A Few Days In Gramado, Brasil …

September 29th, 2019

I returned to Montevideo last sunday, and my week in Gramado, Brasil is now a pleasant memory. The 22nd Festival of Patchwork and Quilting was fun and well organised. My two whole day classes were terrific, all the students were lovely people, and the facilities were excellent. My concerns about language made me prepare thoroughly. Of course, I’ve taught the technique of freehand, improvisational, cutting and piecing for decades, but most of my preparation was the language. I knew most people would speak at least a second if not a third language (portuguese, spanish, english) at least partly. But teaching something is a bit different from social chatting, where we all managed well with about 1 and 1/2 languages apiece. And, in view of the language thing, I developed powerpoints with brief captions in portuguese for each class, plus a take-home handout in portuguese for everyone. These two tasks meant careful revamping of my english-only, rather old notes, inserting photos rather than hand-drawn diagrams, with as little carefully worded text as possible. Additionally, the organisers wanted two 6-hour classes, not the one two-day one I’ve taught in the past, and prefer. That all made me really think about the essentials of the improvisational patchwork which I’ve always found so easy, and break it down into what could be accomplished in 6 hours by someone beginning from scratch (beginner) and then what someone with the basics already known could accomplish doing more advanced work. I had to remember that when I discovered freehand/improvisational patchwork, I had almost no background in traditional patchwork, and how great a mental hurdle that can be to learning and adapting to a very different patchwork technique that often seems counter intuitive. I had only the most basic instructions and learned a lot over the years by experience, some trial and error, and wanted to pass as much as possible on.

The PPP captions and prepared statements I read to each class were translated and where necessary culturally interpreted, with help from my wonderful language teacher here in Montevideo, Moira Riccetto Blanco. 3 months ago Moira had absolutely no idea of it and is now thoroughly familiar with the intricacies of improvisation piecing technique, inside and out! I’m sure we got it right, and after my opening to the advanced class all of them applauded, which really bowled me over. As a teacher of this technique it was pleasing, as it always is, to see people enthusiastically experimenting and pursuing avenues suggested by what I’d just showed them. And further, every student did something different from the person next to them. Some highly original ideas appeared even in those few hours they had. With realistic expectations about aftermaths of such workshops, I have some hopes that several, at least, will take off on some interesting path of creativity.

Classes were held in light, airy classrooms on the second floor of the town’s event centre:

On the ground floor were several exhibitions, including one of my own quilts, as I was one of the two featured Master Quilters this year. the other featured quilter this year was Marina Landi of Sao Paulo Brasil, whose dramatic portraits in fabric are well known to art quilt makers everywhere. http://marinalandi.com.br/wp/2011/

At the festival in Gramado was an exhibition 11 of my quilts, all chosen for being made using improvisational patchwork which was the subject of my beginner and advanced classes. On the right is the banner giving my name and country, Uruguay.

Also on the ground floor were an exhibition of the nature theme art quilts from a group in Sao Paulo (on which I’ll write a little later) and an exhibition of small works about 25cm square by the students of well known quilter and teacher, Cecilia Koppmann of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Shown were pieces they produced in response to various themes they adopted for inspirations over a period Cecilia taught them

There was also a merchant’s mall of over 50 vendors of everything from sewing machines to thimbles, commercial patterns to marking pens, rotary cutters and mats to all kinds of scissors, cutting mats, rulers, threads, batting, needles and of course, fabric. Naturally, I picked out a few nice pieces to bring home, as it’s really, really difficult to find any kind of cotton fabric here in Uruguay, unfortunately, and it means that whenever I leave the country I find myself buying some. Because I don’t use florals in my own art as a rule, and never have, I skipped over those, and most of the hectic bright prints, but as I said, there were a few things for my calmer tastes, and finding them was fun.

I had one day off between teaching days to explore around Gramado. The intrepid tourist in me decided where I wanted to go, and I found an Uber driver, Anderson, who was helpful and early on suggested we turn off the app and agree to a X Reais / hour deal – he was wonderful. I first had him stop at the local cathedral on which I will write another time – the stained glass windows are lovely.

My next stop was a museum of fashion, Museo da Histora da Moda, I thought sounded interesting, and was right. Hundreds of mannequins were displayed, showing historic-social and cultural perspectives through women’s clothing from 2000BC to the present. For more info go to www.museodamodedecanela.com.br And if you do visit this interesting museum, have them turn down the volume of the music a bit – it was nice, and appropriately dramatic, but way too loud.

This group of Roman females, explained how class determined what was worn, and by whom. In this museum of female fashion down the millenia, all the displays were well lit, with signage in 3 languages including english 🙂

I went to a wonderful Geo-museum of fossils and mineral specimens, which Mike would have enjoyed if he’s been with me. It was a quiet morning, and a lovely woman who spoke great english with clearly a lot of knowledge about what was on show, accompanied me around the museum. She was interesting without being at all pushy or intrusive – a thoroughly enjoyable hour or so.

Eat your heart out, Gavin Johns!!

You can’t miss the chocolate in Gramado – people mention it as soon as they know you’re going there – so Anderson took me to one of the classiest places, after stopping off for pics at some of the many other garishly decorated venues that offer chocolate:

There places like this all over Gramado and Canela – what can I say?

The last thing |I did on my day off was to go to a shoe place and bought a pair which I’ll start wearing when the weather warms up a bit. I had a great week, and thanks Carmen and Ze Mauro Netto, for inviting me!

SAQA Auction – Today is Diamond Day!

September 13th, 2019

Today, September 13th, is the first day of the annual SAQA Benefit Auction. Today is Diamond Day – on which any and every quilt donated to this year’s auction is for sale at $1000. Bidding for your must-have quilt for $1000 opens in a few hours’ time at 2.00pm Eastern Daylight Time (Washington DC zone USA) and this phase closes at 12 midnight EDT.

As they were donated the quilts were divided into three groups, and next monday, September 16th. the reverse auction commences for Group 1, starting at $750 with the price falling every day until a quilt sells or the bidding for that group closes at the end of that week. My Ebb&Flow #30 will be auctioned in Group 3, the week beginning Monday September 30th. Full details of how the auction works at http://www.saqa.com/auction-view.php?scat=61&s=0 includes bidding guides and FAQs. It’s interesting that my works usually sell for a similar price per unit area to my larger pieces. (Fascinating side note – would you believe some makers price their works at $/square inch?)

Ebb&Flow #30 12″ x 12″

All the auction quilts are 12″ x 12″. All are original designs and made using an enormous variety of surface design techniques, including hand painting, digital printing, hand and machine applique, machine collage, and variations of ‘patchwork’ This year mine is another improvisational patchwork piece in the Ebb&Flow series.

You can see them all on SAQA’s website http://www.saqa.com/auction-view.php?scat=61&s=0 displayed in the three groups in which they’ll be auctioned. You can place a bid from anywhere in the world using your credit card, and if successful, of course they’ll send it to you.

There are always a few artists whose pieces are in hot demand and go on Diamond Day or for the $750 on the first group day. It would be a great thrill to be among this year’s top earners for SAQA, an organisation I have supported every year it has been held, bar one.

Sweat Of The Sun,Tears Of The Moon

August 27th, 2019

In the 80’s several friends tried to get me involved in quilting, but I resisted, saying I didn’t have time, which was true at that time – creative embroidery, stitch, was more important to me. I’d had attended several fabulous workshops by inspiring teachers, and was using stitch (hand and fme) with paint and found objects to express my interests in landscape. I was invited to have my first solo exhibition, Sunburnt Textures in 1987; and at the end of that year we relocated to USA for a while. Through a new neighbour, Carol, I finally met traditional American geometric patchwork, an intense affair that dominated a large part of my life for a couple of years. However, that ended amicably enough when I was introduced to improvisational piecing, IP, and I haven’t looked looked back since.

I still carry several enduring marks I’d call influences rather than scars, the most obvious being use of repeated units of surface decoration (traditional ‘blocks’) in an overall design of rows. Other artists who share my love of grids include a favourite, Agnes Martin, Guillermo Kitka, James Sienna, Sol Lewitt, Sean Scully and Chung-Im Kim, about whom I wrote http://www.alisonschwabe.com/weblog/?p=4419

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The first sample, on the left was a quick demo to show artist friend Lillian how easy IP is. Excited by this little sample, after she left I made a few more. However, a particular technique doesn’t necessarily translate to ‘a work of art’, and those samples sat on my wall for nearly a year. I gave them regular, thoughtful attention, but nothing clicked until after I’d watched the 2017 eclipse of the sun in Colorado.

Staying with our daughter Anna in Greeley CO at the time, in an area expecting to be in about 80% partial darkness, and with UNC classes cancelled for the day, the obvious thing to do was organise an eclipse party with fellow UNC grad students.

All food and drinks had sun-related labelling, and my personal favourite were the eclipse eggs. Later a pizza was served with a partial eclipse of black olives on a cheese background …

Even in the C21 in a modern civilisation, that silence of birds and animals which descends as light disappears or fades at the wrong time of day feels strange, eerie, truly awesome. To the ancients on all continents, eclipses of the sun and the moon, and the transit of comets and planets across the sky, and their regular appearances on different cycles, were mysterious and sometimes fearsome events, often a pretty handy tie-in to primitive religious beliefs. I remembered a TV documentary Sweat of The Sun,Tears Of The Moon seen 30+ years ago, and this brain activity led to my 125cm x 60cm diptych by that name. It will be at the 2019 Quilt Festival in Gramado Brasil in the masters(teachers) exhibition: because of course, that is where I will be teaching in 3 weeks’ time.

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Sweat Of The Sun, Tears Of The Moon diptych, 125cm x 60cm

Virtue Signalling Via Hand Stitch

August 26th, 2019

Tempting as it might be to head off grid and into the remaining forest or out into the desert, most of us do need to remain somewhere in plain view, connected to the rest of the world by mainstream media and the mass of other sources that present us with information. Some of this framework is vital, and other stuff we filter by our own preferences. I turn the tv off after I’m out of bed and dressed, turning it on again early evening for the day’s news. Even if there’s a stunning Breaking News thing going on, most of the time it can wait until further detail has been gathered up and presented with some kind of analysis.

People have different ways of coping with news overload and big issues of the day. The importance of many of them depend on where you are, but for all of us around the world there is a massive plastic problem, some serious environmental issues need addressing or mitigating and then there are family stresses, downsizing, upsizing, gun violence, bees, gender bewilderment …. Many facets of modern life present us with pain or discomfort that needs alleviating, and for many people today the Slow Stitch Movement has much to recommend it as a calming therapy. I’ve posted about this before – http://www.alisonschwabe.com/weblog/?p=741

A recent comment by a hand stitcher about a pic of what she’s currently making was about more than just calming through hand stitching – it was also a perfect example of virtue signalling via stitch. The stitchery was a bit minimalist, and by hand. The stitcher said she carefully thinks about every stitch, and was looking for any hints or guidance, for which I read ‘approval’. Hand stitching is very relaxing. I do a fair bit, as quilting mostly; and while I do think about what I am doing in general terms, I don’t focus on every single stitch until I get to a corner where something has to be fitted in! I’d be no good at all with the disciplines of sashiko as these images show, compared with the following examples of my own hand stitched creations 🙂

Heritage 2 detail
Desert Tracks 5 detail

Somehow in the quilted textile world there are lots of subtle, unwritten rules for people to follow and become a bit obsessed with. I’ve had quilters tell me they they only use scissors to cut their fabrics, as if this is somehow better (implying more correct) than the new fangled rotary cutter technology which for 30+ years has been a universally accepted speedy and labour saving cutting device in the p&q world. Quite often this person will add virtue by saying that they always hand stitch. Still more virtue is gained if they declare they use only cotton 🙂

For the record, I have always pieced patchwork by machine. My thread of of choice for the past 20+ years has been Gutermann’s Skala, a polyester multi-thread of a kind often labelled ‘bobbin thread’. Despite being very fine, it’s as strong as or stronger than any cotton machine thread. If I want to unpick something, all I have to do is grab the end of the top thread and out it comes. That really suits how I work, piecing into and taking out segments from lots of groups of fabric strips. I have cones of white, cream, light, medium and dark grey, and black, plus stand-by cones of grey and black, just in case. They’re 10,000m cones, so running out is unlikely, but I do live in Uruguay.

Also this week, a member of an improvisational quilters facebook page wrote extensively on how she sews her improv patchwork all by hand. Whoop de Doo! Since improv piecing involves cutting and rearranging segments and groups of segments, but hand stitching needs to be anchored with a knot or backstitching to stop a broken/cut thread unravelling, I routinely advise people that don’t recommend it for hand stitchers.

Piecing by improvisational techniques is very calming, I find. It’s my go-to-favourite surface design technique. It’s not difficult, but it’s also not super fast. I’ve never been interested in those ‘quilt in a day’ super fast project books and patterns for time-deprived moderns. As a senior, I’m never in that much of a hurry, though this is not related to the fact that I do best under pressure, and am a bit of a last minute wonder when faced with a looming deadline. It goes without saying I am a skilled procrastinator :-)

Afterglow,1999. The relevant pencil diagrams and typically brief notes from my sketch book.

People often give the impression that they believe ‘improv’ is a speedy technique, requiring little skill that permits makers to rush ahead without any preconceived plan: grab a couple of fabrics, sew them together, throw that onto the design wall, and see what happens. While there is always opportunity for an exciting serendipitous moment, I believe successful improvisational quilt actually needs some, albeit minimal, planning.

Gramado In September

August 20th, 2019

I hear there are still a couple of vacancies to the introduction to improvisational patchwork class I’ll be teaching in Gramado, next month, but I’m very happy to see the advanced class is already full!

As many already know, improvisational patchwork, improv, or IP, is quite different from how traditional patchworkers make their quilt tops. IP has been widely adopted by Modern Quilters and art quilters and you’ll find some overlap, with some of the same exciting quilts turning up on each of these links. Of course, for other exciting stuff you can go to my own website and articles about me 🙂 My Colour Memories gallery includes several wall quilts that I made within a year or two of learning this technique.

I learned IP not long after learning traditional patchwork in the USA, which I still love, and it remains a huge influence in how I make quilts. I love straight, regular grids of squares or triangles inside of which are improvisational/freehand patterns:

By playing around dividing triangles and squares, the basic shapes of traditional patchwork, with straight, undulating or curved lines, you can easily make up your own unique patterns, including fabulous borders and blocks. Some favourites developed out of experimenting with a traditional block, such as this one based on the basic Drunkard’s Path block

… which I think of as sunrise or sunset, depending on where the rays are pointing …

I just happen to love regular grids, but IP squares and triangles can be as wonky and irregular as hell, you just need to know a couple of simple things about joining irregular shapes: (plus finishing the edges, too) :

Fire Danger 2, 1999, 90 x 60cm
(photographed against black background)

So to get everyone’s creativity revved up, I’ve had fun working out a combination of demonstrations+powerpoints, including some ideas I’ve always thought good but never actually tried myself 🙂

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