Sunday, March 27, 2011

Inspirational pictures

This winter was full of wonderful shadow impressions and pictures I took of them. I'd like to share with you a small selection.

Friday, March 25, 2011

UFOs, and what becomes of them

Let’s be honest: all quilters have UFOs in their closet. How many do you have?

And I don’t mean any of those workshop-relicts that were begun during a workshop, when one is confronted with mastering the intricacies of a new technique within that limited time frame. That combination may indeed be contrary to the development of a well-designed composition. (For myself, when I am going to a workshop where a new technique is taught I don’t necessarily expect to come out with a presentable result. I want to learn the technique and then spend time with it at home figuring out whether it will enter into my work.)
I once donated the result of a workshop – completely sewed up, size approx. 45 by 52 inches – to a project of my quilt-group when we were looking for a new project for an upcoming exhibition of the show. It was cut up into equal-sized pieces and distributed among the member of the group. Each of us had to make something out of the pieces she received. The results were very interesting indeed – and that way that top had found a peaceful end. Certainly one way to deal with relicts.
Another way is to put them into your archive as a sample for and visual reminde of the technique. Upgrading them officially to archive material frees them of the stigma of being a UFO. That will relieve your conscience!
But I am talking about ‚real’ UFOs, the ones of which you still think that they will be finished one day, that you want to finish. If you have any of these, it is interesting to answer for oneself the following questions: 
  • Why did this top not get finished/sewed up? 
  • Or why did this particular finished top not get quilted?

The reasons which appear during such a self-interview may be an indicator for the real status of this UFO. You need to be absolutely honest with yourself, though. But it may be a way of finding out whether this is truly a UFO (i.e. an unfinished object) or rather a NFO (a never-to-be-finished object) with no chances of ever getting finished.

Reasons may include the following:
  • Once I sewed it up I realized I really don’t like the (main) fabric I used.
  • My taste has changed and I don’t like the color combination.
  • The pattern I chose is too complicated/ too boring/ too cute-sy/ doesn’t appeal to me any more.
  • I have had so many other ideas that this one is just so far away from what I want to be doing.
  • I messed up with measurements and now it just doesn't fit together anymore.
  • I don’t have enough time to put in the work it needs, other things are less time-intensive.

I taught a workshop on UFO-completion in November, and for the participants the time factor certainly was an important reason, with a little bit of the others mixed in. But they were determined!
Just before we went away for a week of holidays earlier this month I was facing this problem, too. My husband – understandably – was opposed to my taking a sewing machine along, his argument being that I say sewing is work, and a holiday is supposed to be a period without work. I agreed. But I knew that we would be spending the evenings mostly in the apartment which we had rented because of a sleeping five-year-old, and I did not want to spend every singly one of them reading or knitting socks. And then I remembered a UFO which has been biding time in a cardboard box. A really pretty unfinished UFO, if you look at the degree of completion, but rather progressed UFO if you look at the degree of finished preparation:
UFO in its container
There once was a time when 60-degree triangles were important for me. That was the time when I also made ‚More Light!’.
More Light! 2001
At that time I had the idea that I definitely wanted to have a comfort quilt made from  striped fabrics and 60-degree triangles, in caleidoscope fashion, so to say. (To do something with those striped fabrics that had accumulated and that were proving themselves to be not easily integrated into other quilts.) That also was a time when I commuted to work by train, and as I have always been one to make the most of such times I had started taking a little sewing box on the train, for hand sewing. This quilt was entirely sewn by hand, on the train:
Nightsong of the Fish, 1999
When ‚Nightsong of the Fish’ was finished, I needed another project, and I resolved to start a 60-degree-triangle project. I prepared quite a number of six-packs from my stock of striped fabrics, but not too many actually got sewn up because my work situation changed rather quickly and completely and I was not a commuter any more. And I had so many other ideas that I did not want to spend my time at home sewing by hand. This little box has been waiting patiently since then.
By the way, my technique of hand-sewing was taken from Jinny Beyer’s book „Quiltmaking by Hand“, in which she gives detailed explanations with lots of very informative illustrations and hints. Her description of the technique is so thorough and perfect, that I am not going to retell you what she wrote, just a few illustrations from my own attempts:
Basically you sew with a quiltstitch, using a quilting needle.
Put as many stitches on the needle as possible
- up to 10 if you can.
When the needle was full, pull through the thread and
resume with a backstitch.
So this particular UFO of 60-degree-triangles has gone through a long and dangerous phase of waiting for completion during which its status was rather undefined, because the outer circumstances which had led to its conception had so radically changed. However, a vacation without a sewing machine seemed just the right moment to pull that box out of storage. I have to admit, my quilting style has changed radically since I began this project, and I definitely would not begin something like this today. But it has something to it to spend a few evenings with it every vacation, stitching along. The individual hexagons don’t take too long, either. So who knows, this may actually be a UFO the completion of which can be reported, several vacations later? Let’s wait and see!

And: my current count of UFOs, not including these traingles, is 9 or 10...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sink Art

Have you ever met with Sink Art? Very ephemeral - it's what happens in your sink when you mix colors for dyeing and some of the powder falls into the sink.I've started taking pictures of these, just for fun.

Take a look before it all gets washed away...

Saving Toads, while Japan...

This morning I was a first time volunteer to help carry toads across the road.
I had agreed to volunteer for this kind of work during last summer when I read a notice in the newspaper that the local chapter of the German Bund Naturschutz (environmental organization) was looking for more people to help staff an additional protective fence during spawning season. Unfortunately I was not present for the erection of the fence two weeks ago, because that coincided with the first day of a long-needed week of holidays. Which I had not really calculated on when I signed up as a volunteer in the first place. Nor did I know then that I would be traveling to the US in April for three weeks with my son, which also will prevent  me from being a toad guardian. In any case, it will work out a few times that I will go and check the fence before I leave for North Carolina.

This morning we had heavy rains – definitely good weather for amphibians on the move! Luckily, a beginner such as I am is given a personal instruction by the official representative of the organization, and, even more importantly, I was given a small brochure which has pictures and descriptions of the kinds of amphibians I am going to find in the buckets. Because I do have to admit that that’s not exactly my field of specialty (yet?). I did know that female toads are larger than male ones, and that they may occur as a pair, him being carried by her. But how was I supposed to tell an Alpine newts (Triturus alpestris) from a common newts (triturus vulgaris)?
The first bucket was filled with water and had to be emptied carefully in order not to miss anything that might be swimming in there. The others were not filled to such an extreme with water, but more successful on the amphibian side. When I had finished my rounds, this is how the contents of the bucket looked:

Common toads and various newts
in one of my buckets formerly used for dyeing...

The total count of today’s efforts amounted to 29 male common toads (two of which were so tiny that we thought they must have made a mistake with regard to the season when they were born), 3 females common toads (2 of which already had a male on their backs, while one was traveling solo), 11 Alpine newts and two common newts. (Add to that one particularly fat and long earthworm which was not included in the trip across the street, several bugs, and one drowned big fat rat and one drowned small mouse.)
The toads who were carried across the street and released to continue on their journes had to re-direct themselves, but most of them quickly found their bearings again: down to the water!

taking new bearings: keep going towards the water!
This couple was a particularly impressive pair:

Female common toad carrying male spawning partner

In the context of the current ongoings in Japan, after the earthquake and the tsunami, and the atomic catastrophe of which we still don’t know where it is going to take us (is it going to be the end of the world as we know it right now, or not just yet?), this might be a petty thing to do – carrying a few toads across the road to prevent them from being squished flat by cars. However, especially in this catastrophic context the whole thing had a soothing effect on me today, and was exactly what I needed on a day like this. The catastrophe of Tchernobyl was not that long ago, really. Just about twenty-five years later we again have a situation of which we were always told it would never happen, because after all, it hasn’t happened yet, so never will. Just how often do we have to be confronted with situations like this, until we finally understand that anything that could possibly happen might actually happen – and is even pretty likely to happen for real?

I received two requests via e-mail asking for quilt donations for Japan. One of these I would like to include here, because I think it was meant to be passed on to as many others as possible.

Dear Dorte
I am OK.But my family are in Sendai and they are at very difficult
It is still bad situation now in Japan but it is not terrible.
We are still nervous about shaking and radiation,but no way to escape.

I start to announce to the quilters to send us comfort quilts for the
people who are suffered.I would like to do it to the world quilters.
We will deliver the comfort quilts to the people who are very difficult
Could you please help to announce it to the quilters in Germany?

We accept any size of quilts(baby to adult).new or unused.
The deadline would be the end of May or later.

Send the quilts to:
until the middle of April
Naomi Ichikawa,Editor of Patchwork Quilt tsushin
Patchwork Tsushin Co.,Ltd
5-28-3,Hongo,Bunkyo-ku,Tokyo,Japan zip:113-0033

after the middle of April
Naomi Ichikawa
Patchwork Tsushin Co.,Ltd
2-21-2,Yushima,Bunkyo-ku,Tokyo,Japan zip:113-0034

I will appreciate if you help me.


While personally I think it makes a lot more sense to donate money to aid organizations which have the human and financial resources to actually get to the people what they really need in times of crisis, such as food and water and medical supplies, I can understand the not-immediate-victim’s desire to present another, real victim with comfort, and what can be more comforting than a personally-made quilt blanket to wrap oneself into. Like carrying toads across the roads... (We won’t talk about the danger of radioactive contamination here just now...)  

Monday, March 14, 2011

Focussing – again

I wrote about focussing just a little more than a month ago, and how I had not been able to finish the post on focussing because I had been focussing on dyeing, preparations for the April market in Erding and making plans.
One part of the unfinished post that had been finished, however, was the retrospective onto the things I had completed last year. That post was originally meant to be posted ‚at the beginning of the year’, the time when one is still in the mood to look back on the last year, but already full of plans for the new year. By now the year is well on its way and definitely not ‚new’ anymore, after all, just about a fifth of it is over.
This is the section I wrote:

I was pretty diligent and productive last year:
  • I entered quilts in several exhibitions and was accepted with at least one quilt in all those I entered except for one.
  • I had one solo exhibition at the German Patchwork Guilds annual patchwork festival, which took place in Dortmund in May,
  • I have two major quilts in Color Improvisations curated by Nancy Crow,
  • I was represented in Birmingham, UK, in August with three big quilts and a little contribution to the German Guild’s Anniversary exhibition „Ein Fitzelchen Silber“,
  • I was present in Alsace in September with four quilts in three different exhibitions spread out all over the town,
  • two of my quilts went to Vicenza, Italy with the German Guild’s selected exhibition in October,
  • and I had another solo exhibition opening in November, which is still on until January 30.

I finally had the guts to go ahead and make real the idea I’ve been harboring for many years
  • to start a little business with my hand-dyed fabrics. I made the first set of preparatory dye charts during a wonderful (hot!) week in July together with my friend Regine,
  • I designed and executed a first version of a website for because my webdesigner was on holiday (she did design the current version, however)
  • I had a postcard printed for advertising
  • and I managed to have 18 orders for the introductory collection in November.
When I look at it I can certainly say: Hey, I got a lot done last year!

That’s how far the section on my accomplishments ran in that unfinished post. I think I had meant to go on about how I needed to do something to celebrate, because celebrating is a way of showing oneself appreciation of what one has accomplished. I don’t think I did celebrate last year’s accomplishment sufficiently, really. Not too late to do that, though. Have to think about that one!

So what does this have to do with focussing? For one thing, listing one’s accomplishments can demonstrate to oneself that one must have been pretty focussed at least part of the time, otherwise these things would not have been finished at all. And it could not only have been good focussing during ‚the last minute’, even if there is that nasty comment  „if it weren’t for the last minute, a lot of things would never get done“. (How about a celebration of /for the last minute?)
So: quite a good amount of focussing went on during the past year, I realize, even if it sometimes did not feel very focussed.

Why was that? There were periods when I thought I had too many things going on, and I sometimes felt that I would never be able to actually finish everything I had planned. And I actually did not manage to do one thing I had wanted to do – I did not enter a quilt in Quilt National, which I had definitely wanted to do. The reason why I did not enter was that the quilt I made for Ste. Marie aux Mines kept taking much  longer than I had planned for in my calendar, so I ran out of time. 
So I miscalculated on time once. But apart from that I can’t think of any other things that did not get completed right now, despite the fact that it all seemed to be quite a lot. (Well – let’s limit that to the quilt part of my life. I’m not talking about my writing desk, or some other things. I am only talking quilts and fabric here.)

One important thing in my personal way of focussing is that I always have several projects going on at once. Sometimes there are several different layers of quilts on my design wall which get switched around when I run into a lull with one of them. (Would be nice to have a second and a third large design wall, and a larger studion, too, of course, but I’m already pretty happy to have that one I can work with.) There are also work-in-progress boxes in my shelves, waiting, or should I say gestating?

Having several projects at once is a means of cheating my brain a little. If I turn my attention away from the one project which just got stuck, and concentrate on another project, I push it into the back of my mind to let it take care of itself for a little while. That is also the mode of development I mentioned in my last post on focussing, which can be achieved by going for a walk or by going to turn on the washing machine (and then returning). After I have worked on the new project for a while I can return to the first project and look at it with new eyes – and some kind of idea may have developed to further it , which I would never had thought of had I been trying to think it through by force.

The real issue is finding out about how many projects one can handle at once. Which is certainly a question that may have to be answered differently depending on the day or the kinds of projects one is working on, or the number of deadlines looming, and certainly on the number of „outside challenges“.
Picking up a five-year-old at kindergarten is nothing that can be put off beyond closing time, so I may have to drop something I am doing at that point, even if it had just entered a good focussed stage. But being able to realize immediately when that five-year-old is playing by himself so nicely that he will be safely occupied for at least a little while, and sitting down to continuing whatever one left off to pick him up, that is part of focussing, too. In fact, it is the same mode of focussing as juggling several quilt projects at once.

I had a handmade calendary for last year, made by Susanne Muus, which I loved to have last year, and found too nice to throw out now that it had served its one-year-turn of being my calendar.

Last year's calendar turned list booklet
 And because I sometimes felt like my brain wasn’t holding up with keeping track of all the things and itsy-bits-item I needed to do, I came up with a new purpose for this handmade calendar: I use the empty spaces in the pages to make lists of what needs to be done, and I cross the items off when they’re done.

crossed out items on to-do-list, some still open...

Having them written down helps me remember all of them (and feeling pretty safe about that, too). Crossing them off gives a certain degree of satisfaction – almost like celebrating (though not quite). And it helps to stay focussed just a little bit better, because if I know I wrote everything down I don’t have to wreck my brain anymore trying to remember what else it was I had told myself to remember to do, such as to whom else I was going to write an e-mail (which will definitely pop up only after I’ve switched off the computer...) or ... And writing them all down in a single book makes it easier than searching for one of the myriad of papers on which I used to make lists before. 
Now all I have to do is keep that booklet at hand...

Friday, March 4, 2011

Little escap(ad)e III

When I went on my first little escap(ad)e  whichI wrote about here I had originally wanted to go and see the exhibit „Malerei auf Papier – Josef Albers in Amerika“ (Painting on paper – Josef Albers in America) which was recently shown in the Pinakothek der Moderne (closing the day after tomorrow, on March 6th). (Click here for more information on Josef Albers.)

I am not terrifically good about remembering artist’s names, but I do remember works of art that have ‚talked’ to me. That was the case with Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels, which I mentioned here. And I vividly recall the impression that a first encounter with one of Josef Albers’ Homage to the Square made on me – I was stunned. The fascinating simplicity of the idea, combined with the exactness of execution and overall impact of the color combinations simply stuck in my mind. Most likely my first encounter took place through either a postcard or a picture in a book or catalogue rather than a direct confrontation with a „real painting“. But in December I read an article about it in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, which was pure rave, and immediately knew that I wanted to see for myself.

Review of Josef Albers exhibition
in Süddeutsche Zeitung from December 16, 2010
As the Pinakothek der Moderne isn’t open on Mondays I didn’t get to go the first chance I had to go to Munich, so I made arrangements to go on February 25: my husband was scheduled to pick up our son at Kindergarten and take him to a friend’s house for the afternoon, until I would return from out of town. However, the day before the German trade union for train drivers called for strikes – and although I had planned to go in by car, I decided to postpone the trip once again. I didn’t want to get caught in the traffic jam caused by more people going into the city by car, and I would have had to take public transport within Munich, which could have affected my travels, too. However, time was running out – as I said, the exhibit is only on display here until March 6, and I knew I couldn’t really go during this week... So a family council made it possible that I could take a slightly rushed Saturday afternoon trip to Munich. Less time, no extras whatsoever around the visit to the museum, but definitely worth the effort!

Have you ever been to the Pinakothek der Moderne? This is the view you get when you enter the front hall.

Entrance hall of Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich

The exhibit is on display in one large room of the museum – which I had been to before, when I saw the exhibition of Amish Quilts there several years ago. The room was much too small for the quilts, but it certainly was a great room for this exhibit now.

The pieces are all oil on paper. A number of the „Farbstudien“ (Color studies) are in black/white or different grays, preliminary even to the studies with different colours.
What you see are mostly the preparatory sketches Albers made in planning his series/individual works of the series. Only one of the finished paintings Homage to the Square is on display, everything else is stuff that one would not expect to see in an art exhibition. After all, it’s not ‚finished art’ yet.

What you get is a fabulous insight into Albers’ process of creation, how he kept changing the hues and values of the colours by adding a little bit of white or grey or ... and you get to observe for yourself the change of effects caused by these minute alterations. Without wanting to narrow the importance or effect of the finished paintings, I do believe that exactly these minute alterations give you a better understanding of what Albers was trying to do – and, in the end, did achieve.

Personally, I do like to see the process of his work that becomes visible to the viewer in  
  • the notes to himself which he etched into the wet paint, imprinted notes that remained visible without the danger of getting lost
  • the pencil notes on color combinations he kept on the margins or directly on the sketches, and,
  • my most favorite: the ‚Try again’ which he told himself at the bottom of  one study in various reds:

'try again' as note to himself, picture taken from catalogue
 The exhibition is accompanied by a hard-cover catalogue published by art publisher Hatje Cantz, and I am very glad that I spent money on it. It is a good way to relive the visit, and has some interesting essays, too.

The exhibition is traveling to various places afterwards – the Josef Albers Quadrat Museum in Bottrop, and New York amongst them. If you get a chance – go! It's a must see, unless, of course, you have a chance to visit the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation...

(More pictures on Albers can be found here.)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Daily Oak, February report

Statistics for the month of February for my Daily Oak project:

Number of days missed:4
Total number of pictures taken: 86
Days on which I visited the tree twice: 5
Days on which I visited the tree times: 1
Days on which I took more than the standard two shots: 18
Guest tree pictures (see Amended Rules of Feb 17): 2

Let’s start with the two pictures of the guest trees.
They were both taken in Fulda.
The Franciscan guesthouse where I was staying is surrounded by a little park full of beeches, which is where I found the first tree.

Guest tree for February 19
This little tree is one of four trees in the interior courtyard of the guesthouse, the building in the middle is a chapel for confessions. Of these four trees three were carrying a bird’s nest. I like that – it must be quite a sound in there when all three nests are inhabited and the bird’s are giving a concert...

Guest tree for February 20
Overall, it was a very grey month... but luckily a few days of sunshine in the end to brighten things up a little. We started off with snow in the beginning of the month and had yet another little sprinkling on the 27th.

Snow at the end of the month, February 27
It is noticeable that the light is changing – the sun is already higher in the sky during the day, as can be seen in this comparison between the pictures from January 28, and February 24.

January 28, perspective a, at 3:30p.m.
February 24, perspective a, at 3:13 p.m.
And I can go for afternoon shots later in the day. 

February 2, perspective a, at 5:04 p.m.

February 25, perspective a, at 6:14 p.m.
I’m still fascinated by the changing appearances of the tree from the different perspectives. The roundness of the treetop from perspective b seems to have so little to do with the almost rectangular shape of perspective a, or the triangle protruding to the right that can be seen from perspective c, which again seems to have moved to a different spot, namely on the left, when viewed from perspective d. Here are all four perspectives, taken at the last visit during the month of February:

Perspective a, February 28, at 6:42 p.m.

Perspective b, February 28, at 6:42 p.m.
Perspective c, February 28, at 6:42 p.m.
Perspective d, February 28, at 6:43 p.m.
The view from the back side which I said I would take at the end of the month was only taken on March 1 and will be shown in the March report.