This One’s Going To Take A While, Continued…

July 27th, 2022

I posted the previous article on this project just a little over a month ago, June 22nd. Though I’m putting as much time in as possible, it is taking at least as long as I thought it would. I did estimate the number of concentric square units wrongly, but essentially 11 rows of 11 units works out at 121, so I must have just transposed figures, which I do tend to do a little – but didn’t realise until I put the whole thing up on the design wall today and understood why I was finding I had a few more than I expected to finish in the outer row.

Now that the whole design is almost finished, and I feel the ‘brown’ ones, of deeper gold shimmering sheer fabric strips overstitched with copper thread, are coming up just a bit too dark.

I have few options –

  • do nothing – see upper left
  • unpick some copper thread and sew over the fabric strips in gold thread – see right of of this pic.
  • add some gold stitches in amongst the copper stitches to lighten those units a bit – the central of the right square, and the fight side of that square.

It was evening when I finished doing this sample square, and in the night light it didn’t seem to make enough difference to justify the amount of extra work to change all the coppery blocks. However I’ve left it pinned to the design wall and will make a final decision when I see it in the morning light.

I have just 5 blocks of the outer row to finish.

An Obsession With Squares

July 23rd, 2022

My followers know I learned traditional geometric patchwork and quilting when we moved to Denver in 1987, but after a year or so I began to make my earliest art quilts. I’ve been focused on the nice symmetry and balance of a square ever since; and while searching for my earliest mention of concentric squares, aka the Square in a Square block of traditional p&q, I found an early 2005 blog post – and it amazed me that the quilt I referenced in that was made so long ago –

“Heritage Quilt” 2005 ~70cm x 95cm (in retrospect that’s an odd title)
work in progress

These days I’m still basting square outlines of ~4inches, which must be my inbuilt comfort setting; and I’m still finding ways to use squares in/on other squares. Let me quote from that 2005 post –

And finally, a little session focused just on doodling with pencil and paper did it. Just squares and triangle thingies, dots and dashes, and all of a sudden inspiration took over.”

This is still how a lot of my design work begins….. and I concluded:

“I feel this is a new direction compatible with my interest in the origins, factual and legendary, of patchwork and quilting, and exploring the common ground between the traditional quilts and what has developed in the contemporary/art quilt world. The square outlined by the grey basting stitches is around 4″ side.”  The right half of the photo above shows just a little of the grey basting thread up near the top of the frame. 

I was a teenager when I developed an interest in early Man and his primitive activities as known only by unearthed artefacts and markings on cave and rock walls. That prompted me to to study at tertiary level the better documented and understood later ‘ancient’ civilisations of Greece, Rome and Egypt, and I’m always thrilled every time new discoveries are made on all continents. I’ve always been fascinated by markings and patterns that appear from within human groups we know were not in contact with each other. These marks probably have proper name, but I just call them ‘primal symbols’. I feel I need to thoroughly investigate ‘squares’, probably one of the great primal symbols… but today I don’t have the time – I’m stitching at full speed on the latest squares work, and have only 25/112 left to do – and have to get back to that. It’s a dank grey day outside, perfect indoors / stitching weather.

These squares are ~3.5″ across, so about 4″ must be my comfort zone! And yes, that is a big needle, in fact a darner which suites me perfectly, and with the hoop’s help, enabling me to sew each stitch quite fast, in one smooth movement..

Hand Sewing, Continued …

July 22nd, 2022

While accompanying my husband Mike on a business trip here to South America in 1992, I felt I really should buy another packet of the sharps I was using to quilt “Ora Banda”, as we were shortly to be heading off into the wilds of Argentina. (Geologists’ wives accompanying husbands on work trips are used to spending time on our own during working hours!)

“Ora Banda”, 1992. 127cm x 150cm. QN93

I knew very little Spanish at the time, so I think I did pretty well to find a haberdashery, sort out the vocab for buying needles, and remember to take along one I w as using to show what I neededThe assistant put a packet on the counter and asked how many I wanted. I replied I’d take just the one packet please, but she repeated the question to make it clear she meant how many individual needles I wanted. Thinking quickly on my feet, I covered my surprise by answering with a smile and my best manners that I’d take 3, please.  She wrapped those three needles in a small piece of blue (moisture proof?) paper; I paid the modest per needle cost in pesos of course (perhaps US 3c each) and walked out onto the street a little stunned. The country was still recovering from the military dictatorship, so I just presumed this was a struggling economy thing.  

Fast forward to the first pandemic year, 2020 and with overseas travel impossible and my stock of large needles running perilously low, I returned to that same shop which is now being run by the previous shopkeeper’s daughter. She produced just three large needles, which were not exactly what I wanted, but in an emergency beggars can’t be choosers ! so I bought them anyway, felt a little easier, and began to think this is a cultural thing.

I’ve since found a shop in another part of the city that does stock packets of the darning needles I need. A few months back my spares were down to four, so I called in for more. The shopkeeper placed a box on the counter and produced two unopened packs of ten #7 darners, and another containing just seven of the of the original ten. I bought the lot.  I started a new packet today, so pristine spares now number nineteen 😊 

Yesterday Virginia, a born and bred UY friend who sews and crafts a lot, said she’d never come across that, but she’ll ask around, and I’ll post any answer here.  She also told me something I’d never known or noticed – that in UY a person will never hand a needle directly to you but will always put it down for you to pick up.  Another UY friend Graciela, who lives in Australia and is currently visiting family here, said it’s always been possible to buy the just section you want from those made-in-China cards of 100 different purpose needles – I’m sure you know the ones, which also include a needle threader on the card.  I’m sure that all partly shaped my earliest needle buying experience here.

What started me on this article is that I was digging around in my hand needle stash the other day for a useful little gadget I keep in there.  A snag needle looks like a darning needle, but at the blunt end it’s tooled like a metal file, so it’s not technically a ‘needle’.  I was going to describe why and how to use one, until I found this little ~3min video on that very subject https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqfriMwpPJo  It’s something everyone should have in their hand needle stash!

A Bit Of A Sleeper, Really …

July 21st, 2022

Although I only had this work photographed a couple of months ago, I actually made it in 2015. A bit experimental in materials and processes, I designed and made it for a particular wall in our home, hung it immediately it was finished and always forgot to take it to be photographed every time after that I took other new work to be done. I tend to have several pieces photographed at once, a couple of times a year, but this one just somehow got overlooked every time. Fast forward to 2022, and in January I was inspired to make a new work for that space, and put that one straight up, too, without naming or even measuring and documenting it, and I still haven’t had it properly photographed, either! However, in a few weeks’ time I’ll be taking some new work in to Eduardo’s studio, and will try to remember it in then.

However, back to this one –

“Slideshow” 110cm x 120cm 2015

Even when I posted my fresh new new photo on Instagram I hadn’t yet bothered to name it, and friend Kathy Loomis of OH suggested I should call it Slideshow. I agreed, and went on to comment ” @kathy_in_ky 😂 you’re right – and I never titled it because I made it for a particular place in our house. So “Slideshow” it is, not that it’s ever going to appear in any catalogue, except for the illustrated record I keep of all my work – with an eye to the major retrospective in about 100 years’ time, of course 😍 ”

When Studio Art Quilt Associates, SAQA, called for entries to a juried collection of SAQA juried artists’ quilts to feature in their exhibition space at the huge annual expo SOFA, (that stands for sculpture objects fine art design) I looked to see what might fit. There was no age limit, so I included Slideshow among the three in my entry, and then quite forgot about it until an acceptance email turned up yesterday. I’m not sure there’ll be a catalogue, but that expo is big, and it’s a wonderful exposure opportunity for my art.

“Slideshow”, detail

Grid layouts are my go-to design structure, definitely an influence from traditional patchwork and quilting. But there’s more to my love of them. I’m a creature of some degree of habit, and calm and order do come from a level of predictability derived through repetition. In today’s turbulent world, I value an orderly home where actual people live, using and enjoying our various belongings, and tidying up and cleaning when absolutely necessary. When I go downstairs in the morning to make the first cup of tea I like that the cat is waiting on the window ledge for its breakfast. I like opening a cupboard knowing I’ll find that thing I want without having to rummage around too much. You probably have regular ‘markers’ in your daily and weekly lives and can relate to those comments. I’ve known a couple of serious hoarders in my life, and in their environments, nothing is filed sensibly, put away properly, repaired or thrown away. Stuff just accumulates in no particular order, and I’ve found such people’s chaotic environments very unsettling.

In addition to the masses of traditional and contemporary quilt makers, many of my favourite artists work in grids and grid-like structures, so they too influence me. Outside of the fibre art world, I particularly love the work of artists like Agnes Martin, Mathias Goeritz, Shane Drinkwater, Giles Bettison and Vera Molnar – you’ll see what I mean if you go to these links to their work.

Hand Stitching

July 19th, 2022

On a FB page recently, someone posed this question: “What is Your Most Valued Quilting and Sewing Equipment?” For fabric and thread artists like ourselves, I’d expect there’s a wide variety of answers, including grandma’s silver thimble, favourite scissors, rotary cutter, featherweight sewing machine and even long arm quilting setup.  My own answer is my considerable stash of hand sewing needles, closely followed by a 6″ machine embroidery hoop, which I use flipped over for hand stitching small areas.

Recycled containers from our supermarket make perfect stackable storage units.

A keen hand stitcher for more than six decades, I’ve acquired many packets and vials of needles including crewel, tapestry, darning, leather, sharps, quilting, canvas, glover, beading, curved surgeon’s needles, and more.  During the 20 years I lived in Australia’s Outback, I was often living in very remote areas, far beyond personal access to needlework and fabric shops for months at a time, so I’ve developed the habit of always having on hand plenty of extra needles (hand and machine) along with fabric and threads, ’just in case. JIC. This photo shows the greater part of my hand sewing collection, but there are others still in storage in Perth, and I keep a similar sized stash of my favourite brand of machine needles, too, JIC. 

Before taking up traditional P&Q in 1988, I had been a creative embroiderer, usually combining fabric+paint+stitch.  In 1989 I became closely involved in traditional geometric patchwork and quilting for a while that rapidly morphed into quilted fibre art / mixed media, with a mixture of hand and machine quilting as appropriate. In the last decade or so, as hand stitch gained popularity across fibre art generally, it became more significant in my own art, too. The Slow Stitch Movement, and various waves of interest in Boro, Sashiko, Kantha and other straight stitch pattern making certainly have influenced and encouraged hand stitch in my art, to a point where it has become a principal surface design element. As a result my hand needle stash is more important than ever.

I still have a few of the very small needles I used in my brief time with traditional quilt making.  These are only about 3-4cm long, so tiny that I really can’t use them now as my hands are a bit arthritic, and I can barely see to thread them even with my prescription specs on! I used to be able to do that rocking back and forth motion to produce 11 or 12 stitches to the inch, modest by the quality standard adhered to or aspired to by traditional quilters – up to 16 stitches per inch. I no longer care a fig how many stitches to the inch I do, and just stitch whatever I feel my current work needs, and so I find long fine sharps and #7 darners perfect for general hand sewing and my raw edge applique surface designs respectively.

Fused strips of sheer fabrics oversewn by metallic thread are the principal technique featuring in my current work.

The other vital piece of sewing equipment I value enormously is a small Elna machine embroidery hoop (flipped) that I bought for doing the free machine embroidery I learned to do in about 1979-80. It’s terrific for hand stitching small areas, too:

Any time I need to pack to be somewhere for more than a couple of weeks, my hand sewing needle stash and my little fme hoop would be in my luggage to go with me!

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