My kids and I will be at Arts in the Park this Saturday (more info here) selling lots of lovely handmade items. They’ll be selling beaded bracelets to benefit red pandas, and I’ll be selling sewn, knit, and dyed items (mainly to benefit their craft supply fund, I suspect!). It should be a fun day for families so if you’re local, stop by and say hello!
My creativity is MIA this summer. I’m just exhausted, mentally and physically, plus having pain flares. Lyme Disease messed up my joints and a typical day includes some mild pain at some point, but it got so bad a couple of weeks ago I went to see my rheumatologist, who ordered loads of labwork that all came back perfectly normal. Never mind I do a couple of errands and fall into a coma-like sleep as soon as I’m home. Perfectly normal! Anyway, I haven’t painted or sketched or played with fabric creatively in a long while. But I hate the feeling of not being at all productive, so when I’m feeling like this, it’s a good time to turn to garment sewing. Following a pattern is like doing math problems; I don’t need to be creative, I just need to follow directions.
I started with a second Seneca skirt, using Cloud 9 knit. I love this style of skirt and love this pattern. The first one I sewed is a bit heavier knit; the Cloud 9 is nice for hot days.
Then the Washi dress, which I’ve looked at before and thought it wouldn’t work for my figure. Actually, it works quite well. This is sewn from Cotton + Steel and it’s so, so soft.
I’ve had the Gallery Tunic pattern since before we moved to Maryland. I’ve even had the fabric. When I first printed out the pattern and taped it together, I was so aggravated just from that process that I set it aside. Since then, I’ve upped my sewing skills through sewing for my daughter, and I’ve found a copy shop that prints the wide-format files. Two years and much sewing after first buying the pattern, this shirt was easy to put together. I think I might make another one.
You don’t get a modeled photo of this shirt because even though it’s a very lightweight fabric, it’s too hot to wear anything with longer-than-short sleeves.
I also tackled the Zinnia skirt, one of my stash of Colette/Seamwork patterns, using chambray. This was my second garment with an invisible zipper and it went in easy as anything. I really need a better picture of this skirt, as it’s adorable. This was taken in the basement in the midst of air conditioner repairs, after it had leaked (hence the mess and the towels on the floor). Happy to report the AC is fixed now, basically a full replacement inside and out, and luckily the closing came with a home warranty so it was for a fraction of the full cost.
I think this was the point at which I sewed my daughter two pairs of shorts, one using left over chambray from this skirt, but I don’t have pictures. I make her shorts every year, but I don’t seem to take pictures of them.
I bought two yards of Cotton + Steel canvas when I went to check out Domesticity, a new fabric store in Baltimore, so I used some more Seamwork credits and sewed the Seabrook pattern. It’s an adorable little bag and I do love banging in grommets.
At this point I temporarily ran out of garments to sew (no worries, I now have another Washi cut out and waiting to be sewn), so I began sewing together strips of scraps for something to do. At the end, I had a quilt, which will go to my quilt guild’s collection for a local Head Start program.
At that point I switched over to some knitting. I’m still waiting for my creativity to revive but at least I’m being productive.
The local art supply store that carries my pencil pockets let me know they’d need some more, so I went on a little sewing spree this past week. These are so much fun to make mainly because I treat them like little canvases. For some, I use upcycled fabric or fabric from my stash, like so:
The greenish fabric is from a pair of my husband’s pants that got an unmendable hole. I’ve printed it with a linocut* of one of his bicycles. The denim is also upcycled, with fun accent stripes. The linen is stamped* with a hand-carved stamp, and the rest of the fabrics are from stash. The gears and the fish, by the way, are fabrics my middle child picked out for pajama pants. I always buy extra because he picks the best patterns.
I also bought some utility cotton and dyed it.
I love these so much. All of these are printed with hand-carved stamps*, except for the stripes, which were done with a flat-sided chopstick, spaced by eye. I love that one. And the butterflies, and the scallop shells…I love them all, did I mention?! Having the control over the color of the background fabric is amazing because then I can be sure my ink shows up.
While I was at it, I sewed up some small pockets too, again using a mix of fabrics.
First offer for these goes to the two local stores that currently have some of my pockets, and whatever remains I’ll list on Etsy. I’m also always happy to sew to order, and as a reminder, I still have two upcycled zip pouches available, to benefit the National Park Foundation.
* I use both linocuts–carvings into linoleum–and hand-carved stamps–which use a softer carving material. I’ve seen “linocut” used to refer to stamps and it’s a pet peeve of mine because they’re so different! Linoleum works much better for designs with fine lines, like the bicycle, and it’s a little harder to carve. When I first switched to linoleum from stamps there was a learning curve on what made a good design; it’s not simply transferable. And I use different inks with each. Anyway just my little PSA that these two things have similarities but are not interchangeable.
This exhibit is opening tonight, and I’m really excited and pleased to be represented. I have a textile piece, “Fractured,” included, and I want to tell you a little bit about it.
Creating has been up and down this year. It took me a bit to get back into the studio after moving and the Inauguration, and when I did, I began by sewing my feelings. Sew, slash, sew, slash, trying to get the inside out. This piece was the result, and what I intended. Something shattered, something broken, something fractured, but still in one piece. I almost didn’t submit this one. I first thought, It’s just piecing. Will that be taken seriously as “art” for a juried exhibition? I looked at it again and felt that if it were paint, ie, a more “traditional” fine art medium, I wouldn’t even be thinking twice, so I submitted it. I am extremely pleased that this textile piece is included in this exhibit, and I’m looking forward to seeing all the artwork. The Mitchell Gallery has been giving peeks on its Instagram feed and it all looks wonderful.
A rather housekeeping-ish post ahead, so I thought it best to start with a photo of the baby house finches nesting on our front door. We expect they’ll have to fledge any minute now because how on earth are those five birds squeezing themselves into that nest? They might just fledge when they start falling out, I don’t know. Aren’t they gorgeous? Little dinosaurs with beautiful wing feathers. My door, on the other hand, is a sight. Much poop. We’ll deal with it.
So, news! I’ve revived my dormant email list for news and added inspirations. Sign up is on the right. But let me share a few things here as well….
In March I sold some items to benefit the Southern Poverty Law Center. This month I’m selling zip pouches made of upcycled woven plastic birdseed bags. The images on them are fantastic! The full purchase price, minus listing fees, will be donated to the National Park Foundation. I think these pouches would be great for summer explores. Making things to sell in order to donate is one of the ways I’m dealing with my anxiety over every new announcement. It’s a little bit of, Here’s something I can do. It’s not the only thing I’m trying to do, but it’s part.
If you’re local to Annapolis, MD, or planning to visit the area, I have work in two upcoming shows downtown and zip pouches in two local stores. Maryland Federation of Art’s Spring Member Show runs from May 4 to May 26 at the Circle Gallery in Annapolis, and Image and Imagination: Anne Arundel County Juried Exhibition 2017 is at Mitchell Gallery from May 23 to June 11.
I’m getting more confident in what I make and do, and in talking about it. I still struggle (always will, I think) in getting down to it sometimes. So much else competes for my time, and when I get out of the habit of just going in and working, it’s harder to get started. I mean, this is obvious for anything, it’s just that a habit can so easily be knocked out of whack (sick kids, extra things in the schedule, whatever) and not so easily established again. So it’s a constant effort. There is always more going on in my head than is actually productively happening. And I still feel like I’m at three-quarter speed. Better than just after the inauguration, but not fully functioning. (Still struggling with reading books and inertia in general and with sleep, always.) Anyway, some random thoughts at the end of this post on creative effort, I guess. Oh, and it turns out submitting to shows can actually result in being in shows but never submitting guarantees not being in any. Hmm.
We don’t travel much (for various reasons), but at least we have always lived close by to interesting places we can visit for a night or two or even a day trip easily. We planned two nights in Philadelphia over the kids’ spring break week. Even that didn’t go to plan! Two of the kids were sick so we needed to delay it, but we got there eventually. It’s only about 2 1/2 hours away by car, and we arrived midday on a weekday (versus a Sunday, like we’d originally planned). We’d thought we could visit a museum first, since hotel check in was much later. Ahahaha, no. There is no place to park in Philadelphia! We finally found a parking garage that wasn’t full and it was this little tiny space where you left the keys and they stack the cars and we immediately left because three of us felt like we couldn’t breathe just driving in. Anyway, once we went to the hotel and left the car I didn’t hate Philadelphia so much. We walked everywhere and didn’t drive again until we left.
We tried to touch on everyone’s interests in three days, so we visited the Constitution Center, the Franklin Institute, and the Museum of Art. That is a lot of museum-ing in three days. We also walked a lot, and ate quite a bit, because we found some good gluten free options, like Sabrina’s Cafe and Waffles & Wedges. That was actually a pretty long walk from the hotel, but gluten-free waffles! That’s a rarity. Plus cute streets like this.
We also stopped at Rittenhouse Square on the way back to rest on the bench by the goat, which was, at 5 pm on a Thursday, the place to be for toddlers and dogs. We all enjoyed interacting with both. And while we took other pictures in other places, I’m just sharing art museum photos because that was by far my favorite part.
We decided to pay the extra to see the American Watercolor exhibit. It was definitely worth it. The admission desk had told me photography was fine as long as no flash, but neglected to say no photography at all in this exhibit, and if there was a sign I missed it, so oops, here are two photos (I did apologize when notified–I didn’t know!).
This is Isabella Stewart Gardner’s sketchbook.
I really love her museum so I snapped a pic. And hmm, this signage just spoke to me, if you know what I mean.
The exhibit explained how watercolor was looked down upon at first because it was just what children played with and ladies dabbled in. But then! Then the men embraced it and rebranded it as so American in its carefree-ness…or something like that. I’m glad the curators made sure to point that out. Plenty of women were already quite skilled in what was available to them. Sigh.
Moving on! The kids wanted to go to Arms & Armor after that, so my husband stayed with them while I got to go hunt down the Mondrians all by myself. I found them. This photo’s perspective is a bit skewed because I took it while sitting on the floor, because I needed to stare at them a while.
There were two more in the room behind me! I find the minimal approach and geometry very calming. When I get really anxious, my tendency is to try to order everything, because order and predictability feels calmer. Looking at a Mondrian, I feel, Ah, somebody has already done that for me. The gift shop had a print of the one on the right so I took it home and framed it.
Then I worked my way back through the modern art into impressionism and it was all lovely and I was all by myself the whole time, which is a gift, because I could just sit and stare at things as long as I wanted. Like this Degas dancer.
I got myself a membership, so I can go back and see the things I missed.
I spent about a week (off and on) dyeing batik fabrics. When I first wanted to learn how to dye, it was with batik as the ultimate goal. Batik is a resist method–you apply wax to the fabric, to protect it from being dyed–but it feels a lot like printmaking. Printmaking and fabric are two of my favorite things. I decided to practice and use the results to make my son a quilt. He chose the colors (green and orange) and I discussed ideas with him, but this was my project. I’m using Color Your Cloth by Malka Dubrawsky as my guide, but I used low-immersion dyeing, which results in a textured color rather than uniform.
I started simply, by applying wax to white fabric and dyeing once.
The circles were made with the plastic tube from the inside of a bundle of produce bags, and the triangles were made by fashioning cardboard into a triangle. I was aiming for orange for the bottom, but I learned that deep yellow creates a better orange than lemon yellow. This is a reddish orange.
Then I applied wax to dyed fabric, discharged the color from the unwaxed areas, and dyed again. This is so much fun.
This fabric was dyed green before wax was applied (using a cardboard rectangle). Then I discharged it and dyed it black. I was using the wax out on the deck and by the time I got to this piece, the sun had warmed it a little overmuch and it was a little runnier than it should have been. I just went with it. My son and I love this fabric.
This was also dyed green, wax applied with the end of a cardboard paper tube, discharged, and dyed orange. It vibrates (complementary colors will do that) but my son really likes it.
This fabric was created by dyeing cloth green, adding wax, discharging, adding wax again, and dyeing deep yellow. HOW COOL IS THAT? You get three colors on one piece of cloth! This is the only piece I tried that with this time but it’s definitely something I’ll explore more.
I did three yards by dyeing, adding wax, and overdyeing.
This first one was dyed turquoise before applying wax, then dyed lemon yellow. This was a little iffy from the get-go because I was putting a lighter color over a darker one. It’s very subtle. I thought about adding wax again and then dyeing the whole thing something darker, but my son likes this, so I kept it. Wax was applied with a potato masher.
I used a different potato masher for these next two.
Lemon yellow overdyed with cerulean blue.
Lemon yellow overdyed with light red. This has some circles mixed in too.
These last two were overdyed together in orange. The top one was dyed light grey, wax was applied with a cardboard diamond, the fabric was discharged, and dyed orange. The bottom one was dyed turquoise, wax applied with a cardboard rectangle, and dyed orange after discharging. The bottom one is a bit more of a rusty orange because the fabric still had a slight turquoise tinge.
I learned so much experimenting like this! I like applying wax with cardboard–something about how the cardboard absorbs the wax a bit made it easier for me, after practice, to control how much wax transferred to the fabric. The metal potato mashers were actually a little more difficult to control. I decided early on to embrace the unpredictability with this process, though. I don’t mind wayward drips of wax; I think it adds to the interest. I really love the effects that can be had using discharging, because you’re not limited to colors that mix well together.
The whole process is time-consuming, uses a lot of water for rinsing and boiling, and is physically wearying! If you ever wondered why hand-produced batik fabric is so expensive, there you go. I have a great space in the basement with a utility sink, second washer, lots of concrete floor space, and a table and shelves. My son called it my “lab.” That’s where I dye, rinse, and discharge, although it’s probably not ventilated quite well enough for the bleaching process. I was applying wax on the deck but then moved indoors to my art studio area, which was a little better on my back, too.
Like I said, though, it’s time-consuming, and I didn’t do any sewing. So now it’s time to shift back to that. My daughter’s quilt just needs quilting–I needed that to sit while I thought about it though. It’ll be the biggest quilt I’ve done and I’m a bit daunted at doing it in my home machine. That’s first on the list, though, above piecing my son’s. I definitely have the dyeing bug though.
It’s springing all over the place in this yard, and we love it. I can hear frogs at night. Frogs! From my own driveway. From my own bed. It’s lovely music. Last weekend my husband spotted a “very large bird” on a tree branch in the yard. It was a hawk, sitting very very still. We all passed around binoculars; my eldest got a good look at the tail so we could identify it as a Cooper’s Hawk. Then, the hawk dove down into the underbrush and hopped up on a log with a snake hanging from its beak, writhing. One less snake out there. (We love snakes, but we’re now living some place with poisonous ones, so I’ve had to impress upon my younger kids that not all snakes are your friend. It took showing them pictures of injuries caused by copperhead bites.)
And then there are the nests.
I discovered this one first. See it there, in the bottom of the wreath? This wreath came with the house, and I’d been planning on replacing it in spring. I guess I’ll wait a while. I wasn’t quite sure what bird built this nest; I’d only caught a glimpse of a streaky bird flying away. Then she laid an egg.
She’s now laid four. They are the sweetest wee eggs, and bluish. Not many birds lay blue eggs, turn out, so a bit of Googling and it was easy to identify this as a house finch’s nest. Turns out, they often build nests in wreaths. I’d seen the male house finches at the feeder in the front of the house, too. Now we’re trying to avoid the porch so as not to disturb her.
Then, a few days later, my husband noticed this mess of a nest in the garage.
It’s built up high. I had to stand on a table and reach my phone up to get that view; you can’t see the eggs from below. You can’t see the mama when she’s there, either; this nest is like a cave, with a hole to get into it and a domed roof. This was easy to confirm as a Carolina Wren nest, especially as we had one trapped in the garage overnight one night. Luckily our garage has windows we can leave open, since it’s not really practical to leave the garage door open overnight (although obviously she was managing fine when we were closing it nightly, as she laid all those eggs before we discovered what she was up to).
We feel quite attached to our bird families and excited for eggs to hatch. The last time we tracked a nest we were in Rhode Island, and it was a phoebe nest that was parasitized by cowbird eggs; the cowbird chicks thrived but the phoebe chicks were smothered. It was kind of awful. Hopefully these nests fare better.
Next post will have artsy content. But bird nests! Needed to be shared.
Is this thing still on?
I didn’t mean to take such a long break. It just happened. We moved, and that’s time-consuming, and I was sick the entire time, too. Then the new regime was inaugurated and I went a bit wobbly for a while, to the extent of forgetting to eat and take meds for a bit there. Some days I still am wobbly, although not to that extent. But it’s been hard to concentrate–to read, to write, to order my thoughts at all, to sleep well. I know I’m not alone. Many of us feel, like I do, that everything we value is under attack. Those of us who have experienced any kind of abuse or trauma are having a very hard time dealing with how this administration conducts itself. We call and email and gather and organize in whatever way we are able anyway. Some days are better than others.
Thankfully, even when the concentration is scattered and I can’t read more than a page, I’ve still been creating–sewing and, now, dyeing, because we installed a utility sink in the basement and put my old washing machine down there. (Our new house came with a washer/dryer closet in the carpeted upstairs so I’m not keen on carrying drippy dyed fabric in need of a final washing-out up there.) It took a few weeks to get back into the swing of sewing, but I started slicing and sewing and slicing again, and it was therapeutic, so I kept on going. I hung a birdfeeder outside my sewing room window, and I get such a great view while I work.
I am definitely rooting into this patch of land. So many bird species! I’m looking forward to seeing what visits in the spring and summer. I added a birdfeeder to the backyard too. We’ve all enjoyed watching the birds. This past week I can hear peepers in the evening. When I get home from driving my oldest to the bus stop every morning I pause before going inside, to listen to the cacophony of bird song. With the extra light, we can walk down to the river after dinner. It is a feeling of relief to be here in the deepest sense–it relieves.
I’m not sure I’ll ever feel at home in Maryland, but I do feel at home in this house. So that is a good thing. Onward.
Sometimes I’m drawn to a guiding word for the year. Last year I wasn’t, and instead of pushing against that, I just let it be. In retrospect I’m not surprised I couldn’t pin anything down. I knew I would miss Rhode Island’s nature when we moved, but I didn’t anticipate how much losing a strong sense of place would affect me. I knew where I was in Rhode Island, always, and I don’t just mean that I could find my way around in a car. When I stood on the beach–any beach–with my kids, I knew what lay over the horizon in all directions. I knew my place on the map. We lived 15 minutes from where I went to college, and I spent much of my time as a wildlife biology student taking trips all around the area to learn the flora and fauna. I knew which birds visited our yard and when, where the snakes and salamanders liked to hide, and when to look out for wild turkey families. I knew where to look for the moon in each phase, and that it flooded my bedroom with light every time it was full. My cycle was in sync with the moon and I was in sync with the land around me. I was grounded.
Then I moved here and couldn’t find a thing. Six months later I was still unsure which direction to drive in to get where I wanted to go. (In my defense, there are rivers and bridges in all directions.) We’re in a neighborhood. I miss nature. I miss the ocean. Streetlights and house lights outshine the moon. No offense against mockingbirds but I’m tired of hearing them and only them. I couldn’t place myself on the map at all and it turns out I’m a person who needs that sense of place.
Now we’ve bought a home, and I’m looking forward to settling in to my patch of ground. Just like in Rhode Island, our yard abuts open space, but unlike there, this open space has trails. I can head out my front door and walk in the woods. I feel such peace there. I will get to know this land, its rhythms, the plants and animals that live there. I will feel that connection again.
Grounded has another meaning for me as well. When PTSD symptoms flare, when I feel anxiety spiking, one strategy is grounding exercises that my RI therapist taught me. The goal is to get back into your body and into your current surroundings. I think, as we head into the 45th President’s term, it will be important to remain grounded and aware–not just to deal with anxiety but also in the sense of being realistic and clear-eyed about what’s going on. Head-in-the-sand is attractive, but ultimately dangerous.
So, for many reasons and with multiple meanings, my 2017 word is grounded.