14 May 2015

Wedding bouquet memory

Happy daughter with floral arrangement.

My daughter wed last year, carrying the colorful bouquet in the image above.  When the newlyweds jaunted off on their honeymoon the floral arrangements came home with us.  It seemed very sad to just discard the flowers after the ceremony, but how to preserve them?  Dried flowers make me expect Miss Havisham to descend the stairs, ruined wedding dress trailing behind. Not a mental picture to conjure up for a happy memory.  

I happened to have a book on digital printing on fabric, borrowed from the library, lying around, and one of the images was a floral wreath. Eureka! I dug out pieces of white fabric and black fabric, carefully dis-assembled the bouquet and laid everything out on a table in the porch. 

Flowers on white.

 First, I tried the blossoms and stems on white fabric. Not so much impact.


Voila! On black fabric, dynamite!  Since I hadn't planned ahead for this - and the flowers were fading fast - my only option was a piece of black linen from my stash. I would recommend using black velvet for a nicer background.

I photographed the wreath on the black fabric, played a little bit with it in Picasa to even out the tones and got the image printed and framed in a chunky black frame, with no mat (spacers keep the glass off the photo surface.) This is my gift to the couple for their first anniversary next week. Do you think they will like it?

Bridal wreath picture, sitting in my garden.

28 April 2015

Shades of Gray baby quilt

Design is Patio, by Monica Solorio-Snow.

No, these shades of gray have nothing to do with block-buster escapist literature. The baby quilt in the image above, held by DH in bright sunlight, showcases a type of fabric your correspondent loves: prints in shades of gray, or gray with one additional hue, such as pink or yellow.  I have a number of these old fabrics from the days when apparel fabrics came in a 36" width, and the imminent arrival of a baby girl gave me an excuse to feature them in a quilt.

Vintage fabrics in grays with yellow.

The fabric on the left in the image above was a sturdy old apron, carefully picked apart, and upcycled for this quilt - click on the image to enlarge it and check out the covered wagon and log cabin.  Shades of "Little House on the Prairie." 

Prints with representational imagery are properly called "conversational prints"; sometimes ebay sellers refer to these fabrics as "novelty prints" but the phrase "novelty print" is more properly applied to fabrics with flocking, metallic components, or some other exotic (novel) feature.

The name of the quilt pattern is Patio, design by Monica Solorio-Snow, of Happy Zombie quilts, and it's a simple-to-make design. (I have no connection to Ms. Solorio-Snow; just found the pattern while browsing Pinterest for modern quilts.)  I widened the borders, from 1" to 4", to make my quilt, at 38" x 47", a bit bigger than the finished dimensions given in the pattern.

Vintage pink and gray prints.

Initially I mixed in some shot cotton solids with the prints, as you can see below in this tentative layout on my felt design wall, but the solids elements were too singular - they called too much attention to themselves - so back to look for more prints. (I think the pattern would work very well in all solids; it was just the mix that didn't work.)

Early layout.

I didn't have enough gray-with-color prints - this pattern really requires at least twelve different fabrics - so added more from my stash and luckily found the silhouette fabric on the right, below, on ebay.  (Talk about serendipity.) Again, enlarge to see the fairy tale imagery in the print on the left.

Gray and black-and-white fabrics.

For the backing fabric I used another old fabric originally from retailer J. C. Penney. In the post-war era, Penney's sold lightweight cottons with "A Regulated Cotton Never Misbehaves" printed on the selvedge.  The individual fabrics in this line each had a title, as well - this one is "Banjo." The middle fabric in the image above, also from Penney's line, is "Florentine."  The "Never Misbehaves" part referred to the fabric - meaning that the goods wouldn't bleed or shrink excessively.  (I think the women wearing clothes sewn from the fabric could behave in any way they wished.) The "hand" of these fabrics is just wonderful.

For sashing I used Kona cotton in "Ash."  The quilt top was machine-quilted by Martha Garvey, who chose the pantograph quilting pattern "Cotton Candy," and a thread color called "Pearl."  Pattern and quilting thread were prefect for this little quilt, now finished, delivered, and  ready for baby "tummy time."

All pieced, waiting to be quilted.

24 April 2015

"Life of Cats" woodblock print exhibit at the Japan Society

If you are a closet cat lady, or a lover of Japanese prints, you will enjoy the Life of Cats exhibit at the Japan Society of New York, on view through June 7, 2015.  DH and I joined a free docent-led tour, and our excellent guide greatly enriched our experience of the artwork. We highly recommend the tour, offered Tues. - Sun. at 2:30 and Fridays at 7 pm.

Prints from the Hiraki Ukiyo-e Collection, in Tokyo, have made a rare trip to the US. Ukiyo-e is the Japanese word for polychrome woodblock prints, many featuring scenes from the "floating world," the entertainment and pleasure quarters of Tokyo in the 19th century. Since these are prints, produced in multiples, many American museums have Ukiyo-e in their collections - who hasn't seen Hokusai's "The Wave"? - but many of the Life of Cats works are less well known here.

Japan Society, exterior, with banners.

A detail of one of the rarest prints   - only three copies are know to exist - is shown below.  Artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797 - 1861) produced this print of 53 cats. Each cat's pose and activity forms a pun - for those who can read Japanese - for the 53 stations, or stops, on the Tokaido Road, the medieval route from Kyoto to Tokyo. As wordplay, it's a labored exercise, but the cats are nevertheless delightful.

Cats Suggested by the 53 Stations of the Tokaido Road, detail, 1847.

According to his apprentices, Kuniyoshi loved cats and shared his studio with several felines. In the print below, from his series Eight Selected Flowers from the Garden, he paired a beautiful woman, in a fabulous kimono, with a happy cat, no doubt purring up a storm as he gazes at the chrysanthemums from his pampered perch on the beauty's shoulder.  

Chrysanthemums, 1844-48.

The design of the exhibit engages all ages, and even gives us a cat's eye view of the world; this humorous touch reflects the light-heartedness of many of the prints.

Cat face room divider.

Framing our view.

Cats were not indigenous to Japan but arrived on ships from China in the mid-sixth century, accompanying Buddhist scriptures and helping to keep these sacred documents safe from rodents.  Cats were well-integrated into Japanese households by the early ninth century, and appear throughout Japanese art, folklore, and literature.

Kuniyoshi, Housewife Swats Cat, 1845. Right, detail.
Of course, all cats, of whatever nationality, love fish, and are not shy about getting it. In the print above, a woman  makes a half-hearted attempt to stop a cat as it steals a piece of dried fish, or bonito. The cat doesn't look too concerned, does it?  Any exhibit of ukiyo-e, whether cat-themed or not, will feature wonderful textiles designs, such as the brown and white floral fabric of the housewife's kimono.

Sometimes the cat images are even part of the costume of the humans, as in the print below, depicting a famous kabuki theatre actor, Nozarashi Gosuke, who played a warrior with a trademark skull-patterned kimono. Cat-lover Kuniyoshi formed the skulls out of white cats cuddling together, somewhat softening the horror of this otherwise gruesome  imagery.

From the series, Men of Ready Money with True Labels Attached, 1845.

During periods of the 18th century, censors tried to restrict the content of woodblock prints in an effort to protect public morals. Images of beautiful courtesans, famous kabuki actors, and other entertainers  were prohibited.  During these periods of censorship artists' designs for prints had to be approved before the sheets could be made  and distributed; many of the prints in the exhibit have a censor's stamp on them. However,  artists could evade censorship by using anthropomorphic animal imagery in lieu of human forms. This led to a lot of cat pictures, or neko-e; moreover, it was believed that displaying these pictures in the home would scare away rats.

A popular form of street entertainment in the Edo period (1615-1868) was pole jumping, the acrobatic feat of jumping along the tops of upright poles. To get around the censorship restrictions against depicting popular diversions, artist Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) depicted a cat performer leaping across the tops of upright, giant bonito, sticks of dried fish. The bottom half of this print shows a fox about to snare a human, using - what else? - a sack of coins as bait. The print could be cut and each half sold separately.

Hiroshige, Cat Crossing to Eat, 1830-44.

Inexpensive and fashionable, woodblock prints were sold in shops such as the one re-created at the Edo-Tokyo history museum, in Tokyo. So many prints were reproduced the sheets would be used as packing material; when Westerners unwrapped imported Japanese ceramics, they discovered the prints, which had a big influence on the Impressionists, among other Western artists.

Book and print shop, Edo-Tokyo Museum.

Patrons at a print shop, Edo-Tokyo Museum.

Inexpensive prints, called  omocha-e or "toy pictures," were also produced for children, who clamored for coins from their parents to purchase these play things.  The print below, with the somewhat unwieldy title Newly Published Applications for Cats,  features feline paper dolls - children would cut out the fronts and backs of the cat figures, glue them together, and dress them in the paper clothes.

Utagawa Yoshifuji, 1868 - 1912.

Cat paper dolls, detail.

In addition to the prints, ink paintings and ceramics in the show, there were also cat-themed books available to browse. Here's a partial list of cat-related literature, in no particular order:

Tales of Old Japan, A.B. Mitford. Folktales for all age ISBN 978-0756782016. 
Won Ton, Lee Wardlaw.  Picture book featuring Haiku-speaking cat. ISBN 978-0805089950.
Cat Town, Sakutaro Hagiwara. Poems. ISBN 978-1590177754.
Cat Lady Chronicles,  Diane Lovejoy. Non-fiction, joy of cats by a sane cat lady. ISBN 978-8889854983.
The Guest Cat, Takashi Hiraide. Novel, stray cat moves in with couple, saves marriage. ISBN     978-0811221504.
Three Samurai Cats, Eric Kimmel. Picture book; samurai cat uses brains to outwit monster rat. ISBN 978-0823418770.

The exhibit catalog is Life of Cats Selections from the Hiraki Ukiyo-e Collection, Miwako Tezuka, ISBN 0-913304-61-1.

Finally, in addition to the preponderance of cute, cuddly cats depicted in the prints, there is also a long tradition of cats as alter egos of witches. In the image below, illustrating a kabuki actor in a role from a famous play based on legend, a cat in human form is shown in her true guise as lamplight reveals her cat head-shaped shadow. In front of her dance two fork-tailed demon cats - in folklore, cats who live a long time begin to wear human clothes, walk on their hind legs and comprehend human speech.

Gountei Sadahide, Cat Witch of Okabe, ca. 1840, detail.

Hmm...my cat turns fourteen next week - if he suddenly sports a kerchief, we'd better watch out!

My cat helping to pack table decorations, 2014.

26 March 2015

Kyoto Flea Market quilt

Kyoto Flea Market quilt, on display.

Just finished two quilts, one of which is shown above, in DH's home office. The pattern was inspired by Kathy Adams pattern Japanese Story.

Kathy Adams, Japanese Story.

The geometry is fairly basic, so I didn't purchase the pattern, but worked out the dimensions and construction on my own. However, the pattern gives yardage requirements, cutting instructions and assembly diagrams, so would be useful for someone just beginning in quilting.

Rolls of narrow width woven fabric.

I named the quilt Kyoto Flea Market as I purchased the patterned fabrics at a temple market in Kyoto in 2012. To my dismay, when I returned home I found most of the fabrics had holes and other areas of damage (the fabrics were tied in tight, unscrutinizable bundles at the market). However, there was enough usable material for two nearly identical quilts (a limited edition, if you will). Buyer beware, indeed!

Items at the temple flea market.

This pattern is a useful way to "corral" a collection of large-, medium- and small- scale fabrics and show them to advantage.  Below is a "blankie" for a child assembled from shibori samples made in an Elin Noble workshop.

Shibori sampler quilt.

Detail, Kyoto Flea Market quilt.

The sashing is black Kona cotton, and while most of the hand-quilting is done with black thread, I hand-quilted the sashing using red thread - subtle, but a little zingy.

03 March 2015

Cat Gallery quilt

Note the screen saver - we like cats of all types.

Just finished a quilt begun in 2013....talk about the Slow Fiber movement... but now the work has a binding, hanging sleeve, and a good place in DH's home office. We are a family of ailurophiles.

The impetus for this quilt was an old fabric, featuring stylized cat face designs in red and gray, found on ebay.  This fabric can be seen in the large blocks bordered in black in the quilt.  Also used is a recent Michael Miller fabric based on the designs of 1950's artist Tammis Keefe.  I had enough of the old fabric to make three of these quilts, sort of a limited edition; the other two quilts were given to veterinarians.

Quilt on display at animal hospital.

Vintage cat fabric, before quilting.

Red, white and black is a timeless quilt color scheme. The quilt was fun to work on, although I went a bit overboard with the hand-quilting.

Detail showing pieced border.

05 February 2015

Giving New Life - Collage at the Brookline Public Library

Accordion-fold book, detail.

Through February 9, 2015, the Brookline Public Library is hosting a small but delightful display of collages and hand-made books by Phoebe Ann Erb.  As the exhibit title implies, Ms. Erb gives new life to the material "remains of the day." (Quotations are from the artist's statement accompanying the exhibit.)

Ex-Libris collage, detail.

Many artists repurpose bits and pieces of books and printed ephemera into new creations.   Artist Ekaterina Panikanova reworks pages from old volumes into paintings; the new use of the pages underscores the archaism of their content.  Ms Erb uses "the ephemera of comings and goings," not of physical voyages but of the journey which objects, as well as processes, undergo in their peregrination from currency to obsolence.

The figure in the image above is kitted out in books - a literal constant reader - and surrounded by bits and pieces of the discarded systems of card catalog and manual book check-out.  As Ms. Erb says,
What better use for library discards? Old pockets with due-date cards? Antiquated card-catalog cards? Cut them up and put them in a collage.

Hand-made book.

Book with leaves of heavy fabric.

Ms. Erb's work is especially rich due her use of textiles as well as paper, giving her books and collages an unusual tactile appeal.  No material has special status - humble tablet paper forms a substrate for the artist's line drawings.

Collage on tablet paper.

Tiny hand-made books.

Every now and then, there is a special synergy between work and the container in which the work is displayed, and this is the case here, as Ms. Erb's art seems perfectly suited to the library's Foundation Case, with its pediment ornament of book, pen and ink bottle.

Foundation display case, detail. 

Although the Brookline exhibit is about to close, during the month of February there's another chance to view Ms. Erb's work, at the Newton Free Library, including books and collages which celebrate an ordering system which remains evergreen - the alphabet.

Alphabet book for all ages.

Pages of accordion-fold book.

31 January 2015

How to Survive a New England Winter

Chestnut Hill garden,  spring, 2014.
We've had about 20" of snow here this week, and are expecting more this coming Monday.  But in three months, there will be tulips. There will be tulips!