Sunday, May 26, 2013

Mood Indigo: Denim Vessels

I live in a Home for Unwed Fabrics. People bring me their unwanted yardage and clothing. I can't say no, not without a large group of Fabriholics Anonymous members surrounding me with linked arms, meditating at a frequency so high that the would-be donors turn around in fear and drive their piles of fabric to Goodwill.

Alas, I don't have that psychic defense support group. Instead, I have two wonderful friends named Linda, who both bring me their tired, huddled masses of fabric, apparently yearning to break free from their houses into mine. Most recently, one of them gave me two wool women's kilts from Scotland (future kilt guilt quilt? Say that 10 times fast), plus three pairs of her sons' used denim blue jeans.

I love, love, love denim.  Love it That's because it's usually
  • Indigo blue. Everything about indigo is wonderful, including the word. 
  • Lighter indigo blue on the inside
  • Shot through with ravelly thick white threads
  • Sturdy
  • Redolent of my hippie-era youth, and of many fine professions such as cowboy, supermodel and scientist. (Thus the denim baby name career banner in my last post. And the denim-and-necktie bangle charm bracelet before that.)
This week (and next week) I'm going to show you some denim vessels.

1. Log Cabin Vessel. This basket is about 4.5" high and 8.5" high. It's made using a quilter's 'log cabin' braid technique, with different colors of denim.
 It's lined with a cotton print, and bound with a separate piece of denim.
2. Paisley Vessel. This is a small thing, about 5" high and 4" across,  to which I stitched a lot of pearl (mother-of-pearl buttons, faux pearl beads.) The design is supposed to be a large paisley, but you have to rotate it to see. Next time, I'll make the vessel larger or the paisleys smaller. 

I set in circles to make the bottoms.
I used white and light pastel blue pearls to reflect the shades of the denim. There's a broken necklace stitched on (with the wire links), and the buttons are held on with faux pearls. I'm not sure yet how I'm going to finish the top.

3. Patriotic Vessel. This third vessel most clearly shouts jeans leg, because that's what it is - a cut off segment of jeans. It's pretty tall, 11" high and 6" across. I discovered that I could make the segment sturdier and stand up better with a lining of very heavy duty, stiff and equally ravelly, red cotton canvas. So I made a canvas lining that matched the size of the tub, and unravelled the top of that fabric, as well as the top of the jeans. I stitched the lining into the leg (you can see the line of red stitches just under the top of the jeans in the picture below.)

Do you see how this is now red, white and blue?

IMPORTANT INTERRUPTION: If you are a NOT a fan of our Current President (circa 2013),scroll QUICKLY past the next two photographs. My blog is not here to aggravate or persuade you. It's just for fun! Jump down to the bottom, which is non-political and heartwarming.

Where was I? For those of you who are not hugely aggravated by our Current President: The patriotic color scheme led me to stencil a portrait of Obama onto the denim. I used white paint, but could also have bleached out a design (a technique with the unfortunate name 'discharge') with dishwasher gel, or a commercial product like deColourant (I like the latter a lot! No financial affiliation!)

This denim vessel does stand up by itself, but to put flowers (or campaign signage, or whatever) in it, you can slip a heavy glass vase inside.

I hope this gets your creative juices going! I am thinking about writing up directions for these vessels - do you think that's a good idea?

Want more? Check out the next post: More denim vessels.

And now, a non-sequiter:

Quilty Banners for Boston!

Quilters are compulsive do-gooders, but sometimes our good intentions (and good quilts) aren't what people in crisis need.

So check out the banner project described here and here.

What a great idea! You can lift people's morale, without burdening them with quilts that they don't need (until such time as they do need them.)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Appliqued Upcycled Blue Jeans Cowboy Baby Name Quilt

From about the age of 2, my baby boy wanted to be a cowboy. We live in an urban suburb, and are descended from long lines of gefilte-fish-eating city-dwellers, so this vocational goal was as implausible as it was delightful.
(Young people, that is not my son. That is Gene Wilder, the definitive Jewish cowboy, who played the role in Frisco Kid and Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles, two stupid, wildly politically-incorrect, utterly hilarious movies.)
I seized upon my son's cowboy aspirations as an excuse to make a quilted wall hanging from my  favorite garments for upcycling:  Denim jeans.
What is this thing? Why, it's an appliqued denim cowboy name quilt, of course! All raw-edge applique, so easy, so fun! 

The background is red felt, free-motion quilted. The lettering, comes from various parts of the jean,with hardware like fasteners and rivets left in wherever possible. It's sewn on by hand or machine, depending on whether the seams were too thick for my sewing machine needle. (I hate to admit it, but you could actually do this entire quilt with glue.) 

It also includes novelty fabric cutouts of cowboys and their accoutrements (cows, herding dogs, covered wagons, cattle skulls, etc.), added with fusible and machine stitching. All edges are raw - stray threads are a feature! 

All four corners have denim pockets. The cacti are appliqued felt. I threw on some other stuff, like a piece of petrified wood tied to a string tied to a vintage metal button (lower left of the photo below), a Levi's label (speaking of Jews and cowboys), and a golden cord lasso.

Belt loops are set at even intervals along the top. A loop of navy-and-white bandana, tied through each belt loop, holds the quilt onto nails on the wall. (It's off-the-wall for the shot below).
The piece measures about 32" x 15" But of course, my son has a short name, all straight lines. If the child's name is Persephone or Maximillian, you will need to make the letters smaller, and/or the quilt much longer.

Obviously, this upcycling project works best if your child has hopes and dreams that are somehow related to blue jeans. Along with cowpersons, if s/he wants to be a carpenter, a professor, Bruce Springsteen, or an explorer, denim is perfect.  However, if s/he wants to be an Olympic ice skater, use something spangly; if s/he wants to be a neurosurgeon, scrubs would be ideal, etc.

My son's cowboy dreams did fade away, alas, and from about 3rd grade to today (he's in college), he has pretty much wanted to be a scientist, like his dad.  And come to think of it, his father, and his father's scientific colleagues, mostly wear denim jeans to the office. So if my son one day has a scientific office and/or lab, I feel strongly that this wallhanging will fit in perfectly with the decor.

The lassoing of stray cows will transform from a literal projection of a future career, into a metaphor for the ongoing search for elusive scientific truth. (Rising violin music). So I won't have to make him a new science-themed denim name wallhanging any time soon!  Happy Birthday, son! I bought you a nice science book, instead!

Come to think of it, Gene Wilder also starred in a Mel Brooks movie about careers in science!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Best. Quilt. Book. Ever. (and Giveaway)

If you have to be stuck on an airplane with one quilt book, here's the one you want: Martha Sielman's People & Portraits.
I know, because last month I was stuck on a trans-continental flight from LA to JFK, on Virgin, with this as my only book. (I won it from Linda Teddlie Minton's awesome art quilt blog - thanks, Linda!)   The book arrived just as we were leaving town, so I threw it in my backpack on the way out the door.

But, to tell you the truth, although I am always thrilled to win something (anything!), a book of portrait quilts would not have been on the top of my wish list. For one thing, some portrait quilts are a little odd. Take mine. Please.

Photo of beautiful young lady, my DD, taken years ago by my friend Liz (thanks, Liz!):
My resulting quilt. 
Okay, for a first try. I worked directly from the photograph, following the same easy procedure as for my tree portrait. But what's up with the reaching Dementor arms in her hair? And is she running a fever? The rosy, almost malarial, cheeks are so much subtler in the photo (and real life.) Let's not even discuss what's happening where her shirt sleeves end. 

Fortunately, my husband loved it and claimed it for his office, so I don't have to contemplate its flaws on a daily basis.

It is a real challenge to make a portrait that sings. And to get really good at it - like anything else - you probably should make a lot of them. YOU really should. Having gotten one that one out of my system, I figured I was done with human portrait quilts for a while. 

Until the plane ride. 

As I was reading The Book, I thought to myself: I have a LOT of quilt books. In many respects, this  might actually be The. Best. One. 

Although it's softcover and small enough to read in a cramped airplane seat, in spirit it's a coffee table book. 

For one thing, it's lavish. Who the heck publishes 200 page quilt books? With one or more color masterpieces on virtually EVERY page? The portraits range in style from photographic to cartoonish, thread-drawn to pointillist, and everything in between. There are even artists who pretty much leave facial details out completely - no eyes, no nose, no mouth - an approach that I feel has tremendous potential for my particular skill set.

The cover photo, is Marie Elkins' Windblown, (also on the book cover at the top of this post). What Elkins did with the quilted feathers in the hair and background is breathtaking.

Among the 88 artists whose work appears in the book, some are famous, and many are not.  My favorite quilt in the book is by Maine quilter, Holly Hascall Dominie, called 'Irrepressible.'
Holly Haskell Dominie's quilt, 'Irrepressible.' Used with permission of Sterling  Publishing.  See this and another of her astonishing portrait quilts by scrolling halfway down on this page  
I had a ton of other 2nd favorite quilts and quilters in the book. These include the elegant nightlife quilts of Colette Berends, an extraordinarily creative textile artist who sadly died last year, according to her website; Sherry Davis Kleinman; Margene Gloria Ray; Phyllis Cullen, Marilyn Belford, and on and on. I'm randomly picking another favorite quilt to show you, because I'm a sucker for glassblowing, and for blue-and-orange color schemes.
Jenny Bowker's 'Hassan and the Glass'. Used with permission  of Sterling Publishing. 
What's unusual even for a coffee table book are the extensive chapters, about 21 portrait quilters, discussing their art, influences and techniques in well-edited detail. There are no projects, but the technique information is enough to go on if you want to try. 

Author Martha Sielman is head of the Studio Art Quilters Association. She and the creative team at Sterling/Lark - editor Amanda Corestio, the designers and the producers - should win prizes for this  book. I send them all my thanks for a job done to perfection, and for making my plane ride as pleasant as it could be.

Now if only they could arrange for more leg room.

GIVEAWAY WINNER UPDATE: 5/18/13: The randomly-selected winner is of the book is the 17th commenter below, Marilyn. Congrats, Marilyn, and thanks to all who came by! (You're welcome to comment some more, but the giveaway is done!)

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Yogurt Lids, Yo Yo Quilts, and the Yardage of El Anatsui

 When I was in junior high school, in the late 60s, I collected yogurt lids. Here's one.
At that time there was mostly only Dannon yogurt. A lot of kids brought it for lunch. The lids were cardboard and had two parts; the part that snugged over the container's rim, and a colorful sturdy cardboard circle that popped into the top, with the color-matched flavor printed on it.

The insert mesmerized me. I wanted to make something from them. That's how I became cafeteria-famous as the kid that you threw your yogurt lid at. It was done in a mostly friendly way, and I happily collected hundreds.

Back home, up in the attic, I hung a bamboo pole sideways and started to make a curtain of  lids. I put staples in the north, south, east and west positions, to attach each lid to its neighbors. It  didn't work very well. They hung askew. I created an area a yard or so square, but the bigger it got, the wonkier it hung. I never finished.

Eventually, I went off to college, and in my absence, my dad threw them all away. I have one lid left that I found under a box during an attic excavation. That's the one you see above. Like me, it's now an antique. (Here's an age test: Do you remember PRUNE WHIP yogurt? I loved that stuff.)

Years later, when I became a quilter, I discovered yo yo quilts and recognized that they came from  basically the same instinct as my wannabe yogurt curtain. Here's an award-winning yo yo quilt held by its 98-year-old creator, from

Yo yos are not just for seniors. A new generation is discovering them. The picture below shows a small, hip, 'modern'  yo yo quilt with a tutorial, from Purl Bee:

Two weeks ago, while we were visiting New York, a dear friend took us to the Brooklyn Museum to see the quilt exhibit there. It was a very nice, small exhibit of mostly antique quilts (info here)...

But what took my breath away was the amazing work of someone I'd never heard of, African artist El Anatsui.

El Anatsui takes discarded can lids, or foil bottle seals, or other metallic (or wood) scraps....

...and he turns them into heavy, rippling, monumentally massive enormous works of art. Some sprawl   across the floor...

...shoot up like stalagmites...

...hang in waves from the wall...

...or the ceiling.

Just being in their presence is intoxicating. It's like standing next to Niagara Falls or the General Grant Tree - the thing is so big that it gives off gravity waves or negative ions or color emanations or some other invisible force field that makes existence more exciting...


I realized that I gave up too quickly on my yogurt lid curtain. Anatsui obviously had the same problem - things tied together wouldn't hang flat - and he grooved with it. His artist's statement says that his pieces are draped differently in every venue, and that's part of the art - a little bit of performance art!

The exhibit statement also says "Anatsui converts found materials into a new type of media that lies between sculpture and painting." 

As a quilter, I would respond: Hey, that's not so new. Quilters have been using found materials to create something on the borderline of painting and sculpture, for a very long time. But most of us are only a little off the 2D surface. Anatsui is a LOT. 

And like El Anatsui, quilters work with repetition. But most of us are so much more timid about working on a massive scale.

I'm still collecting lids - I especially have trouble throwing away milk carton caps. I've limited myself to one small box full (same box also has empty spools and a jar of metal bottle caps). Someday I will make something out of them.

But what?

El Anatsui has me thinking about working huge. That's pretty scary. What's the biggest quilt you've ever made? I don't think I've gone over 120" on a side. 

Not yet, anyway.

(Learn more about the Brooklyn Museum exhibit of El Anatsui's work here.)