Saturday, December 6, 2008

Wasatch Chapter and Certification

In 1984 our family of four was peaceably living in Cherry Hill, NJ and I was attending the Creative Needlework Chapter which met in Collingswood NJ, just a fifteen minute drive away. It was that year that Mike asked Unisys if we could transfer out west to Salt Lake City. It sounded good to me--another adventure in life. Little did I know how much that move would change my life. The Creative Needlework Chapter was a wonderful chapter. We had fabulous teachers both locally, from the other coast, and from points in between. The big needlework teachers back then just itched to come to the east coast around NYC to teach and make their reputations. I had been teaching professionally for about two years and had even taught at one National Seminar--I had gotten a taste of what could be. But I was a mountain-west girl. I longed for open space and open skies that were bright blue.

We moved to a nice house on the side of a mountain in Sandy, Utah. I put PJ in the local high school and found a preschool for Barrett, then went looking for the local shops and EGA chapter. I found a mint: good shops and the Salt Lake Needlepoint Chapter. This was early in 1985 (we had moved over Christmas) and I was an ambitious stitcher. I thought I could fit right in to the local groups and get on with stitching. But I was wrong. Salt Lake had a different way of doing things, both the city and the chapter.

The move to Utah was just as hard as the move to NJ, culture shock, a different way of doing things, outsiders were not always welcomed with open arms. And I must admit as I look back, I had an attitude. I had just started the process of EGA National Teacher Certification and so was pretty full of myself. I was just in from the east coast, had lived within that magic circle of EGA that surrounded the then-national headquarters in New York City. I was certainly god's gift to SLCNC.

Well, there was more to this than just my attitude. The SLCNC was operating under two charters--one from EGA and one from ANG. A thing specifically forbidden by both national organizations because of the complications with the money and the IRS. But in Salt Lake City things were done differently, as I have mentioned before. Instead of being a sweet team player and just attending meetings, I turned activist. There was a powerful clique running the chapter. It was those four or five who held the offices and made the decisions about who would teach, what would be taught, how we spent the money, etc. One lovely spring afternoon, I gave fair warning to the ringleader and told her I was going to write national EGA about this whole mess.

At the next meeting of the chapter, it was announced that SLCNC was giving up the EGA charter and swinging wholly over to the American Needlepoint Guild. I had two friends to whom I had already talked, Sherry Gates and Mary Repola. At that meeting, I stood up and announced that we three were starting a new EGA chapter that would start meeting informally right away. The deed was done and I did not ever write to national about the charters.

Both Mary and Sherry moved out of Utah before the new chapter formally began, so I started Wasatch Chapter of the EGA on my own. We first met in January, I believe, of 1986 with enough members for a president (me), a program chair and vice-president, a secretary-treasurer, and a newsletter person. There were about ten of us in all. We were off and running.

Meanwhile I was having other problems. I was struggling with the certification process. This was supposed to take from one year to eighteen months. It was a series of six parts that had to be passed satisfactorily. I was a good teacher, I knew that. But I couldn't seem to please the east coast certification group with my embroideries. I had to do nine of them in nine different techniques of counted work. As always, I did original work, some times startlingly original. And this was the problem. The Certification Committee suggested that I quit certification (I had done about half of the parts successfully) and take some time to study more about the classic way of doing the counted work. I protested vigorously and wrote a letter to Rosemary Cornelius, the head of the committee--it was not she who had suggested that I quit. I told her that I knew I could pass this, that all she had to do was to send me detailed instructions for exactly what they wanted for each embroidery.

Rosemary was a wonder. She told me that from then on she was to be my mentor (before that my mentors had changed with each part) and that we would try this again. I still have the papers, the fabrics, and threads she sent me tucked away in my stash. I passed in just over eighteen months, in December of 1986 and was presented my rose in Parsippany, NJ in the fall of 1987.

It was an exciting time of life with adversity and struggles all overcome by hard work, persistence, and a little guile with the SLCNC. In 2000 after working for five years I got my second certification, my master certification with EGA: Graduate Teacher. No one questioned my original, outre embroideries then.

Just remembering this whole struggle makes me smile.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Heat and Destruction

Worm Tracks, Star Fields 4
velvet appliqued onto wool
this has a lot of beading
from the collection of Kathleen Weston

Art of Embroidery is meeting this coming Friday, the 5th of December. Normally we meet the fourth Friday of the month skipping December because of the holidays. But we like to get together and get on with stuff, so we elected to meet early in December, just two weeks after our November meeting. We are a group of five who study things beyond the stitch, like design and sketching, plus many other things. At this meeting we are exploring layering. Felice Tapia is leading the meeting with her ideas on layering stitches, something that I have not worked with very much. I am eager to see what things we can come up with.



Aldebaran: the Follower, Star Fields 2
wool appliqued onto velvet
from the collection of Mary Kircher
Layering that I know more about and that I love to do is what I call Heat & Destruction. I originally learned some of the the techniques from Jean Littlejohn, an English fiber artist who, along with her partner Jan Beaney, is top in the field. Then I added a few things of my own and developed my own style of work that suits me very much. So far I have done three bodies of work in H&D, plus many more solitaries, Burnt Offerings, Star Fields, and Holyoke/Holywell
I start with a tough ground fabric--artist's canvas, upholstery fabric, a heavy silk, or something of like nature. My first layer is almost always three-dimensional paint that I dab on in my chosen composition. I take my heat tool which heats to 650 degrees and I pass it over the wet paint, making it boil and bubble away. Sometimes the color of the paint changes a bit too. Over this I put a layer or two of nylon netting, smooth or rumpled, in one or two colors. I either stitch it down or I dab more paint on top to hold it in place. And then I melt most of the nylon away with my heat tool. This work as to be done in a well-ventilated area. I keep layering with different colored paint, and different fabrics. I heat them to melt them, scorch them, or merely to warp them to form a surface like no other surface in embroidery. Then I start stitching. Sometimes the needle is hard to get through the resulting surface, but never impossible. At this point too, I might add beads or other found objects.



Heaven's Tree
there is very little stitching on this one
artist's collection (still for sale)


When I work directly on stretched artist's canvas, I clean up the surface, do some more stitching and beading getting it like I want it, I sign it, and it is ready to go. When working with some of the other fabrics, if I have enough of it to pull around the edges of artist's stretcher bars and lace it, I will do so. In the case of silk or similar fabrics, I will get a stretched canvas, paint it a good background color, and then applique the finished surface to it.
Mab's Flowers there is thick layering on this with many meltings
from the collection of Laura Sandison


Depending on the amount of stitching and beading I do, a piece of work can be finished in as little as two or three days. Some of the more elaborate pieces take up to a week. It is important for me to finish these works quickly. These are the works I sell most often because they are fairly inexpensive compared to work that is pure embroidery. I like to do this work precisely because it is fast. My big embroideries can take up to three or four months to do. I work at embroidery only three or so hours a day. Anything more is too hard on me. But the H&D, I can work on longer. It is a more active process. Also I can work on two or three at a time--if I did that with embroidery it would take me a year to do four big pieces. I like that I can start, come to a middle, and see an end in just a few days.


Ibis

Beading with H&D

This one took a little longer because of the beading

from the collection of Kathleen Weston

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Trouble With Red-Violet

The Twelve Part Color Wheel
starting at the top and going right is yellow, yellow-green, green,
blue-green, blue, blue-violet,violet, red-violet, red, red-orange,
orange, yellow-orange


While working on my previous blog post about the color brown, I was reminded of another color that has some interesting properties, red-violet. Red-violet is the warmest of the violets. Remember that the sun side of the color wheel is red, orange, and yellow, while the cool side is green, blue and violet. Red-violet is the warmest of the cool tcolors because it lies between red, certainly the color of the setting sun, and violet, the color of an evening sky, tender spring flowers, and the ocean in one of its moods.

The color wheel is based on the color spectrum, which is the rainbow that we see every summer. When light from the sun, called white light, passes through a prism, such as water droplets, or a special piece of glass, that white light is broken up or refracted into its component colors. So we see a rainbow divided into about seven hues: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. Red is always at the top or outside of the rainbow and violet is always at the bottom or inside of the rainbow. Colors are actually wave lengths on the radiant spectrum that includes radio waves, microwaves, gamma rays, and cosmic rays. Red is about 700 nanometers, the longest of the wavelengths of color, while violet is the 400 nanometer range. Above red is infra-red and below violet is ultraviolet. There is no space for red-violet, an "impossible" color. And yet we see red-violet in the color of fuchsias. lilacs, and water lilies. It's a mystery to me.

By the way, violet is that beautiful color between red and blue, while purple to me is a very dark version of violet. One of my favorite colors is blue-violet, an elusive color. It is one of the colors I look best wearing. When I was a child, I was the brown-haired, brown-eyed child, while my sister was the blue-eyed, dark-blonde. She always got to wear blue and I always got to wear brown. To this day, I do not like to wear brown and have only a jacket of that color in my wardrobe. Now I dress in blue, blue-violet, and red-violet. And my little sister? She still looks great in blue.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Brown Story

---for Karen---

In color theory brown has an amazing role. Before my study of color, I thought brown was, well, just brown. The color of dirt, of baked bread, of autumn leaves. It is all that and more. Brown is not just one color, but many.

Brown can be made by shading, that is adding black, to yellow, yellow-orange, orange, red-orange, and red. Simple enough.

Betty Edwards in her book, Color, uses the humble paper bag to illustrate brown as a mixture of three primaries. Her paper bag starts with a mixture of yellow and red in a two to one ratio to make an orange. She adds a lot of white. Then she adds a little blue and we get the tan of a paper bag. This tan is low in chroma, that is it has less pigment than the color wheel primaries. And it is low in value, that is it is lighter than any of the primaries. So brown can be made with all of the cool colors (blue, green, and violet) as well as the warm colors (yellow, orange, and red).

Tones--gray added to a color-- are many times a brown. If a lot of light gray is added to orange, we get a brown tone called beige. Beige is very low in chroma and very low in value, but still its hue is orange.

Other descriptive words for brown in addition to tan and beige are rust, khaki, ecru (a very light beige), sepia, and umber, just to name a few. Brown has meanings beyond the mixing of colors. Brown can symbolize gloominess and earthiness. Brown in the political arena of the thirties and forties was represented in Hitler's Brown Shirts. Brown is the color of baked bread, roasted meats, coffee and chocolate--very savory indeed. Brown is the color of November as fall slides into the whites and grays of winter.

Brown is one of the English "color words," the eleven elemental words that name colors. Those words are: Red, blue, yellow, green, blue, orange, black, white, gray, pink, and brown. Brown is the Everyman of color, useful and full of paradoxes.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Locked doors and Stonehenge

Traveling and teaching can be quite an adventure. And adventure while traveling and teaching is never what I look for or appreciate at the time.
In September of 1990 while I was living in Denver, I was invited down to Sandia Mountains to teach. I had the good luck to stay with Barbara Scott and her husband, John, in their new and beautiful house in the southeast quadrant of Albuquerque nestled up against the upthrust of Sandia Crest. From their house all of Albuquerque was spread out to the west and south, while the tramway pylons and the trams could be seen to the east. I gave a lecture at the monthly meeting and taught two classes--advanced Hardanger and advanced blackwork. I drove down from Denver that warm late-summer day and arrived at Barb's place late in the afternoon. It was a hot day and my car was without air-conditioning, so I was nicely baked and sweaty upon arrival. After meeting John for the first time (Barbara and I knew each other from various region get-togethers and from being roommates in the 1987 National Seminar), I was shown to the guest room where I settled in. I decided to strip down, have a wash, and lie down to cool off and maybe doze for an hour or so before dinner. I pushed in the door lock, plied my wet washcloth, and lay down. Towards dinner time (we were going out to a local restaurant) I got up, got dressed, and opened the door to my bedroom. Only it wouldn't open. The lock was stuck. I knocked on the door and called for Barbara or John to help me out. No response. I heard the TV on quite loud. I knocked and shouted again. Then I heard the front door open and shut. I kept knocking. Again the front door opened and shut. Finally Barb came to my door. She had been answering the knocking at the front door. Well, John tried fiddling with the lock with no results. Then he told me to crawl out the bedroom window (it faced the front of the house on ground level). My crawling out of any window was ludicrous in anything but an extreme emergency--I am a large woman with a low center of gravity. Finally he decided to take the door off its hinges. That was really the best solution--I didn't want to have to crawl out of the window once, let alone several times in and out during my stay. So I was rescued, but John muttered to me that he didn't know why I had to lock the bedroom door. I had several other minor misadventures on that trip, but that was the one that Barb and I have laughed about over the years.

In 1995 I was teaching at the Denver National Seminar and the electricity for the whole hotel cut out. It turned out that there had been an early morning car accident where the car has crashed into a transformer knocking it out. The lights were out for eighteen hours. Luckily I was teaching in a corner suite with natural light coming in from two directions, so my class, Miss Shirley's Band Sampler, was barely impacted. Other teachers and other classes were not so lucky. In the evening after dark, since I was within five miles of home, I took some people back to the house so we could stitch. Luckily the lights for most of the hotel came back on that night. The next day we all sported T-shirts saying "I was at National Seminar when the lights went out."

Stonehenge

one of the embroideries I did while in England

blackwork, black silk on white linen, 10" X 14"



Wonderful things that have happened while I was traveling and teaching. In England I was hired to give a lecture and teach about blackwork. Just imagine my delight--to actually teach blackwork to the English! I was hired by the West Country Region of the Embroiderers' Guild. The lecture was set in the Salisbury Museum at Salisbury Cathedral. I was in a heavenly daze the whole time. Then the class was the next day and was held in a much more prosaic site. It was a building called the Boy Scout Hut. It was a long building set up for community classes, hardly what I would call a hut. One of the perks of being a teacher (or a tutor as I was called in England) was that lunch was part of my pay. I expect a brown bag with a sandwich, a banana, and a bottle of water, and in point of fact that is very rarely what I get served. This time at one end of the hut, a small table was set up with a cloth, and neat plastic dishes and cups for three. I was expecting the class organizer and her friend to sit with me, but no--two women from the class joined me, Belinda and Jane. The three of us were served an elegant little luncheon by one of the other women and all the rest of the class sat at the other end of the hut eating and talking. The three of us had a pleasant lunch, then we went back to the afternoon session of class. At the end of the day, after everyone was gone but the class organizer and myself, I asked her what was up with the lunch. Well, I had eaten lunch with the Countess of Caernarvon and the Countess of Montecute. I laughed all the way home.

I was in Salisbury quite a bit during our life in England. It was a hub of needlework with Jane Lemon and her group doing the huge needlework tapestries for the altars in the cathedral. But the best thing was that by going about five miles out of my way, I could drive past Stonehenge every time I drove south the Salisbury. One of the great things in my life was seeing Stonehenge at all seasons in all weather with a simple detour on the way to doing things that I love.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Conan & Cerro Grande

I have been lucky in that the last fifteen years or so when I have taught here in the west, Ann Erdmann has been able to come along occasionally. Ann and I have been best friends since the summer of 1957. Her family moved in across the street from my family and the friendship began. Our lives took different turns. She, her husband, and son moved to Cheyenne. My husband, son, and I stayed in Littleton until Mike's profession took us out of Colorado for years. After living in NJ, Utah, a short stint in Colorado again, and then to England, we settled back in Colorado and I started traveling and teaching embroidery. Whenever Ann could, she took off work, left her family in Wyoming, and went with me to exotic locales, like Casper, WY, Littleton, CO, and Los Alamos, NM.

One of the times we were in Los Alamos together, I was teaching a two-day pilot class called Millennium Technology. It was using computers and printers to print images on fabric and then to stitch on them. It was a fun type of class with a lot of bustle and movement. We were lucky to be able to have the class in the offices of a small computer server company. One of the people taking the class and her husband owned Virtual Los Alamos.

Ann and I were staying in Wanda Anderson's house while Wanda and her husband were in Albuquerque looking after their grandkids. I had often stayed with Wanda, so we were well acquainted. While we were there we were to look after her cat, Conan, a big steel- gray neutered tom.

So Ann and I drove to Los Alamos that fine May Friday and tootled up to Wanda's house, watching an ominous-looking smoke cloud in the sky looming over the western sky. The US Forest Service had started a "controlled burn" in the national forest up above Los Alamos a couple of days before. It had been dry and windy, and the burn had gotten a little out of hand. But no one was to worry--the US government was taking care of the situation.

Saturday morning we started the class. We were in the front part of the offices surrounded by computers and computer equipment. The class went well on some levels and not so well on others. Just keeping the equipment running was taking away from my teaching time. On Saturday afternoon after class was let out, Ann and I listened to the news reports--and they were not good. The fire had grown and was spreading, though there was still no danger for Los Alamos. Helicopters and fire bombers were in the area taking their ten of thousands of gallons of water and retardant to the fire. Meanwhile Ann and I took care of Conan, went out to supper with the girls, and had a good night's sleep.

The next morning, Sunday morning, we woke up to the slight smell of smoke in the air. The atmosphere had a bright hazy quality that turned everything a yellowish tint. We turned on the news, but the stations were still saying that Los Alamos was not in danger, that the wind has just shifted the blowing smoke, but we were all going to be just fine. So Ann and I petted Conan, ate some breakfast and went back to class. All that morning all we could talk about was the fire and the smoke that was obscuring half of the sky. At noon, when we went out to lunch, we saw many people standing outside with binoculars and cameras looking west. The planes and helicopters, there seemed to be dozens of them in the sky, continued to drop fire retardant and water on the mountains directly to the west of town. We could see the flames on the crowns of the mountains.

In the afternoon, ash started dropping on the town. We heard it clearly on the metal roof of the building we were in. So far the ash was cool. We continued with the class. Some of the people had good designs that they were stitching on. Ann had an image of a palacio in Venice that she had photographed the year before. She was embellishing that image with colored threads. Very nice. Another woman was working on a scene with a pelican and and a dock, and some others had family pictures. We sat and stitched, smelled the smoke, listened to the planes, and heard the ash fall on the roof.

The class was out at about four-thirty. Several people in the class made a date to meet at 6 to have dinner. Meanwhile we could see higher flames coming down the sides of the mountains definitely traveling east towards us. Aircraft were still rumbling back and forth between the mountains and the airport east of town. It was beginning to get pretty scary. Evacuation plans were starting to be discussed.

When we came out of the restaurant, The Hill Diner, after dinner, the western sky was quite dark with a bloody sun barely glimpsed through the smoke. The air was sometimes choking with the drifting smoke. And alarmingly the noise of the airplanes and helicopters had stopped--it was now too dangerous for them to approach the fires--the winds were whipping along the flame fronts.

Uneasily Ann and I went back to Wanda's house. I was exhausted and the prospect of driving out that evening was not a pleasing one, so we decided to stay as long as we could. Maybe we could drive out in the morning, sticking to our original plans. Besides we had Conan with us. But this was not to be. At seven we got a phone call from a woman I had not met. She said she was a friend of Wanda's and knew we were there at the house. Her husband was head of the one of the evacuation teams and we should leave as soon as we could. Just after the phone call, the TV said that the evacuation of the northeast part of Los Alamos was in progress. That, of course, was where we were. We called Wanda in Albuquerque, ninety miles southeast of Los Alamos. She said that she was on her way back to Los Alamos and we were just to put Conan in a closet, make sure he was comfortable, lock the house, and leave. She would be there in about an hour and a half. So we packed the car--it was now almost dark, called Carole Rinard, our good friend in Los Alamos, to let her know what we were doing, and drove off.

Three thousand people evacuated Los Alamos that night, all from the same area where were were. The lines were long. We had no trouble getting onto Oppenheimer Road, but it took more than half an hour to get down to Trinity Drive where we turn left to leave town. Meanwhile to our right the flames and smoke were an eerie wall and backdrop. Ashes were dropping more steadily than ever.

We finally made the left turn and were heading down Rt. 502, the knife-edge highway--all other routes in (well, the other two) were blocked by the fire. Just as we were getting to the place where there were no buildings on either side of us, there was a pause in the traffic. I had been white-knuckling the steering wheel and my heart rate was high. Just then from the car in front of us, we saw a small flame being thrown out of the window into the underbrush at the side of the road. We gasped and then oddly, we started laughing. It broke the tension. Imagine someone starting a forest fire to the east of Los Alamos the same night--just a careless smoker.

Ann and I drove on down the knife-edge road laughing and carrying on. The flames were whipping at our backs. Smoke was dense in the air. Where the intersection splits off to the north towards Espanola, we were the only car from the thousands on the road to take it that direction. All the rest of the cars headed towards Pojuaque, and on into Santa Fe.

After more adventures trying to find a hotel to stay in Espanola, we wound up at Ohkey Casino and Resort for the night, on the north edge of Espanola. It was pleasant enough. Curiously the desk clerk had heard nothing of the fire or the evacuation of Los Alamos. A strange thing to us. The next morning we got up and headed on north. It was a hazy, sunny, and warm day. The winds were whipping tree tops as we drove on up the Rio Grande towards Taos. Just north of Taos, the weather changed and as we trundled on into Colorado the rains started. We were wet all the way back to Denver.

In the aftermath of the fire, part of Los Alamos was destroyed, The flames came within twelve feet of Wanda's house, obliterating and sterilizing her back yard, but the house held with its tin roof. Conan lived through the evacuation and fire, but died a week or two later, possibly from the stress of the ordeal. I knew several people who lost everything. Now the government no longer calls them controlled burns--they are prescribed burns. And if the wind is high or the vegetation is dry, there are no burns. How sensible.

I never taught the class again--it was too complex for me and too charged with emotions. Ann and I did again meet in Los Alamos where I was teaching last February. The class was again a pilot. We were in an old meeting building right on the edge of one of the mesas that make up the town. Halfway through class, smoke began curling up over the canyon wall. We could see it and smell it. Deja vu all over again. It was nothing--someone burning wood trash below on the canyon floor. There was a fire truck standing by. We were safe. Ann and I smiled at one another and we continued the class.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Three Kings and JFK

The Three Kings
designer unknown
A blackwork kit done in about 1976, my first attempt at blackwork


Today is the 45th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I was a senior in high school, sitting in civics class, when the announcement came over the loud speaker at about 12:45. People were stunned and then some started crying. Classes were dismissed, but the buses were delayed a bit. I can remember it was a dreary cold day of mourning, a day of confusion, and tears. There has been some comment over the Internet about what JFK meant to people, to the nation, to the world. His death three-quarters of a life time ago and its aftermath has certainly become part of who I am and what I do.





This morning as I was thinking about a topic to write about, thinking about JFK and what he left behind, I was reminded of something I spoke about at the PEO meeting I spoke to earlier this week. This might be a far stretch from JFK, but he brought it to mind. I had brought many things to show the group, samplers, finished works of art, half-finished models all of blackwork. Some of this work was in frames, some rolled up and protected by cotton fabric, and some merely folded in a notebook inside plastic page protectors.





One of the women commented that the folded pieces were being damaged just by being folded and put into plastic. She was absolutely right. Some of my stuff I do not expect to last beyond me, for instance, one piece of the Three Kings. I did this kit in the first year I was doing serious needlework. That first year of embroidering, I did as many kits as I did original work. And one of the kits was a multi-colored piece about twenty inches high and about fifteen inches across of gorgeously gowned and gifted wise men. It was my first attempt at blackwork, though I did not realize it at the time. I had done a tree skirt about five years before from a Lee Wards kit of the wise men. That kit was half sewn and half glued. It was full of sequins and plastic jewels. So when I saw this all-embroidered kit I was attracted to it from the very first. The gowns of the wise men were all brightly colored counted patterns in rayon threads. The sleeves and collars were done in crewel. I really loved it--I guess I still do. It was complicated, but not difficult to do for me even though I was a neophyte. Even then I had an affinity to the complexities of blackwork.





The Three Kings I have folded up and stuck in a plastic page protector because I do not think of it as part of the things I will leave behind me. I loved it and it was a wonderful introduction to a type of embroidery that wasn't canvas work which was about all I had done previously. But it is not one of my works. I love it as a reminder of what was, but I do not expect my children and grandchildren to take car e of it and find a place for it in their lives.





It is the framed pieces and rolled that are my own work, done from my own essence and my own spirit that I want to live after me in this world. Not some $12 kit or some half-finished experiment that were just by-products of the process. I will not have the world-wide impact or the many deep emotional ties of some people, but I do want to leave something of myself that is true and bright in my spirit.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

CO, NJ, & NM

Yesterday I gave an hour's talk to a local PEO group of about twenty women. The talk was about blackwork--I talked about the earliest types of blackwork and showed the most contemporary of blackwork through my own work. It was a lot of fun for me, even though it was a spur of the moment thing. I had been asked to do this about six months ago, but through mishap didn't get the date written down. I was given about twelve hours notice that the talk was the next morning. Not to worry--I can always talk about blackwork.



Blackwork Butterfly

after a motif from an Elizabethan sleeve

Jane Moses was the person who invited me to talk. She helped me along with several good comments and she even brought a piece of her own to show. The audience was receptive, lively, full of questions, and very appreciative. It was the best of teaching positions to be in.


Through hubris I started teaching needlework about six months after I started to learn it in 1976. I felt compelled, like a new convert, to tell the good news and scatter this wonder through the population. I feel that I was good at teaching, if not as knowledgeable as I should have been. My first classes were with two or three women around a kitchen table with hand-written, hand-colored instructions and illustrations of canvas work. This was before my introduction to the EGA, and when we were still in Littleton where I had basically lived all of my life.

It was in 1978 when my husband got a new job in Cherry Hill, NJ and we moved away from Colorado and the peregrinations of our married life stated. It was in NJ where I met the EGA later that same year. Also in NJ I "turned professional" four years later and started making a career of teaching within the EGA.


To me teaching is the most satisfying of all that I do. It gives me what I am looking for way down deep. What is that thing I want? I have little idea up here on the surface. The best part of teaching, though, is the ability to impinge upon people's lives in little ways and in big ways. I feel that I am a catalyst that can bring about change within a person.

My being a catalyst for change seems to happen mostly when I teach color and design. Many times, after a two-day or after my massive four-day classes, I have people come up to me to tell me that I have changed the way they look at color, or art, or embroidery. They tell me, they will never again feel they are strangers to design theory or feel uncomfortable with color. It is those moments that fill me with the bliss of my calling as a teacher.

Even in the hour with the PEO in the living room of a woman here in Albuquerque, I get that same sort of pleasure and contentment from a simple thing--standing up in front of people telling them of my love and life with blackwork or color theory or design theory or Hardanger. It is, of course, what I live for.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Binding the Knowledge

Most people who know me, know that I am a messy person. I like to have a jumble of things around me while I work. I know it's a failing on my part, but that is just the way it is.

I know a fiber artist in Colorado who had for her studio the tops of her washer and dryer in a tiny laundry room. She kept her few supplies in a desk where she also paid the family bills. She was able to put out wonderful works of art from this location. Organization was her middle name. I also knew a fiber artist in Haddonfield, NJ who was the world's greatest scatterer of worldly goods. Her messes spawned their own messes. Once when she was coming back to her home from a grocery trip, she saw the front door was wide open. Since it was winter, she thought she had better call the police before going in. The police went over, scouted out the house, and reported back to her that though nothing seemed broken, whoever went in there had torn up her house to the point that they could barely get through it. Never mind, she told them, I left it that way. Nothing was stolen and nothing was too far out of place, so she concluded that she had left the door open herself in her absentmindedness. Well, I am part way between Colorado and New Jersey in messiness.

Some things I do keep straight all the time are my notebooks. I don't know when or why I ever started this. I am not a compulsive saver or am particularly sentimental, but I started making notebooks of my stuff years and years ago. My biggest notebook is my series on blackwork. It started out as a 3" three-ring binder that held old instructions from my teachers and the projects themselves that would fit into the binder. It grew. Now it is five or six 4" binders that contain all of the instructions of blackwork I have ever written, all of the classes I ever took in blackwork, all of my practice pieces, and all of the research I have done over the years on the subject.

I also have a design notebook--a much smaller school notebook that is full of many people's ideas about design. I distilled all I have been taught, all of my research, and all of my own thoughts on design into one place. It is as invaluable as my blackwork tomes. I am now consulting both my blackwork and design notebooks for the writing projects I am currently working on.

I have notebooks on Hardanger, needle tatting, color theory, colcha embroidery, and two or three more on other minor subjects. I have used all of the notebooks at one time or another to put together classes and projects. It's as if I never have to start from ground zero to work up a new class or teaching project. I have in a neat confined space, most of what I know and what I have done on certain subjects. I never take my notebooks anywhere outside the house--the risk of losing them or damaging them is too great.

I knew from an early time that I was going to be a teacher of embroidery. Almost from the first time I picked up a tapestry needle seriously I knew that I would have to pass this wonderful knowledge on. So I am lucky to have the work I have done over three decades.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Pleasures of the Stitching

Today I have done something that I have not done in a long time--started a sampler. For a long time my stitching life has been devoted to bees and other works on perforated paper. Now don't get me wrong, I love perforated paper. No finishing required, about 1/4 of the stitching required for a linen piece the same size. Also my yarn of choice on perforated paper is Impressions, a silk/wool that is soft and and very colorful. But there is nothing like linen.

This is a red letter day because of the sampler. I have been doing research for the past month or so since I signed the contract to teach the Master Class in Blackwork in July of 2010. I have a stack of books that I have been browsing through, taking notes from, and generally hauling around the house to where ever I am reading at the time. (Okay, I confess. I am a reader in bed. Sitting up and reading a book is not something I like to do. Of course if I am taking notes, then I have to sit up. Bummer.)

But today I started the sampler that goes with the class. Like most of my major undertakings, I have to think about it for a long time before starting. In this case I have been thinking about it for several months--from back when I first got the idea for the class, way before I proposed it to EGA. It has been only in the last two weeks or so that the sampler itself had begun to gel in my head.

The class is about patterning theory--how to make patterns for blackwork embroidery. The sampler will be a workbasket sampler or as I like to call them a working sampler. This will be a sampler not for display but for consulting over a lifetime. It is a sampler that will never be framed but will reside somewhere handy to look at when planning blackwork.

I chose a piece of linen from my stash of about the right size and count. Then I washed it and wrapped it in a towel before ironing it while it was still quite damp in order to take the creases out of it from being folded. I let it rest spread out on the ironing board while I chose some black silk threads, in this case Au Ver A Soie and Chinese silk.

When the linen had dried completely I took black cotton sewing thread and stabilized the edges with a simple whip stitch. And I started basting. I know that for finishing the piece I want to do a nun's stitch or a picot edging so that the edges will be permanently stable. But that takes a long time to do and wanted to divide out the main body of the piece before I decided exactly where I wanted the edges to be. So I left an inch and a half on all sides and basted a rectangle. Then I basted the vertical center line and two more lines, the quarter lines, parallel to the center.

I was ready to take the first real stitches. I was pretty tired by this time sitting at my work table concentrating hard. so I just did simple running stitches in the Chinese silk to outline the first box. As I say, it was a pure pleasure. So I am off and running on this sampler in black thread and am most satisfied with my progress.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Judging Revisited

Nebula Obscura Pulchra
number 10 in the Star Field series
from the collection of Patricia Toulouse

Yesterday was the November meeting of the Sandia Mountains Chapter. It was a good meeting, if I do say so myself. It was disappointing that the Smocking Guild was not able to put on their program as scheduled, but I had told Rita, our program chairman, that I was able to put on my judging/payback program at short notice. As it was, I had about two weeks to get it planned and executed.


Carole Rinard was instrumental in helping me do this, even though she was not able to attend (she is off in some exotic locale of sun and fun). It was her wonderful collection of original needle art that enabled me to do this on the scale I had first imagined. She lent me thirteen pieces of her collection that I used as the "gallery" from which the group judged.


For many in the group, it was the first time they had the experience of judging. It can be a heady responsibility. I had the fourteen works (at the last minute I added one of my own works), on a table along a wall with only their titles given. For the first round, people were just supposed to pick the one they liked the best, one they would like to take home with them. (This was a dangerous instruction--the works were tempting enough to really want to carry home.) I had a scribe take down all the information for this round of judging and we came up with a sort of Judges' Choice.


We had a discussion about it with many lively comments. There was total group participation and many people wanted to add more in the discussions. The pieces themselves were not discussed. We only talked about the process, how it went, what was difficult, et cetera.


In the second round of judging the eighteen members were divided into groups of three. Each of these groups had one criterion for which to judge again. The criteria were: color, design, contemporary expression, best presentation, technique, and illusion of space. These are not easy things to judge for. Other instructions were to judge exclusively for the one criteria, ignoring all personal prejudices and preconceptions about which piece was best or a favorite.


The second round went splendidly. Each group marked their first through third place winners. Again the scribe took the tally and we came up with a best of show. It was a piece that I would never had chosen myself, but the judging process cannot be denied.


As someone in the group said, the pieces we were judging were pre-picked, that is juried, by the choices of mainly one woman. They were all contemporary art by professional needle artists. As a group they were very stimulating to see and to discuss and to judge.


I received many compliments for the program, all positive. I was able to pay back the scholarship that I was given by the group. And I was given the pleasure of seeing this through to a very satisfactory ending. The one piece that I put in that was my own (I had another piece in that belongs to Carole) was sold from this little gallery, delighting me to no end.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Frijoles and a Witches Night

St. Columba's Wreath
oil pastel and acrylic paint on silk on linen with silk threads
(detail)




Bowl of Flowers
mixed media with acrylic paint, paper, silk, and silk threads on canvas
from the collection of Laura Sandison


Bandelier
transfer paint, pattern paper, silk and cotton threads on cotton
(detail--see the whole work at the very bottom of all the blog posts)



Walpurgisnacht

acrylic paint and varnish on photograph with silks and cotton threads

from the collection of Jane Moses


Pueblo

cotton threads on cotton ground

stitched by Judy Rose


The Art of Embroidery is a special interest group within Sandia Mountains Chapter of the EGA. We meet about eight times a year to explore the art and not the technique of embroidery. In the past we have studied topics like the principles of design, drawing, bookbinding, and altered art. This year we are looking into patterning and layering.

Sometime last year in AoE, we were talking about inspiration and how we worked that inspiration into art. In which direction did we go once we had the inspiration firmly in hand, so to speak? This was interesting to me because I was all over the place with inspiration. And I have been thinking of those few words we spoke back then as they apply to me.
I think I am inspired by other media besides embroidery most of the time and some other times I am inspired by the materials I use. For instance, I take a lot of pictures. I take pictures for different purposes. Some I take as records of where I have been and what I have seen. Some I take because the beauty of what I am seeing overwhelms me. Some I take because I see something through the viewfinder that I cannot see without the viewfinder.

So I have stacks of photographs that I see as inspiration. Sometimes a photograph inspires me to do an embroidery almost straight from it. This is the case with Pueblo. It is a picture of an apartment building in Santa Fe (where else?) that I manipulated on the computer, and made a cross-stitch pattern from it. My friend Judy Rose cross-stitched up the pattern. Consequently, that inspiration was quite direct.

In Walpurgisnacht, the photograph is the actual basis for the embroidery. I had an 8" X10" enlargement made from a photograph and I stitched over the photograph. It is fairly difficult to stitch over a photograph because every false start shows, every needle prick shows.. But it was fun to do.

Wednesday Group late one April went to Bandelier National Monument for a day of sketching. The staff at Bandelier was calling for artists for an exhibit of the monument to be held at Fuller Lodge in Los Alamos. So the three of us, Emily Holcomb, Karen Schueler, and I, plus my daughter Barrett, went for a day of photography and sketching. It resulted in this embroidery from a sketch of the red cliffs along Frijoles Canyon.

But sometimes my inspiration does not come from another medium, but from the materials I use. In Bowl of Flowers, I had sort of a vague idea about a piece, so I gathered materials I thought I might use in it and off I went with no sketch, no photo, only a yearning to create. It took me a couple of weeks to finally get this work in order, but I am very fond of it--and so was Laura Sandison.

And last I want to talk about feelings. My family and I were living in the Littleton area when the Columbine came down. I was driving home from a morning meeting when I heard the news on NPR. NPR! I heard it on national news when that high school was ten miles from us! Barrett was a senior at Cherry Creek High at the time. All the high schools in the area were locked down to keep the students from going over to Columbine while this agony was going on. That day affected me more than any day before or since. I cried and cried. I sat like a statue before the TV. For days after I cried every day. Totally unlike me. It was Columbine that made me numb when the twin towers came down. Columbine where my son would have gone to high school if we hadn't moved out of state. Columbine that most beautiful of high schools in quiet Jefferson County.

Finally five years after the incident at Columbine, I was able to express my grief and do a memorial piece. It is called St. Columba's Wreath.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Patrice, Martin, and the Moons



The Moon Eclipsing the Sun
colored pencil

I have an Internet friend named Patrice. She had a question about mixed media fiber art once and pulled my name off the Internet to ask. Ever since we have been in correspondence. Patrice lives in Louisville, KY, and she graciously came to the opening of the 19th National EGA Exhibit at the tail end of August this year so that we could finally meet in person. Patrice is a teacher and an artist. She teaches children special topics in art around Louisville, especially in miniatures making, gourd work, and mixed media like quilts out of recycled materials.
In Patrice's current letter to me she talks about creativity, about being a creative person, and how she deals with certain aspects of it. Thanks, Patrice, for writing me about that, by the way.

I believe that creativity is innate within everybody, that it is a human condition. But certain people are overwhelmed with constant ideas than most others. Patrice says that she is so swarmed by ideas that she can sometimes not sleep at night. That she wakes up with ideas and goes to sleep with new ideas in her head. I know that feeling. Getting ideas is not my major stumbling block. Honing them down and homing in on the ones I want to actually execute is the hard part.
Part of my own creative process is day dreaming. I like to take a part of each day, especially in the late afternoons, lie down, and just think. It's true that sometimes I fall asleep, but in the last couple of years I more often enter a meditative state where I can explore my mind. What do I do next on my current project? What colors go best with with yellow and black (my current bee theme). How else can I put together this bee sampler? Where do I go next? What else can I add to my work on my Color ICC? What has happened is that I have taken the mass of ideas that constantly bombarded me and have channeled them in this meditative state. Now I am a little (okay, a lot) older than Patrice. I think I have finally tamed part of the beast.



The Moon Asleep

I saw an interview with Martin Scorsese about creativity in artists once on PBS. It changed my world view. All of what he said made sense to me. But what I came away with is that an artist should follow where her ideas take her. This is sometimes scary because it leads to uncharted territory. I heard the interview at night one summer in 2004 and sat right down to work on stuff that had been teasing my mind for sometime. I was holding back on this work because I thought it might be too frivolous for me. But he made me realize that it was me. It was my moons.




The Moon and the Solar Wind

Right now I am on the cusp of finishing two projects. I am almost done with my Bee Book Sampler. I will certainly be done with it by Sunday morning when I next blog. And I am putting away my color theory books and dragging out my patterning theory books. Lesson 1 of the Color Correspondence Course is done and has to be sent to EGA Headquarters for approval before Carole and I can do the rest of the lessons. Now I get to work on my Master Class in Blackwork Patterning for a month and a half.
An artist gets better with time, no matter what the medium. A creative person never retires. from it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Fiesta in Albuquerque

Yesterday at a stitch-in called Cloth and Canvas there were six of us talking about a wide range of subjects. It was election day and that topic always hovered on our minds--about what directions our personal lives were heading because of this unprecedented national election. But we also spoke of more mundane topics including the upcoming Albuquerque Fiber Art Fiesta in May 2009.

For those of you not in the know the AFAF is a biannual event put on by the Albuquerque Fiber Arts Council at the state fairgrounds. It goes on for three days on the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday just before Memorial Day. All of the fiber arts guilds in NM have banded together to form the Council, so we are a large group of weavers, spinners, quilters, knitters, both by hand and machine, crocheters, doll makers, beaders, silk painters, finer hand sewers, smockers, mixed media, (have I forgotten anyone?) and of course embroiderers. Each type of fiber art gets a booth and an exhibit space. Then there are many vendors who come to Albuquerque for the event and who sell everything from sheep's wool, to fabric, kimono, beads, threads, hoops, and trinkets. It is definitely a Wow! to step inside the building.

The embroiderers' booth contains the two EGA chapters in ABQ, Sandia Mountains and Turquoise Trail, and the Smocking Guild. Smocking is a type of embroidery. We put on a good-sized exhibit with several categories shown. The exhibit is juried, judged, and ribbons are awarded. Jurying is usually done by the EGA people. This process is not to keep entries out, but to screen them for cleanliness, if they are finished and ready to hang, and for whether or not the entry arrived at the booth on time. We like to have lots of entries, but we like the entries to be of a high standard of tidiness.

We hire an EGA certified judge. We have had judges from as far away as Ohio, but we are lucky to have master judges living here in New Mexico and in Colorado. We award ribbons and bragging rights for the next two years. Next May's judge is Charlene Wells from Albuquerque and a member of Sandia Mountains.

Check out the website for the next Fiesta at www.fiberartsfiesta.org. I just checked out this site myself and I was pleased that one of my works is presented on the home page. Wowser!

Anyone can enter--you don't have to be a member of any of the guilds. All you have to be is a fiber artist, a sister (or maybe a brother) in fiber.

Monday, November 3, 2008

UFOs, Two Aunties, and Me

I just read on Google Homepage that statistically when Mars is closest to earth, we have more UFO sightings. Well, okay, but I am not talking Little Green Men when I am talking UFOs. In embroidery parlance a UFO is an Un Finished Object. Maybe not as exotic but a whole lot more troublesome.
I know people who have years of unfinished projects, maybe decades. They take a class or start a chart or buy a kit; work on them a bit; and then lay them aside for the next bright shining object that catches their eye. I am not like that and two of my friends are not like that either.
Carole and Ann are the Aunties. This is a title bestowed upon them by Carole and reinforced by life's experiences. The niece in question is my daughter Barrett. Barrett was in the Peace Corps in Burkina Faso in western Africa for two years from 2003 to 2005 right after graduating from college. She was ill on several occasions and even had to be med-evacuated back to Washington DC at one point. But she went back and continued with her goal--to finish the two years. When her leave time came in the middle of the two years, my sister Albie, Barrett's biological aunt, offered to send me to Ouagadougou, the capital ,for two weeks for a visit and to see the sights. It was wonderful of Albie to do this--and I still thank her for the thought. However, there was no way I was going to Africa after Barrett had been so ill there. So I asked Albie if she would send me to London where Barrett could meet me. It was, I thought, a wonderful solution--it got Barrett out of Africa for two weeks and I got out of the US to see Barrett.




The First Gilded Halo Angel
Hardanger on painted cotton


That plan was set up and then I asked my two best buddies to come with me, Ann and Carole. Ann and I have been best friends for fifty years. We have been through thick and then, high and low, marriages, children, grandchildren, and moves on both our parts to foreign countries. Carole and I met in the 80s while she was teaching and drumming up memberships for EGA. I was living in Utah at the time and she was in NM. And so the three of us met Barrett at Heathrow, got in a car with Barrett driving and preceded to let England see us. We took care of her, fed her up, made sure she was rested. And they became the Aunties.




Gilded Halo Angel
Hardanger on painted cotton
A completed angel, she has several sisters not completed

Well, back to embroidery and UFOs--I live my life essentially UFO free. Occasionally I have had some lag time having to start a new project before finishing the one at hand, but then I complete the two of them and move on. I have had many chances to create a UFO list, but I have enough baggage I drag along in my life--I don't need UFOs too. When I take a class and don't finish (the vast majority), I strip the project of materials that I can use in something else and put the rest in a file folder for reference. If I start a project of my own and it is not working out, I abandon the work, strip it of usable stuff and throw it away. Right now I have one unfinished project that is languishing, but I feel no need to ever finish it unless it is accepted as a proposed class. That UFO consists of two or three Hardanger angels in various stages of completion.
Carole works in the same way, or nearly the same way, finishing each project and moving on to the next. Being a professional embroidery master judge, she has to take a lot of classes just to keep up with the current trends in needlework. She does original work too, so she is busy all the time.
Ann is a little newer to the wonderful world of EGA. Just before she retired from one of her jobs, she joined EGA as Life Member. The only EGA meetings she had attended were with me. Right now she is a MAL--member at large--and is looking for the right chapter. Because she lives in Cheyenne, Wyoming she doesn't have many to choose from in her immediate vicinity. I taught Ann colcha one morning several years ago. She took that technique and ran with it and now turns out original colchas. Colcha is not only the name of the native New Mexican embroidery, but is also the Spanish word for bedspread. She makes colcha colchas. Ann works like I do--virtually UFO free.
I am planning my next project while I am working on my current one. There is always a next project. They key here is not to buy stuff for a project too early. That project may not get started, let alone done. I have a good stash that I have built up over many years. I try to work out of my stash if I possibly can. The stash is generic rather than specific.
So now I am within a day or two if finishing my Bee Book--I will show it to you when I am done--and I am in the planning stages of my next project. Easy, peasy.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Cat Hair and the Magic Charm


In the judging class I took at national seminar in September I learned a lot of things. Some of the things I learned were actually things I relearned and had known for a long time. But those things bear repeating.
In the judging class there were sixteen of us. There were three or four candidates for the judging program. There were two of us who were certified teachers and taking classes for enrichment (part of our mandate as nationally certified teachers). And the rest were a mixture of people just checking out the judging program to see if that is the way they wanted to go, and people who wanted to know what the judges know in order to increase their chances at being juried into shows and winning ribbons. In fact the majority of the students were there to learn the magic spell to win over judges.
It's a very clever strategy to take the judging class and to learn the magic spell. If you all creep closer, I will tell you the secret that may eventually win over the judges. That's it--closer still. This is a very secret big secret. I learned this secret from years of associating with judges and listening to their shop talk. I learned by torturing my friend Carole Rinard (who is a very big judge indeed) until she finally told me.
Okay, I am kidding there is no big secret and I did torture Carole by boring her to tears, but she didn't cave in. I do have a couple of hints however.


"Derwentwater"
A detail of the second-place winner in the embroidery division.
Hand-dyed fabric with the unique Hardanger lace on the inside.

One year I entered two pieces in the embroidery division of the Albuquerque Fiber Art Fiesta. One was a piece of blackwork and one was Hardanger. Because the way the judging categories were set up, those two pieces competed against one another in original counted work. I was very pleased to see that the blackwork had won a first and the Hardanger had taken the second. And the judge's comment about the Hardanger? She said that the Hardanger may have won the first, but there was a cat hair on it. Well, I just had to laugh. Jasmine the cat had struck again. The moral to this story? Keep your work clean and pristine.
I have judged in county fairs and for the Society or Creative Anachronism--fairly low level stuff where my one judging talent helps out--I can help people will poor embroidery skills. If a piece comes in dirty, smelly, scuffed. needing ironing, a judge won't look at it.
Watch out for your framing. If the frame is crooked to the piece, it totally brings down the scores because it is unattractive, no matter how magnificent the stitching is. If the frame comes too close to the subject or leaves too much space around the piece, this is a no-no. If the frame is too gaudy and overwhelms the artwork, this is not good at all. In fact a tendency among stitchers who have their work framed by professional framers is that the frame is overpowering. Framers make their livelihood selling frames and mats, and the labor that goes into framing and matting. I personally do all my own framing and so am responsible for the whole piece--not just the goodies in the center.

"Arabesque"

A detail of the first-place winner in the embroidery division.
All the blackwork patterns in this were designed from Arabic calligraphy.
From the collection of Albie Peterson Merrill.

Give the judges something new to look at. If you are in a show with a commercial piece that you stitched your fingers to the bone for and there are three other identical pieces (except for the framing of course), a judge is apt to overlook them all. But the piece that is different may get a second gander. This is also true of original work. If your original work looks like a commercial piece, it may be overlooked. But if it has a life of its own, if it is fresh and an eye-catcher, it has a very good chance. Put your personality in your work!
Make sure your work fits into the theme of the show. If the show is about orchids, don't put in a daisy. Read the instructions to the show carefully to see exactly what is required. The judges of the show will have been instructed to reject any work not following the theme. No matter how magnificent your work, it will not be accepted. On the other hand if you can do something unique within the boundaries of the show, by all means do it.
What if you have done all of the above and you still do not get into shows. Then we are back to basics. Remember way back when I first started doing this blog in July? I talked about the way to get to Carnegie Hall. That may be applicable here. Practice, practice, practice. Work hard to hone your skills and get everything right. Ask a judge (look them up on the EGA website for one in your area) to look at your work and give her opinion. For a few dollars you might gain some insight as to what you need to do to improve. Also take more classes in creativity and originality. Take classes outside your area of expertise in embroidery to broaden your personal scope.
The best thing you can do for me is to totally ignore this advice, please. I really don't need anymore competition who knows the magic charm for getting into shows. So please, please ignore it.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Originality and a Sleeping Cat


I was talking to my friend Carole Rinard the other day about the term "original" as it applies to artists' work in needleart. I was in a show last spring where I questioned to myself the originality of some of the other fiber artists' work. In EGA there is a strict definition of original work: "an original work is one which, the from beginning, is solely the creative product of the stitcher." The spring show featured a lot of different types of fiber art from knitting to tailoring, silk painting, and lace-making to embroidery.

Some of the work was obviously original and some was obviously done from patterns. Is a piece of machine knitting original if a commercial pattern is used, but the artist changes the yarn suggested? I do not think so. There is no great leap of creativity or no twist to it that made it seem unique. If the knitting machine artist came up with her own pattern and used her own hand-dyed yarns, well that is what I would say was original.

A Bowl of Flowers

original work by SKW, mixed media

from the collection of Laura Sandison



I think it is the same with tailoring or garment construction. Sewing a garment from a Butterrick pattern even if silk is used instead of cotton is to me not original work. The garment might be beautiful to look at and might be beautifully constructed. But it is still a Butterick pattern.


It is embroidery that know best. I know that if a person stitches a picture of flowers from a chart, that is a technician stitching someone else's original pattern. If that stitcher changes the big flowers from red to blue and the little flowers she uses a thread that the pattern did not call for, that is a technician taking a flight of fancy. If that stitcher takes the pattern and puts her own design of a sleeping cat next the big blue flowers, that is still not original work--it is an adaptation. If that stitcher takes the big blue flowers, the sleeping cat, and a bunch of robins from another pattern and puts them all into a sampler, that is still not original work, but an adaptation. When that stitcher takes the sleeping cat and stitches a pillow and chair, both her own work into the picture, that is original. No one else had a thing to do with the pattern.


Silk painters use brushes silk dye and paint, and resist to paint designs on silk fabric. A lot of times they use blanks or pre-sewn garments to paint on. In my mind this is still original work. The garment blank is like an artist's canvas. The canvas itself is not the point of the art.


In lace making the same things apply. A lacer can be the world's greatest technician, but she is not an artist until she starts designing her own work. Here in Albuquerque we are lucky to have Laura Sandison and Susan Peterson who fit into that category of great technicians and great designers of lace.


Work done under the eye of a teacher is very rarely original work. I was in a Rocky Mountain Region Seminar class quite a while ago where we were given a theme and instructions in making a mixed media piece. The theme was the four seasons and we were to use transfer paints with stitching over them to work to the theme. The teacher had several examples there to show us. Everyone else in the class worked to the theme, did the transfers, and stitched her own version of fall, spring, etc. I have long been unable deep inside me to do other people's ideas, so I worked to the seven continents producing flowers that would be typical of the continents (okay, snowflakes for Antarctica.) I was happy with what I did and the other people were happy with what they did. Since then I have seen a couple of those four seasons works shown as original work. No, they weren't original. They were done under the aegis of a teacher with her theme married to her technique she was teaching. Mine? Mine weren't original either. The only difference in mine was that chose my own theme.


Originality is a unique vision of the artist, from beginning to end. Unique is starting from scratch with your own thoughts and assumptions.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Elizabeth, Mary, and Bess

Did Elizabeth Tudor, Queen of England, have trouble matching silks? Did Mary Stuart, queen of France and Scotland (and claimant to Elizabeth's throne), worry about not having enough blank fabric around her embroideries for finishing? Did Bess of Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury, worry about rough hands when she worked with delicate threads? I bet they did.

These women lived in the 16th century. It is amazing to me that they most certainly had some of the same problems as we do as we step through the door of the 21st century. These women were all embroiderers. We still have examples of their work. I love to think of the thread that stretches from us back to the royalty and nobility of the 1500's, back to the workshops and design shops of the 11th century Bayeux Tapestry, back to the ninth century Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastical embroideries, and surely back two millennia before that.

Elizabeth Tudor was a fine and noted embroiderer, especially in her early life. One of her pieces, worked in 1544 when she was a princess, was the outer cover and bookbinding of Miroir or Glasse of the Synnful Soul. The book was also copied out in her own hand. Elizabeth I fostered embroidery on another level. She chartered the professional embroiderers' guild in London in 1561, only a few years after she came to the throne.

Elizabeth had a troublesome cousin, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. Mary was romantic and unlucky, she loved intrigue and politics, and she was an embroiderer. She was imprisoned by Elizabeth for almost eighteen years, during which time she plotted her escape and stitched. Many embroideries have been attributed to Mary. One of the things that was certainly done by her was part of the Oxburgh Hangings around 1570.. Originally these were four wall hangings, designed and partially stitched by Mary and Bess of Hardwick. They were made of green velvet with small appliquéd emblems. The emblems were tent stitch on canvas, either square, cruciform or octagonal, and were allegorical pictures or mottoes. Thirty-four of the small appliqués have Mary's initials or cipher and are called the Marian Hangings. Of what must have been piles of needlework which she worked during her long captivity, only two other pieces are certainly Mary's, a couple of pillows in canvaswork now at Hardwick Hall.

Bess Of Hardwick, Elizabeth Countess of Shewsbury, was a famous needlewoman. She rose from being the daughter of a country squire to the second richest woman in all Britain. Her fourth husband, the Earl of Shrewsbury, was the "gaoler" for Mary Stuart for most of her captivity. Bess's household embraced many professional embroiderers and designers. Some of her maids stitched when they were not doing other duties. In Bess's later years, starting in 1599, she built a new residence for herself in the new "Elizabethan" style of architecture. This is the New Hardwick Hall. In this stately residence today remain many of Bess's embroideries. In fact the house is a treasure chest of Elizabethan period furnishings, accouterments, and ambiance.

The historical thread of embroidery runs strong through all of us stitchers. We still do the old embroideries and still in the old ways, one stitch at a time with a thread and needle. We still have trouble matching silks. We still have problems with rough hands on delicate threads. We are the Besses, the Elizabeths, and the Marys of our time.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Topic of This Posting is Books


In 1978 when I first joined The Embroiderers' Guild, I found myself in an active and friendly chapter that met in a church hall n Collingswood, NJ. That first meeting I attended was my second life epiphany where I found other people who were as passionate and dedicated as I was to the threaded needle. Those first years were a wonderful time for me with every day being a learning experience and every meeting having a new teacher. I was in that chapter until 1984 when we moved to Sandy, Utah, with my husband's job. The name of the chapter, now disbanded, was the Creative Needlework Chapter.

It was in that chapter that I met and had for teachers people like Jane Zimmerman who came out from California every year to teach on the east coast. Betsy Lieper first taught me crewel embroidery, the long and short stitch, soft shading, and how to do a perfect satin stitch. Muriel Bishop came from Princeton. Pauline Fischer came from New York to teach crewel on canvas. Ilsa Alther taught blackwork and Hardanger. Mary Fry came with some color studies and Ginger Di Pasquale came for igolochkoy. No one could have better teachers.

The topic of this posting is books. I can see that I digressed down Memory Lane a little. But the author of one of the books I am going to talk about I also met during this time at the Creative Needlework Chapter. Her name is Edie Feisner and she has written the best book on color that I have seen so far. As Carole Rinard and I write this Color Correspondence Course, we have looked at a lot of books on color, both old and new. Some are pretty good and some are pretty bad, but Edie Feisner's book stands out. It is called Color Studies and is a text book for Montclair State University, NJ. It is full of color pictures, diagrams, famous art, and student works. It is a complete study of the topic and very accessible. I highly recommend it. ISBN: 1-56367-213-8

Page from The Book of the Smiling Moon, an altered book by Shirley Kay

If one disregards the beads at the top, this page is a monochromatic color combination with orange plus neutrals. The splattered paint is tone of orange. If the blue beads are considered part of the color scheme, then it is a complement: blue and orange. Color combinations, tones, and neutrals are some of the topics considered in the correspondence course.

The second book I am recommending is Principles of Color Design by Wucius Wong. This little book presents color from a little different perspective than other books on color. Wong shows color in the context of design theory. The examples he shows are all his own work that are abstract designs. Because of this we learn about color from a pure and unified standpoint. This book is for a more advanced student of color, but very valuable in the understanding of how color works and how to manipulate it. I also highly recommend this book. ISBN: 0-442-29284-8

Mr. Wong has also written two books on design theory. If a person only had those two books, she could know almost all of what she needs to know about the pure theory. His books are excellent: Theory of Two-Dimensional Design and Theory of Three-Dimensional Design.

To bridge the first two paragraphs to this last paragraph, I want to mention Sandia Mountains Chapter, my current chapter of the EGA. We are also very friendly and very open to new things. Unfortunately in this day and age, national teachers are harder to come by because of the expense of traveling to such a far place. Also back in NJ we were new to embroidery and ready to learn anything and everything. Here in NM many of us have been in the EGA for three decades and more and have sampled most everything at least once. But we continue to get good national teachers, plus we have some excellent teachers within the chapter itself.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

AoE and Personal Abstraction

Yesterday, the fourth Friday of the month, the Art of Embroidery met for its organizational meeting. The Art of Embroidery is a special interest group within Sandia Mountains Chapter. We study things that are connected with embroidery, but we rarely study just embroidery. This coming chapter year, from September through May, we are looking at drawing and sketching, at patterning, and at layering. I realize that each of these topics deserve a year each, but we are having just a taste of each.
I am leading the drawing and sketching, while Felice Tapia is leading the layering. and Carolyn Bivens is leading the patterning. In other posts I have talked about the importance of being able to draw in order to be an artist. I am glad that I was able to arrange having some drawing sessions with AoE.

A Page of Illustrations


Drawing, illustrating, and sketching. I wish I had better terms for what I perceive as the differences between them. Drawing is certainly the formal and basic way of getting information down on paper. Drawing is where images are recorded as faithfully as possible including shadows, textures, and the environment of the subject. This what I learned to do in Drawing 101 I took while living in Colorado. This is what I would like AoE to practice at. Illustrating is just getting a few lines on paper to show stitches or the outlines of designs. This takes a lot less practice than drawing.


Pear & Red Teapot

An abstraction

What I term sketching is really two things to my mind. The first is rough images suitable for an artist's journaling. And the second is my own interpretation of an image in my own drawing style. My own interpretation is an abstraction not only of image, texture, and environment but also of color. Obviously I do not have the correct vocabulary for that personal abstraction.

While on vacation for the past week I made several sketches and several of my own personal abstractions. The assignment for AoE for October was to do several sketches--every day if you could manage. Of the six of us in AoE four of us are quite experienced. But practice does only good. I was glad to see that everyone tried and came up with something. Drawing can be scary: fear of making a mistake and fear of not being as good as the person sitting next to you. I know because I have experienced all of this.




Moonset 1

A personal abstraction turned into an embroidery

Jo Morris, Patricia Toulouse, Felice Tapia, Rita Curry-Pittman, Carolyn Bivens, and myself are the current active members. I can only congratulate all of us for coming to the edge and with a little encouragement jumping out and over in an effort to broaden our horizons.






Friday, October 17, 2008

Tumbling Deltas

I wasn't able to get into my studio much for the last couple of days--I was busy preparing for vacation. I really miss the time spent there. In my very first post to this blog I spoke of the casita and of my just moving in to inhabit the place. That was the summer. Now we are well into another season and the situation in the casita has changed a bit.

I get more natural light this time of year. The sun is lower in the south and so my two south windows are bright most all of the day. But it is colder in there. The floors are all tile and painted cement and there is no central heat. I have no doubt that in deepest winter it will take at least half an hour to heat up the air to where I want to sit, take my mittens off, and work. But that is do-able.

In the main room I have tall steel shelves along the north wall bracing the north window. Taking up much of the center of the room are two large tables--my work top. I also have a beading desk and a small stand handy near where I normally sit that holds my cassette/CD player. The walls are hung with some unsold art. I am surrounded by my threads, papers, books, paint brushes, paints, dyes. I am very happy with that room.


A Fall Progression
I took this photo in November of 2004 outside the local library.


I have brought in the indoor plants and three of them sit on a small desk under one of the south windows. They should be plenty warm through all of winter unless we have a terrible cold snap. The plants which are in the second room give the place a nice homey feel and brighten up the white walls and floor. Also in the second room which is actually the dining room / kitchen of the casita, I have my sewing machine and ironing board out where I can reach then at all times. Very cool.

This is after several iterations or changes I made on the computer.

The red leaf on the left is essential to the design.

But speaking of the casita, I saw Viviano Herrera the other day. He was up from his son Juan's home in la ciudad de Chihuahua. Viviano is the man who moved into the casita in 2004 and transformed it from a half-garage into a whole little house. It still had a garage door on the north side, an industrial heater in the roof, and an oil smell deep in the floor. Viviano moved in and redid the garage door into a wall and window, he fixed the roof, he removed the car grease from the floor, and he painted the walls. Already there were the kitchen and bathroom in working order. Viviano lived in the casita until March of this year, exactly four years, before illness overtook him and he had to be cared for by his family. But when I saw him on Monday of this week, he was hale and well. He had come up to visit his friends here in ABQ and then to go up to Colorado to visit two more of his sons, Carlos and Indio. It was good to see him.


This is one of the final designs.

It looks like little fishes to me and diatoms in the sea.

Because of Viviano, I was able to realize my dream of a studio--a place of my own. And I am forever grateful. The studio means so much to me. I think it is a prize that I have finally won after years of service and study. It is a space deep inside me that I can go to when I tell my stories of life and dream. When I am working in the studio I lose track of time. Hours can pass so quickly that I can barely remember them. I go into another zone, another type of time. Is it the fugue of creativity? Meditation with Delta Waves tumbling around me?



This is Bouquet Salpicon from the same iteration.

The threads exactly match the red leaf.

This is a type of very modern blackwork.

I am on vacation for the next week. I will have my computer along and so will post when I can. I will also have along all my drawing stuff--pencils, paper, colored pencils, pens,--and I will draw. Drawing is another thing that puts me into my other zone. Don't bother wishing me a good time--I know I will have one.