Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Kids Are All Right, with an Appliqued Rock and Roll Prayer Shawl

For me, the most fun thing in the world is making a custom quilt, prayer shawl (tallit), and/or wedding canopy (chuppah). This is the story of an appliqued and pieced prayer shawl I just finished for a 13-year-old who I still haven't met or talked to. It was a wild and wonderful trip from beginning to end. Specifically, a trip on a Yellow Submarine.

I was contacted by the father of the Bar Mitzvah boy in early July. They live maybe a half hour away and found my custom tallitot. The father wanted to surprise his son with a British rock & roll and electric guitar-theme prayer shawl.

Brilliant, as they say in England! I was thrilled! But there was bad news: The event was in early August, I had a one-week vacation plus a complex commissioned chuppah (wedding canopy) due at the same time. I almost said turned him down - but gee, he was such a lovely person, and how the heck could I resist the theme?

His initial vision included a British flag on the tallit, large enough and centered so that it might actually enwrap his son,
(When I told my husband about this, he was ecstatic; with his encyclopedic memory for classic rock and roll trivia, he immediately demanded that I look up the following album cover and put it on the tallit: 

Right about now, you're probably wondering whether a British Rock and Roll tallit is kosher. My client told me right off the bat that he'd described his vision to his rabbi, who replied that anything that gets a kid to wear a tallit is kosher, even dissipated rockers. The rabbi didn't specifically agree to the use of sleeping/stoned members of The Who, but he did agree to my client's desire to use logos like these: 
Is that a gender symbol?
Is tongue a Jewish food?
The Hindenburg wasn't exactly Jewish.
As in Esther?
Happy New Year!

He also wanted guitar manufacturer logos, like these: 

And more. The candidate images multiplied. But wait, back to the first problem - where was I going to find a British flag fabric? I found nothing in online quilt shops, so I posted inquiries on my chat groups. Quilters sent all kinds of interesting suggestions - one directed me to a specialty British boutique, where I could order bubble and squeak with my genuine UK flag.

Not all my cyber-correspondents were enthusiastic. One fretted that Brits might feel that a flag on a prayer shawl is disrespectful towards the flag. (I told her I thought the opposite was just as likely - some Jews might find a British flag disrespectful to a prayer shawl?) 

(But then she looked up British rules regarding their flags, and it turns out the they are a lot less particular with what you do with their flag than Americans. [Brits don't seem to mind if it touches the floor]. Phew!!!! I'd hate to have all the local Jewish Brits storm out of the Temple when the tallit came in, or vice versa.) 

Several people sent me to, a custom-fabric making site that I knew about but hadn't checked yet. Sure enough, I found several variations on a British flag, printed onto cotton, like this one and this one. I sent my clients over to look at them, and this launched him on his own Spoonflower scavenger hunt. He fell out of love with the British flag fabric, and fell into love with:  
...a wonderful Beatles fabric that the artist calls "She Loves You". It even includes little UK flags as you can plainly see. 

He also loved this fabric:  
(Buy here)

And then he wandered over to ebay, and found this:  
It was a yard long, inexplicably 17 inches wide strip. It's a long out-of-print commercially manufactured Beatles novelty fabric. I happened to  have some other fabrics from this same collection, including a Yellow Submarine fabric (we'll get to that).

I wasn't sure those looked good together, but I imported thumbnails into my drawing program and started playing around with layouts. (The small circles and squares, including those in the corners, represent the guitar company and rock band logos):

Any variation on these four designs would be quick to sew up and we'd meet the deadline easily. I wasn't happy that the fabrics didn't really go together in variation 1 - but time was ticking. 

 But then, on July 19, I got a new email from my client. Attached to the email were images of not 1, not 2, but 18 electric guitars. 

I won't show you all 18.  He wrote, "I thought maybe you could randomly intersperse small pics of these different guitars. ...[T]he funny thing is that [my son] can actually identify each of these guitars instantly.  The kid is obsessed with guitars.  It would probably be a lot of work too, but let me know what you think."

Now I panicked!! Shalommmmmmm. I strove to breathe deeply. My top priority is to make the bar mitzvah boy happy. But do you have any idea how much time it would take to transfer all those guitars to fabric and then stitch each one to the background? Not to mention expense. I use Electric Quilt brand premium cotton satin photo transfer sheets - it's pricey, and with all the other images he wanted - at this point we were up to 28 photo transfers  -  I might have to buy extra packs that I hadn't factored into my expenses. But mostly the issue was where in the world to fit all those images and fabrics.

On the other hand, I visually adored those 18 idea popped into my head that I couldn't shake: Use the guitars as stripes. So we culled the number of favorites down to 12.  

My client also made an excellent decision that strewing guitar company logos all over the tallit made it look kinda like an advertising page from Guitar Player magazine.  So all those logos were out. 

On one visit, I showed him my Yellow Submarine fabric. He decided he wanted to use that as the atarah (collar.)
Plus, at the last minute, he wanted photos of his son playing the electric guitar on both the tallit and the bag. 

Wait, one last request before I started sewing: the guitars in the stripes should be properly aligned, with the the necks pointing to the wearer's left hand. 

And he needed reassurance that the stripes would be precisely straight. 

I won't go into too  many more details. Suffice it to say that I accidentally discovered that putting a dark blue  frame around the novelty fabrics and printed guitars brought the diverse fabrics together and gave the tallit a more traditional/polished look. My client agreed. Here's what we wound up with (modelled by my 15-year- old before delivery. She plays acoustic guitar.)
Here's the back, and some of the lining. 
When we received the fabric from Spoonflower, both of us were surprised that the guitars were so big. But that was okay - they're dramatic! 
The photo of his son is on the lining, as you can see above.

 We decided to put band logos in the four corners. The guitars are printed onto fabric and pieced between the blue strips.

 Here's the atarah, made from my Yellow Submarine fabric. 
We ended up not fitting the fat quarter of 'She Loves You' onto the tallit. So we decided to use it for the bag instead.  I make my tallit bags quilted, envelope style. The front of the bag has a vintage button with a peace symbol bead glued on. I put a horizontal guitar on the flap so the young man can play air guitar when services start to drag. 
On the back of the bag, lower right, I worked in the other photo of the young man. It fits right in. 
We bought colorful blue-and-gold nylon tzitzyot (ritual fringe) from a truly groovy vendor my client  discovered in this Etsy shop. To my astonishment, the tzitzyot came pre-tied - it never occurred to me that this could work! (You just loop the top loop through the hole and pull the knotted part through the loop - duh!). This saved me a lot of time, which I was able to spend on other things like precision-measuring the stripes. 

In the the end, it took us 80, yes, eight-oh emails and at least three studio visits, but we finished, with time to spare. Despite the twists and turns - or maybe because of them - I loved the process. The results were way better than if either of us had worked alone. The better I got to know my client, the more  I realized the force is strong with this one - with his creativity, zest, newfound love of fabric, and yes, his pickiness, he had all the characteristics of a fine quilter - I recommended he start quilting immediately. It's never too early to start on his son's high-school-graduation tee-shirt quilt. 

The whole family was thrilled with the tallit. It never in a million years would have occurred to me to make a British rock and roll tallit, but thanks to my client's and his son's passion. I can now check this off my bucket list. And I am grateful. Now I'm just waiting for someone to ask me for a Tardis Tallit! 

Want to make your own tallit? Here's my web page with more details and a free Hebrew prayer atarah pattern. Want my help? Contact me! 

UPDATE: My client read this blog post and wrote this: "Thank you again for making this very special gift happen.  It was a labor of love for me (even though you did all the work!) and my son has told me that it is the nicest gift he's ever gotten. He's only had the opportunity to wear it once since his Bar Mitzvah, but he got rave reviews! Everybody loves it! I can't wait for him to wear it during high holy day services next month." 

I love happy endings! My client is being modest - he did a lot of the deciding, which is always the hardest part! 

Monday, August 25, 2014

From Synesthesia to Peonies: More Artist Trading Cards from Wonderful People!

I belong to a wonderful group of artists who make (mostly paper) Artist Trading Cards. We had another meeting a couple of weeks ago, and my last posting showed the cards I made for it. Now it's time to see the goodies I collected!

John Tallackson, a gifted young printmaker and community organizer, dropped a bombshell at this meeting - he told us he's recently learned that he has "synesthesia." What, you may ask, is synesthesia? It's a neurological gift - he sees numbers and letters has having specific colors. For his batch of cards, he translated words into the colors they represent to him. My card's word is "KISS"
 - Can you make out the outline? He sees "K" as a brilliant red, "I" as blue, and "S" as shiny white. John has been talking with a university-based expert studying synesthesia, and is just starting to understand more about his lifelong learning style and how it relates to his extroardinary artistic gifts. See more of John's  work on his Facebook page, or at Learn more about synesthesia and the role it has played for many different kinds of artists (including musicians) here.

John T. Watson is a pastor as well as an artist, and in this card, he posed a question raised by the whitewashing scene in the book Tom Sawyer - What is the social value of "clever?" Clever can be cruel. Where is the love? I never liked that scene in the book. This card captures it.
 Karla  Vasquez is a community activist who brings farmer's markets to low-income neighborhoods. Her compassion was no doubt influenced by the fact that she has Type 1 Diabetes. Just as John Tallacksen makes the most of his synesthesia, Karla here turned her health condition - and in this case, her used blood test strips - into fascinating art - specifically, a mandala.
There's real blood in this card. It's incredible.

Marian Sunabe is a wonderful artist with a busy day job as a school counsellor. She loves to make collages with vintage photos. In this exchange, I lucked into her ATC about the U.S. President I most love to hate, Tricky Dick.
 Some of today's political figures actually make me miss Richard Nixon.

Finally, Sue Ko made charming representations of game pieces that her Korean grandmother used to play. The game immigrated from Japan to Korea during the Japanese occupation in World War II.  It's known as "Flower Cards," "Go Stop" or "Hwatoo" in Korean. The cards are organized and named by month, and the peony here is from the June set. Sue has warm memories of the clicks the plastic tiles made when she played with her grandmother's set. Her version is made from cut paper.
More images of the game and explanations of how it's played are here and  here.

My gratitude to my fellow ATC "players", and especially to Jenny Goto for hosting a beautiful event!
For more, Click on "Artist Trading Cards" or "ATCs" in the word cloud on the right.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Remember Film? Artist Trading Cards from Photography Ephemera

You meant to  do something creative this summer, but the weeks slipped by. Despair not! Here's the solution: Inform 3 to 8 of your least craft-o-phobic friends (or casual acquaintances) that you will be swapping Artist Trading Cards at, say, 3 o'clock next Sunday.

Artist Trading Cards are a bona fide international movement, and it's no wonder, because anyone can do them and they're addictive. They measure 2 1/2"  x 3 1/2", you can cut them out of paper, cardstock, quilts, more quiltsfiber, chocolate bars, titanium plates, or whatever. Embellish them in any way you please, swap them and have each person talk about them, and voila, a low-stress way to have a lot of creative fun and get to know people quickly and profoundly.

And speaking of stress, they're also, as it turns out, a way to repurpose few ounces of the stuff from closing down your parent's home of 50 years.

I'm a member of a wonderful ATC group has met about 4 times over the last couple of years, and we had another meeting/afternoon potluck scheduled for last weekend. About two weeks before I found myself with some extra time and went digging through my paper ephemera bins.

I found some old photographs, photo mailers, negatives, and failed photos from the 1950s-1980s saved from clearing out my parents' house, that  I couldn't quite throw away. The mailers had fabulous graphics, like this elephant,

The negatives, and many of the photos, were shrouded in mystery - the person above is possibly my mother, and I don't have a clue as to who these two boys below might be..... (If you recognize them, let me know.)
The film mailers went to all kinds of far-flung places, including to Lincoln, Nebraska! (our family lived in New York at the time)
The postmark above is 1957. Mailing cost: two cents. I put more of the mailer on the back.
The quotations came from my disintegrating copy of Bartlett's familiar quotations.
 (Here's the front of the book - not dated, but from the style, I'm guessing 1910s?)
Since it is falling apart, I bought it with the idea  that it would be okay to cut up the pages. But I couldn't bring myself to cut it, so I photocopy the pages I want and cut out the quotations. 
 The next card started as a blurry photograph of geese. It's dated March 1964. So I added a vintage JFK stamp (he had died 4 months previously), and the quotation from Isaiah: "All flesh is grass."
Next, a 1964 horse, with the same grass quotation.
Buildings cut up and alternated with negatives. 
 Eisenhower, below, is also now grass. The figure in the negative below is my mom in long plaid shorts, lying on the grass, I believe. (She's now 87.)
Next: I had no idea that printing photographs involved pure artesian water. So this portion of the mailer seemed to call for an old sailboat. Note the bargain prices. 
 Quotation, plus someone sledding down a hill. The figure is probably my brother.
 Woven negatives, prints, and mailer.
Decades pass. The next mailer and photo is from the 70s or 80s. That's my glamourous mom. Prices have risen.
If nothing else, these ATCs are a reminder of how challenging and labor-intensive developing photographs used to be.

Next week: The extraordinary ATCs I received in exhange from very talented and creative people!

Some earlier postings:

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Flip Flop Coffee Dots, or Symmetry Fun with Novelty Prints

How do I love novelty prints? Let me count the ways. They're fun. They're wacky. And you can cut them up and play symmetry grames with them.

As I mentioned in a blog post a couple of  weeks ago, I recently acquired this frenetic coffee-themed fabric, 40% off:
I woulda bought just a half yard, but when it's on sale, the LQS makes you buy the whole yard. (So much for savings.)

Also on the sale shelf was the opposite fabric, which is to say, it had white figures on a black background. When I first saw it, in the name of economy, I left it there, but couldn't stop thinking about making reflections between the two fabrics. So I finally caved, went back to the shop, and bought a yard.
I took it home and started lining things up. In the next picture, the white-on-black fabric is on top; I matched the design along its bottom, and stitched the BACK of the black-on-white fabric to the bottom edge.
The design reflects along the center line.That was interesting, but not interesting enough. I cut a strip of the black-on-white and placed it toward the upper right, matching designs (It goes most, but not all of the way across.) Can you see it? It has the words "coffee" and "latte" on it.
I added another pattern-matched stripe just above the lower edge of the top fabric (where you see "Yes!"), and I cut and reversed a white-on-black strip through the middle of the lower half. 
Then, just for the heck of it, I chopped a piece vertically off the right, and stitched it to the left side, upside down. (I tend to do this whenever I'm stuck.)
I raw-edge appliqued the strips down with invisible thread in a three-step zigzag. Done? Not yet! More experiments. I made a coffee cup pattern
 and cut the pieces out from red-on-white and white-on-red dot fabric. 
I placed giant coffe beans down the left side, and cut wavy edges. Those cups needed ingredients. I used white-on-black and white-on-grey polka dot fabric to make long ovals to fill them.

I photographed a small plastic spoon, put it in Corel Draw....
...And generated a row of flip-flopped spoons. (Below it's on paper, testing different sizes.)  I also used the leftover borders from the large coffee cups, using the FRONT of red-dots-on-white fabric alternating with the BACKS of white-dots-on-red fabric. (They're reverse applique, with the cup black-on-white fabric as a backing): 
Too much! Got rid of the cup column (they'll become another wallhanging, you'll soon see), and decided not to use the spoon strip.

Here's Finished Project I, all quilted. I used a "foamy" bubble fabric for the upper horizontal and right vertical border.
It's okay, but I think I like the next one even better. Here's Finished Project II, made from the leftovers. The borders  alternate between black-figures-on-white-background and white-figures-on-black-background. The cups  reflect across the horizontal midline (more or less). It has a white-on-grey polka dot binding.
I especially like the second cup down.
Total accident. The "coffee" fabric had widely-spaced large black circles on white. It wound up looking like an evil eye amulet, warding off bad coffee! I'm going to run with this idea.

Most of the stitching is raw-edge zig-zag applique. (A school-glue stick and Stitch-and-Tear stabilizer helped). They give the piece a frenetic energy appropriate to the subject.

For more caffeine-driven experiments, click the word "coffee" in the word cloud on the right side of this blog. Does this make you want to buy matching novelty prints? Or run away from them screaming?

UPDATE: Here's music to go with today's column. Thanks, Debra!