Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The house that Mad Elena built

The architect Richard Neutra was was instrumental in introducing the International Style of Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe to the United States. A 1947 Time Magazine article named him second only to Frank Lloyd Wright in making an architectural mark on the United States. In 1949 he was featured on the cover of Time Magazine (read the cover story to find out why it's captioned Architect Richard Neutra, What will the Neighbors Think?). His renown residence - Lovell House - perches on a steep hill in Los Angeles and epitomizes his geometric and linear forms.

Neutra House is my homage to him and attempts to emulate his architectural lines. It is 35w x 38h and will hang in EBHQ's biannual show on April 10th and 11th - Voices in Cloth where I will be a white glove hostess at the show each morning from 10am to noon. If you're there, come and say hello.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Turning green

I am envious of artists with multiple design walls in a large studio. Look at Judy Martin's! Oooh! I covet such a gallery!

I have two design walls: main one 7x7 and another 5x5 that's a bit removed and used like a bulletin board. In the middle of attaching the sleeve to Neutra House, I want to take photos. Before I forget. Before it's too late. I must roll up the ribbon quilt out of the way first.

Hmm. This reminds me of another reason why I don't work concurrently on multiple projects. Not enough wall space. Well, not the entire story. True confession: I am a studio slob. My studio overflows with stuff; all horizontal surfaces covered. I am quite content as long as I have enough space to keep working and enough floor space to maneuver.

I was once obsessive about housekeeping. Somewhere along the line I picked up some of my ex's non-existent housekeeping habits. Now I am just as bad particularly with my own space.

Every so often, I do major clean up. But it's not enough. A total redesign and reorganization is what I really need. What's that story about a cobbler whose own children have no shoes?

Friday, March 26, 2010


Since I'm about finished with a quilt, now is a good time to follow Kathy Loomis' advice. I assessed both Straight Talk and Neutra House. I won't bore you with details of my assessments. You must run through those questions for yourself. Since I am so much more a beginner than Kath, I added a few questions for myself.

One to the first part of her questions: What did I learn?

Here are three things I learned from Neutra House. (1) Even for straight stitches with a walking foot, gloves helped with handling the weight and bulk of a larger quilt. (2) Quilting was stressful with a deadline. This may get easier with experience, but the quilting loomed as such a large unknown for awhile. (3) I don't have the patience to hide all the start and stop ends even with a self-threading needle. Oh, hang the quilt police!

To her second section, two more: for my next quilt, What can I improve? and What can I try?

Next time my facings will net 1.5" wide which means I'll cut them 4" wide and use a .5" seam. The wider facing will provide a better hand hold for understitching. The .5" seam allows for grading and reducing bulk. And next time I will free motion quilt even straight lines to avoid starts and stops, confidence willing!

From doing this exercise I saw a relationship from the former to the latter. Approaches carry over from one to the other. And will likely carry forth to the next and evolve from there. I'm not working in a series. But this is a series of learning experiences.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

9-day countdown

The guild depends on volunteers to put together their biannual Voices in Cloth. Members with a quilt in the show must volunteer 4 hours for the show.

Two years ago no quilt but I volunteered anyway as a white glove hostess. I touched the quilts, flipped over to backs, answered questions as best I could and got a chance to really look at every quilt. Despite the tired legs, a great experience. This year I will white glove again both mornings from 10am to noon.

Neutra House is not finished, but I'm not worried. Quilting is done; facing is 99% complete; sleeve is ready to be added;  finally attach the show label and it'd be ready. All small stuff I can finish in a couple of hours.

With my design wall free, I've put up the strip-pieced ribbon quilt. Do I dare think I can finish it before heading back the Crow Barn on May 8th? And develop motifs for the Sets & Variables workshops too?

Turning to leave my studio last night, my eyes caught the quilt and I was captivated by its colors. Magic moments like these keep me going.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Taxing time

Too bad skipping this is not an option. Two weeks ago, as soon as some necessary paperwork came in, I imposed a deadline by making an appointment with my accountant. Thanks to some prior cleanup of paperwork piles, I managed to pull together all documentation and numbers for the tax returns over the weekend. Then spent last night massaging them into my accountant's forms. In less than an hour this morning, he hashed out the numbers into returns and e-filed. Thank goodness it's done. Back to quilting.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Thank you, but no

Last night I returned a call from an EBHQ member. My first thought was duty assignment for Voices in Cloth the guild show in April. But that wasn't it. She wanted to know if I would run for the member-at-large position on the board.

I am extremely grateful to EBHQ for the workshops, books and show opportunities. Further thanks goes to them for my monthly get together with my Quilt Therapy group. In return I volunteer at the library before each monthly meeting and co-curated the last two local shows. Much as I would like to be more active, time is a luxury. I declined.

As Kathy Loomis advises, I must make more quilts to develop my own voice. To step up my quilt productivity, I must not stray off on tangents. To stay focused, I must eschew workshops and other activity that does not add to my knowledge base. I shall pursue art with near single-mindedness. I can do it. I just can't do it all.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Done with perfectionism

"It seems to me most artists have a mild version of the condition (perfectionism)." Robert Genn's Twice Weekly Letters today is about The Plight of Perfectionists. Yes, guilty as charged!
"An overly demanding, displeased parent, sibling or spouse, even from the distant past, is a common source. Guilt, fear and common garden-variety stubbornness play their part." Wouldn't you know it; my sisters – more so than brothers – exhibit similar symptoms. Thanks to Mom.
"While counselling may be necessary, vigorous introspection is often a good course." I vigorously chant a mantra "Done is better than perfect." (Scott Allen).

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Resisting seduction

A few years ago my goal was to sample as many techniques as I could. Each month I checked the maximum three books out of the quilt guild library. I joined the Quilt Art list and followed many links. I signed up for nearly every guild workshop and a few more at festivals and local quilt shops. I ran over to quilt shows, exhibits and festivals - anywhere within decent driving distance. Just soaked it up for awhile: looked, read, learned and dabbled. Two things I didn't do: read quilt magazines and joined quilt challenges. Well, not quite - I did join one challenge but never did anything.

Kathy Loomis says all these activities can get you off on a tangent, eat up your time, and lead you astray from finding your voice and making good work. Best to stick with one course she says.

After my first Nancy Crow workshop in fall 2008, my goal was to piece improvisationally and abstractly. Other methods held less interest. I no longer compulsively followed the Quilt Art list and their links. I signed up for workshops only  if they hold promise of better design, better process, or better techniques. I now find few relevant books in the guild library.

I do go to quilt shows because I want to support them and there's always something to learn about how others handle colors, design, fabrics and threads. I do look at blogs because they are a substitute for seeing art in person. I am especially thankful for blogs about artistic process, struggle and development.

Time limitations, compulsiveness, perfectionism, and procrastination all work against me. So I am sticking with one thing and resisting seductions. I want to hearing my own voice.

Monday, March 15, 2010

18-day countdown

A crystal clear, but cold and windy Saturday kept me indoors quilting Neutra House. Only one foray out to the gym. I didn't go out on a gorgeous Sunday either 'cept to pullweeds for a little break and some fresh air. On a quilting roll, I didn't stop until midnight.

Quilting is done! Quilt is squared up! Tonight: facings.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

UFOs to finish

Cynthia Wenslow commented in response to Kathy Loomis' post: Something else to think about, Elena... do you really need to finish *all* your UFOs? Perhaps you learned what you needed to with however much you accomplished on them and can just let them go as part of your learning process. Not everything needs to be "finished" to be valid. Good question and good points, Cynthia.

Some of my older ufos have value. Sentimental, like my very first quilt top or like the one from my very first Nancy Crow workshop. Then there is the one I want to free motion quilt for the first time. I want to finish these. They'd ingrain the quilting sandwich process and provide more experience with effects of quilt lines.

These three are foremost in my mind, so I'll make a list of steps for each like Kathy suggested (after I finish Neutra House for the guild show). The other ufos can wait. Because they were more of a struggle to begin with and promise more of a struggle to finish. Or because they are of an approach I do not wish to pursue further. Part of my learning process, like you say Cynthia. So they may wait a long time.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

23 day countdown

Here's what it looked like last night:

My Janome must have picked up my vibes. The walking foot would forget how to walk. The foot guide unreliable. The stitches uneven.

With the stitch-in-the-ditch walking foot and a 90/14 quilting needle I stitched close to the seam lines on both sides to get a heavier line. Would be easier with a twin needle, but the only ones I have are 80/12. I'd offset the needle position and used the foot guide along the seam line. Every once it in awhile, the needle would thunk! as it went through multiple layers. Grrr! Terrible stitches. On one side the stitches would hide under the fold of the seam. On the other side, the stitches would stray. Unsew! Restitched with adjustments to the needle position. Grrr! Unsewed again! The first few lines were unsewed almost as often as they were sewn.

Another tack needed. The guide on the stitch-in-the-ditch foot interfered with my sightlines. Switching to the open toe walking foot and a 90/14 microtex helped. Still didn't like bulky seams, but the second pass was often better. Here's a closeup:

 Once I started stitching, I started making adjustments. The white thread contrasted nicely with the black but not enough with the teal, especially when running right next to it. I stitched all over then went back and stitched more.

It's not there yet. It's not ready for facings yet. More stitches yet to come.

Kathy Loomis responds

I've started following Kathy Loomis' blog Art with a Needle. When she posted about finding your voice, I left this comment Three years at this now and I am finishing my second quilt. Any tips about getting more prolific while still hanging on to my other job? She gave thought to my question and responded in two following posts here and here.

Wasn't my intention to sidetrack her or to have her focus only on my struggles. Perhaps other artists have the same struggles. Perhaps she feels it's all relevant to finding your voice. Whatever the reasons, I am extremely grateful for her suggestions. Thank you for your generosity, Kathy!

Monday, March 8, 2010

It's back!

Straight Talk came back from Hampton, Virginia where it was on display at the Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival XXI. This year's competition theme was Cheers! – how has your quilting come of age? As my first finished quilt, it signifies a new phase of my quilting life.

I also marked it for the Amateur Entry category: Amateur entries are defined as entries created by persons who have never taught quilting for a fee, published books on the subject of quilting, made money from their quilting through selling, designing or stitching, or won prize monies at a quilt competition. All true.

The judges, Bobbie Bergquist and Christine Porter, wrote: We agree you are a quilter! An interesting & unique original design. We encourage you to continue quilting & entering competitions.

Hurrah! They were too kind!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

30-day countdown

The pressure is on. I entered Neutra House in EBHQ's quilt show, Voices in Cloth, happening April 10th and 11th. That means turning in the quilt on April 3. I have 30 days to finish it. Trying to avoid coming down to the very last minute.

This quilt will roughly measure 3'x3'. So it’s not huge - only about 15"x36" bigger than the first. But that extra size has made a difference. More surface to cover. More weight to push around.

To figure out the white quilting lines, I first drew onto tracing paper covering the quilt. I was too close or it was too big. Couldn't see the whole thing.

My art instructors were right: start with a thumbnail sketch. Then not too much time spent if it doesn't work out. I am sketching again with a 4"x4" photo.

My goal for the week: make a satisfactory sketch and sew those white lines. Then facing, sleeve and label left. The end seems so close. Musn't think that. I do tend to procrastinate. Then rush to finish it in time. Uh, uh! Not this time! I want to finish with time to spare.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Talking quilt

My quilt for EBHQ's biannual show, Voices in Cloth, has proceeded in jerks and stops. The top was on my design wall for a month before I reworked it. Then another month as I wondered how to quilt it. I posted about it here and here and here. Still undecided about that, I went ahead and sandwiched and basted it. Then it spoke to me.

From it's inception, it had a landscape orientation. I've turned it and looked again. Nope, landscape. But with the basting stitches, it spoke loud and clear: turn me! Even my quilt group heard it. Now it has a portrait orientation. Here it is on the right with only basting stitches.

The same thing happened with my first quilt, Straight Talk. I am amazed by the power of stitch lines.

Now it looks like a modernist building. An abstracted façade of with walls, overhangs, recesses and reveals. So along that theme I've added a 2x4 grid in brown then a 4x8 grid in teal. I do like my quilt lines to show but both grids are subtle. Well, they are background. Here it is on the left with brown and teal quilting lines. 

Next will be a heavy white thread that would stand out. The white reflects the exterior color common to modernist buildings. To pay homage to Richard Neutra (pronounced NOI-tra), a California Modernist architect, I am researching his buildings to cull design elements and sketch the quilt lines.

It's an architectural tradition to name a building after the client. Well, he can't be anyone's client anymore. Nevertheless I've named this quilt Neutra House.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Out with the old, in with the new

In November I wasn't doing too badly with my goals for the year. Well, now I'm way behind, and no way I could catch up, so I've abandoned them. But I'm not slacking off. I have new goals and still go into my studio for at least an hour a day if not two.

My first priority is tax returns. It's not a goal but a nasty (at least to me) necessity. Much as I'd like to fast forward through this period, it's always slow going, I don't even do it myself. I take it to an accountant. I hate it. Don't know why. Just do.

My primary goal is to finish a quilt for the local guild show, Voices in Cloth,  Once that's accomplished, then I will play with motifs for the Sets & Variables workshops and make more free motion quilting samples. All this before May. Even finish another quilt perhaps.

So say goodbye to the old goals and hello to the new.