Sleepless Nights

Last night I went to bed late. I’d gotten up early and been at physical therapy (bunged my knee) at 7:40 a.m. I’d done an hour-and-a-half phone interview, written a bit, then worked at Home Ec for five hours, most of that spent on my feet. I knocked off a little early, at 7 p.m., so I could attend a knitting class to learn to knit Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Baby Surprise Jacket.

I’ve been knitting a lot this winter, and most of it has been pretty basic. I did do a lace knit hat, which was new to me, but otherwise nothing required a lot of attention. Which is just how I like it—I love knitting while watching TV or on a car or plane trip. But this jacket was so adorable and I decided I was up for the challenge.

Our teacher, Greg, is an incredible knitter and has knitted at least 30 of these jackets. Once the knitted piece is folded and sewn, it’s an adorable and completely recognizable sweater. But before being stitched up it looks, as a member of the class said, like some kind of weird woodland fungus. Just getting my mind around how it would work out was a challenge. And then Greg said we’d be happiest if we did a provisional cast on. It took me about half the class to figure out how to make my fingers accomplish that, and another bunch of time to count the darned wonky stitches. And then there are the knitting acronyms I wasn’t familiar with, and the fact that they could be done multiple ways for different effects (three methods for a double decrease).

White shape is the knitted shape before folding and stitching together: finished, striped sweater at the bottom

I decided to come home immediately and knit a bunch of rows so I wouldn’t forget what we were supposed to do. So I sat up until nearly 11 and lo and behold, I seemed to be doing it right. It took a lot of concentration, but I had it!

Then I went to bed and tossed and turned for nearly two hours. The only thing I can imagine that kept me up was the sheer stimulation of learning all that stuff. My brain hurt. I was so excited about what I did that I didn’t think I could do (provisional casting on—too hard!) and those double decreases via a second method. Turns out that just like they say about exercising or using your computer too close to bedtime, crafting late doesn’t make for much shut eye. Years ago I interviewed Heather Bailey and I remember her telling me that she couldn’t think about fabric designs too late at night or design ideas would flash through her head like a slide show, one after the other. No doubt about it: creating is exciting.

Color and Texture: Spain

Walkway in Ronda

I had the great good fortune of accompanying my husband to a meeting in Southern Spain last week. We spent nine days visiting Malaga, Seville, Granada, and Ronda (part of that was meeting-time, of course, but I didn’t have to go to the meeting). The opportunity to go on these trips reminds me of what’s good about freelancing and a flexible schedule…

Dresses in the Paul Nunez shop in Seville

The Moorish influence in this region (Andalusia) meant lots of beautiful tile work that I knew would remind me of quilts. What I didn’t know was that the streets and sidewalks would all be beautifully patterned with rocks. Seriously, I don’t think I walked on a solid surface the entire time.

Sidewalk in Nerja

 The other thing we didn’t know was that it was Holy Week, or Semana Santa. The frightening-looking costumes belong not to a race-based organization, but are Nazarenes. The other stunning thing were the floats featuring life-sized, wood-carved Biblical scenes decorated with incredible silver and embroidered textiles, that were carried through the streets, sometimes for hours. The young man below is one of those carrying a float.

Hope you enjoy these!

Float carrier takes a break during a procession in Malaga
Nazarenes in Malaga procession
Nazarenes in Malaga procession
Float of the Virgin Mary being carried through the streets in Malaga
Malaga float detail
Will it rain? Float carrier in Malaga wonders
Nazarenes in Granada
Detail from the Alhambra in Granada
Arches in the Alhambra in Granada
View through the Ronda city walls
Granada windows
Shawl shop in Seville
Traditional Spanish dresses in Seville shop
Shawl detail: hand embroidered
Sevilla detail 
Sidewalk in Seville
Floor in Seville
Seville garden
Seville tile

Textiles Influence Painter Chuck Close

Phil (2011-12) by Chuck Close: work and detail

If you’ve spent any time at art museums, you’ve undoubtedly seen the work of Chuck Close. I’m always taken aback when I round a corner and see one of his early, photo-realistic faces staring down at me—they’re huge (his 1968 Big Self Portrait (below), which I first saw at the Walker Art Museum when I was in college, is nearly 9’x7′).

So yesterday I was reading Spark: How Creativity Works by Julie Burstein, when I came upon a chapter about Chuck Close and his creative process (I am loving this book, by the way—based on the Studio 360 radio show, which despite being an avid NPR listener I’ve never heard). Close talks about the way that, because he is learning disabled, he has always created his paintings with a grid. Early on, it served to break the huge portraits into manageable chunks and for many years he would erase the grid (like he did in Big Self Portrait). But eventually he incorporated it into his work. Over time, the photorealism of his images—which had been created with tiny, tiny dots and brushstrokes—gave way to a more expressive way of painting, in which the faces in his paintings are evident if you stand way back, but up close they’re hard to see. And lo and behold, he credits the textile arts as an influence.

Chuck Close, Self-Portrait II, 2001

“I know that one of the important primal experiences for me as a child was watching my grandmother knit and crochet and make quilts and afghans and things like that, which look a lot like my work today. She would crochet pieces and put them together to make even bigger pieces. A lot of what I do has a lot to do with what was called women’s work—a process that you sign on to and you keep working at it until you get something. I think it has a lot to do with construction, and I try to build a painting rather than paint it.”

Agnes, 1998

Of course, if you look at Close’s work it’s easy to see this, but it somehow hadn’t crossed my mind. I got mighty excited knowing that Close’s commanding works have their roots in his grandmother’s tiny stitches, proof that however simple or mundane your work might seem, you never know the influence it can have.

Resolved: To Share the Holiday Glow

The month before Christmas had more than its fair share of deadlines, and Pearl the Squirrel suffered serious neglect. My Thanksgiving knitting frenzy came to an end and I spent most of my days trying to keep up with the work, while still enjoying a bit of the holidays. I did manage to see friends and host some holiday get togethers including a craft party, birthday gathering for two Scrabble friends, and a knitting night with rowing buddies. I remind myself when things are especially crazy that in a year I won’t remember how nuts I felt, but I will remember having my friends come by for food and fun.

The culminating event to all this was our family’s Christmas in Oaxaca. After our trip there last February, we decided it would be an interesting place to spend the holidays. The time crunch became even crazier as we had to leave one day early due to an airline screw-up, and then another day earlier to foil an incoming blizzard.

Thankfully all four of us managed to arrive in Oaxaca from three different parts of the country and the subsequent days were incredible—the perfect mix of sightseeing, eating and drinking, walking through town, meeting wonderful folks, and never ceasing to be surprised by the brass band or fireworks or choir concert that seemed to be taking place around every corner. (There was also an amazing line-up of brides at every church—getting married around Christmas seems highly desirable.)

We spent an especially wonderful day at Seasons of My Heart cooking school, which included a tour of the Etla Market in the morning and the opportunity to make (among other things) mole and cook on a outdoor comal in the afternoon.

And we met other wonderful tourists, as well as enjoying time with Luis, our fantastic driver and guide, and spending a bit of time with alebrije-carvers Saul and Alma Arragon.

The colors and sun of Mexico never fail to make me feel like a new woman this time of year and I feel so fortunate to have traveled there. I hope you, too, enjoyed the holidays, wherever they found you, and are feeling refreshed and ready to take on 2013.

Yarn Bombing in Iowa

 Sunday was the culmination of a several-month event spearheaded by the Downtown Association in Iowa City. The idea was to organize a yarn bombing of downtown trees as a public art project and way to involve the community.

It was a whopping success—the first 97 trees were quickly snapped up by knitting volunteers, and Home Ec Workshop, which coordinated the yarn kits, pulled together more tree measurements and yarn with the help of other downtown businesses. The assignment was to knit a five-foot piece from the “approved” yarns (purchased by the Downtown Assn. and an anonymous donor). I misunderstood and thought I needed to try and get my yarn to go as far as it could, so I opted for simple stockinette and some stripes, but boy, oh, boy, was my tree plain compared to many. There were cables and bobbles and embroidery and myriad stitches and imagery knitting in—a spider, hearts, leaves. The results are amazing and here are a few of them.

Monica Lee’s Smart Creative Women

Just a quick post to let you know about a web TV show worth watching. It’s Monica Lee’s Smart Creative Women. I met Monica at Quilt Market a year ago, after I’d attended her Schoolhouse session on social media marketing. It was one of the most useful sessions I’d been to and when I saw her on the Market floor I stopped to let her know.

Turns out Monica is delightful to chat with and you can see that when you watch her show—she’s funny, loves to laugh, and is truly herself. I first watched the show when UPPERCASE‘s Janine VanGool was a guest and have since found myself regularly tuning back in. Most recently I turned on my computer, got out my knitting, and watched her two-part interview with Amy Butler. There was a lot of honesty and interesting stuff going on between Monica and Amy in those sessions. Monica’s enthusiasm seems to bring out the humanity of her interviewees, even those I think of as industry icons (she gets amazing guests—I especially loved the Jenny Doh session). So check out Smart Creative Women! (I’m not getting anything for saying this—Monica doesn’t know I’ve posted it. I just think it’s a worthwhile, inspiring, and refreshing show and you might think so too.)

Time to Sew

Just returned from Lake Tahoe, site of a retreat I’ve attended the last few years (here, here, and here). I’ve so enjoyed getting to know and learn from the women in the group. While it feels more than a little indulgent to travel across the country (with 49 pounds of fabric in a check-on bag and my Featherweight in a carry-on), the opportunity to get input and insight on technique, color, scale, block placement, etc. is invaluable.

This group is super-experienced and there are both teachers and students who have attended many workshops with a variety of instructors (everyone has taken a class from Mary Lou Weidman, who was also in attendance) and I learn so much from them each time. The sad truth of my life is that while I get to talk with and write about passionate stitchers, I don’t have much time for my own sewing these days. So the time to just focus and sew, surrounded by friends who would stop what they were doing to provide suggestions and commentary (when asked for, of course) was fantastic. It was also a little bittersweet, as Lynn passed away this summer and her ready laugh and talents were greatly missed. But we were blessed to have De and Sue back with us, along with Sue’s niece Linda. They’d been in a terrible car accident just before last year’s retreat and their return marked a year of recovery. They were both stitching up a storm.

Strips cut in preparation for my hexagon quilt

So here are some photos of the week. There are so many that I’ll spread them out over two posts.

I leave tomorrow for Quilt Market, so expect some posts about that very soon, too!

Debby’s quilts, inspired by a Gwen Marston workshop

Kathy’s finished story quilt about her dogs, who bark at the Blimp!

Linda’s completed quilt
Mel‘s witch blocks surround a haunted house she based on her son’s drawing. Note her flying geese/witch hat border and the name quilt—she stitched one for each of us!
Yes, we saw a bear, although if Debby hadn’t shouted “Look!” we probably would have missed it as our heads were all bent over our sewing machines.

Art Quilts of the Midwest

Friday was an exciting day. I finally sent out numerous Calls for Entry for my upcoming book, which has been in the talking and planning stages for over a year. The working title is Art Quilts of the Midwest and I’ll be working with the University of Iowa Press.

I’m very excited that visual artists Mary Merkel-Hess and Emily Martin will be jurying submissions with me and art quilter Astrid Bennett will be writing the foreword.

If you or anyone you know might be interested, below is a brief description of eligibility and how to submit work for consideration. All this information and more can be found on the UI Press home page. Once you’re there, click the quilt block button (same image as the block on this post) on the left side of the page. Feel free to email me if you have any questions.

An adventure begins!

•Seeking submissions from Midwestern art quilters with an emphasis on quilts whose creation was inspired by life in the Midwest. Quilters are free to define aspects of “Midwesterness,” be they physical, environmental, emotional, etc., which affect their work. Artists must reside in the Midwest, defined for this book as Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. Submit up to three quilts, original work completed after 1/1/09. Book to be published in print and digital editions. 

Quilt Market round-up

Quilt Market was a real joy, for many reasons, and its location in Kansas City was certainly one of them. My traveling companions and I loved the old buildings with intricate stone and metal work, as well as the new public art interspersed amongst them.

Jacquie Gering of Tallgrass Prairie Studios signs her new book. Such a treat to finally meet Jacquie in person!

Former architect Carolyn Friedlander & her amazing quilt

Market also was a pleasure because I got to see so many old friends, as well as meet face-to-face some of the people I’ve had an email relationship with this year. And my traveling companions, Codi of Home Ec and Greta, a new designer for Marcus fabrics, were delightful, as well.

So here are a few random photos of KC and QM. I’ll post a few more next time around.

Detail of Carolyn Friedlander’s quilt
Love Cluck, Cluck, Sew’s crisp patterns in clear colors

So great to meet Vanessa Christenson in person. She’s showing off her gorgeous new fabric, Simply Color
Denyse Schmidt shares quilts from her new book at Schoolhouse
Tiles in a KC park
Anna Maria Horner talks about her new fabric, inspired by birds’ migration routes & a moth infestation
Weeks Ringle surrounded by modern quilts that use unexpected fabrics
Weeks’ and Bill’s quilt mixes David Butler and Jo Morton fabrics

End of an Era

I’ve talked previously about my inability to focus solely one “craft” and the way that I get so excited about new classes where I might try something out. I don’t think it’s necessarily a negative thing, but the downside of it is that I wind up with materials and supplies that aren’t getting used.

For two decades before I called myself a quilter, I was a weaver and spinner. A few years ago I finally sold my loom, but mounds of yarn remained. It took my neighbor Pam, who wanted to check my weaving yarn stash, to help me get brave enough and organized enough to finally sell it and a couple weekends ago we had a killer yarn sale. We sorted wool from cotton from silk and priced things at less than half the going retail rate. Pam told her weaving guild about the sale, I mentioned it at our quilt guild meeting, and Paul posted signs around the neighborhood. The weather was unseasonably lovely for a March morning, and we sat out in the driveway surrounded by tables of yarn sorted by color.

Though we were quite amused by a few of the people who read the “yarn sale” signs as “yard sale,” and stopped dead in their tracks when the saw the tables full of wool, mohair, cotton, and silk, the best part was how happy people were with their purchases. Any textile aficionado can relate to the thrill of getting a steal-of-a-deal on new materials, and I loved when people told me what they planned to make, or the way something would combine perfectly with their stash at home.

Despite having sold pounds and pounds of yarn, I was left with quite a bit at the end of the morning. I put an ad on Craigslist that night—$100 takes all. By the time I got home from dinner at 10 pm I had a taker, and she arrived the next day to pick it all up and take it home to her daughters, who were just learning to weave and knit. She sent me an email that evening, letting me know that one daughter was knitting, the other finger-knitting, and they were all dreaming of what they’d do with the rest. It was so hard to admit that it was time to let the yarn go and so it was especially lovely to know that what sat on my studio shelves for years was inspiring others to create.

How about you? Have you ever admitted it was the “end of an era” and divested yourself of supplies? Did you miss them? Or was it a good thing?