Thursday, September 29, 2011

Grandma's Blues, Part I

My grandmothers were the old-fashioned variety. They were plumpish and had wrinkles, glasses, white tinted-blue hair, and soft bosoms, yet the angry blue goose represents them well, for they were strong women in their own ways and worked diligently to protect their families. One was smiling and gentle and the other was formidable--and I loved them both. Everyone should have one of each in my opinion, because we need those examples. Neither grandmother jogged, swam laps or worked out, they just gardened. And their lovely gardens linger in my memory. The gentle one went to teachers’ school and loved to read. The formidable one obtained a degree in music, then became a high school music teacher in a northern town until she hooked the most eligible bachelor around, the doctor. 
My formidable grandmother is the first person on the right in the third row. Certainly, the majority of readers cannot possibly be interested by old family photos, however the 1915 University of Minnesota graduating class in music is an interesting group. In fact, it's a noteworthy group because women students outnumber the men at a time when few had the opportunity of attending universities at all. The problem with history remains that women are generally forgotten and a major problem for women is that they do not have a history. As a researcher in cultural and women's history, I delight in bringing forward the forgotten achievements of women--our grandmothers--to demonstrate that women must not be described as victims, but as participants in our mutual history. If I had the know-how, I would insert a "one-hundred-gun-salute" here.
         Back to "Grandma's Blues". My formidable grandmother did sophisticated embroidery and apparently had some notions of how to quilt because her daughter made a crib quilt for the new baby sister (my mother).
I particularly like the cat with his strange tail and perplexed expression.
My formidable grandmother also possessed a quilt of fine fabrics made by her mother, however, this is the extent of my grandmother's quilting history, as far as I know. Apparently, she wasn't a quilter.
This log cabin shimmers because of the fancy fabrics, however, they are disintegrating. It was draped on my grandmother's baby grand piano.

On the other hand, my gentle grandmother was a quilter who sewed only by hand. My mother kept several quilts carefully to pass on. Here is one of "Grandma's Blues," a nine-patch probably made in the 1930s or 1940s:
A lovely purple quilt with a basket design:
This bear paw quilt was made in the 1930s for my grandmother's youngest sister who taught primary school. 
Age has not faded the bright yellow.
It contains some cute fabrics of the period. 
also inherited several worn out quilts that nobody wanted (fortunately for me), which I am slowly mending and restoring. Here is a second "Grandma's Blues."

This much-used quilt still has my name tag on it, so I apparently took it to summer camp when I was eight years old. Of course the most wear has occurred at the top where there is the most pull. I have begun repairing it (upper left) by inserting a similar used fabric and then doing needle-turn appliqué to sew the frayed fabric onto the inserted fabric; I call it "sewing the holes." Truth to tell, my mother asked my grandmother if certain quilts were for everyday use or should be preserved and my grandmother told her to use them. On the other hand, one specific quilt was to be carefully preserved and passed on as it contains blocks from my great-great-grandmother.

My grandmother took the time to quilt it with precision.
This quilt will probably never be used as the fabrics bleed, however, it will be appreciated for the memory of grandmothers that it provides.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Black & White, and Red

Obtaining a selection of colors in tiles is more complicated than building a fabric collection. I occasionally stop by the building supply stores where tiles are sold to see what they’ve got, but one of the hardest colors to find is red. How many people want a red tile wall, after all? Even the idea is overpowering. So red is scarce…I began to get desperate. Something that can’t be possessed becomes extremely desireable…
Then one of the merchants mentioned a company that might have what I sought. So I checked their website and headed over to their showroom on the other side of Tunis. There I found lovely, but expensive, tiles—generally three times the price of normal tiles. The price reflects the amount of hand work required to achieve such fine quality. And yes, they had red tiles.
When the saleswoman showed them to me, along with other wonderful colors, she eyed me as if I was going to start frothing at the mouth because I couldn’t hide my excitement. With some trepidation she asked what I was going to do with the tiles. “Oh, I’m going to break them.” She visibly winced and groaned. I tried to reassure her: “Don’t worry, I’ll use every little bit.” That didn’t help, so I explained about my mosaic plant containers. She became more pleasant and offered to sell me a square meter of a mix of colors. This was definitely close to paradise.
So I went home, sanded down the back ridges, and began breaking the tiles with my “nippers” (I still find that to be the strangest word—it tickles my funny bone) in an effort to get small, somewhat even pieces. My first pot (and one of my favorites) in the black, white, and red series:
One 30-year old pot required cementing to repair the disintegrating rim. 
The Before or rather the right-after-I-began-gluing photo:
And the After:

Then I saw several examples of mosaicked balls or “orbs” on the internet. Lightbulb! So I gathered the necessary forms. The dogs had four shrunken soccer balls, so I left them with one. They don’t seem to have noticed. One day, while grocery shopping I found Christmas tree ornaments on sale so I bought a dozen balls in two different sizes. Synchronocity at its best: I have never seen Christmas tree ornaments for sale at my grocery store, much less on sale! And meditating on how to display the soccer ball mosaic, I came upon the idea of the tuna fish can. The Before:
The family portrait:

Spirals on the rounded surface are among my favorite design elements. Some crossover has been showing up lately on textile surfaces. A work-in-progress using needle-turn appliqué and running stitch, to be cut up for a larger piece: 
For me, the spiral represents a contradiction: it provides movement and yet it turns in upon itself and comes to a dead-end. Related to the circle, it lacks the symbolism of protection and eternity because it does not close. Consequently, in my personal visual vocabulary, the ambiguity of the spiral makes it a design element that adds interest by creating tension.

And, if you should be interested in home décor and interior design, check out the Dorémail tile company’s site here. Just click on the British flag to view in English. It’s well worth the visit, especially to the "traditional" category.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Black & White

What is it about black and white that makes it so appealing? The absence of all colors and the sum of all colors, two extremes. Is it the clarity? You can’t argue with something that is black and white; you can’t squabble about it or dispute it if gray areas do not exist. With a click on the computer or the choice of a pen, we can write in any color of the rainbow, still, black on white strikes me as the best choice for getting ideas across and for communicating clearly. Visually it is a dramatic combination that is stark in its beauty and simplicity and yet does not shun other colors to join in. It’s difficult to resist the temptation of using it…I admit to succumbing frequently.  Even in the garden.

And so, I introduce my garden chairs--they looked bad. The Before:
All right, “bad” was an understatement; this is heavy duty recycling. The After:
Phew! Just love that black and white paint. The local carpenter cut mdf boards to replace the disintegrated plastic backs and seats. As no kids were around at the time, I got to do all the spatter painting myself…the kids are so envious.

Because our roof is flat and made of cement, it requires treatment every two or three years and so over the years a number of plastic buckets accumulated from said treatment, which I planted about ten years ago. When I began doing mosaic plant containers, I hoped to get rid of the buckets (plastic: how un-green, how un-ecological), but, upon closer inspection they proved to be holding up well, much better than the buckets in which the roof products are now sold. Black and white paint to the rescue…The Before:
Of course, the smaller paint bucket asked to be included as well. The After:
Here they are lined up on a curb that will someday be mosaicked… someday.
That's the ol’ throw-the-paint-at-the-bucket treatment in which young visitors participated (hard to calm them down after that activity). Notice the tall spindly-looking succulent behind the bucket with circles?  It's a cousin to the "Mother of millions" succulent and drops its offspring from the tips of its leaves everywhere. More importantly, however, it puts on a winter show of flowers from the end of December to the end of February that is spectacular. Consequently, I overlook its scraggly appearance.

Yes, that's January in Tunisia. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

TGIF: Dictators Beware

It’s not just because Friday is the day Muslims attend the mosque that makes it important. It has taken on new significance: Friday is the day huge events happen. Minimally, strikes and protests increase in intensity on Fridays and recently, it has become the day of revolution in the Arab world. In Tunisia, Ben Ali fled after a general strike on Jan. 14th—a Friday. In Egypt, Mubarak stepped down on Feb. 25th—a Friday, and in Libya, Tripoli rose up on Aug. 19th—a Friday, and was liberated the next day.
         Needless to say, I have been glued to either the TV screen or the computer screen and sometimes both at the same time for the past several weeks. Because of Libya’s proximity to Tunisia and the effect the Libyan revolution has had on Tunisia at economic and humanitarian levels, I have closely followed the news from Libya for the last six months as the revolution gained steam. I do not mean to be trite when I say that this has played out like J.R.R. Tolkien’s (and Peter Jackson’s) Lord of the Rings, with battles of epic proportions and with good people, ordinary people, standing up against profound evil. Tolkien, after all, wrote the trilogy during a period of extreme world violence (WWII). However, the LOR analogy allows me to point out one major difference. Victory has not depended on one person or a small group of heroes.  The hero of the Libyan revolution is “the people,” and especially the Libyan youth.
         After 42 years, the Libyan people stood up and said “No! No more fear.” They have paid a terrible price, for what family has not been touched by tragedy? The number of deaths remains unknown—probably in the tens of thousands for a small population of six and a half million. Equally disturbing are the stories coming out about Gaddafi’s massive campaigns of arbitrary kidnapping, coercion, brutal torture, and executions. Unfortunately, an old torture was refined, which I will call “institutionalized gang rape.” Gaddafi’s dead soldiers were found again and again with Viagra in their pockets and POWs have confessed to being ordered to participate in such atrocities against girls and women. Once Libyans understood the punishment, villages and towns emptied as men sent their women and children to safer areas, especially to Tunisia, which took in approximately 900,000 refugees. And to give an idea of the magnitude of arbitrary punishment: An estimated 60,000 prisoners were held in death camps or disappeared in Tripoli, while the general population suffered electricity blackouts, shortages of water, food and fuel (no way to cook and nothing to eat anyway), and loss of property—all this when temperatures shot up over 100 F. (40 C.).
How can one not be affected? Already I have four pieces on the drawing board, or more accurately, boiling in my head. One I have finished.
Revolution 2011: Order and Disorder (41.5"x46", 105cmx117cm). I previously showed this as a work in progress (as in, a ten-year WIP), but I knew it had to be completed for the occasion of the liberation of Tripoli. To celebrate the victory of good over evil.  
The central panel is by hand, done with needle-turn appliqué. The  outer squares (top and right) represent an order that disintigrates into disorder, yet there is a flow, there is hope. However, the black borders represent rupture and the possibility of chaos. The green and blue fabrics of the arc behind the maze are frayed suggesting an unraveling of society, of stability, of things we take for granted.

Unfortunately, Gaddafi, wanted for crimes against humanity by the ICC (International Criminal Court), has not been caught yet. The power of his billions of dollars (stolen from the people of Libya) would allow him to cause further trouble and chaos in the region. We pray that he will soon be apprehended to face trial.

I salute the people of Libya for their courage, their sacrifices, and their steadfastness, and for their faith in God and humanity.

And say a prayer next Friday for all those battling tyranny.