Archive for the ‘Traditions’ 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.

Kantha show

March 15, 2010

I was hoping to see the kantha exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which they claim to be the first exhibition devoted solely to kantha outside of Asia, but not sure that trip is going to work out in my schedule.  On the website you can see several of the works in the show.  One that caught my eye was very different from the others, just rows of little circles.  The simplicity is as bold as some of the other far more complex and ornate examples.

Kantha example at Philadelphia Museum of Art

detail of center of kantha example

detail of corner of kantha example

It’s sort of sampler-like, isnt’ it?  Even if you can’t get to Philadelphia to see the show, the website has many beautiful kantha works to examine.

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

small indigo

February 14, 2010

Working on a table scarf as a gift for someone very dear.  She loved the colors and fabrics in our indigo quilt, so I’ve used the remaining cutoffs in this piece for her.  Among the ordinary print fabrics are many special ones: vintage Japanese kasuri, African adire, traditionally hand-dyed and hand-woven indigoes, and others.  But it’s pretty busy and needs to be held a little more firmly than just a dark border.  I’ve ordered a couple pieces from Japan in hopes at least one will be right for this.

Indigo table scarf detail-1

Detail of table scarf - full size is approx 2'x4'

indigo table scarf detail-2

some vintage kasuri, handwoven stripes, African adire, and some commercial indonesian batik

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.

slow return

January 26, 2010

The people writing almost all the blogs I follow seem to have recovered their rhythm after the holidays and started posting in their usual way, sometimes even more than usual.  But over here life has thrown in some kinks and I’m still trying to find my way to the work I want to do in the coming months, old projects that have just been holding in the back of my mind, and some newer ones too.  While I move slowly into that, I’ve picked up a book I started last year and didn’t finish, though I’ve wanted to.  It’s called The Craftsman by Richard Sennett, a sociologist who in this book examines what craftsmanship is and what it means to human culture, past and present.  It’s one of those kinds of books that I underline in and write notes in the margins on most of the pages.  I thought I’d bring a little of that here.  For instance, from the prologue:

“Learning from things requires us to care about the qualities of cloth or the right way to poach fish; fine cloth or food cooked well enables us to imagine larger categories of ‘good.’”   And a paragraph later: “…we can achieve a more humane material life, if only we better understand the making of things.”

Agreed.  Slow cloth and slow food.  Better life.  (And I won’t even complain about it being The Craftsman.)

The Craftsman bookcover

Story of the Mola Quilt

November 19, 2009

When I wrote about my long affection for stained linens the other day, I kept remembering my first real project using old stained fabric.  Below is the story of that quilt.

In 1992, I was trying to dream of the perfect wedding gift for my daughter and the man she was about to marry.  In wandering about the small towns along the coast of Lake Michigan, where I was staying at the time, I happened to see in a village variety store, buried deep in an old vitrine and nearly hidden by a clutter of odds and ends, a large stack of faded, stained molas.  When I asked the owner of the store about them, he said with a wave of his hand that they were his rag bag.  He meant that they were in such bad shape that no one was particularly interested in them.  The antique dealers had already picked through them for anything valuable.  I gathered as many as I could afford and left thinking I had been blessed by one of my daughter’s angels.

At home, I laid out the stack of old, worn molas on the bed, arranging and rearranging them, and finally began to piece them together for a wedding quilt.  I tried to clean them with various methods before starting to piece them because they were the rag bag after all, and they were musty and rough.  Speckled areas of mold had become permanent and part of the fabric.   Most of them had large stains, which simply would never release.  The truth is, not many people I showed the molas to were as enthusiastic about this idea for a wedding gift as I was.  Though clean now, the fabric was faded, torn, discolored, and several of the panels were very badly done to begin with, even antique dealers didn’t want them.  But I continued because the project was born of an angel.  There was something that moved me as I handled the multiple layers of the molas.  Stitching them together I kept imagining what the makers’ lives had been like.  I wondered when each mola had actually been made and worn.  I saw brown stains on some of them and thought either blood, or chocolate ice cream.  Did they have chocolate ice cream?  What were their lives like?   How did it feel to step out in the sun the first time a woman wore this particular piece?  Or this one, barely together with fat, wadded sections and long loose stitches, was it a child’s, just learning to sew?  And another, with stitches that pick up no more than two threads at a time, so perfectly even and straight in narrow labyrinthine lines of appliqué, did it belong to a matriarch who had spent long years perfecting her skill?

I thought about and imagined these stories as I sewed.  Then, I just had to make a mola myself.  When I did – a small one, only about a fourth the size of one of the Kuna pieces – it was not particularly fine work, but the next one was better, and the one after that a little better still.  I stitched these beginner’s pieces into the quilt top, adding new stories to old.  Next went in bits of fabric that had come from things belonging to my daughter, yet another story.  I embroidered words in the gaps which tried to connect the far times and places of all this different work.

For the quilting itself, I decided to use the ravines of the appliqué patterns as guides, with the idea that the back of the quilt would be a different version, or view, of the front, the quilting design a gathering of concentric geometries, a salmagundi of mazes, traced in red thread on blue fabric.  This was the first thing I ever quilted myself by hand.  I left in all the learning stitches at the center, the ones that stray nervously out of line, inelegant, but persistent.  I kept them for the story of my learning to rock a needle as fine as a hair and too short for my fingers.  They are graceless yet full of grace, these stitches, matching many that lumber eagerly across the Kuna molas on the front.

This quilt, made of so much awkwardness and lack of skill mixed right in with great experience, is now a beguiling thing to see.  And without question, it was not just me who made it so.  This was an unconsciously multicultural work.  I did not realize until well into it what was happening beneath my fingers.  The thing that really strikes me most about it now is how much character and strength are contributed by the worst-made molas in the array.  I have to admit that during the initial piecing together I considered leaving out a couple of these which, alone, are fairly sad and dreary things.  But something made me go ahead and include them.  In the end, together it all worked, and for me, the broad span of this quilt is a documentation of the differences and similarities among us all.  It’s together that we’re most impressive and beautiful.

mola quilt pieced and quilted entirely by hand over a period of 5 years

(The story of the mola quilt is excerpted from an essay I wrote titled “Fretwork: Reforming Me,” which was published in Readerly/Writerly Texts, 1996, and again in 1998 in the online journal PreText ElectraLite, now no longer available.)

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

hat dots

November 11, 2009

Beautiful hats like dots in the Asian section of the American Museum of Natural History in NYC, where we went Monday to see the amazing golden orb spider silk.


traditional central asian hats on display in the American Museum of Natural History