Lockdown Diary: Textile Insects

My husband says that he’ll be really worried if one day I won’t have something to worry about. I’m a worrier, there’s no denying. I worry about things small and big. In the last few years more and more big worries have occupied my mind. Climate change. The insect apocalypse. The great current mass extinction. The accumulation of plastics and people’s indifference to the massive amount of garbage we’re creating. Fast fashion and its effect on the ecology and the lives of people in third-world countries. Our steady destruction of the planet we live in. Things like that.

Numerous pessimistic thoughts filled my mind regarding the future of humans and the earth. But a pandemic that will shut the world down and send all of humanity home? That one I didn’t see coming. Not in my wildest dreams.

But here we are.

Art Under Quarantine

The second week of Social Distancing (or is it the third? I lost track…) is coming to an end. Like everyone else, I had to change and adapt. The first few days were disorienting. I kept thinking this was a dream I will soon wake up from. It wasn’t. Since then I’ve been spending way too much time online, reading news obsessively and browsing social media. This isn’t great for my emotional well being, but I can’t seem to stop. Like many other people, I’ve had bouts of anxiety and sadness. It’s really easy, under such circumstances, to stop creating. But from Day One, I forced myself to make some art, a little every day.

Over the years, art has been many things to me. When I was a kid, it was a way to pass time and ward boredom off. In my teenage years, at an arts high school, it was a means of self expression and a way to be different and “cool.” Now, as an adult, I see it as an instrument to convey ideas. My art is an adventure: an exploration of existing materials, colors, and textures, and also a way to explore the world around me as well as my inner world. In the last few years it’s also been a small effort to help the planet by upcycling and reducing waste.

Last year, after my father passed away, art took on a new role. It became healing soul medicine, helping me deal with bottomless grief. Now, amidst the first quarantine of my life, it is becoming something new altogether. Corona Art is a way to insert the illusion of control back into my life. It helps me stick to a routine. It keeps the news away for a short time each day, and helps me keep sane in a seemingly crazy world.

Art to Honor Spring and Highlight the Plight of Insects

Before the Shelter in Place order, I started to do a bit of spring gardening in my backyard. I worked for several days, and was startled by the lack of insects where they should have been buzzing. In the many hours I spent in my garden, I saw a few spiders, a few rolly-pollies, and one scissor bug. That’s it.

When the quarantine started, the weather turned appropriately gloomy and wet. I felt a strong need to bring spring into my studio. I wanted to make happy things to take my mind off everything else. At the same time, I also wanted to increase awareness to the plight of insects. People often see insects as a neaucense, and think nothing of killing them. The recent collapse of the insect population has mostly gone unnoticed, and is easily forgotten amidst a crisis like the one we’re currently facing. But the Insect Apocalypse is as big a threat to humanity as the other bug we all fear. Insects are at the bottom of the food chain. Without them, we won’t have fruits, vegetables or any of the other foods we eat. Our very survival depends on the survival of insects, and therefore we really should care.

Textile Butterflies

I had trouble concentrating during those first few days of Sheltering in Place. My entire family was home. Housework was accumulating. There was more cooking, cleaning, dishes, mess. And there was always the news! I needed to work on small projects that I could start and finish in one morning. This was not the time for big art quilts. Surprisingly, the hand stitching that helped me tremendously after my father’s passing wasn’t appealing now, either. I simply didn’t have the patience it required. So I started my sewing quarantine with making textile butterflies. I haven’t sewn butterflies for a few years, since finishing my Dare! art quilt in 2017. They seemed like the perfect project now. A butterfly (or two) a day to keep the doctor away, or at least the shrink.

Textile Beetles

On the first official week of spring, I decided to highlight insects on my Facebook Page. I shared (mostly upcycled) insect art, as well as my own butterflies. That week I looked at a lot of pictures of insects, and was struck by how beautiful they were. Beetles, especially, captivated me. Beetles are very interesting visually. They have complex, symmetrical shapes with lots of compelling details. Beautiful colors, too. Enlarged, they look like sophisticated pieces of art.

After I finished making ten butterflies, I was ready to move on to something else. By then our family established a kind of quarantine-routine. The kids had Zoom classes in the mornings, and Zoom after-school activities in the afternoons. I was able to get a bit more studio time while they were busy, leaving the majority of the housework for the afternoons. It was time to move on to more involved projects.

This week I embarked on a series of four 8.5″ x 11″ beetle textile pictures. For these, I relied on pictures of actual beetles for the shape, but took full artistic liberty with the colors. These pictures are meant to be framed and hung on a wall.

Although this series is finished, I don’t think I’m quite done with beetles yet. I’m pretty sure they will come up in some of my future work.

This worldwide quarantine will undoubtedly have long-lasting effects on anyone living through it. Once it is over, I hope we humans learn some lessons. Taking care of each other is important and worthy, but we must also take care of the creatures that share this earth with us, and of the planet itself. If we don’t, worse trouble than the coronavirus will await us in the very near future.

Art is helping me plow through this unsettling time. Gardening, cooking and baking help, as well. Now, if I could only be as disciplined about exercising daily as I am about creating…

What are you doing to stay anchored?

Stay safe and healthy, everyone! Remember that spring is still happening outside, so make sure to go out every now and then and smell the flowers!

Lavender Morning Art Quilt

My quilts design themselves. In a way, all of my creations do. That’s because much of my inspiration comes from the fabrics themselves. Well, sort of. 

I make both functional and fine art, and the two often influence each other. This was certainly the case with my latest quilt, Lavender Morning.

A while back I showed you the stitch meditations I made during my jury-duty wait. One of them was a small olive and lavender piece. I really loved the way it looked.

Creative Challenge: Textile sketch in purple and green

When I went on immediately afterwards to make fourteen artsy pouches, I made one in a similar color combination. That was when I realized that I really needed to make a bigger art quilt using the same palette.

Last year, I made three quilts in a series I tentatively called “Color Explosion,” but later renamed “Colors of the Day.” I wanted to add one more piece to that series, and this color combination seemed just right.

I gathered the fabrics I had in those colors, and started playing. I lay them on my recently-excavated design carpet (did I mention cleaning up my sewing room at the end of last year?). Then I moved them around until I found a composition I was happy with:

I tried to listen to the fabrics. The ikat-like stripe on the bottom wanted a design companion, so I added a fissure on the left.

I then added one on the right, too, for balance. The light green fabric with the circles stood out to me, so I decided to make circles a central motif in this work. I played with filled and empty circles, trying to balance both the composition and the colors. Moving circles around took quite some time. 

I settled on this:

For the previous quilts in this series, I mixed machine quilting with hand stitching. Choosing embroidery floss for the hand stitching part is always one of the activities I enjoy most!

When I hand stitch, I like incorporating Sashiko stitching. I often enjoy combining different kinds of stitches in my work. I don’t try to be perfect. I’m not a machine, and believe that it’s the imperfections of the human hand that give a piece character.

Some parts of the quilt, though, require machine quilting. Mostly parts where I want the fabric itself to shine, as machine stitching doesn’t “steal” the show the way hand quilting does.

Sometimes, though, things don’t work out the way I want them to. After thinking long and hard about how to stitch the upper part of this quilt, I decided to go with wavy lines, to continue playing with the circular theme. I used a dark purple thread, but it just didn’t look right…

And so, I spent an entire afternoon undoing the machine quilting (I don’t recommend doing much of that if you can help it! Tedious work…):

I replaced the wavy lines with zigzag stitches, in a lighter-colored lavender thread. Now the quilting was much less dominant:

At that point, the flowery fabric above asked for design companions, too. So the stitching on the left-most panel involved uneven flowers in three different greens:

It just so happened, that I had similar flowers blooming in my garden right then!

I used felt as batting for this quilt, and the top and back fabrics were rather thick. I also did a lot of spring fruit-tree pruning right around then, and ended up with rather sore hands. But I think it was worth it. Finally, the quilt was complete!

 

Calendar Quilt Series: My Spring Mini Quilts

I love sewing bags and other functional items because seeing people use my work makes me happy. At the same time, however, I’m just as passionate about creating fine art. In the first couple of years after starting ANY Texture, I made quite a lot of the first. Sadly, I hardly got to work on the latter. My sewing time is usually quite limited. Making an art quilt requires many days or even weeks. Between trying to prepare for fairs and maintaining my Etsy store, I simply didn’t have enough time for both. I ended up completing only three art quilts in two or three years (“Give a Hand,” “Falling Leaves,” and “Dare!“). I desperately wanted to make more.

Last fall I resolved to creating one small quilt a month. I decided to make one 12″ x 12″ art quilt for each month of the year. I hoped that this would get me into a routine of creating fine textile art, and would get my creative juices flowing.

I’m several months into this self-imposed challenge, and so far I’ve been enjoying it tremendously. Working on these quilts forces me to think of what each month means to me. It allows me to play with colors, textures and shapes. It also turned out to be a great source of comfort at a personally difficult time: since my father’s unexpected passing in March, I haven’t been able to return to my sewing room on a regular basis. I did, however, force myself to work on the monthly quilts, and found much solace in that slow, meditative work.

Recently I completed the third and last of my spring mini quilts. I thought this would be a good time to tell you more about them.

My Spring Mini Quilts: Influenced by Nature

“Rebirth,” My March Quilt

I live in California. The state suffered from an eight-year-long drought that officially ended on March 5th of this year. After many years of hardly any rain and strict water restrictions, we finally had a really wet winter. I will never complain about rain again, but this last winter did feel long and dreary at times…

We don’t get snow where I live, but it does get cold and dark and–this year, finally!–wet. Many trees lose their leaves, and there are no flowers to be seen. Its nice to stay indoors and hibernate, but as the weeks stretch on one begins to wonder whether the winter will ever end.

I have a garden where I spend many hours when possible. When I look at my deciduous trees over winter, bare for months on end, a little part at the back of my mind wonders whether they will all wake up come spring. I worry that some might not. Over the years, two of our trees actually didn’t. One died a couple of years ago, and the other this very year. And so, for me, March is a time when I hold my breath, so to speak. I always experience a sense of great relief when I see the first buds forming on trees, and when the first flowers erupt. There is a kind of reassurance in the awakening of trees, in the end of a long dormancy. For me, therefore, March is all about the gradual awakening of nature, and the the sigh of relief that accompanies it. 

This is what my March quilt is all about. It is dominated by the various browns of still mostly-bare trees, punctured by the bright pinks of freshly-blooming flowers, and the gold of newly-emerging young leaves. I call this quilt “Rebirth.” 

“Lush,” My April Quilt

By April, shrubs and perennials start to stir, too. Plants grow fresh leaves, often in light greens and lime greens. The first flowers add pops of color to the world, attempting to erase the browns and grays of winter. Weeds, too are happiest that month.

After I returned home from mourning my father, I spent several days in the garden pulling out waist-high weeds. My father was an amazing gardener, who taught me everything I know about plants. Working outside, surrounded by fresh greenery, some of which he planted for me, was a kind of catharsis, a medicine for my aching heart. 

My April quilt is dominated by the fresh greens of early spring, sparkled with pops of new blooms. It also has some of the curves of fragrant peas, which dominated my garden this year. I call it “Lush.”

“Bloom,” My May Quilt

May is my favorite month of the year. It is the peak of spring, full of colors and smells. This is the month in which my garden puts on its best show; when all my flowers are at their best. This is when I see results for all the work I put into the garden in the fall, when my efforts to paint the world with flowers bear fruit. Everything in my garden feels vibrant and alive, humming with buzzing insects. In May I gladly trade my sewing machine for hoes and pruners, and spend as much time in the garden as I possibly can.

Oh, did you know that my favorite color is purple, and that so very many flowers just happen to be exactly that?? Essentially, May provided the best possible excuse to make a quilt in the colors I like most! I call this one “Bloom,” and I’m sure you see why.

So, what do you think? Did my spring mini quilts succeed in capturing the essence of the months they represent?

 

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ANY Texture’s Gray and Red Period

It’s that time of year again… Teachers are rejoicing, school kids are elated, and parents … well, parents are flooded with mixed emotions, I guess. Yep. The last day of school is upon us!

Next week my kids will be home full time. I’m looking forward to spending the long summer days with them. I’m old enough to realize how fast the years go by, and to appreciate every moment we still have together. But that also means I need to wrap up my sewing, which makes me a little sad. My many partially-conceptualized, half-started, unfinished, and almost-completed projects will all have to wait for fall. Sewing Season is over. Summers are for family.

So this week I’ve been busy finishing up one last thing: my throw pillow series. When they were all completed, I noticed a recurring pattern.

If you’ve seen my work, you know I love colors. Strong, vibrant colors in non-primary hues. I love purples, maroons, magentas, mustards and teals, to name some. But lately, it seems, I also started liking the combination of black, grays and terracotta-reds.

I think it started with my Dare! quilt:

Dare! My New Moths and Butterfly Quilt

Then I made a mini-messenger bag in that combination:

This was followed by a cross-body bag in those same colors:

A while later, I found a beautiful piece of textile in … you guessed it: black and red!

I sewed it into a Renaissance Tote, and really loved how it turned out!

Slowly, small scraps in blacks, grays and reds, leftovers from all of the above projects, started accumulating on my sewing room’s floor. Consequently, I started playing with them. I just couldn’t help it:

They ended up as cute, small artsy messenger bags:

When I made my unisex messenger bags, I realized I was still enjoying the same combination:

The pile of scraps kept growing. All the accumulated pieces gave birth to my latest new collection of gray-and-red patchwork throw pillows, the ones I finished this week:

I suppose you could call the first half of 2018 my “Gray and Red Period” 🙂

Wishing you all a wonderful, restful summer!

Off Track, Again… But Isn’t It Fun?!

The days are too short. Or maybe it’s that the weeks aren’t long enough. Either way, I seem to blink, and it’s Friday again… My to-do lists never get shorter. My project piles never shrink. And the many, many ideas in my head just keep accumulating, waiting for a right moment that never comes.

Can you tell I’ve been busy? Both in the sewing room and out. There are kids to drive around, school events to go to, groceries to buy and meals to cook. And then there’s a house, a garden, and always, ALWAYS laundry… Despite it all, I managed to sew quite a bit in the last couple of weeks, and that’s the part I want to tell you about today.

Cleaning up my sewing room a few weeks ago turned out to be somewhat problematic. It’s true that I greatly enjoy the extra space and added cleanliness. However, allowing myself to bend my New Year’s resolution got me off track. I am really happy with how my Peruvian Tapestry Totes turned out. Working on them, though, cracked the dam that held my creativity at bay. The result? A flood of new ideas, unchecked excitement, new experimentation and a bunch of new projects… I just can’t help it! So, sadly, I made only a tiny dent in my original UFO piles, but then added quite a few new projects to make them significantly taller…

When you sew, you see, there are scraps. And when scraps accumulate, they start giving you ideas… For me, there is nothing better than sitting on the carpet surrounded by fabrics. Beautiful fabrics, in different colors, shapes, and sizes. And when this happens, I start playing, matching, designing…

Don’t these pieces look great together? They will make a gorgeous new sling bag.

And these, I just HAD to sew into a flap (for another cute, spring-colored sling):

These are flaps for messenger-bags-to-be. They started their journey as a sample that caught my eye on FabMo’s wall. They looked so amazing together that I just couldn’t resist… And yes, I will sew the rest of them, eventually…

Then I made a cross body bag for a friend, and happened to notice a few other pieces that also wanted to become cross body bags. So I let them. I love them all, but especially this one:

I DID work on some linings for previously-sewn shells (i.e.–UFOs), but these require many steps and take a while to make:

In the midst of all this, I also took a couple of days’ detour to make a custom tote for a special lady:

Ah, and there’s the troll. But he deserves his very own post, another day 🙂

My New Peruvian Tapestry Totes

As you might recall, at the beginning of the year I resolved to finish all the many half-started projects that clogged my sewing room. I decided not to allow myself to sew anything new before I reached that goal. At first, I stayed on course, and slowly tackled one pile after the other. But then my family guilted me into cleaning the room up. In the process of doing that, I found some treasures that turned out to be irresistible. Without really wanting to, I got sidetracked…

In one corner of my sewing room, you see, I found a little plastic bag containing five pieces of hand-woven tapestries I bought in Peru. On the other side I stumbled upon a pile of beautiful, vividly-colored velveteens I got at FabMo. The two piles just happened to match perfectly. How could I not do something about that?

When in Peru, I was blown away by the beautiful hand-woven and naturally-dyed tapestries I saw everywhere. I bought a table-runner or two, but was having a hard time finding tapestries to use in my own work. Most of the pieces I saw were quite big, and I wasn’t sure whether I could cut them without completely damaging them. They were also very pricey. Using such costly textiles would have required hiking the prices of my own bags to more than what most people can afford. So I didn’t buy anything to sew with.

Until, that is, I visited the most amazing Christmas market I’ve ever been to. The Christmas market in Cusco had a mind-boggling array of booths, with some incredible handicrafts. Several of these booths sold small tapestries in the size I was looking for. Unfortunately, most were made of commercially-dyed acrylics. Although some were pretty, I decided to pass them over. Then I stumbled upon a booth with some naturally-dyed woolen tapestries that stopped me in my tracks.

The seller showed me a handful of small tapestries, the likes of which I haven’t seen anywhere else (you can see them in the above picture, on the very left, right above the shoes). Of those, I chose five that I found the most appealing (yes, in hindsight I DO regret not buying them all!). I purchased them without knowing what to do with them. When I came home, I put them in my sewing room for future use.

I re-discovered them while tidying up.

When I saw them, I immediately thought of the bright-colored fabrics I got at FabMo, piled on the other side of the room. Together, they were just begging to be turned into totes! So I started playing around.

Since the tapestries were gorgeous works of art all on their own, I wanted them to be the focus of the work. Because they were very colorful, I decided to match them with solid-colored fabrics that would frame and highlight them.

I’ve never worked with wool before (since I’m actually allergic to it!), and have never sewn through tapestries. I wasn’t sure how this would work, or whether my sewing machine will like it. It turned out not to be a problem. The tapestries acted like some of the thickest fabrics I’ve worked with, but were unremarkable in any other way.

I made the five outer pieces, then selected matching solid colors for the lining. For those, I chose rough-ish textures to go with the feel of the outer layer.

After some deliberation, I decided to sew wide black straps. These I made from a fabric that felt like a cotton-raw-silk blend.

I worked on these totes on and off for about two weeks, and am quite happy with how they turned out!

Of course, once I gave myself permission to work on new things, the flood gates opened. Especially with new scraps lying on the floor, suggesting all sorts of new possibilities… My mind has been working overtime! I think going back to working on my UFOs might prove somewhat difficult…

Last Project of the Year: A Summer Tote

My husband finds it amusing that I count years by academic years. I’ve been a student most of my life, though, and got used to planning everything around the academic calendar. For the last decade I’ve also had school-aged children, and so my life continues to evolves around the cycle of the school year. I was able to start ANY Texture only after my baby went to first grade, and since then my work schedule, too, has been dependent on the flow of the school year. Counting time by academic years, therefore, seems normal to me. Calendar years are almost meaningless.

Well, the current year is ending today. Soon my kids will return home from their last day of school, toss their school bags into a corner, and with them shed the burden of homework, schedules, and early-morning wake-ups. With that, my current year of creativity will also come to an end.

With this inevitable deadline nearing, I spent the past week trying to finish one last project: a cheery summer tote. Last year my last piece was a summer messenger bag for my mother in law. In the end, I wasn’t able to complete it before school ended, and had to sneak some sewing-time into the first couple of weeks of summer. This time, I wanted to make sure I got my piece done on time. I am happy to report that I did!

This tote is unique in that I designed it from the lining out. Usually, I design the outer part of bags first, and then find lining to match it. But with this tote, I first happened to find a piece of linen fabric that I really liked. It was bright and cheery with beautiful big flowers. Sadly, it just wasn’t outside-tote material, so, for the first time ever, I decided to use it as lining and designed a tote around it!

First, I chose the main fabric for the sides of the outside layer. That was fairly simple:

Then, I looked for fabric for the bottom. I tried this:

But although I liked both colors, together they seemed a little dull. I looked through my fabric stash, and tried something I never thought I will:

Surprisingly, I really liked this combination! So I sewed the outer layer, and also added purple handles and a purple pocket:

This is what it looked like:

Then, I ironed the interfacing on, and sewed the outside layer:

Then the lining:

Finally, I attached both layers together:

The result: a bright, cheery spring/summer tote for farmers’ market shopping, picnics or summer trips!

With One Week to Go, Craft Show Preparations Continue in Earnest!

To all the friends and family members who have been wondering whether I disappeared from the face of the earth: I want to reassure you that I am still very much around, just buried, once again, under piles of fabric, thread and tools. Under the guise of craft-show preparations, I have actually been having a blast indulging my love for all things fabric!

I genuinely intended to dedicate this past week solely to the overhead preparations for the upcoming fair. And I did make a lot of progress on that front. I finished purchasing all the props (though some are yet to arrive). I made new, sturdy price signs. My family came up with an easy solution to my canopy-weight problem: we will fill the sacks that came with the canopy with sand. And my husband surprised me by painting my new shelves for me, thus saving me a day’s worth of work. If that’s not true love, what is?

The problem started when I got to finishing my shop banner. Due to various life happenings, I haven’t been able to touch my sewing machine ever since our Japanese exchange student arrived. For about five weeks I wasn’t able to sew at all. So maybe it was only normal that once I turned the machine back on to finish the banner, I simply couldn’t turn it off again…

All of a sudden I noticed all the spring-themed fabrics that lay around waiting. I couldn’t just leave them there, now, could I? What about that cute piece of doggy fabric I recently found? Someone will surly want a tote made out of that… And wait! Mother’s Day is just around the corner. Shouldn’t I have something for moms? Thus, so I sank, yet again, into a full-time sewing frenzy.

As usual when these things happen, our house is in disarray. The laundry is piling. The dishes are waiting. Our meals have been mediocre at best. We are ever running out of toilet paper and paper towels. And the worst part is that my son is asking whether it’s ANY Texture’s fault that I am not playing with him… Yet I, dear friends, am having a ball, and I have the perfect excuse so as not to feel guilty about it!