TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sidney's Ties, A Weaving of Memories

"Sidney's Ties", detail, by Rayela Art, 2009

It really helps to explore the boundaries of one's potential artistically when there is a patron in sight. In my case, Joyce Levy has been that benefactor. Formerly a board member of the now defunct Textile Arts Center of Chicago, Joyce's love of art and textiles has given her the pleasure of supporting an unknown like myself with fairly large projects. Projects that I would not have been able to explore without the financial backing. I started quilting in the early 90's and even with limited skills, she commissioned four quilts in memory of her brother Bruce. The quilts were made from Bruce's t-shirts and went to his wife, parents, best friend and Joyce. You can see those quilts and learn more about their story in my former post.

Rachel Biel Taibi (Rayela Art) with patron, Joyce Levy.

Joyce, a brilliant lawyer, comes from a family of talent and enthusiasm for life. Her mother, recently deceased due to a medical error, was a psychologist and an avid collector of folk art from around the world, including a large collection of Native American silver work. Bruce, a cancer victim, was a mathematician, a minimalist, but gifted with words. The patriarch of the family, Sidney Levy, is recognized around the world for his work in marketing and behavioral management. Sidney is now on my short list of patrons. He commissioned me to make something interesting out of the ties he had worn for the last 40 years. Thus, "Sidney's Ties" came into existence.

"Sidney's Ties", A Woven Quilt
Hand-stitched, 37" wide x 61" long

"Sidney's Ties", back

"Sidney's Ties", closer views, top and bottom

After Bobette passed away, Sidney went through a purging phase and moved to a smaller place. At 88 years of age, he no longer wears his ties. What to do with them? So many memories tied up into them... Ties worn to work, ties purchased at favorite stores, ties received as gifts, ties that went overseas... These pieces of silk represent a lifetime of woven history, thus weaving them together make an added statement of all the memories that tie us together.

Sidney Levy, patriarch of creatives.

I have not had the honor of meeting Sidney in person, although I have had the pleasure of speaking to him on the phone and via email. I was tickled to find a video of him on the web, an interview posted by "Life in Perpetual Beta":

Find more videos like this on Life in Perpetual Beta

The project started with a visit from Joyce to visit Sidney in Arizona. They spread the ties out on the bed, over the quilt I had made in Bruce's memory. "Surely something can be made of this!"

Ties laid out for "Sidney's Ties".

My initial mock-up was quite different from the final piece. Some people plan everything out before they dig in. I don't. I work from an intuitive level, changing things as I go. This can be difficult in a commission as the future owner of the piece has to be as free spirited as I am. When I asked Sidney what the budget was, he said, "Go until it is finished." A mandate like that can only come from someone who understands and has experienced the creative process.

"Sidney's Ties", mocked up.

I like texture and have been exploring how to make my textiles more dimensional. I had seen a demonstration of rushing at the quilt show and thought that would work for framing the photos. I had to gut the ties to make them pliable enough for gathering. This was also the first time I had worked with fabric transfers. I used the pre-treated fabric sheets that Caryl Bryer Fallert sells at her shop. I stuffed each photo and quilted around the body outlines. These ties were the special ones. Joyce had written little notes attached to them and I wanted to incorporate her words, but ended up not figuring out how to do that in a way that worked for me.

Joyce and Bruce as children, "Sidney's Ties"

Young Sidney, "Sidney's Ties"

Bobette at 23, "Sidney's Ties"

Sidney, who wore all these ties...

I used buttons, glass Czech beads and fresh water pearls to lighten and highlight the central figures. They glow when they are under a spotlight. You will notice that the piece is not straight. I don't like straight lines. Maybe I can't even do them, but I know that the ethnic textiles that I so love are often uneven, crooked, worn and all of that tells me a story. So, "Sidney's Ties" is also crooked. Life is beautiful, full of wonderful memories, but Sidney and his family have also had their share of grief, of the pain that can make any straight back crooked. So, this tribute to a life well-lived hopefully captures some of the dualism that propels each of us from youth into maturity, from life to death, and from need to abundance. I thank you, Sidney and Joyce, for the great pleasure this project has given me!

"Sidney's Ties", back detail.

See Sidney's bios at the University of Arizona and at NorthWestern University's Kellogg School of Management.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Six New Ralli Quilts on Etsy!

Ralli with an unusual black background.

If you have been following this blog for awhile, you will know that I really love ralli quilts! Partly, I suppose, it is because I, too, make quilts so I can appreciate all the time and effort that goes into them. But, I think that what I really like is the organic quality most of these quilts have in their design. Completely hand sewn, one piece might have had several different women working on it. That might translate into inconsistencies in the stitching and even choice of fabrics used. Normally, one woman will make the top, but the quilting will be done by several women who will in turn get help in finishing their tops.

While many ralli quilts may have simple designs as in the one above, the color choices can be very interesting. The colors in that one remind me of Amish quilts, although the border is a signature for ralli quilts. Patterns are handed down by experience, from mother to daughter. While simplicity worked beautifully in the quilt above, the one below is an example of complex patchwork construction. Hundreds (thousands?) of tiny triangles show that the flying geese patterns are also found in Asia.

Ralli quilt with intricate flying geese pattern.

Again, the border, traditional to ralli quilts, places these geese firmly in the minds of Sindhi women. Sindhi women seem to be drawn mostly towards bright fabric colors and bold contrasts. The black fabric in the first quilt of this post is an unusual departure from the more common color palettes. The two quilts below show more common block and color choices. Both have become soft and worn with use.

Finally, some villages specialize in cutwork applique. The quilt below is a simple example of this technique, probably made by a young girl or older woman. Appliqued designs can be exquisitely detailed and fill the whole surface of the broad cloth used as a background.

Ralli quilts are wonderful as wall textiles or draped over a bed. I have kept several for myself and am happy to share these with you!

Visit my Etsy store to see my current selection. I have written several posts in this blog about these quilts, so if you would like to learn more and see more photos, click here.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Do Fusible Products Harm Your Artwork?

Autumn's Edge, by Gina DeLorenzi

Research continues on discoloring and degradation of fusible sprays, webs and batting.

by Gina DeLorenzi

To help artists in make informed choices when they buy fusible products, Janet Evenson and Patricia Cox-Crews, U Nebraska - Lincoln, published recent research on fusible sprays, webs and battings. They wanted to know how these products discolor and degrade over time since they could find no published results concerning the long-term performance of adhesive-containing products available to quilt makers and home sewers..

Scientists at the university used infrared spectroscopy to determine the chemical classification of the adhesive sprays. Fusible batting adhesives were identified by proton nuclear magnetic resonance.

The goal was to identify discoloration, yellowing, strength loss, bleed through, stiffening and color changes other than yellow. Various methods to accelerate aging were used.

Major brands of fusible products were studied. Control samples were prepared for comparison. Since different products have different chemical properties, and product formulas change over time, comparing different brands of fusible sprays for example, can only be stated as “this product developed more stiffening than that”. In other words, there can be no exact comparisons between 2 brands performing the same function, merely in relation to each other. One brand may become stiffer, or cause more yellowing, or lose strength sooner. In several cases, percentages of degradation are given for these comparisons, making the information more relevant.

It is reassuring to read in the report that fusible batting products do not appear to deteriorate or cause deterioration in quilts. “The fusible batting adhesive formulations may contain cellulose ethers. Cellulose ether-based adhesives are quite stable to light and have been used for long-term conservation treatments.”

The results for fusible sprays and webs are more disturbing. Read the complete article, its methodology, findings and conclusions.

Evanson and Cox-Crews conclude:

“The fusible webs evaluated, while acceptable for quilts intended to last for 10 to 20 years, could not be recommended for quilts intended to be handed down from generation to generation or for studio art quilts intended for sale to serious collectors or museums. A museum curator or knowledgeable collector will not want to pay thousands of dollars for a quilt that only has a lifespan of 20 years."

Quiltmakers should carefully consider their long term expectations for each quilt they make and select adhesive-containing products accordingly.

We gratefully acknowledge the financial support provided for this research by the International Quilt Association and Quilter’s Newsletter Magazine.” (quoted excerpts from the referenced article)

Do you have a disappointing "fusing story" to share?
Please leave a comment with your experience.

Gina is a self taught quilt artist. She creates visual and emotional impressions in her fiber art by allowing a relationship between various fabrics to emerge. The stunning results of her dyeing and sewing techniques energize the direction each art work takes.

Gina is a regular contributor here on Fiber Focus. Click here to see her past posts. She is also the quilt moderator for our Fiber Focus Group.

modern interpretations of a traditional art form
your inspiration zone



Sunday, September 20, 2009

Walking in Some Kind of Style

I have bad feet due to a couple of injuries and genetics, so comfort is always my criteria in finding a shoe that I will wear. Yet, I admit to a certain shoe fetish, especially when looking at how ethnic cultures around the world use natural materials to weave, carve, sew or solder footwear. The Field Museum in Chicago has a wall of these shoes, a fascinating exhibit. So, when a friend sent me an email with these shoe photos, I just had to post them. There was no info on the provenance of the photos. If you know where they came from, please leave a comment at the bottom of the post.

Shoes that Hurt

I guess that these shoes just push the limits of design. Your feet affect your back which affects the rest of your body. Wearing high heels on a regular basis shortens your tendons which create all kinds of long term health problems. Why, oh why, subject poor feet to this torture? I know that I would not even be able to stand up straight in them, so I guess something must be said about the acrobatic feat in being mobile in these instruments of torture.

Shoes Inspired by Nature

Most of these actually look potentially comfortable. We often see floral designs on summery shoes and animal slippers have been a favorite kid gift for a long time now. But, these shoes go a step further taking these ideas from cute to realistic, sometimes in a grotesque way.

My Favorite!

Of all of these, the only one that I would even think of trying on is this grassy pair of flip-flops. It's like walking outside without worrying about dog poop...

So, what do you wear? My most comfortable shoe ever is a recent pair of Skechers.
Definitely not sexy or shocking in any way. I'll let other people expand the boundaries of shoe design. My feet may be bad, but they are the only two I have, so I try to pamper them with things that make them feel good.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Murder in Paducah. My Neighbor is Dead.

Don't Shoot, By Miles Tebbutt

There is a house across the street that is full of people. It's a problem house. Dogs run around without a leash, scaring the postal worker and kids walking by, fights break out between the tenants and other neighbors, and there is just a sense of chaos around that place. Last night it escalated into real violence, ending up with the death of one of them. My relationship with them has centered on frustration around their lack of dog control as they cross the street and provoke mine, who are fenced, into a frenzy.

At 4AM last night, a loud bang woke me up and my dogs went out of control with their barking. The noise sounded about the same as when the electrical terminals exploded during the Ice Storm we had in February, so I thought another one had shorted out. When I opened the door, I found that there was a firetruck, ambulance and around ten cop cars out front. There was a lot of action on the front porch on that house across the street. I watched for about an hour, knowing that I wouldn't be able to go back to sleep. There was a lot of screaming and crying. I saw the medics go to the back of the house and come back with a body on a stretcher. I finally went back to bed and had nightmares for the rest of the night.

In the morning, the cops were still there. One of the tenants crossed the street and told me what had happened. Some girlfriend of some guy who didn't live there was at the house, the boyfriend came and when one of the guys opened the door to him, he was shot in the chest with a shotgun. Dead. Gone. I kept having images in my head of him playing with his dog, joking around. He was very sweet in his own way.

I moved to Kentucky four years ago from Chicago. Big city to small town, USA. Lots of differences, but all of the same social problems, although there is less organized gang violence here. Still, there is plenty of good and bad in both places. I was in the heart of the inner city in Chicago and had seen my share of bad stuff. I was at a pastor's house once and we ducked as a bullet came in through the kitchen window. I saw a teenager walking around with an ouzi. My apartment was broken into twice and once I nabbed the burglar. He slipped out of my grasp and jumped out of the window and ran, duh, TOWARDS the police station a block away. They caught him with my camera and boombox in hand. When I first moved to Chicago in 1984, I made a decision that I would not live in fear. I would try not to be stupid, but I knew that I was not the probable target and that if I were sensible, I'd probably be OK. Same thing here.

But, when I first arrived in Paducah, I had a part-time job at Hancock's of Paducah, one of the largest suppliers of specialty quilt fabrics in the world. As I cut fabric, I enjoyed the stories told by the sweet women who worked there. Repeatedly, they warned me that if someone broke into my house, I was to make sure to kill, not injure. Apparently, a thief can sue you if they come on to your property and your dog bites them. Later, I kenneled my dogs when I went out of town with this tiny, little, blond woman who had a bunch of horses, labs, and birds. When I picked them up, I told them that I was going to take the dogs to a forest preserve, Land Between the Lakes, so they could go swimming. She said she never goes there without her gun, but I should be OK with four dogs to protect me. It's a very strange thing to move from a place where the criminals have guns to another one where the citizens also subscribe to being armed. Feels like what my friend Abdul describes in Afghanistan, where everyone has rifles hanging from their kitchen ceilings.

Like most things in my life, I have contradictory feelings about all of this. I have no interest in owning a gun, I know that I would never defend myself that way, and I believe that the argument for owning these weapons are flawed and unconvincing. We live in a violent society which has violence on a pedestal. I'm part of it, too. I love well-done war movies, I listen to murder mysteries all the time, and I understand the need people have to feel like they need protection. Without my dogs, I would feel terribly vulnerable here. Yet, anyone with a gun could come in and shoot us all down in a few seconds. It's all a very sad and hopeless state of affairs. Friends report on the escalation of violence in large cities in South America where homes are now protected with high walls and topped off with electrical fences. They say it feels like one is a prisoner in their own home. I really don't see how we can change all of this except to choose peace and conflict resolution in our own small circles and hope that it will become contagious. I know that the law of the land here will never support gun control as it is in other industrialized nations, so I just have to hope that when a bullet comes my way, I can duck fast enough... By the way, the cops here in Paducah are really great. I have seen them deal with several crises and they are always calm, cool, collected and they get their job done. They caught the suspect!

Shotgun Chair by Alex Reh of Texas

The following facts are from the
Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence:

FACT: In 2006, there were 30,896 gun deaths in the U.S: 12,791 homicides (41% of total deaths), 16,883 suicides (55% of total deaths), 642 unintentional shootings (2% of total deaths), 360 from legal intervention (1.2% of total deaths) and 220 from undetermined intent (.8% of total deaths).

(Numbers obtained from CDC National Center for Health Statistics mortality report online, 2009.)

"Standard Issue Smith & Wesson," by Stephanie Syjuco

FACT: Suicide is still the leading cause of firearm death in the U.S., representing 54.6% of total 2006 gun deaths nationwide. In 2006, the U.S. firearm suicide total was 16,883, a decrease from 2005 total of 17,002 gun suicides. Total gun suicides in Illinois for 2006 were 372, a decrease of 12% from the 2005 number 424. Over half of suicides in the U.S. are committed with firearms.

(Numbers obtained from CDC National Center for Health Statistics mortality report online, 2009; and the American Association of Suicidology.)

FACT: While handguns account for only one-third of all firearms owned in the United States, they account for more than two-thirds of all firearm-related deaths each year. A gun in the home is 4 times more likely to be involved in an unintentional shooting, 7 times more likely to be used to commit a criminal assault or homicide, and 11 times more likely to be used to attempt or commit suicide than to be used in self-defense.

(A Kellerman, et al. Journal of Trauma, August 1998; Kellerman AL, Lee RK, Mercy JA, et al. “The Epidemiological Basis for the Prevention of Firearm Injuries.” Annu.Rev Public Health. 1991; 12:17-40.)

pistol own skin 2004 by Joanneke Meester, Netherlands

FACT: 59% of students in grades six through twelve know where to get a gun if they want one, and two thirds of these students say they can acquire a firearm within 24 hours. (Harvard School of Public Health.)

FACT: As of 1994, 44 million Americans owned more than 192 million firearms, 65 million of which were handguns. Although there were enough guns to have provided every U.S. adult with one, only 25% of adults owned firearms. Seventy-four percent (74%) of gun owners possessed two or more firearms.

- National Institute of Justice, May 1997

Precita Park memorial bench. Made with 130 melted guns in honor of a young couple gunned down by an unstable relative. Guns into Art.

FACT: Every two years more Americans die from firearm injuries than the total number of American soldiers killed during the 8-year Vietnam War. In 2003, the total number of people killed by guns in the United States was 30,136.

- Based on data from CDC National Center for Health Statistics WISQARS online data collection system, 2006.

And, this one is from the American Bar Association:

"The overall firearm-related death rate among U.S. children younger than 15 years of age is nearly 12 times higher than among children in 25 other industrialized countries combined."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 1997;46:101-105.

"He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore."
-Isaiah 2:4



Friday, September 11, 2009

Fruits of My Hands: Scissors in the Garden

Fruits of my garden.

I have to admit that my eyes sometimes roll around in my head when I go to a blog to look at textiles or art and all I see are the artist's flowers.... Well, this summer I had a bit of a conversion experience as I tackled my yard. I planted flowers and foliage, cleared a plot of land for a vegetable garden and labored to fight invasive vines, grasses, and weeds. I pulled, yanked, tilled, watered, seeded, and did my best to coax a yard which had been neglected for decades into something productive. Every bug in the book came to feast and then weird spots and molds showed up on my precious babies...

My baby veggies, so eager to live!

When you nurture something from a seed, there is a great source of pride and fascination to see it grow into a plant, especially if it also feeds you. At least, this is true for me. I have always had a few potted plants, but had never really tried to be the backyard gardener. I figured farming was in my blood and it should come naturally. Ha! I planted everything too close and had no idea that a tomato plant could grow to be over six feet tall. My friend, Tom, is the director of Angelic Organic's Learning Center. I called him for help and he recommended that I read John Jeavon's book, How to Grow More Vegetables (and fruits, nuts, berries, grains and other crops).

What a great resource! Of course, I had done everything wrong, but there was still time to correct some of the mistakes. The soil was nitrogen poor so I added some organic fertilizer and started a compost pile.

Garden plot in June 2009

Some things grew very well, while others got eaten up by bugs or a pest. I had the best luck with tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, cucumbers, and pumpkins. Oh, and I got lots of wonderful basil!

Garden plot in August 2009

The sweet peas dried up with the heat of summer, the lettuce shoots up into large stalks, I did get some green beans, but then a worm got on to them, and forget the broccoli! My goodness, did that get infested! Jeavons and other authors in books I checked out from the library, all talked about what can feast on your precious plants. But, the worst of all are snails and slugs. Jeavons described how they go slug hunting at night, so I figured I should go out one night with a flashlight and take a look. The slugs were everywhere! It revolted me so much that I was almost sick! I had nightmares from them, big, fat, slithering monsters invading my veggies and chomping away. How disgusting! I tried the salting and that was too horrific to endure, plus it is not good for the soil. So, I bought pellets, similar to "Sluggo" which are approved by organic gardeners. The slugs eat them and dry up in a few days. But, one slug can lay 300 eggs, so it's a long process, especially if your neighbors are indifferent to what lives outside their doors.

My cucumbers, zucchini and green beans.

It has been fascinating to go outside and decide what I am going to eat that day based on my little harvest! I feel sad to see that Fall is upon us and that soon I won't have these delicacies. My respect for my peer artist friends who also garden has grown. I was just in Chicago visiting friends and a few of them had some gorgeous gardens, all of which renew the spirit and provide beauty to the eye. My friend, Roberta, is a ceramic artist and her garden is adorned by sculptural pieces.

Roberta de Oliveira's garden in Chicago.

Chris and Joyce won a neighborhood award for their garden. Their goal was to do away completely with grass and the result is a lovely mix of flowers and veggies.

Chris an Joyce's garden in Skokie.

The most surprising garden I was across the street from my husband's apartment. He lives in a densely populated urban area on Chicago's north side. A couple of Vietnamese women have taken up a bunch of the grass areas and planted vegetables. Apparently, they are out there every day, bent over their plants, and they share the produce with whoever wants it.

Vietnamese women gardening in Chicago.

Chicago has made a commitment to become the greenest city in the United States and has even established a successful green roof program, so I guess I should not be surprised to see any plot of available earth being used to grow food.

However, there has been a consequence in my ability to produce another fruit: I have only touched my scissors to cut off veggies and bad leaves, no fabric! This is the age-old pattern of the farmer/crafter. Food is the priority in the summer months and the time for waiting becomes dedicated to production of functional goods. For centuries, people have worked the soil and then used the winter months for projects which can be done inside the home.

One of my favorite photographers on Flickr, Baba Steve, has caught many of the vendors from around the world. These places also produce many of my favorite crafts!

In fact, the production of handicrafts and farming are recognized as partner industries by most development organizations. The Peace Corps has combined the two in their strategies for decades. They were the ones that brought Scandinavian sweater knitting patterns and techniques to the indigenous Quechua of Otavalo in the 1960's. This has grown into a multi-million dollar industry with traditionally dressed Otavalo Indians selling sweaters in markets all over the world. (See some consequences.) Oxfam International works with similar groups in Asia, Latin America and Africa. The United Nations reports on how poverty is especially dire in rural areas and how the internet has become the new tool to bring income into these distressed areas.

Does that sound familiar? Am I not doing the same thing? I live in a small town in Kentucky where job opportunities are limited. My income is mostly generated by my online stores. A friend of mine from Ghana told me how now business is all done on cell phones, both by farmers and handicraft traders. Having the ability to live where you grow your food and make your craft also has deep implications in how societies are able to structure their family units, preserve their traditions and maintain ownership over their land, a problem that USAID identifies for many struggling communities who live in rural or forested areas.

No, I will not roll my eyes anymore at other bloggers who garden and love their flowers. Whether our scissors are inside, cutting some fabric or thread, or outside, harvesting some fruits, we are all part of this wonderful tapestry that makes Earth a better place to live!

Making some earth...



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