Category Archives: Continuing

What’s the story?

It’s done. Sky indigo-dunked by me. Foreground silk, I don’t remember (arlee barr?) Pink linen: Deb Lacativa. Plaid house window: a shirt of my husband’s. There is blue-grey linen from Montreal, dark blue linen purchased in NYC in another lifetime, and scraps of a skirt that I wore to my last (and loathsome) job.

I keep asking myself — what is this little piece about?

Sometimes the story of the cloth can be found in the fabrics. The clock print would be the obvious narrative (the relentless march of time, etc.) but for me it’s all about that red plaid window. It’s warmth. It’s comfort. K wore it for years and years: camping, mowing the lawn, walking around the North Shore, fixing stuff in the house.

Somewhere I read that when quilters place a red fabric in the center of a log cabin patchwork square, it is to represent the hearth of home.

Yes. That.

A recent experience offers something akin to permission to think about this a little differently. The experience? — this season’s Project Runway (yes, it survived Tim Gunn’s departure!)

If you’re a fan of the show, you’ll know how often the judges insist on ‘story,’ which is something a little different and apart from the designer’s ‘voice.’ Each collection needs a story, the judges insist, a unifying theme. Sometimes what the designers say is laughably far-fetched, seemingly uttered just to satisfy the judges. Other times, you can see how the designer’s story directed construction and textile choices in a meaningful way.

Near the end of this season, the contestants were tasked with creating an installation, and the man who ultimately won simply could not find a narrative for his collection. He painted his cubicle an awful color and slapped up some floral cut-outs. It was dopey. It clashed with his exquisite garments. He flailed, openly complaining that he couldn’t find the story.

And yet, he won. The woven strips of leather, the craftsmanship, the authority of his designs were story enough, it turns out.

I’m still not sure what to think about this. Is the play of color and shape story enough? Maybe, maybe not. Listening (very part-time, I’m afraid) to Jude’s recent class, has me reviving old pieces. One side benefit to watching her create is this reconsidering of older work. IS this piece finished? Is that piece? Could something be added that would enliven it (i.e. tell a story)?

I’m quite certain that the reason making a gift for a particular person is gratifying, is because the recipient supplies the story. It’s built in. You start with this bib and that bob, and you’re off, all the while considering the person who will ultimately receive it. I know that this is an energetic matter, too, because as recently mentioned on Dana’s blog, after making a satisfying gift, I’ve tried to trick myself into thinking a subsequent piece was also a gift, to no avail.

Thoughts, please?

Geography of the heart

The midsection of this work-in-progress uses a contour map print for the central form, leading me to call this and others in the series, “geography of the heart.” The embroidered word “love” below the heart underscores the theme, but in a generic and possibly saccharine way.

I was nevertheless prepared to finish it up when I came across some spoonflower fabric that used a collage (above) that I made a while back as part of the second of two sketchbook projects.

The scrappy fella silhouetted speaks of war orphans, Spanish flu orphans and children of immigrants in New York City.

More specifically, this jaunty man-boy is a stand in for my father who grew up in Woodhaven, New York (an area sometimes claimed by Queens, sometimes Brooklyn). As a teenager he worked as a runner on Wall Street. I can imagine his wiry form, his scrawny athleticism. Eventually he earned enough to attend Pratt Institute and set himself on a path out of the boroughs and into the suburbs.

Suddenly, the idea of the heart’s geography comes alive with particularly.

‘Design is working with what you have and doing the best you can to hold it together.’ Jude Hill

One of the biggest challenges for a collage-style quilter is holding onto the feeling of the piece as you adhere the components. Things that are overlaid in the design phase may lose an element of spontaneity or positioning or something when pieced. On the other hand, if elements are simply stitched down, they may not relate well enough to each other.

Problem one: to lend more meaning to an otherwise generic notion of origins. Solved: by inserting scrappy fella.

Problem two: adding one overlay guy on the left (circled in red). The strip of spoonflower fabric under him will be seamed — just like the right-side panel. But the guy? If I appliqué him will he float too much? And if, on the other hand, I piece him in, will the narrow seam allowances be significant enough subtractions of pattern to disrupt what’s going on?

I’ve gone both ways with this over the years without having formed a real preference. This time, I think I’ll use appliqué.

[Couldn’t find my xerox copies of the sketchbook and so grabbed a few images from Flickr. The first two page spread below is shown two ways. It reads: When will they try to steal your liberty?

The bottom image shows the title page, “It’s Not About Me” — which was one of the themes offered that year.

You can see the entire sketchbook on their site. My user name is katydidart.

the joy and misery of one quilter

I like cloth, the way it smells under the heat of an iron, the way it feels in my hand, how it drapes over my lap, responds to thread. I like stitching up bits of it and then moving the components around — first this way, then that and then the reverse and perhaps back again. Removing, adding, slicing in half, saving some parts, dispensing with others. Writing does this for me too, but cloth carries a special legacy.

My mother was a seamstress extraordinaire (think: upholstered couches with contrasting piping; lined, tailored wool blazers; Austrian shades; my wedding gown, pieced from antique laces and linens). Her mother sewed and hear tell, worked for a famous milliner in New York for some years. One of my maternal great grandmothers made quilts. There is a lineage here and a reassuring one, especially since my writing veers off into more challenging territory.

At some point, a quilt emerges, but it’s inaccurate, in a way, to call it ‘finished.’ It’s more like a slice in time. The piece could’ve come to a halt sooner or I could’ve kept going. Because digital technology makes these things easy to track, I’ve learned that it’s not unusual for me to strongly prefer an earlier, vanished iteration. I don’t wring my hands about this though and never have, not only because there’s no other way I could work but because each iteration offers some new leaping off point. Really this is about accepting one’s basic circuitry.

But even so, do I wish I brought a higher level of intention to the table? Maybe, though I’m not quite sure what I mean by that.

Self-acceptance and reliable absorption aside, misery does gain entrance now and then and when it does, you can be sure it stinks with comparison-mind.

Have you noticed how consistently comparison produces misery — as in Every. Single. Time. More and more I stand witness to its corrosive bullshit and step aside allowing the sanctity of life, my unique life, to hold sway.

Comparisons, if given free reign, would gnaw my fingers off. Is my work selling? Does it evidence a voice or is it derivative, merely? If I like X’s work a lot, is there a way to internalize her process so that it becomes my process, thereby creating work I like as much as hers? And if not, how come I can’t identify my process nearly so well? Has my color sense progressed or is it stalled? What about my themes — are they moving forward or is it the same old shit every time? What do I say to charges that I’m not staying in my lane? Why do I have so much fabric? Why does Y get acclaim in the form of gallery space, instagram likes, and invites to teach — is her work that much better than mine? — and what does it say about me that on some fundamental level I don’t care enough about all that to even step into the game?

A recent post in Jude Hill’s online class reminded me that connecting with others and letting the work be about joy might be the keys to letting the chaff fall away.

Ah yes! Look at the scraps of unnecessary thought juddering away!

Editing cloth and prose

The base. Pieced. Bottom left sea green patch bugs me and presents itself as a problem to be solved.

What if I go back to my hybrid method of quilting? I used to combine piecing and appliqué in a somewhat slapdash way that embarrasses me a little now. It sent me into a purist phase — everything must be pieced! What if I now consider some of those “nice” purely pieced quilts as unfinished — or at least, as potential canvases?

How much fun to defy the lines of the seams and extend patterning in a spirit of play?

And, as always, how about adding more houses? The pinned one on the left, believe it or not, is a “discovered” house, fussy cut from a rayon blouse. The green house to the right was made by simply topping a vertical rectangle with a roof.

There are so many more pictures of Italy to share but they already feel like old news. But I will be sharing more, if you don’t mind… along with a half dozen mini book reviews. They’re piling up! Turning into homework (ugh!)

One Assisi insight (not profound at all but hear me out): when you’re not walking the dog, cleaning the house, watching two MSNBC news programs a day, cooking dinner most nights, and tending a demanding mentally and physically ill sibling, a charge whose hours of attention are preceded by dread and followed by a period of demoralized recovery — there are a lot of hours in the day! In Italy, I had soooo much time! Time to wander the streets. Time to drink Caffè machiatto at the bar with the old men. Time to light candles for my sister all over the city. Time to read and write and quilt.

(My street — San Rufino Ave).

I am watching how I vacuum and scrub and now garden (yes!) to avoid the page.

It’s a process. And I miss my sister more here than I did there, particularly (and ironically because it was a place of ongoing tension), whenever the phone rings. It rings and I think: it will never again be her.

But you’ll be happy to know that of the 200+ chapters in my manuscript (Blood and Indigo), all but a handful have received a hard edit. One of the best things I did in Italy at the advice of fellow-writing-resident– the supremely lovely, warm, insightful and generous Argentinian writer, Elena Bossi — was to chop a lot of dull descriptions of interior crap and replace them with dialogue. What a good piece of advice that was!

Maybe that was one of the reasons I was so taken with the statute of David at the Cathedral of San Rufino — the dynamism of his raised arm, about to strike! I deleted two entire chapters while I was at it. Highlight, click! Highlight, click!

And what a pleasure to come home to a world exploding with the extravagance of spring.

Fog and woods

We had a wonderfully moody day of fog a couple of days ago. This morning is crisp and clear again and even, a little hot. After a terrible night’s sleep, I set out to walk at around noon and found my way to the Bosco di San Francesco (the woods of St Francis). It was all down and then up hill, but walking on dirt not stone came as a relief as did birdsong. The clip (if it loaded) is from a drumming performance in the square. Such a thrill to stand there and have the sound enter the chest. A kind of masculine synchronized fury. Less thrilling: they wandered the streets and played until midnight (competing with the middle school hooligans). This morning I woke to the sound of recycling pick up. Imagine a truck that lifts a bin of glass and dumps it into a truck bed ten feet down, also full of glass. A crashing cascade. It sounds like the end of the world. I’m not complaining. Am I?

The door into the woods is in the middle of that long wall on the right (below).

An Assisi-inspired WIP. All hand pieced but with some areas of appliqué — what I call a hybrid approach. I got a little inventive to accommodate the design (and to work with limited scraps brought along on the trip), but also in response to having heard Jude say recently something like “technique is everything, really.”

Here are some shots of Saint Clare’s alb. Ssh! Don’t tell. Photos were prohibited there (you cannot believe what scant attention people pay to those signs, BTW). I did not use a flash.

There is some beautiful pull-work down the middle which you probably can’t see. I wondered if Clare had been a giantess, because the gown is BIG. But no, my host said the style was for cloth to pool about the feet. Perhaps, too, some length was cinched up by a simple belt.

This picture, from “The Little Flowers of Saint Clare,” tells of the time when Clare came up off her sick bed to raise the monstrance to pray for the sisters, who were defenseless to an advancing army of Saracens. She then prayed for then soldiers, too. A sweet voice came out of the object (“because of your love, I will watch over you and them always”) and the army changed course and went elsewhere.

Below is her cathedral. The alb is housed in a reliquary on the lower level. She’s buried on the level, too.

Can’t remember if I mentioned, but we attended a choral performance at St. Clare’s the first night here (below).

Blue Cross and endings

These mosaics aren’t about my sister, per se — more about clearing out her apartment. The first four pictures show how she lived. The second four, the clean up.

As of this morning, it’s done. Keys handed over. Inspection performed. Cancellation of lease signed.

There were a lot of people at the housing office. Bundled against the cold. Stacking and restacking all the papers they’d brought. Proof of this. Proof of that.

It wasn’t lost on me that to each and every one of them, my sister’s death represented a boon — a chance to move up a slot on the waiting list. My sister was on that list for eight years. Waiting. Wondering. Whenever she’d trot out her conspiracy theories, I’d push back, “Nah — we’re just waiting for someone to die.”

I’m thinking the blue cross in my new quilt piece (more of a doodle than anything) might represent aid coming from unexpected places (a blue cross being a less recognizable symbol of aid than a Red Cross). The bird and flying insects represent freedom. The underlying thought is that it’s too bad my sister had to die for me to be free. It wasn’t the route I would have chosen. And my problems didn’t set it up that way.

In other fiber news, I added an external pocket to my denim travel bag for my phone. Yeah! Also, the pennant I contributed to Mo‘s project, “I dream of a world where love is the answer” has flown home, along with tokens. In particular, I love the little white star. Thank you, Mo!

And lastly, the woman who taught the Indigo workshop I attended in 2014 down in South Carolina, Donna Hardy, posted this on Instagram this week.

I am shipping off a heavy weight cotton rectangle with a simple resist that came from Africa. It’s an honor to be part of this project, too.

PS my eyes feel 90% better already!

Scraps and surprises

What happens when you turn it sideways and you like the subtle form visible there more than the intended (and obvious) one?

And while spritzing, pulling and pinning will correct bumps on this one, it won’t turn an unhappy experiment into something worthy of my time.

That’s how it goes sometimes.

I have no recollection of taking this picture. Should I be worried? I don’t even know where this house is.

I like all the lines and recesses and the walkway coming straight at you.

What if the photo inspires the next small cloth? It might be a fun challenge to try and capture shadow, railings, and rooflines.

What if we don’t know the purpose of our lives — not out of superficial disregard for what matters but because it is unknowable? Would that change anything? Would it strip away some layer of reflection and free those thoughts for other things?

We had rain yesterday. It’s still grey and humid and blessedly quiet. After days of porch construction next door and “Carnival Week” at the camp out back, how welcome the quiet is! The whir of fans. A dripping faucet.

Hope you all are having a good weekend! Much to share about writing retreat. It was productive. Interesting. And mostly — wonderful to be out in the rolling hills of my birth (not to be too dramatic!)