Friday, December 17, 2010

Overcoming Artist Block

One of the hazards of working with donated, repurposed fabric swatches is that sometimes you just don't have enough for the project you have in mind.  That happened to me earlier this week and at that point I felt like I'd hit a wall.

I'd finished another Free Lace scarf and was ready to get going on another jacket.  I remembered some fabric that I'd received in my last batch of donations that I really liked and wanted to work with.  I knew there wasn't a lot, but I hoped I'd be able to find some other fabrics that would work well with it.  I proceeded to dig through almost all the fabric that I had but I couldn't find anything of the right weight, color and texture.  I was so disappointed, that I just couldn't think of anything else I wanted to do.  It took a while for me to climb out of the box I'd created for myself and move on.

Once again I was grateful for my large fabric stash.  I realized that in order to pick up my spirits again I just needed to start on something.  I knew that if I could just find any coordinating fabrics that constituted enough for a jacket and started to put them together, the creative ideas would come.  Thankfully, that truism--Just Start Something--worked for me again.

I found a set of fabrics of similar weight and brown, gold and beige colors all with linear patterns--plaids, stripes, and boxes--that I thought I could work with.  I started putting strips together and then started couching threads over the top to pull it all together.  I started with a sparkly copper & brown thread similar to the main colors in the fabrics.  Then I found another heavier "yarn" that helped bring out the blue in the stripe.  As is usual for me, I wasn't too sure of my selections until I got fairly well into the process.  Luckily, once I got a large section done and was able to step back and look at it as a whole, I started to relax.  
I think I'll call this one Crazy Brown Study.  I think it looks much better "in person" than in my picture.  I'll let you know how it comes along.

Finally just to put closure on my last post, here's a picture of the completed Free Lace scarf with the silk cocoon flowers.  It definitely has the delicate lacey look I was envisioning when I started.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Getting Bolder with my Free Lace Scarves

Today is another day for "mindless" stitching.  Working on Free Lace scarves is a good way to spend the Monday after a busy Open Studios weekend.  I can be productive doing the machine stitching without using much brain-power.

Lately I've started incorporating more things into my scarves.  For a while I had been staying pretty basic--just playing with colors and textures in pretty straightforward stripes.  That was fun for a while, but I needed to do more. In my last few, I've been working in other shapes and textures through the use of fabric bits and silk cocoons and carrier rods.

I had stayed away from incorporating fabric bits because I couldn't decide how I would treat the edges to keep them from fraying excessively.  Then when I was digging through a drawer looking for something else, I discovered that we had a rotary cutter with a wavy blade.  I decided to try that on some sheers.  I thought the wavy edge would be interesting and control some of the fraying.

Here's what I came up with.  I cut lots of sheer triangles and then overlaid them with a thin green ribbon and a brown yarn that included a sparkly copper colored thread.  The edges of the sheer fabrics did roughen up some in the rinsing process, but just enough to give the bits a sort of distressed look. I guess it was a successful experiment because it sold within a day or two of putting it in The Loading Dock Gallery.
From there I went on to try adding other shapes and textures using the rods and cocoons.  We get so many questions from our studio visitors as to what the rods and cocoons are and how you use them, that we're always looking for new applications.  I knew that the silk wouldn't be hurt by the water needed to dissolve the stabilizer so I thought these scarves might be a good use for them.  

I figured that even if the process of dissolving the stabilizer dissolved some of the "starch" holding the cocoon and rod pieces together, I'd have enough machine stitching to hold the fibers in place.  I thought I might get some fluffy bits in the scarf, but that was okay with me.  Somewhat to my surprise the pieces I used held together very well and the look didn't change very much at all after the rinsing process.  Here's my first attempt.

I cut flower shapes from the silk cocoons and used the rods in their basic rectangular shape.  With both the cocoons and the rods, I separated them into layers to make them softer and more fabric like.  Separating them into layers also gives you color and texture variations that still blend all together.  Some of the layers are very thin and sheer, while others are thicker and more opaque.

For the next one, I again used the rods in their basic rectangular shape, but I cut the cocoons into spirals.  Pulling the layers apart and flattening them gives some great funky shapes--not spirals really, but more like waves and question marks.

For the one I'm stitching on today, I've again made flowers from the cocoons.  Instead of using the silk rods, I've used wavy bits of silk.  This one is going to be very lacy and soft looking.  I haven't finished the stitching yet, so the stabilizer is still there, but the picture will give you an idea.  
I really like using the Mokuba stabilizer for this work.  Even when they are separated into layers, neither the cocoon shapes or the carrier rods are totally flat.  The clear film included in the Mokuba packages holds them flat enough to make the stitching easy.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Big Weekend for Art

I stayed home for a while this morning, trying to catch up on some of the cleaning that I didn't get done this weekend.  I spent just about the entire weekend at the studio.  Friday night was the opening reception for Winter Lights III at The Loading Dock Gallery downstairs.  All the artists in the show wore my jackets and two others along with two other young women did some walk-through modeling. It was a great time.  As I've said before it is great fun to see your work on real people.

Here's Peter Zimmerman in my new wescot.  He's in his studio just before the reception began.  As you can see he's a glass artist.  Peter is looking pretty serious and "grown up," but it wasn't all seriousness at the party.  Here are the two youngest models.  They really got into it.

 The rest of the weekend was taken up with Open Studios here.  We were open both Saturday and Sunday afternoons.  Saturday especially it was really hopping around here.  I hope that bodes well for next weekend too.  We'll be open both Saturday and Sunday afternoons again.  (December 11 and 12 noon to 5)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

New Man's Wescot

Yesterday I managed to finish the man's vest I committed to for tomorrow night's opening reception for the Winter Lights III show here at The Loading Dock Gallery.  What a relief when I took it down for Peter to try on and it fit.  He hadn't been around at the times during the construction when I needed a basic fitting.  With the timing of the reception I didn't have the luxury of waiting for him before going on.  At those points I nabbed whoever crossed my path and made them try it on.  Luckily at both points I ran into a man who was at least somewhat similar in size and build.  Based on those "fittings" and the basic boxy style of the vest, I was just trusting to luck that it would work out all right.  Thankfully luck was on my side.

So here's what I put together from the fabrics I discussed last time.
I call it "Off the Beaten Track" since it is not my usual woman's jacket.  I learned a lot from creating it.  Although the basic pattern is in the book Making Kimono and Japanese Clothing by Jenni Dobson, I do not follow her construction methods.  In order to create a piece that will look really good for many years to come, I incorporate fine tailoring techniques.  Thus each new style requires a lot of careful thought about how it all goes together and each time I make it the process gets refined.  This is definitely not quick production work, but I sure enjoy myself.

I'm pleased with this result and will make more of this style.  With this one, the main fabric is heavily textured, while the neckband and insets are a mid-weight cotton.  This means that the decorative bars on the front have a depth that helps them stand out.

If you are in the area, I hope you can join us at the reception tomorrow night - 6 to 9 p.m.  Details are available on Facebook.  If you can't make it tomorrow night, we will be open both Saturday and Sunday for the next two weekends for our annual Holiday Open Studios.  Please stop by to see us. 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Defending my Fabric Stash

There seem to be two camps in the textile art world - those who believe that they're being "good" when they refrain from adding to their stash of threads and fabrics and those who unabashedly collect whatever moves them.  I am definitely in the latter camp.  For me, limiting my stash directly translates to limiting my creativity.  So often, the process of going through my stash to collect fabrics for a new project takes my idea in a new direction or brings it to a new level.
Case in point, the vest I'm going to make for Peter Zimmerman to wear at the Winter Lights III reception on December 3.  When I started considering this, I had in mind a hand-dyed, discharged and printed fabric from Mary Walters paired with something pretty neutral - and masculine - maybe black.  When actually pulled out the black fabric I had in mind it seemed deadly dull to me, even when I tried to imagine it with the piecework I planned.  So I kept digging through my fabric bins.  I came up with this combination which I found much more inspiring.

Mary's fabric is in the center and I'm seeing it featured front and center, but in a relatively small amount.  The heavily textured fabric on the left will be the main fabric and the "michi kanji" fabric on the right will be the lining.  With this selection, I'm excited to get going. I want to do something on the main body of the vest to echo the design in the center fabric.  I just need to figure out what.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Mindless Stitching Isn't so Mindless After All

I'm working on a "Free Lace" scarf today - doing the machine-stitched grid that holds it all together.  This is the stage that, before doing one, I thought would be totally boring.  I had been afraid that I would not enjoy making these scarves because the machine sewing would be such a chore...more famous last words.  I am finding that this sewing time is actually creative time.  While doing this rote sewing I can let my mind float on to the next project.

It's looking like my next project is going to be a man's jacket or vest.  I've been asked several times if I ever make jackets for men, but project hasn't yet risen to the top of my list.  As of yesterday I have a reason to put it there.  Here's the story.

I am participating with six other artists and artisans in the Winter Lights III exhibit at The Loading Dock Gallery here at Western Avenue Studios.  Yesterday we decided that all of us will wear my jackets during the reception on Friday night December 3rd.  As you've probably guessed, one of the artisans is male, but we don't want to leave him out.  Right now I'm thinking about a boxy Japanese-type vest.  I've got a rust-colored fabric from Mary Walters that I'd like to feature, but I need to figure out if I have coordinating fabrics that won't make it look too feminine.  Hmmm, maybe black???  Which of my "usual" embellishment techniques can I use to add interest but keep it masculine - or at least unisex???  This is what I've been day-dreaming about as I stitch.

If you're in the area, I invite you to come to the show opening to see my latest jackets and the work of the other six artists:
The reception happens from 6 to 9 p.m. on Friday December 3.  There'll be good food, good friends, live modeling of my jackets and great holiday shopping.  Hope to see you then.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Thrill of Seeing Others Wear Your Work

This past Saturday night was the Art of Fine Fashion show at A Quilter's Gathering in Nashua, New Hampshire.  I had three jackets in the show and it was such a joy to see them on real people - not a mannequin or dress form.  Unfortunately, my camera batteries were lower than I had realized so I only got a few pictures.

Here's the best one.  I took this one of Nancy in my Sebago Days jacket before the show.  She walked out into the hallway while she was waiting for it to start and I nabbed her for a picture. 
The pictures I took during the show definitely leave something to be desired.  I am not a people/action photographer!!

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Art of Fine Fashion

Today's one of those days when I feel really scattered.  I'm having trouble focusing, I have so much going on lately--some setbacks but mostly good. I'll skip the details to go right to the best news.

I have two things to make me especially happy these days.  First my son finished his active military duty as of yesterday.  He spent four years in the Air Force and much to my relief, the only overseas duty he did was a three week stint participating in war games in Germany.  He will continue to work for the Air Force in a civilian capacity, but he is coming home for a visit first.  I'll be so glad to see him.

Besides that personal happiness, I'm thrilled to share that I've had jackets accepted into another fashion show.  A week from tomorrow I'll have three jackets in The Art of Fine Fashion show that is part of A Quilters' Gathering in Nashua, New Hampshire.  The show will be at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night November 6 at the Radisson Hotel at 11 Tara Blvd., just off Rt. 3 in Nashua.  I'll be there and I'd love to see you there.  I won't spoil the surprise by putting in pictures of the jackets now.  You'll have to wait till it's over.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

To Facebook or Not to Facebook???

That's the question I've been stewing about for what seems forever.  Earlier this month I finally decided and made the plunge.  I signed up and Sonja and I set up a page for Friends Fabric Art.  We don't have much up on our Friends page yet, but our goal is to highlight new products there, including pictures of how we've used the various products available in our web store.  We hope that it will also be a place to gather comments from our customers on how they've used things and what they've particularly liked (or disliked).  Yesterday I posted pictures of my latest series of small art quilts.

I have always enjoyed handwork and since I started quilting more than 20 years ago I have almost always had some type of handwork project going.  Since I started really concentrating on jackets, I'd gotten away from my small projects.  Over the summer I realized I really missed that and needed to get back into it.  To jump start my enthusiasm I decided to work with a Stef Francis Creative Embroidery kit that had been hanging around here for years.  However I found I just couldn't get my head into the specific project suggested in the kit.  The colors and materials in the kit kept calling my name, so I just decided to ignore the "project" totally and just play with the fabric, threads and beads in the kit.

Here's what I did.  The hand-dyed silk noil, the threads, and the beads came in the kit.  The ribbon was something that I bought from another vendor at a quilt show a while back.  The photos on fabric also had been hanging around here for a while.  The choices were all inspired by the color scheme in the kit.

The color scheme in the kit is so unusual for me, but I liked it so well that I decided to challenge myself to continue working with it for a while.  I want to see if I can do a dozen of these small works (9" x 12") all in that blue & orange theme.  I'm going to see what all unusual things I can incorporate in to them.

This was number one.  I'm currently working on number five.  You can see the entire series in the photo gallery on our Friends Fabric Art Facebook page.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Kerouac Concert Kicks off a Great Weekend

Despite the rainy weather, Friday night's Kerouac festival concert/poetry reading at the Old Court in Lowell made for a great start to our weekend.  We went early to hang our kimono and were very pleased at how it looked against the black wall.  With the spotlights, it stood out well.  

Antje (Duvekot, shown here) and Dave Robinson, Urban Village Arts event organizer, were very complimentary about it and pleased to have it there.  They had seen pictures of it prior to the concert, but had not seen "the real deal."  It was great to be able to share it with them and to have a small part in the festival.

Their response was a good omen for our weekend.  Saturday was the regular "First Saturday" Open Studios here at Western Avenue Studios.  We had many visitors during the afternoon and Sonja sold one of her newest works and had inquiries about another larger work.  I had someone schedule an appointment for later today to discuss creating a custom jacket for her.  By the end of the day we were residing on cloud 9 again.  Not a bad place to be.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Kimono to Participate in the Kerouac Festival

You may know that Lowell is the hometown of Beat poet and author Jack Kerouac.  Every year at this time Lowell celebrates his work in festival of poetry readings, films, pub crawls and more.  This year's festival has been expanded to four days starting tomorrow  and continuing through Sunday, October 3.  We are excited that Sonja and I are going to bring a visual arts element to one of the events.  The kimono that we made for the Brush Arts exhibit earlier this year is going to be used for the backdrop at a concert and poetry reading on Friday night.

What's the connection between Jack Kerouac and our kimono you might ask?  Believe me there is a connection.  The link is the song 'Long Way' by one of Friday night's performers, Antje Duvekot which talks about a road trip a la Jack Kerouac.

When we began to plan our kimono we read about and studied pictures of kimonos from different eras.  We were especially drawn to kimonos that were inspired by poetry and/or nature.  That gave Sonja the idea to use Antje's song as the basis for ours.  We contacted her and she gave us permission to use it.  We've incorporated the full lyrics and images from our own cross country travels and reflects the excitement of travel and the wonder of nature.  We call it 'Wandering.'
When we learned that Antje was participating in the Kerouac Festival this year we contacted her and the festival organizers and offered our kimono as a backdrop.  Yesterday we got confirmation that they want it.  We are totally thrilled.  So if you are in town on Friday night, the concert is at 8:00 p.m. at the Old Court restaurant at the corner of Central and Middle streets in downtown Lowell.  We'll be there.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

An Unexpected Boost

I have a great story to share with those of you who sometimes get down thinking no one is noticing what you do.

I came in to the studio late today due to a dental appointment and several errands.  It meant that I walked in with one of the other artists on my floor that I don't know particularly well.  She congratulated me on having my work in the Globe this past Sunday.  Of course I responded that I was thrilled about it and commented that it was quite a fluke that I'd even seen it since I don't get the Globe.  At that she said "oh no - I'd have brought it to you.  I recognized your jackets."  The emphasis is mine.  Her comment made my day.

Now if you read my last post about the article, you might remember that none of the items shown were attributed to the creator.  I never expected that anyone would know that those were my jackets without my name there.  I often worry that my work is all over the place and that I do not have a recognizable style.  I've often felt that in order to have a style, you have to decide to do that and work toward it.  Now I realize I can relax, do what I like, and my style will just come through.  That is so freeing.

It was also quite a boost because I never really expected that this person paid much attention to my work.  Most of the time she doesn't remember my name.  It just goes to show that you don't always know who is paying attention.  At the time, I didn't expect much from the Bead + Fiber fashion show. There was no commentary during the show and the only attribution for the artists was a listing on the side of the building.  But, obviously Tina Sutton, who put together the Style Watch page for the Globe was there  and the page will help me even if my name isn't right there.  So I guess I'll just put my head down and keep working.  

That said, here's the jacket I just completed.  
Softly Intertwining
This is one that I just wasn't too sure about until I got well into the project.  It's made from an embroidered cotton that I've had for some time now--one of those that I had just large swatches of.  I had a hard time to decide what to do with that fabric because I thought it was a problem that I didn't have many complete flower motifs or many samples of the same colorway.  I finally realized that was inside the box thinking.  Once I could see the motifs more as color and texture, I could expand my possibilities of how to put it together and what other fabrics I could use with it.  I was pleased with the results.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Made the Boston Globe Twice Within a Month!!

I've been telling myself for at least two weeks that I need to get back to blogging, but I just haven't managed to tear myself away from other things.  Last night, though, something happened that I just have to share.

My husband was teaching and I was home leisurely perusing the Sunday Globe.  I turned the page in the magazine section to a spread of fashion photos and immediately recognized one of the dresses as one I'd seen in the Bead + Fiber show this past May.  My eyes drifted to the top of the page and I realized I was looking at one of my jackets that had been in that show!  As I recuperated from my shock, I realized that the layout included not one, but two of my jackets.  There was no attribution for the creators of any of the clothing pictured, but as you can see, I've fixed that in my version - well at least for my work.  The jackets in the top row, center and far right are mine.

This was especially exciting for two reasons.  First, I had no idea that this was going to happen.  But more than that, it could have so easily gone right past me without my ever knowing.  We don't get the Globe ourselves, our neighbors pass theirs along to us when they are finished with it.  Often we get several days of papers at once, so if I'm busy I just glance at a few sections or sometimes just put it right into the recycling bin.  I guess I'd better start paying attention, especially since this is the second time within a month that my (our) work has been featured in the Globe.  

On Sunday August 29, the kimono that Sonja and I made was pictured in the Globe North section.   The title of the article had nothing to do with our kimono and you had to read carefully through the article to find the short bit about the show here at The Loading Dock Gallery that it's in.  Still the kimono was clearly attributed to us and it looked great even in black and white in the printed papers.

With all this, I'm working on Cloud 9 somewhere...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Trying to get back to the sewing machine

I have been away from this for so long and so much has happened since my last post, I hardly know where to begin.  I guess I should just start where I am right now and I'll fill in backwards over the next few posts.

I am working at home this morning--waiting for a repairman to fix our ice-maker.  No ice in the hot weather we've been having is difficult to say the least.  Even the dog misses the ice.  He has such a sad look when I go to the freezer without tossing him a cube.  He says the lukewarm water from the tap is a poor substitute.

Since I knew I'd be home this morning, I went through my fabric stash yesterday to select fabrics for my next jackets.  I filled a bag with selections to bring home to wash and iron.  That way I can feel that I'm on my way back to my machine and my art.  Tomorrow I'll add some pictures so you can see what I'll be working on next.

For the last month and a half I've been concentrating on our fiber art supplies business--getting ready for and then vending at the Quilt/Surface Design Symposium, and then dealing with all the aftermath.  I'm finally nearly finished with the bookwork and inventory restocking and am ready to work on jackets again.  

Up until now I've been creating my jackets one at a time, start to finish.  I'm beginning to wonder if I need to change my style, to have more than one underway.  I have at least three different ideas pent up in my head and anxious to burst out.  Perhaps I need to let them all flower at once and see how that process works.  Perhaps that will help when I run into a problem on one--I can give it a breather while I go on to another.  Right now I try to force myself to fix problems immediately because I have to finish that one before starting a new one.  Just thinking aloud here...but sometimes you need to shake up the way you work to keep moving ahead.  Right now I'd better just get at it.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Getting Ready for Q/SDS

I am in the middle of packing up books and fiber/mixed media art supplies to take out to Columbus, Ohio for the Quilt/Surface Design Symposium.  This will be the 5th year that I've been a vendor at that conference.  I decided it was time to take a break from the chaos and post an update.  It's such a lot of work to get ready.  You can see the mess I'm dealing with...
...boxes everywhere.  I shipped a couple of boxes of light things, but everything else has to fit into my car.  (It's amazing what you can get into a small, hatchback.)  Today is my day to make all the final decisions about what to take and get the boxes packed.  Tomorrow it all goes into my car.  I head out first thing Sunday morning and will drive all day to get to Columbus.  Monday is rest and set up and Tuesday the conference begins.  If you're in the area, I hope you'll stop by.  

The conference is in a new location this year--at the Ramada Plaza Hotel on Sinclair Road.  I'll have to learn a new area of Columbus this year.

I've been very busy since my last post, not just getting ready for Q/SDS.  One of the most exciting things that happened was The Practical, The Impractical, and The Artrageous Fashion Show during the SOWA Art Walk weekend in Boston.  Sonja and I took a bunch of pictures and hope to add a slide show to our web site one day soon.  In the meanwhile, here's just one picture to give you a sample.  You might recognize the jacket from a previous post.
It was SO exciting to see my jackets in such a professional show.

Well I just looked at the clock and realized I'd better get back to packing.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Labor of Love

Here's my most recently completed jacket - a combination of Judy Robertson's hand-dyed cotton sateen, a pale green remnant with corded and textured stripes, and couched threads--rayon and cotton gimp and a sparkly metallic.  It's a size small because I didn't have enough of the corded stripe to make anything bigger and I just loved the combination of these two fabrics.

I called this one Tranquility because of the soft colors.  As I was sitting here the other day hand stitching the binding and listening to some of my favorite music on my i-pod, I realized that the name was  apropos for other reasons than the colors.  It was such a lovely, relaxing way to spend an afternoon that working on it certainly enhanced my tranquil feelings. 

Oh I know that many people recoil in horror at the thought of hand stitching, but it's one of my favorite activities.  Unless I run into an unruly thread or other problems I find stitching quite soothing.  I almost always have a stitching project ongoing and I almost never watch television empty handed.  As I get ready to go to QSDS, one of the things I have been thinking about is what stitching project I will bring along to fill the quiet times.

I am on a roll with couching lately.  My daughter, Sonja, definitely has my number on this one.  For Mother's Day she bought me two skeins of gorgeous Italian "yarns" in my favorite cool colors.  They have a wonderful sheen and great texture.  I've been looking at them now for a week and mulling over what fabric to put them with and what styling would best show them off.  One idea is putting it with a soft raw silk/linen fabric that has a subtle woven stripe and the other idea is using it with a shiny pale green silk.  In the first combination the yarn would primarily add textural depth, while in the second it would add both line and texture.  The first would have a softer more casual look, while the second would be more dressy.

I'm leaning toward starting with the second combination, but the silk hasn't been prewashed yet.  I'll either have to wait until tomorrow to get started or begin with the raw silk/linen.  I always prewash my fabrics in the washing machine in cool water and a delicate cycle.  Then I dry them in the dryer, again on a delicate cycle.  Since most of my fabrics are remnants, I often don't know for sure what the fiber content is and I never have care instructions for them.  By prewashing them I can make sure that my jackets will stand up to a careful wash when they go home with someone.  Legally I have to provide care instructions for my jackets, so I need to figure out what I can recommend.  If I can't wash the fabric, I don't want to use it.

With some of the fabrics, that first wash is a bit nerve-wracking, but so far I haven't had any disasters.  Overall, I have been quite surprised  at what I can wash without problems and often I am happier with the hand of the fabric after washing than before.  I'll be anxious to see how this silk washes.  It has been laminated to a lightweight knit to give it body, so I'm curious whether it will stand up to a wash.  Better to find out now if it won't.  I'll let you know my results.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Catching Up, Getting Ready

I realized today that I haven't posted since I returned from my trip to Wisconsin.  Last week was a transition week - catching up on a variety of things after the weekend away, and starting to get ready for my trip to the Quilt/Surface Design Symposium.  It's hard to imagine that in three weeks I'll be in Columbus again.  There are so many things to do to get ready.

Last time that I posted, I had just finished a wall quilt that I was going to give my mother-in-law for her birthday.  Well here she is, just after she opened it.  I am happy to report that she was very pleased with it and has picked out a nice spot for it in her living room.  

I was pretty sure that she'd be happy with it because it includes lots of phrases from an e-mail that she'd sent me about her mother.  Still I was a bit nervous because I'd cut up the quilt I'd made from a top that her mother had made.  I know that many people would consider that sacrilegious, but she found it as meaningful as I did.  Phew!!!!

I thought I should share this picture of the birthday girl.  Don't you hope you look that great when you get to be 90.  I think that's something we all wish for.  We all enjoyed the party.  It was very nice to connect with so many people that  you haven't seen in many years - and at a happy occasion.

So as I mentioned, my next big trip is to Columbus, Ohio for Q/SDS, where I will be vending.  I just realized that this will be the fifth year that I've done this.  Oh my.  I hope that if you're in the area, you'll come by and say hi.

Since returning from Wisconsin, I've been reviewing my inventory stocks and deciding what I should bring, ordering things to fill in, making lists of things I must do before going (like remembering to pay last month's sales tax), and working on a jacket.  I have another one almost finished.  I decided that I should make at least one more featuring Judy Robertson's beautiful fabric since she will have so many fans there.  And of course, I also hope that it will help her business too.  I'll show you that one in my next post.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Revisiting Grandmother's Flower Garden

I've been madly trying to finish projects this week before flying off to Milwaukee tonight.  This post was basically the last thing on my list.  I wanted to share the picture of the wall quilt I finished last night for my mother-in-law.  It's her 90th birthday on Sunday and we're having a party for her to celebrate.
So here it is - finally complete.  I've been working on it for so long, I'm not sure how I feel about it now that it's done.  I'm not sure it works artistically, but it contains so much history and sentiment that I'm glad I kept at it.  

I also finished that jacket I've been showing you.  Before I leave today I'll take it down to The Loading Dock Gallery.  Tomorrow is open studios.  Maybe if the stars shine on me, I'll come back on Monday and someone will have decided that it was just the thing for their mother for Mothers Day.  That would make me absurdly happy.
Yesterday I went into Boston to drop off jackets at Bead + Fiber for their wearable art exhibit and fashion show next month.  Mary, a weaver who was gathering the things for the show, was very friendly and made me feel great by raving about my jackets and one in particular.  She asked if I did custom work, since it wasn't her size.  I let her know that I am very happy to do custom jackets.

After dropping off my jackets I walked over to Chinatown and met Sonja for lunch.  The food was great - and abundant.  I ate all I could and still have enough for a couple more lunches.

Whenever I finish a jacket I always try to do one small clean-up/organizing project around here before starting the next one.  So I guess that's what I'll come back to on Monday.  After finishing Summer Sunset I cleaned out my thread drawer.  I had received a gift of about 20 spools of thread and needed to make space for them.  Here's what the drawer looked like before I got to work.
I went through and rewound thread ends on the spools and anchored them and sorted them by color family.  Now it looks like this:
Not only can I more easily find things now, in the process of organizing I also found some threads that went very well with the Taj Mahal fabric and added them in.  It was well worth it.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Practical, The Impractical & The Artrageous

I had a doctor's appointment scheduled for this afternoon, but my doctor got held up at the hospital with a poky baby.  I thought I'd use this unexpected time for another post.

This is a busy week with lots of details to think about and tasks to finish up--all related to good things.  First, this is the week I have to deliver jackets to the Bead + Fiber gallery in Boston.  I was thrilled to learn last month that my jackets had been accepted into The Practical, The Impractical and the Artrageous  - a fashion show during the SOWA Art Walk in Boston next month.  As part of this, my jackets will also be exhibited at Bead + Fiber during May and June.  This is my first Boston show, so to say that I'm excited is the understatement of the year.  The jackets are all done and ready to go (except for one price tag), but I've been busy with other details--the inventory list, updating and printing my resume, finding PR materials to leave at the gallery, etc.

So Thursday I drop off my jackets, then Friday I'm flying off to Milwaukee with my family for my mother-in-law's 90th birthday party.  Before we leave for that I have to finish my gift for her.  As usual it's a project that's been underway for a LONG time, but still it's going to go right down to the wire to finish it.  Of course when I started this project I didn't think I'd have a deadline to finish it.  It was only when I decided that it really should be for my mother-in-law that the deadline came up.

So what is this project anyway? If you're a long time subscriber to our Friends Fabric Art newsletter you'll have heard me talk about it.  It's a wall-quilt I've made from remnants of the first quilt I ever made. We had on the bed at our lake house until it started to fall apart.  The reason I thought that my mother-in-law should have it is that the original quilt was made from a top that she gave me that her mother had made.  I backed it and quilted it.  It was the project that got me hooked on quilting.

It was a Grandmother's Flower Garden; all done by hand.  I'm calling the new one Revisiting Grandmother's Flower Garden.  I've stitched together the good parts of the original and then covered it - almost completely - with embroidered flowers and leaves.  I also embroidered in phrases about her mother and my thoughts about making the quilt.  I can't find the picture of it right now, so I'll try to add that in tomorrow.  I need to bring it in here to back it and bind it.

In the meanwhile, in among these other projects I've managed to make good progress on this latest jacket.

It took me a couple of days to couch the decorative threads on it, but once that was done it came together more quickly.  There is more couching on the back center panel.  Today I'm working on the lining.  I'd better get busy - I need all the sewing time I can find this week.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Productive Week

As I look back over this week I realize I've made a lot of progress.  I finished one jacket, got a great start on another one, and have ideas for a couple more percolating in the back of my mind.  When I finished Summer Sunset, I spent the rest of my day going through my fabric stash and making piles of fabrics that might go together.  I ended up with at least 6 or 7 piles, but in all but one pile, at least one fabric had not been prewashed yet.  I filled up a big bag of fabrics to take home to wash, but left that day feeling a bit frustrated.  I wanted to be able to start on a jacket right away the next day, but realized I wouldn't be able to get the fabrics washed and back to the studio for a couple of days.

As I tried to figure out what to do, my mind kept going back to this one beautiful brown and maroon fabric with these great woven motifs.  Although I almost never make a jacket from a single fabric, I thought I could do something interesting with the motifs - especially if I added some couching to highlight them.  I felt so much better now that I had a plan.

My next step was to "audition" possible threads and trim.  I know that most women would like to look slimmer, so when I create my jacket designs I think hard about how I can emphasize vertical lines.  Making your eyes travel up and down the design helps the slimming effect.  One of my favorite techniques with a pattern with Princess seams is to add bias strips in the seams.  When going through my stash, I found some small pieces of a shiny maroon and gold fabric work with my motif fabric.  I was delighted with the way the colors and textures work together.  I also found a great brown and copper sparkly thread for the couching.  Can you tell I'm getting excited about this new one?  

Yesterday I spent almost all day fussy-cutting the pieces for it.  It took some time to figure out pleasing placements for the motifs.  Today I got a good start on the couched accents.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Summer Sunset Jacket Complete

Here's the latest addition to my collection - completed just this morning.  I have to admit that I'm pleased.  Everything came together just the way I had imagined.  I love the way the colors blend together and how the Stef Francis threads and the buttons catch the light.  

When I first exhibited my jackets at The Loading Dock Gallery a couple of years ago, my friend Maxine convinced me that as works of art they needed individual names.  Sometimes it is hard to find a name that says something about the jacket, but this time the "right" name for it came to me early on.  The color combination and the bits of light kept reminding me of a Summer Sunset.

Here's a detail shot of the buttons and threads.  If I were a better photographer you'd see that the buttons actually have two levels--with textured sparkly gold over an iridescent bronzey purple.  They are gorgeous.

Now I need to figure out the next jacket.  I took several fabrics home to prewash last week, but none of them have caught my fancy just yet.  After lunch today I'll dig through my stash again to find a combination that excites me enough to get me going on the next project.  If I'm lucky enough, maybe I'll find more than one.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Auditioning Fabric for the Next Jacket

Yesterday afternoon I finished the jacket I've named "Just a Peak."  Here you can see the front view.  The back is similar.  I think I made pretty good use of fabric I found in an antique/ thrift shop and in the "trash."  (I don't think I said before that the gray & white fabric was being thrown out by the office furniture maker in the building here.  That's one of the perks of being in a big building like this - someone is always putting out something "valuable" for free-cycling.  It's great.)

So as soon as I finish one jacket, I move right on to planning the next one.

When I start a new jacket, the first thing I do is to go through my fabric stash to see what I might want to use.  This time I found a nice purple cotton with a woven pattern.  Purple is one of my favorite colors lately, but I find I don't have much of it in my stash.  That's probably why this one appealed to me yesterday.

Here's the selection of things I'd pulled out at the end of the day yesterday.  To go with the purple I found a gorgeous cotton sateen hand-dyed by Judy Robertson of Just Imagination, a commercial cotton batik, some rayon thread leftover from our recent kimono project, and some variegated machine threads.  I have been collecting Judy's fabrics since I met her at the Quilt/Surface Design Symposium 4 years ago.  I generally save her fabrics for very special projects, but I think this piece is just what I need to perk up that "plain" purple.

Once I have the basic selection of fabrics I want to work with I usually pick out a pattern or two that I think I can use given the amount of fabric I have.  Then I generally let my ideas stew for at least overnight.  When I'm at this stage I often wake up once or twice during the night and find that various design possibilities have come to mind.  I usually work these things out in my mind or by laying out the fabrics in a rough approximation of the design rather than sketching.  Here's a photo of what I mean.

I am envisioning a style similar to the last one with Judy's fabric in the center front panel, the batik edging the panels, and the rayon threads drizzled down the front.  Oooh and just as I was writing this, I remembered some handmade glass buttons I bought from Penny Faich who was vending next to me at a quilt show last month.  The colors are just perfect so I think this one will have to have buttons.

Well now I'm really pumped about this one.  Time to get going.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Kimono Show & Craft Boston in One Weekend

This was an art filled weekend for us.  Saturday afternoon was the opening reception for Tea, Swords and Stitches at the Brush Gallery in downtown Lowell.  The exhibit, subtitled Contemporary Interpretation of Traditional Japanese Arts, features kimonos, kimono accessories, netsuke, and embroidery.  Sonja and I created a kimono for this exhibit and it was thrilling to see it hung.  The turn out for the opening was fantastic and we received so many compliments on our work, it was a real high for me.  It was especially rewarding for me because I had felt so intimidated when we were first asked to participate and heard about all the other who would also be showing work.  In the end I felt we acquitted ourselves well and we were proud of what we accomplished.  It is such a joy for me to work with Sonja.  She has been blogging about the kimono project so you can see pictures and read more about it there:  Art-Textilian Blog

On Sunday we went to Craft Boston at the World Trade Center on the waterfront.  There was so much splendid and innovative work there it was almost overwhelming.  We were definitely tired by the time we got home.   One reason for going this time, was that I have considering whether participating in a future Craft Boston should be a goal for me.  So besides just enjoying the works, I was trying to figure out just what it would take to achieve that--how much work would I have to produce, what display materials would I need, would my work fit it well, does it seem to be of comparable quality to the current participants, and so forth.  It is hard to know because so much of what I see is really production work--beautiful and creative--but designed by one person and made by others with the same item available in multiple sizes.  That's not the direction I want to go in.  There was at least one wearable fiber artist who did do truly one-of-a-kind work though, so it is not out of the question for me to try for it.

One of the other artists here at Western Avenue Studios participated in Craft Boston this year--Tarja Cockell, a weaver.  It was her first time for it.  She has been encouraging me and sharing lots of tips.  It is a great benefit of having a studio here--the wealth of information and support available.

Well it is time to get back to my current jacket project.  One thing I did learn this weekend is that I need to produce many more jackets if I even want to consider trying something like this.  So I better get busy.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Jacket called Surprise

Here's a picture of the fabric that was calling my name for my current project.  I found this fabric at a local "antique" store on Middle Street - called appropriately enough Found.  I was so excited when I saw it, I couldn't pass it up.  It is a hand-dyed Japanese Shibori - 100% cotton.  Tom, the owner, knew I'd put it to good use and sold it to me for an amazingly low price.  If you happen to be in downtown Lowell, check him out.  You never know what you're going to find there.

I'd been thinking about this fabric for a long time trying to decide how to use it.  It's such a bold pattern that it doesn't fit just anywhere.  I like to use unusual fabrics and unexpected combinations, but I also like to make jackets for "real" women to wear in their "real" lives--jackets that make subtle statements rather than screaming at you.  This fabric could easily be a screamer so I was stumped for a long time.

I finally realized it would be a good candidate for my "peek-a-boo" technique where it could spice up an otherwise bland fabric.  I have paired it with a subtle woven pattern of white and light gray.  The gray and white will be the outside of the jacket and the Shibori will be the lining.  When you open the jacket you'll get quite the surprise of the dramatic patterning, although it won't be totally hidden.  I cut holes in the outer fabric to allow some of the pattern to peek through.  To make sure that the pattern would show through in a pleasing way, I laid the pattern piece over the Shibori fabric and drew in the boxes and rectangles where I wanted them.  I then transferred the pattern for the holes to the back side of the outer fabric using tracing paper.

Once I got all the holes cut and faced, I laid the outer fabric over the Shibori pieces again to check the design.  I liked what I saw, but felt that it needed something a little more.  I'd topstitched around each of the openings in a matching thread and it just seemed a little bland.  I'd originally imagined creating little "frames" around each hole using bias strips of shot silk in shades of blue and green, but had discarded that idea as too difficult to implement.  I decided to try couching threads around the openings instead.  I had a nice thick and thin thread in shades of blue, green and purple and thought I'd try it.

Here's the result.  I'm very pleased with it.  I love the way it echoes the Shibori pattern and really makes it pop.

 I finished all the holes today, so now I'm ready to start putting all the pieces together.  That part will go along more quickly, but we'll see what other design changes I find I need as I put it together.  That's for tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


I should start with an introduction--Ann M. Lee, co-owner of Friends Fabric Art (with my daughter, Sonja Lee-Austin) and maker of art-to-wear jackets.  I work in a studio at Western Avenue Studios in Lowell, Massachusetts.  This is my first venture into blogging. But, I have been doing needlework since elementary school , sewing clothing since I learned to operate a sewing machine in the seventh grade, and making quilts since my son (now 25) was an infant.    My plan is to share the details of my process, progress and learning as I create my art-to-wear jackets.

Like most new bloggers, I suppose, I am excited and nervous about starting this.  I have been writing newsletters for our Friends Fabric Art business for years now, but somehow blogging seems quite different.  I guess because this will be focused on my work specifically and that feels intimidating.  By joining an on-line book club, though, I found that being forced to write a brief review of each book that I read caused me to think about each book and why I liked it - or didn't like it.  That process is surprisingly enjoyable and seems valuable to me.  Therefore it is my hope that this blog-writing process will help me with my art in the similar way and that perhaps my learning process will help others as well.

So for this first post, just a bit more by way of introduction...

I consider myself a fabric artist rather than a fashion designer.  I create each of my pieces from start to finish, from the pattern work to cutting the fabric to sewing it all together to embellishing it.  I generally start with a  basic commercial pattern for the size and shape of the jacket but adding surface design to make it unique.  My favorite surface design techniques include piecing, applique, couching, and lately adding peek-a-boo holes  to let the lining show through to the outside of the jacket.  In every case, I start with a selection of fabrics that "calls" to me, determines the style of the jacket, and suggests the surface design techniques needed.  As I go forward I'll try to give you a sense of how that process works for me.  Right now there's a project calling to me, so I think I'll get to work on and fill you in on it tomorrow--including some pictures.

Thank you for reading.  I look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas too.