Thursday, August 21, 2014

Artist book by Beth Lindner

detail from artist book by Beth Lindner
A few weeks ago, Beth Lindner brought over the book she made about her mother's youth so that I could see the finished product.
I asked her if I could photograph it, perhaps share it here...and she was pleased.  I hope that you enjoy having a peek.
Beth began the book in the Art Quilting class I was teaching in 2010.  One of the techniques was photo transfer, and Beth used photos of her mother.  She had them in her possession because her youngest had needed copies for a school project.
Early on she decided to make a book of the transferred photos and give it to her mother for her birthday.  The text would be a complete poem by Anne Morrow Lindberg.
I don't think she intended it to take four years, but what a gift for her mother's recent 80th birthday.
above, one verse from Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindberg
Beth transferred the photos to fabric she had on hand - a cotton twill, and embellished them with stitches she learned in that class.  French knots.  Couching.  Cross Stitch.  Beth's talent and creativity took those humble stitches to a very personal and beautiful level.
This past spring Beth brought the pages to me for mentoring help.  I advised her on threads, taught her a new stitch (bead stitch), loaned some books, and showed some ways to put the book together.
Beth is a mother of two active boys and teaches special education in a primary school.  She has painted watercolours and acrylic paintings for most of her life.   She told me that she loves stitching, probably better than painting and is eager to begin a new fabric book.  I look forward to seeing what she does next.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Husband and Wife

Quilts more than paintings carry baggage and metaphor with them.  Think about the bed and the life passages that happen there,  birth, death, sex, cuddling, holding, sleeping, dreaming, taking care of someone.  Margaret Atwood has termed quilts flags for the bed.   What better medium to use for the subject of Husband and Wife? "  Judy Martin
The front of the quilt has been made from a single 10 meter piece of lightweight cotton fabric that was hand-dyed a rainbow of colours.   It was then cut up and stitched back together.  The long tall panels have been roughly divided into warm and cool colours.  The left panel signifies the husband, while the right panel signifies the wife.  While working on the piece the artist discovered that it was a feminist project.  She wrote in her  journal at the time that she felt "a rage against being ignored, silenced because I work in craft media.  I am a woman and my work is silenced by my gender.  The heart shape is so feminine and the colours are so vibrant.  The tall narrow shape is phallic.  the feminine heart shape is trying to fit in with those tall columns.  each heart began by encircling personal journal text that was later removed. "  
"In designing their quilts, women not only made beautiful and functional objects, but expressed their own convictions on a wide variety of subjects in a language for the most part comprehensible only to other women.  In a sense this was a 'secret language' among women."  Patricia Mainardi

The language of the quilt goes beyond passing on knowledge of quilt making skills between women, it also provides women with a space to voice their own opinions and sort out their own stories, for themselves and for each other.  As Janet Berlo argues "quilts represent a counter-discourse, a covert female language that says the unsayable in a form of silent public oratory"  Janet Berlo
 "I am a Canadian heterosexual woman living in Ontario.  I'm part of the baby boom.  I am the most ordinary specimen.  I feel like I represent hundreds of women.  I gave a lecture to a group of women on Friday and everyone cried.  All that I'm doing when I make quilts is talking about my ordinary life and how much I love it. I don't know why I seem to have a need to tell personal stories, but I'm from a generation that believes that the personal is political.  What I do is give a voice to the ordinary Chatelaine-reading woman who is trudging along . I feel that I am a feminist speaking for many women in a beautiful way that they might not be able to.  I want to be a poet for a whole generation of women."  Judy Martin
 The hand stitching of this piece is a very integral component.  as the artist says, "It shows that the work has been touched.  Each stitch takes one second.  Stitching becomes visible time; you can tell that this woman spent two hours on these six inches.  Time spent has a certain weight to it, and I haven't taken that casually."  Judy Martin

Martin is very concerned with the fact that in earlier days, women had to spend their whole lives making cloth, while in the late Victorian age stitching was just something to keep women busy and out of art school (Chadwick and Berlo) .  She sees this as debilitating but at the same time she wants to show how powerful women and their hand work can be.  These quilt objects will become heirlooms because the work that went into them will not be taken casually and will last.  Quilts are like the nurturing work that women do such as raising a family but they are visible, unlike those invisible tasks such as meal preparation and cleaning.
On the back of the quilt there is a large yoni shape.  This large female shape exemplifies the immense power that shapes can hold.  Inspired by Mark Rothko's use of both shape and size, Martin embraces the traditional large rectangle for her quilts.  Like Rothko, she believes that due to their large size, quilts speak to the viewer on a profoundly intimate and spiritual level.  When the quilt is displayed, viewers are able to stand either four feet away and be enveloped by it, as well as standing twenty five feet away and seeing it from a distance.  Both are important.  Martin wants her work to be "large enough to not only cover a bed but to be large enough to at least metaphorically, cover a family.  Using traditional size and pattern helps my work to be understood by both women and men because their grandmothers spoke this language.  It's not foreign, it goes deep into a subconscious level.  It's reassuring."  Judy Martin
Using bleach, Martin has hand-written quotes taken from a press release she found in an article that discussed the intimacy of cloth and its increasing use in fine art.  Amongst the magazine text, anecdotes of the artist's intimate sex life were also interjected into the sentences, coyly hidden by other words.
"If you can glimpse a little bit of the maker, than their spirit or soul has come through and touched you.  That's the inner thing and is why I use so much handwork.  People can feel me breathing, and then they realize that they themselves are breathing and there is a connection to their own lives.  Their inner self connects with my inner self because there is this visual language for which there are no words.  They are touched by my touching.  When they understand me and subsequently themselves, it is a direct communication.   I want to communicate to my viewer."  Judy Martin

All text in this post are from our daughter April's essay that she wrote for her McGill  university art history course in 2008.   The quotes are from phone and email interviews about a quilt I made in 2004.

All images are of the quilt, Husband and Wife, which I am gifting to her this week as she leaves to study at the graduate level at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Dyeing with plants on Manitoulin Island

Over the summer I have been harvesting and processing natural dyes from local plants.
The cloth I am using is blanket weight wool sourced from rug hooking supply houses.
As I connect with this ancient skill, I notice the abundant plants that grow wild here.   
I trust others who have made records, but this year I am not afraid to experiment.
golden rod before it flowered - just the leaves made a clear yellow
roadside willow - the leaves made  warm rusty tans
queen anne's lace, the entire plant top chopped gave me green-yellows

I have to dye in the summer.
That's when the plants are here.
Dried plants also work well if one is over whelmed with the abundance.
Above, dried St. John's wort without flowers. 
Below, blackberry vine gathered in 2012 and kept dried in a paper bag until this summer.
Beautiful cool greys come from blackberry when iron mordant is added to the bath.

Usually the aroma of these plants while they simmer is very sensuous.
Blackberry vine smells like jam, dried horsetail smells like mown hay.
Connecting with the inner workings of the natural world.
Above, some of the wool cloth I've dyed this summer.

golden rod
queen anne's lace
st. john's wort
onion saddened with iron
willow saddened with iron
golden rod saddened with iron
horse tail
(the list does not relate to the photo)
Careful to treat the plant with respect,
I only take 10-20% in any given area and leave 80-90% behind.
Continuing to learn,  I keep notes of everything I've done.

I count on advice from Rebecca Burgess, Jenny Dean, Judy McGrath, Sasha Duerr and India Flint.
Tip for today:  allow the plant matter to steep.

In the above photo:
top shelf - indigo (most left from April's wedding cloths)
middle shelf - variety of silk and wool fabrics dyed with local plants over the past two years.  
bottom shelf - the blanket weight wool that I have been dyeing this summer.
I think my colours are getting richer, don't you?
second tip:  learn to love brown and grey.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

500 Traditional Quilts

You know, when I made this quilt eleven years ago, I didn't think of it as traditional.  I thought it was art.   Art that came directly from my insides and I was thankful that I could use the firm ground of pattern handed down to me by women artists of an earlier time.  By making this red quilt and appliqueing my own hand not holding those four flying shapes I was able to express how I felt during the time my nest was emptying and my parents were aging.  It was a poem.

There is a new book coming out this September from Lark - 500 Traditional Quilts  by Karey  Patterson Breshenhan, director emeritus of the International Quilt Festival in Houston Texas. 
Two of my quilts have been selected to be in the book.
The first is Flesh and Blood (shown above).  Made in 2003 from cotton, wool and sheer polyester,   pieced with a sewing machine and then appliqued, embroidered and quilted by hand, 90" square.  The traditional pattern's name? Ocean Waves.  Click here to see Flesh and Blood on my website.

The second quilt that will be in the book is entitled Something More Magical Than It Ever Was.  It was made over twenty years ago in 1991 from recycled family clothing and new silk fabrics in a traditional Log Cabin pattern with some variation.  It's not included in this post but you can see it on the website as well, here.  That quilt was about memory and how we adjust our memories as time goes on.  I thought it was art too when I made it.  I felt that I was using a woman's art medium.
An exhibition of the 500 quilts will be in Houston this fall to celebrate the ruby anniversary of the quilt festival.  This exhibition will tour to Chicago in May 2015.  Both quilts have been invited to participate.
Flesh and Blood is in private collection but the owners loaned it back to me so it could go on exhibition. 
I do want my work to be seen.  I offered them the quilt shown above as a replacement while Flesh and Blood is on tour.

Protection Blanket, 2005, hand dyed rayon, machine pieced then hand quilted and embellished with couched rayon ribbon and sequins, 80" square.  The traditional pattern here is an Amish one, usually made with somber or deep toned fabrics.   Diamond in a Square.   (to view on website click here)
I had recently learned that in order to keep their children safe, many mothers in eastern cultures sewed shiny things onto their children's clothing to reflect the bad energy.  I sewed sequins onto the central diamond - making it into a shield that would protect the sleeper.
I drew on this quilt,  pleased to have the spaces and symbolism of traditional pattern under my intuitive gestures.    I made this piece nearly ten years ago and it is nice for me to examine the couching again.
It's fascinating.
grounded by tradition

Friday, August 01, 2014

what else can I do?

I am enjoying MY WORK.

The solitude and quiet of stitching.
The results of that.
The labour and connectedness of gathering and preparing plants for dye baths.
The surprising results  
and FUN of that.
The bliss of it 
Child's play

Even when 298 innocent civilians die in a plane.  How else to go on?

I took all the photos off my dad's bulletin board and put up one of him with us three little kids..
What else can I do?
Artists de-skilled throughout modernity.
They resisted virtuoistiy,
denied the aesthetic of privilege,
re-thought culture
because after the holocaust,
what kind of culture could just go on?
We need to create.

Humans need to nourish themselves by making.
I need to do these things.
Hand made objects show a way.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A tactile life

I am re-establishing a disciplined rhythm of work and life.
Stitching at least six hours a day, during breaks I harvest the plentiful wild plants along our road and in our property in order to process dye baths.
I visit my father.
Top: the two quilts that cover me in bed
Bottom: one of the new hand embroidered/quilted pieces in progress

"Our eyes, our ears, all of our senses are simply the indications of a veritable reality that ultimately resolves itself in our sense of touch."   Mark Rothko 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Learning about Saint John's Wort for dyeing

saint john's wort plant dyed wool skeins, indigo and muslin hand stitched patchwork on studio wall
Mid summer is the time to process wild Saint John's Wort for dye colour.  These flowers were gathered from our beach and weeded from drive way and juniper bushes. 
Hypericum perforatum.  Identified by the row of little black dots along the edges of the petal.
Jenny Dean advises that one can get four different shades on wool if just the flower heads are used.  This is my first time trying Saint John's Wort as a dye plant, and next time I will try to gather many more flower heads.  I only had about 3 oz. 

The recipe says to simmer the flowers until the dye liquid turns deep red and then strain it.  At first the liquid is a clear golden colour that looks red from above, but isn't.
It took about two hours to get the colour below and by then it was so concentrated that I had to add 3 cups of water and re-heat the strained colour to get enough liquid. 
I dyed three different pieces of wool along with skeins of about 2 oz each.  
The first one is the darker piece in the photo below.  Alum mordanted, simmered 15-20 minutes. (Jenny Dean advised that I would get a green colour).  
The middle piece of wool in photo above was UN mordanted wool, simmered one hour. (This was supposed to turn red..but didn't.  In fact, it looks greenish don't you think?).  
Finally, the pale piece was steeped overnight.  It was mordanted with alum and cream of tarter first.

Even though I did not get the promised colours this time, I am pleased to be learning more about using plants from my local area to dye fabric and threads with.  Experience is the best teacher.  
I'm still working on dyeing a good amount of blanket weight wool to create a new piece with.  Above is the onion skin dyed piece from way back in May- more than 90 inches long, 50 inches wide. 

Two books were my guide for Saint John's Wort...both by Jenny Dean.
Wild Color: revised and updated  and A Heritage of Colour: Natural Dyes Past and Present