Nov 29, 2013

my dog quilt, part two

Here's my second post about the progress of my dog quilt.

The only thing to report so far, is that there are way too many distractions in life. You know, having to stop working in order to eat... sleep... interact with humans... exercise... (okay, that last one is not really a distraction since I tend to let that slide!).

In spite of all these happy distractions, I'm making good progress. Although, I'm a bit hesitant to share at this point because you can't tell what the heck this is from the photos. Right now it kinds of looks like an explosion... or just something truly weird.

But if you're willing to stay tuned, there are two things I can promise. First, this journey will be several months long. Second, in the end this will be an extraordinary art quilt dog portrait (... a lot of adjectives there, I know, but when you spend this much time on something you get to add extra adjectives!).

So here's where I am today. This requires a bit of imagination --- try to visualize a side profile of a big black dog. Here you can see his collar, his ear, and the bottom part of his head and the beginning of a lower chin.

This dog quilt is an original pattern and when finished, it will include approximately 250 pieces of fabric - all hand appliqued. When I finish that process, I will hand embroider whiskers and then machine quilt the whole thing.
This photo is the portrait that the quilt is based on. 
Here is the applique finished so far, with the pattern (drawn on tracing paper) pinned over the top of the quilt top. (Photo looks fuzzy - that is the paper on top of the fabric.)

I started this quilt during a four-day workshop with David Taylor at Art Quilt Tahoe in early November. During the class, David explained the best way to applique this type of work. As I listened, I thought, oh, that's nice David... but I have been doing hand applique for 15 years, so thank you very much, but I think I've got this covered! 

Well... isn't it painful to admit how wrong you were?  Yes, David I hope you read this. You were right. I was wrong.  Here's the deal.

Each piece of this applique is completely dependent on the piece next to it, so you cannot pick this quilt top up and take it to the couch and sit and applique it! Not even to watch football. Nope. The pieces just won't line up right... believe me I had to redo dozens of them. Here's why. If you get one piece just a little bit off from its precise position, by the time you start to add the other 250 pieces, instead of a replica of a dog, what you will end up with is a big abstract mess.  

So.... you have to do as David suggested and keep the entire quilt top flat stretched out on a table at all times so the pieces won't drift! And then you must hand applique it while it is sitting flat on the table. And no, fusible will not work - at least not for me. The pieces must be carefully placed and secured one meticulous stitch at a time, otherwise the points won't lay right under the overlay and the convex and concave lines won't line up properly.  Very tricky stuff here, but that is what will give it is beauty in the end, at least that is what I am hoping for. There is a chance of course that it will still end up a big mess! 

Below is an image from my first post about this project. This photo was taken while I was still forming the pieces (before the applique/sewing process) --- each piece is pinned on top of the pattern (and into a foam core board).

I'm loving working on this one. And if it weren't for the many distractions in life, and if my back would hold up from leaning over the table, and if my fingers didn't bleed from hours of hand applique, I'd work on this one 24/7!

In the meantime, I am linking up with Nina Marie's art quilt link up - Off the Wall Fridays. Check out all the other great work there.

I am also linking up with Freshly Pieced WIP Wednesday.

Nov 26, 2013

i've been interviewed. no joke!

Remember Steve Martin's famous movie line... "I'm famous... I'm in the phone book!"

Well, I'm not famous, but I have been interviewed for a blog that's way better than the phone book!

Heather, a fellow blogger, has included me in her "Inside the Artists Studio" series.  Her blog features interviews with artists and photos of their creative spaces... and the interviews center on how they organize those spaces and their work.

A bit intimidating to apply the label of artist to myself... but nonetheless I'm thrilled to be included!  Here's the link - interview and photos:

Lots of other artists have been featured here... and there are some very cool spaces here, not to mention interesting humans. So spend some time reading and seeing.

Thanks Heather!

Nov 22, 2013

deep inside the quilt archives of Lincoln, Nebraska

I've always wanted to have one of those "Raiders of the Lost Ark" experiences.

No... not the one with the snakes... but the one at the very end of the movie where after all the excitement, the ark is finally, and some might add sadly, hauled off to be placed deep inside the bowels of a museum. The camera takes us past rows and rows of lonely treasures stored in nondescript crates and boxes...

Well, this week... I finally got to live my museum treasure-hunt moment!

My academic research (more on that below) allowed me access deep inside the bowels of the International Quilt Studies Center & Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska. Yet, rather than the sad and lonely final journey of the Lost Ark, my trek into the collection archive was lively, special and quite simply, fantastic!

International Quilt Studies Center & Museum, Lincoln, NE

Deep inside the collection archives of the International Quilt Studies Center, Lincoln, Neb.
I'm pursuing a Master's degree in Liberal Studies at Rice University and next year, I'll be writing my final thesis (Rice MLS refers to it as a capstone). My research is centered on historical quilts and their influence on the modern art quilt movement.

So, after months of intensive study and discovery, I finally made the trek to Lincoln and was given the priceless opportunity to see (and touch! with gloves, of course) specific quilts I've so far only seen in books. The most interesting part of this viewing was the chance to see the actual colors and the fabrics used in each quilt. Over the years, these quilts have been photographed and reproduced and printed many, many times, but not always with accurate color, and mostly without much photographic detail. So it was a surprise to discover that a few sections of some quilts that I thought were white, or pale colors based on the images in books, were actually detailed, and highly creative, printed fabrics. It was also very cool to be able to see the detail of the stitches up close, because as you study these tiny stitches, you can't help but think of the quilter as she sat and moved her needle up and down.  And this is especially poignant as some of the quilts I studied are well over 100 years old.

The other truly special part about seeing these quilts up close and personal is the opportunity to see the backing. Many of the quilt backs can be just as interesting as the quilt top. Nowadays, we just buy extra-wide fabric (104 or 120 inches wide) to cover the entire back without a cut or a stitch needed - so handy. But these quilt backs have a great many pieces stitched together and therefore, the opportunity to see them helps shape the quilt's whole story.

The staff at IQSC was great to work with and I appreciated all the preparation on their part, as well as their guidance and time I was granted.  I also have to mention that the husband --- who also happens to be a professional photographer (and I must also point out the one who did most of the driving on the car trip) --- was also allowed to accompany me in the viewing area and he took these great pics.

For my thesis (and a semi-related book), I'll be writing about global art trends and challenge conventional notions that Western art, motifs and patterns influence the East by documenting more precisely how influence, commerce, and art, has traveled from the East to the West and vice versa for centuries.

Kim Taylor, left, Collections Manager with IQSC, and Teresa Wong, researcher,
studying historical quilts from the IQSC collection.
IQSC opened about five years ago on the campus of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.  The center specializes as hub of academic research for all things quilt related.  They store and archive many notable collections of historic quilts and they have several galleries for exhibition space open to the public.  They also have excellent online resources and photo databases available on their site that can be accessed by everyone.

Photo of the exhibition "Posing with Patchwork" on view at the
International Quilt Studies Center & Museum in Lincoln.
Right now, there is a very special exhibit called "Posing with Patchwork" featuring photographs from 1855-1955 with each photo featuring quilts in one way or another. Janet Finley guest curated this special show in collaboration with Marin Hanson, curator with IQSC. Walking through this gallery you can see poster-sized enlargements of some of the special photos placed alongside the actual historic quilt featured in the picture.

This photo shows a woman sewing a block featured in the quilt hanging next to it.
But if you can't make it to Lincoln, you can read more about these in Janet's wonderful book "Quilts in Everyday Life 1855-1955" which includes detailed description of the time and people shown in hundreds of photographs, as well as the quilts pictured in each setting.  (Her book is available on Amazon). This book is a great read not only for quilt lovers, but for anyone interested in our American history through photography.

Here's a picture of one my favorite quilts from a second exhibition on view. The exhibition features the work of a Nebraska man - an engineer - who one day was critical of the accuracy of the points (or perhaps the lack thereof) on a quilt his wife was making. As he criticized, his wife told him that if he thought he could do it better, he should do it himself!  hmmm... So, what may seem like a common exchange between two married people, began the unlikely journey of 50 years of quiltmaking for Ernest Haight where he perfected ways to strip piece and machine quilt. Very cool collection.

This is one of the quilts on display from the "Ernest Haight Half Century of Quiltmaking" on view inside galleries of the International Quilt Studies Center.

I hope this is the first of many museum moments to come!

Please leave me a comment.

Nov 15, 2013

picture of a picture of my dog... and his quilt

When I stated this blog, I vowed that I'd never post pictures of my dog or my kids!

Well, I am granting myself a concession for a picture of a picture of my dog - and the quilt that picture will eventually become.

I'm working on a pictorial applique of Chip, using David Taylor's pattern technique. The idea is to draw your own original pattern based on a photo. The lines of the pattern follow the bone structure and natural lines of the animal, not the animal's color.  The magic happens when you create the color with fabric... and then quilt the whole thing together.

It looks kind of weird right now (and the colors are probably off in the photo), but in a couple of months, all of these pieces will be appliqued down to a background fabric and I will quilt it with black, gray and white thread to recreate the smooth look of a dog's fur.  The fabrics underneath will be muted somewhat compared to what you see now, but they'll provide a rich foundation under the thread to create interest and texture.

"Chip" - a work in progress. Teresa Wong. 2013
There are over 200 individual pieces of fabric in this image so far. The finished piece will be roughly 40 inches square... and I'm about 3/4 of the way finished in creating the applique pieces. Although... that stat keeps changing as I take certain pieces off and redo them in a different fabric.

I am having a lot of fun with this puppy...!

The real puppy, Chip, is now 15 years old. He has slowed down immensely, but he is still a happy dog. All his gray hair is so much more interesting than when he was young and strong and all black dog!

More to come...

I am linking up with Nina Marie's online art quilt community. Check out all the amazing work.

Please leave me a comment. I love reading your feedback. Thanks!

Nov 14, 2013

what's an art quilt... and why do you need all that fabric?

Here goes a long (and possibly highfalutin) post. Apologies in advance.

I timidly tell a few people now that I'm an art quilter... that's a fancy way of saying I no longer make traditional pieced quilts, or bedspreads (actually, I never did make bedspreads- they're just too damn big).

But a wise quilter friend recently asked me, what exactly is an art quilt? That question got me to thinking... if she doesn't know, maybe lots of people don't know. So, should I dare try to be so presumptuous as to answer this? Will all the "real" art quilters and artists scorn my attempts to explain? Who knows. Who cares. So, here it goes...

To me, the question of whether a quilt is a traditional quilt or an art quilt boils down to one very loose definition: originality.

If your quilt is original, then it is an art quilt. If you think you are making art, then you're an artist.

Pretty simple, actually.

Doesn't take a rocket scientist... nor does it take any validation from anyone other than yourself. That's whats so great about life. You get to decide who you are.

But I think we can apply a bit more analysis here... so just hang on.

Other than originality, there are a couple of academic factors that separate traditional quilts from art quilts. The obvious one being that art quilts are intended to hang on the wall as art.

The second (also kinda obvious) factor is whether the quilter is using a commercial pattern or if she is relying on a traditional patterned block - one that has been passed down through the generations - versus something she created yesterday. Art quilts typically do not incorporate pieced blocks, and their patterns are original.

The third factor can often be the fabric. Since an art quilter typically creates her own design, to do that you need fabric that is neutral in value, but has color. (I know that may not make sense... stick with me here). Think of the fabric as paint. If you want to make a flower of your own design, not cut out a flower from a pre-printed flower fabric, you need material you can manipulate into your own form, shape and color. You need fabrics created specially for art quilts!

What's an art quilt fabric, you might ask?  These two types of fabric are the same in a lot of ways, high quality cottons, silks, wool and other fibers, but the art quilt fabrics do not have pre-printed designs. There are certainly no hard and fast rules here, but typically if an art quilter is making her own flower, a fabric with flowers printed on it would distract from her design, so she needs fabrics that she can blend and manipulate to make her own awesome flower. Unless of course she doesn't. See, that's what makes art so great.

Art quilt fabrics tend to be hand dyed or have a marbled effect, (or have a commercial print that mimics a marbled or hand dyed look), or they have a simple gradient color scale spread over the fabric, or are they are batiks, etc. The reason these are necessary is because fabrics with pre-printed designs are typically comprised of positive and negative color values. Art quilt fabrics, however, deal in a variation of texture and colors... one blending into another (no positive / negative value).

Art quilts can also be painted with actual paint or thread, and can also incorporate unconventional materials and fibers.

For my journey to keep moving forward, this of course this means I need to buy more art fabric! First problem is finding these little jewels, and affording them (hey, hand dyed fabrics are not cheap). By the way, as far as problems go, this is a really good one to have, because there are so many solutions.  I found a lot of options are the recent International Quilt Festival, Houston a couple weeks ago. This year was my 16th consecutive year of attending. And each year I happily traipse around (and through the crowds) with my best quilt buddy Amy G. The silk, cheesecloth and dyed burlap pictured below are from a booth/store called Fiber on a Whim - these ladies were knowledgeable, pleasant and awesome.

For the other 11 1/2 months of the year... there's always the online option. And just when you think you've been everywhere on the internet... you make a new discovery (with the help of friends pointing you there, of course).

The treasure trove I just found has the odd, but descriptive name of "thousands of bolts... and only one nut"

Their concept is simple, but good.  Carry thousands of bolts, sell only by the yard, ship those orders fast! --- think Zappos fast! --- and best of all, organize the fabric by color.

I've never been paid to give any endorsement, by the way. When I find something new, something incredibly useful, and something that totally fits my needs, AND has amazing customer service... well, it just doesn't get any better that that. So I wanted to share. Ordered these on Sunday. They arrived on my doorstep Wednesday!

Now to wrap up here... I can't sign off without one last picture from the beautiful sunset at Lake Tahoe.  As I said my goodbyes after five days at Art Quilt Tahoe last Friday... I started to believe that I too can be... will be... an art quilter. That, and oh, I need more fabric.

Nov 5, 2013

art quilting in Lake Tahoe

Ten months ago I signed up for an art quilt workshop in Lake Tahoe - and now I'm finally here.

Here's a picture taken just after sunrise... a beautiful, cold clear day.  The view is just stunning.

But here's the real reason I am here.

Every once in a while I see a quilt that is truly unforgettable. This is one of those quilts.

It's called "Maynard" and the artist is David Taylor. I first saw Maynard at the Houston International Quilt Festival about five years ago and it stopped me in my tracks. This quilt is seven feet tall and you cannot fully appreciate it from photographs --- but all that white snow is incredibly rich in color. And of course the other unforgettable detail is the dog's position - his butt to the viewer.

The dog reminds me a bit of the opening sequence in Downton Abbey... if you'll recall, there is a shot of the dog approaching the house ... with the camera following along behind his rear end. Same view, similar dog, minus the snow and fence. But I digress...

When I saw this quilt I had to learn more. The following year my quilt buddy Amy G. and I signed up for David's class at the Houston Quilt Fest. It was a great opportunity to learn from David, but the class was so short that we didn't really have the time to learn this technique of depicting images so artfully into textiles in just one day.

Eventually, I saw that David was teaching a four-day class at Art Quilt Tahoe, and here I am.

There are about 100 quilters gathered here this week to study with about a dozen artists... all of whom are working in very different styles.  Having four whole days to study with one artist really allows you the time to learn their technique in-depth.

David Taylor's work is best described as vividly realistic appliqué - mostly of birds or animals.  We're learning to make our own pattern working from a photo as a model.  This is not to say we are copying photos printed on fabric - that would be way too easy and would have a totally different look. This technique uses a photo as a model, much the way a painter would paint a portrait from a person or photo. These art quilts truly mimic paintings, but the color is achieved through mixing and layering textiles instead of paint.

Each work of art will have hundreds of individual pieces of fabric when we're done. Each piece will be hand appliquéd and eventually, I will add thread painting, hand embroidery and then machine quilt mine.

If you have not seen David's work, go to his website:

His art quilts are amazing, plus he is a lot of fun to spend time with.

I'll be posting more on the piece I am making as I get farther along... right now it is a bit of a mess.

More to come from South Lake Tahoe! Here is a picture of the dining hall and some of the amazing quilts lining the room.