Monday, February 25, 2008

Faith Ringgold

Yesterday, Terry and I went to hear Faith Ringgold speak and she showed lots of slides of her work. I was struck with how many of them were about community!! She does painted story quilts. She had many that were of faces, one was a dinner table and the Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles was fabulous.

Seeing her work and hearing her talk about her art has my creative juices flowing!! A family dinner table was an idea that I had thought about. Or perhaps a virtual quilting bee with all of you!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Messy Quilted Community

If I wanted MESSY quilting, that is certainly what I got. The photo doesn't even do justice to the messiness! I lost track of the number of times that I sewed down my presser foot or got tangled among the loose threads. Add in, shredded threads, skipped stitches and off tension. I think any traditional quilter would immediately throw this in the trash or maybe even the burn pile.
I'm still thinking about what I can do with this quilt. Maybe it needs some bandages and patches. And perhaps a big tear right down the middle. I'll have to see what else I can come up with.

Monday, February 18, 2008


This is a tricky one for me!
Here are the few thoughts I had since Kristin gave us her theme...
I first thought of the nice little neighbourhood where I live. When the children were younger, they were going from house to house, playing together and having fun. In the afternoon, the mothers used to sit on the benches near the communal sandbox, chatting while watching their toddlers. But now, most of the kids are teenagers or young adults, the mothers are working again and no one is playing in the sandbox anymore... This is a bit sad, but this is life.
Then there are other things I thought about: schools my children went to, ethnic groups and minorities, religious and philosophical communities, blogland of course. And, living in Belgium, I could not ignore our linguistic communities with their loads of problems.
Today I played with a picture of my chocolate quilt, and created this image... I think it looks exactly like a dissolving community...

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Messy Community

Everybody's posts have had me thinking a lot about community. Mostly, I have been thinking about how I would like a community to look verses how it actually is. When I think of the ideal community, I think of everybody belonging and fitting together. Everybody has their honored place and role in serving one another. In reality, rarely people feel as if they truely belong and are appreciated in who they are and what they do. At times people are more interested in how the community can serve them than how then can serve others or forcing their own ideas upon the community. Real life community is MESSY!

I was playing around last night trying to visualize this. I used a piece of cloth that I had used as a painting surface and clean up rag -- lots of different colors and no order. I pieced the center section neatly, with all the seams hidden. To contrast this, I pieced the outer portion with the seams exposed. I then washed it to bring out the frayed edges. I doubt this will actually be the direction that I will go, but I have to actually work out my ideas in fabric. I have a very hard time doing it in my head or sketchbook. Next I will try quilting up this top and see how it turns out. Maybe try to force some order upon those frayed edges!

Monday, February 11, 2008

zeroing in

After my last post I wondered why a granfalloon was a "false community" and what makes a real community. A group of people is not necessarily a community. In my mind they become a community when they begin to form connections with one another. That, I think, is what my piece will be about. Connections between people that begin to weave them together into a community. Then I began to see little face icons that could represent the sameness/differentness that I think Diane was talking about, and use them in a pattern that connects them in a variety of ways.

I think I need a lot of faces that are all very similar, but no two exactly alike. I started sketching the ones you see above. So far I am liking the simplicity of them and may simplify them even further. It occurred to me that what I probably ought to do at this point is trace them into Illustrator where I can start interchanging features to get the variety I need.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Direction

12x12 group theme quilt community
I think I've chosen my direction with the 'community' theme. At first I thought this theme would be very challenging for me and that I'd be struggling. My first thoughts for a direction were something nature related, such as a garden community. I pictured my design showing several flowers sharing a plot of earth.

But I had another thought that I like better. I love being a part of this group and am still thrilled that Diane invited me. I feel this group is a wonderful art quilt challenge community and I am very much enjoying being a part of this community. I am going to create my 'community' quilt based on all of the 12 x 12 members.

As you can see (or not, is it too small) in my rough sketch and notes above, I am going to create faces and color (paint) them. Each face will represent a member of the group. Hope I can pull this off.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Beginnings of a Community

I experimented with my stencils today and here are the results:

As you can see, the water colour pastels and pencils went blotchy with even the smallest application of water. What's the trick for control Diane? The fabric pastels give nice blocks of solid colour but I prefer the blending effects of the paintsticks and the fabric paints. The piece below was done with ordinary acrylic paints on a hand dyed background:

There are some other things I want to try but the exercise so far has certainly renewed my appreciation of the things that Terry and Terri do with paints.

PS: I still propose to have them joining hands but I've kept my practice stencils simple as it's a fiddly exercise cutting out the freezer paper stencils when the figures are less than 1 x 2in tall.

This is a tile made by Motawi Tileworks from a design by Frank Lloyd Wright. I saw it in a shop downtown, and the image has stayed with me ever since -- in part because I'm drawn to circles anyway, in part because I just finished reading a fictional biography of Frank Lloyd Wright called Loving Frank, and in part because I have been thinking of using intersecting circles in my "community" piece.

The idea of community that comes to mind for me is how a community is made up of individuals who look the same but are different. It's the idea of simultaneous similarity and difference that I want to try to illustrate. Maybe circles, maybe a grid, I'm not sure.

Given that mindset, the design in this tile captures the idea of "community" very nicely for me -- lives intersecting, some on the fringe, some being contained by others, some in a tidy row, others clumped without organization, etc.

I won't do it for this project, but it'd be fun to interpret this very image in fabric. Guess I'll add that to the list of "to do someday" ideas...

Joe Slovo Boy

In response to the first comment on my last post - I always hope that this little boy will grow up to a a famous photographer despite his start becuase we gave him a taste of it! I have to say that he was a highly curious and happy little chap - all the children were. The day after this was taken we went to a different place and saw some very bad accommodation indeed and visited the project that was refurbishing them to decent homes. It was raining, we were cold, wet and muddy and Dennis said he was feeling a bit cranky and wondering why I was making him do all this miserable stuff on his holiday. Then a little boy skipped up with a big smile, stuck his hand in Dennis and walked around with him. Dennis said he couldn't help but be cheered up by the child's attitude - even before he looked down to see that he had no shoes to wear!

I should also add that we had gone to Joe Slovo with a local man and had an address for him so we sent copies of all the photos this little boy took and asked for them to be passed on to him. I'd love to go back and see if we can find him again and see how he is getting on. In fact despite the fact that he lives in a shack he is close to some really good art work. If you walk down his street, past the communal standpipe you move into an area of proper houses. Some are decorated like this one.

Then around the corner, past the Shebeen, you get to this community centre which has drama and art groups and allows local crafts person sto sell art to tourists. Look at the quilt inspiration on the walls!

Today I am thinking about faces in it just me or are you all finding that working on all these challenges gives you ideas for really big quilts more easily than little ones?

(Lack of ) community

My problem with this theme is that I had instant ideas but they are very big, thematic ideas and I have no idea how to get them contained in a 12 x 12 square! I guess that's why we have two months - percolation time!

As soon as I read 'community' I thought Ubuntu! Ubuntu does not actually mean community but is a pan-african word for 'humanity to each other' - which is what community is all about I suppose. This may have been my reaction becuase I love African quilts. That got me onto thinking about some of the communities I visited in South Africa - the township (Khaelitsha) we stayed in in particular.

We also visited Nyanga township which has a squatter camp attached called Joe Slovo (after the anti-apartheid activist). All the children in the townships were very anxious to have their photo taken and to see the result on the screen on the back of the camera. This little man however - whose name we never found out and so we call him 'Joe Slovo Boy'- kept grabbing the camera and was not happy with just seeing his photo. Eventually we understood - he wanted to take the photos! We nervously let him borrow our rathere xpensive camera and he turned out to be a natural. I have a small collection of his pictures that I'd love to put in a quilt. But... probably not a 12 x 12 one?! Here are a couple of his shots of the street in which he lived.

Then I remembered the District Six museum - all about a community that was subject to the forced removals. I hunted through our shelves for a book I had bought whilst there but had never got around to reading and it turned out to be called 'Recalling a community'. So now I am thinking about the destruction of community or dislocation from a community and what that means. And how it can be respresented in a quilt of course - maybe holes? Or perhaps somthing about a rainbow nation and the rebuilding of mixed communities? I have no idea but I trust the muse to deliver with time

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Communities and Granfalloons

Nothing visual to show as yet. Just some thoughts about "community." My first thought was our cyber community, which most bloggers cite as a benefit of blogging. But short of the visual of a hand on a mouse or mysterious "waves" jetting around the earth, I was stumped and lost interest. Then I went back to one of my guiding premises of this 12 x 12 project. "Small quilt, small idea." Focus on a detail. I started to think about kinds of communities. Bees. Ants. Ecosystems. Families. Friendships.

I also have a personal challenge this time, to express the theme in a more abstract, symbolic way. That is making me think more about how communites work. There is usually a focus, a center, around which the community operates. Some members of the community are strictly bound to that center, others circle in and out.

And finally, as I was musing on community tonight I remembered "Cat's Cradle", a favorite Kurt Vonnegut book. He invented the concept of the granfalloon—an imagined community—something that a group of people hold in common, which is actually meaningless in terms of having anything really substantive in common. Granfalloons are things like graduating from the same school, being born in the same city, etc. We are surrounded by granfalloons and all belong to them. I have always found the idea so amusing and so recognizable. How could I begin to think about a granfalloon in visual terms?

Initial Thoughts

My initial thought was to make my "community" quilt a variation on previous "rooted" quilts I've made. Roots are a more individual aspect, but perhaps the binding between individuals is what makes a community. I sketched a bit with houses bound together, and the idea of binding, or bounding the house(s) with log cabin piecing (more house references). Binding led to weaving, which is a perfectly fiber metaphor. I sketched a woven quilt with houses on each of the woven strips.

Then I got to thinking about my specific situation. Why am I concerned with roots and villages and communities? I am somewhat of a nomad. Not by choice, but by necessity. It's not all bad -- we've had great adventures living across the US and Germany and meeting all sorts of people and seeing all sorts of places because of it. However, I would love to have roots. I'd love to say "here is where I live." The community one finds or makes when one is a nomad is very different from what one has when one has lived in the same town all their lives. I've slowly lost touch with my friends from school. My family has moved away from the city we all grew up in. My military friends and I count on each other for support, but we all know that it it temporary and we will each move on sooner or later. These are friendships based not on common interests, or history, but on being in the same situation. And now that I have lived the better part of the last 11 years in Germany (in three different states, three different cities, and five different homes), I am feeling less and less like an American. I certainly don't fit in with the majority of military family members. I missed 9-11 and I think that will forever set me apart from my compatriots. At the same time, I will never be a German either. There are cultural and lingual barriers that I will never be able to cross, even if I spend the rest of my life here. Ask any non-German living here and they will probably agree.

What that all brings me to is that I would very much like to express in my 12 x 12 quilt the feeling of being in a community without actually belonging to it. I want it to evoke an emotion more than a specific time or place. I'm assuming the more abstract the better. The desire to set down roots is rather easy to express. Exclusion from a community is proving to be more difficult to visualize.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


When I found out that our new challenge theme is "community", I immediately thought of notions of connection and interconnectedness. I contemplated pursuing an abstract design with multiple nucleii joined by fine lines. However, this is challenging to piece and the lines would have to be very fine indeed to convey the complexity and density I had in mind within the 12x12 inch space.

Besides, I really want to play with my fabric pastels and the Caran d'ache water soluble wax pastels that I bought when I was in America. I started to think about stencils which, in turn, took me to cut out paper dolls:

I want to make some stencils with figures holding hands but I need some lessons in cutting out!

Community ideas

I've been thinking about community, and I keep coming back to the words group and sameness and how these can be positives or negatives. I like belonging to groups, but I don't like being excluded from them if I want to belong to them, and I remember how important sameness was when I was younger, how important it was to fit in. I'm exploring these ideas and thinking about something abstract that shows thes ideas and the conflicts they can cause

Monday, February 4, 2008

Another Chocolate Love Version

This is the original version of Chocolate Love. I didn't like the quilting or the spareness of it. You can read more about it on my blog. Anyway, I decided to embellish it as I did the other one. I have not finished the edges yet. I think I might bind it with red organza.

I have also rephotographed the other quilt and replaced the photo in my post. Since I was working right up to deadline, I took the photo late in the day and my camera was dying. It is now on its way to the hospital.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Chocolate is now served!

The Twelve by Twelve website has been updated to include the latest challenge quilts and expanded artist galleries. This involved a significant overhaul of the previous site structure so please e-mail me if you find any broken links or encounter any other difficulties:

More chocolate...

Have you been checking out the chocolate quilts that our "friends" (in the sidebar) are revealing?

Joan is a woman after my own heart and hers is Mexican mole. Yum.

Lisa's whimsical box of chocolates will be auctioned to benefit AIDS research.

Joanne created the luscious textures and colors of chocolate. You can also see her dandelion quilt in yesterday's post.

I love this! The more the merrier, I say. Are there others?

Friday, February 1, 2008

Open community?

Oh -- with our new "community" theme, shall we try doing this as an "open" challenge, so that people can feel free to talk about what they're thinking and doing all along? We talked earlier about giving it a try this time and then seeing how it goes and whether it's helpful to share our thoughts and processes along the way.

I'd like to try this, but I'd suggest that maybe we share everything but the final, finished image -- which would still be revealed on March31/April 1?

Is that okay with you all?

Good for my heart

I just wanted to tell you all how delighted I am, once again, with the way our challenges are going. I am so pleased that you all are playing this 12x12 game with me, and that you are sharing your time and ideas and amazing talents in this project.

As always, I am so inspired by the work you've shared. I can pore over these pieces (and know that I will do so time and again) and find things that make me gasp in amazement, and grin with delight, and shake my head at what I would never think of myself, and reach for my notepad to jot down a brilliant technique or solution to try some time.

Most of all, I really treasure this opportunity to get to know all of you a bit better.

I can't stop scrolling over these great quilts. Thanks SOOOOOO much. Here. Have a chocolate heart on me.

A Chocolate Box of Quilts

Just to let everyone know that I am working on updating the Twelve by Twelve website and will let you know when the new pages are ready. In the meantime, here's a clickable mosaic of the fabulous chocolate-inspired quilts:
Despite the diversity of ideas and styles, the serendipitous palette of brown, red and pink (with a touch of blue!) unifies the collection remarkably well!


Wow, it's going to be tough to follow a theme that allowed us such wonderful "research" and spurred a link to scientific research about the usefulness of a chocolate teapot, or a polling gadget for favorite quilts! I have to admit that this new theme is a bit self serving in that it is along the lines of themes I have been incorporating into my work lately, but who's to say it couldn't add to others' bodies of work too?

Since we are forming a nice little community here, and community is a pretty universal concept, let's have at it!

'Unsuitable things'

Mr James was a stocky man, square of face and with a neat beard who taught me biology in my third year of secondary school. Or at least he stood by the blackboard and talked about biology whilst I squirmed on those uncomfortable , high wooden stools they put in labs and wished I was elsewhere. Biology was not my forte and I have not thought about Mr James since. Until that is I started to ponder my chocolate theme.
Almost at once I decided to do an applique interpretation of Quetzacoatl, the Mayan God who was said to have brough the cocoa bean to earth from heaven. I searched Google, found great images then, as if I was thirteen again my mind wandered and somehow I lost interest. Unable to shift from my preference for English Language as a subject I doodled a little spidergram of chocolate related words. Hot. Covered orange segments. Bitter. White. Teapot.

And suddenly I was thirteen again and Mr James was castigating something - his malfunctioning microscope, the ever leaking window, buck-toothed and buck-natured class member Chodder (never, ever known by his given name of Craig) - for being, in his favourite phrase, ' as usless as a chocolate teapot'. And thus was a quilt born.

Given its aetiology I thought that the quilt needed words. The Pillow Book of Sei Sonogon was at hand and I thought that she probably had a section about useless things. She didn't but she did have a piece about unsuitable things which was close enough. I retyped it then manipulated a photo of a Japanese teapot to make it melt. Stumped as how to combine the two via computer, I printed both, cut the teapot out, glued it over the words and scanned both onto fabric.
I then showed the quilt to my husband who looked blank. He had never heard of the phrase. But then he is Irish. Local humour and colloquialisms often pass him by. I showed a local friend. Blank. Chocolate I hinted. Penguin? She replied hesitantly.

In fairness, in the UK we do have a chocolate biscuit called a Penguin. (A dirty lie, in fact - we have a chocolate flavoured biscuit. Not the same thing and why I never buy them.) But how do you get to that from a teapot? She pointed out the spout to me. Oh yeah. ( Although to me it looks more like a seal.) I thought about altering it but hey, art is for the viewer to interpret right? So I googled chocolate teapots. It is a perfectly legitimate phrase.

Mollified, and in homage to the simple elegance of tea ceremonies (or alternatively in homage to lack of imagination and laziness) I decided on simple framing. Japanese writing of course was a must. Only as I stood, rotary cutter in hand I realised that I didn't know which was was up. Being risk averse I decided not to gamble and risk being totally wrong. So the calligraphy fabric is used both ways up and I am happy with definately being only half wrong. Which is a lot less wrong than most of my biology homework used to be.

Obviously Chocolate

"Obviously Chocolate"
This piece was really fun to make. When I first heard the new theme, I knew I didn't want to be too obvious. I thought I would take my cues from some beautiful brown fabrics and maybe a bit of metallic referring to some lovely chocolate packaging. But, the results couldn't be more obvious -- don't you think? Rather than using some metallic fabric or foils, I simply used the actual chocolate wrappers. Obvious isn't all bad. I think it's gots some nice abstract elements and I'm really pleased with the variety of layers and textures.
I incorporated the same methods I used for my two Encrusted Cobblestones pieces. This was a bit trickier since I had to have a specific finished size. I cut a piece of batting about 11.5 x 11.5 and then cut several 2ish inch squares in a variety of browns. All those fabric were pre-fused. I also (carefully) added Wonder Under to the back of the chocolate wrappers. I used some nice Godiva squares that came in three lovely browns (for milk, white and dark chocolate) and a Mr. Goodbar that was super shiney gold. I think there is a Dove bar in there too.

Then I just began placing the squares on top of the batting overlapping each square just enough to fuse together. I let the edge pieces hang over the batting about a quarter of an inch. After I was satisfied with the first layer of squares, I added several more squares of various sheer fabrics over the top. Tulle, cheese cloth, organza, etc.

Then I fused a piece of black fabric to the back. The edges that were hanging over the batting got fused to the edge of the black fabric. I used a deckle edge rotary cutter to trim the black batting just a smidge bigger than the top so it has a nice black edge.

Then free motion quilted all those swirly shapes to imply chocolate pieces. Yum.
I can hardly wait to hear the new theme! Kristin?!

Love, chocolate and patchwork

This is my house. It's full of love, chocolate and patchwork.
When I chose my theme a few months ago, I really didn't know what I would come up with. As I didn't have much brown in my boxes, I started by dyeing some chocolate fabric.
Then, for two months, I wrote down every word chocolate made me think of. It soon became clear that many of these words, feelings, facts, things were related to my family, and therefore to my house too. I decided to pick the more significant words and to write them on my chocolate fabric. This would be the walls of the house.
The quilting, and the house shape, are inspired by drawings my children made when they were little boys. The crazy log cabin blocks are leftovers from a very old project. They were begging me to use them in this quilt. I couldn't resist.
Making this chocolate quilt was a lot of fun. I'm going to put more pictures on my blog later today.
I'm so glad to see all the other chocolate quilts too. I'm off to read all your posts now.

The Marquise de Coetlogon

My first thought after Françoise announced our theme as Chocolate, was of something I had read on my last visit to the chocolate museum in Köln (Cologne).

It was an excerpt from a letter written in 1671 by Madame de Sévigné to her then-pregnant daughter advising that she herself not consume chocolate as

” … the marquise de Coëtlogon took so much chocolate, being pregnant last year, that she produced a little boy who was as black as the devil who soon died.” *

This story seems so outlandish to our modern sensibilities. I still can’t decide if it’s demeaning, insulting, quaint, amusing, stupid, naïve, foreboding, or what. I did find it intriguing, and certainly it offers a different view of chocolate. It offered a good challenge, so I went with it. It’s been great fun too.

I posted earlier that my piece would be visually expressed as a cross between a Fragonard painting and a Harriet Powers-style story quilt. Helen asked “How???” so here’s my thought process:

First I thought about the basic elements of the story: chocolate (of course), 17th Century French aristocracy, gossip, sex and taboo, the unseen servant/love toy, the impropriety of having a child born of said servant, the intrigue (I don’t believe for a minute that the child died of natural causes), society and the class system.

Next I considered how these elements could be expressed visually. Fragonard came to mind first as his paintings, although 18th century, are the epitome of French aristocracy and erotic frivolity. Since our chosen medium chez 12×12 is quilts, I also considered what in the history of quilting might be appropriate. This is definitely a story, so something pictorial made sense. To base it on a style known to be used by marginalized Africans (even if they were in the US and not France) seemed appropriate since a marginalized African played a central role in the story even if no one would admit it at the time.

Then I had to figure out how to translate it to fabric. Toile, being French, made a perfectly “frou-frou” background and looks a bit like engravings of Fragonard’s paintings. I’m not much of a toile collector myself, but I managed to dig up just enough from my stash. Slave quilts are characterized by asymetry, improvisation, and multiple patterning, so I could use some or all of those aspects in my work. Using many printed fabrics suggests not only the improvisation and patterning, but the luxurious textiles of the aristocracy as well. Organza would not have been used in a slave quilt, but it’s sheer quality is perfect for expressing an invisible presence.

Now to put pencil to paper. The Marquise is the focus, with her child in arms. Her breasts are bared not just to nurse, but in a voluptuous show of her sexuality. If there is any doubt that she’s the aggressor, her skirt is hiked confidently up to show more than a little leg and she’s allowed her sleeves to slip off her shoulders. Her head is turned, not lovingly towards the child, but to the chocolate, which her out-stretched arm suggests she wants more of. To express her gross consumption, the chocolate pot is large in scale. Smaller, and barely there in his transparency, is the Moorish servant no one is talking about. He holds the aphrodisiac with hips thrust forward, ready to give her what she wants.

Although I felt that the picture told a narrative well, this particular one is not universally known and I did want to reference it specifically. To that end, I embroidered the excerpt from Madame de Sévigné’s letter.

* There's a few more pictures and links on my blog here.