Category Archives: Commentary

Family Treasures

Some families pass along Confederate swords to younger generations. My family passes on sewing notions. My grandmother, mother, and aunts all sewed; and I’ve ended up with much of their sewing stuff because I’m the one in my generation who sews. Much of it is useless and good only for the landfill, such as 60 year old elastic. Some is sentimental, and some is still useful.

What’s left are buttons, Singer sewing machine attachments (and one Singer machine,) hooks and eyes, awls, tracing wheels and paper, wooden thread spools, and my grandmother’s thimble. The strangest legacy is a very heavy button covering machine produced by the Defiance Manufacturing Co. I don’t know what happened to the patterns and zippers my fore mothers used, but none survive.

Here are just some of the goodies.

I always wanted an awl, and now I have one. There are more buttons than those shown. Maybe a few have some value, but most seem to date back no farther than the 1950s. I now have plenty of snaps and hooks and eyes, plus plastic rings.

The Singer machine accessories include a gatherer, lots of feet, buttonhole and zigzag stitch attachments, and some unknown gizmos. I’ll look into the used accessory market to see if these have any value.

The instructions and order form for the button covering machine, which was purchased in 1951 by my grandmother, were preserved, along with business correspondence between her and the company. The manually operated machine is heavy, and I think some parts are missing. My cousin was thrilled to offload that.

I had my mother’s Singer machine already. It’s billed as portable, but weighs about 25 pounds. I learned to sew on it, but haven’t used it in decades. If anyone is interested in a Singer 99-13, made in 1930, let me know.

My favorite item is my grandmother’s thimble, of course. My aunt had a jump ring put on it so she could wear it on a chain. It’s now part of my jewelry collection, and you never know when you might need a thimble in one’s daily rounds.

 

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Artistic Endeavors – Capturing Light

There’s an inherent contradiction between the permanence of a painting and the fleeting quality of light. Yet painters have been obsessed with capturing light for centuries. Monet’s paintings of Rouen Cathedral are a prime example.

I thought of these paintings when I viewed this time lapse video of  light through the stained glass windows in the National Cathedral, Washington, D.C. Composer Danyal Dhondy recently wrote a score for the originally silent video.

Colin Winterbottom, who made the video, said,

I am primarily a black and white architectural still photographer, but while documenting post-earthquake repairs at Washington National Cathedral I was impressed by the drama of the vibrant colors the windows “painted” on stone and scaffold. With just weeks before a related exhibition was to open I began mounting cameras to scaffold to take advantage of rare vantage points.

Here’s the featured rose window. Enjoy.

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I May Beg To Disagree

Recently I made a list of all the quilt shows and exhibits I’ve entered. It turns out I’ve been in more than I thought. To make my list I had to go through my files, which led me to the judges’ comments sheets I had kept from various shows.

Judges’ comments on Phosphenes, above:

First, the sheets offered insight as to what my work was being judged on. Second, they offered clues as to what weight the various criteria were given – design, workmanship, etc.  Here’s a sample of judging criteria used in the shows I’ve entered:

General appearance (10 points); design – top and borders, quilting, use of color; (45 points), workmanship – construction, techniques, finishing of edges (45 points)

Design and use of color, top construction, sashing & borders, quilting, edge treatment, embellishments, backside (no information on whether all are counted equally)

Best features, areas that most need improvement

Design – artistic impression/graphic impact, use of design/pattern in quilt top, use of color & fabric, degree of difficulty, quilting design, innovation/creativity; workmanship – piecing/applique, quilting technique

Appearance & design, construction, quilting, finishing, neatness, special techniques

Design – color, design, border/edge treatment, quilting design, degree of difficulty (50 points); workmanship – clean/straight, piecing and applique, quilting, finishing, backing (50 points)

The weight given to the various criteria is sometimes specified, as with the points systems above. More often, the entrant can only assume each criterion counts the same. Some shows use a scale from excellent to needs improvement. Others simply record comments with no criteria or “grade” given.

Another nuance of quilt show judging is the entry categories offered. The idea behind judging by category is to compare like to like. The categories can be by size (bed, lap, wall), by technique (pieced, appliqued, mixed), or a mixture. Some shows have started to offer an art or innovative quilt category.  A recent regional show ended up with subcategories under art quilts – images, color, abstract, etc.

I appreciate the efforts of quilt show organizers to be inclusive. I’ve been there. However, I still can’t wrap my head around the use of criteria such as backside (backing fabric complements front, seam lines run vertical) for art quilts. Conversely, I find it strange to judge the design of a quilt pattern or kit as that’s predetermined. If a Judy Niemeyer paper pieced pattern gets high marks for design, that is due to the pattern, not the quilt maker. The quilt maker should certainly get credit for color use if she chose the colors, but from there on it’s about workmanship.

Back to those judges’ comments on my work. The critique rated Phosphenes excellent for all aspects of design. Then for workmanship, the quilting technique was marked satisfactory, but the piecing was marked needs improvement because “points in straight blocks should match.” What?  I assume the comment refers to the diagonal pieced lines as I know the corners of the dark blue rectangles meet. I didn’t want or mean for the diagonal lines to meet. I wanted them jagged to convey a disjointed effect. Lesson learned: my meaning didn’t come across to the judges. A puzzling comment on another quilt concerned the back finish on the facing – “keep corners mitred on back binding.” While mitering is one way to join facing edges, many quilters (including big names) use squared off joins.

Overall, I get higher marks for design than technique, but I have to brag on the “very good applique technique” comment on Winter Fields.   Of course, they also wanted more quilting.

Finally, I’ve found that my work I think is great doesn’t win ribbons, while work I think is OK does.

The upshot for me is to stop entering most all-inclusive quilt shows and concentrate on art-focused exhibits and shows. If I want my quilts to be judged as art, then workmanship assessments are beside the point. Certainly any work of art should display good technique, but I don’t think painting awards are based on brush strokes. The art shows often are juried, so inclusion in the show is praise enough.

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Artistic Endeavors – Interpretive Maps

Lately I’ve been exploring maps as artistic interpretations of a place or idea because a group I belong to has a map quilt challenge this year. My thinking, which was running along prosaic geographic paths, was transformed by Diane Savona’s map creations. She says,”[Maps] can also teach history. They can be used to hold stories and feelings about a place.”

One of Savona’s earliest map works was Hometown Perceptions.

“A young man told me that he is afraid to go into neighboring Paterson, which has a mostly African-American population. I’m a middle-aged woman, and feel no such danger. This map explores our subconscious feelings and prejudices, the perceptions we develop about our homes and our neighbors. Most of the materials were obtained at local garage sales.”

Static 1 was Savona’s response to a trip to India.

“In ancient castles in India, royal women could only view the outside world through carved stone grills called jali. While traveling through India in an enormous white bus, I felt that I was also getting a very limited view of this amazing country. Returning home, I printed a pattern using images of tour bus windows. This cloth was set over wool, cut into and sewn to create a textile jali over images of India, printed on cloth.”

In Hurricane New Orleans Savona used locks and keys, the symbols of a secure dwelling.

“Based on a map of the Chalmette section of New Orleans. There are actual keys embedded under the cloth. Other sections have discharged images of keys and locks.”

Finally, Savona’s response to the atomic bomb at Hiroshima.

“During a month in Hiroshima, I spent many days ‘beachcombing’ the river edges at low tide. I found ceramic shards, electronic bits…and glass fused by the blast 70 years ago. ( I checked with the museum: it is permissible to take these items). This map shows a section of the city nearest to the blast epicenter, with the rivers forming long black verticals, crossed by connecting white bridges.”

I hope you look at Savona’s other work as well. I’ve just started reading her blog, where she talks about her processes. Talk about thinking outside the box.

For more creative, often non-fabric, maps check out cARTography.

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Artistic Endeavors – The Mellon Collection of French Art

Certain names crop up frequently in eastern U.S. art museum collections. Two prominent ones are Frick and Mellon. Last weekend I took advantage of the largess of these collectors at the “Van Gogh, Monet, Degas: The Mellon Collection of Art From the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts” exhibit on at the The Frick Pittsburgh until July 8, 2018.

Of the three marquee names in this exhibit, Degas is the best represented with 10 pieces. Paul Mellon owned race horses and Degas was a wonderful painter of horses, so it was a match made in heaven for a savvy collector with the means to acquire fine paintings. The three by Van Gogh on display are small and done somewhat early in his career. The three (I think) Monets are OK but I prefer much of his other work.  There’s a scattering of many other famous Impressionist and modern painters among the 70 plus works, and I found a few to delight me. Except for three by Berthe Morisot, all were done by men.

I love the high horizon composition Degas used and I can feel the coiled energy of the horses’ bodies. You’d think that all the horses on the right side would make for an unbalanced effect but it doesn’t.

One of Degas’ most famous works.

I wanted to smuggle this small gem by Boudin out in my bag, but my husband insisted I wouldn’t get away with it.

I enjoy how the black lines in this 1953 Picasso painting (“The Chinese Chest of Drawers”) carry my eye in and out of the composition.

Dufy somehow painted this oasis of artistic calm in Nice, France, during World War II.

A Toulouse-Lautrec without cancan dancers! My husband and I both felt it has a German expressionist feeling to it. The bartender looks like an alien. Great use of triangles in the composition.

An icon of St. Catherine of the Wheel that’s part of the regular Frick collection. Doesn’t she look pissed off? I guess being martyred on a burning spiked wheel will do that to you.

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Artistic Endeavors – Moving Art

Historically, art works capture a static moment in time, but what if they could move?

This article from Hyperallergenic shows how New Mexico-based web and educational software developer Simone Seagle has been transforming iconic works by artists like Paul Klee and Claude Monet into interactive animations. Her ability to do this has been aided greatly by the digital collections museums are making available.

Seagle’s animation don’t just move. You can affect how they move with your mouse. She talks about the specifics of her manipulations here.

You can read the coding specifics of Seagle’s creations and play with them here. My favorite is “Cat Watching A Spider.”

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So Not Me, But I Like It

Thanks to the generosity of a recent acquaintance I now have a piece of vintage embroidery, and I’m curious to find out exactly what it is.

The base fabric is heavy and canvas-like, and the binding is lighter weight. The embroidery thread made it through a soak in Biz without bleeding. Alas, the stains are still there, though lighter. I’m wondering if they were caused by spilled tea. Any thoughts for further remedial action are appreciated.

I think it’s to be tied around one’s waist like a small apron to hold sewing notions like scissors, etc. If so, it’s for a slender-waisted person. I don’t think it’s to be tied onto a table or chair, given the curved shapes.

My dilemma is, what to do with it. It could make a cute pillow with the embroidered areas appliqued onto a base. I thought an oval shape might work with the sprays of blue flowers added on the side. Of course I have no fabric in stash that looks right with it. Or, I could wear it at sew-ins and confound fellow sewers with it. I can hear them now, saying “I thought you didn’t like that sort of thing.” That’s usually the case, but I love word play and the embroidery is nicely done.

All guesses and opinions are welcome.

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