05 December 2018

Quilted Fabric Collages by Susan Carlson

Pumpkin Moon, 2001.

The New England Quilt Museum mounted a show of Maine artist Susan Carlson's work, on view from September 26, 2018 through December 30, 2018.  Ms. Carlson has perfected her technique of raw-edge applique, gluing and stitching snips and snibbles of printed cloth onto a fabric base, sometimes adding overlays of sheer or net fabrics, and securing everything with free-hand quilting.

Early portrait work from the 1990's.

The show is something of a retrospective too, with some of Ms. Carlson's early work, see above. This early work features a subdued, naturalistic palette with accents of red and blue. At some point Ms. Carlson adopted the almost psychedelic color schemes of her current work. It would have been interesting to know more about the impetus for this major transition, as I'm always curious about an artist's approach to color.

The portrait below, of the artist's son Sam at age 3, mixes realistic and non-realistic colors for the flesh tones and hair, controlling for value (light/dark contrast) to create shadows and highlights.

Samuelsaurus Rex, 2001.

Samuelsaurus Rex, detail.

Peace, Love, Tie-Dye, Save the Whales, 2012.

When Sam was thirteen, Ms. Carlson created another portrait of him, influenced by the multiple image formats of Andy Warhol, and displaying the full-blown "Grateful Dead" palette.  Any similarity to the late John Lennon is intentional, as Sam is also a Beatles fan.

Peace, Love, Tie-Dye, Save the Whales, detail.

Ms. Carlson's animal quilts have been widely exhibited, including the award-winning quilt below, which imagines her pet dog's fantasies about life in the outback. See this quilt, which features commercial fabric designs based on aboriginal art, in progress.

Dixie Dingo Dreaming, 2011.

Another quilt with a link to Australia is the enormous work below, celebrating the saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus Porosus), native to Australia and the world's largest reptile. The animal is fancifully re-named and shown life-size, but in technicolor, in the expansive quilt below, too big even to photograph inside the exhibit space.  The exhibit featured a laptop with video of Ms. Carlson working on this quilt in her studio; in time-lapse style she layers fabric shapes over a black-and-white outline drawing on cloth.

Crocodylus Smylus, 2015.

Detail of teeth, Crocodylus Smylus.

Another fantastically colored animal, below, is derived from an etching by Albrecht Durer. Durer had never seen a rhinoceros but constructed his image based on textual descriptions.   Durer attempted a "realistic" imaging of the animal but did not have the resources to provide an accurate representation.  The rhinoceros, an exotic beast to begin with, becomes even more fanciful, in some way "improved" over reality.  Ms. Carlson builds on this tradition of artistic license by going even further, using a throbbing pink and orange palette to emphasize that this is no real rhinoceros, but a celebration of the artist's imagination.

Ms. Carlson used a fair amount of tulle as an overlay in this work; the tulle masks the underlying fabrics a bit, resulting in a sort of blending and blurring of the individual appliqued pieces.

Tickled Pink, 2005.

Detail showing overlay of tulle netting.

Tulle and other sheer fabrics are also applied to the surface of the work below, an image of a butterfly (although to me, it looks more like a moth). I particularly like the binding treatment of this quilt, which is made of irregular squares of fabric folded over the edge in overlapping layers.

Exuberance, 2003.

Binding edge detail.

Exuberance, detail.

For those wishing to have a go at this type of quilt-making, Ms. Carlson' book, Serendipity Quilts, has patterns and instructions for several small projects. There is also a lot of information on her website (see above link).  As I finish this blog post, it's almost dark here in New England, where the winter sun sets soon after 4 pm. So, appropriately, the last image captures daylight ceding to dusk.

Twilight, 1994.

Twilight, detail.

03 December 2018

Skads of skeins - WEBS yarn store

Display of Manos del Uruguay's merino/silk blend yarn, Fino.

It's easy, nowadays, to order almost anything online, including hand-knitting yarn from a company such as WEBS America's Yarn Store, owned by Kathy and Steve Elkins.  However, I still like to squeeze the skeins - yarn is about tactile pleasure, after all. So, when I found myself out in Hadley, Massachusetts, for a seminar, a trip to the nearby brick-and-mortar store of WEBS seemed inevitable.

The no-frills exterior of the store; image from the WEBS website.

Lots of yarn and made-up samples.

Most local yarn shops, or LYS, are generally small places, minimizing their rental expense. WEBS has an expansive building, however, providing room for lots of knitted swatches and completed sample garments, some displayed on mannequins. I personally really appreciate the availability of swatches, particularly of color-changing or self-striping yarns. A swatch gives some idea of the frequency and abruptness with which the colors change.

Shawls and sweaters on mannequins.

Try-before-you-buy display of spinning equipment.

The abundant square footage allows WEBS to stock and sell equipment and supplies for hand spinners as well as weavers. I don't spin, but have knitted with hand-spun yarn and find its slightly irregular texture delightful.  One issue with regard to weaving is that it is very hard to rectify mistakes, while with knitting one can just "frog", or pull out the stitches, with relative ease (while bemoaning the wasted time, of course.)

Weaving samples - plaid is hot this year, so these are very "on trend."

Close up of hand-woven scarf - makes me want to take up weaving, almost.

Overview of store, with help desk manned by expert knitter.

Another reason I still shop in any nearby LYS is the implicit contract between staff and yarn purchaser - if I've bought yarn or supplies from a store, I can come slinking back and ask what on earth is a "p3togbl"? - and staff will sit and patiently guide me through it. More helpful than even a Youtube video.

Bargain yarn as far as the eye can see.

One of the biggest draws of this particular store, no doubt, is the heavily discounted yarn in the "back room," where one can fill a shopping cart with discontinued or overstocked, but first quality, yarn. For those knitters whose output reaches mass production levels, the aisles here must be a gift.  In addition, WEBS has its own brand of yarn, Valley Yarns, with options in dozens of fiber blends and weights.

Even though I already have several projects in the to-do pile, I did buy yarn for the cowl below (this is the store's sample, hence the display hanging ring.) 

Tool Box Cowl, by Adventure Du Jour Designs.

16 October 2018

Objects of Use and Beauty - Japanese culinary tools

Wall hanging, Kitchen Tools, Robin Hoshino.

Recently DH and drove to the Fuller Craft Museum, in Brockton, Massachusetts, to view Objects of Use and Beauty, on view from June 2, 2018 through October 28, 2018.  This exhibit is a celebration of the Japanese batterie de cuisine.  Japanese master craftspeople make cooking tools not just for function but for delight. And why not? What is more important, or fundamental, than feeding our families, friends and guests.

The traditional beckoning cat, welcoming guests to food-related establishments.

An except from the wall text, by co-curators Merry White and Debra Samuels,
Japanese tools for the kitchen are admired as objects of beauty.  They are also practical, functioning utensils for the preparation of food.  Dedicated craftspeople design and produce them in materials ranging from metal and wood, to stone, bamboo, reeds, grasses, ceramic, silicone, fiberglass, and plastic.  These tools reflect their makers' art, as well as the functions each object serves - producing and serving foods desired for their taste and beauty around the world.  In Japan, food is a multisensory experience: me de taberu, "eat with your eyes," the saying goes.  Aesthetic pleasure, too, applies to the tools that produce it. That "beauty in use" - yo no bi - inspires this exhibition at Fuller Craft Museum.

For what chef - Japanese or otherwise - could not enjoy the feel of a perfectly weighted knife, the warmth of a wood rice paddle, the glint of light off a hammered pot, and the textures and tastes of foods cut, sieved, grated, or simmered with such utensils?

Plastic food - looks good enough to eat, doesn't it?

Chopsticks rests.
I've had the opportunity to enjoy and try a wide variety of foods, in restaurants both in the US and in my travels.  When my children were still at home, a favorite restaurant was a noodle shop (now closed, sadly) near Boston University.  My husband would rig up a kind of "hinge" using an elastic band and a folded napkin to help the kids learn to use chopsticks.  We didn't know about "training wheels" chopsticks.

Chopsticks for kids or any beginners.

Chopsticks are also used in cooking, to manipulate food or cookware - the adorable pig lid below can be lifted by inserting a chopstick into the pig's nose; the "nostrils" also vent steam.  The pig pan rests on a pretend cooktop, with cookware and serveware neatly arranged on shelves as they would be in a real Japanese kitchen. The tools displayed include small hand-made baskets, identical to ones used a century ago, and the latest computerized rice cooker.

THE most adorable cooking pan I have ever seen.

Japanese-style kitchen, complete with a home cook's white apron.

Teapots, bowls, plates, sake set, chopsticks and other items.

The exhibit kitchen reminded me of the home of Kyoto-base artist Yoshiko Jinzenji; Ms. Jinzenji was kind enough to host my textile studio group in 2012.  She and her staff served us a most delicious cheesecake.

The kitchen of Yoshiko Jinzenji.

Another view of Ms. Jinzenji's kitchen.

Plastic food aside, most of the utensils in the exhibit are made from traditional materials, using techniques taught by one generation to the next.  Below is a mortar thrown on a potter's wheel and glazed after the inside is incised with a pattern of grooves. The groove pattern improves the pulverizing of foods like sesame seeds.  The pestle is hardwood, which does not damage the ceramic bowl. The small mat keeps everything from slipping around.

Mortar and pestle.

Detail of grooves on unglazed interior of mortar.

In addition to clay, traditional materials include bamboo and reeds used in making baskets and rolling mats, used to shape sushi.  This exhibit featured delightful short videos, edited by Alex Griswold, showing craftspeople making the objects in the exhibit.  In one of the clips, Mr. Tanaka Kotaro splits bamboo and weaves the splints into rolling mats using cotton thread. Cheap Chinese imported mats have cut into the market for the mats but Mr. Kotaro also makes custom screens and window blinds.

Strainers for noodles.

Bamboo rolling mat made by Tanaka Kotaro, pictured.

Graters of all descriptions feature in Japanese cuisine, specialized for the type of food - daikon radishes, ginger, garlic, for example -  to be minced. The image below, on the left, show three graters made from bamboo and wood and used for radishes.  This type of grater is affectionately known as a "demon grater" as the teeth resemble the teeth and horns of a demon.  Meet the demon, who is more silly than scary to me, in the tenugui, or hand cloth, on the right.  And what is a tenugui? From the wall text:
Tenugui (literally, "hand-wiping") are cloths used for many purposes, from head cloths for actors, festival revelers and cooks, to drying towels and sieving in cooking.  Originating in the Heian Period (794-1192) they have become the "canvas" for designers and advertising, and wrapping for gifts.  They are made of cotton, measuring 35 cm by 90 cm, and the ends are unfinished, to hasten drying.
When I was in Japan, I learned that many traditional-style ladies restrooms did not stock paper towels, so to dry my hands after washing I began packing my own tenugui in my handbag. These small textiles are also fun for home decorating and special hangers can be ordered from sites such as Etsy.

Cooking in Japan is largely based on seasonal availability of ingredients and this applies to garnishes too. Below is a delightful collection of twelve stainless steel cutters for vegetables, each shape relating to a month of the year.  I've tried to label the image, and here's the list: 
January: Pine
February: Narcissus
March: Plum
April: Cherry
May: Spring Greens
June: Bellflower
July: Bamboo
August: Gourd
September: Chrysanthemum
October: Gingko
November: Maple
December: Fan

Seasonally-themed garnish cutters.

Cutters decorate a wall - my photo doesn't do it justice.

Another set of identical cutters formed a delicate display on a museum wall.  This made me wonder if vintage cookie cutters might be displayed in a similar way; the decorating world is way ahead of me, as shown in this lovely photography by Polly Eltes, below.


Bento boxes, used for food transport, make an equally charming display.  Talk about "a place for everything and everything in its place" - a complete tea ceremony set is nestled in its custom-made box, below.

Bento boxes, practical and fun.

Tea ceremony set, neatly packed and ready to go.

The cast iron teapots below are made by the Oigen foundry, in Oshu City, which has been in business since 1852; this region of Japan has been noted for iron work for 800 years.  I'll end with a close up of the cat teapot, in a nod to my cat, who turned seventeen this year.

Cast iron teapots.


14 October 2018

Rite of autumn - homemade applesauce

Color on the Charles River.

A seasonal tradition in our home is venturing out to a local farm and picking apples. Or just buying a peck from our farmer's market here in Newton.  Then DH makes applesauce using three ingredients: apples, water and his secret weapon, Calvados, apple brandy from Normandy. Here follows a boringly detailed method for home-made applesauce.

A peck of apples, large pot and food mill.

The equipment - large pot, and a food mill (we use one by Oxo). The ingredients - the aforementioned Calvados, and about fifteen apples (we like Macoun).

Scrubbed apples.

You do not need to peel the apples, but wash them well. We use "low-spray" apples, which means the farmer uses fewer chemicals.  Cut each apple in half and remove the core and seeds, and any stem fragments.  Place apple halves into large pot (DH uses an 8-quart pot.) Add a scant cup of water and bring the pot to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium-low, and simmer, covered, for about one hour.  The apples release plenty of liquid as they cook.  Stir occasionally.

Apples being prepped.

Pot full of apples.

Cooking down.

After an hour, almost all of the apples chunks should be soft; it's time to add about 1/2 cup of Calvados. Cook, on low heat, for another 30 minutes, or until all the apples are mushy.  The fragrance of the apples and brandy will delightfully perfume your home.

Good quality apple brandy.

Cooked apples, ready for the food mill.

Then set up your food mill over a large bowl, using a medium grinding disc. It's hard to believe, but my grandmother had to make all her own baby food using a food mill back in the 1920's, before the Gerber baby food company began industrial production in 1927.

Use the medium grinding disc.

Load the cooked apples, peels and all, into the food mill and turn the handle to push the apples through the disc. Every now and then reverse direction to dislodge peel residue. By the way, children love to turn the food mill handle.  As the cooked apples are processed, simply add transfer more apples from the pot to the food mill.

Cooked apples loaded into food mill.

The chef at work.

Silky applesauce emerges from the mill.

Almost done.

Peel residue in mill.

Remember to get every bit of apple-y goodness by scrapping the bottom of the mill.

Yum! We will freeze some for mid-winter.

A bowl with just a touch of cinnamon. A taste of autumn in New England.