Saturday, August 30, 2008


I disovered that out new theme was shelter whilst I was using the free internet access at the Troppen Museum in Amsterdam. A moment before I had wandered through a reconstruction of a Morrocan house and then sat in a real Yurt to view films of nomads in Mongolia. So it was perhaps natural that my instinctive recation was to go for a literal interpretation.

However, over the previous days I had been to the Jewish Museums in Berlin and Amsterdam, the Corrie Ten Boon House in Utrecht ( where Jews were hidden during the war), and was also reading this excellent book
written by a refugee for Somalia who became a member of the Dutch parliament and a champion of human rights especially for muslim women.

Given that swirling combination of thoughts and my profession maybe it is not suprising that I have also been thinking in terms of International Law as a shelter against persecution and quilts as comfort and shelter in emotional terms also.

So, today I come to put some of my ideas to fabric and I have hit a dilemma of taste. I want my quilt to have a social message but how hard hitting and graphic can I be? I don't want to be too precise at the moment in what I am thinking about doing but let me just say that one option is to use photos of Holocaust victims about which I have no copyright concerns because they were taken by Nazis. Some photos are much more graphic than others albeit all would allude readily to the most horrendous evils. All are the kind of things you would see if you knowingly chose to go to a Holocaust related museum. But given that we hope our quilts will be viewed in a happy quilt show where youngsters or otherwise senstive people might be present and would not expect such images, am I crossing a boundary of taste?

I am happy to challenge and to pack a hard punch with my message but I do not wish to offend.

Any thoughts fellow twelvers ( or indeed potential quilt viewers?)

Friday, August 29, 2008


After spending an inordinate amount of time sitting on trains and aeroplanes this week, it was a relief to finally arrive in London and to meet up with my one of my childhood friends. He happens to work as with London's largest charity for homeless people - St Mungos so he showed us around the temporary accommodation facility and wellbeing centre where he is based. And boy does he have some stories! We left my friend writing up case notes from an assault he suffered earlier in the week from a mentally unhinged client and stretched our legs walking around a different resting place - Brompton Cemetery. Sorry that I don't have photos but I did remember to photograph my completed Shelter quilt before I left Australia.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Taking Refuge

As I worked on my shelter quilt this week, it was a great thrill to look out my studio window to see a family of whales taking refuge at Copacabana VERY close to shore. (More photos on my blog.)

Almost finished

I think I'm about done with the shelter piece. I went in a completly different direction than I started out . It involves Machu Picchu again, and lots of painted interfacing. I was almost finished quilting it when I realized, Brenda, that I once again used a lot of green! I tried working it again in different colors, but this one is really the best. I always thought my favorite color was blue, but this dark green seems to have a hold on me. I will be previewing it and saving it for later post because I will be in Ohio during the big reveal. I'm taking a class at Nancy Crow's Barn with Claire Benn and Leslie Morgan .

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Too Much Thinking to be Productive!

Shelter has definitely been on my mind, too much. Houses stresses mostly consume my energy--our previous offer fell through because of financing difficulties, so I'm back to trying to keep the place spotless to sell--but I have been trying to distract myself with art. My biggest problem is that I don't know how to create without getting everything out. I need to be able to see, touch and play with everything. Any helpful suggestions for a clean house and art simultaneously would be great!

I have managed to pull out my sketchbook and do a little research. Types of shelter listed in Wikipedia included: protection from weather, place of refuge, war related and geological. The most common Google images were bus shelters. Not were I want to go. From the Internet I travelled to the Bible. One of my favorite "shelter" scriptures is Psalm 61:4, "I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings." I love the image of being wrapped in an embrace of safety. Last night as I was going to sleep, my thought was shelter pictured as a hug. We also went hiking last weekend, leading me to various trail names such as Boulder Shelter. And then there was the cave house we stayed in during our honeymoon on Santorini, Greece.

Which way to go? Hopefully I will move from words to visuals soon.

Monday, August 18, 2008


I'm not even ready to pull out my sketch book. I'm still considering ideas for my "shelter" piece. I am a bit surprised that everything that comes to my mind is both open and closed. I think of a shelter as something that covers, but doesn't completely enclose. I don't know why I feel that way and I don't think it really fits the official definition, but that's the direction I'm heading for now.

It made me think of this tiny umbrella quilt I made for a collaborative project with my art quilting friends in Maine, the Frayed Edges.

We each picked a snap shot we loved and then we each made a quilt inspired by that snap shot. There are five of us, so that made for 25 small quilts. We mounted them in a grid format with all the quilts inspired by one photo mounted in the rows and all the quilts by each artist in the columns.

The umbrella was inspired by Kathy's snapshot. You can read more about the project on my blog here or on Sarah's blog here.

I created this piece with layers of fabrics and the image printed on Extravorganza.

All my 12x12 pieces thus far have been somewhat abstract. I think it's time for me to mix in some realism. Scary.

Grand meetings

I see there is dissension on our fantasy meeting place. Ever the conciliating family lawyer, I have a suggestion. Round the World Tickets are generally cheaper than multi-trips. So, I will buy one and visit Australia to see Brenda and Kirstin. They will buy one and join me on the flight to see Kristin in Hawaii. She buys one and joins us to go to Dianne etc until we get back to my house and I stay and the rest of you follow on to Australia etc until you complete your trip and get home. How's that for a round robin?
Or, we meet on neutral ground. I vote Cape Town.
Meanwhile back to reality - too much work to enable me to even put away my Festival shopping never mind use it. Sigh.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Francoise and I

Finally, I got to meet one of you. Francoise and I were both at Festival Quilts and we met briefly, by co-incidence at the Ricky Tims concert, again by design for lunch on Sunday ( when she showed perfect manners in not commenting on the fact that my main course consisted of baked cheesecake and ice-cream) and again by accident by the pictorial quilts later that afternoon! She pre-approved my posting this delightful picture of her. Excuse the fact I am also on it!

The show is a great one and our view is that we should have a Twelveby12 meeting there next year. There is an airport on site so you all have no excuse ( other than that dratted money thing!).

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Just for Fun

Back at the beginning of our Illumination challenge, I was toying with the idea of an illuminated manuscript and how it relates to fabric. The illumination in historic books and bibles is often the initial caps, or first letters on a page or paragraph. In textiles, we find fancy letters on monograms. 

I particularly liked the idea of a monogram because I could do it all by hand while everything I owned (including my two sewing machines) was packed up and sent halfway around the world. Then I got sidetracked by the flashlight quilt. 

In the end, I decided to complete this quilt too. It was a pretty good airplane project since it's so small. I embroidered the "Illuminated" Chi-Rho at about 3000 feet somewhere between Greenland and Helena, Montana (which has nothing to do with the concept of this piece, it's just kinda fun to say).

To round out the heirloom textile feel of this piece, I quilted it by hand and then added the crocheted border. To be honest, although I had finished the embroidery and quilting by our deadline,  I had no way to upload photos to the blog so I took my time with the crochet and finally finished it a week late. So this is more of an aside than an official contribution.

I really like the idea of this and thoroughly enjoyed making it, but in the end, I'm not completely happy with some of the fabric and color choices. If I had it to do again, I'd try a darker "glow" behind the monogram to set it off from the shirt, and then probably make the monogram lighter for contrast. The crocheted border is nice, but although the color is pretty with the plaid of the shirt, I think it draws the eye away from the monogram too much. If this were my "official" quilt for the challenge and if I had the time, I'd do it over, but since it's not, and the idea here is to experiment and learn, I'm not going to worry about it.

Now I DO need to get serious about our Shelter challenge.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Shelter Under Construction

I have nearly completed my quilt top for the shelter challenge. I can't show any pictures without giving the whole thing away but I can report, with a small degree of frustration, that this quilt wants to be smaller and an irregular size and shape. I keep telling it that our name is Twelve by Twelve not 13 x 11 3/8 x 12 1/8 x 11 7/8...

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Radiance Detail

I made a start on a shelter-themed quilt today. Can't say much at this stage. Meanwhile, this is for the people who asked for a detail image of my illumination quilt. Click to enlarge:
Radiance© Brenda Gael Smith

Monday, August 4, 2008


My husband and I were discussing this theme and I first threw out the Rolling Stones "Gimme Shelter", then he threw out homeless shelter and I haven't stopped thinking about it since. I am picturing midnight mission, shopping carts, bag ladies and my brain is zooming!

Illumination question

I got an email this morning from someone I don't know about my Illumination quilt. She started by saying how much she liked it, then ended by pointing out that the wire holding the lanterns defies gravity and thinks it "spoils" the piece.

Yup, she's right. The wire, as shown, doesn't work logically. I actually knew that when I was laying it out, but artistically it is a better line. I decided to go with it as shown and let the viewer assume there were unseen things going on that make that wire work! My writer's suggestion was that I run a vertical "wire" from the top of the blue lantern so it looks supported. I think that is too fussy and distracts from the lanterns. But I am asking for input and opinion. Do you think the illogical wire spoils the piece? I can change it if I need to.

Sunday, August 3, 2008


I had a premonition that Terri would choose the theme "home" so I wasn't far off. Whether, shelter or home, it's not a big leap to get to "house". I have some Freddy Moran gift wrap featuring bright coloured house quilts from the book Freddy's House:
House Party Gift Wrap
I have often contemplated making a house block or quilt featuring my home. It's not a conventional house shape...
Freddy's House by Freddy Moran Casa da Praia
I'm not certain that this is a direction I will pursue for the theme of "Shelter" but, whatever I do, I have to get it together before I go travelling later in the month.


Just an idea...

SHINE! Illumination Update

The gallery pages of the Twelve by Twelve website have been updated to display our the illumination theme quilts. Don't they look good together in this collaborative quilt mosaic?!
Twelve by Twelve Illumination Theme QuiltsTake a look at the individual artist gallery pages as well to see each member's collection of quilts.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Next Theme

Here is the next theme for the time period of August through September.

shelter (plural shelters)
1. A refuge, haven or other cover or protection from something
2. An institution that provides temporary housing for homeless people, battered women etc.

to shelter
1. (transitive) To provide cover
2. (intransitive) To take cover

Friday, August 1, 2008


I chose to work on the buddhist meaning of illumination.

My background fabric was shibori-dyed.
I drew a very simple shape of someone sitting and meditating, and with that shape, I made a stencil out of freezer paper. I used oil sticks to print the shapes, and their shadows, on my fabric.
I added a little yellow oil paint in some of the white spots of the dyed fabric and embroidered small stars.

Japanese Lanterns

Oh yeah, we're unlocked! It has been a long day of moving and no access to the computer so it was so exciting to see all the pieces that have been posted. And WHAT A SURPRISE to see Diane's lanterns! I could hardly believe my eyes! We were tuned into the same wavelength, for sure.

There are so many meanings for the word "illumination"—so many really thoughtful ideas. It was hard to finally get to something that worked for me. Illumination as light was always in my mind and somewhere along this process I saw a photograph in a blog of colorful Japanese lanterns in a garden that spoke to me. But I filed the thought away and later when I went looking for the photo couldn't find it again, so I had to rely on my memory, my impressions and my imagination.

I think light is most striking when it shines out of darkness. It draws us to it and speaks to us at a very basic level. One can imagine early men finding comfort and connection to the sight of a far off campfire. I think of turning onto my street, late at night and seeing my porch light glowing in the darkness. All is well. We are home. Right now, as we prepare to move to a new home it is very much on my mind whether this home will welcome us as the old one has and how it will feel in different lights. I long to sit out among the trees in the darkness, under the stars, and I can imagine glowing paper lanterns lighting our way through the shadows.

P.S. My computer is finally up and running at the new house. I have replaced my photo with a larger one. You should be able to click on it to see the piece in greater detail.

Illumination Celebration

Sorry to be so late with my post--we spent the house shopping and I'm only now getting to the computer.

I have to confess, I had so many ideas for this challenge, but just didn't have the time to execute them. If you have stopped by my personal blog you will know that we have spent the last two months getting our house ready to sell and it needed a lot of work. Just imagine four small children, flat paint and white carpet. It is finally done and I have a little time to myself. I took the sewing machine and the kids to my parents' house and got to work. (As a little aside, we sold the house today! Now I have to find a new house and get ready to move.)

My Illumination Celebration inspiration was from photos of fireworks I took on the Fourth of July and a wonderful photo of the sun rising through the trees in my back yard.

I loved the light bursting out from behind the trees. I tried to print the photo on fabric, but the colors just weren't as amazing as real thing. As I tried to paint the scene, the image came to look much more like the fireworks, another source of illumination.

To create my quilt, I painted the background with Dyn-a-flow paints. For the light burst, I used metallic paints. I then added thread painting with metallic thread. The edges I finished with a fuzzy yarn.

Happy Lanterns

I've always loved paper lanterns. Early on, after the "Illumination" theme was announced, I had this idea which had nothing to do with lanterns. I was going to use a photograph I'd taken, and make a quilt about the ongoing process of illumination/awarenesss/education that is parenting.

And then, one day, I stumbled onto a picture of some Chinese lanterns. The desire to translate that into fabric was so immediate and clear that I abandoned the original plan and lept right to this. It was one of those lightening bolts of illumination. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.) There's no cosmic or deep philosophical meaning here ... just gaily colored lanterns illuminating the dark.

These lanterns are made of dupioni silk (I *knew* I'd bought those fat quarters of bright colors for a reason!) The spines and pleats of the lanterns are stitched with heavy-weight Sulky rayon thread. I made the lanterns glow with my favorite Caran D'Ache Neocolor II crayons.
Maybe one of these days I'll get back to that photo and my original idea. But these lanterns made me so happy to work on and I smile every time I see this on my wall... hence, "Happy Lanterns."


For the theme Illumination, I chose to go with an eastern religious idea of illumination signifying enlightenment. As refered to on my previous post on this subject (6/14/08), enlightenment includes the ideas of clarity, reflection, and serenity. This image of a buddha includes all of that to me. I happen to have a large collection of eastern indian fabrics, including saris that I have been purchasing over the years, and this seemed like the perfect oppurtunity to use some of them. This piece made itself with little help from me. I started with a hand dyed that I used under the Buddha image. I then added some beaded and sequined indian fabric I owned. The paisley dark blue and lavender piece on the left was a particular problem as I ironed it with a very hot iron and melted all the plastic pearls on it. I didn't have any more of this fabric so I ran to my local bead store, bought some more, and stitched them all on. As per my previos post, I also managed to melt my Buddha at one point. Since I had this idea very near the beginning of the challange, I had lots of time to correct mistakes. I'm working on that iron heat setting thing

Blackpool Rocks!

I suspect many of my quilts look better in the dark but in the case of this one - I am prepared to admit it.....

My design inspiration was 'The Illuminations' or 'Blackpool lights'. I confess that I struggled for a few weeks to think how I could get a sense of light into a quilt other than the hackneyed use of piecing lights and darks and I didn't think I had space in twelve inches to do a pieced rendition of The Lights.

I moved on to another theoretical idea - illumination as accademic clarifications. You know - Archimedes in the bath and all that. Jonathan Safran Foer's novel title Everything is Illuminated was rattling around in my head... but how to interpret it.... oh yeah, literally!
Initially I was thinking of something involving the technology you get in keyrings, white lights - may be a theatre makeup mirror.. off I went on a Google search. I found the Glow Company who make a simply amazing range of glow/light-up stuff. I wanted tack and here it was - I kept looking and kept coming back to the rainbow wand. There was time for thought while they measured it for me, in which I realised I wanted to have some kind of message with the quilt - some story or way of passing on a message - some illumination as to the realities of Blackpool.
The wand reminded me of the famous Blackpool tower and I enhanced that my lacing it up with embroidery thread to represent the lattice ironwork of the real thing, but also as a passing nod to the laced up Ann Summers type corsets often seen worn by drunken brides-to-be staggerng down the prom on their hen nights! It also refers to the windturbine brought in in 2007 to help power The Lights in a greener way than before.
The background has nine cross sections of Blackpool Rock but instead of the usual words running through the bar of sticky sweet stuff I have added some of the grimmer ( but true) statistics about Blackpool.
HIV cases rose 50% between 2001 and 2004
12th poorest area in the country
5th highest no. of drug deaths in the land
1 in 12 girls get pregnant before 18
2nd worst life expectancy in the country
Girls do worse at school than boys
Most alcohol linked deaths
4 more homeless children each month
Higher than average teen suicide rate

The circles are coloured in with textile markers ( the only ones I could get in my local art shop. I would have preferred ones with a thinner harder nib which might have negated the need to express the stats in rather truncated English!). I fused the top onto Fast2Fuse to give it a stiff base to support the tower and used a machine stitch to add gold rayon stars which made a mess of the back so it has a false back fused on with just the tower stitching showing ( but even they are not so good so I am not showing!) The edges are satin stitched.

The idea is that the glitz of the lights ( which were originally staged to attract tourists and extend the short 'season') cannot completely cover the grit of reality underneath. Oh, and I really, really needed an excuse to buy a rainbow wand!

PS It works in the light too, in case any of my collaborative colleagues were worried about future exhibitions! (although these videos both post with less light than they play straight from my laptop file)


Despite selecting the theme and having a multitude of ideas, illumination remained elusive. Once again, I was attracted to exploring a theme in shibori and I ended up with some dramatic results as shown on my blog. I selected this piece because the motif serendipitously fitted in a 12x12 square and because of its zen feel. I need to work on my handstitching skills but am satisfied with the outcome.

Radiance by Brenda Gael Smith
A lantern in the darkness radiates the promise of life and sanctuary. From St Paul to the Beach Boys, the invocation to shine has been a powerful message throughout the ages. In the 21st century, to be the best person you can be and to let it show, seems just as relevant.

Gilded Pears

Shortly after receiving this challenge, I was leafing through an art and antiques magazine and was struck by still lifes that just seemed to glow. I decided then that this was what I wanted to represent in my challenge piece. I love pears, perhaps because I am shaped like one. They are so voluptuous. I learned that this technique is known as chiaroscuro.
Chiaroscuro (Italian for light-dark) is a term in art for a contrast between light and dark. The term is usually applied to bold contrasts affecting a whole composition, but is also more technically used by artists and art historians or the use of effects representing contrasts of light, not necessarily strong, to achieve a sense of volume in modeling three-dimensional objects such as the human body.
I had some wonderful hand-dyed silk that just screamed pears. On my blog you can see how they looked before I added gold foil. They looked illuminated, even then, but I had to add the foiling, just because I could!! The background is dupioni silk.

I enjoyed this challenge. There were many avenues that I thought of taking, but with my busy schedule, this one was the most executable. (Is that a word?)


A few months ago I watched a fascinating documentary on TV about Impressionism. I have always the loved the way in which Impressionists have depicted light. All those little dabs and pools of colour, combining to make a magical representation of light and movement. The documentary got me thinking again about this and then, shortly afterwards, our challenge theme of Illumination was revealed.

Many years ago I played around with a technique that I saw Yvonne Porcella using, burning the edges of silk to seal it and create little irregularly edged fragments. It seemed like a good way to make "paint dabs". First I used pigment inks to colour white silk and then I sat over a candle, being gassed with malodorous smoke for hours, burning all the cloth I had just coloured! Originally my idea was to build up layers of silk like the layers of paint and that it would become a rich field of colour.But it soon became clear that as I added more and more pieces it was just becoming a big mess of fabric with no cohesion and no clear purpose. The more planning I did, the more fabric I removed.
And eventually I ended up with this. I am surprised by how sparse it is.
And a little disarmed. I now think it looks too sparse and needs something more. I'm not sure what. The few sequins and beads added some life and I even toyed with the idea of glitter paint, which I have used successfully before (takes a very light hand and lots of self-control!). As has happened on other ocassions, I now regret not starting earlier and leaving myself time for more than one attempt.(By the way, it's IS square - not as wonky as it looks! Why does that happen in photos??)

This has been the hardest challenge for me so far and I really don't feel that I even came close to meeting it. I can't wait to see the Masterpieces everyone else will have created. My comments won't be here until next week. I am literally leaving right now to teach for a few days.


This theme has been the hardest for me so far. For many of the other themes I almost immediately had my idea and ran with it. For illumination, I first thought of a lightning bug or firefly. I actually tried drawing some out but was never thrilled with my sketches.

Another idea I thought of was fireworks illuminating the night sky. But I quickly discarded that idea as I found the thought of trying to portray that gave me a headache.

My third idea is what I ended up making. While I don't have any light fixtures like this in my house, I can remember times when these were used often. I can still hear the chain clinking as you pulled on it and clicked the light on or off.

To portray the illuminated lightbulb, I lightly dry brushed yellow fabric paint. I kept applying the paint until I had the amount of coverage I was happy with. I dyed white fabric to create the skin for the hand and then added additional hand painted shading and highlights. I couched down a ball chain for the light's pull chain.

The Fourth Day


It was so interesting for me to create this quilt as a continuation on the themes I explored in our Water challenge. My water quilt is titled "Firmament" because the arches at the top of the quilt made me think of the firmament that God created to separate the waters from the waters in the creation story in the book of Genesis. I took additional inspiration from Genesis for our illumination theme.

One of the definitions of "illumination" is "The art or act of decorating a text, page, or initial letter with ornamental designs, miniatures, or lettering or (b) An example of this art." I knew I wanted to focus on this concept.

I browsed tons of examples online. My favorites come from the St. John's bible. I even traveled all the way to Los Angeles to look at actual illuminated pages at the Getty Museum. I made tons of sketches of compositions inspired by the grids and rectangles found in illuminations. And then I tried to transfer it to fabric. I chose text from Gen 1:14 to 19 in which God created two great lights -- an illuminated page about illumination!

I chose fabric and wrote some text. Foiled some letters. Tried some compositions that matched the pages I had been studying. I was totally frustrated. Eventually, I realized that I needed to do it in my own style. (Duh.)

I used elements from illuminated pages like the large metallic letter (or number), the stacking of blocks of text (or fabric), the bits of gold foil (or sequins) and the dynamic backgrounds (a monoprint, in my case). The process was quite labored and I auditioned about 800 pieces of fabric for the eight I ended up with.

illumination close up

I agonized over how obvious the symbolism should be. Since the passage is about two great lights, should I have only used two washers for embellishment? Will viewers wonder what the 4 means? Does it matter? I wrote the passage on that white fabric, but is a distraction to bury it under the other pieces? Maybe.

Ultimately, I focused only on the design of the piece and let the symbolism take a back seat and I'm thrilled with the results.

Night Light

What do you remember doing as a child (maybe even now) after the lights went out? And what does it have to do with quilting?

In the illumination of a flashlight under the covers, I think it's safe to say that we've all found some sort of enlightenment in favorite novels, pulp or comics.

Light at the end of the tunnel

We've been unlocked. Yay! Illumination quilts will start to appear online very soon.