Friday, December 30, 2011

Bear With Me, Part 3

    May you have a Bear-y Happy New Year ! ! !

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Bear With Me, Part 2

So my teddy bears traveled from the States to Tunisia in a suitcase many summers ago. One little 11-in/28-cm pink bear began looking shabby because it was made out of a synthetic fleece that pilled. 
Having a deep respect for the way the joints are made (getting the joints tight challenges patience), I couldn't bear seeing this bear on the downhill. Time to recycle:
                               The pink bear became the patchwork bear.
The fabrics came from my collection of recycled flea market finds.
As I was tired of the pink, I went back to the traditional brown...sort of.
With a long needle, I used a sort of running stitch/back stitch to sew down the patches. A beast to do!
Given the times, I would name the bear at this stage the "Censored T. Bear." Working on the face was a bit disconcerting: dolls and bears seem to pick up a bit of personality of their own. I kept telling myself that I didn't believe in voodoo dolls and that this toy wasn't drowning under the fabric!

And the T. Bear rides off into the sunset....


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Bear With Me, Part 1

'Tis the wear wooly sweaters and create, give, or play with cuddly, fuzzy toys. Therefore, this seems a good time to bring up the subject of teddy bears. Like many crafters, my mom went through a teddy bear phase in the 1980s--and I got caught in the ricochet. I even did a number of drawings and watercolors. 
        In her usual, enthusiastic manner, she bought numerous books and fabrics, collected patterns, and made bears. As she was a chain knitter (otherwise she would have been a chain smoker), she collected knitting patterns for the bears’ clothing and accessories as well. During one of my summer visits, then, we had a teddy bear 'workshop' in which we chose several patterns, bought fabric, and then, we each made bears. 
My mom's bears were better. She could do anything if given a pattern and so she made many and became an expert. 
Here are my three "twin" bears. I inserted a music box with “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic” song into the burgundy bear. 

My mom must have given most of the bears away as gifts, but the ones she made with me that summer always stayed with her. And I never understood the significance of that until I shared this story with you. They were “family,” she had made them with me.
Now the bears are reunited and sit on my grandmother’s chair with the Cinderella doll that my mom knit from a pattern. 

        And may you have a Bear-y Happy Holiday Season with your loved ones!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

News Update: A Rocky Road Ahead

The news took over this week.

      Concerning the Arab Revolution, there is some good news. Yemen’s dictator Salah finally negotiated with the opposition parties to leave power and the country. OK, so he’s gone. Problem: his family and the whole power structure remain in place. Elections have been promised in two months, however, if the current government runs those elections, then nothing much will change. The people have not bought it and continue to protest and civilians continue to die everyday. It’s a rocky road ahead.
       Dozens of Syrian civilians also continue to die everyday while peaceful protests continue. Unfortunately, the US government may attempt to weigh in on the side of the revolution in order to maintain influence in the region, giving the revolution a bad name (messy politics in this part of the world). Hard to predict the outcome. I salute the courage of the Syrian people. It’s a rocky road ahead.
       Egyptians protested in Tahrir Square once again to oust the prime minister, viewed as a Mubarak supporter. So the ruling military council (which basically has a death grip on the country) named another prime minister who had served in the Mubarak government—unacceptable in the eyes of protesters, as one might imagine. In the meantime, Egyptians elected a parliamentary assembly to formulate a new constitution. However, the military council intends to have the final say on any proposed constitution. The military council (Mubarak’s cohorts) obviously wants to keep power, influence, and wealth. It’s a rocky road ahead.
      The new transitional Libyan government is having difficulties bringing armed groups under control and collecting weapons, while trying to form a new army. Tripoli is under lockdown and militia groups have been asked to return home. Armed groups have attempted to cross the border into Tunisia and when refused, have been known to open fire on authorities. Tunisians living in towns along the Libyan border, the very people who opened their homes to Libyan refugees, appear to be fed up with the lawlessness that war has unleashed. Tunisian authorities have closed the border until the Libyan government can send competent authorities to control the situation.
       Members of Tunisia’s constitutional assembly seem to have forgotten that their role is to write a new constitution. A tug of war has developed as certain groups demand a “piece of the cake” in the new government. In the meantime, the Central Bank has issued warnings that the country is on the brink of bankruptcy and protests continue to cripple the economy. Liquid bottled gas, which many people use to cook and heat, has become scarce as temperatures drop.
       As if there weren’t enough urgent problems, a university in Tunis closed temporarily because bearded men beseiged it, demanding that women students wear a “niqab” (black fabric covering the head and face) if they wanted to take their exams. I would first comment that I have nothing against women who choose to “veil”, that is, wear a headscarf and modest clothing if that is their choice. One’s clothing should not get in the way of attending school, voting, working, or anything else for that matter. However, attacking university women and imposing a way of dress—which has no foundation in Tunisian tradition, by the way (this comes from the Gulf)—impinges on women’s rights. History shows that the attack upon women is not a question of religion (Islam preaches moderation), but rather a bid for power that makes use of women as pawns. Why don’t they go and empty the numerous bars of drunken men? It seems these men perceive university women not only as a threat but  the “weakest link” as well. Economic and social classes also enter into the question, as new groups struggle to fill the power vacuum and push aside established upper and middle classes.

       And I would venture to guess that Tunisia is doing better than anybody else. 
Indeed, it’s a rocky road ahead.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thanksgiving and Pomegranates

Every Thanksgiving (in the U.S., fourth Thursday in November) my parents took us to another town an hour away to feast with family friends. And every Thanksgiving my mom would rave about the hostess’s salad, a concoction of lettuce, nuts and….. (drumroll) pomegranates. My mom gushed over those pomegranates every (yeah, red, bold, underlined, and italicized) year. My mother's enthusiasm remained a mystery--I didn’t get it. Sitting in front of me was a salad containing maybe five little grains with barely a hint of red. MY description would have been “crunchy and bitter.” However, the meal was always exceptional despite the pomegranates and the company was good. 
         But I must have been scarred by those pomegranates (or my mom's raving) for I have compensated. My garden now contains a small orchard of REAL pomegranates. Allow me to show you my fruit:
And the grains. Note the lovely color, the deep, ruby red--ahhhhhhh.
Need I add that they are sweet? 
Pomegranates have temporarily taken over my artwork as well.
This is a work-in-progress, part of a much larger piece that began as a sketching-on-fabric project, which quickly got out of hand and multiplied.  

My holiday wishes for all: May you enjoy the company of loved ones, may your turkey be plump and tender, and may you taste pomegranates that are red, juicy, and sweet.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

“Just use it” and Further Thoughts on Accumulation

Yes, more stories come to mind on this favorite of subjects and my post on “The Art of Accumulation” (here) seems to have provoked some discussion among friends. A family member reminded me of the time I hauled something to the dumpster on the main road and my husband went into such shock that I had to go retrieve it. A friend’s husband built two rooms in the back of their garden to contain the overflow. And someone built a whole house for their daughter who only visits in the summer, because she not only accumulates, but collects as well—a daunting combination.

         To my way of thinking, then, the best projects are those that make use of several accumulated items. I need to make a dent in that pile of small clay pots in which plants are sold. The Before:
Well, how about stacking them? The After:
Much better. One of my next projects will be three or four stacked pots for a more sculptural effect.
Then there was a forlorn bidet, removed during bathroom renovation, that sat in a hidden corner of the garden for two years.
At first, I thought that if I smashed it to smithereens, I could make a really lovely pot from the pieces. It is porcelain after all. My husband objected and mentioned the price (couple hundred dollars, at least—it was imported). Ok, ok. However, the faucet had to be removed as it wasn’t intact and there was a rusty bolt that required removal as well—his job. Half way through the nasty removals, he said: “Wouldn’t you just like to smash this for pots?”!! Not anymore--I had other plans! The trick was to find the right spot.
Wrong spot--it sticks out too much...however, I did find a better place. Next, I placed a tile at the bottom of the bowl and an old paint can. Then I added the rocks for drainage.

And finally the dirt mix.
You may be wondering about the paint can in the dirt. The After:
The paint can serves as the base for the mosaic pot. If the faucet had been intact, I would have used the bidet as a quirky bidet plant container and would not have hidden it’s original function. However, as it stood I had to find a spot that it would fit into discretely. I planted some spillers that will eventually hide the form a bit and I'll add other pots around it.
That’s a successful upcycling project—three items into one. My new tiered planter provides more cool green on my patio for the hot summer months. 

And that's probably the closest I'll ever get to a tutorial.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Steps Along the Way

A small quilt marks my foray into needle-turn appliqué and social/political comment. Death of a Forest (August 1991, 17 1/2 x 23"/ 44cm x 58cm) contains a bit of everything : machine piecing and quilting, machine and hand embroidery (French knots) and appliqué and reverse appliqué.
The image of the boxed-in old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest (USA) lingers in my mind until today, reinforced by the view of patchworked logged mountains seen when flying into Portland, Oregon. The brown appliqué represents blight and the red appliqué, well, that’s obvious. Concerning technique, I found that the needle-turn appliqué allowed me to create interesting and unusual forms.
       Boxes keep turning up, as in Pandora’s Box, no. 91 (see here), inspired by the first Gulf War. In 1991, my war series began and has expanded to include revolution today.
Then La Porte au fond du couloir (The Door at the End of the Hallway, November 1991, 41"x43"/ 1m04x1m10, machine pieced and quilted) took boxes to an extreme. It started as a drawing exercise from which I made a complex block pattern. The angles were a bear. Talk about learning technique the hard way. This was a one-time-only technique.
       I experimented with form, color and technique, creating Etudes, Improvisations, and Themes and Variations. Here is a small study still using a block format, Etude I (September 1991, 24"x24"/ 60cmx60cm, machine pieced and quilted).
This inspired Etude II  (January 1994, 55"x60"/ 1m38x1m50), which is based upon the block unit from Etude I.
Etude II contains some hand painted fabrics and is the the first piece in which I sewed down bits of fabric to create depth.
In 1993, I created Flowers for Abou Jihad (see here) which took about three years to complete and which was based on a pattern I drew. Sometimes ideas take over—I had to complete this quilt the way it dictated, despite the extreme tediousness of working with a detailed pattern in silks, brocades, and satins, along with cottons. Another one-time-only technique.
       Although I claim all my artwork to this point, Running With the Crowd (October 1994, 40"x37"/ 1m x 95cm) represents the beginning of a preference for certain techniques and a confidence in my artistic voice. This piece was juried into the International Quilt Festival in 1998.
The unusual border fabric (commercial) was a flea market find.
I paper-pieced the light source, and the “crowd” running away from the light source is free-form needle-turn appliqué. Once again, the central element is boxed in with only small openings leading in and out. Ultimately, this is a statement about conformity and constraints. I am tempted to say that not much has changed in the world since then, however, given recent events, that might not be accurate. We will wait and see. And then make art about it.

News Update: The flood waters have receded and fortunately it was only rain water--no messy cleanup. I may lose a few plants, but nothing major. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Underwater Garden and the Big Mama

All right. It’s not an underwater garden, it’s a garden that is under water.
Yes, I was in the middle of a flood this week. Tunisia gets little or no rain from June to September. This year we had one storm in September (which hardly counts, just barely settled the dust), and then we finally got a good storm in mid-October. By my calculations we went for about five months without any substantial precipitation. The driveway this week:
So if it rains for a straight twelve hours or more, there is nothing but trouble. And it rained pretty steadily for three days. Here is my new bamboo fence with rock border (submerged) that I just finished. This makes a good "before" picture.
The road in front of our house.
It’s also bad in towns and cities because, although there are drainage systems, they are not well kept up and easily overflow, resulting in flooded streets and stalled cars. Of course, Tunis beats Cairo, which apparently doesn’t have any drainage or run-off system at all because it would just fill up with sand. So when it rains (once in a blue moon) all the underpasses and low spots fill up with water resulting in nightmarish, snarled traffic.
         In my area, a oued (pronounced ‘wed’, a dry riverbed) overflowed after heavy rains in 1982, making it the worst flood I’ve seen. We were in the middle of a river. Of the five steps leading to our front door, three were covered with water. That was close! Our liquid petroleum gas bottles (weighing around 50 kilos or over 100 lbs) were swept off to the neighbors' house, some 500 meters away.When the water receded, we shoveled silt into wheelbarrows for days—horrible stuff that turns into a cement-like crust if not removed.
         The good news: unlike the recent New York snow storm, our telephone, electricity, and internet services have continued to function—thankfully. Although we did get out the candles just in case. No complaints, then, especially as I found myself with lots of time to work in my studio. I was finally able to finish the Big Mama, which I have been working on a couple hours a day for four months. She’s big.
This pot stands 22/55cm high. The toothy grin was quite unintentional. I’ll have to wait until things dry out to plant it. 
The smaller pot is planted with scented geranium. 
Joke of the week: A section of the garden had stagnating puddles of water, so six weeks ago we informed the water company that the water pipe in front of our house probably had developed an underground leak--and then we called them five more times. When did the water company send out its repairmen??? Yup, last Monday in the middle of the flood.  They'll come back when the area dries out.
And as temperatures have not dropped significantly, I can look forward to knee-high grass and weeds, and swarms of flies. I swing a wicked fly-swatter…

News Update: Tunisia has successfully held elections for a constituent assembly with only a few snags. The moderate religious party, An-Nadha, garnered 40% of the vote and is seeking partners to form a coalition to run the government. The American government appears to accept this state of affairs. French politicians seem worried. They weren't particularly worried when there was a dictator who had "98%" of the "vote." Do you see a disconnect here? We hope that a government can be formed peacefully. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Grandma's Blues, Part III: My Turn

There seems to be a good deal of groaning out there in blogland about UFOs (unfinished objects) accompanied by strategies of how to conquer this problem. The number of unfinished quilt tops and quilt blocks found in antique shops, on ebay, or at craft fairs attests to the fact that UFOs have always been around. Could it be that we are fighting a losing battle ? Are UFOs a part of life, and maybe, a good part at that ? I have UFOs from my mother and my quilting grandmother, and although I may have no idea what I’m going to do with them, I love possessing them and imagining the possibilities.
An example would be the sixteen blocks my mom made with 5" squares--with an extra one hundred red squares cut out and ready to go.
Oh, Mom! That's pretty flamboyant! A tough call. I’m still waiting for inspiration. Maybe something could be done with the red squares...?
And look at this! My mom cut hundreds of 4 1/2" squares and arranged them by color groups, apparently to take care of leftover fabric in her closet. I can imagine my mom standing over the fabric with smokin' scissors!
As noted before, she was not really a quilter, but she took tailoring classes and sewed a lot of our clothes, consequently resulting in an accumulation of fabric. Once she cut it up, she could condense the mass down. She probably had a plan in mind, but just never got to it—it was an ambitious project. I remember some of the clothes made from these fabrics that date back to the 1970s, including some polyesters. I'm glad polyester went out of style.
A surprise: twelve different blocks with traced cute-sy animals--my mom was not the cute-sy type (me neither). Go figure...Ok, I'll leave these to my grandchildren.
       My grandmother’s blocks and fabrics interest me more. They tickle my imagination and everytime I see someone’s work with vintage blocks on the internet, I pay attention. The fabrics must date from the 1930s to 1950s.
There are two sets of blocks intended for quilts and then there are a few orphan blocks, all hand pieced. I feel somewhat obligated to make two traditional quilts for my two grandchildren, as these would be from their great-great grandmother. On the other hand, the orphan blocks are fair game for experimenting. I'm still ruminating about it.
        I also possessed some fabric and one hand-sewn block with which my grandmother intended to make a quilt. I decided to finish her quilt, which now bears the name “Grandma’s Blues” ( 54"x 72 1/2", 1m36cm x 1m84cm).
The blue centers and the blue background for the wreath were her fabric. The lower left hand block is her hand pieced block. 
In addition, I used fabrics from a dress and a skirt that my mom had made for me. 
My grandmother would've hand quilted this, however, I made the decision to machine quilt after having hand quilted several projects. You have to choose your battles--I wanted more time for hand appliqué.
        The year was 1987 and I was on the threshold of my adventures into art quilting. My grandmother didn’t actually teach me to quilt, however, because of her quilts and her unfinished blocks, she inspired me to quilt. She gave me permission.
       And then, other interesting items await me peacefully on my stash shelves or stowed away in drawers. There are gloves, table linens, and doilies.
I finally found the courage to use some of the most stained doilies in an art piece.
This is a work in progress that has a good deal of hand stitching. A leaf pattern has taken over.
Unfinished projects are a bit like throwing a bottle with a message into the ocean. I think I’ll make some interesting blocks just to leave to my grandchildren. Who knows, maybe they’ll find the message…or maybe someone else will. 

NEWS FLASH: The last two Gadaffi-controlled Libyan cities have been liberated and Libya's dictator, the atrocious Muammar Gadaffi has been killed. We are thankful.
      It would seem that Tunisia's former dictator, that vacuous thug, Ben Ali, is the most intelligent of the dictators. He managed to sneak off and hide in Saudi Arabia with all his stolen money. Egypt's Mubarak is in prison, and now Gadaffi is dead. Yemen's Salah is begging to get out, but he hasn't figured out how to do that and keep all his stolen money and his life. Syria's Assad must be sweating. Things look grim for dictators these days. Not that things are much better in the liberated countries: It's extremely difficult to change a whole system and the persistent economic problems contribute to disorder. 
      Tunisia is in the spotlight again because it will be the first liberated country to have elections for a constitutional congress (a body in charge of creating a new constitution and government) on Sunday, October 23rd. Over 100 parties have sprung up making it difficult to choose when voting. We pray that all goes well.
      And, on a lighter note, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the readers who visit this blog, who leave comments, and/or become "followers". I so appreciate your visits, your thoughts, and the dialogue. This blog is my window on the world and I thank you for stopping by.