Tuesday, November 29, 2011

November Blues

November is definitely not my type of month. Too much fog, too few hours of daylight.

Isn’t this stifling to anyone’s creativity?

A few years ago I would try to escape by going on vacation to sunnier spots such as the Canary Islands. Can’t really do that when you have a six-year-old who just entered school. One time I made the quilt which I called “More Light!”, and which was an important step in my development.
This year I tried to overcome the greyness by going away to a workshop, which I will write about in a couple of days. (It was mostly foggy there, too, but the whole arrangement was inspiring enough.)
Apart from that I did a lot of cleanup. Found a floor beneath lots of boxes which had not been emptied, partly from things that had gone on before summer vacation. Funnily enough, when I put those boxes back into the shelves where they belong, there was room in the shelves, too. Dates back to my fabric party in January.

Took my sewing machine for a little check-up.
Then I continued cleaning up my writing desk. Lots of stacks there, too (I am lousy at putting away paper stuff.) Now that November is drawing to a close perhaps I can get into a creative working mood again. The blue scraps are waiting – but they needed some gestation time, as I have been realizing these past few days. The piece will be called “international blues” or something along that line. Almost as good as more light.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"The Art of Manipulating Fabric" by Colette Wolff

I like to buy books in a real bookstore – I want to see and feel them, and to leaf through the pages, perhaps read a short section before I buy, and I just love the situation when I am standing in front of the shelves, reading the titles, and looking for ones that I don’t know about but might like. There are a few books in my life that have been “wonderful reads”, and which I would have never found if it hadn’t been for that shelf-situation, and a title flashing out at me “read me! read me!” (A Short History of a Small Place by T.R. Pearson is one of them.)
But it is a different story when it gets to English books, and especially to books on quilting, fabrics, textiles. Living in Germany, English books that I find interesting are still not widely available in bookstores – although stores in large cities do carry English sections now. But I live in a small place, and the local bookstore's English section is rather small, and mostly crime and mystery. Books on quilting, on the other hand, are hard to get in normal bookstores anyway, and I live more than 60 miles from the closest quilt store that carries a wide range of books.
So every once in a while, when I know what I want, I do take the advantage and buy with that greatest data collector of all. Usually I ignore their suggestions based on what I have bought before, or the “other people who have bought this book also bought...”-section. But a few weeks ago the first book that popped up in that area of the display looked promising and interesting: “The Art of Manipulating Fabric” by Colette Wolf. Published by krause publications.

So I caved in and ordered it along with my other purchases, and when it arrived the next day, I was surprised at how heavy it was. Nothing compared to the usual quilting book – 310 pages! It dates back to 1996, but is certainly not out of date!
I dare say unless you were trained as a seamstress or tailor you probably would never have thought of even half of the multitude of possibilites of manipulating fabric that are presented in this book – which does not cover any kind of surface design currently in vogue, using dyes, prints, wonderunder or whatever. All samples which are presented in black-and-white photography were made from unbleached muslin. No fancy colors trying to attract my eye with currently fashionable fabric selections, styles or colors.

It reminds me a bit of a book I once received from my mother and from which I learned almost all my techniques of handicrafts, published in 1954 in its 19th printing:

But back to my discovery of “The Art of Manipulating Fabric”:
The book is divided into six parts by different methods, with a total of thirteen chapters:
Part I, “Controlled Crushing”, with chapters 1, Gathering, and 2, Shirring;
Part II, “Supplementary  Fullness”, with chapters 3, Making Ruffles, 4, Making Flounces, and 5, Making Godets;
Part III, “Systematic Folding”, with chapters 6, Folding, 7, Smocking, 8, Tucking;
Part IV, “Filled Reliefs”, with chapters 9, Cording, 10, Quilting, and 11, Stuffing;
Part V, “Structured Surfaces”, with chapter 12, Using Darts;
and Part VI, “Mixed Manipulations” with chapter 13, Combinations.
In addition, an appendix gives a brief introduction into stitches and a glossary. The book also includes a select bibliography, followed by the index.

Non-native speakers of English will learn a multitude of new vocabulary items – but I dare say even native speakers of English might be confronted with a number of things they had never heard of before. Or do you know what “shirring” is? (Shirring configures fabric with bands of soft, rolling folds released between rows of gathering. The pinched, puckery, stitching lines that bisect shirred fabric run parallel or diagonal to the fabric’s edge, cross each other, or form multi-directional patterns. With its network of gathered stitching separated by zones of fabric crowded with variable folds, shirring shrinks the original fabric while adding substance to the decorative fabric it creates. page 28)
The chapter on quilting already provides many insights even to an experienced quilter and exceeds the kind of information usually given in quilting books.
The chapter on folding presents a multitude of pleats – such as flat, partial, protruding, or double-controlled, to name only a few. So far I have only leafed through the section on smocking which hasn’t been my thing in clothing so far, but I was certainly struck by number of ideas how these things could possibly be included in textile art. The chapter on tucking was one which I thought I would need for the workshop I went to last week (but that’s a different post coming up.)

Still need a hint for somebody who wants to give you a Christmas present? How about this book? You’ll have plenty of exercises ahead of you, and many ideas developing from it.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Textiles in Museums

Art museums that are not specifically dedicated to textiles tend to have very few items on display that are considered ‚textile art’.
During a visit to the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art in Charlotte, North Carolina, in April I saw three pieces of textile art: the first one was a woven rug by Picasso, the second one was called „Modern Tapestry“ by Roy Lichtenstein. (With either of these, the question remains: did they do the weaving or knotting? of the rugs themselves – I assume they would have done the design and let somebody else do the physical work.) Most interesting among the textiles in the Bechtler, however, was the third piece, given to the Bechtler family by J. Miró: this used to be the rag which he used to wipe off and clean his paint brushes, i.e. it was a torn and paint-stained towel. He had mounted it on a frame so that you could see it from both sides, added a dedication to the Bechtler family on the back, and signed it. So that’s proof for my hypothesis: it’s  the signature (by ...) that defines something as art.
Apart from that textiles are few in number. The Buchheim museum in Bernried, however, has a curious collection. Lothar Buchheimfilm maker, writer, journalist, and adventurer was also a collector of not only expressionist paintings when nobody wanted to have them, but also a collector of almost everything else. (Coming up in the museum is a special exhibit on his collection of wrapping papers for citrus fruit – remember the times when oranges were individually wrapped in little pieces of paper that conveyed the feeling of far-away countries and exotic luxuries...?) 

Looking down into one of the large exhibition halls
So on a trip through Africa in 1978 Buchheim bought a number of textile art pieces from artist Alphonse Yémadjè in the Republic of Benin. Ten of these are on display in the museum. During my recent week as a student with Margit Amann von Glembotzki part of the class program was a guided tour at the Buchheim museum with special attention on these textile pieces, located on the lower ground floor amidst the mostly uncommented Africa-section. The pieces are all made in appliqué technique, which was an art form traditionally reserved for a select group of families working at the royal court, and only the men in these families were allowed to do the work. The pieces are called “sewed chants” as they display arrangements of the country’s history, praising the strength, military success and power of various kings which would also be topic of the traditional oral history chants passed on from generation to generation.

Out of the ten, the four larger pieces show battles between the king’s army and an opponent and his followers (usually shown in smaller scale than the king). The other pieces are state of arms, or more mythological creatures and events of the kingdom of Dahomey, which is now in the state of Benin in Western Africa.
The guide had prepared this tour specifically for our group, as it had never been asked for before, nor had she herself paid much attention to these pieces, other than that she used to tell tour groups that the expressionist painters had seen and used these kinds of enthnic art for the development of expressionist style (e.g. the use of face color as expression of mood instead of a depiction of reality).
Sad to say, but the arrangement of the pieces completely out of temporal order and the scarcity of information given on the tablets next to them cause more disorientation than that they are helpful. This goes back to Buchheim’s opinion that the museum should be a “Museum der Phantasie” where visitors should be free to phantasize about what they were seeing rather than being fed with or ‘misled’ by information given. Which leads to the result that one goes through e.g. the African collection and, unless one has had a college education in anthropology and ethnology, gets absolutely no clue about what one is looking at.
Only after Buchheim’s death in 2007 were a few attempts made to alleviate this, however, the employee who was most dedicated to making the African collection more accessible for visitors has since left the museum and the whole process is stalled at current. Our guide certainly did a good job of putting things for us in historical order, and gave a lot of background information.
So this was indeed an interesting small textile section in a big museum. The pieces were well executed and very expressive in their color choice and topic. But the guide herself admitted that the pieces were only on display because Buchheim had been such an avid collector of everything, and that they would never have made it into another art museum. And even in this museum, where almost everything gets a chance to be considered and valued as art, they needed their proper attention by a guide to attract the visitors with an affinity for textiles. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

"Human Being" - exhibition by Michaela Geissler

Our local church is featuring a small but very impressive exhibition of sculptures by Michaela Geissler, an artist working in clay, who lives nearby on a secluded old farm. 
I got to go into the church at night a couple of days before the opening, when the sculptures had already been put up. They took on an almost gloomy appearance then.

The sculptures up front are huge - befitting the wide area in the front of the church. During the day they look like this:
Beyond the back row: two listeners

Up front: three impressive clay "human beings"
The white sheets on the wall cover up two woven rugs from Peru which have been hanging there for a number of years. Beautifully woven rugs, but not really something that is advantageous to this church... Which cannot be said of the sculptures, I think.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Last workshop of the year

Just recently I returned from teaching my last two-day workshop this year. Now there are only two more evening session of the beginners’ class I am teaching here in my town left, and then the teaching will be over for this year. (But I will get to be a student for four and a half days myself next week...) This last workshop was another instance of my class „IQ – from inspiration to quilt“, a workshop that I originally called “Quilts from children’s drawings”.
As I have taught this workshop a number of times over the past year now, I decided that I wanted to change the order of assignments a little bit. Participants are still asked to bring their inspirational picture from which they will eventually work. However, the workshop begins with technical assignments. Through these, the participants get acquainted with the various techniques that I use for my own work, and can develop their own opinion as to which of these they particularly like, or which might be less useful for an attempt with their own picture.
At first participants insert a full circle into a piece of fabric, then have to cut through that insert with free hand rotary cutting in several ways, and take their first attempts with my new little tool.
After that I demonstrate my method of making paper templates. 

Making individual templates
And then they get to work on their own design.
I do believe that mastery of techniques is a very important step on the way to the development of an own design, and pay a lot of attention to these in my teaching. For me personally, participation in a workshop nowadays means that I want to learn the technique in order to be able to then work with it at home and figure out whether it will be useful for my work. I notice, however, that this approach is not shared by most participants in my workshops. They often want to produce something “useful”, want to leave by the end of the two days with a visible result. They find it hard to embrace the idea that what they are sewing in the workshop might not turn out to be anything beyond the piece through which they got acquainted with a new technique.
It is interesting and challenging to see (and accompany) how participants approach the difficult problem of developing an own design. For many, the picture they bring, however, seems to be more of a hindrance than a starting point to development. Mostly, because they want to simply put the picture into fabric, as closely as possible, have difficulties of entering into a process of abstraction. Instead, my approach is that an inspiration is always just that – an inspiration to move on from there, through lots of abstractions, fragmentation, perhaps turning the whole thing upside down after a while. Only rarely do my final pieces resemble the original inspiration. But it makes me very glad when I see that a participant manages to do just that – take their inspiration further along, turning it into something ‚hers’.

Early stages of development of a participant's design
This workshop demands that students be ready to try something new and different, and definitely that they be willing to start over and over, and perhaps over a third time if they should discover that things  weren’t working out the way they had first thought. It’s not a class from which you return home with a finished top.
During this last workshop several participants did not sew any more than the first few techincal assignments. Instead, they spent the rest of the two days intensively working on the development of their design. They went home very much satisfied, because they realized that they had invested their time well by continuously altering, editing and improving their designs. The sewing could be done at home.

In each of the instances when I taught the workshop there was at least one participant who was working with a (rather young) child’s drawing as the inspirational picture. I still have the impression that it would be easier for many participants if they would indeed do that, because I usually found the designs based on the children’s drawings the most interesting designs in these workshops. This may well be because children’s drawings, for adults’ eyes, have a certain degree of abstraction already, making it easier for beginners in own design to start their individual process of abstraction from there.

In this most recent workshop, however, a wonderful design was developed from a picture of the German Bundestag:

I will not show the resulting design here, though, because I don’t want to pre-publish anything that is not mine. But I am definitely looking forward to seeing the finished quilt! Let me just tell you this: you wouldn’t recognize that it was derived from a picture of the Bundestag!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

First anniversary of writing a blog

Towards the end of my former life as a linguist I witnessed a lot of discussion about the textual qualities of so-called „Hypertexts”. There was quite some dissent about the fact whether they were texts at all, or whether they qualified as ‘literature’. After all, they did not appear in print, thus would never have a definite and final form such as a last edition, they could be continuously altered, and different readers might read them in a different order, thus they would never be able to have a similar reading experience of the ‚same text’. At that time, being on the way out of linguistics, I did not really pay a lot of attention to those discussions, nor did I take hypertexts seriously. I thought they were a soon-to-disappear fad. A couple of years later I heard that people had started writing blogs, and had a hard time understanding what that was – nor could I really grasp why somebody would want to write an “internet diary” for public readership, as they were sometimes called in German.
In 2008 Jayne Willoughby Scott told me during a conversation at Nancy Crow’s farm that she had heard of the advice to artists that they should certainly write a blog for potential customers or followers. Still, I wondered whoever would sit down and read that. Then Bonnie Bucknam
started writing a blog on her Guatemala-bound-project (and let me know about it) and I started reading it sort of regularly. Through this blog I discovered others, such as the interesting and well-written blog by former journalist Kathy Loomis or the very instructive blog on 365 patterns for machine quilting, and I finally began to realize that it could be fun reading other people’s blogs, and that it might actually make sense to write one’s own.
So when I started preparations for my fabric-club for hand-dyed fabrics just about a year ago I knew I wanted to combine that with a blog that related to my dyeing experiences, and the various shipments of the club. Accordingly, the first posts on my German blog were all fabric-club-related.
Parallel I wanted to let my international friends and contacts who do not know any German know about what was going on in my quilting life. However, for ease of reading I did not want to write a bilingual blog. So I decided that the German blog would be more dyeing-oriented (in principle), and the English blog more concerned with my various experiences with art – my own, and art by others. I figured that would make it more interesting for me, too, because I feared that always writing the sort of same text in two languages would become boring for me. So you can find different types of entries on my two different blogs, although they do coincide every once in a while. For example, my Daily Art Projekt „Daily Oak“ appears only on the English blog.
Slowly the number of registered followers grew – to my husband’s surprise. Not surprised at the fact that the number grew slowly, but that anybody would care to read what I was writing about... Meanwhile he, too, has bookmarked the site and  has turned into an occasional reader.
Over the year I slowly got acquainted with the different types of functions that blogger provides. Most likely I still don’t know about all of them, but it’s always good to have something left to discover. Already after six months I realized that it was possible to save posts for a later publication. Which is nice if you want to keep a possible gap due to absence with uncertain access to the internet at a minimum, but can be rather stressful if you have to prepare and write several posts in advance.

I’m still learning what it means to write a blog, too. What is a good topic – would this be interesting enough to let others read about this? Do I really have something interesting or noteworthy to say about this? ... But I have found that it is a motivation to educate oneself about some topics that I might not have tackled or bothered about, had I not been writing a blog.
During the workshop in Falera I realized for the first time that there are actually people out there reading my blog who have not registered themselves as followers, when some people started talking to me about some of the posts. And in August blogger changed their design for writing. I am somebody who is rather slow in embracing changes in relation to computer stuff, once I have got myself used to one design, but I tried out their new design pretty much immediately. So I discovered that it was possible to view statistics of how may people have looked at a blog on a particular day. What a surprise – there were actually quite a number of people out there reading my blog! A chart of the number of readers throughout the last week might look like this:

It does matter – seeing these charts did have an effect on how I feel about writing my blogs (not that I didn’t care before, but to see that people actually do read it is a really nice feeling). So at this point I would like to thank all of you out there who care enough to check out once in a while what I have to tell. It’s good to know you are out there! 
I myself am curious as to how this blog is going to develop, I am certain that there are still a lot of topics out there that will catch my attention at some point. Looking forward to new postings...

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Daily Oak - October report

Number of days missed: 3
Number of days with more than one visit: 1
Number of visits with more than the two standard perspectives taken: 8
Total number of pictures taken: 74
Number of guest trees: 3, for the days missed, and one neighbor

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this month was, that although I had seen the first yellow leaves on September 21 already, surprisingly little happened with regard to turning of the color of leaves throughout most of this month. Whereas a neighboring oak already seemed to be a lot more yellow on October 17, my oak remained pretty much the same until just a few days ago. 

A neighboring oak on October 17,
much lighter in leaves colour already
Sometime during the month I had read a little note in the paper stating that a forester had explained why there was surprisingly little turning of foliage this fall – because of the abundant rain falls during the summer the growth period of the leaves continued for much longer than it does during more arid years, resulting in a much shortened or less noticeable period of changing coloring. Not even the first nightly frosts on around the 10th of the month speeded things up.
What was clearly noticeable, though, was the fact that it is getting dark much earlier by now. On October 19 I barely caught the last glimpse of light after I had been busy all day pressing apples and quince and making marmelade out of the juice when I realized it was already getting dark and I had not yet been to see the tree!

Perspective a, October 3, 6:35 p.m.
Perspective a, October 6, 6:06 p.m.

Perspective a, October 19, 6:18 p.m.
On the 29th we had such thick fog that it almost concealed the tree when looked at from the usual perspectives.

Perspective b, October 29, 9:36 a.m.

Of course, this past weekend we had the changing of the clocks, which sets nightfall even one hour earlier. It does add to the decisive feeling that this project is nearing its completion, after all there are only two months left now.