Grottos, redux

Just spent a few days in Wisconsin—the first day was devoted to research and shooting photos for an upcoming Etsy story. The second day was a lovely ride on the Sparta-Elroy bike trail. On our way home, I couldn’t help but stop at a couple of grottos, even though I’d already finished my Etsy story.

The Dickeyville Grotto is the better known of the two. It’s definitely flashier and larger. It’s both religious and patriotic. But there aren’t any trees nearby and there was very odd muzak playing, which was rather disorienting. The grotto I liked best was at the site of the former home of the Paul and Matilda Wegner. When they retired, they started building grotto-like structures around their home, including a model of the ship that brought them to the United States from Germany. It was charming and their chapel, which you can apparently get married in (although I can’t imagine three people can fit inside), included elements of multiple religions…I appreciated the Wegner’s inclusivity.

The above are all Dickeyville 
These are from the Wegner site

Quilts, Burritos, and Naked Men

Just a quick note to share with you something that has left me chuckling. No, I would say it’s more like guffawing. And I figured there was no better way for you to start the day than with a similar emotion.

So I share with you Megan Dougherty’s Quilter’s Shirtless Man and Spicy Burrito calendar. The concept came to her when she decided to combine all the things she loved and her blog readers pitched in to help, with photos of…shirtless men (sometimes pants-less, too) posing with quilts and spicy burritos. It could be the perfect gift for someone you know. Especially if that person loves quilts, spicy burritos, and men. The photos are priceless. There are so many wonderfully goofy people in the world and this proves it. I love it.

Proceeds from the calendar go to Megan’s brother, who is very ill, and his family. Megan is a wonderfully hilarious writer, but she also articulately expresses the poignancy of life. I’d highly recommend a reading of her blog The Bitchy Stitcher. (She puts a warning about foul language in the blog header—if that offends you, you may want to pass. But if not, click through to that blog immediately.)

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. 

In Praise of Iowa and Iowans, Old and New

I am not a native Iowan. I lived briefly in Minnesota, spent some time in Florida, and then moved to California when I was two. Although I left the Golden State when I married, my husband and I spent a few years in Northern California, where we bought a house and sent our kids to school, and my folks still live in Southern California.

Vanessa, Jenny, and Greta at Home Ec (Codi helping a customer, at left)

Though I’ve now lived in Iowa for more than two decades, the environment of my growing-up years is firmly embedded under my skin and in my soul. In my last post I mentioned the influence of Minnesota summers, but ocean colors, the scent of rosemary and eucalyptus, and the golden light of California all show up in my quilts and the colors and artwork in my home and wardrobe. I’ve never learned to like winter, and I still think of myself as essentially a Californian.

Vanessa’s fabrics, in stores in October—these colors are a hint that she’s also a Californian 

That said, I find myself fiercely defending Iowa in general and Iowa City in particular. There is an ease to living here that makes everyday life less draining—little traffic, the ability to do errands on foot or bike, the friendliness of everyday interactions that make daily life simple. There’s also much that’s stimulating—my neighbors and friends are writers, artists, yoga instructors, professors, musicians, doctors, editors, engineers—and walking Pearl sometimes takes three times as long as it should because of the engaging conversations that take place in a simple stroll around the block. The landscape takes a little more work to appreciate—no dramatic seascapes or mountain ranges that demand immediate and obvious awe—and that’s created in me an attention to detail and calm that enriches my life.

Jenny Instagramming, Greta in motion

So when someone moves to Iowa and struggles, as I most certainly did when I arrived, I feel compelled to serve as an ambassador. I know what it feels like to be a “foreigner”—where the architecture, flora, and even the bypassers smiling and saying “hi” feel unfamiliar and unsettling. I know what it’s like to not see the beauty of Iowa.

One of Jenny’s Wiksten patterns

So it was last week when I finally managed to get together a group of new Iowans. Vanessa, Jenny, Greta, and Codi are all from elsewhere—Greta and Codi have been around for awhile, but Vanessa and Jenny have just spend their first year here. We gathered for coffee, thrifting, lunch, and conversation, bonded by a love of sewing, design, fabric, and making things.

Greta’s upcoming Marcus fabrics

We visited Codi, took photos, and fondled textiles at Home Ec, admired Greta’s first line for Marcus, anticipated Vanessa’s about-to-hit-the shelves Moda fabrics, and discussed Jenny’s current patterns and those that are in the works. We went to some great thrift shops where Vanessa and I scored a few items, and had a lunch over which we discussed marriage, publishing, children, interns, and working alone. All the while, I found myself extolling the glories of Iowa. And I was reminded that one of them is the addition of talented women like these, who like me weren’t very sure when they arrived if they’d like it, but find themselves warming to its charms.

Mad Photo Skillz

My husband’s 7th grade picture, on our workbench

Welcome to those of you who are visiting after reading my guest blogging post on the Quilt Gallery blog. Michelle was a real pleasure to work with and as a former teacher of writing, I really enjoyed the opportunity to share a few tips I’ve learned along the way. I’m planning to offer more suggestions about writing for blogs and for publication and possibly to be taking on a few online “students” in the future, so if you’re interested check back, or even better drop me a line and let me know of your interest.

At any rate, along with writing I’ve greatly enjoyed the opportunities my work presents to improve my photography. I took photo classes in high school and spent many pleasant hours breathing in horrid chemicals under a red light—okay, so that wasn’t a hightlight, but I so loved darkroom work—the magic of watching the image slowly appear in the trays of developer. I shot photos for my high school yearbook and continued through college to take and develop them. But as kids and life intervened, I switched to a point and shoot camera.

So it was with trepidation that I started shooting “serious” photos again, first for my blog, but then for Etsy stories and my Quilt County column. And now I love it. I still have much to learn, though, and one of my challenges is taking crisp, clean shots of individual items. Etsy has fantastic resources for taking great photos and there are lots of tutorials on line about photography, too. I used this one and this one when I decided to make a light box, and below are a few shots of the process.

Start with a box. This one was pretty large, and thus harder to store the finished product.

One one side, measure 2 inches in from each of the four edges of the box, marking the distance at intervals along each side.

Using a straight edge (a quilter’s ruler would work well for this), connect the dots to draw a line. Then use a box cutter to slice the cardboard away, leaving a “frame.” Do this to three of the boxes sides, leaving the back and bottom of the box uncut.

Below is what it will look like, with “frames” cut into three sides:

Next, cover the three “frames” with something white that is transparent enough to let in light. Some tutorials suggest tissue paper, but I thought this would be too easy to accidentally punch through. Most quilters have some muslin in their stash and so that’s what I used, along with duct tape to hold it tightly in place.

When you’ve covered all three “frames” it will look like this on the outside and inside:

Now, add a sheet of white paper to the back and bottom. I got some poster board. Mine wasn’t quite wide enough, but still works well for shooting small items. Then, add lights. I placed mine directly under the lamp that lights our kitchen table. It’s near a window and I hoped the natural light might be enough, but in retrospect I would add lights to either side. Again, if you’re a quilter and have an Ott light or other portable light, these would be ideal to place on the sides.

And finally, try some sample photos. While I love the white background, I think they would be made much crisper by adding side lighting (portable shop lights would work well, too).

There you have it! I’m more than a little embarrassed that I didn’t take the time to crop and enhance these photos. And I think that the scarf in the bottom photo would show off much more effectively on a live model (like this one). But you get the idea. Take the time to get creative with it—try lights on just one side, change the color of your background, etc. It will go a long way toward improving your photos!

Do you have any great tricks for shooting textile photos for your blog? What do you think of this light box? I’d love to hear from you!