First off, if you bought raffle tickets for the Greenwood Public Library quilts and book bag and haven’t had a call from the library, you didn’t win. Not this year. But as always I’m deeply grateful for your support. Within the month we will begin tossing around ideas for the 2019 quilts and bag.
I apologize for the gap since the last blog post; in the meantime I’ve driven (alone) the seven and a half hours over three mountain passes between Greenwood and High River, just south of Calgary, had five hair-straight-back days of meetings and mini-workshops and artist presentations and field trips, then driven myself home again. I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself for undertaking this adventure, and I’m enjoying the lovely feeling of reconnecting with many of my friends in fibre and making new ones as well. The occasion was the annual conference (formerly retreat) of the Fibre Art Network, the organization of 100+ women across western Canada who represent some of the best that’s happening in textile/fibre/quilt art these days across the four western provinces. This is the outfit for which I wrangle the newsletter, ten times a year. For me, the best result of the conference is that my attempt to spread out the considerable work of producing the newsletter among more than just one person has been successful: we are now a team of three! My thanks to Robin Fischer, the new submissions coordinator, and to Linda Van Gastel, who has undertaken the task of learning Adobe InDesign so that she can take over design and layout. It’s a new day, I feel, for the FAN newsletter.
Just for fun, here’s the front page of the summer issue, which shows the workspace within the InDesign program. Looks a bit complicated, doesn’t it? If you’re adept at Photoshop, this arrangement of panels and buttons and so on will be familiar. To the rest of us (including me when I started), it was baffling. But I’ve learned enough now that I can enjoy working in this program. Yay!
But all this FAN business has meant that blogging has taken a back seat, yet again, something that’s happened all too often in 2018. I’m hoping that with the help I’ll be getting, the newsletter will no longer mean having to put my own art and blogging on hold so often and for so long. Today I had several hours in my studio, the longest stretch of uninterrupted art-making time I’ve had for months. It felt great.
And it reminded me that one of the things that I’ve yet to tell you about is another great art-making moment from early summer, a workshop that I took in Oliver with Pat Pauly, a very accomplished art quilter from Rochester NY. When one of my FAN compatriots contacted several of us who live in or near the Okanagan to assess interest in taking this class, I jumped on it, even though I’d never heard of Pat. I signed up that same day and it’s a good thing I did, because the class was full within 24 hours of being announced. And with good reason! Pat’s artistic resume is impressive; have a look here if you’d like to see all that she’s accomplished. But it wasn’t so much her credentials that thrilled me when I looked at her website as her art. These are art quilts with a punch and verve and energy that I’d love to achieve in my own work.
We actually took two classes from Pat, one on each of the two days we were with her. In the first class (“The Play’s the Thing: Improv Sketches”), she taught us some of her favourite techniques for building a quilt. Pat is an improvisational piecer, meaning that she grabs a piece of fabric, or two, and wielding her rotary cutter like a pen or a brush, boldly cuts an idiosyncratic (and rarely straight) line directly through the fabric(s), not measuring, not even using a straight edge. Then she sews those two bits of fabric together and does it again, and again, both with the same fabrics and adding in new ones. This is my preferred way of working too, so I had few inhibitions to overcome at this early stage of the day.
Nor was lack of choices of fabrics a problem for me. Pat had recommended that we bring a small bag of fabric. I brought 12 medium-sized bags of fabric, so didn’t sell myself short. The difficulty, other than trying to find things like pins, a pen, and my rotary cutter amidst all those pieces of fabric, was being bold and fast about selecting fabrics to use. See the mess? And one of my rotary cutters, the brand-new one, of course, went awol at the end of the first day and never reappeared. Never have I been so thankful to have brought too much: I’d snagged a backup cutter as I flew out the studio door to drive to Oliver the day before the workshop started and therefore I didn’t have to lose a minute to going out and buying a new one. Check out Alison’s darling little featherweight Singer in the background. Still producing a perfect straight stitch every time. And that Pfaff on the right was my Mum’s until she gave it to me; it’s a terrific machine for a class because it’s simple and portable.
We began with exercises, small compositions that Pat calls “sketches.” She says she uses these constantly in her own practice, allowing them to suggest to her shapes and combinations that might translate well into a larger piece. The first assignment she gave us was to take two contrasting fabrics and begin slicing, sewing and repeating to produce a small composition. Here’s my offering.
I know, isn’t that green fabric horrible? This sketch combines a purple wave-printed commercial fabric and a green hand-dyed piece from my earliest days of learning to dye fabric, which I also stamped with paint on a stamp I carved in a Maiwa workshop. I would not call the result beautiful. But it is interesting, and there is some relationship between the two fabrics, and my cutting and sewing produced some rather attractive shapes, I think. Someone in the class pointed out how the two sides of the composition mirror one another, which is not only NOT what I’d intended to do but also something I hadn’t noticed until it was pointed out to me.
Here’s another attempt, not as successful in terms of composition.
Without intending to, I made a non-functional coffee pot. I must say, though, that I enjoy the way the curved lines in the white and beige print shift direction.
Another assignment was to create an off-kilter block, something I really enjoyed.
To me, these fabrics work fabulously together (that gradated green and blue circle and half-circle print was just about my all-time favourite hoarded scrap; good for me for finally bringing it out to play). I love this little piece; the colours, the mix of size of the motifs, the strange angles. It’s all wonderful.
And on we went to making a larger sketch with the view to cutting it apart and sewing it together in a new way. I had a bit of serendipity right at the start and pulled a few fabrics that I thought worked really well together. And I put into practice the techniques Pat covered that first morning: sewing and slicing and resewing and repeating was one. Another was inserting skinny strips as accents. A third was assessing how the recut sections worked together to create new shapes, and then making new design decisions to take advantage of the new shapes that crossed seam lines.
Pat spent a little while showing us how to use a simple viewfinder to isolate shapes and combinations to build on.
Here’s the result of my first hour or so of work. Don’t you love these fabrics together? That bit of turquoise and red dots and white lines has been in my “favourite scraps” bin for a few years. It was perfect, as was the orange sea anemone print, another long-term dweller in the “favourites” bin. My library quilting friends will recognize a fabric we dubbed “brushstrokes” when we used it in a raffle quilt years ago; what a scrumptious visual texture that fabric has.
I have to admit, I thought this composition was GORGEOUS! I loved the way the light and dark blues played off the rich reds and oranges, and the discordant, brash combinations of red, orange, and pink on the one hand, and blues and turquoises on the other. Oh, I was so happy with this piece. When Pat got to my design wall as she made her rounds she said, “This is easy for you."
Oh, the pride I felt! Then she said, “Cut it up.”
SERIOUSLY?? Yup, she meant it. “You’re not going to move forward unless you let go of it, cut it up, and see what else it can be,” she explained. Oh the anguish that replaced the pride! It took me more than half an hour to buck up and grab my cutter again and start slashing this piece apart. It still kind of hurts, thinking about it.
Pat had us review our pieces through the viewfinder and cut accordingly, turning our pieces into a four-patch composition, each square being about eight inches across. This is what I got at the end of that process.
One of the things Pat told us to aim for was shapes that cross and therefore blur the rigidly geometrical seam lines between the squares. See those three shapes next to each other above the horizontal seam (in the photo above), all in that red-with-circles fabric? That’s one place where I achieved that goal. When I got home, I felt that there wasn’t enough happening in this piece with only four patches. So I reorganized and sewed some of the leftover bits and created a couple more squares. Here’s the final composition. There’s a lot going on here, particularly since the piece is only about 24 by 16 inches. I’d love to see it blown way up to something like six feet by four. Now that would be a composition with presence.
On day two, we began a new class called “Take Two.” The idea behind the class is to choose just two fabrics and, using the techniques and design principles we’d covered the previous day, create a new design.
The first step, of course, was to assess the fabrics we’d brought with us and choose two to work with.
Well. Despite that mountain of fabric, I realized that very little of the yardage I had brought would work for this project. Pat agreed. But she did like a weird Jane Sassaman fabric I’d brought with me (Jane has produced some wonderfully weird fabrics over the years and she’s my favourite fabric designer), and the scale of the motif was large enough to work well for this assignment. The design is called “Dandy Dancers,” and it’s from Jane’s “Prairie Chic” collection. Have a peek here if you’d like to see the yardage (meterage?) uncut, and note the ruler at the bottom of the photo to get an idea of the scale of the motif. Thank you to Poppins Quilt Shoppe of Penticton for bringing it to sell at the most recent Rumplestiltskein quilt show in Rock Creek. I wish I’d bought more than a metre . . .
Okay, so I had one fabric. But nothing else I had would work with it. Fortunately, Pat had brought with her many, many yards (she’s American, remember, so they weren’t metres) of her own richly-coloured and -patterned fabric, painted and stamped and screen-printed with thickened dyes. One of these pieces, a bold and eye-popping smear of yellow, orange, and red, looked amazing beside the pale lavender of my Sassaman fabric. So I bought it, and haven’t regretted for a minute paying more than twice as much for it as I’ve ever paid for a yard of fabric. It was perfect.
And now I have to apologize. This was a two-day workshop. I’m a blogger. And yet I remembered to bring my camera along only one half day. So I have no photo of Pat’s uncut fabric. Nor of any stage in the process of making this piece, including the last parts after I’d got it home and up on my design wall. I can’t believe it.
But I can tell you what happened and show you the finished quilt top. When I got my work-in-progress home, I realized that I had light values (the Sassaman fabric and the yellows in Pat’s piece) and medium values (the oranges and reds in Pat’s piece), but I had no darks. And the composition looked unbalanced to me as a result. So I decided to go rogue: I introduced a third fabric to my design, a deep dark green. And here’s how the piece ended up.
This pic is of the quilt top tacked to my dear husband’s shop doors.
And here it is again, this time pinned to a sheet on my design wall.
I’m having a terrible time with photography recently, as you can tell. The shop doors worked well for photographing my entries for the National Juried Show of the Canadian Quilting Association, but I think the reason for that success is that all the snow on the ground in mid-January bounced the light around evenly. Without snow on the ground, the eaves of the shop cast the top of the quilt into shadow. Therefore, there’s nothing to be gained from shooting the pics on the shop doors rather than in my studio, which is where the one immediately above and the ones below were taken. You can dimly see a second quilt underneath the first: my design wall is so small that I have to double up like this if the piece underneath is in many pieces and can’t be moved. Sometimes I’ve had as many as four layers pinned up one on top of the other. I’d so love a new studio with more design wall real estate!
As you may remember from previous less-than-perfect photos taken in my studio, the light from the upper windows to the right bounces off the floor and creates a light patch on the bottom right corner of whatever I’m photographing. Oh well. Here’s another shot, one where you can get a better sense of the scale of the piece because of the surrounding furniture and the window and my sewing machine.
And I thought you might like a few detail shots, which give a better idea of how I constructed the piece because you can see the seam lines.
Sigh. These pics just don’t do the piece justice. I have to say, I love it. I love the curved and angled lines of the central image, the pop of Pat’s fabric and the wild craziness of Jane’s (my dh calls this “the blue fried egg fabric.”) I like the balance of shapes and the way the various seam lines lead the eye through the composition. I wish now I’d had a darker green fabric, or one with more visual texture than the solid I used. But as a first attempt at this kind of composition, I’m pretty happy with it.
The next step, in my view, is to learn to make fabrics like Pat’s. These are not fabrics that one can buy in a store. They are works of art in their own right. I’ve come home thinking that my current fabric collection is all wrong, and I’ve been doing some deck-clearing in order to make space for the kinds of fabrics I’ll need to make the kind of work I aspire to now. Before I left for High River, I had all of this ready to go out the door.
Last weekend I got together with my pals from the Greenwood Public Library raffle quilt production crew and we had a grand share-out. I snatched back only a few of these offerings, suddenly stricken with second thoughts. We weighed the fabrics; other than the ones that went to a charity, my friends relieved me of the burden of more than 40 pounds of fabric. I did some research and then some math when I got home: a yard/metre of fabric apparently weighs an average of about 5.5 ounces. That means that I gave away something in excess of 116 metres of fabric. Wahoo! My kind friends insisted on paying me (totally unnecessary but very generous) for their acquisitions, but the real gain in my books was to have these no-longer-loved fabrics out of my studio and into the hands of those who will use and enjoy them.
Just a couple of other things about Pat’s class before I sign off. This woman is a treasure, a huge inspiration. From her energy and good humour to her critical eye and direct manner when she sees something that isn’t working, she is the kind of teacher who both prods and encourages, who challenges and reassures, not an easy balance to achieve.
And her eye for colour and design is finely honed. I mean, just look at this pile of fabric on her table. Fireworks! I want to reach right into the photo and start sewing!
The other thing about Pat is that she is an artist. Not a quilter, but an artist, even thought her medium is quilts. On the evening of the first day of the workshop, Pat gave an artist presentation that completely knocked my socks off. She showed (get this) 400 slides in an hour and a half. And she talked easily and smoothly through the whole thing, knowing exactly where she was without looking at the images projected behind her. And the slides were an thrilling mix of her own work and its inspirations and the work of others, including exhibits in major American galleries that she herself has curated. It was the most astounding performance you can imagine. Fortunately, the room was packed with workshop participants and interested parties from the community and we were all enthralled. Wow. (Oh, and all those yards of hand-dyed and painted and printed fabric Pat brought with her? If I remember correctly, everything (or nearly everything) we hadn’t already bought in the class was scooped up by the audience after the slide show).
So if you’re a quilter or other artist in textiles and you’re looking for a kick-start workshop with a fabulous instructor, look for a Pat Pauly class near you. You won’t regret it. And thanks, by the way, to Karen Cummings, for getting to know Pat so well that Pat came to visit her in Hedley, which is why she was in the vicinity, and to Janet Bednarczyk, who organized the entire workshop. Both Karen and Janet are members of FAN, which is how I know them; see how much I get from belonging to this organization?