July 29, 2008

Recycled Postcards

I've been a member of Postmark'd Art for years. You can read about the project, see lots of fantastic fiber art postcards, and read articles at the website. (Check out my article on working with heliographic prints!) We are on Round 7 of exchanges, and it just keeps getting better and better. (You can read more about this group and Art2Mail in my interview with The Alliance for American Quilts.) This time around I committed to making my postcards out of recycled materials.

As I work in the studio, I keep a sample quilt next to my machine. It consists of two layers of muslin sandwiching some of my favorite batting. I use it to check thread tension when loading a new thread, to audition stitching motifs, to experiment with couching on threads and yarns, and so on and so forth. Once I have things to my satisfaction I move on to the actual quilt at hand. When the sample quilt gets filled up, I make a new one, but I am always reluctant to toss the old one because there is a lot of interesting, if random, stitching on it.

So this time around I recycled it. I layered it with tulle (recycled from alterations at a bridal shop) to hold down all the loose threads and did some more stitching. I cut it up into the 4" x 6" card format, and added raised motifs. The motifs were the trimmings from the "Canopy of Leaves" cards I had done several years ago, and had saved because I thought they might prove useful. Also because I just liked them.

Here's one of the new cards:
One of the nice things about the being a Postmark'd Art participant, along with the camaraderie and the thrill of cool art showing up in my mailbox, is that it provides an impetus to try out concepts in a small format. As I am currently deeply ensconced in working on not one but two Very Large Quilts, I enjoyed a quick side trip into something achievable in a short time frame. I also enjoyed the departure from my usual stylistic themes. I don't usually work with abstract images, and had fun with the brief flirtation.

Is it art? Quite possibly. It has lines and forms and colors and a focal point. Is it Art with a capital A? Could be--it expresses an concept, even if the concept is simply "let's see what I can make that is interesting/pleasing with materials at hand". At any rate, they are finished and mailed off to all sorts of exotic ports of call, and that's enough.

Here's one of the "Canopy of Leaves" cards that the motifs were trimmed from:

And here's a few more of the Recycled cards:

July 28, 2008

Quilt Odyssey at Hershey

I attended the Quilt Odyssey show in Hershey, PA, yesterday. Above is the obligatory photo of me wearing my exhibitor's badge and posing with The Organic Garden. This is a nice show-not large by quilt show standards, but well juried and with a nice spectrum of quilts. I'm always pleased to be accepted here, partly because they treat exhibitors well, with a free day pass and encouragement to stand by your work and talk to people about it. It's always very instructive to get the public's take on your work!

Another of the delights of this show is that Usha of Handloom Batiks has a booth there. She is such a lovely person, and has a wonderful assortment of fabrics. (No affiliation, just a happy customer.) I lived and traveled in India as student many moons ago, and still have a strong affinity for the colors and textures of Indian textiles. Take a look at the ones I just purchased:

The subtleties of the color combinations give me such a thrill--and look what happens when they are paired with a piece of dupioni silk I already had on hand:

These are for an upcoming project that is still in the cognitive stages. Stay tuned!

July 24, 2008

PNQE Acceptance

My Wood Poppy will be going to the Pennsylvania National Quilt Extravaganza in Harrisburg, PA in September. It's close enough that I can easily travel to attend the show, which is held in the Farm Show building. (A digression--if you ever get the chance to attend the Farm Show, jump on it! There's fun for all ages, and the food is unbelievably delicious.) It's a good show, lots of beautiful and interesting quilts to admire, diverse special exhibits, and plenty of vendors.
This is the first time out to a show for this quilt, and I'll be interested to see what kind of reactions (if any!) it elicits. It's not a complicated work, in terms of the number of pieces involved. But I like to think that it's elegant in its simplicity. There's nothing excess there, and everything that is there seems exactly right to me.

It features cyanotype prints on silk of the leaves and flowers of the wood poppy, Stylophorum diphyllum, a handsome native perennial that likes a moist shady spot.

The patchwork is silks, velveteen, and some high-end home dec fabric samples that I rescued for reuse. The border is a wonderful piece of vintage barkcloth fabric that I was given in exchange for offering up opinions on fabrics destined for an estate sale. (Thanks, Jan, for facilitating that adventure!) It was the absolutely perfect foil to the prints and patchwork.

Here's a detail shot, where you can see some of the beading:


July 23, 2008

Size Does Matter

There's two old fashioned favorites starting up in the garden right now. The tiger lilies are blooming, with glaucous plume poppies leaves in the background. The gladiolas are opening up as well; they make wonderful cut flowers, and only their lack of fragrance keeps them from utter perfection. Here they are with cannas and the asparagus behind them:
Both of these plants are pleasing and commonly grown because they are visually engaging--they are satisfyingly large. You know you've got something worthwhile when the display catches your eye from a distance. It's also important that when you get up close, there's lots of detail in the shapes and colors and markings to hold your interest.

In the studio, I have finished piecing Plume Poppy. It's enormous, somewhere in the neighborhood of 7ft. x 8ft. I am probably certifiably insane to tackle something so large. But once I started, there was no turning back. The scale and proportion had to be right for the subject and my interpretation of it, and in this instance that meant an imposing size. I will be kicking myself the entire time I am wrestling it under the machine for quilting, but cie la vie......the design turned out very well, and I am excited by it, so the the excitement will carry me through the slogging parts of construction. And the quilting will add another level of detail and texture to catch and hold your interest when you get up close.

July 22, 2008

High Summer

It's high summer here in Lancaster County, and the fecundity, as well as the humidity, is palpable. A trip to my favorite farmer's market, Root's, garnered some amazing locally grown produce, such as blueberries for cereal and freezing:

Stripy Italian eggplants, shown here in with vintage melmac and vintage embroidery:

Two varieties of sugar plums--these are bite-sized plums that are amazingly sweet without being cloying--better than candy, and eagerly anticipated each summer:

Early garnet peaches, fresh from the orchard and covered with fuzz:

And bi-color sweet corn for supper:

I've been fortunate to live in farming country most of my life, with access to locally grown food, so it's just been a way of life for us. I'm so glad to see the concept of eating locally is gaining in popularity--small produce farmers work incredibly hard, and deserve our support and our food dollars.

July 18, 2008

Fabulous Fiber Acceptance

I'm pleased to announce that The Cul-de-Sac has been accepted into Fabulous Fiber at the Monmouth Museum in Lincroft, NJ. The exhibit was juried by Joanie San Chirico and Geraldine Velasquez. I'm familiar with beautiful Monmouth County and hope to be able to travel to the opening reception on August 15th.

The Cul-de-Sac is one of my personal favorites because I still remember distinctly the excitement I felt when the concept sprang full-blown into my consciousness. A area of mature woodland at the end of my street had been cleared in a rather dramatic fashion, in order to be paved over as a cul-de-sac. The bare ground on the hillside was quickly colonized by opportunistic plants, and I stopped often while walking the dog to see what was happening and take pictures. I was fascinated by watching the plants sprout from seeds that had been long buried, or brought by the wind and birds, and seeing them compete for dominance.

The images in the quilt were taken from the second year of growth, as the tree seedlings were picking up steam but the undergrowth was still quite thick. There's a list of the plants depicted on my website. The inspiration for Sumac came from this same spot, and those are sumac branches on the sides in green.

This was a very labor-intensive work, with a lot of hand embroidery defining the plants in the center panel. Here's a few detail shots:

July 17, 2008

Echoes, Buzzes, and Blooms

I'm making good progress with the Plume Poppy quilt. I love, love, love to do echo quilting. For me it references the energy and vitality of the plant.

Out in the garden, the actual plume poppies are just on the verge of blooming. You can see some of the Asian pears in the background:

The fennel is blooming heavily. I enjoy snipping bits to cook with, but mostly I grow it because it is such a good bee attractant--if you squint, you can see a few in this picture:

And once the bees are drawn to the fennel, they make side trips over to the bean blossoms to fertilize them--this is a lovely purple flowered variety. The beans are purple as well, but turn green when cooked:

I grow obedient plants mostly just for the novelty--each blossom is on something akin to a ball bearing, so if you have a lot of time on your hands, you can swivel them about and they will stay where you put them--hence the "obedient". They attract a type of small bee with a green sheen to its abdomen, that crawls deep into the blossom:

The cannas are just starting to bloom. I'm keeping a watchful eye out for the hummingbirds they attract:

The hydrangeas are putting on a particularly good show this year. They have benefited from all the rain we've had to date, as the "hydra" in the name would suggest:

Last but not least, the nasturtiums are starting up. These make wonderful additions to salads, both the leaves and the blossoms, with their slightly peppery taste:

July 15, 2008

Multi-tasking and Industriousness

I have been hard at work in the studio lately, working simultaneously on three large projects. I'm continuing to add beads to the Big Root Geranium. You can see the cloud forms above.

I'm also got the hibiscus quilt, now titled Fireball (after the variety), sandwiched and basted, and am beginning on the quilting. This is a Very Large Quilt, and requires a lot of upper body strength to maneuver it under the harp of my domestic Pfaff for stitching. I have stepped up my workouts at the gym to keep my back and shoulder muscles up to the task. This sounds like a joke, but it is all too true!

And finally, I am concurrently working on the design and construction stages of another Very Large Quilt featuring the Plume Poppy, a very large plant and one of my all time favorite perennials. I almost drove off the road the first time I spotted these in someone's front garden, and couldn't rest until I identified and acquired them.

I've used the leaves in a lot of fiber postcards and collages, they were one of the plants I used in Five Days Last Fall, below, and now I'm excited to spotlight this gorgeous plant in a quilt of its own. I've put labels for all three of these works-in-progress on the right so you can track them back if you so desire.
All of my hard work and focus, however, pales by comparison to the endeavors and dedication of a pair of Carolina wrens I am privileged to watch through the back door of the studio. They have built a nest in a potted plant just outside the door:
It seems like an unlikely spot to me, especially considering the presence of a neighborhood feline I have nicknamed Blackie the Attack Cat--she's a stone cold killer of small furry things-- and my comings and goings through the door, which are cause for alarm and diversionary tactics. But apparently wrens are apt to nest in planters, and so far it's a success. Here's the best shot I could get of the nest without undue disturbance:

I love wrens, not only for their perky demeanor and beautiful song, but because they consume huge quantities of insects. My garden is free of bean beetles for the first time in recent memory, and I'm sure the proximity of the wrens has a lot to do with it. I can see them darting to and from with little insect bits hanging from their beaks, and it does my heart good.

July 9, 2008

All About Asparagus

Growing asparagus is easy. I bring this up because lately I have read several articles geared towards beginning gardeners which discouraged growing asparagus in favor of, say, beans. This is wrong.

Granted, you need a bit of patience, as the first year you don't get a crop, and the second year you get just a taste. You need to let the roots develop and build up strength those first two years. After that, however, you have 6-8 weeks each spring where you can pick asparagus almost every day. There is nothing as wonderful as having all the fresh asparagus you want.

To begin, you need the standard resources for any worthwhile gardening project--a suitable plot of land, a strong back, and a weak mind. There is a certain amount of heavy labor involved to do it right. Personally, I enjoy digging holes and trenches, but I suppose you could hire a teenager if there's one handy.

The process is called "double-digging". You start by removing the top 12" -18" of soil in a trench and piling it to the side, amending it with compost if needed. You then loosen the next 18" with a digging fork, and incorporate in all the compost and organic material you can get your hands on. This will be the basis for a bed that could last over 20 years, so don't stint! The asparagus roots you obtained from the nursery are laid in the trench and covered lightly with soil. As the asparagus grows, you add the reserved soil bit by bit, backfilling until the plot is again level.

That's it. Once the roots are established, each spring they send up spears, as pictured above. You snap them off at ground level to harvest. When the spears start looking thinner, signalling that the reserves in the roots are dwindling, you stop harvesting. This usually coincides with the advent of warmer weather. At this point I topdress the bed with more compost/organic fertilizer and mulch heavily with straw. Aside from a deep watering if the weather is very dry, I'm done as far as care goes for the rest of the year.

Here are the spears a few days after I stopped picking in early June this year--you can see how each of the scales at the tip of the spear branches out:

Here's the bed about a week later. It grows very rapidly at this point:

And here's the asparagus bed last week. ( In the foreground are gladiolas and cannas.) The fronds will get fuller and taller as the summer progresses, topping out at about 6 ft. After frost in the fall they will slowly turn brown. In late winter I will cut them back and compost them, and the cycle will being again.

Few things in life are more rewarding than an asparagus patch.

July 6, 2008

Concert at Longwood Gardens

A few days ago I had the good fortune to attend a concert at Longwood Gardens, the former DuPont estate. We arrived with a bit of time to spare before the show, and while the conservatories were closed for the night, we were free to wander about the grounds. We headed toward the new tree houses-that's part of the Lookout Loft above.

The structures aren't actually attached to the trees, to prevent damaging them:

From there we headed down a woodsy trail, and spotted an amazing chicken of the woods fungus growing on a stump:
I seem to have a propensity towards finding this particular fungus frequently. This was an especially nice specimen, although the color was fading:
Those little spots are a small flying insect that feeds on the fungus--I haven't been able to identify them yet:

Here's the Chicken of the Woods quilt I made last year:

Finally it was concert time, and we made our way to the lovely outdoor amphitheatre where the stage was set up. I go to a lot of concerts, and this venue ranks near the top of my list for providing a pleasant and hassle-free environment. The band was incredible and amazing--Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi's Soul Stew Revival. If I wasn't such a responsible tax-paying citizen, I would sell my possessions, buy a van, and follow whatever bands they were playing in around the country. Go if you get the chance!

July 5, 2008

Big Root Geranium, part 6

Today I finished the quilting on the Big Root Geranium. This is again just a quick snapshot, but the light was better today and the colors are truer.
Here's a detail shot of the stitching:

And another detail, showing the cloud shapes:

Next up, the binding, and then I can start in on the beadwork. Stay tuned!