Wednesday, February 24, 2010

London and the Brick

Once more the ghastly spectre of a professional exhibiting category versus a strictly amateur one has raised its hollowed-eyed head. I am a long-time opponent of separating the exhibiting categories into these two factions.

The Sandia Mountains and Turquoise Trail committees for Albuquerque Fiber Art Fiesta have decided to do just that--to make another subdivision in all the categories for awards. So there are ten more categories, all of which need a professional to enter them.

The AFAF is now open to all fiber artists in the USA--not just members of the supporting guilds. Consequently the Fiesta will be advertising nationally to bring more artists to exhibit. This is really a wonderful idea. The AFAF is a tremendous venue for us to see such a huge range of fiber art and meet fiber artists. The vendors are spectacular with their huge variety of wares that we rarely see in one place all together.

Admittedly I am a little late to put to put my 2¢ in, but I have written about this before. And it may seem self-serving that I, as maybe the only professional who enters the embroidery categories at this point, make this protest. On the other hand, if I am the only person in the categories, maybe I will win more ribbons. Maybe. But this is not my point.

My point is that a person can best improve her skills and creativity by exhibiting against the best there is. If professionals are the best (and separating them out from the amateurs seems to confirm this belief), then the amateurs have no real goals to achieve except to excel as second-best.

A long time ago in a city far away, right after I joined the EGA, I was in an exhibit put on by my chapter, the now disbanded Creative Needlework Chapter in Collingswood, NJ. We were a young, very active chapter who could get nearly 100% participation in a show. The exhibit was held in a large department store that gave us space in some upstairs rooms with glass cases on the walls. We had an embroidery teacher come down from Princeton, I believe, to judge the show. There was no professional category, just original and non-original in the various types of needlework. I was the newest member and really didn’t expect to win anything, but I did original work at that time, almost exclusively. I had entered a needlepoint-covered brick doorstop. It was an ocean scene with crashing surf and beach with sea creatures crawling on it. Someone in my family still has that brick. I was delighted with it, but I knew that I still hadn’t mastered the medium.

A woman by the name of Sherry London was also in the chapter and she was a professional. She had published a book and she had designed several kits that sold at least locally. Her needlepoint was of a lion with a mane of bullion knots. It was cute thing. She won. I was not disappointed (there were no second and third prizes--only best in category), but I had several women come up an actually apologize to me about my “loss.” They felt that I should have won just so that I would be encouraged to keep working originally. My work was good, but in a show where technique counted for three points and originality counted only for two, Sherry was bound to win. I did not begrudge her the win. But she never beat me again. Second best should not win: only the best should. It was a valuable lesson to me.

I know as a professional that I cannot devote the time to stitching that an amateur can. In the past year I have been writing classes and my embroidery output has dropped enormously. Everyone needs to practice to keep up skills for exhibiting. In the last Fiesta I did not win three blue ribbons for my three entries. An amateur has every opportunity to study as much as a professional, to work as hard as a professional, and to practice hard. What is magic about that? What is the difference? I personally know of several people right here in Albuquerque who are better at some needlework skills than I am. The way to win blue ribbons is not to exclude people who may be better than I am from the categories, but to include them, so I can hone my skills for next time and bring home the blue!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Winding Roads
A class in dyeing and painting ribbons and grounds, then appliqueing
the ribbon to the ground, adding , paint and beads to create bouquets.

The Bee Book
Even the book itself is an embroidery because of the
hand-stitched and beaded binding that we will learn to do.
We will embroider the covers and the inside of the book
is a stitched sampler on a series of fourteen "pages."

Now is the lull between two pilot classes. Intense Pattern with its intense preparation days is giving way to Pirate’s Gold with less intense preparation. The only reason for the downgrading in intensity is that I have taught color theory many times before and have a pretty good handle on what needs to be taught in the class, at what point, and for how long. Intense Pattern was not like that at all. When I went in the first day of class I had little idea on just how long each phase would take. It was a class that was completely new in concept to me. It worked wonderfully, but not exactly as I had thought it would. All the women in the class were A-1 students who each in her own way helped guide us all through the blackwork forest. Usually I have an idea of what day we will do what and how much time it will take. But the class went much more quickly than I had thought it would through the building block material. I was to the point that I wondered what we would do the last day. But then the class changed and when we seriously started to do the patterning and all its manifestations the women took all they had absorbed and applied it to new stuff. As I mentioned before, they did not want to stop for breaks. They wanted to work on through with their current lines of thought. It was wonderful to see. Thanks, guys!

With Pirate’s Gold I will have a very good idea of the timing of the thing. But during each seven-hour class day, several things have to happen. There has to be concentrated learning, there has to be exploration time, there have to be light moments with laughing and a complete relaxation of the concentration, and there have to be physical breaks; for instance, an hour for lunch and two ten or fifteen minute breaks during the day. In my color classes there is just as much first-rate creativity among the students as there was in Intense Pattern. When we get to the exercises of the classic color combinations, we create about fifteen small collages. Usually the collages get to be more thoughtful and more elaborate as the time goes on. The students are building on their creativity and exploring their own notions about the subject matter whether it is double split complements or hexads.

I am just now putting together the visual aids for Pirate’s Gold. I have most of them from other times I have taught similar classes. But with this class, we will deal with some other concepts also, like luminosity and aerial perspective in color. The student text is about written and just needs a few additions and some tweaking. My lecture notes are essentially done. The star of this show will be that each student gets a full set of Color-Aid® papers to help with the study. These papers are the true hues printed on matte paper. With these true hues we can begin to see how red looks at its true value and saturation. The Color-Aid papers are invaluable.

Next I start on the third pilot I am going to do--A Fish Swallowed My Pencil. This is a two-day class about creativity and design. I have most of the visual aids for it, but still have to write the lecture notes and student text. I do not teach it until the beginning of May so I still have time.

Look for Intense Pattern on the EGA website: under Extended Study Programs. It is to be taught here in NM in mid-July. I cannot tell you how terrific this class is.

Look for Pirate’s Gold and A Fish Swallowed My Pencil also on the EGA website under the 2010 National Seminar in San Francisco around the first of September.

But best of all--look for my two newest classes The Bee Book and Winding Roads to be taught in the 2011 EGA National Seminar in Naples, Florida.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Blackwork Extravaganza

February 15th, Intense Pattern. The Last Day. Things went wonderfully today too. It was a relaxed day and we did a little more talking, but a lot was accomplished. We spent the morning going over the last of the concepts for the class, including design considerations, how to design samplers, some extra questions about chiaroscuro, silk threads, and washing the stitched silk and linen samplers. To finish the morning we reviewed the Elements and Principles of Design.

After lunch (more of Bert's chicken salad that I always find absolutely delicious, and Jane's tuna salad that I find ditto), we concentrated on designing an actual piece. Everyone opted to design a sampler in the end. We had adventurous designs and more adventurous designs. For someone who has never designed a sampler, even the smallest and the simplest is an adventure. Some of the more experienced people went with big ideas. We had a Stonehenge, a lighthouse, an imari plate, and a cross all set up as samplers. Very interesting. We had square samplers, circular samplers and rectangular samplers. It was very exciting to see them all in the planning stages. I believe that some of them will eventually get stitched too.

I was very pleased with the class participants. They were all willing to do work that some of them were afraid of, work that was out of all their comfort zones, and work that was like stepping over an edge with no idea if there is a safety net below. And they did it. Every single one. I am very, very proud of them.

At the end of the afternoon we discussed the class for a bit. I asked what the highlight of the class was for people, what could be improved, what needs to be done a different way. All of the comments were positive. I do have corrections to make, but no major ones. I will have to reorder the some of the pages--a minor proposition. And I will have to emphasize certain things for a smoother learning experience.

I want to thank everyone for being such good sports about this class. A big thanks to Jane and Curt for hosting us. It was a big burden, I am sure, in some ways, while in others it was handy for Jane because she could stay home. Thanks to Bert for being such a good sport about my merciless and never ending teasing and for taking that step off the edge with me. Thanks to Mary for driving the first day, so Mike could have the car. Thanks to Anna for her wonderful cake and for stepping into a class as a newbie. Thanks to Patricia for her good ideas and practical suggestions. Thanks to Marie for walking into a world that was new to her and facing it with perfect courage. Thanks to Nancy for coming down from Los Alamos for the class and for having such intricate and creative ideas. Thanks to Peggy for working with such concentration and determination. It was a pleasure just watching her. Thanks to Jo for all her questions (I am sure other people wanted to know the answers to them too), for her Italian translation and pronunciation of chiaroscuro, and for being such a determined designer. Thanks to Neenah for being such a cool cucumber in the midst of many mad women--though I did notice that she almost fell out of her chair laughing once or twice. And thanks to Ellie, for her bright and happy personality, for her tiny, tiny fish, and for her big ideas that she is well on the way to making reality. You people are the best.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Day Three--Blackwork Extravaganza

Happy Valentine's Day, Intense Pattern. Today was a food day. We are all nurturers and so most of us brought food. It was Marie's birthday and the most scrumptious birthday/valentine cake for her with pink butter cream filling & frosting and cherries on it was made by Anna. There were heart cookies, giant strawberries with a whipped cream dip, a heart-shaped peanut butter /chocolate pie or candy or whatever that was made in heaven by Bert. I brought Hershey kisses because everyone needs chocolate. Both Jane and Bert had stuff there for lunches too, so we had chicken salad, broccoli salad, and avocado & grapefruit salad, plus crackers, breads, coffee and tea. I have told Jane that if Mike ever leaves me I am going to move in with her.

We again started the day on time with most of the students arriving before the teacher. I would almost be embarrassed but I have a chauffeur (Mike) and we have a passenger. Sometimes we cannot all coordinate as well as I would like. We started the morning going over the concepts that have more to do with overall design rather than just with designing the patterns. We did tessellations, random patterns versus strictly counted patterns, and spot motifs.

Tomorrow we start with actually designing a piece of blackwork. I have assured people that we are just going to design work, not actually stitch it--unless they want to. This has calmed fears considerably, which is amazing to me. Even the most stalwart non-designers among us are taking this designing idea and taking it very well. Everyone was able to do all of the exercises today--even though they technically become harder and harder. There was barely a wail heard today. I just explained to them what to do and then they did it! It was wonderful. They were so good today.

Most of the day was spent very quietly in the classroom (Jane's dining room). People were completely absorbed in designing tessellations and then in designing a dozen original patterns. This was hard work. We needed all the valentine goodies that came our way.

One more day. I am sure the enthusiasm will stay with us. I will make sure it does.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Day 2--Blackwork Extravaganza

Feb.13,Intense Pattern. The second day started on an upward note. We certainly did more laughing today. People were more at ease and consequently they were more able to absorb. Everyone caught on the the concepts, if not the first time through, then on the second time. We studies the last of the basic nets--the ogees and shells (or fish scale). Then we went on to Patterning Transitions. These are the concepts by which we can vary the basic manipulations and nets. People picked these up as if they really knew about them all the time. And they did know about them. They had just never been formally told about them or had seen them explained in black and white.

The first transition was voids, and then we went on to counterchange, overlapping/overlays, and then value changes. We went on with units & superunits and diaper patterns. Of course we ran into the controversy of what exactly a diaper pattern is. The dictionary definition seems at variance with the EGA definition. But we muddled through.

The crowning glory of the day, as far as I was concerned and none of the students were, was the ekphratic trope. That was like extra credit or a bonus question. Still, everyone weathered that.

Lunch was good. Bert brought her famous chicken salad and Jane prepared some tuna salad. The mini-muffins were still there, along with two types of quick breads. So we were all content.

This day went a lot smoother than the first. There were more jokes and more rested people. I found it almost as hard as the first day. But I am here blogging right after I got home instead of lying down, so maybe it was easier.

Tomorrow we do the last of the transitions and then in the afternoon we really go after our own pattern designing. Wish us all luck.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Day One--the Blackwork Extravaganza

Intense Pattern, Friday the 12th. Mary and I arrived at Jane's house at 8:15 for the 9:00 class. I had to set up everything, so it took most of the forty-five minutes. I brought enough baggage that it looked as if I were moving in for a couple of months. Within minutes of our arrival other members of the class starting arriving too. Everyone was very punctual which is a Good Thing.

We started right at nine o'clock and after a few minutes of my explaining about the obligations of a piloter in a pilot class, we got started. I was one set of photos short, but luckily I had tucked another set in with my teaching materials so everyone had a full set. After going through the kit and explaining what we were doing--giving them a choice of either a sampler or a notebook--we dove into the patterning. First were the basic manipulations: translation, rotation, reflection, and glide reflection. Some people got off to a rocky start. Three or four of the eleven students were convinced that they were in way over their heads and that they could never do this. As I could see frustrations levels rising, I did some one-on-one with the troubled ones. Slowly they caught the gist of graphing the patterns. We were into the glide reflection when we all caught on. Glide reflection is the hardest of all the concepts in the whole class. It took me several days, when I was teaching myself, to become comfortable with it. I hope I helped these women over that hump. There was a little stitching in the morning--we needed the rest from the brain work!

Then all of a sudden it was time for lunch. We sailed through a morning break. By 11:30 we were tired. I ate my Braunsweiger and Swiss on rye sandwich, munched on my carrots, and desserted on two mini-muffins that Jane had brought in for the occasion. After a short rest, we were at it again.

In the afternoon we started on the basic networks: block, brick, half-drop, and diamond. These are easier in some ways than the others, but none are completely trivial. After I explained these, we stitched the rest of the class time until 3:30. At that time we had show-and-tell for people who brought in some of their past blackwork. It was an exhausting, but pleasurable day.

I need to explain the graphing a little more for the July class. I had made the assumption that everyone knew how to graph and I was wrong. About one-third of the class had no idea what I was talking about. The pace was about right. We did the concepts slowly, but thoroughly. Things will go a bit faster tomorrow.

One student who was busy scribbling and scribbling said that she was finished with the graph of the concept, but she had so many ideas that she was hurrying to get them all down. Another student said she could imagine the patterns she could make from the basic tools she learned. She also could see blackwork with her own patterns. Everyone completed all the graphing--and I hope they understood it. We went over several things that were harder and I had more individual time again in the afternoon. I believe that everyone is up to speed. I am amazed at how much everyone seems to like the class.

I personally could drop from tiredness, but I will not go to bed until after nine. Discipline!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Intense Pattern--The Opus

Today is a red letter day and that red letter is D. D as in Done. Yes, today I am finished finally with Intense Pattern and I am getting ready to teach it tomorrow for the first time in pilot. This class has been a year and a half in the writing, but a half a lifetime in the making. I have studied and done blackwork from the late 70s. I researched it in museums (notably the Victoria and Albert in London), from books, from pictures from museums, from articles, and from other people’s work. I have about twenty major, framed pieces, about half a dozen blackwork samplers, a 4” binder filled with samples, minor works, and experiments I have done over the years, and I have another 4” binder filled with papers, research, articles, and blackwork miscellany. I have the texts of all the classes I have taught on blackwork (maybe ten?). And, above all, I have this powerful urge to pass on my learning to others.

Marie Campbell who in 2008 was head of ESP classes asked me to write a class for her. She mentioned blackwork. ESP stands for Extended Study Program and is sponsored by the EGA. An ESP delves deeply into a subject, more deeply than even a national class might. ESPs can be held anywhere and anyone, even non EGA members, can take them. I knew I had a rip-roaring class on blackwork in me ready to escape. So I wrote up a proposal a couple of weeks later and sent in to Marie. Intense Pattern was born with national board approval.

A non-original blackwork pattern, octogon and square. This pattern is widely used both in Western embroidery and Eastern embroidery. This is a detail from one of my Mastercraftsman Color works, which were mostly done in modern, colored blackwork.

I like to do original work. More than that, I insist on doing original work. My blackwork compositions are all original and I like my most of my blackwork patterns also to be original, even though there are dozens of books out there that are filled with blackwork patterns. A blackwork pattern is the counted pattern that is used to fill and shade blackwork compositions. There are an infinity of blackwork patterns that can be developed--or if not an infinity, at least a number larger than I could ever count.

Voids, tessellation and bats. All original patterns from my work called Japanese Ribbons. The patterns in this were all adapted from printed kimono patterns.

So with the first step done, the second was to decide how the class would run--what exactly would I teach. Patterning theory, a little-known aspect of design theory, has always fascinated me, so I started there. I have had one class on patterning theory that I took in Denver at its 1995 national seminar by Tom Lundberg called Pattern Design for Teachers. From that class I started keeping a notebook on design theory. An invaluable resource and one of the most important tools I own for artistic compositions and classes.

It was in the Tom Lundberg class that I learned the basic networks of patterning. A little later, through researching books on the subject, I found the basic manipulations of patterning. For Intense Pattern, I squashed the two together and that was the basis for the class. Well, the networks and the basic manipulations were just the skeletons. To that I added other concepts that a blackwork patterner would need to know, things like counterchange, voids, diaper patterns, and tessellation. That was the second step.

Basic manipulations and other concepts from the first
Intense Pattern sampler.

The third step was stitching the sampler for the class--before a word was actually written and with just a rough outline. Ah, that sampler. People got very tired of seeing that sampler. I carried it everywhere and worked on it all the time. When I finally finished it, it was a sight to behold, bold, crazed, and packed with information. I was done with it, but I wasn’t quite satisfied. I needed another to demonstrate color in blackwork. So I started work on a second, smaller sampler that has some splashes of color and a few other concepts I had been toying with. They were like Thing One and Thing Two in my life. All I could do was think about them and wrestle with them.

The fourth step was actually writing the class. An easier step than you might think--I already had it all stitched out there in black and white (and red and purple on the semi-colored sampler.) This step was completed a year and three months after I sent in the proposal. I finished the samplers last year in the late summer and early autumn.

Color in blackwork, the simplest mode--just exchanging the black threads for violet ones.
This motif demonstrates voiding and also emotion in patterns.
Who wants bugs crawling all over their leaves?

And then the fifth step--the hardest step of all--was getting the kits together and writing the lecture notes. Yesterday I finally finished the lecture notes and printed them out. Today I put the linen in the kits and they are ready to go. It has been a long voyage and path of discovery. But I think this is my personal-best class ever.

Thanks to Jane, Ellie, Marie, Mary, Patricia, Bert, Nancy, Ann, Peggy, Jo, and Neenah for being my pilot class and for being the ones to suffer through the tweakings and false starts. You guys are the best.

Intense Pattern, the first sampler.
The vine of leaves at the bottom right section of the sampler gives it
a lively look and gives it a place the eye loves to go.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The stitchery for optical color mixing from Mastercraftsman Color.
Notice how the three ribbons seem to be
made up of at least three colors. This is an illusion.
There are only two colors in each ribbon.

The tartan partially finished. There are only six colors in this,
but optically from a little distance, it looks like more.
This is cross-stitch over every other interesection horizontally,
alternating the colors in the code of my birthdate.
Then using the same six colors in the same
order, the empty spaces are filled in vertically.

I taught today. It felt good. Today was the monthly general meeting of Sandia Mountains Chapter. This was the second meeting that I was secretary--a post I have never held before in my life. I guess I take good enough notes--no one has complained. Today I took notes in the general meeting, then I taught the meeting, and then I took notes in the nine-minute board meeting that was held afterwards. Yes, I was tired. But that didn’t stop me from going out to lunch (Rita was buying and Mary Geyer was driving) at Jason’s Deli. Also with us were Bert Kroening (who admits to being born in 1893), Jane Moses (who is recovering nicely from a broken hip and consequent surgery), and Patricia Toulouse (who was just regular--thank goodness someone was). Well, also Rita and Mary. It was delicious and in the best of company!

So I taught a class called Design Your Own Tartan that is really a class on optical color mixing. The class was fun. Everyone except a new member knew how to do the cross-stitch. (Bert did hers in tent stitch on canvas.) We used our birthdates and our own choice of thread color to give us each our unique tartan. If you would like a copy of the instructions, please leave me a message on this blog with your email address and I will electronically blitz you a copy of the instructions.

Optical color mixing is a color illusion in which two colors applied side-by-side look like a third color. The most famous artist for this was Georges-Pierre Seurat and the most famous of his works was A Sunday on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Seurat called the technique he used divisionism, also known as pointillism. A tartan that is either woven or stitched gives a good idea of pointillism.

When I was doing Mastercraftsman Color, one of the assignments was to stitch a piece that demonstrated optical mixing. I chose to do it in a modern form of blackwork. You can see that piece above.

Bert did a good job presiding over the business meeting. She kept it to just half an hour. I already mentioned the short board meeting afterwards. She’s doing a good job. Everybody else kept it short and sweet--it was run like a good meeting should be run. Even though I am bone-tired tonight, I know I had a good day.