13 October 2017

Knitting and Mark Rothko at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Knitters with No. 1, Mark Rothko in the background.

On Friday, September 22, I joined a large group of women at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston for "Knitting in the Galleries" a novel way of engaging with art.  For about two hours, with casual oversight by two museum staffers, we sat, chatted and knitted, surrounded by an installation of Mark Rothko paintings.

Knitter communing with paintings.

Unfortunately, the area given to the knitters was rather underlit and, as I brought dark-colored yarn, I moved to another spot, directly beneath a light, in the gallery. See me in the right hand edge of the image above, working on my Paris Toujours shawl?  The better to devote  myself to both knitting and that peculiar state  of quiescent awareness which Rothko's work elicits.

Below is a brief video taken by my husband of the activity.

Another view of knitters at work.

I also learned, from staffer Anne S., that it is perfectly acceptable for knitters to sit in the galleries at any time and work on their fiber projects.  

Mulberry and Brown, 1958.

13 September 2017

Sequence Knitting Workshop with Cecelia Campochiaro

Scarves by Cecelia Campochiaro.

On 10 September, 2017, I joined 13 other knitters for an all-day workshop led by Cecelia Campochiaro, author of Sequence Knitting, held at my local yarn store, Black Sheep Knitting. Knitting is binary - it's either knit or purl - and Ms. Campochiaro has developed her own approach to combining knits and purls.

A scientist by training and employment, Ms. Campochiaro has an eye for color and a taste for luxury yarns. Her items are covet-able simply because of their fiber lusciousness and rich colors, in addition to the wonderful design and workmanship. I've knit one of her patterns, the Broken Garter scarf, available for free from Purl Soho.  This project is a very good introduction to the concept of sequence knitting.

The workshop covered a lot of material, almost too much for one day.  Some of the take-aways:

Suggested yarns
The focus of sequence knitting is on texture, and to establish the field of texture there needs to be many repeats of the pattern.  So stay away from bulky yarns, even worsted weight.  Also avoid most yarns with a strong tweedy flecking - the flecks may fight with the texture of the pattern.  And while the overall textures in the body of the knitted item are delightful, the inherently irregular selvedges not so much, and this will be accentuated in heavy yarn.

Ms. Campochiaro prefers to blend thinner yarns; for example, to knit with two strands of Isager alpaca merino held together, using size #7 needles, for the Weldon cowl.  Combining finer yarns reduces the likelihood of pilling, too.

Scarf knit in a dark, rough-ish yarn - harder to see the pattern.

Needles and gauge
When blending yarns, size for the heavier yarn weight - "sticky" yarns, such as alpaca, which have some fuzziness to them, will be fine worked with bigger needles.  Ms. Campochiaro has little faith in the needle size ranges on the bands of balls or skein, and has become a committed gauger - one who loves to knit gauge swatches.

Ms. Campochiaro with gauge swatch.

She casts on 20 - 25 stitches, starts with small needles, and moves to successively larger needles.  Selvedges of 3 garter stitches border the stockinette rows, and there are 3 garter stitch rows between each needle size.

For the red swatch below, worked in Catherine Lowe's Merino #4, Ms. Campochiaro began with 2.00mm needles (US 0) and worked up to size 3.5mm (US 4).  A befits a scientist, she prefers metric nomenclature, but I will translate.

Swatch, with key tag label.

Swatches are labelled with key tags (available at many hardware stores) attached to the knitting with coilless safety pins, available from Catherine Lowe's website.  (I think regular safety pins would work almost as well).  Ms. Campochiaro also uses these pins for blocking.

Key tag listing yarn used and needle sizes.

The swatches below are done in a variety of weights of June Cashmere; it was a treat just to stroke all these wonderful yarns. If I have a quibble, it's that I wish the scarf and shawl samples had been labelled with yarns used - Ms. Campochiaro mentioned them but I was  furiously knitting on my samples and it was hard to listen, write notes and knit all at once.

Swatches in June Cashmere.

Labelled swatches.

Ms. Campochiaro has taken workshops with knitter and color guru Kaffe Fassett (his first name is pronounced like "waif") and is a quick study, as she understands value and hue.  While I personally prefer the sequence patterns in solid colors,  there's no doubt that variegated yarns work well too. Generally, when using two colors, she recommends yarns that are close in value - not a sharp contrast.  The one exception to this is the broken garter patterns, where high contrast colors can work well. Ms. Campochiaro is partial to gray and black tones, which work well with her salt-and-pepper hair and fun orange specs.

When knitting back-and-forth, change colors every two rows; when working the round, swap colors every row.

Andrus sequence in solid cream  - displays texture beautifully.

The texture is more subtle with these color blends.

First, before any big project, do a swatch - cast on at least 24 stitches and knit for 3".  How many stitches do you need to cast on for any particular accessory?  A scarf needs to be 7" - 9" wide, so cast on anywhere between 30 - 60 stitches, depending on yarn weight (check your swatch) and desired final width.  (I would say that above 50 cast-on stitches is approaching a shawl, but the scarf/shawl boundary is fluid.)

Beyond the scarf
Ms. Campochiaro's methods work best for rectangles, cylinders, triangles and parallelograms - items with shapes that don't require asymmetrical increasing or decreasing, such as a neckline. Hats are basically cylinders up to the crown portion, so her methods work for these items.

Hat samples.

Close-up of hats.

One thing I like about her work is that Ms. Campochiaro is a fan of color tipping - adding a few rows of contrasting color at the edges of an item, as seen in the Delta Wing shawl below, with its chartreuse edging adding some punch to the gray.

Delta Wing shawl.

The 14 students in the workshop each received a useful handout and we worked on three "Practicums."  If you'd like to try a pattern, here's the directions for one of our samples:

Try this at home
It's hard to explain sequence knitting; better just to try it.
This pattern is knit back-and-forth, not in the round.

Cast on 26 stitches (or any multiple of 8 and add two more stitches)

The sequence is [K3, P3, K1, P1]
The pattern multiple is 8 + 2

Start knitting, and where-ever you end up in the sequence at the end of the row, continue exactly where you left off at the start of the next row. This is the essence of sequence knitting. The sequence of knits and purls is NOT a multiple of the number of stitches cast on, so the pattern shifts, repeating every 4 rows.

Now, this can feel like the knitting equivalent of bungee jumping off a bridge. So Ms. Campochiaro gave us a "cheat sheet", writing the pattern out for each row in the four row repeat. This information is not given in the book, unfortunately, but readers can figure it out for themselves and make their own cheat sheets.

The row-by-row pattern for the sequence is:
Row 1: [sequence], K2
Row 2: K1, P3, K1, P1, [sequence], K3, P1
Row 3: P2, K1, P1, [sequence], K3, P3
Row 4: K1, P1, [sequence]

Below is one of my samples in worsted weight yarn (bad choice) but you can see the diagonal pattern, emerging after 12 rows of knitting, in the bottom half of the sample. If you would like the sequence and "cheat sheet" for the pattern in the top half of the sample, kindly email me.

Sequence knitting sample and handout.

04 August 2017

Circular Abstractions: Bulls-Eye Quilts at the Fuller Craft Museum

Sue Ritter Milling, Ole.

The Fuller Craft Museum, in Brockton, Massachusetts, hosted an exhibit of 25 quilts, selected from a larger show curated by Nancy Crow.  An invitational show, Ms. Crow asked over 40 of her students and colleagues to consider the Bull's Eye quilt; the exhibit is on display from May 13, 2017, through October 22, 2017. 

Ms. Crow interprets this traditional design very broadly, as a four-quadrant composition featuring circular motifs.  The exhibit is something like a workshop pin-up; many of the quilts selected for the Fuller show are similar in design and color.  Some of the more interesting works move beyond the restrictions of a four-block design, which, despite the circular motion inherent in the curved piecing, can end up being rather static.

Exhibit entrance.

Kerri Green, Sunshine.

In her quilt Sunshine, Ms. Green electrifies the "four quadrant" stricture by introducing incomplete circles and playing with figure-ground relationship; the jagged-edge black diamonds vibrate between the circle segments.

Sunshine, detail.

Susan K. Willen, Off-Target.

Ms. Willen uses hand-dyed, as well as commercially dyed fabrics, in Off-Target, adding texture and interest to her work. Few, if any, of the quilts used commercial prints; for some reason many folks in the "art quilt" movement use solid or hand-dyed fabrics exclusively.

Valerie Maser-Flanagan, Growth Rings #1.

A limited color palette - basically orange, blue, brown - wisely deployed in a sequence of gradient values gives Ms. Flanagan's tight composition a lot of impact.  The quilt below, Twister by Marina Baudoin, introduces a fifth block imposed on the quadrant. The black and off-white slashes do, indeed, twist, and even shout.

Marina Baudoin, Twister.

Catherine Beard, The New Whirled.

The colors in the quilts above and below are quite different but both quilts rely on high contrast: black, white and red in The New Whirled and charcoal gray and muted tones in Discharging the Bull.  Ms. Costley hand-dyed over 100 fabrics then selectively removed dyed from many of them, a process known as discharge, for use in this quilt.

Cheryl Costley, Discharging the Bull.

In the gallery.

Gael O'Donnell, Fallen.

Circles are stretched into ovals, and offset, in the quilt above.  The piecing pattern of thin vertical segments through the oval centers makes an effective design celebrating two hues, purple and orange.  The bull's-eye motif becomes even more vestigial in the quilt below which, with typography and color, suggests a narrative without being too literal.

Carol Hazen, Danger - Wrong Way.

Finally, the bull's-eyes become atomized - reduced to miniature size - and grouped in arcs of color in Outrageous Cells, a study in the effect of disruption on pattern.

Nancy Cordy, Outrageous Cells.

Outrageous Cells, detail.

All of the quilts can be seen in the catalog, ISBN 9780985297251.

28 July 2017

Delectable Mountain fabrics, Brattleboro, Vermont

Delectable Mountain Cloth sign in window display.

An errand brought my husband and I to southern Vermont a few weeks ago; we revisited a favorite store in Brattleboro.  "Store" doesn't quite convey the immersive experience at Delectable Mountain Cloth, where the shopper is enveloped, and practically swaddled by, bolts, bundles, and rolls of luxury fibers, all  murmuring "touch me."

Owner - really, curator - Jan Norris has been sourcing the finest in silks, velvets, linens and cottons for 35 years.  Wares are displayed beautifully in a profusion of baskets and pressed glass dishes, which are in turn deployed on doilies or glimmering mirrored trays.  There's a theatrical quality to the displays, which is fitting as these fabrics are ready to make an entrance once transformed into special garments and adornments.

Bundles of fabrics in creamy tones.

Pearly buttons.

This store is an amazing resource; worth a special trip if you find yourself within striking distance.  Jan also stocks buttons of all descriptions, scarves made from her fabrics, and fun jewelry. 

Jan Norris (foreground) and assistant.

Buttons in my favorite colors - violet and lavender.

Silks are a specialty.

The quilt in the background is by Jan, who is also a talented artist.

A delightful display of special textiles.

12 June 2017

Laura Petrovich-Cheney wooden quilts

Four Play.

Hurricane Sandy, the worst storm of the 2012 hurricane season, left many shore-line New Jersey and New York houses in ruins; piles of debris were everywhere.  The home of artist and quilt-lover Laura Petrovich-Cheney was damaged and her family's summer home was destroyed.

Ms. Petrovich-Cheney found a way of processing the loss of so many homes.  She repurposed storm debris - bits and pieces whose small size belied the weight of memories embedded within them - into a series of "wooden quilts".  Five of her sculptures are on display in the exhibit What Remains: Wooden Quilt Sculptures of Laura Petrovich-Cheney at the  Fuller Craft Museum from Oct. 22, 2016 - Nov. 12, 2017.

In the Thick of It.

Ms. Petrovich-Cheney's work is also featured in the June/July 2017 issue (#87) of Quilting Arts magazine.  In the article, which has additional images from the series and of work in progress, she writes:
Each piece of wood collected carried with it the promise of reinvention.  The salvaged wood became the major source for the wooden quilt series.  I often had the opportunity to talk to the homeowners who told me about their home's history and also shared their memories and sorrows of losing everything.

Big Deal.

I believe that material has memory.  Sometimes, I just picked through the piles of trash and I wondered about the wood's former  life as a little girl's dresser - or a kitchen cabinet that held cherished china.  The intimate textures of this wood, with its chipped layers of paint, nail holes, and grain, tell a story and suggest a prior life in the faded colors and worn surfaces.  The wood was weathered, exposed, and open to new possibilities.


Five "wooden quilts" on display.

Ms. Petrovich-Cheney has master's degrees in both fashion design and fine arts and grew up in a community of women who stitched and quilted.  She describes her research:
Quilt patterns were an important inspiration for this work.  I found inspiration in the American ideal of pioneer women's can-do, resilient spirit and instinct for survival.  I learned that these women crafted quilts for warmth and comfort with scraps of cloth-scraps into which they breathed new life and new purpose.  I studied quilt patterns from early pioneer days, the Civil War, Gee's Bend, Amish, southern quilts.  In particular, I was drawn to women quilters whose lives were largely ignored by history, even while their handiwork transcended race, religion and culture.  Most importantly, the idea of comfort from a quilt inspired me.

Off of Center.

23 May 2017

Henri Matisse, textile collector

Matisse in front of window screen, source: http://www.mfa.org/exhibitions/matisse-in-the-studio.

Over the week-end DH, son and I viewed Matisse in the Studio at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, on view from 9 April 2017 until 9 July 2017. The exhibit pairs actual objects collected by Matisse - vases, African sculpture, small tables, etc. - with paintings and other works featuring, or inspired by, the objects.  Images from the exhibit can be seen in reviews in the Wall Street Journal and the Boston Globe.  For me the highlight was the North African window screens Matisse acquired during his trips to Morocco and which informed his work.

Window screen, maker unknown, North Africa, 19th - early 20th c.

This type of North African textile is called a haiti; these luxury products were made by professional male needleworkers for wealthy clients.   Layered cloth is cut and edged; the geometric designs recall carved wood and stone window screens. Interestingly, the Indianapolis Museum of Art has a collection of these and other Moroccan textiles, purchased by Indiana native Admiral Albert P. Niblack when he was stationed in Gibraltar beginning in 1917.  The Niblack family later bequeathed thousands of Moroccan, European and Indonesian textiles to the museum.  

Fabric window screen, detail.

Fabric window screen, detail.

Another window screen  is paired with a painting of two women in a space which isn't so much a room as a cocoon of textiles.  The window screen in the painting is in the exhibit.  A note on the painting title - the term moorish is now viewed as part of the vocabulary of orientalism, or the Western world's patronizing, romanticized way of viewing the Maghreb region of North African and other non-Western cultures. 

The Moorish Screen, 1921.

Window screen, maker unknown, late 19th - early 20th c.

Window screen, detail.

Gallery view.

Finally, one of Matisse's great late still life paintings, Interior with Egyptian Canvas, created in 1948, hangs next to the tent hanging depicted in the still life.  I missed the 2005 exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum on Matisse and his textiles, so was happy to have this glimpse in Boston.