02 December 2010

Chuck Close at the MFA

One of two books recently published about Chuck Close, by Christopher Finch.

On October 14, 2010, DH, son and I enjoyed a sold-out presentation at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, a conversation between writer Christopher Finch and artist Chuck Close. Usually the format of this lecture series is that a single person talks at the worshipful audience; this dyad varied the tenor and made me think that perhaps all gifted celebrities should consider bringing a verbal foil with them to such events. Mr. Close has an easy conversational manner, but the engagement with Mr. Finch, who enjoys a long association with Mr. Close, meant the evening never lagged or foundered.

Detail, self-portrait.

Throughout his work Mr. Close has utilized the grid, first as a diagramming device in the planning stage of his so-called photo-realist works, but later as an overt feature of his portraits. These works, which don't reproduce a likeness so much as invent a new way to see it, are to me much more interesting. Mr. Close won my heart when mentioning what he calls (I paraphrase) the general undervaluing of traditional women's work, and gave as an example the beautiful crochet tablecloths made by his grandmother. She crocheted hundreds of individual squares, stitched them together, and finally starched the textiles using sugar (yes, sugar - anyone heard of this process?). Mr. Close reflected that he had grown up viewing large items painstakingly constructed of many small squares, and had no doubt that this influenced his own work.

Detail, Amish quilt from Amish: The Art of the Quilt, text by Robert Hughes.

Finding endless possibilities in the restriction imposed by a grid is nothing new, as generations of quilters know. Sometimes restrictions, whether external or self-imposed, provide the best scaffolding for exploration.

Another portrait from Chuck Close: Work.
Grids can also be radial, as well as rectilinear.

Mr. Close and Mr. Finch, signing books.

After the talk, Mr. Close and Mr. Finch were kind enough to sign our books; unfortunately the MFA gift shop ran out of the Chuck Close: Work book, but I had purchased mine before the talk. It would make a nice holiday present: Isbn 978-7913-4466-9. Of course it's a big, heavy book - why are art books so often physically unwieldy? - but opens a wide window on one artist's process. There's a companion biography by Mr. Finch, but I haven't looked at that closely yet.

01 December 2010

Solo Quilt Show Arsenal Center

Quilt and show title.

My show officially opened yesterday. Beverly Snow, program director, and her staff have exceeded all expectations and did a fabulous job handling, hanging and labeling the quilts. Now, if folks only come to the Center! The show is up until December 24.
NOTE: There will be rehearsals in the space from 10 am to 6 pm on December 10, 11, 12. Best to visit another time.

Here's the info:

The Arsenal Center for the Arts
321 Arsenal St. Watertown MA 02472

Third Floor, Rehearsal Hall

The hours are Tues - Sat, 12 - 6 pm.

There's a small but very good boutique on the first floor for holiday shopping, and free parking in the garage opposite the Panera restaurant. On week-days, best just to go up to the top levels of the garage, as office workers' cars fill the lower floors.


For some reason, my show is still listed up Coming Soon (under Visual Arts tab on home page.) I hope center staff will have a chance to update the site soon.

SPECIAL EVENT - On Saturday, December 4, from 4-6 pm I will have a "petting zoo" with lots of vintage fabrics and design-related items from the 1950's. There's no formal presentation, but of course I'll be babbling away and answering questions.

The entrance to the Arsenal complex.

Entrance to the Arts Center; notice next to elevator.

The show - the space has great light.

The title of my show - Vintage Geometry - has a sort of double-meaning. First, my quilt designs are based on traditional geometric patterns, featuring triangles, square, rectangles and so forth. In addition, I use many vintage fabrics in my quilts, because I love old fabrics, and using them broadens my available palette beyond whatever is for sale in quilt fabric stores today.

Quilt-making is a tradition in my mother’s family – I have a quilt made by my great-grandmother in 1931. She saved the fabric scraps leftover after making clothing for her family. My grandmother Nelda made quilts too, and I began quilting by helping her replace worn bindings on quilts during school vacation.

Quilt featuring vintage panel print.

Ad for dress made from same panel print as used in quilt.

Grandma Nelda had a sense of humor, and liked to sew aprons, curtains and even blouses with fun fabrics that we call conversational prints – patterns with designs of birds, sports cars, antique musical instruments; just about any theme or motif could be explored by the imaginations of the hundreds of textile designers who worked for American companies when the US still produced millions of yards of apparel and home furnishing fabrics.

Reused curtain panel; fabric designed by Doris Lee in 1952.

Many of these fabrics were woven on 36”-wide looms, discarded when most textile production moved overseas in the mid-1960’s. This loss of manufacturing (well before NAFTA) was a detriment to the US economy, but a gift for the vintage shopper - if you see a fabric at an estate sale that measures 36” wide, you know it was made before 1970.

I love the old fabrics – memories of childhood? – and find them at Brimfield, estate sales and, yes, online. These old fabrics play nicely with new fabrics in the geometries of my quilts.

Another view of the show.

Posted by Picasa

11 November 2010

True Blue - Preparing the Fabric

1. Finished resist-dyed samples.

On November 8, I took a one-day workshop, called True Blue, with Elin Noble, as part of A Quilter's Gathering 2010. We used freeze-dried, pre-reduced, indigo to dye samples of shaped-resist techniques. I had taken one previous dyeing class with another excellent teacher, Carol Anne Grotrian, so had a basic introduction to some of the techniques.

2. Kumo, or spiderweb, pattern.
Nine inch squares of fabric tied with nylon kite twine.

3. Left, fabric sample with rubber bands around dried beans.
Right, dyed fabric.

I prepared a few samples in advance at home, using Prepared For Dyeing (PFD) fabric made by Kaufman, and a variety of household objects. In addition to learning about preparing an indigo dye vat, of course, I also learned some new shibori patterns in the workshop and picked up useful tips.

4. Our class sampler.
Left, top and bottom, maki-nui pattern, chevron stripes.
Right, top, mokume or wood-grain pattern.
Right, bottom, karamatsu or larch tree pattern.

For all the stitching, we used synthetic upholstery thread, which Elin supplied in big cones, and which worked much better than the buttonhole thread I used for some of my home-made samples. To stitch, I used a Roxanne brand basting needle. The thread is worked doubled, knotted at the beginning of a row, and at the end of the row a tail of two to three inches is left, for cinching up when all the stitching is done. Here's how-to:

5. Mokume pattern.

For the
mokume pattern, draw parallel lines 1/4" apart. I like to use my 304 Berol drawing pencil with the soft lead. With the needle, make big running stitches. To get the wavy look, avoid aligning stitches vertically - the stitches should be offset, like bricks.

6. Maki-nui pattern.

7. Maki nui pattern.
It would have been better if I'd gathered up a
beefier hunk of fabric with every stitch.
My pattern came out even, but too subtle.
At least this pic shows the basic stitch pattern.

For the maki-nui pattern, the cloth is folded. Along the fold, and through both layers, insert the needle. Bring the point of needle back over the fold, wrapping the fold with the thread. Insert the needle again through both layers and wrap again. It doesn't matter if you wrap clock-wise or counter-clock wise, just be consistent. Elin loads up her needle with as many stitches as possible, allowing the stitches to fall off the eye end of the needle. I think this is to maintain a consistent rhythm when stitching, for a more regular pattern.

8. Larch pattern.

Finally, for the larch pattern, the third pattern of our sampler, we fold the fabric and draw three concentric circles to stitch. Starting with the bottom circle, the stitches are made through the two layers of fabric. Threads are carried between motifs; no need to tie off for every pattern. This pattern can also be modified to be a more diamond shape; just stitch angles instead of circles.

9. My dyed sampler. From the top, the patterns are: mokume pattern, maki nui (too timidly stitched) and the circular larch pattern on the bottom.

Elin gave us a helpful hand-out with diagrams for these patterns; Yoshiko Wada's book Shibori The Inventive Art of Japanese Shaped Resist Dyeing also has good illustrated instructions.

10. A cone of upholstery thread.

After stitching is complete, the threads are pulled taut and tied off using a square knot (surgeon's knot, whatever, just make sure it's secure, but tidy). When pulling the threads taut, Elin works on the piece as a whole, pulling all threads partially taut first. Spraying with water helps the fabric fold and compress. When all threads have been cinched up part way, she pulls them as tight as possible and ties them off.

For items with many, many threads, Elin will sometimes count the threads, so she can make sure she's pulled them all, as a loose thread will ruin the pattern. Also, for heavily stitched patterns, such as
mokume, where there may be hundreds of thread ends, she'll tie the threads in bundles of four, just to save a bit of time. Finally, after tying off Elin does not snip close to the knot, but leaves at least two to three inches of thread dangling, for ease when it's time to remove the stitching after dyeing is complete.

11. One of my stitched patterns.
Left, stitched but not cinched and knotted.
Right, thread pulled tight and tied off.

12. A professional sample from Japan,
densely stitched and knotted.

13. Classmate Lois, with her excellent sampler of patterns.

When all our fabric samples were stitched, cinched and knotted, we prepared our indigo vats and dyed the cloth. The samples emerged and were very impressive. For more on the vat, see the companion blog entry The Vat. Of course, it was impossible to resist opening up our samplers and seeing the results. Elin mentioned that she often begins her patterning a bit away from the edge, as she finds the marginal zones - between the pattern and the edge of the fabric - often have visually interesting outcomes. This is often true of life, isn't it? Some of the most intriguing things go on in the margins, if you're observant enough to see them.

14. Samples made by, or collected by, Elin Noble.

For inspiration, Elin had kindly brought many samples to class, of her own work but also pieces she has collected from both Asia and Africa. Because there are often needle holes, and even bits of thread remaining, is it possible to do forensic stitching analysis and determine how the pattern was made.

As stitched patterns are only part of the repertoire - and the stitching process is relatively tedious - Elin also shared other techniques with us, including pole wrapping and clamping.

15. Elin initially ties the upholstery thread to the pole.

Many of us, including me, had brought PVC pipe, used for plumbing, to the class. During lunch, I had wrapped a long strip of fabric around my 2 1/2" diameter pole diagonally, wrapped it with thread and bunched the fabric down to the end of the pole, as I learned in my previous shibori class. I thought I was ahead of the game.

However, after lunch Elin shared with us more of the characteristics that differentiate this indigo dye from synthetic MX dyes. Evidently, the indigo doesn't penetrate the layers as well as the synthetic dyes. Now she tells me! The solution is evident - wrap only one layer of fabric and use a wide diameter pole.

16. Fading away -
the indigo did not penetrate to the inner layers
of the wide fabric wrapped around a skinny pole.
I like it anyway.

Elin also does not like to use tape for securing the fabric to the pole, as it may lead to adhesive residue build-up. (She might like to try drafting tape, which has a higher quality adhesive meant to minimize residue.) Rather, she ties the thread to the pole, then wraps the thread around the fabric. After wrapping three to four inches, she cinches the fabric down to the end of the pole. Additional variation can be introduced by twisting the fabric as you bunch it down.

17. Elin has wrapped a single layer of fabric around her pole, tied thread to the pole and is wrapping the thread around the fabric.

18. Wedging the pipe between the table edge and her abdomen,
Elin pushes the thread-wrapped fabric down to the end of the pipe.

Elin recommends using lengths of pipe no longer than 30-36". This allows the average height dyer to use the table edge and her body as a vise while scrunching the fabric down to the edge of the pipe.

19. Elin twists the fabrics while bunching it.

20. Fabric is wrapped and scrunched. Thread is tied off.

When the length of fabric is thread-wrapped and pushed down to the end of the pole, Elin makes a big knotted loop of thread and uses that loop as a second thread end, allowing her to tie off the thread with another secure square knot. The fabric is soaked thoroughly in clear water, and then is ready for the dye vat.

21. Elin shared with us some of her samples of pole dyeing.
(Sorry about the blurred face - no flash means slow shutter speed.)

22. Students hard at work, preparing and dyeing poles.

23. Up to our elbows in indigo.

24. Left, fan-folding fabric.
Center, clamping using chopsticks and rubber bands.
Right, my fabric, made by folding and clamping with jar lids and C-clamps.

In addition to pole wrapping, another relatively quick way to make pattern on fabric is by clamping. The dye penetrates the edges, but not the area under pressure from the clamp. Elin showed us her technique for fan folding, which is to work on the edge of a table and manipulate the folded portion of the fabric, not the trailing end of the fabric. Much easier. After fan-folding, she folded the fabric in fourths, like the letter M (see photo above) and clamped the bundle with chopsticks and rubber bands. Simple, but effective.

One last technique we learned was how to make a sort of small butterfly motif, but I didn't have time to make and dye one, unfortunately. Will have to try in another class!

A note on photography. I do not use flash, because I think it's rude to subject people to flash photography in a classroom setting. In addition, most of my fellow students, and I, are women of a certain age, and recovery from flash glare is slower for us. I don't want anyone knocking over a dye bath because she was momentarily blinded by glare from my camera. So, I rely only on available light, with the accompanying slow shutter speeds. Not ideal, but the goal is images that provide a helpful visual record of the process.

True Blue Indigo Dyeing - Final Wash

1. Tied threads are pulled to create a bit of ease
an opening for the tip of the seam ripper.

On Sunday, November 8, I took a workshop with Elin Noble on indigo dyeing. Titled "True Blue," the class was one event at A Quilter's Gathering, an annual quilt show and exhibition in New Hampshire. This blog entry follows the journey of my fabrics at home, after they were dyed. Two companion blog entries, The Vat and Preparing the Fabric, document the rest of the process.

After dyeing, we packed up our still-wet fabric bundles and finished the workshop at home, following Elin's directions. Working on an old towel, as dye was still coming off of the samples (this dye transfer is called "wet crocking"), I undid the stitching of my bundles. My fingertips turned blue from the dye, but I found it impossible to do this with gloved hands - it was so awkward I even managed to put a hole in a glove finger with the seam ripper. Missed the digit itself, fortunately.

2. The pattern emerges as the knotted stitches are removed
and the fabric is unfolded.
Posted by Picasa

3. Left: Dyed fabric curing in a paper bag, and bucket of soapy water.
Right: Grater and bar soap.

We've stitched, dyed, rinsed, and unknotted our pieces. The fabrics have dried for a few days - Elin lets them cure for a week - and now get a final sudsy wash. Elin uses Ivory soap. There's no need here for a discussion of the difference between detergent and soap (basically, it's all about surfactants) and I think the crucial element is to not use a detergent, as most commonly available laundry detergents have optical brighteners, enzymes, and other additives which we don't want or need on our cloth.

Anyway, I had a bar of natural soap - just soap - from Whole Foods, so I grated about one fourth of the bar, using a regular box grater, and put the shavings into a clean bucket with about three gallons of very warm water. It was quite a soapy mixture. In went the fabrics for a little swim. The water turned an alarming blue, but with a sole opportunity for immersion in a one-day workshop, it's not surprising that there would be considerable color loss.

After some gentle swishing in the suds, I gave the fabrics three rinses; by the third rinse the water was clear. Elin mentioned that heavier cloth, or darker colors, may require two soapings. During the class Elin shared with us some textiles from Africa that had not yet had their soap bath; the color came off on her hands while she held the fabrics. Such color migration is called "dry crocking." However, Elin is reluctant to wash these African samples, as the fabrics still retain traces of the thread and stitching used in their design.

4. Left: soapy bath - water is quite blue,
with excess indigo being shed by the fibers.
Right: Above is second rinse; third rinse, below, is finally clear.

Next, the fabrics dripped dry, and were ironed while still damp. Ta-da! A wall of indigo... well, maybe more a medium blue, but still pleasing.

5. Some of my finished product.

10 November 2010

True Blue Indigo Dyeing - The Vat

1. Elin with unknotted fabric after indigo dip.

On Sunday, November 8, twenty students worked with dyer extraordinaire Elin Noble in her A Quilter's Gathering workshop True Blue, using freeze-dried indigo. Traditional indigo vats are major projects; now we have instant indigo, a pre-reduced, freeze-dried product from India, available from several mail order sources in the US. Pre-reduced just means, in my basic understanding of chemistry, that the hydrogen atoms are removed; when cloth dipped in the dye meets air, the indigo molecules suck the hydrogen atoms from the oxygen right up again, resulting in the blue color.
Supplies we used:
Large bucket - up to 5 gals - stainless steel or plastic
Smaller bucket - 1 gal - stainless steel or plastic

Freeze-dried indigo

Stirring implement (wooden spoon)

Plastic teaspoon

Rit Color Remover

Sodium Carbonate (washing soda)

Sturdy household gloves

Fast Orange hand cleaner

Hand Lotion

NOTE: Once an implement is used for dyeing DO NOT use it for anything else.

2. Some of our supplies.

3. Elin's indigo vat.
Note metallic bits floating on top.

Liquid is blue but has some translucence.

(White strip is reflection of overhead light.)

Elin put about two to three gallons of warm tap water into her bucket and added about a rounded half-teaspoon of the freeze-dried indigo. Since the indigo is flaky crystals, not powder, it doesn't become airborn as a fine powder might, so no need for a mask. (Still, don't inhale it.) In class, measurements were a little informal, but our handout, credited to Judith McKensize McCuin, states water should be between 100 and 120 degrees, and to use one tablespoon of indigo per five or six gallons of water. When Elin initially added her dry indigo to the water there was a green flush as the dye hit the water, although I blinked so I missed it. It's important to stir the mixture gently - no vigorous swishing. Air bubbles, foam, froth are all the enemy, as we want to keep oxygen out of the indigo.

4. Elin bundling her wetted fabric clumps into her gloved hands,
handling the fabric under water.

All items to be dyed are thoroughly soaked first. Small items can be linked together loosely with string to make a chain of items for easier handling. Elin gathers up the items into her gloved hands, all under the water, and, hands still enclosing the fabric, carefully submerges the clump into the vat. Then, still working beneath the surface of the dye solution, she opens the clump and massages the fabric, while chanting "ohm, ohm, ohm..." Well, okay, maybe not that last part, but the idea is to make sure that the dye solution bathes the entire fabric, has a chance to deposit itself on the fabric, and that the oxygen is kept well away - again, no swishing, and no lifting the fabric in and out of the bath.

After a few minutes, Elin again bundled the now-dyed fabric into her hands and lifted out the bundle, breaking the surface with back of her gloved hand, to avoid getting those floating metallic bits onto the fabric. If there are metallic deposits, just rinse off in a bucket of clear water. In her studio, she would rinse the fabric, then let it rest - I'd love to see her set-up for work in progress - and re-immerse the fabric after an interval, say, the next day. Again, we refer to this process as multiple dipping, but it's not dipping the fabric up and down, just successive immersions. It's multiple immersions that really build up depth of color, as well as long-term color retention and fastness.

5. Elin's massaging the bundle in the dye at the bottom of the vat,
almost up to the cuffs of her gloves.

6. Elin's removed the bundle from the vat.
This pic gives an idea of our class set-up.

Elin showed us that, through her manipulation of the fabric beneath the surface, the dye had a chance to "hit" all surfaces of the item.

7. Elin beginning to remove the stitching, using a seam ripper.

The process of tying and untying the stitched resist pattern will be described in a companion blog entry, but, briefly, Elin has pulled the tied threads ends to create a little give, and inserted a seam ripper CAREFULLY in between the threads. It's easier than you can imagine to cut the fabric by accident.

8. The pattern emerges as the fabric is unfolded.

9. The sampler of stitches we learned in class.

10. My Arashi, or pole-wrapping, sitting in Elin's dye vat during lunch.

11. My fabric bundles, soaking in room temperature
water prior to going into the dye vat.

Well, time to prepare my own individual vat of indigo. I filled my big orange Home Depot bucket with about three gallons of warm, verging on hot, water, and measured out about a half-teaspoon of indigo. On reflection, I think it would have been all right to use more, but I can experiment at home.

12. Our individual containers of indigo.
It looks like Folger's freeze-dried coffee crystals.

13. The indigo.
(A staged photo taken at home.
I couldn't hold the camera and the spoon at the same time.)

14. My dye vat.
(White area is reflection of overhead fluorescent light.)

In went the indigo crystals and I stirred gently. Again, I find it difficult to see the initial green tint, but I trust it was there, and the dye bath developed the correct translucency and metallic sheen when mixed. I added each fabric bundle, gathering it up into my gloved hands and releasing it below the surface of the dye bath. After manipulating the fabric for a while, I carefully removed it, avoiding those metallic bits, placed the fabric on a wad of paper towels and went on to the next item. I had done some homework before class, so had quite a few bundles, and exhausted my dye bath - at some point when I added a piece of fabric, it emerged an anemic pale blue, not the darker color of the items dyed earlier.

Since the solution was still warm, my technique was probably too splashy; whatever the reason for the depleted effectiveness, it gave Elin an opportunity to show us how to recharge the vat.

15. My exhausted dye bath. (White streak is that overhead light again.)

Symptoms of vat exhaustion: liquid is opaque, with no translucency. No tinge of green anywhere. No metallic sheen or coppery floating patches. Compare image number 14, new vat, to number 15, tired vat.

16. Rit Color Remover. The active ingredient is sodium hydrosulfite.

Rit Color Remover - also useful when your inexperienced offspring wash something red with the white load, turning everything pink - is widely available. Chemically, it's a sulfur-based reducing agent - it gets rid of those pesky hydrogen molecules that have glommed onto the indigo when too much oxygen got into the vat. Color Remover is very very hygroscopic - it wants to absorb moisture, so keep the unused portion tightly sealed. In humid New England, it's probably not a bad idea to keep the box in a zip-lock bag, for good measure.

17. Elin, measuring out about one quarter teaspoon Color Remover, for my vat.

In addition, Elin added about one eighth teaspoon of sodium carbonate, or washing soda, which also reduces the vat, again getting rid of the hydrogen atoms. I'm sorry I don't have a picture of the product, but here it is from a commercial dye supply website.


18. Sodium carbonate.

19. My recharged vat.
Note pale green translucency where the liquid meets the the pole.
The oxygen is out; ready to dye some more.

20. My pole dye fabrics just out of the dye bath. Fabrics have a greenish tinge; this soon turns to blue as the indigo oxidizes, grabbing those hydrogen atoms from the oxygen in the air.

21. A pile of colored fabric bundles turning a nice blue in the air.

22. For hand clean-up - Fast Orange hand cleaner, which really worked, and lotion.

A note on photography. I do not use flash, because I think it's rude to subject people to flash photography in a classroom setting. In addition, most of my fellow students, and I, are women of a certain age, and recovery from flash glare is slower for us. I don't want anyone knocking over a dye bath because she was momentarily blinded by glare from my camera. So, I rely only on available light, with the accompanying slow shutter speeds. Not ideal, but the goal is images that provide a helpful visual record of the process.