Sunday, September 27, 2009

Experiments in Construction and Composition

Magic Baby reversible overalls experiment

I am swimming in experiments. This past week, as I try to design my fall and winter etsy line, I finished up my first reversible overalls prototype. The design is very cute, with two bodices to play with and a cute crossed back strap.
I pieced one side using a recycled wide wale corduroy blouse and some fun, striped cotton upholstery left over from making pillow case edges years ago.
On the reverse, I used a decorator-weight cotton sateen in light blue, and added pockets lined with the stripe.

As cute as the design came out, there are some problems I discovered while testing out my ideas. First of all, there is no leg opening (think snap tape for babies) for ease of diaper changes. To change the design would require some simple re-drafting. Secondly, with the back bodice design including built-in crossed straps, the shoulder tabs would need to be lengthened in order for me to make them adjustable. The gathering into the bodice is adorable, but perhaps not great for a boys design, which would look better with pleats. Most importantly, viewed from the light of my non-mass-production of these for retail sale, there are too many adaptations to be made and corrected for size. I decided it will be easier to work with a different pattern design altogether, so I am preparing to try Magic Baby Reversible Overalls Prototype #2 today.

A few weeks ago, in another composition experiment, I pulled out flannel scraps left over from making Magic Baby Snuggle Blankies. I have always been frugal in most aspects of my life; needless to say, I was not going to let those exquisite scraps go to waste, especially when baby clothing requires so little fabric. My first step was to cut off any selvedges from the scraps, then rotary cut them into strips and squares, which were stacked together in a box. Piecing the strips together, I could make matching snuggly cuddly reversible jackets for the Snuggle Blankies. It was easy to add little tags of ribbon into the seams, keeping everything very soft, and snippets of trim to the fold-up cuffs. After turning the jacket right side out, I inserted a scrap of pre-gathered satin pink ruffle into the bottom edge.

Magic Baby Cuddle Jacket Prototype, front
The biggest challenge in this design, as is the case in many of my designs, is coming up with a unique closure that is also functional. For the jacket, I inserted a piece of medium gauge, round elastic into bias tape, gathered it and measured the length before inserting it in between the front and reverse jacket sections. Next, since I don't want to be buying tons of buttons, and because buttons can pop off, I created a "soft" button using ribbon blanket trim satin stitched over a cut-down cosmetic sponge, and stitched in place with an "X" of embroidery floss.

This design was fast, easy, and, in my mind, a complete success. I have the pattern worked out from NB to 4T, and plan to make jackets that also match my fall pinwale corduroy designs of my Magic Baby Dresses.

I am still working on prototypes for my "story clothes", completing a hand-quilted baby quilt in the evenings (almost done!), making new TagTalk cards, and finishing a girls dress for a friend who gave me two bags of fabric.
I am an artist, so why am I spending so much time designing baby clothes? There are several answers to this question: a) I need to earn a regular income, and baby clothes sell faster than artwork b) I am a grandmother, and like making things for babies c) It's fun and challenging. Granted, I have had to put my current book project on hold, and don't have as much time in the studio to make artwork. Coming in my next blog post, though, is a challenging artists project I am part of, Compositional Conversations. Check out the link to see what it is about. I will be adding my contributions next week.
My new granddaughter, Madison, wearing her MagicBaby Cuddle Jacket.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Into the Swing of Things

Home, one of my mixed media paintings

This past week, my life slowly began to return to normal. As I have written before, in my world, family comes first. Over the past month, family duties called, and frequently! My primary duty has been as nurse to my husband, as he recovered from foot surgery. Between carting ice bags, food, a guitar, laptop, tea and water up and down the stairs of our home, I had little time to think about work. When I wanted to work, I had to find alternatives to sewing, since my studio is right next to our bedroom, and I didn't want to wake my sleeping giant with the noise of the sewing machine motor.

Along with some new handwork, a baby quilt for my etsy shop, I re-read a few books, including one of my favorites, How the Irish Saved Civilization. I took the time to also read a new book from the Ohio University Press Ohio Quilt series, Philena's Friendship Quilt, the same series in which my first book appeared, Uncommon Threads: Ohio's Art Quilt Revolution. It was actually nice to have some time to read for pleasure.

A new book, which just came out, and which I have not yet read, was written by former Shelburne Museum curator Robert Shaw. Entitled American Quilts: The Democratic Art - 1780-2007, Shaw's book promises to be a great read. As a leading scholar in the field, Shaw's previous books, including The Art Quilt, numerous articles, and his concise introduction to Art Quilts: A Celebration, have vastly contributed to an understanding of the art quilt movement in the United States.

To get back into the swing of work, and with fall coming on here in the midwest, I moved my 'garage' workspace into the house this week. My upstairs studio, with just one very large work table, does not have enough room for me to spread out and work on some of my other design items. I needed a place to work on my TagTalk greeting cards, collages made from recycled clothing tags and product packaging.
By moving a few side chairs in my family room, I was able to create a space to organize my vast collection of tags. It's nothing fancy, but has already improved the speed of my composition process.

Some of my TagTalk cards
So, as you can see, I have been busy, as I get back into the the swing of things. As the days shorten, and winter approaches, I look forward to many happy hours of sewing bliss.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Finding Your Soul Through Your Hands and More Fall Fiber Exhibitions

This past week I heard a great interview on PBS by Jeffrey Brown of author Matthew Crawford. Crawford's new book, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work sounds like a great read. It is about the value of making things and doing things with our hands. I can't wait to read it. I also can't help but think it represents the current societal trend, as happened in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, of re-learning how to be a maker. Once again, people across the world are turning to making; this is evident in the popularity of knitting, quilting, scrapbooking, and in online places like etsy.

I have been teaching workshops, ostensibly on making, for decades now. What my workshops are really about, though, is reconnecting. If my workshops are successful, the participants come away understanding how to find and listen to their inner voices once again. Listening to that inner voice is crucial for artists, but is also a honed skill that anyone can benefit from. Why do you think gardening is so popular? When my website update is complete, I will be posting some tutorials from my workshops, some exercises you can try at home. You can then test this out for yourself. If you are feeling lost or disconnected, you can find your way home.

Speaking of workshops, years ago two sisters signed up for my class, Spirit Boxes, Sacred Vessels and Shrines. One of them, Gail Crum , really found her voice, and has been creating fabulous assemblages ever since, several of which I have in my own art collection. She, her artist husband Sean Crum and painter Richard Skerl will be exhibiting at the Pentagon Gallery in Cleveland Heights, Ohio beginning today. The show will be up through October 24th.

As I mentioned in my last post, the art exhibition season is gearing up. The postcard announcements and emails are pouring in from friends and colleagues, so I would like to highlight a few more exhibitions I have heard about. Some of the local (greater Cleveland) galleries do not have websites, so you'll have to find your way to those locales.

Rock Ghost 2 by Rebecca Cross, solo exhibit, Transformations: Shibori in Silk At the Fountain Gallery, Malone College in Canton, Ohio

Having completed her MFA a few years back, Cross' work has blossomed, as she shreds the line between work for the wall and work for the sky.

September 4 - 27, Beachwood (Ohio) Community Center, fiber artists Jean Evans, Carole Pollard, Sandy Shelenberger, Judith Kessler Smith and Sonja Tugend will be showing work in Fabrications x Five.

In St. Louis, Missouri, a happenin' fiber art city, you can see the work of my colleague Pat Owoc in several group show venues. Her solo exhibition, Not Altogether Whole, will open in the Charak Gallery at the Craft Alliance on September 11, and will be on view until October 25, 2009.

Detail, Rest Area 1 Mile, by Pat Owoc

Enjoy your Labor Day Weekend, a holiday which was designed to honor the work of our hands. Make something this weekend!