Time Warps

The past eight weeks have felt like some kind of time warp, and my sett is way off. For all my love of freeform stitching, I do like the fabric of my life to be firmly woven. But you know how it is with time: Events start coming in such rapid succession that you just have to embrace a looser structure. Remind me I said that next time I go nuts trying to bend time to my will.

This is one of a small handful of photos I took last week in Hancock, Michigan during the Midwest Weavers Conference. After days of rushing and always feeling a step behind, I was standing outside with a friend, waiting for a shuttle back to the dorm, when I saw the clock tower in the last light of the day. Time warps like this are meant to be savored.

Many wonderful things happened at the conference. I’ll try to post some, and the conference committee will be posting things here. But right now, Blogger is rejecting my attempts to upload photos. This must be a sign from the universe. The clock tower is all I can manage, and it’s enough.

Today is the last day of the show at Ed Gray Gallery in Calumet, Michigan, and I haven’t posted the rest of the images or stories behind work from that show. I have two hair net stories and other conference inspirations to share.

Next time. For now, I hope your time warps smell like roses instead of DeLorean exhaust.

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Drill Press Doodles & Trivet Tricks

Last week I added a couple of new elements to my surface design toolbox. These wooden “stamps” worked pretty well for printing thickened dye on fabric.

The one on the left is from a challenge I gave myself to doodle without using a writing instrument, paper or fabric. Instead, I used Bill’s drill press to “doodle” on a scrap of wood. The large holes were made with Forstner bits, the smaller ones with regular spiral drill bits. After drilling the holes, I softened the edges of the board with a wood rasp.

Here’s some fabric I printed with the Drill Press Doodle stamp.

Drill Press Doodle stamp used with thickened MX dye

I was pretty slapdash about the way I painted thickened dye onto the stamp (using a foam brush). The sodium alginate thickener built up in the large holes on the stamp, but I like the dimension it adds.

The other stamp is one of the rejects from Christmas 2009, when Bill was in charge of making most of our holiday gifts. I think that’s the year the kids all got PVC marshmallow shooters. The adults got wooden trivets with kerfs running one way on one side and the opposite direction on the flip side. I got the one that had some tear-out, supposedly for the kitchen but now it lives in the studio.

Here’s some fabric, previously clamp-resist dyed in the indigo vat, that I printed with the trivet stamp and thickened Procion MX dye.

Trivet stamp used with thickened MX dye

You can see where the tear-out was on the stamp and the thickened dye goobered. Again, as a stamp, I like it better for its imperfection.

For some reason, I forgot to photograph this fabric where I stamped some of the trivet blocks twice, with the lines rotate 90 degrees. I’m sure you get the idea. I tried to make a case for sorting that fabric out and photographing it again and telling you about it in more detail. But even I can see that for what it is: stalling.

So it’s back to work for me. I have a lecture coming up and am working with a new application to create the digital presentation slides. It’s a different kind of challenge, and I’m having fun with it. But compared to making sawdust with the drill press or slapping dye on fabric, it’s… well, I’m stalling.

Do you have a favorite stall to share? Or a technique for overcoming the urge to stall? Please, please, share it in the comments. I love reading your comments, even when I’m not stalling.

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Local Color On Washington Island

Last week was my 5-day Local Color workshop at Sievers School of Fiber Arts on Washington Island. A wonderful group of students worked hard in the studio, played hard on our field trips, and made me proud by sampling without being reminded. That’s my gang, spelling out “Washington Island” in sign language at Percy Johnson Park. As a student many years ago in a class with Jo Campbell-Amsler, I had a magical day at this beach weaving on a willow backpack, eating Lunchables, and enjoying the company of another great group of women.

This time, my class took digital photographs around the island, printed fabric, altered printed fabrics with surface design techniques and image transfers, did sun printing and solar dyeing, explored disperse dyes, and celebrated island traditions like Burger Night at Karly’s and Breakfast at Sunset. I even managed to finish a chocolate cone from the Albatross without decorating my white T-shirt with any drips (which I would have called “surface design”).

Whether I’m teaching or taking a workshop at Sievers, I always come home inspired and energized. I spent part of yesterday afternoon reflecting on the week and doing the same homework I assigned to my students, to help me clarify and prioritize what I want to explore next. I have more ideas than I have time (sound familiar?). So I have to choose which to pursue now. I’m also choosing which to pursue later, and which to pursue never. It’s strangely satisfying to say, “That’s interesting, but it’s not me” and move on.

So now it’s back to the studio and back to work. Picture me rubbing my hands together in glee. Or better yet, picture me working myself like a rented mule (my students will get the joke). I have a lot of sampling to do!

How about you? What techniques or ideas are you exploring this summer?

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On The Road To Oz

With so many ideas sprouting in my head these days, I wouldn’t be surprised to wake up and find tendrils trailing from my ears. I should have known it would be dangerous to offer Blooming Image Transfers at Bead & Button.

You see, it’s early May in northern Wisconsin. Except for a few narcissus, the only things blooming at my house right now are dandelions. And while I love the soft green of new leaves and the white of the trilliums popping out in the woods, I am craving color.

In the midst of this craving, I’m preparing materials for classes and the Meet The Teachers event at the biggest blooming bead event around. Each colorful element I prepare I like even better than the one before. I use my own digital photographs and my stock of scanned leaves and flowers to create transfers that will become jewelry. Some are realistic, some not so much. Even the Bootleg collage exercise I showed you last month is going to make a fun bracelet.

I know I should thin out the selection to make it easier for people to pick. But the riot of color on my computer and on my work table is sure putting a smile on my face. If only these flowers had fragrance.

What’s so dangerous about this, you wonder? Well, my pretties, just you remember Dorothy and the poppies on the way to Oz. I get so caught up in this field of flat flowers that I keep losing track of time. And with the hours of daylight growing longer, my sense of time is all out of whack. Supper may be late again tonight.

What kind of work makes you lose track of time?

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Slightly Frayed

Normally I try to stay on the topic of fiber art in this blog. I’ll get there eventually with this post, too. But first, here’s the situation that has my thoughts in such a tangle.

Over the weekend, my sister was in an area where flash floods and landslides left dozens dead, more injured, and many homeless. As would be expected, services like telephone and internet connections were disrupted. Let me skip the details and jump to the good news: She called and is safe. We’re grateful beyond words. At the same time, our thoughts are with the the families mourning losses.

I know many of you have been through this with loved ones in the military, in New York and Washington on 9/11, in the area of the DC sniper attacks, in the path other natural disasters, and (I hate to say it) the list goes on. I hope you won’t think I’m trivializing those situations when I say this: 

I now have a Twitter account. 

A Worldwide Web
Before I clicked “Sign Me Up,” at Twitter, I used all the resources I could think of on the worldwide web. The U.S. State Department site had a number that then connected me to the duty officer in Lisbon (very helpful). Google Maps helped me visualize where my sister’s area is in relation to reports I found via Google Searches and videos I saw on You Tube. A topical Facebook group sprang up almost immediately, and several kind people provided information. Google Translate help interpret other people’s posts and convert my own posts into Portuguese. My own Facebook friends (and friends of friends) provided their prayers, considerable good karma, and a ham radio operator.

But after hearing reports of how tweets helped broadcast information after events in Mumbai and Haiti, I didn’t see how I could not try Twitter.

Please remember that I live in a fairly remote rural area with more limited resources than are found in more populated places. Cell phone coverage here is better now, but there are still dead zones. Until last October we were on dial-up for internet service, and I had never seen Facebook or You Tube. Both my husband and I are self-employed, and the faster alternative we finally chose was a stretch for our budget. I have trouble picturing how we would manage the kind of monthly bill we see advertised with smart phone plans. And while we’ve managed a couple of test messages on our Trac Phones, texting without a full keypad seems like an exercise in character building, not communication.

So Twitter was not on my to-do list. Until this.

I signed up and started tweeting. With zero followers and no clear idea of how things were supposed to work, I asked my Facebook friends for help. They started tweeting and their friends retweeted. At one point I almost looked for Google Translate Twitter option (what do “@somebody” and “#something” mean?), but a friend posted a very helpful crib sheet for me.

By the time my sister could call us, I was following a freelancer writing in Portuguese and being followed by friends, friends of friends, some possible spammers, and the Tehran Free Press (no idea).

Oh, What A Tangle
For my sister, this story is far from over. And as I have all my life, I’m watching and learning from her: If the road is blocked, you hike to town. I have a feeling there are other lessons, less dramatic, that I’m supposed to be getting from this, too.

I haven’t forgotten how it felt to be separated from my family with limited communication options on 9/11. I haven’t forgotten how in 2007, when a tornado touched down a little over a mile from our house, how I worried that my parents would see it on the Weather Channel before I could phone to say we were OK. I’m keeping the Twitter account. It might be like grabbing an umbrella after it stops raining. Fine by me.

But how to manage one more thread? Are these signs and portents that I should be writing more, which means doing less of something else? How do I best meet the needs of my students and readers and friends and family, and still make that monthly mortgage payment? After family, what is it that I do that really makes a difference in the world?

So today, when I’m feeling slightly frayed, I’m asking you to pick up the thread and help me untangle some of these thoughts. Your comments are greatly appreciated.

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Slow Cloth

Yesterday I completed a piece for an upcoming show. It’s a quilted applique wall piece with looping as a surface embellishment. In addition to several pieces that require some finish work, I have two pieces for this show that are barely started. I have the designs sketched and the fabrics painted, and today will start stitching the first.

While I was painting fabric, I’ll admit I thought about altering my intention to make every stitch by hand. It wasn’t just the barrier of all the stuff piled around my sewing machine that stopped me. I’ve been making a conscious effort to hold to the principles I use with my students, because I know they work. And I don’t let students do work like this on the machine.

I have great respect and admiration for the skill and artistry of people who do use sewing machines. But I can’t think that fast. And since most of the work is done in my head, it’s easier to get too far ahead of my thoughts with a machine than with a needle and thread.

While stitching the piece I finished yesterday, I began to see some relationships beyond the ones I intended among the pieces for this show. I can’t wait to see what develops today.

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7 Steps To Doable

A while back I agreed to do something that’s been making me a little crazy. Yesterday I worked through a 5-step plan to help me curb some of the irrational fears taking up space in my head. Then before I headed to the studio, I spent a few minutes thinking about a doable plan for meeting this goal. For a listmaker like me, you’d think that would take more than a few minutes, right? But it’s really just seven simple steps.

  1. State The Goal. Putting it in writing makes you more likely to frame it in terms that are realistic and attainable.
  2. Define Success. You get to choose how you define success. The only rule is, your definition must be based on terms that are reasonably within your control. Set A Budget. This may be stated in terms of time or materials rather than money. You have limited resources. What are they?
  3. Channel Perfectionist Tendencies. Even if perfectionism isn’t your curse most of the time, certain situations can raise this specter in any artist. If you can’t fix it, feature it. Pick one small thing you can make perfect, and allow yourself a reasonable amount of time to make it so.
  4. Schedule Critiques. Allow a healthy amount of evaluation as you work, but defer criticism to scheduled times. Don’t let it pull your focus away from the your work the rest of the time.
  5. Make A Simple Master Plan. Make an outline that can be revised quickly as needed. Perfectionists tend to make detailed lists to allay the fear that something important might fall through the cracks. But when we make the plan too complicated, it’s actually easier to overlook those important elements. KISS.
  6. Negotiate Changes. You can’t have everything, and changes are going to cost you. If it’s worth it, fine. But decide what you’ll give up in return.

Tomorrow, I’ll share my own personal productivity plan for this project. I might have to cheat a little bit, but hey, they’re my rules so I can break them.

In the meantime, what works for you? Hit the comment button to share.

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