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.