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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
This is progress; a question or a statement; studio unfolds.
As 2020 draws to a close, a deep sigh follows my gaze as it scans the sun filled scandalously sloven space also known as my studio. Curtain fabric, slip cover pieces, two inch cotton squares and strips and felted projects cover the top layer of all surfaces. Boxes and baskets of felt pieces, carded wool, fabric, notions, yarn and tools aren’t settled in their new home although it’s more than five months since the move.
Is this where I want to be?
How do I balance my expectations of my creative space and the reality?
I am where I am. I am what I am. Or, as Amy Porterfield advises, “you are where you need to be.”
Patience and setting reasonable goals were skills I worked on during 2020. With that mantra and perspective, I look again at my space. Of course there is progress. In mid-July, when the movers left, you could hardly navigate the room for all of the boxes (it was a great hiding place for the cat). Not all of the boxes belonged in the studio, but many did. While it’s untidy now, there are definite workspaces defined.
Despite passing on things I no longer needed or wanted, the pile unfinished projects and explorations was significant. In 2019, completing knitting UFOs (unfinished objects) was a priority. In that spirit, I decided not to put away unfinished projects. In my sight means on my mind, right?
As a result, I’ve finished not only curtains for most of the house, but several long-standing pieces. This exercise in patience, practice and persistence brings me joy and encourages me to think about priorities.
As the list of projects in the works dwindles, my mind clears and I get a stronger idea of what I want to create next. Of course, tendonitis constrained my stitching, knitting and just about anything I enjoy this fall. I used the time to read, write and use my rotary cutter.
So here comes 2021. It won’t be perfect and there’s a lot of work ahead. I want to be brave, work hard and dare to do the ideas that come into my head and heart. Let’s see how my studio changes.
These hand made treasures; need some love and a new home; I can’t resist them.
My new home town held a socially distant yard sale not long ago. I went, hoping to find silverware to use on the sailboat (score!) and book cases (maybe next time!). There were some beautiful hand made items that I couldn’t resist and several hand made baskets that I did. Thankfully, I saw someone else pick them up shortly after I passed by.
What else did I find? Linens and embroidery galore!
I’m a firm believer in things both beautiful and useful, especially when made by hand. Crocheted tablecloths and embroidered cushions hit my heart strings and they now have found a new life in my new home.
Living in a more rural setting, the closest stores are charity consignment shops. And there’s a wonderful second hand furniture store in Fairhaven that’s fun to stroll (with my mask on, of course). Hopefully the cycle of letting go and discovery is one I’ll enjoy for a long time.
Do you have a soft spot for old textiles? Isabella Stewart Gardner did. I’d love to hear how you make them part of your life.
The bike riding, no nonsense, ever exploring Annie Modesitt passed away on October 1, 2020.
She leaves behind two adult children she adored and a legacy of knitting encouragement, discovery, books and ModeKnit Yarn. An early active user on Twitter, I got to know her when she was the guest teacher on a Tactile Travel tour of Lazio and Umbria that I organized in 2010.
She enjoyed bike riding in Rome (what bravery!), tasting pastas made with potato, corn and grains other than wheat, and shared a wide range of knitting tips and tricks with our small group.
Here she is with Kath, the intrepid knitter and traveler, making etchings near the entrance to Villa d’Este.
Kath brought charmeuse scarves and fabric pastels and etched herself some lovely memories. Annie was delighted to join in. Note her lovely knitted hat with brim.
Rainy days, sunshine, there was always something that made her laugh or indignant. Straightforward, she was unwilling to let anything hold her back, and her determination was admirable and a reckoning.
Annie was a good friend of the Common Cod Fiber Guild. She joined us at the very first FiberCampBoston – just out of her jammies via Skype. While that seems ever so commonplace now, in 2009, that was cutting edge.
Annie came and spoke to the Guild in 2011. She spent the night at our place, tired after flying from Minneapolis, giving the talk and the next day, she was headed to Rhode Island to teach over the weekend. Her first thought was for her kids, and she could hardly wait to check in.
This afternoon, her children arranged a “Modemorial” for her via Zoom. More than 130 people logged in to share their memories, their condolences and their grief.
May her enthusiasm for life live in her children and us all. Thank you, Annie, for all you gave us.