We Have So Much . . .

61swyhlwr6l-_sx392_bo1204203200_

Oodles of creative energy and desire. A strong desire, the impulse to make, to create . . .

And no resources. No thread, no yarn, no fabric. Nothing to turn my hands to. I can’t imagine . . .

A lot of my recent pleasure in this complicated world comes from my poor power to make something. When I get too overwhelmed by the news, I can turn away, pick up a rainbow of pretty threads, and play. And heal.

I’m reading a book that helps me realize how very, very lucky I am to have that outlet.

The book is Homefront and Battlefield: Quilts and Context in the Civil War, Madelyn Shaw and Lynne Zacek Bassett. It was published as a companion to a 2012 show that was organized by the now-defunct American Textile History Museum. The show traveled to other museums, including Shelburne Museum of Vermont, where Don and I saw the collection a couple years ago.

The show was spectacular, using “quilts, textiles, clothing, and other artifacts to connect deeply moving and insightful personal stories about the war, its causes, and its aftermath with the broader national context and public history.”

I didn’t write a blog post about this experience, mostly because photography wasn’t allowed and the impact of the show was visual—items included the hemp rope said to have been used to hang abolitionist John Brown, quilts made for soldiers to carry with them to battle, and all manner of personal textile items—knapsacks, clothing, and “housewives”—small sewing kits made for soldiers to carry with them in order to do their own sewing repairs.

Seeing these items moved me greatly and brought the reality of the Civil War to life for me, and I bought the well-written and beautifully illustrated book so I could learn more and have the photographs of the wonderful artifacts. I would recommend it to anyone interested in textiles, domestic social history, and human resilience.

I’ve been re-reading the book lately, in another time of American upheaval and uncertainty. Sometimes, as I read, I almost envy the women left home during the Civil War—they were full of a sense of purpose and knew exactly what they could do to make a difference during difficult times. They sewed, they knit, they wove, they quilted, and they sent the product of their labor to the soldiers whose lives were made substantially more bearable as a result.

homefront-and-battlefield

from the website of the American Textile History Museum, athm.org 

In these times that try one’s soul, as I turn my hand to weaving, sewing, quilting, I have no such sense of broader purpose. I am doing what I do for myself and my own state of mind. Making is a balm.

Yet, reading Homefront and Battlefield also encourages me to think about how lucky I am, and not just in the obvious ways—we are not engaged in a war with ourselves, I am not sending sons to battle to fight and kill their brothers. I am not burying the silver in the yard to hide it from the enemy.

I am lucky, too, in that in my need to make and to turn my hand to a job of work, I have unlimited power to do so and unlimited resources to draw from.

One of the points made in the book, and something that had never occurred to me is that, often during years of the Civil War, women had nothing–nothing— to work with.

As a result of any number of realities of war, there were no raw materials to be had. No cotton because it was all diverted to the war effort. No wool because sheep were killed to feed troops, rather than kept for their wool. A Georgia woman described the plight in her diary, saying, “There is no cloth to be had and no thread, no yarn—nor anything to do with. Time passes heavily under such circumstances” (164).

Indeed, it would.

No cloth? No thread? No yarn?? Just worry, and a frustrated desire to turn hands to fruitful labor, to make something that could help.

I have worry. But I have yarn and thread and fabric. I can sublimate my worry, my agitation, into something positive.

I read examples all the time of women channeling grief or anger or worry into their craft, turning to the soothing rhythm of knitting needles clicking or the needle and thread purring through cloth . . .

Can you imagine not having that outlet?

Something for Everyone: A Quilt Show Tonight

Now, I know what some of you are thinking, “Oh, jeez—a quilt show. She’s going to show us pictures of quilts. I don’t quilt. I don’t sew. I don’t care about quilts.”

But I say, with apologies to Stephen Sondheim and the cast of “A Funny Thing Happened at the Way to the Forum,” that no matter who you are, there’s something for everyone at a quilt show, or at least that was the case last weekend at the Vermont Quilt Festival. Come, and hum, along and see if you agree.

Something familiar:

IMG_3153

Something peculiar:

IMG_3117

Something for everyone,
A quilt show tonight!

Something appealing,
Hung from the ceiling

IMG_3125

Something for everyone:
A quilt show tonight!

Something with houses, something with towns;

Bring on the fabric, notions, and gowns!

IMG_3170

Vendors for shopping,
Something eye-popping,

IMG_3091

Something old-fashioned,

IMG_3082

Something with flash and

IMG_3088

Something for everyone:
A quilt show tonight!

Something most modern,

IMG_3070

Something POSTmodern,

IMG_3111

Something with color,
Bright or much duller,

IMG_3166

IMG_3123

Something most Op-ish,

IMG_3129

Something more Pop-ish,

IMG_3104

Something for everyone:
A quilt show tonight!

Impressive!

IMG_3054

Obsessive!

IMG_3055

Specific!

IMG_3097

Terrific!

IMG_3095

Something exotic,

IMG_3098

Something chaotic,

IMG_3144

Something Egyptian,

IMG_3062

One with inscriptions,

IMG_3067

Something so striking,

IMG_3124

Much to my liking!

Something so simple and so right!

IMG_3074

Real world tomorrow,
Quilt show tonight!


If those of you who love quilts have any questions, let me know!

It Makes Me Warm and Tingly

images

photograph by Joseph Turp

A lot of things make me feel warm and tingly.

You already know about many of them. Handmade makes me warm and tingly. Anything to do with words gets me pretty excited. I love history and tradition and human symbolic behavior.

Another thing that makes me feel all warm and tingly is Magna Carta.

Huh?

That’s right. An 800-year-old document gets me excited and when that document gets incorporated into a modern artwork, a huge piece, hand embroidered by hundreds of hands, working cooperatively? Well! Tingle, tingle!

Magna Carta is 800 years old this year and that has gotten lots of people thinking and talking about what it has meant, to England, to the United States, to democracy and justice.

Magna Carta may mean something different to each individual. I like what it meant to my American forebears, how it influenced the Revolution, and our Bill of Rights. I like that it seems to have led us toward equal justice under the law.

To me, it means that no one is above the law—too important to be bothered by the rules that bind the rest of us—or beneath the law—too unimportant to warrant protection from unfair bias and arbitrary persecution.

So, how about this embroidery?

My pal Gallivanta steered me toward a story that blew me away. You can read about it in detail elsewhere; think of this little post as a “heads up” to go look at the links I’ll include at throughout!

Magna Carta (An Embroidery), undertaken by British artist Cornelia Parker, has it all. The work was commissioned by the Ruskin School of Art at the University of Oxford, along with the British Library, after having been chosen from a group of proposals.

In a nutshell, the project is a facsimile of the Wikipedia entry on Magna Carta, replicated in the most minute detail in hand embroidery, and crafted by over 200 stitchers from all walks of British life. The finished piece measures 4.9 feet wide by 43 feet long (1.5 m × 13 m) and has been on display in the British Library (and will be until July 24—there’s time for you Brits to see it!)

This project moves me in so many ways!

Parker combines the gravitas of history and tradition with a 21st century flair. The meaning and value of Magna Carta has been constantly re-interpreted and re-negotiated over the years so it seems especially appropriate that Parker chose to make her text a screenshot, taken on June 15, 2014, of the Wikipedia entry for Magna Carta.

Because Wikipedia is crowd-sourced and constantly amended by people like you and me, the articles constantly re-negotiated in a largely democratic way, it reflects not official truth but a communal representation of what Magna Carta meant on its 799th anniversary. It seems fitting that an historical document so often adapted to the needs of different people and times is offered to us in a format that is constantly open to our adaptations as well.

Parker also made a conscious choice to take the digitized word and transform it by hand crafting. When the words and images of Wikipedia are translated into embroidery, they are elevated in ways that ask us to re-see and re-think words that may have lost depth of meaning. The stitchers certainly had plenty of time to consider the words they worked on, sometimes as few as one or two. As viewers, we ponder the stitches, as individual as the stitchers who made them, and see the words, as if for the first time.

And consistent with Magna Carta’s principles of justice, fairness, and equality under the law, the embroidery work was done by a large group of stitchers, a group as varied as the peoples Magna Carta has been held up to protect and represent.

Parker drew her stitchers from many sources and walks of life, from peer to prisoner, choosing people who represented groups, like convicts and barristers, that have been associated with Magna Carta.

Over 200 stitchers contributed and the majority of the text was done by prisoners from the social program Fine Cell Work (which deserves a blog post of its own!) The Wikipedia images were re-created by members of the Embroiderers’ Guild, from across the UK. Some of the stitching is expert and exquisite, some is rough and labored. The fabric holds stains, from tea and blood. It is not even and pristine and perfect, any more than is history itself.

Parker invited royalty to contribute but they declined. Other high-profile stitchers contributed, often by stitching words of their own choosing. Lord Igor Judge, who was Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, the head of the judiciary, from 2008 to 2013, and Lady Judith Judge stitched the words, “Habeas Corpus.” Edward Snowden chose to stitch “liberty,” and Julian Assange, chose one of the instances of “freedom.”

The project seems to me to take the iconic and make it real again, to take the digitized and modern and make it warm and human. The varied stitches in the piece remind us that real people held the needles and that real people both shaped these words originally and are affected by them every day. It reminds that a word such as “freedom” will look, and mean, differently depending on who is uttering or crafting the word.

I hope you’ll go look for yourself. I have no access to photos other than those I can poach from the internet and I don’t like to do that (too much!) You can see many images typing the words “magna carta an embroidery images” into your search engine.

But, really, the best place to see and hear the story is in the video shared by Gallivanta. I predict it’ll make you feel warm and tingly too!

6a013488b55a86970c01bb082e139c970d-500wi

photograph by British Library

Paper Dolls: Evolution of Women’s Fashion

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

photo from The Museum of Costume and Textile of Québec

You plan. You do research. You expend energy, to go to just the exhibit or gallery show you know you need to see.

But sometimes serendipity steps in and you just happen to be in an unexpected place, to see an unexpected display of something wonderful.

We were in Bonsecours Market in Montreal in September. We never go to Bonsecours Market, with its trendy, expensive shops—a bit much for our tastes.

But that day we did, and we saw this wonderful, understated exhibit that captured changing trends in women’s fashion, “DE LA BELLE ÉPOQUE AU PRÊT-À-PORTER.”

The exhibit was presented by The Museum of Costume and Textile of Québec, to illustrate the evolution of women’s fashion in the province of Quebec between 1880 and 1930. The five dress reproductions were made entirely of paper by costume maker Michael Slack.

Because the dresses were all made of simple paper, the focus was on style, not on fabric textures or colors or prints. The degree of evolution, from voluminous and fussy to body revealing and sleek, was highlighted . . . and dramatic.

Lessons learned–keep your eyes open and your camera at hand. Serendipity rules!

All Star Quilts at Shelburne Museum

It’s been a great year for viewing exceptional old quilts made by Amish and Mennonite quilters!

I’ve written elsewhere about antique quilt displays and about Shelburne Museum, but I haven’t put the two together and written about the antique quilt display currently hanging at Shelburne.

The Shelburne Museum, in Vermont, is known for its terrific focus on folk arts and for its collection of over 500 American quilts.

This summer one of the special shows has been All Star Quilts. These quilts are all from the 19th– and early 20th-centuries, mostly made by Amish and Mennonite women, made of solid color fabrics, and all made with patterns based on stars.

The quilts come from the collection of John Wilmerding. Wilmerding is best known as a preeminent art historian, collector of American fine art, and curator. But his grandmother was Electra Havemayer Webb, an avid collector of folk art and the founder of Shelburne Museum.

Wilmerding came honestly by his appreciation of folk art quilts!

As was the case with the antique quilt show at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, many of these quilts were displayed against black walls, which made the quilts appear to just glow with color!

 

Patty Yoder’s Beautiful Sheep, Again

IMG_8479Just about a year ago, when I started my blog, I wrote about an exhibit of hooked rugs I had seen at Shelburne Museum, in Vermont. These rugs, made by Patty Yoder, are so beautiful and so successfully bring an new artistic vision to an old craft form that I was excited to share them.

The problem was, I had just started my blog and almost no one was reading it yet! So the delightful, sweet, hand-hooked sheep were enjoyed by only about 4 people.

We went back to Shelburne last week, and visited the sheep again–they are still splendid. I took some new photos and am refreshing what I wrote, with hope that you’ll find them as compelling as I do.

The Shelburne Museum website says the following about the rugs: “The Alphabet of Sheep series combines two of [Yoder’s] favorite things: the sheep on her farm and the alphabet. Her rugs incorporate her family, friends, or sheep as the subject matter, a joyous celebration of one woman’s life.” And joyous is the perfect word to describe these rugs!

IMG_8477The exhibition features about 20 of the 44 hooked rugs Yoder made in the 13 years between her retirement and her death in 2005. That’s a very short time to develop skill and a personal vision but these rugs are amazing in both ways.

IMG_8476Have you ever tried rug hooking? I have. It was hard! All those strips of wool sitting around, flat and uninteresting, and the maker needs to be able to envision how those pieces fit together, how to vary color, how to bring them through the backing fabric in a consistent manner. Yikes. My failed attempts at rug hooking made me much more appreciative of what Yoder accomplished with her work!

I wish my pictures were better. I wish Shelburne had more photos on their website. I wish you could see these in person, to appreciate the texture and color with your own eyes. Patty Yoder found her creative outlet, building on a traditional, utilitarian craft and, like so many other makers, finding a way to express herself and her passion with her own hands.

The Patty Yoder show is up through October 31, 2014. I know most of you will never be able to see these in person but I hope the photos give you a sense of how loving hands can transform strips of fabric into a whimsical farmyard of sheer delight!

“This Has Nothing To Do With Staying Warm . . . “

IMG_7244A warm and inviting city.

A world-class museum.

An exhibit of quilts that should forever silence any question about whether the work of “loving hands at home” can and should be viewed as art.

I spent the last few days in Boston, Massachusetts, with my husband and two friends. I could regale you for hours with stories of the fun we had but what I really want to do is show you pictures of the current exhibit at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

IMG_1463The exhibit is titled “Quilts and Color: The Pilgrim/Roy Collection” and it will be at the museum through July 27, 2014. If you are able, do go to the show—it’s amazing and will give you lots to think about, regarding quilt making and the definitions of art and craft!

The 60 quilts in the exhibit are from the collection of Gerald Roy and the late Paul Pilgrim. Pilgrim and Roy, trained artists and interior designers, began collecting quilts for their aesthetic value in the 1960s and they amassed glorious examples.

Pilgrim and Roy recognized how women had been using colors and shapes in the making of quilt designs that were every bit as innovative and exciting as the paintings of recognized artists, such as Josef Albers, and other Op Artists and Abstract Expressionists.

The show is organized around different aspects of color theory. It’s all very interesting and informative but, really, I found it difficult to get into reading the explanations.

I just wanted to feast my eyes on the banquet of colors and shapes and patterns. I wanted to get close to every quilt and try to imagine making stitches that tiny. I wanted to think about the women, often Amish or Mennonite, who lived what we think of as such austere lives and yet created such opulent and rich beauties.

This quilt was probably my favorite of all and it was the catalyst that brought Pilgrim and Roy to re-think their notions about quilt making.

IMG_7246 IMG_7251Many of the quilts are displayed against a black wall, which makes them seem to glow and vibrate with inner light and energy. (Click on any photo in this post to really check out the details!)

The craftsmanship of these quilts is superb. Of course, they are all quilted by hand and the quilted designs combine with the colors and shapes of the fabric to create a whole that is far more than the sum of the parts.

But, really, why am I still yammering on? Just look!