Invasion of the Invasives

Invasion of the Invasives

Remember how we decided to move just as a pandemic swept the world?  We’re still here, healthy, thankful and nesting in our new home base. I spend a lot more time outdoors, watching birds, moons, tides, plants and trees.

The autumn olive tree (Elaeagnus crispa) was one new discovery. Found in the north east and upper midwest, it is considered invasive. Most trees climb high, but the autumn olive prefers to crawl out, shading out plants below. With a super-sized, shimmery silver olive-shaped leave, legend has it that immigrants from western Asia brought along autumn olive seeds because the trees produce fruit in just a few years. The bright red berries attract all kinds of birds, who happily disperse the seeds wherever they perch.

Autumn Olive tree in Massachusetts summer 2021
As this nugget of information entered my brain, Doorway A Gallery called for artists who work/play with natural inks, pigments and dyes for their October pop-up gallery. What a great excuse to curb an invasive shrub’s growth and play with fiber! Let the experiments begin.

Paging through my books on dyeing fiber with plants and kitchen waste, there were general guidelines about the usual weight of goods, et al. Then, on the internet, I found someone’s experiment dyeing with autumn olive leaves. Ok, so the berries aren’t key here, but the leaves are the way to go. Nice! This way, I could make syrup for pancakes and cocktails. A delicious BBQ sauce highlighted there tangy, tasty berries. But back to the leaves…Why I didn’t turn to Botanical Colors is beyond me. Clearly, the dye pot called my name and I wanted to start playing.

Autumn olive leaves and green berries

I made two different autumn olive dye pots. The first pot started with leaves brought to a boil, then steeping for ten days. Good grief, what stinky mess. When it came time to dye the fiber, the garage could hardly keep in the stench. Although I mordanted with an alumimum potassium sulfate after the fact, the final fiber was a stinky, rich brown.

My next pot was created in a more traditional method of simmering for a longer period of time and the dye bath was not fermented. My fiber was a richer color of reddish brown, but certainly not the golden color I’d hope to find. I also tossed in some bright wool blue and red roving, just for kicks.

My final pot used a mordant made from rusty nails (so who knows how weak or strong it was), with the remaining dye bath.

Final results? A nice range of browns, and richer reds and blues which work, aren’t glamorous, but fit nicely for my palette.

Autumn olive dye bath on red, blue and white wool
With new colors in my wool stash, it’s time to start felting. My first play took one of the larger wool battings, the blues to create a background that I embroidered using strips of plastic bags.

These plastic bags weren’t just any old plastic. During our sailing cruise in August 2021, we went through 8 bags of ice. Why couldn’t I use these plastic bags again? The boundless forms of extruded petroleum products create the building blocks of our lives. https://www.yournec.org/microplastics-and-plankton/. We are what they eat.

Building blocks 1, 2021 felt and plastic by Alanna Nelson

Liza Bingham,  Rachel Leaney and I shared our play time results in a very fun pop up in Waltham. Artists from Waltham Mills peeped out of their studios, masked and ready to socialize. Friends and other Instagram followers stopped by, which was a lot of fun.

Months have passed since that November lunch time, and a friend dropped off a pile of green #2 plastic bags that she thought I might find useful. The bags had a bath, and I’m thinking about blending outdoors with my stitching and working more with plastic that might otherwise head to the incinerator or landfill. More on that later.

Every time we move house, what I create changes. When my kids were small and we lived outside Rome, I started dyeing cotton, because it was easier to hang outdoors with the kids and keep an eye on the dye baths.

Near Milan, the fabulous fibers and fabric stores creeped into my wall quilts.

Once we moved to New England, trips to Sheep and Wool Festivals pushed my creations to the wooly side.

Now the nearest fabric store is a 20 minute drive, although there are two wonderful thrift shops that could work. What do I have in my stash? What do I have in hand?

Clearly, it’s time for the next adventure.

Make Felt in Marion May 7

Soap, water and wool; express yourself and create; your own felt fabric.

May 7, 2022 1:00 – 3:00 pm

Silvershell Beach, Marion, MA

Join me outdoors near the shore as we play with soap, water and wool to create a piece of felt all your own.

Play with color, include your favorite symbols and learn several ways to create felt. Learn how your wool choice impact the final fabric.

Class price is $20 and includes all materials and supplies.

Register here. It’s a good activity for those 12+. We’ll sit and stand and might get a big wet. Bring an apron (oil cloth, if you have one) and get ready to roll up your sleeves.

Soap, water and wool is part of South Coast Spring Arts and is the first time I’ve taught since December 2019! Can’t wait to be outdoors and see what people create.

Join me!

Wool felt success at Alanna Nelson learn to felt class 2019

5 Squares for the Violet Protest

 Respect for the other   Citizenship   Compromise 

 Country over party and corporate influence 

 Courage   Candor   Compassion   Creativity
Core American Values promoted by the Violet Protest

Can we agree on these American values? Artist Ann Merton thought so, and sought to remind the 117th Congressional delegation of their obligations to their constituents. With that, the Violet Protest launched.

Calling out to those who create with textiles, red and blue 8″ squares were gathered in hopes of creating a violet wash of expression. Knitters, weavers, quilters, crocheters, embroiderers, surface design textile artists of all kinds stepped up. More than 2,000 people from all 50 states and many Canadian provinces made at least 5 squares.

I’m one of 229 people in Massachusetts who donated squares.

Did you notice only four squares? As I photographed before sending them off, a flared edge on a knit square caught my eye. I pulled back the bind off and chose a different technique then popped it in the mail! At least it got to Arizona by the deadline.

Creating the five squares was straightforward, in principle. My stash yielded fabric, felt, thread and yarn that fit within the Violet Protest’s framework. But how to best express the seven principles and the message of the protest?

Probably too much energy was spent on this topic. As the deadline neared, my goal switched to imbibing each stitch with the unity, determination and good will of the project. I thanked Congress for their work. I scolded Congress for the divisions that they represent. I gave a pep talk and promimsed to do my best to embody those values in my civic life. And I finished those squares within the framework, by the deadline.

Violet Protest squares on view to the public

Squares that reached Arizona by January were included in an exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum. It looked glorious, and yet not all of the 13,500 squares donated had arrived yet.

After the exhibit, Ann and the team packed up 24-25 squares and an explanation of the project for each of our 435 members of Congress.

Did the Representatives see them? Did they feel them? Will they feel the mandate demanded?

We don’t know yet. But each of us can hold those values to guide our own behaviors. There’s a lot to do, and each of us can contribute to civic life.

Thank you, Ann, for working so hard to create this project. She hopes to make a documentary about the Violet Protest, and if you’d like, you can donate to that effort.

Luke Haynes

Luke Haynes

“Because let me not be defined by my gender! Let me not have to create works that are a reflection of the single most obvious difference between me and the standard!!

Let me not be defined by my “otherness” but rather my “sameness”!!!”

Luke Haynes after his interview with Abby Glassenberg’s podcast While She Naps 

 I miss the quarterly SAQA MARI meetings (Studio Art Quilt Associates Massachusetts Rhode Island Chapter). Heading out on those Saturday mornings were special treats. The meeting format was pretty straightforward: chitchat, then a presentation on technique or arts management (how I loved the meetings where Vicki Jensen at ProChem shared her vast knowledge), more chitchat over packed lunch and then show and tell. If not carpooling with another art quilter, I’d detour to discover destinations near the meeting location. Many times, though, the in person meeting would drive me straight back to my studio for play and progress on my own work.

The SAQA MARI programming committee adapted with the times and now offers Zoom alternatives. On May 16, the guest speaker was Luke Haynes. His express ride through his approach, inspiration and exploration of quilt as object, as sculpture, made from used textiles and celebrating himself, his community and quilt history lingered long after I clicked “Leave Meeting.”

If you don’t know Luke’s work, think big. We’re talking at least seven feet square densely quilted three layers, made from used textiles and using traditional quilt blocks as the backdrop for a portrait. Inspired by famous compositions and iconic paintings, his portraits of friends and people in his neighborhood inject his quilts with contemporary sense of place and immortal remembrance. These art quilts hang on walls in galleries and also grace beds. Quilts often are anonymous works, signed on the back. Luke signs in all caps on the front, and even makes his name part of the composition. 

A quilter after my own heart, Luke photographs his beautiful work outdoors, draped in stunning natural settings, wrapped around people. These objects transform space as it  transforms as a work of art. His objects are beautiful and useful. Luke chooses to challenge the role and place for art. What do we value? What is desirable and worth commemorating?  How we carry those parameters forward?

Sometime in the mid 1990s, Michael James shook up the quilt world by saying something to the effect of quilting will not move forward as an art form until quilters create art. I would have read this in Quilter’s Newsletter magazine or perhaps the International Quilt Association. Making quilts near Rome in those days, when the internet was young, I found James’ statement thought provoking and I tried to get my head around his perspective. 

At one of the first quilt exhibits in Italy, I remember a surprised and perplexed visitor looking at my work and exclaiming, “This isn’t a quilt. It’s art.”

In her mind, art was a world apart. She came for quilts, that iconic American bed covering whose popularity bubbled up in those days. It was another expression of “made by hand” that Italians cherish. While textile hand work was overwhelmingly women’s work, an “artigiana/o” or artisan is anyone who creates or manufactures objects. Tailors, cheesemakers, boat manufacturers all are artisans.

After his 45 minute presentation, question and answer time wasn’t as spirited as I thought it may be. Was I the only one who was still taking it in? Did others in the mainly female over 60 audience find themselves pondering questions afterwards? The first question was more of a statement: she pondered the perspective difference and vision he had. Is she still thinking about it? I checked out the SAQA MARI Facebook group, and the conversation was sparse.

I love the way Luke wraps himself, his neighborhood and the way galleries are happy to accept his work as art. What would Michael James think?

Maybe that conversation will happen some day. In the meantime, I’ll head back to my studio and keep on making things. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you to the artists whose legacies sustain us today. Thank you to today’s artists whose creations and connections lead us toward tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mary Oliver’s poetry is one way I slow down to appreciate the beauty of existence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wishing you a fulfilling journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In honor of a client

In honor of a client

In our house, she was known as the “Closet Lady.”

Nearly a decade ago, she found me through the grapevine. I repaired and recreated textiles. Her silk Roman shades needed mending, suffering sun damage. She insisted that the repairs happen without uninstalling shades. I could adapt, no problem.

Thus began five years of journeys to her meticulously decorated home. I would sew, repair, reweave and piece together the silk textiles carefully chosen to coordinate with the furniture, paintings and other decorative elements. 

We set appointments on the phone, from her land line only. I introduced her to the pleasures of a smartphone. She promptly purchased one, but I never saw her use it. 

How did Closet Lady acquire her moniker? In her front entry, the coat closet had a door. When you opened it, there was a large gold French passamenterie gold tassel at the end of the light pull. It looked out of place with the wooden hangarars and neatly stacked cloth covered storage boxes on the shelf above. She purchased smocked gold dupioni silk to make a curtain that created a backdrop for the tassel. When she opened the closet door and pulled the tassel light cord, the closet glimmered.”It gives me great pleasure to take my guests’ coats and jackets and keep them in a gracious location,” she mused after I installed the curtain.

Like me, silk and wool were irresistible to her. Silk curtains, silk shades, silk duvet covers, wool paisley jacquard weave upholstery adorned windows, archairs, piano stools. She had worked with a designer to decorate the home when she first purchased it, but clearly she was in charge of the project. To find the exact colors, textures and patterns was a grueling process and she had no desire to do it again.

All repairs happened at her home. Packing up my tool bag, I curated a selection of threads in a range of weights and fibers that reflected the home’s palette. Pearl cottons, silk, wool and cotton embroidery threads, buttonhole thread plus machine and hand sewing threads were neatly lined up in a box. A daylight lamp and sewing machine often traveled with me. Normally, it was a four hour stint at her place.

Of course I should stay for lunch! Dainty dishes, cloth napkins and vintage flatware elevated the deli salad as we discussed Museum exhibits, current affairs and political escapades. A stickler for grammar, she would frequently bemoan errors she heard on NPR or in the New York Times. These lapses were not just noted, but reported to the perpetrator. My conversational contributions were subject to the same scrutiny. 

While eschewing my grammatical errors, she would bring her writing to me for analysis, ever searching for the perfect word and tone. I suggested synonyms and phrasing options for her correspondence. Mind you, this was included in my $35/hr textile tech charges. She encouraged me to charge my editorial hourly rate, but I never did.

Sections of the textiles most beloved to her had more reweaving than original fabric. Did she really want to sink more hours into extending their fragile lives? My schedule was tighter, working deadlines on projects that paid better and were located closer to home. I gave her the number of a great upholstery business that could recover a few of her chairs when she found the right replacement fabric.

We exchanged holiday cards. On occasion, we would send each other newspaper clippings. 

In the summer of 2019, she sent me a letter asking me to please come, as her textiles needed me. She would gladly pay my time in transit and hoped I could fit a trip in as soon as possible. I felt split: this gig didn’t pay much, but her gracious hospitality and appreciation for our time together put this offer in a different light.

I responded that could get there in the fall. If she wanted to drive or have them delivered to me, I would work on them gradually. That summer was so busy, it didn’t occur to me until I wrote her 2020 New Year’s card that she hadn’t responded.

In February 2021, my New Year’s card to her returned to me. “Unoccupied” was scrawled across the envelope.

Discreet as she was, traces of her personal life on the internet are nondescript and few. Deep in a pdf newsletter of Boston club, there was reference to her death. While the exact date wasn’t listed, late summer 2019 is probable.

Knowing that she had no children and her nephew was the closest family member she mentioned, I wonder what happened to her carefully curated home. What about that gold silk smocked curtain? Those gorgeous tassels that she enjoyed every day?

I am grateful to have known her.