What I did on my summer naycation

August 18th, 2014

Show stuff: The Thief will be at IQF Houston this fall, and Flooded is making an appearance at the AQS show in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I hope there’ll soon be more show news, provided that I get my rump in gear.

Ten weeks ago, this was the scene in the morning:



This was the scene that afternoon, the last day of school:



I had all sorts of plans for the summer. I was going to be super productive and crank out a bunch of artwork. The boy and I were going to build a hovercraft, a go-kart, and a bird feeder. This is what actually got done, a “water blob” made from a water-filled sheet of plastic whose ends were fused together. It began leaking by the next morning. “Oh, let’s drain it and drape it over the bench,” I told the boy, “I’ll get out the iron and fix it later.”

It’s still on the bench.



Other than worksheets, acting and ice skating camps, and drilling the boy on math, we didn’t get too much done. We did get out a bit, though, and visited the Pez Museum in Burlingame. $4 total for a personal tour by the proprietor, who’s a super nice guy. Such a deal!



We went to the amusement park. Dear lord, did we go to the amusement park.



This milestone occurred. I suspect that deodorant and other significant events will soon be in the offing.



We celebrated Father’s Day by tying a ribbon around a box of spark plugs that happened to be laying on the dining room table. I figured it was the least I could do. Note the Mobius Strip bow on the bottom center package.



We tromped all over Lick Observatory, way up on Mount Hamilton. I may very well have set a new world record for becoming car sick on both the journey up and back, despite the fact that I was driving and was therefore theoretically in control of what occurred.



We visited the Carmel Mission Basilica, a gorgeous remnant of California’s colonial mission system.




Since Carmel is right by the ocean, we sent the boy in for a dip, which coincidentally washed off a few days worth of dirt.



I took many awful, blurry photos of cars at the Blackhawk Automotive Museum in Danville.



Here’s a sight one doesn’t see every day – these were, I think, in a shopping center in Danville. Group crapping, anyone? (To the tune of Dueling Banjos.)



We took in the water temple in Sunol, which I’d driven past for years but had never seen up close.



At some point I looked at my studio, realized that it needed cleaning, then thought better of it. It’s still a disaster. I’m trying to care.



We made our annual pilgrimage to the Adventure Playground in Berkeley, one of only a couple of adventure playgrounds left in the U.S..



A new motorcycle was acquired. (There goes the neighborhood.)


I chaperoned three days worth of Cub Scout camp, which felt like an eternity but was quite a bit less than many other parents did. I also demonstrated my capacity for bellowing, which horrified the other adults.



This summer I read an article which indicated that many people are depressed by Facebook, due to the relentlessly positive and unrealistic depictions of others’ lives. I vowed that I would offset this by showcasing some of the worst and messiest aspects of my life, so that people could feel good in comparison. My vow lasted for a couple of photos, then I forgot about it.

The dining room table still pretty much looks like this, only now it’s covered with books, Lego, and Hexbugs.



The boy and I visited the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito. He’s mostly aged out of it, but it was fun.





We walked across the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s incredibly noisy.



We took in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle exhibit at the Cartoon Art Museum in the city.




Later we visited Yerba Buena Gardens, which has this ridiculously short maze (How are you supposed to lose your child?), then tried making an animation at the Children’s Creativity Museum.



There were Cub Scout events, bowling and this water fight. It’s nice to see that the boy hasn’t lost his penchant for sticking strange objects on his head.



We headed down to Big Sur.



One of the murals in the restroom at Nepenthe.



A brief hike at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park led us to this nice waterfall overlook.



Down near San Simeon, we ran across a large group of elephant seals. From the highway, they look like giant flaccid sacks of laundry.



Hearst Castle.





A giant mucous plug of rock, which some now-dead volcano once rather rudely sneezed out.



My husband scored an awesome hotel for us, which I relished. There were gardens, deer, woodpeckers, and jays.




After the Big Sur trip, we visited a horribly overcrowded Lego show, where we nevertheless managed to do a little shopping:



I decided that since the boy is beginning to hide out in his room more, it should be arranged to look more like a lounge. This weekend we scurried around and found pillows, and I spent a day sewing covers. (I didn’t choose the color scheme!)



This was the scene this morning, as the boy headed back to school. I imagine that if anyone asks what he did this summer, he’ll say “Oh, not much.”



It’s time for me to get back to work.




June 1st, 2014

This arrived in my mailbox:



A nice surprise. One of my pieces is in the current edition of American Quilter.



Whoever handles their layout/retouching does a nice job. This is one of the most accurate reproductions of this particular quilt that I’ve seen.



Last week I bought a planer. It was on sale due to Mother’s Day or to honor deceased veterans or some such. I put a yucky, rough board through it. The planer transformed it into a satin-smooth length of wood with beautiful figure. I am in love.


So in love, in fact, that I made a cozy for the planer. I briefly considered a touch of machine embroidery, too. “Planer”. You know, in case I confuse this tool with the lathe or the drill press or the table saw, none of which it resembles in the least.

I like to keep my tools nice and clean, wipe them off after use and cover them after they cool off. I have no idea whether that makes them last longer, but it makes me happy. I don’t suppose Quilting Arts Gifts wants projects like this, “Cozies For Every Tool in the Shop”? No. I didn’t think so. There probably aren’t too many folks who work with both fiber and wood. There are probably even fewer who want their tools covered with chintz or a bold botanical print.

Actually, the real reason I made the planer cozy is that I’m going nuts with impatience. I thought I’d imitate the cool kids, you see, and have some fabric printed up at Spoonflower. I duly made a digital painting and sent it off, but didn’t pay rush fees for production or shipping. Tomorrow will mark two weeks since I sent the file off. The order’s current status reads “We estimate that this order will be shipped in the next couple of days.” I found that encouraging last Thursday or Friday. Now I’m wondering if I will see the shipment by the end of the week.

This isn’t meant as criticism of Spoonflower, by the way. Their production isn’t taking much longer than any other commercial printing I’ve ever had done. It’s just that if I’d thought about it and added up the numbers, I might have either said “You know, I should really pay a rush fee” or “2 1/2 – 3 weeks is too much of a delay before starting on this project. I’ll be better off if I just slap paint on the cloth myself.” I may very well end up doing that anyhow if the print isn’t what I expected.

Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Please may the order get here before I’m forced to make another shopping bag or a cozy for the lathe. I only have five days before school is out and I’ll have to somehow shoehorn this new project in around child care.

Making it

May 27th, 2014



Here’s the latest. It’s a filler project, the sort of thing one does while tapping one’s foot and waiting impatiently for art supplies to arrive.

A few years ago, for environmental reasons, communities in California’s Bay Area began phasing out the use of one-use plastic shopping bags. That led to my purchasing reusable polypropylene bags, many of which are now wearing out. When I get a few minutes now and then, I make sturdier replacement bags from fabric. Hopefully this is a net positive for the environment, plus it never fails to remind me how much I genuinely don’t enjoy utility sewing and can’t wait to get back to making artwork. (When will my supplies arrive?)

This bag, which I just finished, is almost entirely made of leftovers: narrow batik slivers, hideous substrate fabric, salvaged batting, old cotton bedsheets, leftover quilted strips. These are the sorts of things which anyone else would have the sense to throw out or send to a fabric recycler.

To create the bags, I first make a sort of Frankenfabric by fusing the batik slivers to substrate fabric, then make the standard sandwich from that, batting, and the sheeting. The quilting is a good opportunity to try out different stitching motifs, or so I tell myself until the process becomes annoying.


Here’s an interior shot of the bag, showing  the bedsheet lining. This lining happens to be blue. I tend to wear giant holes in the middle of our bedsheets, leaving vast swaths of fairly decent cotton around the edges of the sheets. While I’d be reluctant to use these pieces in a serious project, they can get a decent second life in shopping bags. When I’m doing some dyeing, I throw these chunks into the dye bath as well, so that I have a ready supply of hippie fabrics. You know, in case a wormhole sucks my house back to 1969.


Here are some of the quilted strips from which I form bag handles. I have many yards of these things, a result of my trimming off the edges of art quilts to square them up. They’re pretty densely stitched, so they’re fairly sturdy. After serging the raw edges of these trimmings, I color them with some old fabric paint that I’m trying to use up. That helps them give a more unified look with whatever bag I’m creating. It may also help disguise some of the filth inherent in being carried around or thrown in the back of the car.



Sometimes there are odd bits left over after one has cut out the rectangles for the bags. These make decent bookmarks, coasters, and cup cozies. I have no idea whether any of the Native Americans in the family tree chased down and ate buffalo. However, the old story about their using every part including the dung comes to mind when I’m considering these fabric tidbits.

Alright. One bag down. I hope the art supplies arrive before I’m forced to make another.


Several weeks ago, I read a Slate article on 3D printers.

3D printing is an enticing, exciting technology. Although 3D printers have been around for years, interest is ramping up. Everywhere you look, it seems that people are doing inane or amazing things with 3D printing – printing pancakes, printing dental casts, trying to print with cells so as to create human replacement organs. The temptation is strong to go build one and experiment oneself. How hard could it be?

Then I think about what I would probably do with such a device: print up a few flimsy replacement parts for broken things, then fill my house with hideous little printed sculptures. After a month or so, I’d grow bored or distracted and the printer would begin to gather dust along with the iPhone microscope, child washing station, PVC marshmallow shooter, and other things I just had to build. In the meantime, technology would continue to advance and new, more efficient, less costly printers would come to market. Such is life on the bleeding edge.


The kid wash, used here to form a low rent water slide. It totally makes sense to build a water toy in an area experiencing serious drought. See Instructables for a parts list and how-to.


Thus, I found myself nodding in sympathy with Seth Stevenson’s description of trying to print out a simple bottle opener. Oodles of expensive plastic filament wasted, jammed nozzles, plastic blobs generated, printer giving up halfway through a job. Yep. Standard stuff when the kinks are being ironed out of a developing technology. I’m sure these sorts of issues will steadily get resolved, but at the moment there just isn’t a compelling reason for me or most other consumers to run out and buy or build a 3D printer. I’m not doing a lot of whizzy product design which requires prototypes, nor am I doing medical research so that people can walk into a doctor’s office and have a new kidney printed on the spot. I’m not in a situation where the benefits of this technology outweigh the current annoyances. Besides – if I get the yen to print, the local library has a 3D printer.

I found myself nodding in sympathy, that is, until I got to this paragraph:

“Consider: Once upon a time, people purchased sewing patterns (like a program from Thingiverse) and yards of fabric (like filament) and they made their own clothes. I wasn’t alive back then, but I’m pretty sure the process sucked. It took lots of time and effort and the clothes were often amateurishly constructed. Sure, consumer sewing machines got better, and made things faster and easier and more professional looking. But nowadays, save for DIY fashion enthusiasts and grandmas with lots of time on their hands, people aren’t buying many at-home sewing machines. They’re a novelty item with little practical purpose. Most people would much rather just get their clothes from a store—already assembled by people employing industrial-level efficiency and a wide variety of materials.”

Bwaaaa? Speak for yourself, Buddy.

I’m neither a DIY fashion enthusiast nor a grandma. My sewing machine is not a “novelty item with little practical purpose.” It’s a tool, one tool in an arsenal of tools with which I create or repair. I have tools for woodworking, gardening, repairing plumbing and circuits, and so forth. I used to have automotive tools until I threw that task at my husband. (I can repair cars. I really don’t enjoy it.)

My sewing machine probably gets more use than all of the other tools combined, with the possible exception of the plunger. Perhaps Stevenson could have chosen a more accurate analogy.

Alexandra Lange, an architecture and design critic, has also written a response to this article, “3D Printers have a lot to learn from the sewing machine”. She makes several points which didn’t occur to me.

Hmph. “Novelty item with little practical purpose” my foot.

The Thief

May 20th, 2014


I’m calling this done. Its title is The Thief; it’s based on a true story.

One day when my kid was slouched on the couch devouring a hot dog, our hound snuck below him, sort of submarining beneath his legs, and started chomping the other end. Of course, when such moments occur, one usually doesn’t have a camera at hand. Even if one does have a camera ready, the lighting and composition aren’t likely to be great; life’s snapshots may be enjoyable and inspiring, but they don’t necessarily make for good source material.

Fortunately, if one has models who are mercenary, a few props, and some rudimentary ability to sketch, one can bring one’s ideas to life.



What comes next? I’m tossing around ideas and have a couple of things in process. Here’s a clue:




Sometimes it’s hard to crank up again after a long project. At such times I like to remember Chuck Close’s statement, “Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work”. Sometimes when I show up and get to work, I become enthralled with whatever I’m doing – or realize that I hate it and I’d rather be doing a different project. Either way works.

I do constantly find myself falling into making portraits or scenes. From a career standpoint, it’s kind of a shame; I don’t feel that they get as much respect as, say, abstracts or cubist-inspired works. Part of that may be due to the subject matter, which some may equate with gawdawful collectable plates with decals of large-eyed dogs, or Kincaid’s Paintings of Shite. I’ve also encountered an obnoxious (not to mention wildly inaccurate) “Oh, how nice; you took a photo and put it on a wallhanging” attitude. However, I enjoy telling stories. Most of the stories I tell are lighthearted, simply because I start to emotionally drown if things get too heavy. Too much violence and abuse witnessed and experienced. I can deal with other people’s trauma, but I can’t deal with my own.

Alright. Onward. Less than three weeks of school left, which means that I’d better get cranking. It’s great having the boy around and I wouldn’t miss it for the world, but things are naturally different. More coaching him through building catapults and drawing zombies, less slapping paint and thread on fabric. Focus and efficiency are required.

We’re almost through Hell Month, which is what I call the portion of May which includes my birthday, Mother’s Day, and our wedding anniversary. Can you imagine what a marital minefield this must be for my husband, or would be for anybody? I can barely get through choosing one present for him that isn’t lame, and that’s with holidays a month or more apart. He always dances through with great savoir-faire, though. A mango-raspberry mousse cake for my birthday, dinners out, roses, a full complement of presents for every occasion (Emerald earrings! A book on Mary Blair! Bluetooth headphones!) My sister-in-law and parents-in-law were similarly kind. It was one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had, actually, relaxed and free of angst. I am grateful.

I’ll close with this song from Gunhill Road, which has been ringing around in my brain. It’s from the era when men cultivated entire forests of hair on their bodies and my parents’ marriage was taking its last pitiful, violent wheezes.

I guess Gunhill Road made several versions, at least one of which has a less oblique reference to drugs. I like the contemplative cycle-of-life lyrics of this one, though.

Back from London

April 26th, 2014



Interior courtyard of the V&A, London

Lest I forget to mention it, here’s a website which has given me much pleasure, Collectors Weekly. From its title, I’d expect tedious articles about buying vintage cow-shaped creamers off EBay or the worth of grandma’s poodle skirt. Instead, it’s full of wonderful long form journalism about culture and design. A history of chopines, the use of government surplus tools at the Exploratorium, an analysis of Frida Kahlo’s lost wardrobe. Thanks to this website, I suddenly realized that the clattering mass of keys, ID badge and so forth worn by my son’s teacher is a modern day version of a chatelaine.

Design is on my mind. I got back from London a week or so ago. While there I made a pilgrimage to the Victoria and Albert Museum, which modestly bills itself as “The World’s Greatest Museum of Art and Design”.  I haven’t made an extensive survey, so perhaps it is; its collections are large and varied, ranging from sculpture to fashion to ironwork. I’m not a huge fan of ironwork, mind you, but it’s nice to know that if I get a yen to study it, a great collection is just a jet ride away.

I don’t talk about my formal art education much. The truth is that I had to assemble it in bits and pieces, taking art classes during the scant hours when I wasn’t making Z particles at a particle accelerator. My side pursuit wasn’t particularly well respected, so I had to do this in a desultory manner. Announcing that one had taken an art history course – one of the most marvelous classes I’ve ever taken, since it tracked the course of human history – was akin to passing gas in an elevator. Far better to stick to magnetic fields and relativistic charged particles.

At some point, for reasons I don’t quite remember, I enrolled in a graphic design program. I studied for years, only to drop out when I lost patience with my instructors. All were practicing designers here in Silicon Valley, with big name contracts. One would think that exposure to high quality design and business acumen would be a great educational advantage. However, the instructors increasingly seemed unaware of up-and-coming movements, such as 3D CGI, and they were loathe to share their business expertise. Worse yet, there was a sneering attitude toward my landing design and illustration contracts. I was supporting myself off my artwork by that time. I dropped out just short of the end, thereby depriving myself of yet another class in typography or Archaic Ways with Rubylith or whatever the heck they had in mind to torture aspiring graduates.

So there you have it, my secret shame. I have a physics degree, but I’m a design school dropout. I can never apply to organizations which require an art or design degree.

A couple of years after dropping out, I was at a gold rush era startup. I needed to outsource a design project. My mind immediately turned to a former instructor, a fellow who’d impressed me with his demeanor and design expertise. I wanted the best for the company.

I duly phoned him and mentioned the project and the company. Its name evidently didn’t ring a bell, despite the fact that it had been much in the news. I think it’s still on the top ten list for first day stock price gains. Thanks to the CEO’s ethics and business acumen, the company had strong fundamentals and some truly brilliant employees.

“I don’t do small projects,” my former instructor replied snottily. Ah. Sorry to hear that. He didn’t sound interested in the project, so I didn’t trouble him with the fact that it had a six figure budget. Perhaps that would be too small for his shop. I ended up using an agency from San Francisco, a very professional and talented group of people who bent over backward to do an excellent job.

Awhile back, I poked around to see how my former instructor was doing. Judging by the street address, his work space had downsized from nice offices in Palo Alto to a small shop run out of his house. His website was very buggy and barely functioned on a tablet. Not good, given that part of his business involved web design.

Rude to a former student, unaware of current business events, hadn’t kept up with design and technology trends. Perhaps there’s a connection between these events and his having to teach in order to supplement his income. Perhaps that was true of many of the people at that school.

As for me, I did four years at the startup, then left in a not entirely gracious manner, although I did try to protect the company’s interests. They were good people and I learned and gained a great deal there, but things went sour. Day after day after day of high stress tends to bring out the worst in people. Some people destroyed the company’s property on their way out (computers, data, lawsuits, damning press releases). Some people destroyed themselves (suicide by hanging). I left quietly one morning, after a few weeks of back-and-forth with my VP and money being dangled, then coming in around five A.M. to ensure that I’d left emergency manuals and a paper trail that someone else could follow. By eight A.M. I’d locked up paperwork, passwords and my badge and left the key for my VP.

Then I came home. I pounded the crap out of the floors in my house, chiseling out old defective oak boards and banging in new ones each time an angry thought came into my brain. It didn’t help that every time I’d go to the library or a  bookstore, I’d see work I’d done staring at me from the backs of magazines. Work I couldn’t even admit to doing, because the company would really prefer to not have it known that they’d used a rendering rather than a photo. It was emotionally similar to going through a divorce. The floors in my house took a great deal of abuse. Better that than taking it out on the company, though. These things happen. They really weren’t bad people. It was just time to go.

I have a good and easy life, thanks in part to the startup. I have a great husband and a kid. I get to stay home and work on my artwork and other projects without regard for whether they will please anyone else. Now and then I get to visit places like the V&A in London.

Reckon I can’t complain.

On projects, 3D, and stitched photos

January 25th, 2014

I keep hoping for bad weather. Bad weather would give me an excuse to huddle inside during the daylight hours, finish some art projects, maybe engage my kid in board games or Lego modeling. Alas, while the rest of North America is getting the foo walloped out of it, the weather here is consistently pleasant: clear skies, temperatures in the sixties or seventies during the daytime. That’s about to be a problem, since the record lack of rainfall here and dearth of snow in the Sierras will lead to a nasty drought. Water rationing is ahead, methinks, along with my shambling out to the garden with buckets of water salvaged from luxurious two minute showers.


I’m getting some stitching done nevertheless, although the work on the skin is tedious. I break up work/stretching cycles by listening to NPR or TED talks. Thus, the section outlined in green occurred during NPR Fresh Air’s “Klansville, U.S.A.” (37 minutes), and the section outlined in blue occurred during Luke Syson’s TED talk (13 minutes). And here I go focussing on the “how” (number of stitches, number of spools of thread used, techniques) rather than the “why” (drive behind the artwork). Perhaps the how is simply easier to talk about than the why.

While working, it occurred me that I’d really like to see a book which focussed on fiber art series, each artist showing 5-6 works in a particular series and talking about the “why”. Not a guide to working in series, not a how-to or exercise book, but rather a gallery in which people talked about their series. If someone could bribe Martha Sielman to create this book, I’d buy a copy. She’s done a wonderful job on the Art Quilt Portfolio series, as well as the Masters: Art Quilts books.

I stumbled across this the other day while cleaning my desk. Do you know what it is?


It’s an early 3D print, a functioning roller bearing. As in, it was printed out in this form with contained bearings. It was made by, I think, infusing layers of cornstarch with CA (Cyanoacrylate). Z Corporation was handing them out at SIGGRAPH, circa ’95 or ’99. (Yes, it is true. I don’t clean my desk very often.)

I remember watching their print head splutter back and forth across a bed of white powder, and realizing the possibilities. Yes, this particular roller bearing might be made of cornstarch and might not be particularly strong or operate smoothly. However, the potential was there. The potential for individuals to prototype or fabricate whatever was in their dreams.

Now, some fifteen or twenty years later, 3d printers are becoming mainstream. My local library has one. HP is muttering about making one. For a few hundred dollars, you can make one. Artists and tinkerers use them to create sculptures or Lego components. There’s talk about sending 3D printers on space missions so as to print spare parts or, for all I know, food. People have models of their fetuses printed to commemorate their pregnancies. There’s ongoing research in printing replacement organs for people, organs based on the person’s own cells. Imagine that, being able to print a new liver or kidney which wouldn’t be rejected, instead of waiting for a donation with all that that implies.


Under the category of TMI, or more than you ever wanted to know about me, here’s a 3D print commissioned by my dentist. I had some work-related stress which led to grinding and cracking my molars. That in turn led to dental visits and crowns. Even if one has a marvelous dentist, which I do (drop me an email if you’re in Silicon Valley and you want a referral), getting a crown isn’t fun. My dentist would do what he could to make it less ghastly, including plopping headphones on me so I could listen to music as he worked. However, there would still be a mouth full of nasty dental alginate while a mold was made, as well as drool. Lots and lots of drool.

Not anymore.

The last time I needed a crown, Dr. Smith got out a scanning wand. In a matter of minutes, my mouth had been scanned and a 3D computer model was made of my teeth. He sent the model off to a lab where a 3D print was made of the relevant area, then a mold to fabricate a crown. Fast, accurate, less annoying. No slobbery alginate! He even let me keep the 3D print. Any time I feel the urge to grind my teeth, I can do it with the 3D print instead of the teeth in my mouth.

That is the power of 3D printing, the power of 3D imaging period. I think that, increasingly, 3D visualization will be a good skill for people to have.


My Pinewood Derby car

It doesn’t all have to be about printing Klein bottles or fabricating parts for astronauts on their way to Mars. Here’s a Pinewood Derby car I made, which was based on a 3D model. It’s hard to get much more mundane than that!


The boy’s car

The Pinewood Derby is a race held for Cub Scouts. The boys carve cars from chunks of wood, then send these monstrosities careening madly down a track whilst hooting at each other. My son knew he wanted his car to be a coffin on wheels, but what should I make for the other car, the one to be entered in the family race?


Enter the 3D program. I made a virtual block of wood, the same size as the block issued in Pinewood Derby kits, then began messing with it. I didn’t know what I was trying to make, but I had a general idea of narrowing the body behind the front tires and tapering the front and the back. As I altered the block digitally, it dawned on me that it looked a bit like an ant! Well, why not?


After just a bit more work refining the top and side cross sections, I arrived at some drawings that I could paste on the side of the wood block, then cut out on the band saw.


Here’s the final product, which I’ve dubbed the Mandiblur. (“Mandible” from the fact it’s an ant + “blur”, a touch of optimistic hubris.) It really is quite handy to be able to visualize things before you build them.

Here’s some other work I’ve been doing, although it’s not original. These are from some (free!) video tutorials offered by Little Web Hut, the artistic equivalent of slavishly duplicating a quilt from somebody else’s pattern. I encourage anyone who has the least bit of interest in learning Blender to go check these tutorials out. The speaker has a clear, well-organized style.


Rendered view


Wireframe for comparison, to drive home the fact that this is an object and image we’ve created on the computer.



Rendered view


Wireframe for comparison

The one with the peppers amuses me. I’m not sure what the backstory is, why we’re hurling virtual peppers into a tank of virtual water, but it made for an interesting simulation. Maybe they’re dirty peppers, peppers we picked or purchased, and we happened to have an aquarium full of water standing by for just such an occasion. Yes, I think about such things. (Evidently it runs in the family, too. Last night my son asked my husband about a cartoon character, “Why is he able to shoot laser beams out of his eyes?” My husband looked at him incredulously. “Let’s get this straight. We have a cartoon character who’s a giant bearded package of french fries, and you’re asking me whether it makes sense that he can shoot laser beams out of his eyes?”)

I made these in Blender 3D, a 3D modeling and animation package which is free for the download. Some denigrate the software but, you know, it’s free and has tons of features. I’m sure its competitors such as Maya are very nice, but Maya costs a few thousand dollars. I can stay busy for quite awhile with the features in Blender.

Where I may be headed … I’ve always loved working in 3D. It’s utterly enchanting to be able to bring the worlds, the ideas in one’s head, to life. I may want to experiment with printing some renders on fabric and augmenting them with stitch. It’s a natural progression from my modus operandi of painting on fabric and stitching over the paintings. Really, though, it depends on the style of the render and whether stitching adds anything.

One obvious corollary is people printing photos on fabric and stitching over them. Alas, I’ve seen very few examples of quilted photos on fabric that I’ve cared for. There is some wonderful work out there which was informed by photography. Mardal and Hougs’ stitched fiber paintings come to mind, as do Jayne Gaskins’ and Carol Shinn’s densely stitched, photorealistic images.

Alas, many examples of stitched photography suffer from muddy hues, poor dynamic range, badly composed photos, poor image editing, and the stitch remaining a separate, jarring visual layer from the imagery. The latter is perhaps the greatest “sin” in my mind, rendering the whole exercise moot. The stitch contributes nothing. It’s as though a four-year-old shoved an 8×10 through a sewing machine: there is no unified whole.

That might not be an issue in the case of, say, making an editorial statement. For example, if one stitched horns over the forehead of a reviled politician, that would constitute a statement even if the stitch layer remained jarringly separate. By and large, though, that isn’t what’s happening.

Thus, we shall see if my experiment in printing renders on fabric then augmenting them with stitch pans out. I may very well end up with some expensive, laboriously created liners for the dog’s bed!

But is it art?

December 21st, 2013

Before I forget, happy holidays to everyone:


This is from this year’s Christmas cards. I should have aligned the text differently for the screen. It looks rather uncomfortable sitting there, left aligned but relating to nothing else on the page. But, you know, lazy. Hand me some spiked eggnog and watch me get even lazier.

I never thought I’d view cold weather as a luxury, but my perspective has changed this year. I spent the fall clambering up and down ladders, repairing and repainting the house. I was out there so long that I became notorious among the neighbors, with the lady across the street repeatedly asking “aren’t you done yet?” and a few women making pointed comments about having “a man” do something. (Because, I don’t know, maybe the dangly bits act as ballast so men aren’t as likely to fall off ladders? Surely there’s some logical reason for specifically suggesting “a man” beyond sexism?)

For their part, men would stop by on their walks and chat companionably about ladders and air compressors. “Yep, that’s a GOOD ladder you have there,” one elderly man wheezed, “My son-in-law, his ladder wasn’t good. He fell off, got hurt really bad.” They would often bring dogs along, so I got sniffed and licked by many neighborhood hounds. That was nice.

In addition to painting, I sprayed foam insulation in every crack I could find. We had rats in the attic last year. I don’t hate rats, but I don’t want them up in my attic having turf wars and extramarital sex, growing fat on Cheetohs stolen from hapless schoolchildren. I don’t enjoy the whole live trap and peanut butter toast thing, loading bewildered rats in the car and deporting them to distant fields. (Where, no doubt, they’re simply killed by hawks instead of me.) The problem is, rats are smarter than me. Darned if I could tell where they were getting in and out of the house. Although spray foam won’t stop them from getting in – in fact, they’ll snicker at me while they chew through it – maybe the evidence of chewing will tell me where they’re getting in. That would be something. I really don’t want to call an exterminator and have them killed.

There’s more to do out there but – oh dear – cold weather is here! Gosh, I just don’t feel up to shoveling or shredding when it’s thirty or forty degrees out. Nope, I’ll just have to hole up inside until the afternoon, when it warms up a bit. I’ll just have to do inside things.


Things like this, for example. Get yourself some squashed toilet paper tubes, some spray paint, a few red beads from the junk jar in the laundry room, and you’ve got a low rent wreath. Is there anything toilet paper tubes can’t do?

I glued eyelet to the individual panes of the window, too. The yellowed, 1970s-era door curtain finally got to me. It spoke of stained shag carpet, dim rooms, and people chain smoking around a 13″ TV set. It turns out that the eyelet provides a pretty good degree of privacy and lets in a gentle glow as well. If we grow to despise the eyelet, it’ll scrape right off with a razor blade.



Perler beads. Why did I think that we needed TWO LARGE CONTAINERS of fusible beads? We have an energetic male child. I’ve engaged him in craft projects. He prefers to bash things with foam swords and swing from chandeliers. In fact, one of his fantasies is that I’ll build him a zip line with a chandelier hanging off it, so he can simultaneously go down a zip line and swing from a chandelier.

Anyhow, it turns out that if you smear vegetable oil on the inside of a glass bowl, put Perler beads inside, and put the whole mess in the oven awhile, you can make yourself a flimsy, ugly bowl. It’s a far less tedious process than making anything else with these beads. It also is reminiscent of Dominic Wilcox’s War Bowls, which I covet greatly.



Perler bead Minecraft gear. I have no idea why anyone would want this stuff, but my kid was delighted with it. He spent one entire dinner whacking at a roll with the little axe, which I guess says nothing good about the level of etiquette we adhere to in this household.



iPhone microscope. This conversion stand, which includes a lens filched from a laser pointer, allows one to use a smartphone as a digital microscope. I found the instructions over on the Instructables site, courtesy of Yoshinok.

Aside from the phone, the project is incredibly cheap. All it requires is some acrylic, a few nuts and bolts, the lens from a cheap laser pointer, and a chunk of wood. Here we can see the microscope lined up to magnify a dime.



Another view of the iPhone microscope, with FDR’s metal visage onscreen. I should really find a teensy LED flashlight in case we want backlighting. You know – for that theoretical day when I manage to tear my kid away from Minecraft and bashing things with foam swords and force him to inspect the world around us.



Here are a couple of recent print appearances of my work. This one is from the latest issue of International Quilt Festival: Quilt Scene, which had a gallery of some of the work at IQF Houston. My portrait, Under the Ginkgo Tree, is on the left. Karen Eckmeier’s Random Rose Garden is on the facing page.

I appreciate being featured in the magazine. That has to be a job and a half, combing through several hundred works to decide which to show, not to mention the layout and design. It looks as though they tried to feature a wide variety of styles and techniques. I hope that’s inspiring for those who couldn’t make it to the show.



This is from Mary Kerr’s Cutting-Edge Art Quilts, which was published earlier this year. I was happy to see that she and the publisher did a wonderful job. Tasteful layout, interesting information, nice variety in terms of style and technique.

Yeah, that conservative-looking woman in the little postage stamp-sized photo is me. If I had known that photos of the artists would be required, I wouldn’t have submitted work. However, I would have missed out on being in a nice book. I won’t be offended if people who own a copy draw a mustache on my face.



Another spread, this time featuring Creepy Boy, Siesta, and Suspicion. One of my friends squinted at this photo and asked “What’s that pink hairy nipple thing in the lower righthand corner?” Well, thanks. From now on, when I see Suspicion, I’m going to think “pink hairy nipple thing” rather than “napping flamingo”.

It’s good to see Creepy Boy in print. I never submitted him to any shows because I didn’t think he’d be well received. People who see him in person usually shudder and go “ewwww!” However, it’s actually one of the pieces I’ve found most effective.



Whee! I can use a plugin to create a tree skeleton!

Meanwhile, I’m off studying Objective C and Blender 3D.  There are things I want to do.

I’ve missed doing 3D CGI. Aside from some product-related 3D work for advertising, I mostly had to put it aside during the goldrush era, when I was frolicking at one of those infamous Silicon Valley startups. Then there was the whole having-a-baby thing. That period doesn’t last forever, it’s an investment in the future, and I kind of feel one should be present to whatever degree one can. However, it sure can bring other pursuits to a screeching halt, particularly if there isn’t outside childcare.

Time marches on. Kids’ needs for intense, constant attention taper off as they continue down the long path toward independence and adulthood. There’s school, peers, outside interests. I’m now at the point of having to schedule regular outings with my kid, to ensure that the time doesn’t simply ooze by unmarked and that he has memories other than my badgering him about penmanship and multiplication tables. For the parent, it can be like a miniature version of a midlife crisis: “Wow. I have more time. Who am I? What was I doing when this all began? What do I want to do now?”

Well, I miss working in 3D. I miss making my own strange little worlds. I have no idea how or whether my 3D work will tie in with my fiber work or portraits. I’m simply tired of telling myself no. Sometimes we have to embark on a hike into the wilderness and see if it leads anywhere.

On that note, here are some things I’ve been taking on that hike, things I really appreciate:

The Blender 3D Noob to Pro Wikibook
Blender is a marvelously full-featured 3D CGI package, a free one at that. Alas, it has a notoriously quirky interface and can have a steep learning curve.

The people who put together the Noob to Pro book have made the process less hideous, though, by stepping through each feature and obscure set of key commands and providing tutorials. They don’t get paid for their work and have done this out of the goodness of their hearts. Bless them.

Matthijs Hollemans’ iOS apprentice series.
I’ve coded in a wide variety of languages. However, there’s quite a bit of distance between fixing a problem in an emergency, hacking together an ill-conceived application which may break if one sneezes at the wrong time, and writing clean, elegantly conceived code.

Amateurish tutorials and books abound, their covers festooned with claims that they’ll teach you a language “In 24 Hours!” or have you publishing your own gee-whiz apps in no time at all. Many of them contain slapdash code, bizarre variable and function names, and lousy explanations.

Hollemans’ series is far superior to these in terms of clarity of writing, helpful screenshots, and decent coding practices. It’s also saving me the annoyance of having to shower, put on clean clothes, and sit in a classroom to learn a new language.

I’m not a fan of video-based classes. That’s particularly the case if the speaker is a novice in terms of teaching, is disorganized, or is a mumbler. Give me written material and I’m far, far happier. However, CartoonSmart consistently offers a wide variety of inexpensive tutorials and kits on hot or fun topics. Want to get up to speed making giant robots in Flash or get a quick introduction to Maya? They’re a good place to start. Whenever I’m in the mood to try something new or quirky, I scan the classes at CartoonSmart.

Here’s to adventure in 2014!

IQA Silent Auction

October 28th, 2013

This piece, Paisleyfish II, is my contribution to the International Quilt Association’s silent auction, held at the International Quilt Festival this week in Houston.


It has about the same dimensions as the side of a ten gallon aquarium. My original thought was to create a piece which would give a feeling similar to having a somewhat strange aquarium at hand, without having to remember to feed the residents, clean filters, or deal with aggressive splashing from the fish.


The fish are extravagant paisley-shaped creatures, thus the name of the piece. As a child I wore some really grotesque hand-me-downs which dated from the 1960s. Some of them featured paisley; I became convinced, perhaps irrationally, that they were fish in disguise.

The contours of these paisleys are based on the Paisley and Paisley II fonts created by the House of Lime.


Here is a “No Fishing” sign, a ubiquitous kitschy touch in real life aquaria.

Although this donation piece may appear deceptively simple, between design time, painting, and stitching, it used up three months of discretionary time. While I would like to continue to use my work to help support organizations which I believe in, I probably won’t be creating quite as many donation pieces in the future. For those who’ve wanted to acquire a piece of my work and would like to support a worthwhile organization as well, this is a good opportunity.

Tell a good story.

October 15th, 2013

Oh, goodness. It’s hard to write anything these days. I got out of the habit of documenting my work when a couple of venues got touchy about one’s work being published before a show. Now it feels very similar to when one goes without speaking for a long time and one’s voice is raspy. I don’t even know what to say, much less how to say it.

These will be at PIQF this week. They’re in the Domestic Mayhem series.


Shot From a Cannon

To be “shot from a cannon” is to be rapidly propelled into a new or overwhelming situation. This is about the feeling many of us have when we become parents, that we don’t know what the heck we’re doing and that the odds are against us, yet we have to keep trying. Sometimes we even feel like our lives have become a circus act.


Here’s a closeup. Dear lord, the squalling. The stench is probably overwhelming as well; there’s a good chance at least half of those babies are crying because they need a diaper change.



The Juggler

The Juggler is about the struggle we endure to keep all aspects of our personal and professional lives aloft. Alas, sometimes even six arms aren’t enough to avoid catastrophe.

I hope these will give people pleasure at the exhibit, although perhaps there’ll be the sort of “I wouldn’t give two cents for that!” reaction I once heard about a friend’s rather wonderful work. (Before – yes, I admit it – I loudly proclaimed that I knew the artist and I thought her work was very clever.)


Projectwise, I’m emulating Martha Ginn a bit at present. She’s a good person, a fine person to emulate; lately she’s been making a series of free-form quilts based on scraps and strips. Most of us have a bag or box of these squirreled away, and it’s nice to convert them to art, a bit of joy, even a utility quilt.


Mine are batik scraps which I bought for heaven knows what reason. I’m sure I thought the reason was good at the time, but the fact is that the bag has been languishing along with the many drawers of new, unused fabric I also had to have for “good” reasons. Once upon a time I would have looked at that fabric and regarded it as precious, that no project I could do could possibly live up to it. Now my relationship with “stuff” is changing as I peer down the years, hopefully decades, to my eventual demise. It is just stuff: it should either be enjoyed and used or given to someone else who will use it. I don’t want my legacy to be drawers of dusty, rotting fabric which went to waste and have to be thrown out when I die.



Although I’d like to get back to the point of creating some art, there isn’t much of me to do it at present. I’m wrung out. I sketch and I process ideas, but I’m not up to committing to a single idea, to a project which will probably take months to execute. A casual, strip-based utility quilt is a good project for right now, though. Fall is in the air, then there’ll be winter. It’ll be good to make something saturated and cheerful for the hound and the boy to snuggle under. A strip quilt doesn’t take much mental or emotional energy. I lay out the strips, find pleasing combinations, sew, trim. May the result give someone joy and use up some of those blasted batik scraps.

It has been a summer and a fall of mental processing. I do most of my processing in my journal, writing down incidents or thoughts as they come to me.

Sometimes my husband and I discuss the notion of personal “narratives”, or stories. We humans are great storytellers. I’ll go out on a limb and say that, barring the discovery that some other creature has language and an oral storytelling tradition, it’s one of the characteristics which differentiates us from other animals. We classify, we wonder, we tell stories. We tell stories about great human themes, as we try to understand our place in the universe, and we tell stories about ourselves.

We humans have lives comprised of many series of random incidents: we were driving to the store for a gallon of milk and saw a red sports car at the corner. We needed a job, and happened to run into an old friend who knew someone who knew someone. Tuesday we went in for dental cleaning. That kind of thing. There are millions upon millions of random incidents in even one person’s life.

We pick out salient bits and construct a story around them. A narrative. “I met my future husband when we were kids; he sat behind me in Trigonometry class. He was the most handsome fellow I’d ever seen. I was besotted. Over time, we became friends and started dating. We’ve been married ten years now, and they’ve been the best years of my life.”

Narratives can be really useful. We can’t and arguably shouldn’t analyze every tiny thing that goes on in our lives, every instance of a lizard scuttling across our paths or a piece of garbage ending up in our flower bed. It’s useful to be able to say “Oh, a kid must have tossed that there” and move on.

Unfortunately, sometimes we discover that our narratives don’t match reality, that they must be adjusted. I discovered that with my family. One of my personal stories involved a family which was quirky, but generally loving and supportive. It turned out to be inaccurate. I was in denial about that fact for a long time because, I guess, I can be rather dense where people are concerned, particularly when I’m really invested in an idea.

My husband has compared narratives to scientific hypotheses. In science, one does an experiment, collects data, then sees if a theory explains the data. Sometimes there are outlying data points which one tosses out. These particular data points don’t fit the theory and there aren’t many of them; maybe they were due to errors in collecting the data, or due to some other phenomenon.

Similarly, when we’re looking at our relationships or our personal stories, there can be outlying points. A loved one is sick or is having a lousy day and says some uncharacteristically harsh things. We don’t dwell on those incidents too much; bad days happen. We toss that “data” out. When we start to see more of those types of incidents, though, or we become aware that many were there all along, we start to question our theory. That is what happened to me, becoming conscious of those outlying data points and realizing that they were the norm, not the exception.

One typical example, not to get too personal: I was visiting my “home” town with husband in tow. I didn’t go there often, maybe once every year or so. I phoned my folks to ask them to lunch. My treat. There was a place in town which had the type of food they enjoyed, a place they hadn’t visited. I hoped it would be a nice outing for them. A lunch date was set. My husband and I drove to their place outside of town to pick them up at the appointed time.

When we arrived, no one was ready to go. There weren’t any signs of life, other than the usual ragtag group of dogs sprawled in a fenced area which was perpetually caked in mud and dog feces.

Inside the house, my stepmother plotzed on the couch in polyester stretch pants, watching reruns in the perpetual dark. I’m not sure she even looked up at me when I came in. “Where’s Dad?” I asked. “Upstairs taking a nap,” she mumbled.

Things went downhill from there. Nobody was ready to go. No one was interested in going. No one was glad to see me or to have me visit, despite the fact that I’d traveled 1700 miles and hadn’t been around in ages. No one had had the politeness to say “Oh, thanks for the invitation, but we’ll pass,” when I’d called. We’d driven way the heck and gone out to the house for nothing. There wasn’t even edible food in the house, meaning we’d been deprived of lunch ourselves.

I made one last attempt, describing the restaurant and its menu. “Where is that?” my stepmother asked absently, not taking her eyes off the TV screen. I described it. “Oh, that’s that place that was shut down by the health department.” Zing. Bank shot.

This was typical of interactions with my family. This was mild, actually. Perhaps the saddest thing is that I was so dense that I truly didn’t understand what was going on, that I was being treated in a manner that went beyond casual rudeness. They could and did do and say whatever they wished and I wouldn’t protest, because I didn’t comprehend what was happening. I couldn’t understand why visits with them left me sick, feeling awful, stressed out to the point that I ground my teeth and cracked them. It wasn’t until I had a kid myself and realized that I’d never treat him in this manner that I began to understand.

My narrative was all wrong. I’d invested a lot of myself in something that was only a fantasy.

This isn’t a particularly original story, of course. This type of thing has been going on for millenia. Maybe someone else could have handled the situation with my family better. “Yeah, they’re rude as hell and basically hate my guts, but they’re my family and I want to make sure they’re okay.” I didn’t have the emotional tools. I couldn’t swat away the nastiness like an annoying malaria-carrying mosquito. Now I get to try to mentally untangle it all. Maybe it will come untangled in my artwork; maybe it won’t.

Our stories aren’t always about family issues. Some of us get invested in, say, the story of the marriage which has a few problems but is basically sound, nothing serious that can’t be worked out. We push aside signs of serious trouble because they’re frightening and we don’t want that stuff in our story. We want to believe that everything is basically fine and is going to work out. Then one day our husband sits us down on the bed and tells us about a pass he made at a woman at work, and how the situation was serious enough that he had to have his work schedule changed. “She was there and had on this little skirt. She turned around in it and asked me how she looked.” The desire for this woman is in his eyes. Everything shatters, including us, and we realize we can’t ignore the cracks. Or maybe there’s a drinking problem or an abuse problem, and we pretend to buy into the person’s story and we hide the issue from everyone – including ourselves.

It pays to be clear-eyed about the stories we tell ourselves, to check them from time to time. We tend to look for facts or circumstances which support our narratives and discard things which don’t fit. Sometimes that’s harmless or okay. Simplifying things can help us make decisions, cut to the chase. However, sometimes we throw away information that was actually important. If we get too invested in a narrative which isn’t true, as I did with my family, it’s a bad way to live. The situation can be toxic, even dangerous.

Sometimes our stories have the power to alter reality, to come true. There’s that kid, for example, that rotten teenager who can’t do anything right. He starts trying to live down to our expectations. He flunks out of school, starts climbing out the window at night and doing heaven knows what. Sex, drugs, maybe turning over Port-O-Potties. Why not? He knows he’s a bad kid. Even his stepfather has told him that he’s a troublemaker and is going to wind up in jail. Sure enough, by the time the kid turns twenty, he’s been in jail a couple of times.

Then there’s the cousin who’s a “slut” rather than a “troubled young woman who could use encouragement and guidance”. She gets pregnant again and again and again. An adult could take her aside and try to intervene, try to get her into counseling or at least send the message that she matters. An adult could ask her about her plans for the future, encourage her to finish her GED and enroll in college, volunteer to watch the baby while she’s in class.

However, nobody does much to help the girl climb out of her hole because the story is that she’s a “slut”. Nobody expects much else from her because that’s what sluts do, run around and get pregnant. It’s too much trouble to actually do anything concrete. It’s far easier to gossip about her and call her a slut.

We humans are natural storytellers. It’s a necessary, useful skill. However, we can also damage ourselves and others with our stories. We should strive to be clear-eyed about the stories we write for ourselves, and kind and compassionate about the stories we write about others.

Tell a good story.

Home again.

September 14th, 2013


Here’s Farmer Brown, back after an “exclusive three year tour of Europe, Scandinavia and the subcontinent”. (Obligatory Blues Brothers reference.)

Actually, I don’t really know where it’s been, other than off touring with Quilt National ’11. It left two or three years ago. Yesterday evening it landed back on my doorstep, borne by an exhausted FedEx driver. I was amused to see that the folks at the Dairy Barn had preserved all of my original packaging, including the pool noodle (priceless extruded polyethylene!) and giant plastic leaf/garbage bag (more costly polymers!). They are meticulous people.

My husband has always had a sentimental connection to this piece. It’s something I usually don’t relate to, at least about my own work. I see it differently, I guess, as the culmination of a drive or a set of processes which I either executed successfully or I didn’t. For now, this particular “culmination” will hang in the dining room, providing a backdrop to the Lego bricks which festoon the table and the dirty socks which eternally litter the floor. Then I’ll roll it up and put it in the Closet of Banishment. I could have put it up for sale, but sentimentality triumphed over economics. In fifteen or twenty years I’ll ask my son whether he wants it.

One chapter closes and another begins.

I’m not a big fan of accumulating UFOs (UnFinished Objects), but I seem to have a pile of them right now. Several more ideas for the Domestic Mayhem series, sketches for a new series, a partially stitched portrait, and an experiment in distorted geometry. The latter is particularly annoying because the stitching quality isn’t as I’d like. Maybe I should send it out to the garage to become an oil changing rag, or transform it into a sort of grotesque shopping bag.

I spent a month over the summer designing and starting a new piece for this fall’s IQA auction, only to realize that I couldn’t complete it according to my standards in the time allotted. I then did a panicked survey of the UFO collection and found one that was mostly complete and might be suitable; I’ll post about it another time. I noodled away at it until last weekend then shipped it off, just short of deadline.

All told, I spent about three months on this process and none on the work I’d originally planned. Since I’d given my word, I couldn’t very well back out of it. I’m not sure how other artists manage the business of donations. I don’t know if they don’t have youngish children, don’t do their own home renovations, or are simply more efficient. However, I may, regretfully, have to step away in the future. We’ll see. It’s probably a bit premature to make sweeping statements.

I need to design a new piece, a more personal piece, and I’ll be interested in hearing others’ ideas. More on that in a minute. I’ve been on a sort of mad painting frenzy, redoing the master bedroom and the exterior of the house. The latter is a painstaking process, since the last paint job was of very poor quality. There are drips and runs, peeling areas, overspray, you name it. Oh, and wasps. There’s nothing quite like the thrill of reaching up to remove a rain gutter cover and discovering a wasp nest the size of one’s fist right at eye level, covered with annoyed little buzzers. That was the day that I discovered that I can levitate.

I think I gave one of the neighbors a bit of worry. One evening I went out on a date with my husband and, since I have very low alcohol tolerance, came home utterly lit after just one margarita. That was when I had the brilliant notion of removing the wasp nest. Why not? It was nightfall, cool out, and the wasps had probably all returned to their nest. I think my husband had gone in another room or something; otherwise he surely would have stopped me.

Up the ladder I went in my little black dress, drunkenly emoting to the wasps. “I’m very sorry,” I told them, “but I’m going to have to kill you. It’s nothing personal.” I sort of dimly heard a neighbor’s sliding screen door open, but it didn’t register. It was taking all of my concentration to balance on the ladder with the can of wasp spray. “I’m so sorry,” I repeated, “but I’m going to have to kill you. I hope this will be quick and it won’t hurt much. I just can’t paint with wasps buzzing me.” I let loose with a vast toxic stream of wasp spray that cascaded over the rain gutter, then I lurched down the ladder. The neighbor’s screen door opened and closed again. I can only imagine what the person was thinking.

As for the bedroom, this summer I suddenly realized that the business of being a Woman of a Certain Age is upon me. I know this is a first world sort of problem, the sort of issue people living in mud huts would love to have. However, I really don’t want to be a Woman of a Certain Age without ever having had a proper bedroom. A bedroom with matching furniture that my husband and I selected, as opposed to a motley pile of crumbling junk, some of which I’ve had since childhood and never liked to begin with. A bedroom with a real bed with a real headboard, not a mattress and box springs thrown on a metal frame with wheels, a frame which lurches around like a roller coaster when someone gets up to use the restroom. Did I mention the headboard? Yes. A headboard, not a disgusting grease spot on the wall behind the pillows.

I admit that I have a fairly wide tacky streak, that I enjoy things like flamingos made of old car tires and taking my dog outside at night so he can watch rats scurry across the power lines. However, even I have my limits. I don’t want to reach my fifties, sixties or seventies sleeping on a sagging mattress with a grease spot behind my head. I just don’t. And if I don’t take action, some of these things won’t change.

Accordingly, this summer I began muttering about headboards and beds. Should I design my own or look for plans? What of the dresser and nightstands? Should I go price maple? Practice making mortises on scrap wood?

Did I imagine a fleeting expression of alarm on my husband’s face? He stated, in his usual diplomatic fashion, that he had no doubt that I could design or build whatever I pleased, and that it would be wonderful. However, perhaps we should at least go out and look at beds in stores to see what was out there and get some ideas. His evil scheme worked: a day or two later we’d ordered new furniture, a sort of Mission Style meets Shinto affair, much nicer than anything I would have designed or built. Bless the man.


Of course, once there’s new furniture, one has to think about other aspects of the room. Light fixtures, for example. I found the perfect table lamp for the room! It’s a blue dragonfly lamp executed in stained glass, made by Tiffany. Unfortunately, it’s in the Chrysler Museum of Art. I’ve found a number of other fixtures I like almost as well; they’re in the $50,000 range. Perhaps the business of lamps will require more thought. It would be good to find lamps which can actually, you know, be purchased or made. Something a little nicer than suspending flashlights from the ceiling with a piece of yarn, but not soaring into the five figure range.

I also want new art for over the bed. Originally I was thinking in terms of a giant wood carving. Now I’m thinking of making a new piece of fiber art, to be mounted on a stretcher frame. Something lush, lyrical and romantic. A piece evocative of Pre-Raphaelite art, Art Nouveau, or the golden age of illustration. However, not the type of thing one would see painted on the side of a 70s panel van or in a children’s nursery. We are adults. We don’t need to be eyed by dragons or teddy bears or have Humpty Dumpty leering at us as we get dressed in the morning. Of course, other than that, I have no idea of the subject matter. This is completely the reverse of the way I usually work. Maybe I should just jam some glow-in-the-dark plastic stars over the bed and call it done. After all, I still have a third of a house exterior to paint. I should focus on that and get it done before the weather turns nasty.