The eight regional artists came together to form a critique group in the fall of 2016 to support each other in their individual journeys.Each member uses fiber in creating her work but each has also developed a unique voice ranging from the abstract to the representational.
While all group members use color and fiber in their work, the materials and techniques offer a wide range of opportunities to explore and play. Members dye, print, weave, felt, paint with thread, and stitch, discovering new opportunities for textiles to turn into landscapes, emotions and messages.
Once a month, the artists bring work to a meeting, seeking either feedback from the rest of the group for a finished piece or advice on a particular aspect of a work in progress.The meetings end with a lively discussion of news from the fiber art world and from individual members.
Group member Alanna Nelson says, “In our first group show since March 2020, we look forward to the exhibit in Melrose. We’ve had a lot of zoom sharing of our work, and it’s great to share these colors and textures in person.”
The Beebe Estate, 245 West Foster Street in Melrose, is open Saturdays from 11 am to 3 pm. “Playing with Color” will be on view from October 7 to 29, 2022.Visitors are welcome to wear masks and practice social distance protocols.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Maybe you would pitch it; past its useful life and yet; A season well spent.
The pieces to my first piece of fiber art for 2021 were hanging around the studio for months. The old sailing glove should have been retired at the end of 2019. I washed it and put it back in my sailing bag. This year, it went from the bag to my studio. There were good memories in that glove.
The resist and shibori dyed wool felt seemed like a good match. I put them together in a pile, waiting for their time to come.
The Marion Art Center‘s call for member art for their winter exhibit pushed me to get the idea and make it reality.
Can I be honest? It pushed my thumb pretty hard… sewing leather through wool felt required some alternate thinking about stitching. But I finished it!