Archive for 2010

Hyperbole is not dead

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

Work in progress

Well, here it isn’t. That is, here’s a tiny portion of my current work in progress, not the whole thing. I’m currently sewing a binding around the piece, a tedious process which involves stabbing my finger with the needle, biting back oaths, then checking to see if I’ve bled on the fabric. Occasionally I manage to attach a few inches of binding without all of that, but that’s the routine more often than not.

Once the binding is on, it’ll be time for the scowling: I hang the piece on the wall and frown at it a lot, occasionally making infinitesimal corrections with ink. I grimace at the piece from different angles and distances. Sometimes I deliberately walk away from it then spin around, hoping to catch it at something. (I’m not sure what.)

So that my husband won’t feel neglected, I involve him in the scowling process as well. I ask him questions like “Maybe the stripes are too prominent?” or “Was adding the five spools of lighter thread a mistake?” Of course, these sorts of queries are close philosophical relatives to questions like “Would I look better if lost 50 pounds?” No good is going to come of honest answers and he knows it. He has thus developed a politician’s sense of evasiveness, save those times when I can ambush him when he’s tired and distracted.

Alas, the sort of dense, irregular stitching I do tends to be accompanied by pronounced distortion. If the subject matter was a topo map of volcanos or mountains, that might be okay. However, I kind of like my 2D work to lay flat. Call me stodgy.

Now, about the time I was ready to flatten this particular piece, my vintage relic of an iron finally crapped out. The fallback had been my husband’s Bachelor Iron, until I learned that it spits out wads of toxic goo which eat through fabric. I briefly considered attaching the four sides of the piece to four elephants (or maybe mules; they’re easier to find) and encouraging them to stampede, so as to stretch said work flat. However, upon reflection, steaming seemed a more practical alternative. There was only one problem: I didn’t have a reliable iron or steamer.

Given that it had been years since my previous iron purchase, it seemed wise to put a little thought into the matter. The previous iron saw the rise and decline of the space shuttle and reality TV shows. Computers came of age, not only becoming incredibly swift but amazingly tiny. Perhaps the humble household iron had made similar technological leaps! Might there be irons which would analyze the fiber content of my cloth and adjust themselves to the appropriate temperature? Off-the-grid irons armed with solar panels or miniature nuclear reactors? There was only one way to find out: read reviews.

Here are some of the models which caught my eye.


Reliable Professional 9 Liter Stainless Steel Steam Boiler Ironing System with two irons – Oh yeah! TWO IRONS! That’s one for each hand! Life doesn’t get any better. Also, it isn’t just an iron; it’s an ironing system with a boiler!


Reliable Rectangular Pressing table with Double Cast Arms and Heated Sleeve and Utility Bucks – Isn’t this beautiful? I swear, it would look right at home in my garage next to the lathe and the drill press. The product description says this has a 3/4 h.p. vacuum and up-air motor. With this, maybe I wouldn’t need to have a shop vac and an air filtration system.


The Miele B890E, priced to move at $2,000, creates so much heat and pressure that fibers are converted to strings of tiny diamonds. Includes futuristic jumpsuit, space age stool, and air car.


LauraStar Magic S4 Steam Generator Iron with Vacuum and blower ironing board –
This sort of thing would normally require its own power plant. However, this one runs on magic. It even has the word Magic in the name.


The Laurastar Steamup i-G5 Portable Steam Generating Iron – Is that a coffee maker or maybe an espresso machine on the side? Sweet. Iron and get your caffeine buzz at the same time!


Reliable IronMaven Iron Steam Station – Gahhh!!! What is that iron doing to that tea kettle? Never mind. Don’t tell me. I’m not old enough to know. The name is so very cool, though. IronMaven. It begs to have flames painted on the sides.


220 Volt Braun Iron Freestyle – Great when you don’t want to have your ironing pattern to be proscribed. You can iron in any direction you like with this baby.


220 Volt Delonghi Steam Generator 2200 Watt – The product description says this steam generator (not to be confused with an ironing device) won’t work in the United States. That means it must be super awesome.

Euro-Pro Shark GI490 Professional Series Intelligent Electronic Iron – Sure; that makes sense. Who wants a dumb iron when they can have an intelligent one?


The fun didn’t end with the product descriptions; there were user reviews to be gotten through as well. Granted, most of them were dull. Dull, dull, dull. Some irons leak. Some don’t. Some steamers come with separate tanks and shoot out steam. Some don’t. Some work vertically. Some don’t. You get the idea. However, despite the relatively uninspiring subject matter, a few people got exercised about their irons and posted passionate soliloquies:


“It is truly a different beast than anything I’ve ever used! What steam production!!!”

It’s so delightful when a person enters into a rewarding relationship, even when the other party is just an iron.


“After deciding I wasn’t ready for a presser or a mangle for my clothing, and knowing I really didn’t need to press that many tablecloths, I discovered a new genre: steam generating irons. And, after some significant research, I ordered this DeLonghi model.”

Whoa whoa whoa! A MANGLE? Isn’t that the sort of thing grandma had on her porch along with the washboard? It sounds a little severe. Do we really wish to MANGLE things?


“We first purchased a residential Pressurized Boiler type iron while living in Spain.”

Yikes! You know, I’m just looking for an iron, not something which requires a regulator valve and OSHA safety training.


“Let’s face it–there are only so many controls on a home iron and so many ways to arrange them! This Rowenta has the temperature setting under the handle on a circular dial. My Sunbeam had it near the top of the handle where it could be adjusted while holding the iron.”

Actually, this isn’t something I’ve ever dwelled on very much. About the most thought I put into it was “Gosh, I’ll bet that switch controls a variable resistor.” That may not even be true anymore, though.


“I went to my local Target and looked at all the irons, and of course they’re all made in Red China or the like. Most were light as a feather and quite attractive. I even saw the descendent of my Sunbeam there, but it was in girly pink and that turned me off. There were several Rowenta models but this was the only one that was made in Germany–so I bought it.”

“Red China”? Huh. Haven’t heard that phrase in awhile. I thought people quit saying “Red China” sometime after Mao died.


“It’s an iron that has a separate base unit that hold water and creates pressure… and leaks shortly after you buy it.”

That’s frank. I appreciate that.



Also very frank, not to mention succinct.


By now, you may be asking yourself which iron I wound up with. Surely all of that information was helpful. Did I weigh all of the options carefully and make a wise purchase? Did I invest a few hundred or a few thousand in a high-quality steaming system?

In a word, no. I became so overloaded with information that I didn’t feel I could make a good decision. Instead, I did what I should have done in the first place. I marched down to Target where I found a very primitive Black and Decker iron marked down to $10. This particular iron is rated at one star on Amazon because it leaks like a hundred year old faucet. However, it fulfills my two basic requirements: it gets hot and it makes steam.

Case closed.

Konnie Tiki and Ladies’ Man to hit the road

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

On her blog, Kathy Nida sometimes says that her quilts get to travel more than she does. I can relate to that. Today I got the word that Konnie Tiki and Ladies’ Man were accepted into the MQX exhibit “Humor is the Best Medicine”.

MQX will be held April 12-17 in Providence, Rhode Island. If you happen to be out that way, say hello to my pieces, would you?

Why, oh why, do I do this to myself?

Saturday, March 6th, 2010

Where has the first part of March gone? Oh, that’s right. I’ve spent it in front of the sewing machine. Maybe that’s why my back hurts, the household has reverted to a state of savagery, and I can’t locate clean laundry.

It’s at times like this that I find fictional descriptions of the Middle Ages attractive: rushes on the floors, everyone eating off trenchers with their bare hands, and great slathering Irish Wolfhounds wandering around cleaning up any food messes which occur. No toilets to clean, either, and if that leads to some health issues, what’s a little plague between friends? It all sounds marvelously efficient. Less to clean and all of that. I’ll bet one reason Leonardo got things done is that he didn’t waste time scrubbing the grout in his shower.

Anyhow, while I’m not on the topic, about a year ago I started a series of mostly black-and-white pieces with fairly dense stitching. As in, lines of stitching that are maybe 1/32 – 1/16″ apart, like this:

Gosh, these are time consuming. Each time I do one, I swear that’ll be the last … then I get another idea and crank into production again. Right now I have two going, one in the machine and one in the Closet of Banishment. (The Closet of Banishment being where I send pieces which have been painted but not stitched, so that I don’t have to think about them for awhile..)

This is the one which is presently in the Closet of Banishment. Working title: Creepy Boy.

Alas, I can’t show a photo of the work which is in the machine. Right now the stitching has distorted it so badly that it lays like a topographical map of the Sierras. However, if I can manage to steam it into submission so that it lays flat, I might submit it to a show, and some shows get miffed if pieces have appeared on websites and the like.

Unfortunately, steaming it will require purchasing a new iron. (Recommendations welcomed.) While I was making a hanging sleeve for another piece, my old iron, the one I’d used for 25 years, croaked. Out of desperation, I resorted to using my husband’s bachelor iron, which was of a similar vintage. Its sole plate looked a little grotty – maybe he occasionally ironed electrical tape with it during his bachelor days? – so I scrubbed it off.

Imagine my surprise when I fired it up and chunks of black and white gunk started erupting from the steam holes! Some of them appeared to be mineral deposits; the rest had an unknown provenance. When I tried to brush them away, they stained the fabric I was pressing, a nice chunk of pristine white cotton. I gently nudged the areas with a fingernail. Much to my horror, holes appeared in the cotton!

As near as I can figure, the chunks which came out of the iron were either highly basic or highly acidic. When combined with the steam from the iron, they must have gone into solution, then ate holes in my fabric. The good news is that this happened on a hanging sleeve, not a piece I was working on.

Lessons learned: always test the iron on a scrap of fabric, and never, ever use a piece of equipment from my husband’s bachelor days on anything that matters. (He’s a wonderful man, but I suspect that he was a bit feral before we married.) Evidently some of the mineral deposits which accumulate in irons aren’t harmless.

Did I mention that my back hurts?

What to do with crap.

Friday, February 26th, 2010

The key thing on my mind this week is, “just because it’s big and it took a long time to make doesn’t mean it’s any good”. Yep, that’s right. I’m in the FUD (Fear/Uncertainty/Doubt) stage of a project.

Every project I do has roughly the same steps: an idea (which always seems brilliant at the time, but may actually prove to be lame or trite), sketches galore, planning, and actual execution. Then there’s the FUD stage. That’s where I can’t see the project objectively anymore and the fear that it’s a total, irredeemable piece of crap creeps in. Sometimes FUD hits several times.

FUD almost always strikes right after I’ve painted or otherwise rendered some image on fabric and it’s time to stitch it. Oh, lord. How in the world should I stitch this thing? Should I even bother? Will I ruin all of my hard work? Will it be improved by stitching? After all, stitching takes a loooong time and it isn’t as though every darned thing in the world has to rendered in fabric. (A worthy topic for a rant at another time.)

Fortunately, I’ve come up with a way of dealing with that issue. I throw the piece in a closet and ignore it for a few weeks or months until I’m not afraid of it anymore. When I can simply regard it as a few dollars worth of fabric with ink smeared on it, then I’m ready to work again.

Unfortunately, FUD usually strikes again after I’ve either finished the project or am close to doing so. At that point, I have so many hours invested that I can’t bear the thought that it might not be stellar. I can’t see its good and bad points, much less how to improve it. I’ll stuff it in the closet again, hoping to see it with fresh eyes at a later time. Alas, sometimes the fresh eyes don’t come until after the piece has hung at a show and I’ve seen it juxtaposed with other, much better, works.

It’s a painful cycle, but in some sense it’s okay. It comes with the territory.

I’ve read about other artists going through a similar process. A painter faced with a less-than-stellar piece may attempt to fix it or, barring that, burn it or paint over it. Work that isn’t up to snuff doesn’t make it out of the studio.

Unfortunately, because textile pieces can require a substantial time investment, there can be a mental resistance to doing the same thing. It may not even be practical to rework a piece, and the idea of burning or destroying a piece can be devastating.

I am trying to get over that. While it’s great to take pride in accomplishments, I think we also need to be okay with saying (privately, if necessary) “You know, this isn’t very good and that’s okay. I learned X, Y, and Z from it and now I’m going to go create something new.”

Toward that end, here is what I’ve been doing with some of my discarded work:

Culled fabric paintings and dye experiments –
These get cut into blocks and used as the base of scrap quilts. When I’m having an off day, I crawl to the sewing machine and make crazy blocks. For example, my first iteration of Brian at 10 Months looked like a baby zombie with radioactive eyes. Ghastly beyond belief. I cut it into 5″ squares and it’s now the basis of a bunch of batik crazy blocks. My first iteration of The Imp is now a cleaning rag.

Culled fiber pieces which are towel sized or larger –
As long as they’re fairly soft and flexible, the humane society is happy to get them. I am inexplicably cheered by the thought of a stray peeing on something I made that wasn’t very good. At least it’s doing genuine good somewhere!

Culled quilts of any size –
These are great for cutting apart into chunks or strips and serging into bookmarks or coffee cuffs. Last time I splashed a bunch of paint on them and then did some rubber stamping to disguise their origins. The resulting bookmarks turned out cheerfully obnoxious and beat the heck out of my usual bookmarks, blow-in-cards and kleenex. Next time I may try weaving serged strips into a placemat or doormat.

Now, I suppose, I’d better get back to my current FUD project. Maybe you’ll even see it at a show! That is, unless I decide that it’s crap and donate it to the humane society …

A banner day

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Yesterday was a banner day. This blog received not one, but TWO pieces of comment spam, its very first. Isn’t that exciting? I figure this is akin a housewarming, as when one finds those first leaflets for maid services or tree trimming on the doorstep after moving into a house. It’s a sign that you’ve arrived and you’re well on the way to settling in.

This is a real blog now. The spammers say so.

New Work: My Life, Christmas Jumble

Friday, February 19th, 2010

Here are a couple of recently completed pieces. Both were inspired by the work of mid-century artist Jim Flora.

For want of a better title, I’m calling this one Christmas Jumble. I sketched the design over the holidays, so it contains lots of little images of Christmas thingamabobbies.

This piece is a good reminder of how time and distance can change one’s perception of work. Right now, we’re coasting down to the end of February and the whole notion of Christmas seems a bit stale. Bring on a couple of helpings of spring, I say! I still like the walking tree, though.

This one is My Life. It’s filled with snippets from, well, my life. The washer with the ominous staring eye, the leg lamp, the toilet which may or may not be upchucking.

Upon further reflection, this isn’t only my life but everyone’s life. When you get right down to it, who doesn’t have to cope with issues like a hand popping out of a toaster?

This figure troubles me, though. What in the heck is it? I’m sure I had something really profound in mind when I drew it, but now it escapes me. The number seven attacking a couple of wadded up, used tissues? A Henry Moore sculpture? Two pelvic bones with a broken golf club? The mystery of the unknown?

That’s the beauty of art, though. It doesn’t HAVE to represent anything. Like life in general, it may not mean anything in particular and sometimes it’s hard to figure out what’s going on.

That is, unless a magazine calls for an interview. If that happens, I’ll claim that figure is an homage to Picasso’s Guernica. For all I know, I might even be telling the truth.

2010 SAQA Auction Quilt

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

Today I completed this year’s contribution to the SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates) benefit auction.  Come Monday, I’ll ship it off to SAQA. I hope it’ll find a good home and give someone a giggle, as well as raise some money for SAQA’s programs and exhibitions.

A slightly larger version of this piece, as well as a closeup of the main fish, can be seen here.

This piece is a result of a longstanding conviction that certain paisleys look a great deal like fish. The seeds of this obsession were planted during early childhood, when I wore a good many hand-me-downs from the late 60s and early 70s. Paisleys figured large. (I was a weird kid anyhow; my idea of a good time involved wadding up a crazy quilt and rolling a marble through the contours thus created. Wearing paisley-imprinted jersey cloth was probably a “straw that broke the camel’s back” sort of thing. That, or my aunts managed to impregnate the clothing with intoxicating rock concert fumes.)

The paisleys in this image are based on the Paisley and Paisley II fonts offered by House of Lime. After doing basic layout sketches, I rendered the piece with a Frankensteinian combination of Inktense pencils, Neocolor II pastels, and Tsukineko ink, then went nuts with the thread.

It was a fun piece to make. May it bring joy and color to whoever winds up with it.

Adventure is out there!

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

I have edited the foo out of the template for this blog, so as to make it mesh with the rest of this site. I am probably going to have to “live” with it for awhile to see what else, if anything, I wish to change. In the meantime, if others find the layout confusing or unclear, please speak up.

Here is a gratuitous graphic so as to test the image upload end of things:

A sophomoric image from my early days of image editing.

I do love my gratuitous images! This one is called “MonaStein” for reasons which are probably evident. It’s a rather sophomoric image from early in my days of experimenting with Photoshop.