TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Happy Birthday to Rayela's Fiber Focus!

Rachel Biel, 2nd Birthday, Londrina, Brazil

Two years ago today, this blog, Rayela's Fiber Focus, went live and I entered the blogging world.  I thought it was appropriate to have my own birthday photo start this post as a reminder that this blog is still a baby, full of hopes and aspirations.  Yet, life in cyberspace speeds by much more quickly than it does in our human years.  At the age of five, we are just figuring out how the world ticks, whereas five years on the internet might mean something is long gone, outdated, transformed or upgraded.  What does that mean for us bloggers?  Where do I see myself going forward with this blog?  Let's take a look at the big picture and focus on the art world as a theme.

Why blog?
Blogs have made it possible for the average person to establish a presence on the internet without having to invest much money.  It does take a learning curve to figure out the tools, design potential, and how it can be integrated with other social media sites.  Traditional websites showcase an artist's portfolio, tools for the prospective customer or gallery to view the work and gauge how the work and the story might fit into a purchase or show.  Blogs differ greatly from traditional websites in that there is an inbuilt expectation that there will be interaction with the community at large through the comments and other networking apps that are available.  I believe that blogs have become so popular because they offer the sense of community one had in mom and pop stores that have disappeared in so many places as super giants like Walmart have driven them out of business.  Now, I see more and more artists giving up their websites and using platforms that are user friendly, have tweakable templates and a blog incorporated into the site.

I started blogging because I wanted to promote my Etsy store.  At the time, I was quite active on the Etsy forums and everyone said, "You just have to have a blog!"  I decided that I would use it to tell the stories behind the textiles that I sell.  Where they come from, who made them, what kinds of issues they face in their communities and so on.  I knew that it would be a huge time commitment, which in fact, it was.  Intent on building content, I spent a lot of time on posts for Fiber Focus.  I also wanted to offer it as a platform where others could talk about their work and the communities that they live in.  My special interests focus on economic development issues around the arts and on the environmental impact that our work has on the world.  Are we making garbage?  Can traditional skills survive in these communities that face so many devastating effects of encroaching "modernity"?  As I look back, I believe that Fiber Focus offers a plethora of meaty content for others who are also interested in these topics.  It is an intellectual exercise for me that allows me to research an issue and put it out there for others.

Types of blogs.
I have visited hundreds, if not thousands of blogs in these last two years.  Most art blogs seem to be divided into three camps:
  1. Product reviews:  Bloggers who write about other artists, work or  resources that they see out there in cyberspace.
  2. Artist's process:  These blogs document the process of a piece, from concept to the end product.  Many give tutorials on how to accomplish the same effect.
  3. Blither diary:  The voice of the lonely blogger who blabs on about all the minutiae of their daily lives.  When well done, these blogs can be wonderful.  But, unfortunately, most are really boring with the same stories about flowers, grandchildren and dogs. 
The three camps often merge or blend here and there, but over time, one of the focuses becomes apparent.  I enjoy blogs that are well written, easy on the eyes, and that have fresh content.  The easiest blogs to maintain are ones that have an image and a short statement about that image.

Many of us also hope that our blogs will generate some income to compensate for the time we invest in the blogs.  I have tried a bunch of things: a donation button ($20 total over two years!), Project Wonderful (does not generate enough to cover the ads I place there), affiliate programs (absolute dud!), google ads (I removed them when inappropriate content popped up and just don't have the energy to control the kinds of ads that would be good for the blog), and offering advertising space.  Conclusion:  Fiber Focus will be a resource for a niche group of people interested in the kind of content I am willing to generate.  If it doesn't make money, fine.

Social media integration.
These past two years has seen increased integration between social media sites.  Blogs can now be integrated on to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and many other places.  That means that once you set it up, each post gets posted in a bunch of places automatically.  Increasing its reach ability, the content has potential community impact in each of these places.  Comments may happen on or off the blog and actual traffic and readership is actually a lot larger than reflected on the blog's physical statistics. 

And, there are all kinds of apps that can be added on to the blog to direct traffic somewhere else and also bring new traffic back to the blog.  So, you can advertise your facebook fan page on your blog and have your blog networked on to your fan page.  All a bit of a headache to figure out, but once it's set up, it's easy peasy.  I also really like the blog roll app that Blogger has on its blogs.  If I land on a blog that I like, it's highly likely that I will also like the blogs they have listed on their blog roll.  It's worth a gander, IF there is time....  Time is always the question for me, both in writing and in exploring.

Blog Mania
Once you figure out how to effectively use blogs as a tool, you just may find that your blog is giving birth to new ones.  I now have several, each with a different focus:

This blog.  Focuses on the cultural and economic condition of fiber artists and textile producers around the world.

Artezano Links serves as a dumping ground for cool craft resources that I see as I travel around on the internet.

Biels in Brazil documents the time my family spent as missionaries in Brazil, largely inspired by photos I had made of my Dad's old slides.

TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List is actually a business that uses the blog features to provide a platform for fiber artists and textile businesses.

As my knowledge has increased, so has my ability to act as a technical assistance provider to my peers.  I have also set up a couple of blogs for others and taught them how to use their blogs for their purposes.  I foresee that this will become a side business for me.  With TAFA, I spend a lot of time helping the members gather their information together so that they can present the best image of themselves possible to the public.  I find that most artists barely scrape the surface of the tools that are accessible to them through their blogs and other social media platforms.

One can get obsessed with blogging and these other tools and I find that I really don't have the time it takes to develop any one of them effectively.  But, then, if they are each worked on a bit here and there, over time, they will become a valuable resource.  One of my favorite blogs, Knitting Letters: A to Z by Union Purl, only blogs occasionally, but each post is so interesting, well researched and illustrated, that it doesn't matter.  In my book, I would rather spend time on blogs that have some meaning and intention behind them than ones that have a daily blather.

Is it worth it?
These last two years have also seen some great cyber friends disappear from the internet due to burn out.  Time is a constant challenge for me.  I have so many ideas that I would like to develop in all of my blogs, but in the end, I do need to focus on those that will generate income.  My main source of income comes through what I can generate online through my Etsy store and these side jobs.  Every now and then I get work locally, but it's not much and the pay is very low.

Has Fiber Focus fulfilled its purpose in driving buyers to my Etsy store?   I haven't seen much evidence of it.  Has it succeeded in building a cyber community?  In a limited way, yes.  I started a ning group that was inspired directly from working on this blog and it shares the same name, The Fiber Focus Group.  It's a great group, but developed in a way that I didn't really expect.  I was hoping for more people like me who are interested in the social context of fiber art and textiles, but instead, got a great group of people who like to share their work with each other.

Finally, there is TAFA, and that has only been possible because of all these other efforts coming together: learning the skills, selling on Etsy, networking on Fiber Focus, promoting the blog.  Rayela Art has a nice placement on google searches and has a recognizable name.  I would say that yes, all of these things are worth it, indeed necessary, if one wants to build an online business.  So, I'm sticking with it, plodding ahead, as I can.

Future goals.
I am not happy with how little I have been posting on Fiber Focus.  I would like to aim at two good posts a week.  I need to figure out how to achieve that goal and make it more time efficient.  For example, this post has already taken two hours to write.  When I research a theme, it can take up to eight hours.  I can't justify the time, so I need to quit blathering and shorten my content.  Perhaps one way to do this would be to work on a post an hour a day until it is ready, or to divide it into shorter posts.  I'll have to play with it and see what happens.

I still would like to have contributors post regularly here.  Donna Hussain is currently the only regular contributor that I have, faithfully submitting a new post every month.  Her quilting tutorials and stories generate a great deal of traffic for the blog, which I deeply appreciate.  In turn, she has a platform that she does not need to maintain.  I found her at a quilt show, loved her work, but she had no visible presence online, so it was hard finding her.  Now she has a presence.  Three or four more like her would be great!

Blogger recently added a new feature where we can now add pages to our blogs.  I want to clean up Fiber Focus and use those pages to make the blog more useful as a resource.

That's all I have planned for now.  What do you think?  Where would you like to see Fiber Focus go?  What have been your favorite posts?  Is the site too cluttered?  It's this baby's birthday, so what is your birthday wish?


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Call for Artists: 2010 Lower Town Arts and Music Festival (Paducah, Kentucky)

Call for Artists!  May 21 - 23, 2010

Living in Paducah, Kentucky, normally means a pretty quiet life for me.  I don't go out much, focus on my web business and projects around the house, and time flies by.  Two yearly events are a lot of fun for me, though, and I make a point of getting out there and joining in the fun.  The first comes in April, our AQS Quilt Show.  The second comes in May: The LowerTown Art and Music Festival.  Artists from around the Paducah area set up their tents, display their wares, while visitors dance in the streets to the rhythm of visiting musicians.  Now is the time for artists to apply for their booth spaces, so I am including the info here.

Lower Town Arts & Music Festival 2010 
Show Dates: 5/21/10 - 5/23/10 
Application Deadline: 4/1/10 Midnight CST

You can enter online at
You will have to register, but it's free.


Images: 5 (a booth shot is required)

Jury Fee (Jury Fee): $25.00



The Lower Town Neighborhood Association of Paducah, Ky., announces a call to artists for the 2010 Lower Town Arts and Music Festival (LTAMF), May 21-23, 2010. This juried festival is open to all emerging and established artists residing within a 200-mile radius of Paducah, Ky.

The emphasis of this festival will be the cultural richness of our unique region. Drawing, painting, fiber, ceramics, wood, glass, sculpture, photography, jewelry and mixed media will be accepted. All entries must be received by April 1, 2010.
Works will be chosen on the basis of creative excellence and quality of execution. All submitted works must be original and completed within the last two years.

To apply, go to www.zapplication.org. Registration to Zapplication is free.
Download the prospectus (PDF format) or send a SASE to: Stefanie Graves, Festival Co-Coordinator, LTAMF, N. 8th St., Paducah, KY, 42001. For any questions about the event, contact Stefanie Graves, at 270-908-0755 or Michael Terra at 270-908-0090. Applications are available online at https://www.zapplication.org.

Stefanie Graves, Festival Co-Ordinator, 
often paints downtown during the summer.

Festival Dates: May 21 - 23, 2010
Festival Sponsor: Lower Town Neighborhood Association
Venue: Outdoors
Awards: $3,200 in nine categories
Jurors: TBD
Eligibility: Open to all artists within a 200-mile radius of Paducah, KY.
Painting, drawing, fiber, ceramics, wood, sculpture, photography, jewelry, and mixed media accepted. Work will be chosen on the basis of creative excellence and quality of execution. All work must be original and completed within the last two years.
Fees: $25 jury fee, $150 booth fee if accepted (all booths are 10' X 10'
outdoor spaces with electricity)
Email: lowertownartsandmusicfestival@gmail.com

About the Festival: Buy Local? By Locals! This show will be an enthusiastic supporter of the 'Buy Local' campaigns that are revitalizing America... The festival will focus on the amazing and creative folks that live in our region (approximately 200 mile radius of Paducah, KY) and draw people from much farther away who want to know what kinds of artistic talent comes out of our region!

Lower Town in Paducah, the site of the Festival, is one of the oldest established neighborhoods in the region - many of the homes have been converted into work/live artists' studios and galleries. We will be using this historical setting to do things like Balcony Theater and Comedy (really, neat, yes?). The neighborhood is compact (not a long wandering
street) and offers guests a comfortable and easy day where they can see everything we have to offer. This is a fantastic opportunity for you, as a participating artist, to place your work within this nationally neighborhood in the midst of recognized working artists' galleries and participate in the national attention this unique show will receive.

Special attention is being paid to every aspect of this festival: the food vendors will be bringing their best - many of the finest local restaurants will use this as a 'taste of Paducah' venue - even the beer and wine will be regional (and boy, did we win the lottery on this!). The Symphony will be coordinating the performance and presentation stages (3), and there will be many tie-ins to benefit local charities and non-profit organizations. What does this mean to you? It means that many different people have many different reasons to come and see you in Paducah during the festival!

Come join us this weekend - the weather should be warm and sultry, the neighbors are friendly, and we want everyone to see how talented you really are...

What you are getting:

- 10' X 10' booth with 300 watts of 110 volt electricity
- Booth sitting service
- Artist hospitality area
- Artist home-stay opportunities (limited!) with local families
- Booth Fee is $150.
- Festival hours are Friday 3pm to 8pm, Saturday 10 am to 8 pm, Sunday noon to 5pm
- Set-up and break down details will be mailed with acceptance package.

Submission requirements:

- Completed application
- Jury fee of $25, non-refundable
- 5 digital images in the Zapplication format (1920 pixels by 1920 pixels, JPEG, non-compressed): 4 images of your work, 1 of your fully stocked display.
- DEADLINE: April 1st, 2010
- All submitted images may be used for festival publicity without any additional compensation to the artist.

Jury Process:

All applications will be juried by independently contracted qualified jurors from outside of Paducah. All of the selections will be made on the basis of your digital images, so please take special care to show us your best!

- Letters of acceptance will be sent on April 16th, 2010.
- Information packets will also be sent at that time.

The artist must handle all sales and all proceeds go to the artists. Artists are required by law to pay taxes. Kentucky sales tax is 6.00%. Forms for sales tax through the Kentucky Department of Revenue will be available on site at the time of the event. 

Not an artist?  
Then come visit and join in the fun!

See photos and videos from past festivals here.


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Conversation With A Quilt Judge by Donna Hussain

Points don't match up.

A few weeks ago I had a “business” lunch with Jody Ohrt, a quilter and judge of many quilt shows in California, including the Pacific International Quilt Festival. I wanted to know how she became qualified to judge and the method she uses to evaluate quilts entered into a quilting competition.  I was prepared to challenge her with my dismissive attitude toward the fairness of judged quilt shows, but she disarmed me with her quilting knowledge, her informative responses, and her fair-minded approach to judging.

Jody began to quilt in 1995.  Six years later she took a course sponsored by the Northern California Quilt Council (NCQC) on judging quilts and wearable art. We were just beginning our conversation when Jody gave me an information sheet that she had written titled Preparing Your Quilt For Judging which outlines criteria for evaluating a quilt. Her worksheet is printed at the end of this article.  All quilters, even those who never enter judged quilt shows, will find the information useful.  I plan to use the worksheet to evaluate my own quilts when they are under construction to help me identify quilting skills that I need to improve. The pictures that accompany this article illustrate common problems in quilt making.

Not enough quilting.

In the mind of many quilters the word “Judge” means someone who is critical of their sewing skills and dismissive of their quilting passion, hard work, and beloved quilts. Jody is not that type of judge.  She considers herself a quilter’s advocate.  She believes that her role as a quilt show judge is to support quilt makers by noting and praising their strengths, and suggesting ways to enhance the quality of their handiwork. She takes care in choosing the wording of her written comments. Quilters, she says, need encouragement and specific advice, not negativity or generalizations like “Appliqué technique needs improvement.”  When I complained about comments regarding the back side of my quilts, (My exact words were, “After all, the back is the Back!”) Jody responded gently that the job of the judge is to evaluate the whole quilt, which includes the back, an integral part of a quilt.

Rounded corners.

Jody noted that many quilts she judges at quilt shows have rounded mitered corners instead of sharp ninety degree angles.  To correct this fault she recommends the following formula for cutting the strip of fabric used for the mitered binding. (The directions below are for quilters with knowledge and experience sewing mitered corners.)

  • X (desired strip width of the completed binding) times 6 plus 1/4 inch. The seam allowance when sewing this binding onto the quilt should also be the same width as X.   For example, to sew a mitered binding that is 3/8 inches wide when the quilt is completed, start with a strip of fabric: (3/8 inch times 6) plus ¼ inch = 2 ½ inches wide

  • When sewing this binding to the quilt the seam allowance should be 3/8 inch.
  • Before actually sewing the binding to the quilt, place a mark on the edge of the quilt 3/8 inch from each of the four corners.  This mark tells you when to stop sewing the binding to the quilt in order to make the miter fold.  To ensure a precise miter, remove the quilt from the sewing machine while you make the fold.  Then place the quilt back in the machine to sew a 3/8 inch seam to the next corner mark.  Repeat for all corners.
Jody assures me that these directions for cutting, folding, and sewing the binding strip will produce crisp right-angle mitered corners.

Another common problem in quilt making is that stretching sometimes occurs during the construction process, distorting the quilt.  Jody recommends that quilt makers wash and block their finished quilts to ensure that their quilts lie flat and that opposite sides have the same measurements.

Jody reminded me that there are no fixed standards for a blue ribbon. A blue ribbon merely signifies that a blue-ribbon quilt has been judged as the best quilt in its category. Keep in mind that some categories have few entries at a quilt show while other categories may have many. That explains why an outstanding quilt may fail to win a ribbon while its neighbor at a show, a quilt of lower quality, sports a ribbon.  Also, the visual impact of a quilt - its artistry, creativity, theme, and originality- is not all that is judged.  The sewing skill of the quilt maker, much less apparent without close scrutiny, is equal in weight in a judge’s mind.

Seams should meet.

My conversation with Jody gave me new respect for quilt show judges. They encourage quilters to strive for excellence and try to help quilters improve the quality of their workmanship.  I also learned that judging is hard work, given the number of quilts and limited time set aside for judging …usually three to five minutes per quilt.

A few days after my conversation with Jody I attended a local quilt show. After a quick overview of the quilts on display I decided to quietly assess some of the quilts as if I were a judge. I had just begun my subterfuge when I realized that my usual focus at quilt shows is presentation value.  Unless the sewing is atrocious, I seldom notice construction quality.  I now understand why my ribbon choices seldom match the choices of trained judges.

Preparing Your Quilt 
for Judging
Look at your quilt top design.  Is it balanced?
Does the arrangement of dark, light and medium values create the needed contrast?
How do your color choices work together?
Is the scale of the printed fabrics compatible with the block size?
Do all the parts of the quilt look like they belong together? Is the design unified?
Is the visual impact pleasing?

General Appearance
Is the quilt clean?
Does it have pet hairs on it?
Does it have an odor of smoke, mustiness or mildew?

Technical Aspects

Are your blocks square?
Do they meet squarely at the corners?
Do your blocks lie flat?
Are your points (triangles, squares, flying geese, Etc.) sharp?
Have you cut off any points when piecing?
Are your sashings straight?
Do the rows meet up in a straight line?
Are your corners square?
Is the size of your sashing relative to the block size?
Are your seams well sewn? Are they free of gaps or open places?
Do dark fabric seams shadow through light fabric?
Are your borders straight?
Is your border size compatible with the center field?

Thread Color:
Is your thread color distracting?
Is the thread color compatible with the quilt top?

Are your points sharp?
Are your curves smooth?
Are your inside edges smooth?  No frayed areas?
Does you appliqué thread match your appliqué or is it distracting?
Are your appliqué stitches small? Do the stitcheds attach the appliqué piece securely?

Quilting Techniques

Is the quilting evenly distributed over the quilt surface?

Has the quilting caused any distortion?
Are there any puckers, tucks, or pleats that should not be there?
Has quilting caused the borders or sashing to be crooked?

Hand Quilting:
Are your stitches the same length on the front and back of the quilt?
Is your thread tension consistent?
Are your start and stop knots buried?
If you have traveled your thread does it show on the quilt top?

Machine Quilting:
Are your stitches the same length on the front and back of the quilt?
Is your thread tension consistent?  Does it need adjustment?
Are your starts and stops distracting?

Marking Lines/Basting Thread:
Have you removed all marking lines?
Have you clipped all thread ends on the front and back of the quilt?
Have you removed all basting threads, including appliqué basting?

Is the width of the binding the same on the front and back of the quilt?
Is the binding securely attached with small even stitches?
Does the batting fill the binding?
Is the binding smooth and not twisted?
If you rounded the edges of the quilt is the binding smooth and not twisted?
Are your mitered corners 90 degree angles?

California quilter, Donna Hussain, has exhibited in major quilt shows around the country, authored books, and is a regular contributor to Fiber Focus. Click on her name to see all of her past articles.

The photo shows Donna with her husband, Pascha.



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