Friday, July 30

Critter Softies

For the past week I've been working with a group of 10 kids aged 8-10 years old making "critter softies", aka stuffed animals of their own creation. We started off with handsewing simple 2 sided felt shapes. Above there's a gecko, a leopard, and 2 fish. Two more fish below. And here are a yellow hamster and 2 puppy dogs. We drew the animals first, then cut patterns out of the drawings. Some of the kids drew from imagination, others looked at an animal encyclopedia. We talked about finding the simple geometric shapes in the animal's picture, and drawing a bit "fatter" than usual so we could make them out of fabric.We progressed to larger 2-sided creatures, this time made out of white cotton duckcloth with fabric marker detail drawing to make them more colorful, patterned, and realistic, thinking about how the backs and fronts look different. When it came time to sew I had the students control the sewing machine pedal speed while I manipulated the curves with the needle. Above is a sidewinder snake with amazing abstract patterning. And below is the most elegant swan with felt feather details.
For the last 2 days we looked at how flat geometric shapes become 3-dimensional forms when seamed together, and explored cylinders, pyramids, spheres, and cubes for thinking about more complex sculptural forms. The last project requirement was to have movable limbs by sewing and stuffing the arms etc before assembling and stuffing the body.
Above is a tree kangaroo. It had a tail that curved up the back nearly as long as the body.Here we have a penguin from the 2nd front/back project, 2 felt-limbed monsters, and a giant shark with stuffed fins and felt flipper.
Here are one boy's creatures, at right his 2 sided snapping turtle and at left a prehistoric shark with stuffed felt tentacles, flat felt fins, and 3 piece body. This kid had amazing attention to detail- note the gills on the shark and the very carefully colored turtle shell.
Above is another version of the giant shark- 2 boys shared a pattern they had drawn together, but chose different fabrics.
Above is one girl's efforts: a 2 sided pigeon with pipe cleaner feet and red-bead eyes (check out the multi-colored stippling on the neck!!!!), and a very cushy "zebra" with bent-down neck as if grazing.And finally we have a very sweet leopard that looks more like a cat, but with a head-body connection I'm very pleased with. The body opening was gathered closed and then sewn to the back of the already-stuffed-and-closed head.
I'm really not sure how we got all of these finished in 5 days. About 30 stuffed animals were created this week, and there was a very free-style open studio feel to the classroom as the kids were independently working and solving problems and helping each other while I mostly sat at the sewing machine to zip seams up for them. It's really magical to see a child's drawing become 3-dimensional. I hope they enjoy playing with them, and they don't sit on a shelf like most sculpture projects.


I forgot to share the Cape May Travelogue piece in its finished version... a Cape May "Diamond" (wave-polished quartz) and an odd swiss-cheese-hole-like shell landed on the shoreline. My summer of freedom is over tonight. I'm off to the airport to greet my returning family!

Wednesday, July 28


On Monday night I had my Stitch and Surface students try stitch shibori and low immersion multi-color dyeing. I really love stitch resist. I love that you "embroider" the fabric for a function, and the resulting dyed surface is evidence of the stitched mark, evidence of the hand. Not to mention the absolute magic of being able to dye more than one color at the same time with low immersion dyeing.
Word got out that I had my dye supplies along with me, so I got recruited to tie-dye some Fleisher T-Shirts. Their beige-colored ones were not big sellers, so I jazzed them up with some rubber bands and whatnot in a dye vat. It was a good counterpoint to be able to show my students both vat dyeing and low immersion.
If you're interested- the tie dyed Fleisher shirts are available for purchase at the front desk, and proceeds help support programming.

Sunday, July 25

Paper Fiesta

So here's the roundup on my paper transformation camp week with 8-10 year olds last week. We had the theme "Fiesta" and we spent the week preparing everything needed for a fabulous fiesta on the last day. We made sculptural flower window boxes to create the "Garden" for our fiesta.
We made papier mache maracas (in progress above- they were way more colorful in the end) as well as a pinata. The kids drew pinata designs and we voted on the best one- they decided to have their pinata look like a giant piece of candy.We made paste paper and then folded them into origami boxes with lids. For decorations we cut papel picado banners and strung them on yarn for hanging. But the major endeavor that seemed to consume the kids' interest was when we made paper chain decorations! They were determined to make it long enough to reach all the way down the stairs. So there was much preliminary measuring until we were ready to lower it down the stairwell (that's an orange ruler in the boy's hand as he crawled along the length of the chain around the room). To their great delight the paper chain made it all the way from the 3rd floor landing to the basement floor!!!! It also conveniently stretched most of the perimeter of the children's garden to create a festive atmosphere.
With some latin music playing and plenty of snacks brought by the parents, it was a proper fiesta party! The rope holding the pinata snapped before the pinata broke so I ended up tearing it open to spill out the goodies. I hope the kids got a feeling for how versatile paper can be plus a taste for some of the arts and culture of Mexico (we read Mexican storybooks at snacktime to complement our art activities).
Tomorrow I start a week focused on softie-making!

Saturday, July 24


Wow. I was so busy this week I didn't even have a chance to post anything on poor neglected colored-thread....
  • a week of morning art camp with a great group of 8-10 year-olds
  • 2 afternoons teaching teachers at the PMA how to do embroidery
  • a night of teaching stitch and surface and one of practicing ceramics
  • work on a commission and a meeting about another commission!!
  • lots of visits with friends while I'm footloose and fancy free
  • and TODAY my PRAXIS II EXAMS!!!!!!!! I'm one step closer to being a certified art teacher.

The drawing above was a collaborative doodle with a friendwhile we listened to a band play at Milkboy cafe tonight. We hid the drawing in the window in front of another sign for passersby to see. I wonder how long it will sit there?

Next week I'll be teaching another week of Fleisher summer morning camp- up next SOFTIES!

Monday, July 19

The weekend before the week of frenzy

I had a lovely weekend. The Cathedral Summer Show opened on Saturday night with a great turnout. (And a lovely dinner out with friends afterwards). Then Sunday morning after services we had an intimate artists talk with myself and the two other artists, Elaine Crivelli and Stephen Robin for those who stayed late to be enlightened. It's always a pleasure to talk art with other artists. Stephen's work is shown above. The north wall of the Sanctuary has has been graced with these very delicate-looking paper sculptures that cast eloquent shadows. They're very different from his usual heavy public commissioned work seen on his website.

Sunday night was a farewell dinner for my dear friends who are moving off to California...... I'm going to miss them so much, they don't know.

Today starts another week of teaching children at Fleisher. We're having a paper art FIESTA, and this morning found me covered in gluey papier mache. fun stuff!

Friday, July 16

Silkscreening with tweens

It's been an exhilarating week in the silkscreen studio at Fleisher with a small group of 10-12 year olds. This is the first time the children's programs have used the screenprinting studio, so it was a bit of a test-run for the Fall when it will be offered as a regular Saturday kids class offering. I tried to build the week's activities in a logical manner, sort of in a reduction print way. We started off creating simple frame formats, blocking out the borders with screen filler and printing rainbow print backgrounds. It was amazing how printing just a simple rectangle background brings up ways to talk about problem-solving in screenprinting, registration, pressure/print technique, sufficient ink, transparency, editioning, etc. And since it was just a background, nobody felt precious about how the prints looked.On the second day we tried out monoprints on top of the rainbow prints using caran d'ache and transparent base. The kids loved the freedom of drawing and letting their design evolve as the first drawings faded into ghost prints and new designs could be added. We began with a collaborative version so they could learn how, then went at it on their own screens.Although I had them do a drawing exercise to spark some ideas first, I think only one kid actually used their original drawing as a plan. My 2 favorite ones are these more illustrative ones, one boy's puppy which eventually led to a larger design and another boy's Poseidon below about to wreak havoc on a ship! When the image started ghosting, the student wrote "We ARE DISAPPEARING!!!!" above the ship.

The third day was spent learning how to create stencils and blockouts and using a scoop coater, and the kids designed their screens to print on T-shirts. The 4th day was a mad T-shirt printing factory day! And today they added details with fabric pastels and markers (since we only had time for one color printing) as well as some tie dying of some of the T-shirts. The day wrapped up with a fashion show during a final artshare reception for all the classes and parents.I'm pleased with how well the students cooperated and collaborated. They ended up with both a collaborative and an individual set of monoprint/rainbow prints, a collaborative tie dyed and rainbow-printed "Friends" T-shirt, their own design on a t-shirt, and some even had a t-shirt design swap as they liked their classmates designs. They made effective group design decisions and they were helpful to each other in the printing process and cleanup.

Collaboration is something I've tried to encourage in other classes with this age group, but it was never as effective as it was this week... Is it the smaller group? Or is it that the process facilitates collaborative thinking? Maybe both.

Next week I'll be doing "Paper Transformations" with 8-10 year olds!! We're going to have a paper garden fiesta, mostly inspired by Mexican art and culture. I'm having fun.

Thursday, July 15

Boundless craftivity

Today has been an amazingly creative day! In the morning I helped my tweens screenprint their designs on their t-shirts- tomorrow we'll tie-dye them. I spent the afternoon in the clay studio at Fleisher rolling slabs and making tiles with impressions of crocheted doilies for a little household tiling project I have in mind. Tonight I made myself a wind chime:After class yesterday I stopped by Aids Thrift on 5th and Bainbridge out of curiosity- they have quite a silverware and utensil collection. I've seen lots of repurposed household object chimes and lamps, but have always been reluctant to buy one due to a niggling voice in the back of my brain saying "you know, you could just MAKE one!" So today I did! Silver Gravy Boat=$3.00, Chain necklace=$1.00, silver spoons =25 cents each, glass beads and wire= personal stash.
I drilled five holes in the spout of the gravy boat, and a hole in each of the spoon handles. I took apart the chain necklace to create 5 separate chain lengths and a hanging chain. Then I linked each spoon and chain length with a wire bead finding and some beads, using pliers to secure the wire. Finally I inserted a wire finding through a large bead and through the pre-drilled holes to connect to the chains, again using the pliers to secure the wire. VOILA!
Now I just have to decide whether to hang it from a tree limb or buy a bracket to hang from either a fence post or the doorway out back....

I'm ridiculously pleased with myself.

Beachiness and moments of calm

Somehow in my nonexistent spare time I actually got to do some artmaking the past few days. My afternoon in Cape May last week sparked a new travelogue composition. This is in progress:
I still have to print out my photos to really have a good source image for the commission I'm working on, but I've chosen some fabrics to layer up. It will have a beach panorama background, maybe with some shells and horseshoe crabs scuttling the water line, with a smaller inset of the house and garden, maybe as reverse applique.... What's really exciting to me is being brave enough to cut up the giant nude silkpainting I did last semester, transforming the hair and arm and blue background into shoreline was inspired. That and using a bit of white organza overlay for the horizon and sky!!It's been a real busy week with teaching silkscreen for teens and the new stitch and surface class at Fleisher, plus planning for future projects and classes. I'm looking forward to Saturday night when I can go to the Cathedral for the Summer Show opening reception. You're all invited! This Saturday night, July 17th, 5-7 at the Philadelphia Cathedral, 38th and Chestnut. I have some beachy pieces in the show along with photographs by Elaine Crivelli and paper sculptures by Stephen Robin.

Sunday, July 11

Weekend work and play

I went down to Cape May on Friday to visit some friends and take photos and sketch for a commission. Their place is just a block from the beach. **sigh**. There were lots of horseshoe crabs:
The rest of the weekend was spent in a screenprinting marathon down in my cool basement studio. The daily mapping background is complete:
Note the one major mess-up bottom left. GRR! Printed the river screen upside-down at first. That day will have to be very busy to make up for it. Uh-oh. Maybe it's a premonition of an upsidedown crazy day....
I've already kept track of the first 11 days of July, so it's ready to get stitchin!
Tomorrow starts my first week of morning summer camp at Fleisher- 5 days of Silkscreen with 11-13 year-olds! Then my adult Stitch and Surface class starts in the evening. I'm ready for it!

Friday, July 9

World views

One of my favorite pieces at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts last week was part of the Interplay exhibit of Pittsburgh area artists, although it totally could have been included in the Fiberart International show. The view below is what was seen upon entering the room, a central sculptural piece, actually a chopped-down tree that had grown around barbed wire fencing, entitled "Nature vs Nurture" by Hisham Youssef. Behind the stark, twisted trunk was a backdrop of the world entitled "Continental Drift" by Wendy Osher. The world map is instantly recognizable, but one also notices that things aren't quite right- the proportions of the countries are distinctly off. Closer inspection reveals the countries are made up of little appliqued clothing tags. The number of clothing tags naming each country determined the size of the country on the map.The USA shrank beside Mexico and Guatemala. "Third world" countries loom large and expose our consumeristic dependence on the labor and resources of other, poorer nations. Consumerism is a social justice issue beyond the concerns of environmental awareness! The pairing of these two pieces in the room had great visual and psychological impact on the viewer.

Of course I had to photograph the US and Turkey on the piece because I'm here and my heart's loves are over there for the next few weeks still. *sigh*

Thursday, July 8

Summer Sultriness

It's been almost too hot to think here in Philadelphia, let alone do any embroidery (note to self- save giant projects for winter when you want half the fabric to cover you up while you're stitching). So I've picked through some of the Fiberarts International images that exemplify this summer sultriness we're experiencing. "Field" by Barbara Wisnoski is a hazy, shimmery-horizoned landscape, like looking through the heat wrinkling the air. It's made up of thousands of tiny fabric scraps machine sewed together and raw edges fraying, which adds to the slightly-out-of-focus feel. We wondered at her process, are all those pieces planned out and arranged before stitching? Does she work intuitively at the machine?"(Near) Death by a Thousand (Self Inflicted) Cuts" by Meredith Grimsley is a masterwork of french knots in a martyr-like selfportrait. I don't want to conjecture the reason for the thousand self-inflicted cuts, so I'm just going to say that today I'm reminded of mosquito bites. Here's a video I found of more of Grimsley's work:

Finally Joetta Maue's "(Touch)...In With You" is the sultriest of all. Her hanging threads drip like sweat as we sleep naked in un-air-conditioned beds.

Tuesday, July 6

Sampling FiberArt International

My whole reason for wanting to go out to Pittsburgh last week was to see the FiberArt International exhibit at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. The entire exhibit can be seen online here, but there's nothing like seeing things in person. I'll be sharing some pics over the next few posts.

Since I spent today planning a workshop I'll be giving for the PMA in a few weeks, Samplers are on my mind (heh, like always). Therefore these pieces jumped out at me as I was browsing for the images to post:

"Embroidered Scribbles on a Page in My Notebook" by Ayelet Lindenstrauss Larsen combines mathematical notations and needlepoint and cross-stitch doodles in this alchemy of stitch and science. I looked up her name online and found an Ayelet Lindenstrauss who is a mathematics professor in Indiana- could it be her? Is she secretly doodling embroidery patterns during faculty meetings and grad student consultations? Either way, I love seeing evidence of the logical/mathematical side to stitching, all the repetition, plotting, measuring, symmetry, counting that goes into it.
I was excited to see Tilleke Schwarz's "Playground" in person. I've been a fan of hers for a long time but it was great to see one of her works up close and personal. Hers is a stream-of-consciousness spill of random thoughts and images and snippets of media quotes. You need string theory to find the order in her chaos.This last one was not in Fiberarts International, but it was upstairs in the PCA's exhibit "Interplay" of Pittsburgh area artists. Becky Siemmons' "How to Draw a Straight Line" follows along with this mathematical sampler idea and includes audience interaction. My stitchy fingers want to go along and tack down the intersections or couch down the lines. I love how simple she makes stitching seem. Anyone can do it! Own your creativity! That's it for the first sampling. I'll have more later. It's too hot to type anymore!