, be considered sentient beings.  It sounds science-y but it's very readable and will especially appeal to anyone who's a dog lover like me.

I took an on-line introduction to corporate finance class this summer. I wanted to understand better what my husband and two college-aged children were talking about.  I've never been particularly interested in economics, but the professor was good and I'm proactively trying to do a bit more to understand economics.  (I have to admit that it also feels really good to learn something new that I didn't think I could.) On the recommendation of a friend, I've been reading Richard Thaler's book Misbehaving about behavioral economics.  (In a nutshell, people don't always make rational buying decisions and hence, misbehave / don't "follow the rules" of economics, throwing predictions out of whack.)  It's only in very recent history that the impact of flawed human decision-making has been considered during policy-making sessions.  This is a meaty but very interesting book.   I have to say I'm enjoying it, probably because a fair portion of it is devoted to Thaler's personal experiences and thoughts as the field developed, as opposed to graphs and charts.

Lest you run away from this post, let me share that I've also read Tracy Chevalier's book, The Last Unicorn.  This book is a fictional account of the creation of the Unicorn tapestries from the Middle Ages.  I had hoped to see them when I was in Paris but they were out on loan.  (Bummer!)

This is what the Unicorn tapestries look like at the Musee Cluny.
I didn't get to see them; this is someone's picture
from the internet.... but you can tell they're gorgeous.

Chevalier's book is most historically accurate in the technical account of how these gorgeous tapestries were made in Brussels. Though the rest of the book is beach read-y with love interests and the like, I still learned about the tapestry industry from that time period.  For example, I didn't know that Europeans used woad to make blue dye for textiles and yarns and, I've since discovered, it's the source of the blue face paint the Scots used (think Braveheart).  Woad is a flowering leafy plant and the dye is extracted from the bushy leaves.  The same compounds that create indigo are also present in woad, but in lesser concentrations.

Woad plant; image from

Woad powdered dye; image from

I also learned about hachures.  These are short parallel lines used to shade hills on maps and to create shading in weaving.  (Quite frankly, I didn't even know there was a word to describe the lines.) From what I understand, creating effective hachures in weavings is quite a skill and until this book, it wasn't a process I had given much thought to.  It is, however, an element that gives depth to the imagery and makes it so much richer.  You can see how it's used on the red clothing in the picture below.

Detail of tapestry in Musee Cluny. Paris Personal photo
I also hadn't thought much about how negative space in tapestries were filled with millefleurs, fields of plants and animals to supplement the primary scene.  The goal was to fill the tapestry with images, not to leave large swatches of "blank" color.

Detail of unidentified tapestry filled with millefleurs, Musee Cluny, Paris.
Personal photo

Yes, I've been learning and learning a lot this summer, and I still have more to share.  In Part II of this post, I'm going to tell you about Kathleen Loomis's book, Pattern-free Quilts.  I've read it and I can say that it is very, very good.  I absolutely love how she makes the analogy of pattern-free quilting to cooking.  It's perfect; everyone knows how to tweak what they eat to their personal taste, and creative quilting is no different.  Stay tuned....

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Week in Review -- and a Tease

We took a vacation last week to, you guessed it, California.  As usual I took lots of pictures, with both my good camera and my iPhone, which is proving to be more versatile than I ever imagined it to be.  When I share images on Instagram, I tag the pictures with #iphoneography, a tag I've borrowed from my photographer and college friend, Angie Garbot.  (You can see her beautiful photography here.)  I figure it's only fair to identify what I'm taking with that little flat gadget.

Here are some of my favorites from last week's iPhone pictures:

Lovely giant snail on the patio

Colorful rock with a splattering of lichen

The petals fell overnight and I woke in the morning to find my
very own Dutch painter-like still life.

The view on an evening walk

Looking west at sunset

Up close and personal in the middle of a ladybug swarm

And there you have it.  I'm off now to do some museum work -- prep for the next docent training session is ramping up and I have two meetings this week -- and to read through Kathy Loomis' new book, Pattern-Free Quilts, Riffs on the Rail Fence Block.  It's my honor to provide a review of the book, here on my blog.  Here's a sneak peek at the cover.

I've already done a quick perusal and I can tell you now that this book is filled with eye-candy!  Gorgeous, gorgeous quilts.  I'll share more of my personal thoughts later, but don't feel you have to wait; you can buy the book here.  If you'd like to read more of what Kathy has to say, head over to her blog; it's always a good read.  You can find it here.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Broad Museum in LA

Eli and Edythe Broad are sharing their significant 2,000+ piece private collection with the public in their new namesake museum, The Broad Museum.  The September 20th opening exhibition will be a 250-piece approximate chronological representation of contemporary art, beginning with works by Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, and continuing through to the most recent works in their collection.  The couple decided to open their own museum, as opposed to separating and sending off their collection to various museums worldwide, to help maintain the integrity of their entire collection;   they didn't want just selections to be seen by the public.

Eli Broad spoke of collecting art in the Robb Report by saying
'“I think from the beginning, just buying art wasn’t of great interest. Collecting is really a learning experience, it’s a way one can broaden the way you can view the world. I like to say that life would be boring if I spent all my time with lawyers, accountants, and bankers.” He enjoys spending time “with contemporary artists who have a different view of what’s happening in society and the world than other people.”'

The museum stands next to the Disney Concert Hall and has an elegant facade made of white oblong openings, that's raised at the corners to welcome visitors.

Photo from the Robb Report
This lovely facade reminds me a bit of the black, lace-like exterior of the Galerie de la Mediterranee in Marseilles, France.

I'd really like to go to The Broad.  I've had the privilege of seeing another extensive private art collection -- William Louis-Dreyfus' -- and it's like getting a glimpse into someone's mind and thoughts that would otherwise be difficult to articulate.  

Road trip anyone?

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Social Media -- And the Answer is....

First, my apologies: it seems I might have given a few of you the impression in my social media post that I was contemplating ending my blog.  I'm sorry!  I love writing my blog and will continue with it as long as I can.  Thank you for sharing that you enjoy reading it.

From the comments and emails I've received, it appears that I won't run the risk of boring you if I post my Facebook/Instagram pictures here.  And so here are three recent pictures that I posted from my gardens.  They're all square because that's the format required by Instagram.

Double-yolk daisy 

2" long cicada hawk wasp (also know as a cicada killer).  These
fascinating burrowing wasps dig nests in my yard and garden, dragging
cicadas twice their size into their nest for their larvae. They look
ferocious, but are virtually harmless to people, unless you
try to juggle them or something.

Beetle eating away at my roses -- bad, bad bugs
The question as to whether or not I will continue to post on Instagram was settled this past week as I sat shiva for a friend whose son had died of a rare pediatric brain cancer.  She said that the flower pictures I shared helped her to remember that the world might still be a beautiful place despite her grief.  I am humbled that something I had done had brought her a small measure of comfort. And I'm thankful the internet was able to help provide succor to a dear friend.  I never would have guessed this could happen.