February 29, 2008

Watt and Shand February update

Work is proceeding on the Watt and Shand building in the center square in Lancaster. (See my previous post.) The new construction is rapidly rising up behind the facade, and soon the wonderful views of the sky through the facade windows will be completely gone. There's still a lot of interesting perspectives to be photographed:

They've hung banners with drawings of how the finished project will look, with the new Marriott rising up behind the old facade. It is costing an enormous amount of money to preserve the Watt and Shand facade; from an aesthetic standpoint I think it is a very commendable endeavor.
Tomorrow it will be March, and not a moment too soon. It is not, unfortunately, coming in like a lamb, so this bit of vintage embroidery will have to serve as a preview of coming attractions:

February 28, 2008

A Barn Repurposed

I've been driving past this barn for many years. A few weeks ago a crew showed up and started disassembling it. It hasn't been a working farm for a long time, probably since the expressway went in just behind it, and the barn had fallen into disrepair. It will not go to waste, the wood is being carefully removed and hauled off, to be reused either in repairing similar barns, or pehaps planed down for floors or furniture.

I am fascinated by the state of flux, and the way it is open to the elements it kept at bay for so long.

I played in barns similar to this as a child, so it's easy for me to imagine it in its prime, when perhaps it held horses,
and a rooster woke the family each morning: I found those two bits of charming vintage embroidery, along with others, at the local flea market, and repurposed them into a quilt.

February 26, 2008

The Thaw

Nothing but rain, rain, rain all day long, but at least it wasn't frozen. A similar February day several years ago, on top of a heavy snowpack, produced a lot of standing water and flooding. The picture was taken in Long's Park, where the majestic old trees were up to their ankles in slush. I messed with it a bit in Paint Shop, and used it for this small quilt, "Spring Thaw in Long's Park". The border fabrics are silk, and the beads are a beautiful cut glass I took from a vintage flea market necklace. Here's a detail:
I liked this picture so much, I edited a softer version, and used it for the cover of an art book:

February 25, 2008


Like everyone else, I have a busy life. I can't wait to get out into the garden, but there's a lot that needs attention, and I know it will consume many happy hours. How to fit it all in and get it all done? It's just a question of balance. This small quilt features a print from an photo I took while hiking; that's a birch sapling in front of the rock formation, to give you a sense of scale. There's silk, linen, and cotton fabric, intensive stitching, and hand beading.

Here's a detail from "Balance":

February 24, 2008

Indian Head Road

Winter's grip is loosening. It's still too icy, and muddy, for a real hike, but today was ideal for a brisk walk down a back road. Like many backroads in Lancaster County, this one has a picturesque name, Indian Head Road. According to local lore, it was named for this rock outcropping, which supposedly had a resemblance to a profile of a Native American, or at least it did before part of it was removed for a driveway.

As is also common with many local roads, it meanders around residences, patches of woodland, and farmland. The snow is melting in this field of corn stubble:
And recent wind storms brought down this limb:
But the real excitement was finding a mullien. I am fascinated with mulliens; they are on my short list of plants I would love to use as the focus of a quilt. They are biennials, meaning their first year of growth they form a rosette of their large, furry leaves near the ground, as they build up a large root underground. The second year, they use the reserves in the root to send up an impressively tall stalk, topped with a cluster of yellow flowers. They produce prodigious amounts of seeds, then die. They have numerous uses in herbal medicine, and were also known as "Indian tobacco" because the leaves were smoked to relieve coughs and congestion. Here you can see the remains of last year's rosette, with the new growth poised to take off in the center. That fat clump of new leaves is a sure sign of spring.
When I returned home I found another sure sign, the first snowdrops blooming under the maple tree. They are a prime example of a lovely but modest flower that would go unnoticed were it to bloom in the profusion of summer, but causes great rejoicing in February.

February 23, 2008

Christmas fern

As I anxiously await the first crocuses and dwarf bulbous irises, which should be appearing once the current snow/ice cover melts off, I continue to appreciate those bits of vegetation that stay green all winter, like the christmas fern. I took the above picture just a few days ago, at the trail around the lake where they grow wild, and where it's easy to spot them in the preponderance of brown. I also grow a few in my perennial beds, and they are a perennial theme in my work.

This small quilt features a cyanotype on silk, handpainted fabrics, and hand beadwork. It is sewn to another piece of handpainted cotton, which is then mounted on stretcher boards:
Here's another small silken quilt, mounted on mat board:
This is from The Last Hurrah series that I just finished and talked about in previous posts. I decided to keep this one for myself:
I made this heliographic print on silk, shown here as it was printing, a few years ago and pinned it to my design wall, where it remains. It's so lovely just as it is that I haven't figured out any way to enhance it yet:

February 21, 2008

Collages for a Cause

I've finished The Last Hurrah series of collages I've been working on, and am pleased to announce that two of them are going to Virginia Spiegel's Collage Mania fundraiser for Fiberart for a Cause. I've supported FFAC in the past with postcard donations, and am proud to do my part again with the collages.

"The Last Hurrah #1" and "The Last Hurrah #2" are heliographic prints on cotton, with stitching, paint, and tulle. The prints were made with leaves from a white mulberry tree. They measure 8.5" h x 6.5" w, and are mounted on mat board, dated, signed, and ready to frame.
When I picked the leaves for the prints last fall, it was just days before a killing frost, the last hurrah of Indian Summer. But I was also thinking about larger issues; I hope we are on the cusp of a change in attitude and leadership that will lead to improved environmental awareness. I hope that action will be taken to forestall the worst effects of global warming, and that we are not now witnessing the last hurrah for countless fauna and flora that could be lost to us.

February 20, 2008

White on white

I keep stepping outside tonight to look at the moon and check the progress of the lunar eclipse. It's a beautiful night, clear and cold, with a fluffly coat of newly fallen snow sticking to the trees. It put me in mind of a quilt I did so long ago it almost qualifies as vintage. I started with plain 18" white muslin blocks and drew my designs, loosely based on traditional Pennsylvania German motifs. The designs were then embroidered with candlewicking, which was all the rage at the time. The candlewick knot is a variation of the french knot, worked with a soft, thick cotton thread. I had young children at the time, so I worked on it sporadically over several years.

The blocks were then joined and hand quilted. This was a very slow process as well, done whenever I could steal a little time for myself. Handquilting, once you get into the rhythm, is very calming and meditative. The blocks are all done in echo quilting, where lines radiate out from the motifs and then merge. I didn't mark the lines, just worked it out as I went. I think all that time spent working out the echo quilting lines at a slow pace prepared me for the machine echo quilting I frequently do now. I have a good sense of where I want the machine stitching lines to go, without having to stop and deliberate too much. So even though this has little superficial resemblance to the work I am now doing, it was not a wasted effort, and all part of my personal evolution.

February 18, 2008

Reflections and textures

Like most sentient beings in the northern hemisphere, I get a bit restless this time of year. Luckily today there were a few pleasant and sunny hours, so I set off for a ramble around the lake. There's always something interesting to observe there. I often photograph this partially submerged log, and today there was the added interest of thin patches of ice and some nice reflections.
The lake was crowded with migrating geese and ducks:

Along with the wide view, I focused in on some textural details, like this burl:
And this bark:
Back in the studio, I spent the rest of the day sewing strips of fabric into larger strips, so I can cut them apart and reassemble them again. They will be part of a quilt featuring plume poppies.
I enjoy this kind of work; the colors and the arrangement may look random to the casual observer at this point, but it's all part of a grand scheme that is occupying most of my waking, and some of my sleeping, moments at this point.

February 17, 2008

Chihuly at Phipps

I've been very busy in the studio today, having a wonderful time designing a new quilt. Pictures at this stage would not be particularly interesting, consisting mainly of piles and strips of fabric, so instead I would like to share some photos I took on a recent trip to Pittsburgh. Phipps Conservatory is hosting a spectacular Dale Chihuly exhibit (it's there until 2/24), and the synergy of art glass and interesting botanical specimens is superb.

February 16, 2008

Robin Red Breast

The days are growing longer, and I continue to be on the alert for signs of incipient spring. I live on a migration path, and am starting to see some Canadian geese and tundra swans winging their way northward. I am also seeing a lot of robins, but they are not the harbingers they are reputed to be. In relatively mild winters without a lot of snow cover, robins will congregate in flocks but stay put in their breeding grounds. They are especially attracted to water; it can be difficult to find in winter. Here are some clustered around one of my small ponds during a snow squall:
A bit hard to spot the distinctive red breast in that picture, but very apparent below. This specimen is rather crudely but enthusiatically embroidered on a vintage tablecloth:

February 15, 2008

Shelf Mushroom

One more installment, for now, in my focus on the fungus series. Once again I am imprecise, and am calling this simply a shelf mushroom. There are many types of shelf mushrooms, or polypores, including the flamboyant chicken of the woods in my earlier post, but I am not skilled enough in the ways of the polypore to distinguish this one, so I have deferred to the generic. Viewed this way, from the top, it is a mildly interesting amorphous blob growing on a tree trunk. Ahh, but if you crouch down and take its picture from underneath, with the sunlight shining through it, and framed by greenbrier, you get something much more wonderful:
The image in "Shelf Mushroom" was printed on silk, and is bordered by silks and Harris tweed wools, with lots of machine stitching and hand beading.

Here is a detail from "Shelf Mushroom":

February 14, 2008

Little Brown Mushrooms

Bird watchers have an informal catch phrase, Little Brown Birds, or LBBs, for any one of those small nondistinct birds that are tough to identify at a quick glance and without noting the subtle distinctions. There's a similar shorthand for fungus, and today I am featuring some unidentified but awesome little brown mushrooms found growing on a fallen tree. The hiking trail they grew along is part of what is known, also informally, as the river hills, so here is "River Hills Mushrooms":

It's a very restrained color palette but it seemed appropriate. The fabrics are nicely textured wools, silks, and heavy cottons; there's a couched thread and hand beadwork. Here's a detail:

February 12, 2008

QHC Acceptance

I received acceptance letters for the Quilter's Heritage Celebration today. This is my hometown show, and I've been attending it almost from the start, so it's been especially meaningful for me to have my work juried in the past several years. Pictured above is "November Pawpaw", which will be shown in the Pictorial category. I'm always pleased when this quilt gets some recognition, because it's not overtly showy; the design is relatively uncomplicated and the colors subdued. But I like to think I was successful in conveying the mood and beauty of a hike in the woods on a nice November day. The center panel is a cyanotype on silk made from the large and lovely autumn-tattered leaves of the pawpaw tree. The right panel was constructed with a piece of vintage crochet, probably originally a dresser scarf. Part of it was done in a ecru crochet thread, suggesting that the woman who made it was either very thrifty and made do with what she had when she ran out of white yarn, or that she was elderly and her eyesight was poor. The top panel is pieced from silks, some of them handpainted, and has handbeaded clouds. The bottom panel is richly textured wools and corduroys.

Here's a detail from "November Pawpaw":
My other quilt in the show will be "Skunk Cabbage and Possum", shown in the Wall category. Again, this is not a mainstream quilt, and I am happy for the opportunity to exhibit it. It features relics from an early spring hike, a skunk cabbage leaf and a possum skull, printed as cyanotypes on silk. The top panel was constructed from a vintage embroidered table runner that I painted, reconfigured, and beaded. I hope no one is put off the skull imagery--I meant this quilt as a celebration of the regeneration of life in the natural world: Here's a detail from "Skunk Cabbage and Possum":