Year In Review: 2014
12.31.2014. It was my year of learning about cloth. Learning. Exploring. More about process than product. A meander through books, online courses and my own imagination.
NEEDLE AND THREAD
The year began with cloth dolls: Bethiah, The Late-Night Storyteller (January); Nadita, Queen of Negativity (January); Chatelaine, The Helper (March); a couple of softy beasts for my grand-nieces (March); and then Jewel, The Magical Messenger (May). I decided along the way that making gorgeous, realistic, and technically advanced art dolls was not my destination. I like the simpler dolls, based on folk art models -- dolls that conjure the idea of saints and magicians. The final "doll" (November) was the flat pocket saint Christine -- more of a mini-quilt bookmark thingie -- but she has a very nice face, which seems to be the most important feature for me. I used her as a model to make a couple of small gifts.
I also took a turn at doll-doctoring: repairing and revitalizing Tolly, my niece Molly's old yoyo doll (April).
Quilts and Complex Cloth
QUILT: Building Blocks Quilt Along. Determined to master free-motion quilting on my machine, I signed up for this online course, dragging Jim along with me. He helped with fabric prep and pattern tracing. I made it harder on myself by stenciling designs onto the finished blocks. By spring travel time, the project derailed and I wasn't able to keep up with the weekly assignments. Long story short, in December, I did a rattail edge binding of my finished squares and gave them out as mug rugs for Christmas. Project finished! And I did learn a ton about free-motion quilting and stenciling on cloth.
QUILT: Way of the Pilgrim Quilt. When the BBQA project was moving slowly, in February, Jim and I tackled a traditional patchwork quilt, made from old wool clothes purchased at Goodwill. Jim learned to use the sewing machine and I learned to hand-quilt (using big stitches). It took us about six weeks to finish.
CLOTH DESIGN: the "Lookout" line. Just had to try my hand at designing fabric and having it printed at Spoonflower (April). Great fun! I thought I'd immediately jump in to do more, but got sidetracked...
STITCHING: Machine to Hand. During April, I signed up for two Craftsy courses with Carol Ann Waugh: Stupendous Stitching and Stitch and Slash. Didn't do much with "stitch and slash," but "stupendous stitching" helped me learn in intimate detail the decorative stitching capability of my sewing machine. Then suddenly I was done with fancy machine work. I found one of Waugh's tutorials on embroidery practice and was off and running in that direction. The result was a quirky little cloth book filled with embroidery doodles.
I was hooked on handwork.
Enter Jude Hill. Since May, I've taken seven online courses from her: Spirit Cloth 101, Sun Moon Stars, Whispering Hearts, Patchwork Beasts, Cloth to Cloth, 21st Century Rags, and Contemporary Boro #2. Her very organic style of hand-stitching small pieces and growing them into large quilts is very liberating... and very far from the traditional quilting I started the year with. I finished a couple projects using her approach: Pocket Haven and the Kitty Mom's Roses scarf. But mostly I've been experimenting... fooling around with this and that as we watch tv in the evenings. I need to begin converging on a good project or two.
COLOR! Along the way, the mad scientist in me got fascinated with dyeing cloth -- a great project for summer and the back deck. We had a blast playing with indigo. Back at Craftsy I took Jane Dunnewold's course in the Art of Cloth Dyeing, then moved right into Malka Dubrawsky's Fabric Patterning with Wax Resist. So then I was doing shibori (aka tie-dye) and batik. Next up, I played with Procion MX dyes to add some other vibrant colors to my indigo palette.
Finally, I got the bug to try dyeing with natural stuff -- like cranberries, pomegranate, onion skins, geraniums, and maple leaves. My guidance here came from the writings of India Flint. Crazy alchemy.
OVERALL, this craze for fabrics and textile fiddling has changed my habitat. Computer books have been pushed out of my studio to make way for shelves of fabrics and tools (and related books). And my files on our collectibles ("things that need doing") have been squeezed into Jim's little study. Much of our utility room has been given over to storage of dyes and dye supplies. The space around my easy chair now accomodates sewing kits and plastic boxes of cloth and thread. The sewing machine squats on the kitchen table.
After last year's push to get everything catalogued, I really haven't raised a finger to continue organizing. Of course I have pulled out all the ethnic textiles that Jim accumulated over the years -- to study and appreciate. And I've added to the textile collection by purchasing my own small collection of indigo-dyed cloth from Africa. Maybe they will find a way into one of my projects or maybe they will just continue to look pretty in their basket.
Yes, I did actually work on my next novel. Two stretches of early morning focus yielded 27,000 words. At year's end, I'm stalled but still thinking, still researching.
4 trips to St. Louis (with one of those extended to New Mexico and Colorado and another with a slow route through Kentucky), 2 trips to Florida (with hangout time in Asheville NC during one of those) -- all by car, about 9000 miles, give or take. I brought my stitching and visited quilt and folk art museums wherever we could. Nourishment for the spirit.
I'm looking at the cloth construction at the top of this page -- my last in 2014. It is handsewn. It includes my odd attraction to flowered print remnants. It includes my batik play and my hand-dyed cloth. And a sun made with a dab of SoftScrub. And some cloth weaving. And my experiment in printing photos on cloth. The photo is me -- just something I grabbed because the figure was already separated from the background. But then I think, ah, my inner child, my ancient imaginative sweetheart of a self, beaming through the decades, in the light of a sun -- which represents the universe who blessed her with intelligence and a big smile and a loving family. This is where the year's journey has brought me.
I started the year with an open-ended resolution to dive into the mystery of making-with-cloth and to celebrate my ignorance. What better way to celebrate ignorance than to soak up learning like a child?
Finally, I'm left wondering about my 2008 "manifesto": TELL STUNNING STORIES. Dial up the volume of my voice; take risks; make it impeccable. I think there are stories to be told in cloth but I'm still on the learning curve, my product not always living up to my intention. My "voice" is still a whisper, partly because I can't figure out where the risky path to being "out there" is, if I don't want to sell my wares or compete in contests. My purpose is less about "success" and more about discovery. Approving audiences are wonderful, but this is an area where I don't care to be "customer-driven." Still -- I've read this year that "art" must be defined as a communication between the artist and a group of people. I assume that should be more than my Facebook pals but... I'll have to sit with that question for now.
Many, many thanks to my indulgent and loving husband and the small circle of friends and family who egg me on.