This was a question a number of people asked after my mother died. But I wasn’t. I hadn’t. In fact I couldn’t remember dreaming about anything or anyone, until this past week. Maybe it was because it was the first Thanksgiving since she died. Maybe it’s because her birthday fell on Thanksgiving every 7 years and so Thanksgiving always reminds me of her or because this was her first birthday that went uncelebrated. This past Saturday she would have been 93 years old.
When we were in Jordan, just a few weeks ago, (it seems like months already) our guide told us that the life expectancy there was mid seventies. He then asked if I was considered old in the US. “It depends upon who you ask,” I joked. “How about you?” I asked.
“I don’t feel old, until I look in the mirror,” he replied. Which was just the sort of thing my mother would have said. We laughed about that.
“Aging isn’t for the faint of heart,” my mother used to say. She also was known to say, “Aging sucks.”
But in my dreams she isn’t old. She can still speak. She has shoulder length hair and in my dream last night she was wearing an emerald green bikini, of all things, with a cream colored, open lacey top that I’d crocheted for her. Did I mention that I’m teaching myself to crochet? I’m no where near good enough to make such a thing for anyone, let alone as a gift for someone I love, but in my dream, she looked amazing and youthful and the crocheted top looked pretty fabulous as well!
I remember thinking, “I want to look like her when I’m her age,” but in the dream I said nothing and instead just told her how much I loved her. She gave me one of her magnificent smiles and then began talking to someone else in the room. I almost said something about how happy I was that she was wearing the top I’d crocheted her, but didn’t want to interrupt her conversation with this other person. Secretly, I was thrilled. After all I only just began trying to crochet in the last few weeks. Wearing that crocheted top that I’d made for her was so typical of my mother. She was a huge supporter of all my various passions, particularly when it came to making things.
It was my mother who taught me to knit and as she was right handed, (I’m left handed) I learned to knit right handed as well. I’ve often wondered if I should try to reteach myself to knit left handed, but then I think, “Why?” Besides I’m closer to the end than I am to the beginning of life, why jostle the waters? And I knit pretty quickly right handed, so there doesn’t seem to be much point. And, added plus, any instructions and videos are always written for right handers.
My mother would have approved of my dream, though I don’t think she cared for the color emerald green, but even so, it would have made her laugh. She loved to laugh. So today, I will remember her laughing and am grateful to have my dreams of her when she was still able to speak, when she was still able to move about easily and painlessly, when she was happy.
I’ve mentioned this before; my husband and I start the morning off with a reading of some kind and then discuss whatever it is we’ve just read. Today we read about relationships using thread as a metaphor, which was kind of perfect for someone like me. This quote was particularly appealing for obvious reasons.
A strong rope is made of many threads. Looking at one point on the rope, we can focus on the detail of a single thread. But when we look only at a single thread we cannot see the big picture.”
The More We Find in Each Other by Mavis and Merle Fossum
And, of course, I immediately thought about my stitching and how I love using lots of different threads and other elements to enhance and add interest to a piece that I’m working on. In particular I thought of Gimp, Silken Chenille, and Viscose Ribbon, three threads that are challenging to work with, but that add tremendous texture and interest to a piece.
In a relationship it’s often the challenging parts that can bring growth and welcome change to both people if they’re willing to show up for the hard work that’s required. I thought of how the foundation of my marriage is our love and the threads are all the moments we’ve spent together, some more challenging than others. But like those challenging threads, they are woven into the fabric of our love, making that fabric all the more interesting and ultimately stronger. Oh, and a sense of humor helps!
Okay, I could go on and on about all of this, but then I wouldn’t have time to tell you about my ice dyeing experiment. This was all inspired by Nancy who was in my Improvisational Stitching Workshop. She had a really beautiful piece of fabric, which I asked her about and she told me that she had ice dyed it. Now I have to say that for the most part I haven’t loved the ice dyeing that I’ve seen, so I’ve never been tempted to try it, but Nancy very generously wrote out instructions and gave them to everyone in my workshop. All my ice dyeing attempts were using her instructions. By the way, I have urged Nancy to sell some of her beautiful ice dyed fabrics. When she gives me the okay I will post where you can purchase her fabrics.
So… my little foray into ice dying is ongoing and was somewhat successful. I say somewhat because some of the pieces came out nicely, but others were not to my liking at all. Those will need to be redone or perhaps I’ll paint on them, I haven’t decided yet. Part of the problem was I ran out of ice. As in right in the middle of sprinkling the dye onto the fabric. Now one could argue that seeing that you don’t have enough ice right off the bat is probably step #1, resulting in STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING AND GO GET SOME ICE, however in my case it was more like – huh, I don’t have enough ice, then think about how that means I’ll have to put on shoes, remove my apron, gloves and mask (not the kind we’re now used to wearing because of the pandemic, but the kind used when working with toxic chemicals) and then go look for my son so that I can ask him to run out to get ice. Wait for said son to dutifully do my bidding and while waiting get impatient and sprinkle more dye on. Eyeroll. Impatience is NOT a virtue. I know this, and whenever I give in to it, I always, always, always regret it. So I skimped on the layer of ice and ended up with some not very attractive streaks of color before my fabulous son reappeared with 4 bags of ice, having had to go to a couple different places to procure it. What a wonderful son!
Another problem was that my disposable pans were way too small, resulting in more of a tie dyed look than I was hoping for. As in my husband’s comment when I unfurled the first piece and said the words every spouse hates to hear, “So what do you think?” And his response, “Oh yeah, you’ve got some seriously hippy dippy stuff going on there.” Needless to say this was NOT the reply I’d hoped for, but the bold, unvarnished truth is always difficult to hear.
I’ll post a video about all of this later, but for now here are a couple of photographs of the pieces that were sort of successful and a few that I really, really liked.
What will I do with all of this fabric?
I have no idea.
PS: For those of you who didn’t see my most recent Youtube video of Richard and my Mother’s Day walk and our surprise encounter, go watch this short video! All the reasons why I love living in this vibrant, wonderful city we call New York!
I think about art all the time: the process, the way life impacts it… Wondering about how other people will see it, whether they will approve, like or dislike it, is the biggest buzz kill to creativity that I know of. But, I find, silencing those worries often difficult. The best steps I know to do is to dive in head first, and just go for it.
This last year has been one of exploration, diving in head first and going for it. If any of you are on Instagram, I post my works in progress almost daily. Below are three projects I finished this past year. I have four more in the works, but nowhere near completion.
This first is titled: Wandering Through the Past and was inspired by the International Folk Art Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico where I went for one of Sue Spargo’s fabulous workshops put on by Madeline Island School of the Arts. As I wandered through the museum much of the work felt oddly familiar. I remembered that my grandparents had honeymooned in Santa Fe & much of the furniture in their Colorado home came from that part of the world. As I designed this quilt, I began adding things from my childhood spent in Northern California with parents who collected modern & primitive art. Wandering Through the Past was thus born using wool, cotton, velvet & silk, & embellished with a wide variety of threads and stitches.
The next one is a complete departure from the one above in that most of the fabrics were hand dyed, hand painted, using stencils, screen printing and mono printing, and is not representational. All techniques I learned from the talented Pat Pauly in a workshop I took last April at the Pro Chem studio. It was the first time I’d ever tried my hand at improvisational piecing. I free motion quilted it following the general shapes and paint strokes.
And this last one I began designing with the idea that I would use an old skirt from my mother. After a few weeks of struggle, I pulled out some of my hand dyed, Shibori, stencil printed, wax resist, silk screen & low immersion dyed fabrics. The fabric from the old skirt was pushed aside to make way for my hand dyed fabrics, which I then began piecing together with a few commercial prints. “Hope” was very bossy right from the start; demanding I use this or that fabric, slashing & piecing, reconfiguring… Mostly I just had to get out of the way & listen to its demands.
Dyeing fabrics is an obsession. I began with cottons as directed in the Elizabeth Barton class, Dyeing to Design, that I took over at Academy of Quilting. I had little interest in dyeing or so I thought, and only took the class because Elizabeth was teaching it and I wanted to take a class with her and it was the first class closest to the date when I started researching her classes. I had no idea I’d fall so completely in love with dyeing. But I did. After her class ended, I took her other dyeing Class – Basic Dyeing for Quiltmakers where we learned to over dye and dye just about any color we wanted. It was thrilling to see a color, figure out what primary colors went into it and then create it! But as is my way, I wasn’t content to dye just cottons.
I decided I had to learn how to dye wool, which is a different process entirely, so I could finish my block of the month designs (more on that in another post). So I went over to Dharma Trading, a great company that sells dyes and everything related to dyeing. I sourced wool fabric, also not as easy as one might think, and then purchased a small amount of wools, silks, raw silks and silk/wools from a couple of different places. I even found some lovely silk velvet at Dharma, perfect to use on my wool appliqué pieces that I began designing a few months ago. And I began dyeing.
Aren’t they beautiful?
Here are all the cotton fabrics I dyed in Elizabeth’s class, including some of my silk screens and shibori dyed cottons…
Now I’m back to designing so I can use all of these lovely fabrics. This is the beginning of Mr. Pig. He still needs to be embellished and is one of twelve blocks for my Block Of the Month project featuring cookie jars that I’m in the midst of creating patterns and, hopefully, kits for, that will come with many of my hand-dyed fabrics as well as everything you’ll need to make each block.
Notice the cotton fabric to the far left? That is one of my shibori dyed cottons and the green wools and pink wool and velvet are all my hand-dyed fabrics too!
Fabric painting was something I knew nothing about before taking Elizabeth Barton‘s online class Dyeing to Design at the Academy of Quilting. Fabric painting is the process of combining fabric dye with a thickener so it can be used to paint fabric, just as one would paint on a canvas. Think about that. The possibilities are endless!! As we had been silk screening the week before, I used a couple of my silk screened fabrics and painted on them and then decided to branch out and paint on a blank white piece of cloth. Here are some of my doodles.
As you can see I had fun! I also painted the fabric in the photograph below, but I didn’t have a clear idea of what to do with any of it. While painting the fabric in this photo below I was thinking about how we are all moving along in our lives, sometimes following, at other times leading, sometimes crossing paths with others, but can often feel we are alone even though we live in a world populated by so many. Still, if we can just remember to reach out to others, we find our experiences are shared by many. Should I have just written all that in the first person singular? But then I might have felt that alone feeling again… Anyway, I sat with these various fabrics and did nothing for several days.
Then, having given up on the idea that I was going to be miraculously hit with a blast of inspiration, I cut up the fabric (just a little, nothing radical) and sewed it back together (photo below.) And then I sent it off to my class for feedback, that’s the whole reaching out thing that I mentioned above… Elizabeth is an excellent teacher and can be depended upon to make terrific suggestions. Which led to this…And this…And this…
And finally, finally, finally… this…Which became this… traveling along our various paths…And finally, this… reaching out to others and no longer feeling so alone…Here are a few close ups of the machine and hand stitching…
And this is the back.
Traveling Together measures 21.75″ x 21.75″ All the fabric was hand painted and hand dyed. Then quilted using a cotton batting and kona cotton back. I did the hand stitching using a perle cotton thread as well as a wool thread. The binding was hand dyed and sewn on, as was the label.
I still have not figured out what to do with my various silk screens, but I just finished painting over a few of them and plan to over dye a couple of others, so will see what the results are after that. In the meantime I painted a few more half yard pieces of fabric and am eager to see how they turn out.
Elizabeth’s Dyeing to Design class is over, but she’ll be teaching it again in the spring, I believe. I cannot recommend it more highly.
I was going to entitle this post Fear of Dyeing (and Silk Screening) but Where’s the Pun in That? But it was too long so I just went with the edited version… a girl can have a little pun. Okay, okay that’s enough. I’ve filled my quota of puns and I’m barely out of the starting gate. It’s all going to be very serious from here on out.
In my last post I promised screen printing, so here we go. All the photographs below are of techniques described by Elizabeth Barton in her wonderful class Dyeing to Design over at the Academy of Quilting.
The last and only time I did screen printing was when I worked (briefly) for the fashion designer Zandra Rhodes while living in London having just graduated from Parsons School of Design about a hundred years ago. Zandra Rhodes is known for her beautiful silk screened fabrics as well as being the “Queen of Punk” a distinction given to her back in the late 70’s. All I remember from that time, aside from the time she told me to clean her bathroom, was using a huge squeegee-like thing to scrape paint across the enormous screens she used. I wish I could remember more as it might have helped me get over my fear when tackling Elizabeth’s silk screening lesson. I have to admit I was completely intimidated reading the lesson over, so much so that I read the lesson and then didn’t do any of the exercises mapped out in it for at least three days. Then another person in the class posted her gorgeous silk screened fabrics and it motivated me to at least try some of the techniques suggested.
Using newsprint this was my first attempt at silk screening on white cotton
Have I talked about fear during the creative process? I know, I know, I have. But maybe you didn’t read that post and anyway, I’m feeling compelled. I’m always surprised when I feel fear while designing or doing something art “worthy”. Why feel frightened when creating something? Why should I feel anything but joy? How does fear, even a twinge of it, make itself known through all the curiosity and excitement? And while I don’t have complete answers for these questions, I do know it isn’t unusual for artists to feel tremendous fear when creating. So much so that there’s even a terrific book written on this very subject called Art & Fear ~ Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles & Ted Orland. Heading up the chapter entitled: The Academic World is this quote from Howard Ikemoto –
“When my daughter was about seven years old, she asked me one day what I did at work. I told her I worked at the college – that my job was to teach people how to draw.
She stared back at me, incredulous, and said, “You mean they forget?”
I went to Parsons School of Design for my undergraduate degree and majored in Fashion Design. Much of what I learned had to do with the business of fashion design and that there’s no such thing as new, that everything is recycled and that in order to succeed one must be as determined, if not more, about the business as one is about creating. The truth is, I learned little about being an artist and more about the challenges of being a designer in the business world. By my last year my fairy tale notion of what it would be like to be a fashion designer was thoroughly squashed and in my disillusioned state I felt only dread at the idea that I was about to go out into the world and seek a job, much less in the fashion world. After floundering for a few years I abandoned fashion design in favor of a series of jobs/careers that I thought might be more fulfilling and less soul wrenching. And while all the things I tried my hand at varied, even dramatically, they were all in the “Arts” of some kind. What I’ve learned is that artists tend to have a difficult time making a living with their art, no matter what the medium is.
There’s a wonderful quote from Oscar Wilde that begins Part II of the book Art & Fear.
“When bankers get together for dinner, they discuss Art. When artists get together for dinner, they discuss money.”
How does one price one’s art, something that might have taken hundreds of hours to create through trial and error, through missteps, through experimentation, through FEAR? If artists used an hourly wage system to price their work, all art would be so expensive no one could afford it. So most of us don’t. We can’t. And while in an ideal world no one would have to concern themselves with making money from their art, and instead would just spend all their time making it, few live in such a privileged world. The fear of being able to sell our work, and how that inhibits the process is a whole other topic and one most of us can understand, but there is another fear that is far more complicated. It is the fear one feels when confronted with something new, something one has never done before, but would like to learn. There is the fear of failure or appearing incapable or of ridicule, criticism or being seen as incompetent by others, but also by oneself. To create art, is to be at once vulnerable and confident, and it is a tricky balancing act to not lean more one way or the other. Both carry their own pitfalls.
Creating is a messy process. Most people never see all the discarded bits, the beginnings and first steps taken to get to that finished piece. What I love about blogs is that people are willing to show their process. My favorite blogs, in fact, are the ones that do just that.
Adding color to the purple
When I am starting something new I often have an idea in my head. What I envision is always spectacular, but creating that idea takes skill, talent and knowledge, things I do not always have. So I have to learn, practice, and explore in order to be able to get the skills to (hopefully) produce the image I envision. Sometimes I’m successful, but more often I’m not. Sometimes I realize it will take me years to achieve the level of expertise required to make what I envisioned. So I have to accept that I won’t be able to do something as I’d hoped or modify what I’m doing to compensate or continue to practice, with the idea that eventually I might be able to produce what is in my mind.
For this piece I cut stencils out of a thin plastic sheet, before silk screening on top
This is the result of using those stencils that I removed for the red piece above
A technique attributed to Kerr Grabowski. This piece has yet to be washed, so who knows what it will look like!
Another technique described in Elizabeth’s class.
Regardless of the approach I take, perfectionism is truly the greatest kill joy and, for me anyway, the root from which almost all my fear springs. While some argue that without perfectionism, we would settle for less or not work as hard, they are misunderstanding perfectionism at its most destructive. I am referring to perfectionism that lacerates, the kind of self-talk that abuses and brutalizes. It is that awful voice that needs to be muted before anything can be created. Free from perfectionism I am allowed to explore and play.
I have no idea what I’m going to do with any of the fabric I’ve silk screened, and in some ways that’s beside the point. I didn’t approach this lesson with a preconceived idea. And that’s the beauty of taking a class like this one. The assignments require you to explore and play first and then after you’ve done that, consider what you’ll make. Most of these fabrics have been done for almost two weeks now and I still don’t know what to do with any of them. Or as one of the many talented and wonderful people taking this class said, “I’m waiting for divine inspiration.”