Archive for the ‘Improvisation’ Category

day in the city

October 23, 2010

Today I saw two wonderful and completely different exhibitions in NYC.  First, at one of my favorite places, the American Folk Art Museum, the first half of an exhibit that celebrates their Year of the Quilt.  Its title, bland but informative, is: “Quilts: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum.” It’s not a huge show, but has outstanding examples of a very broad range.  Part II goes up in May 2011.

Hummingbirds Quilt

Hummingbirds Quilt, artist unidentified

African American strip quilt

African American strip quilt, by Idabell Bester

Harlequin Medallion Quilt

Harlequin Medallion Quilt, glazed wool, artist unidentified

Then I traipsed over to another favorite place, the Metropolitan Museum.  Only another week before Big Bambú closes and I had to see it.  No way to get tickets for the tour that lets you walk through the sculpture to the top (had to be there at least three hours early to wait in line), but just wandering around under it was amazing.  This was a sculpture installation on the roof of the Met that has continued to be built during the entire exhibition.  I’ll let the photos tell how that was.

Under the Big Bambú sculpture

Tangle of bamboo

One end of the Bib Bambú sculpture

This is only one end of the sculpture, taken from a part of the roof that wasn't covered with it.

Cords used to tie the bamboo

They had the colored cords they use to tie the bamboo hanging in big hanks along a piece of bamboo. Tops of Central Park trees beyond.

Hanging stone weight

A stone weight hanging in its own cage/sling of bamboo

Cord ties on steps

Cords tying the steps going up into the sculpture

NYC skyline with bamboo

Near sunset, nyc with bamboo fingers

Something that struck me about these two shows is a similarity of construction.  That is, you take one of something beautiful (a scrap of fabric, a stick of bamboo) and gather it and gather it, accumulating, assembling, letting it go where it will, but also watching what it does and guiding too, the ancient conversation between humans and material.  And besides, I just find a large accumulation of multiples irresistible.


recent pojagi

September 26, 2010

Just finished a pojagi-style piece as a gift for the generous mother of a friend.  Used lightweight linens and cottons, damask, and an open weave fabric.  I was trying for some spontaneity in this one and mostly free-cut and built the composition as I went.  Very badly photographed, however.  Ah well.  Will have to do, since the gift is already sent off.

With light through it, but the colors are not accurate; size is approx. 18"x18"

color is more accurate in this one

The "back" of the piece where I left the french seams not sewn down. Like the texture this gives.

light thru the subject

February 24, 2010

Realized as I was working that I’ve been piecing this stain quilt in a rhythm similar to the pojagi style I like.  Of course most pieced work like this will look like pojagi when held to the light.  But these are just regular seams so the effect is softer and less dramatic than the French-seam I use for pojagi (or any of the authentic Korean enclosed seams).

Fun to see in the light like this, but it will definitely be a quilt… though quilts are wrappers, too, like pojagi has traditionally been.

stain quilt in window 24feb2010

light thru stain-two pieces-24feb2010

stains gather

February 23, 2010

Not very good photos today, but some progress on the stain quilt.  And a look at my “studio” in the middle of this project.  It’s actually the dining room converted temporarily, but I have a little time right now that I can use this room only for sewing, so hoping to make lots of progress (when I’m not at the day job).

stain quilt progress 23 feb 2010

linen studio

slow stain

February 20, 2010

I’ve finally started the project I’ve wanted to do for over fifteen years.  A quilt made from stained linen.  I mentioned this in a post last November, and was encouraged by readers to get to it.  I heard you.

This is probably the slowest cloth I’ve ever engaged in.  It’s been percolating so long.  (And because there seems to be some question people have debated about what “slow cloth” means, I’ll say in this case, for me, it means not only time, but full attention to nuance of material, process, object.  I think that may be sort of what Elaine Lipson means too.)  Some years ago I had tried using a traditional cathedral windows pattern because interesting stains could be framed as a natural part of the design.  But I just never liked how that looked.  Now I’m attempting a more organic approach, and one that encompasses a broader range of human stain-making.  First, of course, there’s the story implied by stains on linens.  You could say the stains are mark-making byproducts of human narrative.  But then there is deliberate mark-making as in something intentional and expressive, the object being ‘art’ or ‘craft’.  The difference between unintentional and intentional mark-making seems small to me.  No doubt there are many who would argue with that, but I’m combining the two in this quilt because I believe human agency has a continuum of expression.  And besides, so far, I like how it looks together.  “I know what I like when I see it.”   The basis for human discernment, art or accident.

first piecing of stain quilt

The dotted-pattern piece is obviously a print, though it too is stained.  I really like the way the regularity and understatement of the dots play against the organic stains all around it.

early piecing of stain quilt, 2010

I’m including some pieces of by-product from a first bumbling attempt at walnut dyeing. And some beet-stamping without mordant that became “merely” stains after laundering.

MT initial embroidery detail, stain quilt, 2010

little damask blocks, stain quilt, 2010

These little damask blocks are approx. 1.5 to 2 inches square.

early stain quilt detail, 2010

little housetop

January 27, 2010

Last fall I continued trying to create a wallhanging for my daughter because she was inspired by a Gee’s Bend exhibit. Despite emulating with free cutting, salvaged fabric, and a favorite Gee’s Bend pattern, I could never get loose enough.  Nevertheless, I gave the result to her and she seems pleased enough.  But I’m not as pleased as I want to be myself.  I’ll probably let this effort go for awhile because of other projects, but I hope someday to give her something much stronger and more fluent.

Anyway, I titled it “Fall Homage to Housetop,” and subtitled it “getting over the fear of corduroy.”  Two different flea market cords combined with old shirts and some Fassett cottons. The cords were the real risk for me because using something too easy like that always felt a little like velvet paintings.  But just having the corduroy was enough for the Gee’s Bend women to turn out glorious quilts using it. And in fact in this little piece I don’t dislike it and will probably use it more.  Well, that’s a kind of progress I guess.

The color and surface texture turned out to be hard to photograph.  These from different cameras and different light, none precisely correct.

accidental dye

November 14, 2009

For over fifteen years I’ve wanted to make a quilt from just the stains in old linens.  Haven’t gotten beyond a couple test pieces, but I’ve been collecting examples all along.  The stains are a kind of ‘natural dye’ that has story behind it.  Something spills while I’m paying more attention to what you’re saying across the table, or while that young man is flirting with the new visitor.  Or the old gentleman who insists on pouring the wine though he has trouble seeing whether the bottle is over the glass.  Also, I always wonder what goes though the mind of the host when the spill happens.  Dismay?  Who-cares,-we’re-having-fun? It’s so generous, isn’t it, to invite people to mess up your stuff?  But what if it’s not really messed up?

I love how the perfect circle is right over the flower in the damask weave.


a beautiful stain peeks through a hole in the cloth

Equally beautiful, and often found on the same cloth, are repairs like boro.



I like the juxtaposition of this repair next to a round element in the damask.


a long stain pointing at a half moon hem repair

Light and dark

November 7, 2009

On a recent visit to the coast of Maine, I kept seeing quilts in the landscape.  Especially Mary Lee Bendolph’s work, who my daughter was so taken with.

Maine coast rocks, with finger

Quilt by Mary Lee Bendolph, Gee's Bend artist

Quilt by Mary Lee Bendolph, Gee's Bend artist

Mary Lee Bendolph2

Quilt by Mary Lee Bendolph, Gee's Bend artist


November 1, 2009

In attempting a response to my daughter’s wish for a wallhanging piece, I’ve been trying to accept that I’ve probably been too rigid in the whole “quilts are not wall art” notion, plunged in, and started a couple small works.  The first thing I see is that working smaller, after so long refusing to, is a serious shift in scale.  Sort of like the first time I tried to cook a meal as a new young wife, oh so long ago.  Coming from a large family, I made my husband and I enough food to feed eight people. It took a few more tries to learn to bring it down to a dinner for two.

So this first try at a small-scale quilt wallhanging feels awkward, but I do now want to do some others because they feel so much like sketches.  I need to loosen up.


29"x32" - fabrics include old shirts, fassett shot cotton. Darkest color is deep wine.


Center medallion composed of cutoffs from a summer spread that was made with french seams using wide, pleat-like flaps.

bookmark sketches

October 22, 2009

An exercise I’ve turned back to again and again over the last couple years is one that begins with almost nothing and builds.  This originally started with trying to see whether very narrow cut offs and selvages could be sewn together in any way.  Playing around.  I liked the way it looked, tried some more and soon had several ribbony strips that looked like bookmarks.  They work well for that too. Have given a bunch away, but continue making them for myself.  They are like sketches, quick and gestural.  Or collages.  Or boro.  Little compositions, very improvisational.


these are between 1.5" and 2" wide



between 1.75" and 2" wide


just under 2" wide