Wednesday, February 18, 2009

School Windows

I am endeavouring to spring (summer?) clean my studio and came across this piece that I made for the City & Guilds course that I undertook with Linda Kemshall way back when...

It seemed suitably window-ish to add some colour to this blog post but I really want to share a window image from an even earlier era in my education. A entire generation of children in New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom will recall the windows from the television program Playschool where you were invited to explore the big wide world through the square, round or arch window (scroll down to view). Apparently the Australian Playschool windows are now part of the collection in the National Museum of Australia but I missed them on my last visit. My favourite was always the arch window. Kirsten and Helen (and any readers of a certain age!)- what was your favourite Playschool window?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Take a chair!

Pull up a seat, make yourself comfy and enjoy the chair-themed art quilts in our updated online gallery:

Chair Theme Gallery

While you are at it, take a look at the artist gallery pages for each individual Twelve by Twelve member. Francoise has perhaps the most cohesive collection of work but all the artist galleries make very interesting viewing.
Francoise Gallery
If you find any broken links, or encounter any glitches, please e-mail Brenda.

Summer Stripes

This summer seemed to be the Summer of the French Canvas Stripe. Everywhere I went I saw these fabulous fabrics! Of course, originally they brought to mind the classic deck chair...

and then...

when I was a child we spent every summer camping in an ancient striped canvas tent serenaded by cicadas . We had some equally ancient folding chairs. My brother retrieved one from storage this January. When he sat in it it collapsed in pieces... I think of a hot, sunny day shopping with my sister-in-law, Kiwi bachs (beach houses) and the nicest laptop bag I've ever seen (and now I can't remember where!).

As I studied these fabrics more closely I realised how amazing the colour combinations are. You know I always fall for a colour scheme! So here, once more, is a quilt from me that owes it's existence simply to beautiful colours.There is no in depth thought behind this, just a celebration of a traditional textile and lazy summer days.

summer stripes2

Friday, February 6, 2009

Another window

One of the other media that I work in is printmaking—well, not so much since fabric has taken over my life. This is a linocut that I made in 1996, which is, as I think about it, probably the last print on paper that I made, so maybe I'm not really a printmaker anymore. A window. I have a tendency to make things more complicated than they need to be, so I am still happy with the simplicity of this window. I considered printing it on fabric to use in the window theme piece, but it would take me two months to find the block I'm afraid.

Dove in the Window

I think there's a lot to be said for traditional quilt blocks and their history. I love their names. Some are whimsical, some are pictorial, some are political -- like Burgoyne Surrounded or Whig's Retreat. I like that their makers could include subtle messages through the blocks they chose to use: the most widely known probably being the blocks claimed to be used by slaves to assist in their escape to freedom like Wagon Wheel, Flying Geese and Monkey Wrench.

I felt compelled to try out this block today. It's called "Dove in the Window" and was first published by the Lady's Art Company in 1898. I used fabric from my husband's old BDUs (battle dress uniform). Interpret as you see fit.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

And the Word for the Next Challenge is...

Lisa's Cat Margaret Gazing Out the Window.

Window. I love architectural elements and thought I would probably go in that direction, but a part of me wanted to do something more esoteric and thought provoking. I know that some of you will be able to interpret window in a less concrete way.

Here is what Wikipedia has to say about windows.
A window is an opening in a wall (or other solid and opaque surface) that allows the passage of light and, if not closed or sealed, air and sound. Windows are usually glazed or covered in some other transparent or translucent material. Windows are held in place by frames, which prevent them from collapsing in.

The word Window originates from the Old Norse ‘vindauga’, from ‘vindr – wind’ and ‘auga – eye’, i.e. "wind eye". In Norwegian Nynorsk and Icelandic the Old Norse form has survived to this day (in Icelandic only as a less used synonym to gluggi), while Swedish has kept it—mostly in dialects—as ‘vindöga’ (‘öga – eye’). Danish ‘vindue’ and Norwegian Bokmål ‘vindu’ however, have lost the direct link to ‘eye’, just like window has. The Danish (but not the Bokmål) word is pronounced fairly similar to window.

Window is first recorded in the early 13th century, and originally referred to an unglazed hole in a roof. Window replaced the Old English ‘eagþyrl’, which literally means ‘eye-hole,’ and ‘eagduru’ ‘eye-door’. Many Germanic languages however adopted the Latin word ‘fenestra’ to describe a window with glass, such as standard Swedish ‘fönster’, or German ‘Fenster’. The use of window in English is probably due to the Scandinavian influence on the English language by means of loanwords during the Viking Age. In English the word fenester was used as a parallel until the mid-1700s and fenestration is still used to describe the arrangement of windows within a façade.

And to illustrate that window can be a metaphor for non-architectural thoughts, here are some quotes for your rumination:

Birth is the sudden opening of a window, through which you look out upon a stupendous prospect. For what has happened? A miracle. You have exchanged nothing for the possibility of everything. Willie Dixon

I'm just a landscape painter. I look out the window and I see what's going on, and I paint it. While I'm painting it, I also write thoughts about what I see going on out there. William Wiley

A smile is a light in the window of your face to show your heart is at home. Anonymous

Now Allah has created the dream not only as a means of guidance and instruction, I refer to the dream, but he has made it a window on the Unseen. Mohammed

A smile is a light in the window of the soul indicating that the heart is at home.
Source Unknown

OK, Brenda, you can now get to work on the next challenge!!

Windows in Jaffa, Israel

Monday, February 2, 2009


I am still absorbing all the fantastic chair quilts and I'm so amazed and inspired! I am thrilled that you took my theme and created so many different pieces of art. Be sure to check out the "friends of twelve" listed on the lower right side bar. Both Joanne and Lisa have posted their chair quilts.

I was stunned by the similarities between my chair quilt and Joanne's chair quilt. Joanne is a good friend of mine so maybe we were subconsciously using similar elements and sending each other creative vibes.

Here is a detail of my "She Sits to Dream."
And here is Joanne's chair.Isn't it interesting how we both used a layered collage style? We set those stark chairs on bright fabrics and then we did some hand stitching around the interior border.

Joanne lives in Maine and I live in Texas, but I sure wish we could sit down together in our chairs and share a cuppa and some embroidery!

Sunday, February 1, 2009


Not sure what Blogger was playing at - it failed to publish my entry at the prescribed time and now I have removed any reference at all to time or date it has published me in the middle of previous entries and I am not sure if it is coming up in Google Reader/ Blog lines! If you have seen everyone elses post and are looking for mine - its down below !

The Comfy Chair

I really loved this theme -- I'm always drawn to chair images, and I had lots of ideas to work with. The hardest part of this challenge was deciding on the one I wanted to explore.

I ultimately settled on this, "the comfy chair" because it suited my emotional state during this challenge period. We all have times of difficult stuff in our lives, and for me, at those times I seek quiet and comfort. The idea of curling up in a comfy chair to read and sip coffee is my idea of the ultimate comfort!

This isn't a complex image, but I thought that the simplicity of the design suited the sense of simple, homey comfort.


As I was putting the finishing touches on the thrones, I was watching a TV program that featured various birthing methods. I couldn't believe I had forgotten about what could be the most important chair of all: the birthing stool. I can't begin to explain how powerful I felt birthing my daughter on one of these, with my husband behind me for support and the midwife and doctor below me -- actually sitting on the floor (how often is a doctor -- he or she whom we westerners place in such high regard -- relegated to such a low position as to literally be on the floor?). I was going for monumental status with a simple, centered composition, but I wonder if I went too vulgar with the background. I almost re-did it, but decided that risk-taking is part of the challenge and my own personal growth. I did add the hand at the last minute to represent the loving, helping hand of the mother and mid-wife. So here it is. My answer to the Chair challenge.

Birthing Stool

Time Out

When I was a kid, we had a rocking chair in the living room, and whenever I was hurt, physically or emotionally, my mom would hold me and rock me until I was all better. I own this rocking chair now and it still evokes strong memories for me when I look at it. The finish is wearing off, but I'm not going to change anything. I wanted to give you a feeling of movement with the chair and I accomplished this by printing the image on organza and overlapping it 3 times. I was really stuck at this point, as I didn't want to take the focus away from the chair, but I didn't want to just frame it in. I remembered a "weaving" class I took from my friend Ellenina Gaston several years ago, and thought about weaving in the memories I had from my childhood. This is one topic I would like to explore further, and I think others in the group feel the same way, as Terri said, we all have out favorite chairs.

Mom's Hideout

My chair. I rarely actually sit in it, but I have it in the corner of my bedroom and its all mine. I can lock myself in and have a few moments of quiet, or at least that's the idea and I'm holding onto it. I even make an effort to not cover it with semi clean clothes. It is there waiting for me and I'm grateful for the hope of relaxation it brings.

For this quilt, I decided to try something new to me -- hand stitching. I have to admit I grossly underestimated the amount of time it would take me. After working on it for a couple weeks, yesterday was a mad time of stitching and nearly having a panic attack I wasn't going to make it -- a little ironic considering my topic and method typically aren't thought of as high stress. Thankfully it all came together and I even made it to bed at a reasonable time. I also tried a pillowcase finish for the first time. I'm impressed with how easy it was, especially after all those stitches! Once again, thank you for a fun topic and a challenge to experiment and learn new techniques.

Rock-A-Bye Chair

When I was a wee tot, just two years old, my parents gave me my very own little rocking chair. It is made of wood and I still have it to this day, many many (not going to tell you how many) years later.

These days it serves as a room decoration and my handmade Raggedy Ann doll (made by my grandmother) sits in it.

When I first thought about using my chair in my quilt I had pictured in my mind a photo of me sitting in know, those old black and white photos from back in the day. (No, not me at my present age sitting in it...silly!) Well unfortunately the only people who have these photos are my parents and they winter in warmer states during the cold months of the year. So I couldn't get my hands on the photo I had wanted to incorporate into my quilt. So my next idea was to take a photo of my chair and digitally alter it in my photo editing software.

I made a black and white image of the chair and then printed it onto a sheet of inkjet transparency. Using a gel medium transfer technique I applied it to my color splashed background of cotton duck. This transfer technique doesn't always create perfect transfers, and therefore gives a rough and tumble kind of transfer, just what I wanted.

After the transfer, I stitched with black thread all around the edges of the chair. Next I added the handwritten wording. I used several types of mediums to add the lettering...Jacquard Dye-Na-Flow, white-out pen, metallic acrylic ink, and black textile paint in a squeeze bottle. After the lettering dried, I added some hand stitched details.


This is my Chairs quilt.
As usual, I had several ideas competing in my head, but the family dining table with its sturdy oak chairs was the stronger one.
One chair for each member of the family, plus one little chair for the soon-to-arrive grandchild. But then, the tiny chair looked so lonely that I decided it needed some company... (wishful thinking?..)
Finally, instead of the dining table, I embroidered a house symbol, the same I used for my "Community" quilt.
The yellow strips vaguely evoke the shape of a chair too,... a beach chair maybe...
All fabrics are home-dyed.
Detail shots of the quilt are on my blog...

Salvage Chairs

This is a collage of photos taken in a salvage shop in Sonoma, CA. I saw this stack of chairs:

Then, in little vignettes around the grounds, I kept seeing more of the turquoise chairs,

I really love the stack of chairs. When I heard the theme, I immediately thought of those photos. I used the stack to make a thermofax screen which I screened on to a background that I made with soy wax, using found objects. The colors and ephemera on the fabric seemed perfect as a backdrop.

I also printed the stack of chairs on organza and cotton after cropping and changing the proportion. I added some signage printed on organza. The original salvage sign was turquoise and it wasn't working so I fiddled with it in Photoshop to change the color. The complement of the turquoise was what this piece needed. I then added the word chair in the Broken font.

Here is a detail:

I have always wondered what story these chairs could tell. Where have they been?

Chairs: What if you could not get out of yours?

I apologise that this is far from a happy cheery quilt. But, as I struggled with this theme (and boy did I struggle to come up with anything!) I realised that it was because I did not not have a story about chairs. All my quilts for this groups seem to stem from a tale of one kind or another. Okay, there was Goldilocks (and I came close, oh so close, to making a bowl of steaming porridge), but that seemed too obvious. No, somewhere out there I believed there was the story for this theme and if I just waited it would be dredged out of my consciousness. And one night, as I was hovering on that hazy edge of sleep, there it was.

Daniel James was a 23 year old who had been paralysed from the chest down when a scrum collapsed as he played rugby. He was not terminally ill and had regained a tiny amount of movement in his fingers. However,he had constant pain in all of his fingers. He was incontinent, suffered uncontrollable spasms in his legs and upper body and needed 24-hour care. This previously fit young man considered his new life to be a 'second class existence'. He tried to commit suicide and his parents and other people implored him to live, encouraging him that despite his severe disability there were things in life worth living for. No doubt, people like Christopher Reeve were cited as examples. He could not agree.

In September 2008 his parents helped him to travel to Dignitas, the assisted dying clinic in Switzerland, where, against their wishes, but with their understanding, he was helped to die.

By co-incidence as I put the final touches to this quilt, Julie Walters played Dr Anne Turner in a made for TV film about the Doctor who took the same route in 2006. After nursing her husband through an illness which left him completely motionless, she discovered she had a similar illness, progressive supranuclear palsy. She invited the BBC to film an interview with her and to film her journey on the condition it was not aired until after her death.

She did so to highlight the fact that it is illegal in the UK to assist in the suicide of another, even when it is done to end terrible suffering. In fact although over 100 Britons have now travelled to Dignitas (some doing so a little earlier than they would have liked because otherwise they would be too unfit to make the trip) no one has yet been prosecuted. Several have been investigated including the parents of Daniel James.

Some people with illnesses - like Diane Pretty, who has motor neurone disease - have sought advanced declarations from the courts that their spouse would not be prosecuted for helping them to die, feeling that they could not ask without such a guarantee. The argument is that if they were physically capable of doing it themselves then it is not illegal - survivors of failed attempts are no longer prosecuted. But, if she feels that her life is intolerable because of an illness that prevents her making the necessary movements to end her own life, it is illegal for her to get help from her carer. The courts have refused such advance declarations.

Campaigners against assisted dying ( in which people are enabled to take their own life) have either religious beliefs which relate to the sacredness of life and/ or fear abuse of the vulnerable if the law is changed. Often the debate is confused with that of euthanasia ( i.e the relieving of suffering by death of those who have not asked for it/ do not administer the means of death themselves.)

I am not seeking with this quilt to say what your view should be on this issue. I am asking you to consider - if you feel able to bear it - what you would feel if you could not get out of your chair. Not because I feel you should have a 'position' on assisted suicide, (or because I want to make you miserable) but because it does us all good to be more observant of and grateful for the movements we can do and take for granted.

In terms of the construction, the quilt is simple ( but I hope graphic!). It is a black background fused onto Fast2Fuse. The seat and back of the chair is an image of a spine MRI printed onto Extravorganza and in two pieces to suggest a broken back. The tyre is felt, embroidered with a 'tread' pattern and with a button for the spoke centre, all in grey, as if the MRI or X ray had included the chair. It is satin stitch edged and a Swiss flag is fused and zigzag stitched in the corner.

She Sits to Dream

Look at the crazy, chaotic work that came out of my studio.
It's called "She Sits to Dream." I think I surprised myself with this color palette and the intentionally messy construction. I wanted to try to be looser in the creative process. It was a challenge, but fun.

If my dreams are filled with layers and layers of wishes, hopes, ideas and desires, maybe this is what they look like. There is pattern and chaos. Rough edges. Some of the insides are sticking out. It's empty, yet open.
The dreams are surrounded by the potential for growth.

"She Sits to Dream" was my second attempt at a chair quilt. My first quilt was just too quiet. Here is "She Sits to Wait."I liked the composition and the general shapes of the different elements. So, it was fun to covert those elements to different fabrics. In fact I can even imagine doing another "she sits to..." quilt.

Which do you like better?

Sofia and Martina

My almost-two-year-old grandaughter, Sofia, got to meet her almost-two-year-old cousin, Martina, when Martina, her mother and her grandmother came, from Ecuador, to visit for the month of December. The two little girls had a wonderful time together and were adorable together, except for the usual occasional tiffs over toys and such. During the month-long visit, they spent quite a bit of time at my house. I found the two little chairs that my children had when they were young, and cleaned them up so Sofia and Martina could use them. Each quickly claimed "her" chair and used them for coloring and for meals, as well as posing for photographs. Several days after Martina and her family returned to Ecuador Sofia came to spend an afternoon with me. When she spied the little chairs, Sofia looked at them somberly, then went over and patted the seat of one and said, "Martina," a bit wistfully. Then she patted the seat of the other and said, "Sofia." Now each time she comes to the house she repeats that exercise. Those little chairs are part of her memory of Martina.

Chairs become so personal. Doesn't everyone have their favorite chair? Is there a family anywhere that sits randomly at the dinner table night after night—or isn't it more the rule that we find our own place and sit in the same chair ever after?

I really like the simple, universally recognized shape of these little chairs. I have had an idea in my mind for some time to try using very neutral fabrics, with only a hint of color, and this seemed to be an opportunity to try the idea. The end result reminds me of a woodcut or intricate ink drawing. And I am perversely pleased that the color scheme is not the bright, primary colors one might expect children's chairs and toys to be.


As I researched this theme, I was struck by how often chairs are associated with memories of people. For me, I was reminded of times I used to travel with my father to screen movies in community halls in rural New Zealand. One of my jobs would be to assist with setting out the chairs for the patrons and to stack them up again afterwards. I used my Electric Quilt software to experimented with various designs and colour schemes. Twelve Chairs was one variation but in the end I preferred the fractal, graphic simplicity of Stacked:
Stacked © 2009 Brenda Gael Smith
© 2009 Brenda Gael Smith


In the process of deciding what touristy things to do while my dad was visiting us in December, he brought up a Hawaiian throne. Did you know that Iolani Palace in Hawai'i was the only royal residence in the United States? It was built by King Kalakaua and was also home to his sister and successor Queen Lili'uokalani who was the last ruling monarch of Hawai'i. Seeing that I now live in Hawai'i and the palace thrones are the only royal seats in America, this seemed like a concept worthy of commemoration.

Once the idea was sparked, I went full steam ahead. I had ideas for a rich layering of bright tropical fabrics. But, after doing "research" (a visit to the palace), we found out that the throne is actually two, and that they are quite traditional and European in appearance (although, if I remember correctly, they are carved from Hawaiian Koa wood). However, since red and gold are the colors of Hawaiian royalty, redwork made more sense to me. Also, Lauhala weaving is a traditional fiber art used to make baskets, hats and mats to sit and sleep on. I got very excited and pulled these elements together to create a formal redwork version of the royal thrones of King Kalakaua and his wife Queen Kapiolani on a background woven lauhala style. I added a hibiscus (the state flower) and two palm fronds in a nod to the tropical.

"The Thrones of King Kalakaua & Queen Kapiolani"

As I was finishing this piece, I was struck with yet another idea I HAD to try. It's actually my official response to this challenge.