17 October 2014

Lego Americana Roadshow at the Natick Mall

Our nation's capitol.

While shopping at the Natick Mall, DH and I ran into something completely unexpected: the Lego Americana Roadshow.  For a short period of time, October 19 through November 2, rather amazing models of historic buildings and structures made with Lego bricks are on display.   So, if you are a Lego fan, don't delay. Stop by the Lego play area on the Lower Level Infinity Pool Court and pick up a map so you don't miss any of the creations.

I'll let the images speak for themselves.  (On view but not shown: Jefferson Memorial. Not a political statement; just didn't get a good shot.)

Capitol model from above.

Lego play area, on the upper level.


Play area.

Supreme Court.


Supreme Court from above.


White House.

Statue of Liberty.

Independence Hall.


Old North Church, bathed in sunlight.

Old North Church, detail.

Right, Lincoln Memorial, detail. Left, Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial.


Farms, fabric and cheese - a day in Vermont


Taylor Farm, Londonderry, Vermont.

Over Columbus Day week-end, in mid-October, DH and I went in search of cheese.  Yes, I know this is supposed to be a blog about textiles, but cloth will make an appearance, never fear, and we need fuel to energize our textile treks, don't we?

While the Vermont Cheese Trail has 45 participating members, we had only one Saturday, so restricted ourselves to the Manchester area, in southern Vermont. After our 3-hour drive from the Boston area, we were ready for lunch, brunch or anything on a plate. Fortunately for us, a familiar breakfast favorite was still open. Upstairs we went, to join the queue for a seat at Up for Breakfast. After 15 minutes or so, during which a friendly waitress offered us coffee, we climbed onto seats at the counter, with a view of the kitchen, a compact area where people engaged in cooking, serving and cleaning-up maneuver in an enthralling kind of culinary choreography. 

Favorite spot for pancakes.

With the advent of the railroad in the 19th century, Manchester became a resort area for affluent New Yorkers.  With the rise of skiing, tourists journeyed north to enjoy winter recreation at nearby Stratton and Bromley mountains. Summer, as well as spring - also known as "mud season" - could be a difficult time for local businesses, so Manchester re-invented itself yet again as an outlet shopping magnet.  It's a New England variant of the outlet mall, though - shoppers remain outdoors, walking to and from free-standing shops with outdoor parking.   No Muzak, no parking garage hassles.  As an alternative to designer fashion acquisition, there is also a very good independent book store, Northshire Bookstore, and of course the mother ship of the Orvis chain is located here.

Relatively new to the line-up of retail is a Marimekko outlet, and this was my special destination.  I scored yardage at a good price, particularly since the fabrics come in the home decorating standard width of 54," not the apparel/quilt fabric width of 44"-45." I find the weight of the fabric perfectly fine for both piecing and hand or machine quilting. It frustrates me that sometimes women short-change themselves and their work by using inferior materials. When we use our time to make things, our efforts merit quality materials.

Lower right, salesperson in colorful Marimekko leggings and top.


Fabric by a favorite designer, Fujiwo Ishimoto.


Batten Kill River, Manchester center.

Another highlight of Manchester is Hildene, the estate of Robert Todd Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln, who made his fortune as Chairman of the Pullman Company, which manufactured railroad cars during the heyday of rail transport.  Hildene, with its house, gardens and cheese-making operation, deserves a day all on its own, but we only had time to dash into the visitor's center and buy some of the delicious goat milk cheese. The Rowland Agricultural Center at Hildene, where the cheeses are crafted, pasteurizes its cheese, unlike most of the farmsteads on the cheese tour which sell raw milk products.  While Vermont has very stringent dairy inspections, pasteurization is still recommended for cheese-loving mothers-to-be or nursing moms.

From Hildene, we drove to another stop on the cheese trail, Taylor Farm. This is a real old-fashioned family farm, with mixed livestock including dairy cows, chickens, goats and turkeys. While the ultimate fate of animals like pigs and turkeys is never in question, during their lives they enjoy fresh air, sunshine and the sights and smells of pasture and field.

In addition to its own delicious gouda varieties, Taylor Farm also sells cheese from Plymouth Artisan Cheese and Crowley Cheese, a boon for us as we didn't have time to visit these facilities during our day trip but could still add to our cheese stash. We didn't sample the ice cream, but it looked awfully good.

Sights at Taylor Farm.

On Route 30, while driving back to Boston along the pretty Winhall River, we stopped at a safe pull-off spot to admire the many mini-cairns folks had constructed from river stones.  With the first big blizzard - Vermonters know better than anyone in Westeros that "Winter is Coming" - most of these rock piles will return once more to the river.  An ephemeral art installation, built by many contributors, the landscape of gathered and stacked stone is delightful. 

Stone cairns.

Busy artisan almost was left behind by impatient companions.

Last look.
More information about the Vermont Cheese Trail in Southern Vermont can be found at this article from the Boston Globe newspaper: http://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/travel/2014/05/31/walk-this-whey-vermont-cheese-trail-has-much-see/aUisiz0toLgrPmZiX5zerI/story.html

29 September 2014

Hiawatha on the Charles River

A perfect day to paddle.

A beautiful autumn day lured us out on the 80-mile long Charles River, which originates in Hopkinton, flows through the western suburbs, skirts our town of Newton, continues to Cambridge and empties into Boston Harbor.  We have season passes at the Charles River Canoeing and Kayak Center and have paddled so many times this summer that DH has labelled me Pocahantas. Right back at you, Hiawatha.  The weather was unseasonably warm for late September, so the Nahanton location of the paddle center was doing a brisk business in rental kayaks, canoes and paddleboards.

Who needs Vermont? - great autumn color right here.

Family fun - no screens or batteries.

DH in the stern.

The Charles is very shallow in places.

Yes, the geese (and humans) in the image above are actually standing in the river; we were in a marshy area of the Charles known as Cutler Park Reservation, straddling our town of Newton and neighboring Needham.  In addition to Canada geese, we saw plenty of Mallard drakes and ducks, as well as Blue heron and another bird which I think is some kind of cormorant.

Blue heron.

Cormorant.

 We also saw many turtles hauled out onto logs and rocks; unlike the geese and ducks, which seem very acclimated to human presence, the turtles immediately dove into the water if we got too close. (Thank goodness for a zoom lens.) There are both painted and snapping turtles in the Charles.

Trio of turtles.

While most of the amphibians were basking in sunshine, the biggest group we found were lined up on a log, shaded by a tree overhanging the river.  I think these were all painted turtles.  A Google inquiry reveals that a group of turtles is referred to as a "bale of turtles."

Social amphibians.

A picture-perfect afternoon on the river.

10 September 2014

Quilting by the Lake workshop with Dorothy Caldwell

Detail of a sujuni featuring applique and Kantha embroidery.

From July 21 until July 25, 2014, I renewed my long-dormant acquaintance with embroidery in a class led by Canadian artist Dorothy Caldwell, as part of the Quilting-by-the-Lake program sponsored by the Schweinfurth Art Center in upstate New York.  In the 5-day workshop, entitled "The Expressive Stitch," our cohort of eighteen women learned about an embroidery tradition of India, called Kantha, and used this form as a point of departure for our own explorations in narrative stitchery.

Our classroom, in the campus athletic center.

The workshops - which range in duration from two to five day -  are held on the campus of Onandaga Community College, about 20 minutes by car outside of Syracuse, New York. Participants stay in dorms and eat surprisingly tasty meals (the food at my alma mater was terrible) in the cafeteria.

After introductions, Dorothy began by explaining Kantha and discussing the samples she acquired during her travels to India with her colleague Dr. Skye Morrison.  Dr. Morrison, textile researcher and scholar, supports the efforts of rural Indian women to find new markets for their traditional crafts.  She presented a paper on her work for the Textile Society of America in 2006, and, with Dorothy, organized an exhibit, Stitching Women's Lives, at the Textile Museum of Canada, in 1999.

Sujuni textile, detail.

The artifacts which Dorothy shared with us are called sujuni in the north-east Indian region of Bihar, in which they were made, but kantha-style embroidery is found in other regions of India, so I will refer to both object and technique as kantha. Originally kantha embroideries were made from old white saris and dhotis (men's loincloth-type garments) and the fabrics were stacked in layers, with no "batting". The layers were heavily stitched, in effect recycling old cloth to  construct new textiles, which were then used for bedding or table coverings. These creations were traditionally not sold but made for lifecycle events such as marriages and childbirth, and given as gifts. After a period of decline, the craft was revived in the 1970's and an NGO established to help the women adapt their products to generate income.

Kantha embroidery, detail.

The embroideries are narrative textiles, representing events in the women's lives, such as the impact of AIDS on their communities, the economic impact of the dowry tradition in the lives of young brides, and environmental problems, too.  One young artist, Archana Kumari, travelled to New York City in 1999 and Dr. Morrison commissioned a kantha embroidery to commemorate her trip.  As you can see below, the Statue of Liberty, beautifully stylized and stitched, made a big impression.

New York City kantha, designer Archana Kumari, detail.

We focused primarily on the stitched, as opposed to the applique, techniques. To oversimplify the embroidery process: representational motifs - people, animals, birds - are draw on cloth, outlined in chain or back-stitch, and then the background is infilled with many, many running stitches. The large kantha are a group effort, with one woman drawing the design and up to as many as four women working together to stitch one piece.

Kantha can be stitched in black on white....


...Or white on black.

For our kantha-inspired work, Dorothy suggested white thread on black, as most satisfying for beginners.  We stitched through two layers; a color 8 1/4" square of fabric beneath a black layer that was 8" square, so that just the merest edging of color peeked out. I had inappropriate supplies, since I brought Kona cotton solids and my sashiko needles.  While it is loosely woven, as per the instructions on the class hand-out, Kona cotton is just too thick for fine stitching, and the sashiko needles too blunt. As I said, it's been a while since I'd done any embroidery.  Fortunately my table-mate Jan, a master embroiderer, gave me some chenille needles, which worked very well, and the Kona cotton, while not ideal, worked well enough for a simplified version of the technique.

Dorothy pinning up our work in progress on an improvised pin-up wall.

Throughout the week, Dorothy pinned our efforts up on a design wall; it was fascinating to see everyone's work in progress.  Stitching our 8" squares took hours; this is indeed "Slow Fiber" - the moniker, styled after the "slow food" movement, given to an outlook which celebrates the craft of handwork and the thoughtful, almost meditative quality, of time-intensive techniques.

Our first exercises, underway.

Even when working primarily in black and white, there is a lot of variation available depending on how many strands of the 6-stranded DMC or other brand embroidery floss the artist chooses to employ, the length and separation of stitches, and whether the stitches are "stacked" or staggered. Below is a sort of sampler made by Jan, demonstrating some of the possibilities.


Single strand at the bottom; multiple strands at top of sampler.

As part of the curriculum we also did some interesting stitching exercises. In one we sewed a line - any kind of line - on a rectangle of organza, a lightweight, stiff fabric, using all six strands of red floss. By putting our individual efforts end to end, we created a "continuous" line of red thread. Traditionally in India red is a color representing power, love and energy, and it was indeed energizing to see our linked threads create a humble but effective work  celebrating both our individuality and the fact that we were "all in this together".

Our red thread stitching.

In addition to these activities, participants shared both examples of their own work  as well as textiles - perhaps family heirlooms or travel souvenirs - which demonstrated the beauty of both utilitarian stitches and of ornamental work.  One shared highlight was the patchwork blanket below, purchased in India, pieced and over-stitched with many, many running stitches.

Participant sharing her Indian bed covering.

Detail, Indian blanket with stitching.

We also learned about traditional border designs used in conjunction with kantha, as illustrated in the pouch, below, and in samplers created by Indian girls as part of a program to give young women marketable skills and to sustain the needlework traditions.


Kantha-stitched pouch with border design.

Indian student sampler.

Detail, student sampler.

As I said, it's been a while since I had done any embroidery other than Japanese sashiko stitching, so I am glad I toted along my iPad mini, so I could quickly look up tutorials on chain stitch. (My classmates, a generous group of women, offered assistance too.) A number of the stitchers in the group were quite skilled, including Nancy from Ontario, Canada, who shared her stitched journal with us one day. Nancy takes a few minutes each day to record, in stitches and pen-and-ink, something notable, whether it be a wedding or simply a peak of autumn color. Lovely!

Nancy's stitched and dyed journal, unscrolled to share.

A good warm-up for those of us whose embroidery skills are a bit rusty might be one of the pre-printed samplers from Rebecca Ringquist, sold on etsy under the store name dropcloth. (Thanks to classmate Mary for this suggestion.) 


Finally, the class also included a wonderful Powerpoint presentation from Dorothy, all about her work, her travels and textile adventures with Australian India Flint, and a quick survey of other textile artists working in a contemporary cloth idiom. A week filled with a lot of food for thought.

Detail, Wandering Time, Dorothy Caldwell.

31 August 2014

Tammis Keefe and Coats and Clark

A gallery of Keefe designs.

Thanks to the efforts of my stalwart DH, we've added over 50 handkerchief designs to the Tammis Keefe website, as well as towels, placemats and more furnishing fabrics.

Gold metallic ink remains lustrous in this unlaundered hankie.

I was fortunate enough to acquire a group of hankies which an expert needleworker, with a good eye for color,  personalized with tatted edgings. Tatting is a form of lace-making, using a special shuttle and thread.  Since some of these items retain their original sticker, it seems they were treasured not for their function, but as objects of delight in and of themselves. Three are featured in this post; as always click on the image to enlarge.

The needlewoman accentuated the orange motifs with her colored edging.

The bright aqua edging is just perfect.

Centerspread of 1955 Edgings booklet.

Coats and Clark, the venerable textile company founded in Scotland in 1812, published many pattern books with designs for their line of crochet cotton, which came in a wide variety of colors, such as Chartreuse Green, Hunter's Green and more imaginatively, Killarney, Mandarin Rust, Limefruit, and Devil Red. The instructional booklet above is from 1955, and has a Keefe hankie in the lower right-hand corner. (The two print hankies on the center crease were designed by Keefe's friend Betty Anderson.)

To celebrate its 200th birthday in 2012, Coats and Clark, now owned by the same conglomerate which absorbed Rowan Yarn and FreeSpirit fabrics, created an informative website chronicling the firm's industrial history. In addition, stitchers have shared their stories of sewing, and making things generally, on the website.

So, Keefe's art pops up in a wide variety of places.  Her fabrics are featured in the Museum of Modern Art's Good Design exhibitions in the late 1940's - 1950's; at the same time the publicity department of a huge thread company features her work in crochet booklets.  This inclusion in such disparate venues - cutting across boundaries of class and status -  exemplifies Keefe's broad and enduring appeal.