Sunday, September 29, 2013

The crochet coral reef project

Last weekend I went back to the Denver Art Museum to see the the Crochet Coral Reef before it was taken off exhibit. I thought it was the work of the Ladies Handiwork Society out of Denver, but in fact, the story of its creation is much more fascinating than yarn bombing.

The crochet coral reef stretched out for 20' in a rainbow of color.


The project is sponsored by the Institute For Figuring, a non-profit Los-Angeles based organization, to bring awareness to the world's oceans and engage the public in science, math, environmental issues and crafting. That's a lot of pressure to put on a lowly crochet hook, but its working. The Crochet Coral Reef has been displayed around the world and has inspired satellite reefs from Chicago to Dublin to Australia.


It was conceived by two transplanted Australian sisters who got hooked, quite literally, on math. Inspired by the Great Barrier Reef, they began experimenting with a technique called hyperbolic crochet, discovered by Dr. Daina Taimina at Cornell University in the 1990s, to develop algorithms for making all sorts of coral creatures. Prior to Dr. Taimina's discovery, it was thought to be impossible to represent hyperbolic space, a type of non-Euclidian geometry, with three-dimensional objects. More information on hyperbolic crochet and the project inspiration can be found on the Crochet Coral Reef Project website and in the project book, An Exploration of the Intersection of Higher Geometry and Feminine Handicraft, by Margaret Wertheim. The book includes directions for crocheting hyperbolic objects. It is available for $20 on the Institute For Figuring website.

A close up of a portion of the reef shows the variety of shapes and colors in the reef.


What is especially fun about this project is that in addition to displaying the reef, The Institute For Figuring encourages public participation in crocheting new pieces of reef so that it continues to grow. There was a representative at the DAM teaching visitors how to crochet using this technique and explaining how the stitches created the shapes of hyperbolic space.


When the exhibit leaves Denver this month, it is going to Copenhagen, Denmark. You can see it there or encourage your local institution to host a showing by contacting the Institute.


I was fascinated by the colors and forms of this project before I learned about the math and science behind it. It seems that the crochet hook may not be so lowly after all.

These yarn jellyfish made me laugh.


Small cases showed separate, reef-inspired works.


The beaded coral is stunning.


This piece really showcases the hyperbolic shapes.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Wild Heather

On Saturday I went to the Wild Heather Studio and Gallery around the corner from the Denver Art Museum to pick up the piece of fabric I dyed at the museum the weekend before. Here it is.


After washing it is soft and supple, but I was a little disappointed in that the leaf stamps that I had used had faded so dramatically. Still it was a fun experiment and I am looking forward to trying more. I even borrowed a book from the library to read up on dying techniques, although I think it will be many months before I actually try it.


While I was there I looked closely at what the studio offers. There is hand-dyed fabric in one or two yard lengths in all colors of the rainbow, hand-dyed gimp and ribbon, and even silk cocoons.


There was an artist working on a fabric wall hanging with dyed and raw silk and embroidering it with raw silk cocoons. I don't use silk much and I had never seen anyone stitch with the silk just off a cocoon before!


It is a nice shop and I am likely to go there to buy any dyed fabrics or yarns I may want in the short term rather than trying it myself. I did buy myself a little treat during this trip, some hand-dyed silk ribbon.


It will be perfect for making this silk dragonfly that I saw in issue 75 of Inspirations Magazine. I want to put him on my crazy quilt block when I have time to get back to that project.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

WELCOME progress

My husband and I just bought a house in Rhode Island. It was built in 1850, but has been well kept. I saw it for the first time when I was back east at the end of August, and it really didn't take long to feel at home--even though half the rooms are empty and there were boxes everywhere. My husband has taken on everything--buying the house, moving, and house repairs--without my help since I am still in Colorado, and I am really grateful.


I'm trying hard to find a job so that I can move home soon. In the meantime my husband has identified the location where the Brazilian WELCOME will hang.


I've promised not to start any new projects until it is finished and have been working on it constantly this week. I've actually completed enough that I went to A Stitching Shop yesterday to buy the pearls and beads that will embellish the letters and flower centers. They won't be sewn in place until I finish the stitching and wash the piece, but I expect that will be during my next trip home in October.


This week I finished the "O". The blue peach blossoms were fun to make. My detached buttonhole petals are far from perfect, but I am quite pleased with how ruffly they look. I also like the frilly rose. I've made enough Bossa Nova Roses on this piece that it was fun to change it up with the cast on frills.


Only the W is left and I've already finished the gold, which is the hard part. I may have the whole WELCOME completed for my husband's birthday on October 5th. Cross your fingers that my Massachusetts framer will still consider framing it even though she has closed her shop. I want this one done right!


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Confession of a bad daughter who was trying to be good

Back in July I wrote about a bath towel I had embroidered for my grandmother and how disappointed I was that she never used it. I received a lot of comments on that post, both on and off the blog. What surprised me was that most people confessed to not using homemade creations that their friends and daughters had given them because they were too special--although they also complained about their own creations not being used by the recipients.


I grew up hearing my mother grumble about people hanging baby and wedding quilts on the wall instead of using them. I also grew up with the example she set of always having a quilt she had made on her own bed.


So when I went to college and my mother gave me a quilt, I used it. Unfortunately, it was much too exquisite a quilt to give a teenager moving out into the world for the first time. It was composed of hand-pieced stars surrounded by a white ground and was hand quilted. My mother won a prize for it.


But, I used it. I sat on it, studied on it, washed it. And it suffered. After college I continued to use it and my pet rabbits got to it. More washing. And you can see what happened. It was loved to death. Thankfully, when mom saw it, she blamed the red fabric dye for disintegrating the borders, but I am still guilty of subjecting it to harder use than it should have received.


The next quilt my mother gave me was hand appliqu├ęd and quilted. It was a wedding quilt and it survived better. But when you use a quilt, you have to wash it and between washes and the sun, it has faded, although it is still usable. It is now in the guest room and so it gets less use and is often admired. The washing has made it soft and comfy.


For my second wedding mom got smart. I told her exactly what I wanted for a quilt--a combination of 9 patch blocks and pinwheels all done in patchy Civil War era fabrics. This quilt is MACHINE stitched and quilted. It too is being used, but I think that it will last. For one thing, the rabbits have died. And for a second, I've learned to make my bed (which I never did as a teenager). Besides, I've learned my lesson and am much more gentle with this quilt. Even so, that won't stop me from begging for more quilts from mom. We've just bought an old house in Rhode Island and I expect that the winters will be cold!

Cats are much easier on quilts than rabbits.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Dyeing fun at the DAM

Saturday I took advantage of a break in the rain to visit the Denver Art Museum. Since May, they have celebrating the opening of their new permanent textile exhibit by highlighting textiles throughout the museum and hosting textile-related events. I'm ashamed to say that I didn't see many of the exhibits because I was having so much fun on the first floor. It was almost as much fun as being in grammar school again!


Before I even got inside, I found the entrance plaza transformed into a dye garden, which highlighted dye plants and plant based dyes, and hosted demonstrations of both plant-based dyeing techniques and silk painting. I arrived by 10 and this area was full of people each time I walked by until I left at 1:30. What a great way to pull people into the museum!

In the dye garden, you could also sign up for indigo dying. Hoping it wasn't just for kids, I signed up--and wouldn't you know it, there was only one child and I even found a coworker and his wife participating! I have never dyed anything, so tie dyeing an indigo bandana was a lot of fun. First we bunched and folded our bandanas and held them fast with rubber bands. After we finished, the bandanas soaked in water for a few minutes before being plunged into the dye bath for five minutes. After the dye bathe, the bandanas were rinsed, then we undid the rubber bands to see our creations.


The volunteer staff then took over to wash our creations and store them for us to pick up on our way out. They really had the whole process down so that it took no more than 30 minutes. Here is my bandana. It looks like an underwater scene. Maybe I can give some of those blobs tentacles and see what happens!


Upstairs while I was waiting for a tour of the new exhibit (which I missed) I got engrossed in the quilt studio where they had quilts set up for a kind of community wide quilting bee, tables to make crazy quilt blocks on, and Saturday's speaker, which was a local artist explaining how to dye fabric. I thought her talk was fascinating, and then I found out that we could try dyeing ourselves. Using stamps, relief plates, brushes and rollers we used thick fabric dye to dye our own cotton squares. Honestly, I thought I was 8 again. What a lot of fun! I will have to go to her art studio next week to pick up my finished square after it has been processed. The studio is around the corner from the museum. I stopped there before going home and got list of dyeing and sewing classes they offer. I'm hoping I can take a class soon.


So I didn't see many of the exhibits, but I have one more weekend before the textiles (except for the new permanent exhibit) are packed up, so I may go back this week to see a few additional things. For example, I know that the Ladies Fancywork Society, Denver's local yarn bombing group, has a coral exhibit that I would like to see before it moves out. Here is a sneak peak from a small case on the first floor of what it is like.


And here is their contribution to the museum's back entrance. Aren't these ladies talented?


So maybe I will feature more next week. Until then, I've found a lot of great new resources on learning dyeing techniques in Denver and I can't wait to explore the world of fabric dyeing.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Book Review: A Schoolgirl's Work and Girlhood Pursuits

A Schoolgirl's Work: Samplers from the Spencer Museum of Art Barb Adams and Alma Allen (2011)

Girlhood Pursuits: A Sampling of Embroideries from the New Bedford Whaling Museum New Bedford Whaling Museum (2008)


These two small books are similar in many ways. Both provide photos, catalog data, and historical information on 24 samplers from their respective museum collections. But the collections themselves forced the writers down different narrative paths, both valid and both interesting.


A Schoolgirl's Work is a widely distributed book that presents 24 samplers from the Spencer Museum of Art. Each sampler is shown is full color, and plates include close ups and, most interestingly, the back of each piece. Since the samplers are presented in chronological order, the reader can see how styles changed through time. However, the samplers in this collection were acquired without a particular acquisition strategy. They were donated to the museum by people who collected what they liked or who donated family pieces. Few come from Kansas, and little is known about most of the stitchers. That said, the samplers, are all delightful, colorful and full of whimsey. As a result, the authors took up the slack in the narrative by developing patterns based on the samplers. These are are sweet, generally small projects, that provide mini lessons on deconstructing and reconstructing motifs for your own use.


Girlhood Pursuits also catalogs 24 samplers. This was an exhibition catalog and it is sadly not widely distributed. It presents much of the same information for each sampler as A Schoolgirl's Work (sampler height, width, materials, maker) but instead of the clear photography of the former, the plates in "Girlhood Pursuits" are darker and there is only one image of each piece. Since the poems and inscriptions are not always transcribed, this left me wishing for more detailed close ups. What this work has in its favor though, is the fact that all of the samplers depicted were either made in New Bedford or Dartmouth, Massachusetts or by someone with close connections to the New Bedford area. As a result, the authors were able to identify some of the embroideries as works of specific schools or derived from specific teachers and the histories of the girls who worked them are also known and presented. It provides a tantalizing start to understanding the social, economic and religious history of New Bedford through a female perspective.


The two approaches to cataloging these sampler collections are rooted in the organizations' acquisition strategies, and each organization made the best of what they had. New Bedford was able to piece together the story of these embroideries with much more clarity, which I appreciated, but as lovely as their samplers are, they don't compare with the delightful imagery and beautiful condition of the Spencer Museum of Art collection. I plan to use some of the motifs from the Spencer collection to develop my own sampler. Both works, however, remind us of how important it is for small local and regional museums to share their collections. Samplers, like their makers, often take journeys of their own, and sharing this information is the only way to reconstruct their meaning and the meaning of the lives that produced and cherished them.