Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Summer Grotto

We're nearing the end of summer, and for many of us it can't come soon enough.  Its too bad to 'wish' time away, but oh so human -- when hot, humid weather drains our energy, a longing for cooler weather is only natural.

Although I am no fan of southern summers -- I have much to be thankful for.  Our oh-so-green yard has several grotto's which make the summer a little less stressful.  These are shaded, green areas - up against huge rocks rich with sprouting ferns and native plants.

When the heat seems too oppressive it helps me to feel grateful if I walk out behind our house and enjoy the quiet of these shaded spaces.  It is all too easy for me to forget all of the blessings that I live with daily.  Why is it so easy to complain and so difficult to count blessings?  One of the reasons that I walk each day is to remind myself of our earth and of the beauty that surrounds me.

Fall will soon be here and all the technicolor of that season will remove the deep, dark greens that summer has brought.  Until those cool, crisp autumn days arrive I'll content myself to enjoy what this season brings in the quiet of my very own grotto.

"For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider, every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver". - Martin Luther

Friday, August 27, 2010

"Elegant Stitches"

Perhaps you've seen this book, perhaps you are lucky enough to own a copy but if not, I just have to tell you about it.  "Elegant Stitches" is an 'illustrated stitch guide and source book of inspiration'.  The inspiration portion of that sentence is an understatement.  I was fortunate enough to find this book at a recent 'fiber swap meet'.  I immediately fell in love with it.

The book has a copyright of 1995 - so I know its been around quite awhile - but to me it is one of those timeless books -- the one that will stay near my worktable so that I can easily pull it out at a moment's notice.  The stitch illustrations are very clear and its smaller size and spiral binding make it so very easy to use.

 There is an 'extra bonus' for me because the author has a section entitled "Stitches for Left-Handers" - wow, do you know how rare that is?  Being a lefty, this section alone was exciting.

The last portion of the book is on free-form stitchery and the author Judith Baker Montano, shows illustrations which she drew in her journal and then translated into lovely forms of embroidery.  This is a curl up in a chair and read cover-to-cover book - knowing that if you do any embroidery at all you'll want to have it close at hand.

"Little moments can have a feeling and a texture that is very real". - Ralph Fiennes

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Punch Drunk?

Here I go again - learning a new skill (well of course at the beginning one can't actually use the word 'skill').  Earlier this week I took a class in punchneedle.  Once again my local quilt shop Material Things gave me some new inspiration.  I was looking around in there a couple of weeks ago and saw some lovely finished punchneedle pieces - pictures and pins and covered buttons.  I was entranced by this form of looping embroidery floss through fabric and making pictures.  Probably just because its the way my mind works, I immediately thought that it might be a fun way to make future doll faces.  As with rug hooking, in punchneedle the loops are on the front BUT the back of the fabric has the same image only in flat stitching.  Why couldn't I use this for faces? Fortunately 'Material Things' offers punchneedle classes.

My friend Peggy had taken the class before, but wanted a refresher so the two of us set off to see what we could learn.  It was a small class, so we got a lot of one-on-one instruction.  I found out that punchneedle actually began in Egypt long, long ago.  They used the hollow bones of birds as their punch (okay its much improved these days having its very own needle punch contraption).  There are several sizes of needles - fine, small, medium, large which allows the use of different numbers of floss.  The needle has settings from 1 - 12 with 1 being the lowest setting.  I can see that a 12 could be used to make the mane of a lion (or a really wild, bad hair day)!

One of the secrets is to keep your fabric as taut a possible.  Embroidery hoops are used but it was obvious from trial and error that the better (and tighter) the hoop the tighter your fabric will stay as you punch in and out.  Peggy brought small plastic containers for us (thank you Peggy) which we placed underneath the hoop. This means you can punch away without drawing blood by hitting a valuable body parts!  

There are all sorts of in's and out's to this new-to-me craft, but I discovered that I really liked it.  It can be much like beading in that it is very meditative punching in and out of the fabric.  Unlike beading, if you make a mistake it is very easy to correct.  You just pull the offending loops out, smooth the fabric with your needle tip and start over.  For someone new to the craft like me - this was probably the most important information that I learned!!

"He who has imagination without learning has wings but no feet". - Joseph Joubert

Friday, August 20, 2010

August BJP - "Circular"

The word for August is “circular”. Once again, I pulled out a word that has significance to me. As you might know from previous blog notes I’ve felt that I’m being pulled in a circle back to art dolls. That pulling is very pleasant by the way – I’ve found myself joyously entering my studio each day to bring some new pattern to life.

As always, when I pulled out this word I started searching for something that I might have on hand that would portray the word. Sure enough I found this button with the circular design. Somewhere, sometime I had found it and added it to my stash, never even dreaming that it would be part of my 2010 BJP collection. In fact, I probably didn’t even know there was such a thing as a BJP when this precious treasure was found.

The glitch with the button was that it is pink and grey. Hmmm, not my favorite color combination. But it did happen that I have both pink and grey beads on hand from other projects so I combined what I had and got busy. Unfortunately, my reaction to the color combination made this bookmark difficult for me to make.

Hopefully next month’s word will lend itself to a theme and colors that I can relate to with more pleasure.

"A circle is the reflection of eternity. It has no beginning and it has no end - and if you put several circles over each other, then you get a spiral". - Maynard James Keenan

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sharing the Skeins

Recently a friend and I decided to ‘go together’ on some yarn. Both of us use fibers in our work – but we also make items that are small enough that we would never need a whole skein of yarn. So how to get some new and exciting yarn to use without buying yards and yards of it? We picked out two skeins at two different stores. The first yarn was called ‘seaweed’ and was a beautiful variegated skein in colors from brown to green. This is painted yarn, which I don’t think I’ve ever encountered before. Here’s the kicker – this skein had 600 yards of yarn (what did I say about not buying yards and yards?). That’s a LOT of yarn to divvy up between the two of us. Fortunately, when we looked closely we realized that we could cut it and then separate it out. You can see from the top of this picture that it was quite twisted at times. We would pull apart the strands and then come to a section that was totally twisted and had to be sorted strand by strand. The good part of all of this is we got to keep handling this lovely yarn.

The next skein was much smaller – but much more diverse in color. As you can see from this picture – there were lots and lots of color sections in this skein. So we each took sections, marked off the color section, cut it and then cut that section in half. Some portions were quite short, others were much longer. There were the two of us measuring these strands along a yardstick and trying to carefully sort them out and wind them up. What we ended up with is a riot of color and I know that both of us will find many uses for these colorful fibers.

There’s something so lovely about ‘touching’ ribbons and fibers – I can hardly keep my hands off of fluffy yarns, colorful fibers and floating ribbons. This adventure in sharing not only gave me great additions to my ‘stash’ but it pleased me to be able to sort through these natural fibers which had been woven, dyed, painted just for us!

"I like light, color, luminosity. I like things full of color and vibrant". - Oscar de la Renta

Thursday, August 12, 2010

"Send in the Clowns"

For some reason I always have ‘trouble’ at the end of a project. I’m not sure what happens to me – but all the doubts (is it good enough – will it work – should have’s and could have’s) come barreling at me. I’m sure some of it relates to the fact that so often I’m doing something I’ve never done before so I’m not even sure if it will work when I start out. Another possibility is that, after spending so many hours working on a piece I begin to wonder if what I’m doing will actually become what I had imagined it to be way back when I started.

My current art doll, “Send in the Clowns” is no different – as I got closer and closer to the finish line several barriers cropped up. Having a mind-picture and creating a new-to-me design can sometimes become a challenge. Creating a hat was one of the last things to do – which I had thought I could do all by hand, as I had done with the rest of the doll. That didn’t work at all – and my sewing machine was dusted off and put to work (albeit short work since this hat is really small). And the first one I made was too big – now big is probably not the correct word to use as we’re talking fraction, smidgen, trifle – but it did mean that it was back to the drawing board and another hat was made.

Next problem to encounter – I had designed this doll with her head cocked to the side – it seemed to fit her mood. So of course the hat was cocked to the side too. My whole plan as a setting for the doll was to hang her inside an open box - but with a cocked head, if I strung the hanging loop from the top of the hat she would be hanging cockeyed. If I strung the loop so that she hung straight – the loop would be out of the side of the hat. Oh my, what to do?

That question still isn’t quite solved – but here she is – all put together but still waiting for a display. From now on, when I have a design problem – or those last minute jitters I’ll just say “Send in the Clowns”.

“Isn’t it rich
Are we a pair?
Me here at last on the ground.
You in mid-air.
Send in the clowns.

Isn’t it bliss
Don’t you approve?
One who keeps tearing around,
One who can’t move.
Where are the clowns?
Send in the clowns.

Just when I’d stopped opening doors,
Finally knowing the one that I wanted was yours,
Making my entrance again with my usual flair
Sure of my lines,
No one is there.
Don’t you love farce
My fault I fear.
I thought that you’d want what I want.
Sorry, my dear.
But where are the clowns?
Quick send in the clowns.
Don’t bother they’re here.

Isn’t it rich?
Isn’t it queer?
Losing my timing this late
In my career?
And where are the clowns?
There ought to be clowns.
Well, maybe next year."
Steven Sondheim

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

My Little Space

I'm not sure which season keeps me inside my studio more -- winter, with the cold air and snow or summer, with the heat and humidity.  I'm so lucky!!!  I have a wonderful space in which to sit day after day and do what I love - stitching, stitching, stitching.  A place that keeps me warm in the winter and cool in the summer. 

So here is my worktable in all its messy glory!  This is my nest, my solitude and my solace.  I have little dishes all over the top of the table in which bits and pieces of collected items sit waiting to inspire me.  I only allow the things I love to grace this space -- no bills are allowed, no to-do lists, not even bad thoughts.  This is where creating is supposed to take place, where ideas are supposed to thrive and this is where I seat myself almost each and every day to make 'stuff'.  Sometimes I feel like a hermit -- and then I know that I need to get away from this table, at least for a bit, to soak up inspiration in other places.

Where are those other places?  Art galleries (or any place else where art is exhibited), fabric and fiber shops (oh the colors and textures and patterns), lunch with a creative friend (good food can be considered inspirational).  After getting out I am usually ready to get back to 'work' - did I say work?  Of course not - I am not only lucky to have such a wonderful space in which to ply my trade -- but I'm also lucky to be able to play, play, play.

What are you playing with today?

"If you carry your childhood with you, you never become older". - Tom Stoppard

Friday, August 6, 2010

Clowning Around

Here are some pictures of a 'work in progress' during these long, hot summer afternoons.  This figure - with its temporary, maybe permanent name "Send in the Clowns" has been worked on, set aside, worked on, then set aside.  I've been in the middle of a piece that I can't reveal until mid-September -- but this art doll keeps drawing my attention back to her and so I've temporarily put aside the 'deadline' piece and have picked her up to have fun playing with the theme, the fabric, the beads and the stitching.

She began as a piece of fabric that I just loved.  Not a color that I would usually use - sort of a rose red - with multicolored dots spaced and black lines squiggled here and there.  To that I added bunches of over-stitching lines in curves and swirls.

Once that was done (for a front and back piece) I carefully hemmed all the edges.  Then came the layout -- that part where, if I can, I layout the bits and pieces that will fill the fabric spaces of each doll.  I have to allow for the embroidery stitches that I want to put here, there and everywhere on the fabric. 

One of my favorite songs, of all time is "Send in the Clowns" -- the music is lovely and the words are so poignant.  They tell the story that each of us has had at one time or another in our lives when we were ready for something but things (life) didn't work out. 

Do you ever have a project that you just want to finish so much -- not to have it done by any means but to enjoy it as being finished?  This piece is that to me -- she speaks to me in ways that I can't exactly express.  Hopefully her message will be clear once she is completed.

Isn't it bliss?
Don't you approve?
One who keeps tearing around,
One who can't move.
Where are the clowns?
- Stephen Sondheim

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Time and Art

I am reading a book about the artist and time and space. As I read the first chapter about time and how we relate to it I realized something about myself that was unexpected.

Because I am fortunate enough not to have to work outside the home I have large blocks of time in which to work (and play) in my studio. All along I have thought that those hours in my studio were 'free time'. I thought that I really wasn't putting any time constraints on my work. But as I read this book I realize that I am not free of time - not even close. Here's what I do. Mornings in my studio begin with turning the computer on. As we all know there is the little clock at the bottom right hand of the screen telling me exactly what time it is. Once my computer work is finished I turn to my artwork -- but I also turn on the radio. I love to stitch to classical music but every hour on the hour the news comes on (telling me exactly what time it is). Looking at these two basic daily rituals I realize that I am not in a 'time-free' zone at all. I am always somewhat conscious of the time and how I'm working to it. Can I get this section finished before lunchtime? Should I get out the sewing machine now or wait till later when I have more time?

Now I'm thinking that it might be fun, for at least one day a week, to not turn on the computer (until the end of the day when I'm finished creating) and to play cd's instead of the radio and see how I feel not having those time reminders in front of me all day.

We have time zones: Pacific time, Mountain time, Central Time, Eastern time - why not a 'time-free' zone? Wouldn't it be fun to spend time without thinking about the fact that you're 'spending' it. Wouldn't it be interesting to find out how 'hooked' I am to time and to always knowing pretty much what time it is?

Do you have any ideas about escaping from our man-made time zones?

"A single day is enough to make us a little larger or, another time, a little smaller". - Paul Klee


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