Recently I attended a lecture by David Taylor (at PIQF), which was humorous and interesting. One interesting fact was, that while he did these incredible quilts with very detailed applique and quilting — most taking about a year to complete, … Continue reading
I’ve been reading a series of articles by Andrew Russell and Lee Vinsel, two academics who have noted that we tend to focus on innovation and ignore maintaining. Maintain? Innovate? When I insert this into the quilting world, some thoughtful parallels arise.
First, some background. In an article on Aeon, Russell and Vinsel observed that our love affair with the new and the untried has obscured our reliance on, and the need for, the “old things,” those items like the electric fan that have been unchanged for a century or more. And by letting the new obscure our vision of the old, it has also blocked our view of the humans who do “the work that goes into keeping the entire world going….from laundry and trash removal to janitorial work and food preparation.” And to no one’s surprise, it’s “women — disproportionately — [who do the work] to keep life on track.” Russell and Vinsel argue that it is time to bring the work of maintainers into clearer focus.
When I first heard this interview on the radio, I let it sink to the background while I worked in my sewing room that morning. But something in me wondered if this idea also applies to quilters. To see it, come at the idea from a different direction: Say you have nineteen bins of fabric at home, a list of at least twelve quilts to be made from the above-mentioned bins, yet when you are on Instagram and you see the latest quilt that EVERYONE is doing, you click through to get their suggested fat quarter bundle because that is the most awesome thing ever. Sound familiar?
To borrow Russell and Vinsel’s terminology, I would suggest this is a classic case of quilter Maintenance vs. Innovation. We don’t want to do the hard work of re-imagining why we stashed that fabric, purchased that pattern in the first place, preferring instead the WOW feeling (and let’s face it: the easiness) of contemplating sewing up something fresh and interesting.
I believe in innovation.
I do like the feeling of a few fresh cuts into the fabric with a new pattern by my side. And full disclosure: I’m not a “sew-from-my-stash” only sort of quilter, believing instead that occasionally everyone’s stash needs a punch up of energy with a few fat quarters of current fabrics with their current color palettes.
I believe in maintenance.
Having recently I’ve slogged through a few really old UFOs I found out that there is happiness and satisfaction in working through those projects, yet often it didn’t come until that last stitch on the last inch of binding.
Some fall into the trap that Elon Musk did recently, when he outlined a tunnel transportation system in Los Angeles demonstrating that he believed “that the best path forward is to scrap existing reality and start over from scratch.” Yet, as Russell and Vinsel note, “a clean slate is rarely a realistic option. We need to figure out better ways of preserving, improving and caring for what we have.” Although tempting, we can’t torch our fabric stash in order to begin fresh and new and wonderful and exciting.
But the mental tussle between finishing up those UFOs vs. buying new fabric perhaps goes deeper, as Russell and Vinsel describe in their article, “Let’s Get Excited about Maintenance,” when they say that often we “fetishize innovation as a kind of art, [which] demeans upkeep as mere drudgery.”
- If I’m buying new, I’m making art?
- Sewing up my old half-finished projects is drudgery?
The answer might be yes to both questions, but it’s more like often or sometimes, but not always.
We need innovation. I can’t imagine making a quilt today without my rotary cutter, mat or ruler. But we also need maintenance to help us keep our lives in balance and on track. Make that new quilt, buy that new fabric, but don’t think of it as better than pulling out the quilt you started last year. Likewise, finishing up a painfully old UFO that would have been better donated to the scrap bag isn’t necessarily more noble, either.
We need both.
Lately I’ve been irritated by the Internets. And by blogs, although I’m someone who still reads them, someone who still writes them, and still thinks the longer form is useful.
All is not well in Blogland, and like the song from Music Man where he sings about Trouble and it means the new billiard table in town, our trouble is the concept of “monetize.” It can be lucrative to place ads on blogs, and I have no problem if a blogger wants to make some cash. Money is always good, and hey, it’s their blog.
But I do get irritated when some of the ads have positively gotten out of hand, so much so that ads pop up on top of pictures, intrude on the blogger’s writing, and blink and pop across content. Some of the ads are disgusting (see below for examples), with that creepy crawly worms thing the worst. Because of this, I had stopped reading some blogs, but in the end, I liked the quilter and what they did, so had to find new ways to read.
Using a Reader to read blogs
So I started by using a reader. I subscribe directly to some blogs, and their post notifications come directly into my emailbox. But I don’t want all my blogs to come there. A reader will gather all your reading into one list, and can categorize the blogs (I read both ways). One well-known reader in quiltland is Bloglovin’ but I have moved over to Feedly.com.
I used to use Bloglovin’ a lot, but I found it frustrating at how many clicks I had to use to get the blog to leave a comment (I love a good conversation). And then I started noticing this:
They won’t send you to the blog, they send you somewhere in their universe, which as a blog writer, is not helpful news. It means a reader might might never actually visit a blog, to see the layout, the way the blogger has designed their space. Some writers believe that Bloglovin’ has taken content (without permission) for their in-house blog, broadcasting it on their website. The blogger-who-wrote-it will not see any of these comments. Yes, this has happened to me, and frankly, it’s kind of weird, like somebody stole my content. They will link back to me, but it’s after the fact, so that if I’m not on top of it backstage, I will never know it happened.
So I said, I’m done, and left them for Feedly.
I never log in with Facebook, instead setting up an account using my email.
This is what I see when my Feedly page pops up, with the category Fabrics/Quilting highlighted. I chose the magazine view, but you could also choose a list view. It allows me to read the first few lines of any blog post, and then decide if I want to expand it. I find I am actually reading more of my colleagues’ posts this way, as I also don’t lose them in the deluge of emails.
The blogs I added (see the very bottom left: +ADD CONTENT to add the blogs you want), I arranged by categories. The numbers show the unread blogs.
Here’s Afton’s Quilting Mod, as an example. I clicked on it from my list and the full blog shows up. I scroll through and read it, then decide I want to leave a comment.
At the bottom of the page, I click on VISIT WEBSITE, and I’m sent to her blog in a new window in a new tab (although this preference can be changed). Notice the address that shows up in the lower left — I’m referred directly to Afton’s blog to leave a comment, a real plus.
Using the Reader View in your browser to make posts easier to read.
Sometimes I’m not in my Feedly, and have clicked on one of my ad-filled blogs. So I use the Reader View. Safari has always had this, and now Firefox has it too. First, Safari.
There is an icon of stacked documentson the left in the address bar.
Click on this, and you’ll be taken to the above view (compare them). All you are getting is the writer’s content, plus their photos. All animations, ads, colors, and videos are removed (although you will see placeholders for them). Click on the stack icon to go back to their website.
I just downloaded the newest version of Firefox. Above is the webpage without the Reader View.
The webpage with Reader View. Click on the little grey page icon on the right of the address bar to be taken to their Reader View.
See also those little greyed icons at the upper left? Those are also new. I’m quite interested in the third one, the soundwave icon. My mother is mostly blind, and now I can now have my Dad set up the webpage for her in Reader View and it will read it to her. Hooray for easy accessibility for webpages!
Ads placed to drive the blog writers to pay. It worked!
I’d developed an alphabet of improv letters when I ran the Spelling Bee blog some time ago.
Knowing that if I put them down somewhere in my Sewing Room, they would disappear, I documented how I made them and put them up on a blog. For a while, WordPress and I had a bargain: they could put up an ad on the bottom of my post, and I’d keep using their stuff for free (I had converted this blog over to a paid blog some years earlier).
Then I started seeing this:
The dreaded creepy crawly ads I hated were now in between my text, obliterating the the instructions for my wonky and fun letters and words (see the one in the box in the upper left). I didn’t want to pay a yearly fee to have them keep the ads out (and I suspect — just a little — that some of the more obnoxious ads were designed to encourage me to pay), so I did the next best thing: I moved the entire blog.
It’s now back in Google’s arms at: https://quiltabecedary.blogspot.com. I have links from this blog, above, so you don’t have to remember the address. But if you ever need some wonky improv letters and words, don’t forget that it’s there.
White I spend a lot of time on Instagram, I still think that there is a place in our lives for blogs: it’s where we put up tutorials, we comment on the state of the world, we have space to write about quilts and things that interest us (by the way, congratulations if you made it this far). I don’t want to see blogs go away, so I hope this post will make your reading easier.
NOTE: If you want to start making your own Feedly list, I’ve put just about all the blogs I read way below, in the footer, but like anything, it’s a work in progress and subject to change. I update it about every quarter.
Among the most colorful clothing in the word, ikat robes — which hail primarily from the “the Stans,” or Central Asia — employ “creative use of scale, proportion, and orientation.” They are created by dying the warp (or vertical) threads of silk and cotton, sometimes multiple times.
This past week, my husband and I had a chance to head into Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) to see this collection. Here’s the notice in the gallery:
This photo of a Tajik Wedding ritual (1865-1872) shows the rich patterns of both men and women in their ikat robes. I did a Google Image search, which has lots of results, but these older robes, as shown in LACMA, are rarer now. In that Image search, I saw lots of machine-made ikats, which don’t have the subtlety of the hand-dyed.
On the right is a series of threads which will form the warp threads in a loom, showing their various patterns from dying them using a resist process:
“Fabricating an ikat design demands vision as well as time. Before any actual weaving takes place, the lead craftsperson must picture a fully fleshed-out color pattern. Next, assistants soak the warp threads of the textile-to-be in a series of dye vats—up to eight in total—accumulating hues along the way. Prior to each dying phase, all stretches of warp are strategically bound with dye-resistant greasy thread, leaving exposed only those portions meant to be colored.
“By repositioning the dye-resistant thread before every immersion, textile makers gradually cover the entirety of the warp in an array of different tones. The most skilled designers will subject some sections of the material to multiple immersions, combining red and yellow dye to produce sunset orange, or red and blue dye to yield rich royal purple.
“Finally, when the Technicolor warp is ready, loom operators stretch it taut and gird it with a cotton or silk weft. The result is a long, narrow oblong textile bearing the designer’s repeating geometric pattern. This can be shaped into an eye-catching coat, or alternatively kept two-dimensional and made into a wall hanging” (from an article in the Smithsonian Institution Magazine, when they mounted their exhibit of ikat).
I think the guards thought I was crazy when I came to this robe. I kept crouching down, zooming in, trying to capture the details of what I would call a type of kantha stitching, embroidery, hand overcasting. It was a riot of color and texture and pattern:
You can see the nature of the ikat weaving, which blurs the edges as the weft yarns are woven through those pre-dyed warp yarns. To make velvet, two rows of weft yarns are needed, instead of just one, so velvet robes were considered top of the line. In the outfit above, it is the outermost robe.
I took so many photos, that I’m not really sure which title goes with which picture, but I enjoyed reading the names of the clothing: a woman’s robe is a Munisak, a woman’s dress is a Kurta, and a man’s robe is a Chapan.
“Defined by an hourglass sihouette produced by the gathered fabric at each side of the waist, a munisak was used throughout a woman’s life for significant events, from her wedding to her funeral. As such, it was an important part of her dowry” (LACMA text).
Recently, my friend Judy had traveled to this area with her husband, so I was familiar with the term “the Stans,” and what the area looked like. Although some consider that term a snub (“stan” means land, as in Afghanistan is the land where Afghanis live), I think it works well for those of us not familiar with where these countries are:
While we were in the LACMA exhibit, I told my husband that many quilters have used FolkWear patterns to make a similar robe, and added detailed surface decoration. I first learned about ikat when I took a class in Houston several years ago from Roberta Horton, a reknowned quilter, who showed us ikats from her line of fabrics, made in India:
Although I was a Clothing and Textile Major in college, I’d didn’t remember hearing about this fabric before; perhaps that why I wanted to blog about it today. But in the quilting world, we also have variants of these colorfully patterned robes worn by these people from Central Asia.
I’ve seen the Tabula Rasa jacket and all its variations, from a pattern by FitForArt. Perhaps it’s the blurring of the lines between our patterned quilts and these beautiful ikat robes? The more surface decoration the better?
Not always. I’ve also seen some not-so-great versions of handmade clothing that were patterned to within an inch of their lives, certainly showing their makers’ skill but not always on the level of what was in that exhibit.
The brilliant thing about these ikat robes is the sense of balance that is present. Even in the layering of the different patterns, something pulls them together, links in either color or design. A worthy goal for our own creating, wouldn’t you say? whether it be in quilts or robes or clothing.
This was another experience that showed me that old truth: it’s always good to get out of my head, my studio, and the endless loop of social media, in order to gain inspiration from other places in the world.
Happy traveling, and Happy Father’s Day!
I was intrigued by the phrase Making, Not Knowing, when I read about the artist Ann Hamilton recently on the website BrainPickings, and learned of her essay with that title, adapted from her 2005 commencement address at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She writes:
One doesn’t arrive — in words or in art — by necessarily knowing where one is going. In every work of art something appears that does not previously exist, and so, by default, you work from what you know to what you don’t know….You have to be open to all possibilities and to all routes — circuitous or otherwise.
But, she cautions, “Not knowing isn’t ignorance.” It is a manifestation of a “willingness to trust, leaving knowing in suspension, trusting in possibility without result” much like pulling a stack of fabrics from our stash to make our next quilt is the epitomy of “knowing in suspension.” Who knows how these colors will work? Sometimes we try to circumvent this process of Not Knowing, by following a pattern, using the fabrics that the designer specifies, ordering wads of fabrics we may not ever use in future quilts. I am not opposed to this, as you know. But then this becomes more about checking off the boxes, and that idea of Making, Not Knowing is cut short, because I do know what it will be.
Sometimes I think we are hampered, as Maria Popova of BrainPickings notes, by social media: “In our own culture, obsessed with celebrity and panicked for instant approval, what begins as creative work too often ends up as flotsam on the stream of ego-gratification — the countless counterfeit crowns that come in the form of retweets and likes and best-seller lists, unmoored from any real measure of artistic value and longevity.” Our eyes can glaze over from countless IG posts, or blogs (not this one, of course) and we forget what our real task is: a life of making.
“A life of making isn’t a series of shows, or projects, or productions, or things; it is an everyday practice. It is a practice of questions more than of answers, of waiting to find what you need more often than knowing what you need to do….Our culture has beheld with suspicion unproductive time, things not utilitarian, and daydreaming in general, but we live in a time when it is especially challenging to articulate the importance of experiences that don’t produce anything obvious, aren’t easily quantifiable, resist measurement, aren’t easily named, are categorically in-between.” (Hamilton)
Finally, Hamilton notes:
“Every act of making matters. How we make matters. I like to remember, and remark with regularity, that the word “making” occupies seventeen pages in the Oxford English Dictionary, so there are multiple possibilities for a lifetime of making: make a cup, a conversation, a building, an institution, make memory, make peace, make a poem, a song, a drawing, a play; make a metaphor that changes, enlarges, or inverts the way we understand or see something. Make something to change your mind — acts that amplify.”
While this sounds like an improv challenge, I don’t work that way. After many years of quilting, I know what makes me happiest, and my style is my sandbox, the edge of my picture frame. But in cleaning out my sewing room yesterday, I found little bags of cut pieces of fabric — obviously even though I had an idea, it was the process of Making, Not Knowing which yielded discarded shapes, fabrics, designs, steps on the way to my art.
So, get into your sewing room, your studio, or drag cartons out from under the bed, whatever, and pull out fabrics. Sketch out a new pattern, go for a walk, go for a walk through a museum, capture what you see and let the making flow from your mind and your hands, even though you don’t yet know what it will be.
Be open to all possibilities.
Everyonce in a while it’s good to leave your tribe and take a look at what other artists are doing. It also helps to be in recovery from shoulder surgery so when that rabbit hole in Instagram opens up, you
have too much time are free to follow where it leads.
I first followed the Polly Apfelbaum hashtag. She is an artist about my age, and still producing interesting and thoughtful works of art, many which seem to intersect my world of quilting. I grabbed this screen shot from DrawingCenter, who also had a series of quotes from her, which I loved:
“Her interdisciplinary approach is most notable in her floor pieces that she refers to as “fallen paintings,” the series of work that she best known for. Laid on the floor in intricate and somewhat psychedelic patterns and forms, the paintings are made of fabrics that have been dyed brilliant hues. The striking use of color aligns her work with abstract expressionism, but rejects the hypermasculinity of the style through the use of fabric and horizontal orientation. Apfelbaum explains that “[the] floor was a place that was inclusive but I could also be reverent.” By installing on the floor, viewers are able to walk around the art making the piece more fluid and approachable.”
She goes on to say “that she wanted “a relaxed sense of form, a form that was more abstract, a form that could kind of be chameleon-like, it could go from talking about minimalism, but could also talk about maximalism…and to craft.” Indeed, the dialogues around her hybridized work are wide-ranging and include feminism, religion, outsider art, and domesticity.”
Loved the “hypermasculinity” idea, reminding me of when I proposed a show of quilts to my Art Professor in college. “Over my dead body,” he said. It was then I realized that quilts were essentially, in his mind, NOT art, but I daresay they might be called “hyperfeminine” with the use of fabric, of soft construction.
Apfelbaum also works by creating shaped woodcuts, which are then inked in vibrant colors, then placed in a design. Of course I think it looks like a quilt. More images, below:
This last one is especially quilt-like, I think, in terms of the shapes. Is the quilting world is having an impact on others? They probably don’t know we exist, but I do believe in the idea of cross-pollination:
These last two are by Luis Zerbini, a Brazilian artist. The second one is definately an Orange Peel block, or a Wedding Ring variant, if you ask me. Even housework can inspire art:
Anyone for some Nine-Patch? With pieced sashings? Start cutting up your solid scraps into squares.
The art world can also be an interesting way to learn about value, a classic part of creating an interesting quilt. I’ve tried to include the sources so you can go and have a look:
Bringing this to a workshop would certainly get everyone’s attention about the impact of using those light-to-dark values.
A screen shot of my Saved images from this morning. I’ve started making categories and put some of these in the Random Color/Art category of my saves. Just after you hit that little ribbon to save, the prompt comes up: Save to Collection. Tap that, and then either direct the save into a category, or make a new one. It helps in finding things.
You might want to try to what I call “focused browsing” if your eyes are glazing over after looking at three billion quilts in your feed, and you’ll scream if you see another heavily curated shot with threads and scissors everywhere where you feel like you are trapped in the Dungeon of Cute.
Some of the hashtags I followed were #gridart, or #hardedgepainting, or the names of the artists themselves. @DurhamPress also had some interesting images. Sometimes I would go to an artist, click on the name of the gallery they were showing at, then look at what the gallery had.
Yes, a little focused browsing might just clear the mind a little.