Tuesday, March 20, 2018

FIRE - Santa Rosa, CA

I recently finished a quilt inspired by the fires in northern California last October.  I have immediate family who live in Santa Rosa and were evacuated twice for days each time.  While their home was spared, their workplace and the homes of MANY friends were destroyed.  Close to 10% of the population of this small city is still essentially homeless, in temporary housing at best.  Many have just abandoned their former residences and gone. 

The fires were caused by extreme winds which knocked out many power lines throughout the region.  The winds pushed the fire stunningly fast through drought effected brush,  and then the heat from these fires created their own winds exacerbating the situation.  My quilt captures the violence of the color and activity.

The ground layer of my piece is ice dyed.  I did a lot of hand stitching to indicate the unpredictably swirling winds.  I wanted to show the movement of the ash and embers themselves and did so by creating the "dancing" streamers which move slightly on their own.   As in the real fire, these bits are comprised of natural and man-made materials.   The piece is 48" x 36".

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Wrestling with surface design guilt

This is the first of two articles that deal with my sojourn into digital fabric printing--the why and how of it and what it means in the context of my larger journey as a fiber artist. We’ll start with the big issues in this article. I’ll dig into the methods in the next one.

I’ve been dyeing and printing fabric for close to 20 years, and I still find it exciting. I love the process of getting color onto and off of cloth. I love the details--the measuring, weighing, and calculation--that allow me to create predictable, repeatable color. I love the toolmaking--carving relief printing blocks, designing and burning silk screens, and gathering found objects that become mark making implements. I love painting and printing big pieces of cloth. And then, of course, there are all of the things that happen to that printed cloth. It becomes art cloth for the wall, it gets quilted or stitched, or it becomes art to wear--one of a kind scarves or jackets. Lately though, I’ve been wrestling with a guilty feeling that I’ve been disloyal to my craft, or at the very least veering off on a tangent.

"Illumination: Counting"
Hand dyed art cloth 
Russ Little, 2013
In all of my time as a dyer, I’ve been a quilt surface designer. I’ve made pieced quilts as well as quilted whole cloth paintings. But, for the last year or so, the thing that’s excited me the most is cut paper collage. I paint paper--drawing paper, found bits of paper, old newspapers--with gouache in an array of colors, then cut it into shapes and arrange them to form a composition. This method is anything but new. Many artists have worked in collage, Matisse being not the least among them (try Googling “Matisse collage”). To give credit where it’s due, I started getting excited about collage through workshops on color theory, collage, and design that I’ve taken with David Hornung.

Collage takes many forms: combinations of found images and/or text, combinations of solid color shapes, figurative, abstract, the whole gamut. You might say that the term “collage” is a big umbrella term that covers lots of forms of “sticking stuff to paper”.

For me, there’s something totally different that happens in my brain when I’m cutting, arranging, and layering paper compared to cutting and piecing fabric, or even painting directly on fabric. Designs and motifs emerge when I cut into paper with an X-ACTO knife that are completely different from what happens on my design wall with fabric. But I still want to work in fabric, and I want to incorporate the textural layer of quilting into the final composition.

"Collage #3"
Cut paper collage digitally printed
on cloth, quilted
Russ Little, 2017 
With some trial and error I’ve found my way to two work methods that embrace some of the best of both paper and fabric. They both rely on digital fabric printing technology--wide carriage inkjet printing on fabric. I create shapes or full designs on paper, scan or photograph them, then send them to a service provider for printing on cloth. When I receive the printed cloth I can them treat it as finished art cloth or add more layers to it through paint, stitch, quilting, etc. Detailed discussion of these methods will be the subject of the next article in this series. For now it’s enough to know that I’m allowing a computer to put dye/pigment on cloth, rather than doing it with my own two hands.

So, what’s all this hand wringing about “surface design guilt”? Well, it comes down to the simple facts of change and that newest of buzzwords, disruption. I’ve spent years building knowledge, skill, and experience in the manual work of hand dyeing and printing cloth. Now I find that I’m able to create a finished work of  fiber art without ever touching dye or fabric paint, and it makes me a little uneasy. It sometimes feels inauthentic. Heretofore, part of the challenge--the foundational craft in this particular art form--has been the skillful manipulation of dye, paint, and cloth to produce the desired result. The computer and printer certainly bring their own set of challenges, but those aren’t generally surmounted using the skills I’ve worked so hard to learn.

In the end, the peace that I’ve made with all of this is perhaps the same peace that others have made. As artists we must embrace new opportunities, tools, and ways of thinking, while remaining grounded in those traditional and foundational skills. Perhaps a fitting comparison might be that a artists using a knitting machine is probably better able to make effective use of that tool if they first learn to knit by hand.

I also wonder about the future. I hope that young artists will continue to learn about traditional, manual ways of working before making the leap of digital tools. I have no desire or intention to stop working with dye, because that particular set of tools and techniques produces different results for me than digital tools. However, it’s also interesting to consider that at some point in the future I might live someplace different and might not find it practical or even desirable to have a full fledged dye studio. The new processes I’ve been exploring lend themselves to a way of making art that requires not much more than a computer, internet connection, cutting table, and sewing machine. 

So, I suppose the “guilt” I’m feeling is mostly rooted in the idea that I simultaneously want to try new thing and be part of the change, and yet I don’t want to see things change too much. And, since we can’t have it both ways, I’m going to forge ahead with one foot on each side of the line between tradition and technology.

In the next article in this series I’ll examine how that blended approach is influencing the way that I work.
Russ Little is a full time fiber artist specializing in fine art textile and wearable art. He’s also the current Chair of the Art Cloth Network. You can see more of his work at http://russlittlefiberartist.com

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

You can check out our newest exhibition, Unbound, at Blurb by clicking the link to the digital catalog here.  The catalog is available for purchase and includes a statement by juror Michael James, as well as detail photos of each piece.  Congratulations to all ACN members included in the show.  Many thanks to Barbara Schneider for authoring the catalog.

Responsive image
Travel 2: Passage, by Jacque Davis

Monday, December 4, 2017

Creating a Daily Practice

Creating a Daily Practice
I have done variations on daily practice studies for many years. They have included a variety of approaches – everything from a postcard a day to a blog posting to a set of bound books. This blog will show some of those and list potential ideas about ways to pursue a daily practice.

But first – WHY? Why do a daily practice? It’s not easy to do – 365 days of discipline. I have tried variations, like once a week or a larger problem addressed for a month but it is the daily practice that I come back to and that has the most rewards.

My approach has been to set some guidelines for myself

  • What do I want to accomplish with this practice? Do I want to learn something new or explore something in depth?
  • What format do I want to work in?
  •  How am I going to make it happen each day? Do I need to have a reminder or a time of day that is set aside?
  • How do I motivate myself when other things get in the way or I am just not interested in doing it on a particular day?
  • Thinking through some of this and writing it down for you is a good thing. Because you will probably need to come back and look at that at some point throughout the year to remind yourself why you ever thought this was a good idea!

Examples of my daily practices
The first year I did a daily practice was in 1997-1998. I was still working a corporate job and had little time to do anything outside of working, commuting, and caring for my husband. But I felt the need to try and find a creative outlet. I decided that I could make one small quilt block each night based on something I had observed that day. It would allow me to explore new techniques, be manageable and if I kept a sketchbook of the idea for each day I could catch up on weekends! A plan. And it worked. I didn’t worry about making something big, I didn’t try to do anything particularly difficult, I just did something.  

 I ended up developing a template for a quilt block for the days that I traveled for work so those gave me some breathing room. The rest were based on sketches of something that happened on the day – so I became much more observant about the world around me and it gave me something to think about besides work and other problems. Toward the end of the 365 days, I started looking at the pile of blocks and thinking about what do I DO with them. Eventually, they became A Ring of Days, a strip of blocks for each month, hung on a circular ring like a giant windsock. It hung for a very long time in my home along the open staircase. It is one year of my life that I can say THIS is what happened on March3 or July 8 or…

A Ring of Days

And this is what I learned from that practice. New techniques, the discipline of carrying a sketchbook and paying attention to the world around me. Also that it was the time of me to leave my job as nothing other than the travel templates ever made it into the artwork,  that I really wanted to learn more about surface design, and that I could bury my other problems in the creative challenge.

In 2008 I created A Book of Days, 12 volumes of pages. This time the daily practice served to get me back into the studio after my husband’s death and a year and a half of grief, moving and starting a new life. I set myself some goals again. I wanted to learn how to be more proficient with Photoshop, I wanted to use an unusual format to push my boundaries, I wanted to incorporate wording about the day, I wanted a reason to get into the studio and work even if it was only to do the daily practice. And again, it worked, especially in that once I was in the studio I was drawn to BE in the studio more and more.

 A Book of Days, 12 volumes, 1 month of pages spread in a circle, and 1 individual page.

Other formats that I have used for daily practice include:

  • Postcards – a week’s worth of explorations on one subject.
  • Blog – posting a photo every day along with thoughts about it.  I am finishing up a year of blogging again. The 2017 version was based on the Mindful poem by Mary Oliver so it was even more focused. And this time I both blogged and put it on Facebook.
Postcard samples.

Ideas for Daily Practice variations:
  • Sketchbook – one page a day based on anything you decide is worth pursuing – new surface design techniques, a particular location, and a theme, a shape you love to work with.
  • Reprinting – Overprint daily thoughts or sketches in layers on one piece of paper – what would develop?
  • Use the daily junk mail in small collages
  • Pick a shape and work with it – maybe a different shape each week or month?
  • Pick a tool and work with it for a week or a month
  • Pick an artist and study and/or develop artwork based on what you learn. Maybe a weekly or monthly approach.
  • Choose a textile tradition and work with it for a week, month, year.
  • One long scroll for the year – just keep adding more each day.
  • Note cards, postcards – one a day yields something usable!
  • Do a stitched piece each day or add to a piece each day and end up with monthly projects.

There are lots of ways to explore the concept. The take away is that daily practice improves your artist’s eye, hand, and mind.

Resources and Examples

Below are other examples and writings about Daily Practice that may be helpful.

I hope this article might inspire you to try a daily practice if you have not done so as yet. Or if you do, to post about it on the blog. 

Barbara Schneider

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Traveler and The Maker

Having recently returned from a trip to Japan that was crowded with

the unexpected and the mundane,  I realize there are comparisons to be made between 

being a traveler and a maker.

As travelers, we take only a limited number of personal belongings. We take
the essentials and leave much behind. When we make art, we limit the 
variables. We choose the palette, the cloth, and specific techniques and 
leave other great ideas for the next piece.

When we arrive at our destination, we have a limited structure---a place
to sleep, a map and a plan. We have to contend with the dissonance between
our expectations and the reality of language barriers, alphabet differences,
and unfamiliar social situations as well as less-than-ideal weather. The 
experience draws on the mundane--what we eat, what we see, how we sleep,
and what we notice as well as how we navigate the new landscape.

The limited structure we impose on our project forces us to grapple with
ambiguity, lack of direction, and self doubt. We also have to face the gap
between our vision of the piece and the reality of the completed work.
The work often calls on common-place skills--taking a stitch, cutting or 
dyeing a cloth and pulling a silk screen.

As we explore our port-of-call, we make the effort to embrace the confusion 
that comes with being lost and disoriented. As a result, we are fully
present, engaged in the moment and find our hearts and minds open
to the new and different.

Something similar happens when we make art. We do our best to accept 
the anxiety and self doubt about our ability to create a work that captures
our intended idea. From that acceptance comes a work likely to surprise and 
mystify us. 

Another comparison comes the impermanence of the experience. When 
we travel, we notice so much that is new and wondrous and compelling.
Sometimes we try to hold the sensations with photographs and keepsakes
or drawings and collected artifacts. We use them to cling to the adventure.

When we make art, the creative moment arises from the many directions our 
work can take us. At times, this can be so overwhelming we hold on to all 
our options finding ourselves at a loss to continue.

In both circumstances, we succeed when we recognize the transient
nature of these situations. By definition, being a traveler is a limited event. 
Artists' works are expressions of ideas at a certain time and place with certain
materials that can never be truly reproduced.

Losing our way and finding a new path is part of travel and making. 
Letting go of expectations and allowing the adventure to unfold and 
develop is the beauty of wandering and making art. If we accept the
experiences as fleeting and temporary, we have room to notice the 
change in our perceptions of who we are and the work we create.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Golden Hour Fabric Collection

Immerse yourself in the magical hues of the GOLDEN HOUR! 
The design I submitted for the SAQA Golden Hour fabric competition was a photo taken at the golden hour in Zurich, Switzerland. I was walking along Lake Zurich where sailboats were moored and the sun cast reflections from this idyllic setting upon the crystal clear water. Once back at my studio I digitally manipulated the photo to create the final design for submission.

"Visitors to the SAQA Booth in Houston were all abuzz about the brand new SAQA Golden Hour fabrics. Curated by Luana Rubin of eQuilter, this collection was created by SAQA members as part of a SAQA/Andover Fabrics design competition. Members were asked to submit designs inspired by the period shortly after sunrise or before sunset known as The Golden Hour.
Note that these are detail shots of the actual fabric and don't 
show the full repeat. For more details, visit the Andover website (and check out their free downloads).
Yardage of this fabric line will also be available at eQuilter and stores - ask for it at your local quilt shop! Plus, Aurifil Threads is developing a special SAQA's Golden Hour Thread Collection that coordinates with the new fabric line. Available in January in the SAQA Store."

Friday, November 3, 2017

Mary-Ellen Latino in 'Textile Posters' Exhibit

From ACN Member Mary-Ellen Latino...

'Wanderlust' by Mary-Ellen Latino
'Endurance' by Mary-Ellen Latino

4:18 PM (18 hours ago)
I’m exhibiting 2 pieces, “Travel Muse: Wanderlust” and “Travel Muse: Endurance” in SAQA’s upcoming “Textile Posters Exhibit" at the International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas 11/2-11/5/17 and International Quilt Festival in Chicago, Illinois in 2018. There is an audio program for this exhibit that reveals each artist’s statement as the viewer takes in the piece. 

"SAQA’s Textile Posters brings together the familiarity of quilts with the equally familiar vernacular of posters to create a visually exciting, informative, and emotional exhibition. Selected pieces reflect the wide diversity of posters. What all have in common is an emblematic economy of text and imagery.

Posters are meant to convey a message in the blink of an eye, be it to inform, educate, or persuade. It is that particular aesthetic consideration which characterizes these textile artworks.
Some posters grab the viewer’s attention in an attempt to be heard above the incessant demands of other media. Other posters are more subtle in their approach, forcing the viewer to study the components in detail, intending to open a reflective dialogue.”

Juror: Joseph Lupo

Born in Chicago, Joseph Lupo received a BFA from Bradley University and an MFA from the University of Georgia. In 2004 he joined the faculty of West Virginia University, where he serves as Printmaking Program Coordinator and Graduate Studies Coordinator.
The following are excerpts from my artist statements:

Travel intoxicates my senses and fuels my soul. I can never travel enough.  I muse over what art I might create once I return home.  The world is my oyster and there are still so many wondrous
experiences to fill me up until my cup runneth over. “I have miles to go before I sleep, miles to go before I sleep”. (Robert Frost)

Trees are a metaphor for life: endurance, strength, survival, solidarity, propagation, hardship, and change. Majestic sequoia trees inspire me as miracles of nature with the ability to endure fires, floods, and windstorms while they reach for the sky as the tallest living things on earth!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017


Here are some photos from my new series on incarceration.  Because I am a mixed media textile artist you will see a wide range of techniques and materials and even sizes.    The last 4 images are from the 19 cells in the series, so are smaller than the other pieces.  A 3D piece based on the first image - Receding Figures - is done (in collaboration with Steve Mandell, a fine art woodworker), and will be added to the posting when properly photographed.  The second image is of a piece called Alcatraz based upon photographs I took on a visit there to see an Ai Wei Weir installation.  The 2 large black pieces are (a much conflicted) homage to Alberto Burri when he was a POW in Hereford, Texas, during WW II.  And the fourth piece, a detail shot, is in reference to 9/11.  You can see all the work on my Behance Portfolio site at  https://www.behance.net/FiberFly  

posted by Deborah Weir

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Material View at Miami International Airport

If you aren't going to be at the Miami International Airport before October 19, you can check out these terrific photos by Daniel Portnoy.   View the show if you are traveling through/arriving at/departing from Concourse D or E.  Here is a link to the airline directory:  http://www.miami-airport.com/airline-information.asp

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Oaxaca is Textile Heaven

Oaxaca City, Mexico is located a little under 300 miles southwest of Mexico City and is textile heaven.  Upon arriving we quickly discover the bright boxy hand embroidered women’s blouses or huipils. Skirts, handbags, men’s shirts  and placemats and napkins are also embroidered and available to visitors to this charming city. Native costumes lend a festive air to the city as we wander the streets and dive into the markets. 

We shop for lovely rugs loomed in local workshops throughout the state of Oaxaca.  The finer pieces are made with hand spun and naturally dyed wool yarns. We watch as artisans grind locally available natural materials to produce deep colors. The rare cochineal bug produces the lovely reds; add lime juice (acid) for oranges and baking soda (alkaline) for purples.  Plants provide marigold flowers for rich gold colors; indigo for blue and pomegranates for browns. 

Shopping is fun in the outlying villages (the best prices and quality are often found here), in the textile market, the new textile museum and in various shops throughout the city.  We wander the streets and run into artists who are peddling their work and enjoy being in textile heaven.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

What Shade Are You? Take A Look At A Quilt Made With Solids From RJR!

Since I have been studying with Nancy Crow these past few years I have rekindled my love of solids.  In addition to dyeing my own solids, which I love to do, I am using a lot of commercial solids.  One can imagine that "solids are solids"....it probably doesn't make much difference who you buy them from, right?  Wrong.
Did you know that many companies source their "gray goods" from multiple places?  That some companies outsource the dyeing to just as many sources?  Guess what happens to the quality control??  You got it.
Let's talk for a moment about RJR.  As a surface design artist it goes without saying that I spend a lot of time working with cloth;  quality is important to me.  Last summer when I was making objects with Urban Artifacts I had selected a group of solids to accompany the print line.  I noticed that the quality of the fabric was quite good.  This was feedback I received from every one of the makers who worked with the fabric.  I started to wonder about it and I inquired inside the company.  Here is what I learned:  the owners of RJR have had a long-standing relationship with the same Japanese company for the source of all their cloth as well as their printing and dyeing.  There is a very high quality of cotton broadcloth used and it is consistent.  This matters to me.

A few months ago I was approached about making a quilt for the "What Shade Are You?" project and I happily agreed because I really love the Cotton Supreme solids.  My style of working tends to be improvisational in nature so there is no pattern to be acquired with this project, but I'll share with you what I used to create my quilt.
Here is the list of all the fabrics:
283-On The Rocks
433-Silver Lining
380-Silver Screen
395-Warm Gray
341-Stormy Night
282-Gale Force
357-Sunset Ruby

3067-002 Box Springs in Wine
3067-003 Box Springs in Charcoal

I'm going to "walk" you through how I constructed this quilt and what I was thinking about when I was designing it.

I love to use a rotary cutter to "draw" lines and shapes into my fabric.  I think of the rotary cutter as my pen or paintbrush and the cloth as my paper or canvas.  When I piece elements together those seam lines become my gestural "marks".  For me, it has been a new and exciting way of thinking about the work.  
In this construction, another piece in an ongoing series called "Aerial Geometry", I am thinking about my experiences of flying over the Great Plains in a small aircraft and looking at the geometric layout of fields, crop rows, and farms dotted across the landscape.  Quite a bit of my abstracted work is about the meaning of home and place.  I'm interested in the juxtaposition of natural and man-made elements.  While it might not reach out and "smack you over the head" my work frequently includes shapes and symbols that represent these ideas in many of my quilts.  
Also in this quilt I have included a basic house-shape, a nest shape, and some graphic Alliums to represent my garden.

First, I free-cut numerous strips of all the neutral colors in my palette.  These were sewn together and small segments of Goldenrod, Goldilocks, Sunset Ruby, and Redwork were added randomly throughout.  I created sections of gray neutrals and "beige" neutrals separately.  

On my design wall I marked a general shape to represent the intended size of my construction.  I find this to be a helpful guide while working.
My desire was to alternate the gray and beige areas, which were cut from the long pieced sections
in alternating sizes and widths.  I wanted to vary the direction of the pieced shapes.

Here is how I "built" the construction:  first the pieces, then the rows,
then I joined the rows.  When piecing these somewhat amorphous shapes I overlaid the edges and
cut through them so the pieces would come together as a flat construction.
I didn't worry about that whilst piecing the strips because I steam-ironed the strips really well.
It does become important when laying the larger shapes together.

Here are all the large shapes before the rows are joined.

After the background was pieced together I created "stems" for my Allium elements
by cutting sections of Gale Force and Rework fabric colors, folding and sewing a quarter-inch
seam, then rolling the seam under and pinning the stems to the surface, then stitching in place.
Four stems were appliquéd prior to the quilting, and one was added afterward to create some visual depth.

Next, I stitched together a group of raw-edge strips of solids and prints to create 
a "nest", which was stitched onto the surface of the construction.
I wanted all these elements on the surface prior to being quilted as I planned to add more elements
after the quilting.

Here is a closeup of the "nest" components.

Here is a photo of one of my dry giant Allium blossoms, still standing in my garden.  I enjoy their 
metamorphosis and I like how they look after the blossoms have dried out.  They offer a 
lovely visual texture in my garden so I leave them in place as long as possible.

My quilt was longarm-quilted by the talented Joanna Marsh from 
Kustom Kwilts.  She did this beautiful matchstick quilting of the background.
I like to use a double batting of Quilter's Dream Orient and the top layer is Quilter's Dream wool.
This seems to be a perfect combo:  lightweight, breathable, and perfect for quilts that will need to be shipped and folded as the wool prevents creasing!

I free-motion embroidered the first layer of blossom with my sewing machine feed-dogs down.
Then, I hand-embroidered more stem components of the blossom and the buds were added with 
French knots.  This is one of the few places where I really need to use a thimble because
that is a lot of layers of fabric and thread to push a needle through!

The roof and base of my "house" were created with Urban Artifacts by pillow-casing some batting between two layers, stitching and quilting the pieces, then appliquéing them to the quilted surface.

Next, I squared up the edged and stitched a facing onto the quilt, then turned it to the back and whip-stitched it in place.  This is a cotton canvas print from Rifle Paper company, which is 
a division of Cotton & Steel (which is part of the RJR family, in case you didn't know!).

Here is what the turned corner looks like from the front.  I like the clean edge of a faced quilt,
particularly for one that is to be a wall piece.

I'm satisfied with the details of the construction.

And here is my finished quilt!
Dimensions are 40" by 40".

If you are coming to Quilt Market and/or Quilt Festival in fall, 2017, please look for my quilt as part of "Personal Iconography:   Graffiti On Cloth", a special exhibition presented by Dinner At Eight Artists.  Jamie Fingal, another designer for RJR, is the other half of the curating team with me.  
I hope you enjoyed seeing how my quilt was created.  I really encourage you to ask for Cotton Supreme Solids at your local quilt shop(s).  It is really a great product and I am a fan!