Joe Cunningham Lecture * QuiltFest Palm Springs • Sept 2016

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Self Portrait, by Joe Cunningham

The evening of my class with Joe Cunningham, he had a lecture in the hotel, and since there were only four of us, he told the organizers he could hold up his own quilts and talk at the same time.  So we began with a song of his (guitar and all) and then he pulled out his quilts. In between we got “four lectures in one,” as he talked about how he came to quilting.  He’d started collaborating with Gwen Marston in 1975, and then she taught him to quilt.  They were both inspired by the collection of an older quilter with her handmade quilts, a woman who kept the quilting tradition alive during the middle years of the past century.  In 1990, he ended his collaboration with Gwen Marston, moved to New York, then to San Francisco to work with the Esprit Collection of quilts.  He never left.

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Lake Street House, by Joe Cunningham

He developed this quilting process working in conjunction with the people at Handi Quilter, where he could enter in a complex pattern into a computer and “tile” it back onto his quilt in the quilting.  Each tile takes about 45 minutes to quilt, but creates all sorts of interesting patterns in the quilting.  I asked him about the trend to matchstick quilting, and he had only one thing to say: “lost a chance to be creative.”
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And this is how he labels/signs his quilts: his name and the year stitched into the top.

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I’m on a Quilt, by Joe Cunningham

Both Joe and Luke Haynes, another art-centered quilter who is male, seem to be quite adventurous in the use of large blocks of particularly unattractive (ugly?) fabric and making that fabric hew to their vision of the quilt, an approach worth learning.  So much of what I see is that we quilters are the ones commanded BY the fabric to the end result, rather than the opposite tack.

Something else I noted in his approach — that I also see in Luke Haynes —  is figuring out the space where quilting and the art world collide and how to use that tension and friction.

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(Of course, I’m fascinated by the mundane: how he folds his quilts so there are no creases.)

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Kiev Protesters Quilt, by Joe Cunningham

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Detail, Kiev Protesters Quilt

He talked about how a quilt is allowed to say several things: I love you.  I’m thinking about you. Memorial quilts.  But he was fascinated one day by the blockades in Kiev, and how those who were protesting just fell to sleep anywhere.

For me this quilt reminded me of what he said in class: that he makes a quilt to see what it will look like.

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Bicameral Lovers Knot, by Joe Cunningham

Log cabin blocks are in the background.  Look up what bicameral is, if you don’t know.

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New York Beauty, by Joe Cunningham

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Back of New York Beauty, showing the quilting

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Mountain/Mountaineer, by Joe Cunningham

Luke gave him some of the leftover Log Cabin blocks from his recent exhibit, and Joe made them into this quilt, minus the mountaineer.  His wife walked in where it was hanging and said that he needed a figure there, so Joe gave it back to Luke, who added the climber

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Crazy City–San Francisco, by Joe Cunningham

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Back of Crazy City–San Francisco

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Crazy City–the Creek, by Joe Cunningham

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Back

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Tar Patch Quilt, by Joe Cunningham

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Detail and Signature

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He covered so many topics that I can’t write them all here, but they were fascinating and I thought about them all the way home, such as (I’m paraphrasing):

  • If a piece of art looks like art, then it’s somebody else’s art.  [Can’t we apply this to our quilts?]
  • The brilliance of quilts in the colonies [our early American colonies] was in the egalitarian nature of it.  It wasn’t just for the rich, which it had been earlier when quilting was done in imitation of European quilts, but it was for the masses.
  • These women changed the definition of a quilt from a commercial item to a gift.  The quilting, done around a frame, cost no money.  Because of this, it remained in the realm of women and was invisible to the men, especially the merchant class.
  • Quilts from Europe in the earliest days were of four types: whole cloth, honeycomb (think EPP), strippy or medallion.  From there, we invented blocks.  From four types, we know have over 400,000 different patterns, an independent realm created by women.
  • And finally: “We make quilts like everyone else…unless you don’t want to.”  A trap door exists for us to escape the sameness and make our own vision.

I love classes where I have as much for the brain as I do for the creative, visual, tactile side of the equation, and this lecture certainly gave me everything.  I’m so glad I was able to go, and so glad QuiltFest brought out this great speaker.

Workshop with Joe Cunningham • Sept. 2016

Early this month, I got up at very early in the morning and drove an hour to the Palm Springs Convention Center (well, really, the hotel next door) as I was scheduled to take a class with Joe Cunningham during the recent Quiltfest Oasis Palm Springs, with its emphasis on Modern Quilts.  Libs Elliot was also teaching, but I was interested in Joe because of a video I’d watched about him and his quilting long ago.  He was on Craft in America, a series on PBS, and as he was the only quilter in the series at that time, I was amazed that he was teaching within an hour from my house.  I think I registered for QuiltFest on the first day, I was so excited.  To explain the video above: it was a lovely quirky thing, but he brought his guitar and sang and played for us.  Now I wish every conference class had live music like this: classic tunes, played on the guitar.  He even took my request and played  Blackbird (by the Beatles).  It was lovely.

To get our class started, he talked about how he approached quilts: “I think of something I want to “do” and then see how it looks.  The reason I’m making it is to find out what it looks like.”  He has a strict process, including the idea that since we are making chaos in our cutting and sewing, and it would be good to limit our fabrics to control the chaos.

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So what was the class?  Basically it was the stripped down version of that joke we quilters all make: we cut fabric apart and sewed it back together.  However, first we had to choose our fabrics.  He’d told us to bring four 1 yard pieces of fabric; I brought six or seven, but really it was a relief not to haul my stash to a class (the usual).  He went around the room, and by what he said as helped us choose, I noticed the following ideas:

avoid things that look like they go together (like using fabrics from one line or designer)
neutral ground is good
high contrast between the three fabrics is good
look for a variation in scale and visual texture

He then gave us a handout with a specific way of cutting and sewing the pieces back together.  I got to work.

We all sewed all morning, and before I left to get my lunch, I had the stack of blocks (above) all finished.
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Lunch was at Sherman’s Deli, which was just around the corner from where we were working.  Three of us went over and got salads, then sat out on the pool deck at the hotel, enjoying the beautiful day.  Then it was back to work.cunninghamclass_3

Basically it was to put all the blocks up on the wall, and make them work together.  Well, at first I felt like the story about the classes at QuiltCon 2015 with the Gee’s Bend Quilters.  All of the quilters sat there, expecting the Gee’s Bend Quilters to tell them how to sew.  But after their opening of a hymn and a prayer, they turned to the women in the class and said, “Well, get to sewing!”  (Told to me by someone who was in the class)

I fully expected to just make blocks according to Joe’s directions and have it stop there.  But amazingly, the language of design he was schooling us in started to make sense.  That first picture was just blocks slapped up there.  But then I could see the possibilities in mine, that he’d showed in someone else’s.  And I began to arrange them to some remarkable inner vibe and weirdness. Here are some of the other arrangements happening around the room:

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More music, more switching things around.  He was always available for help, but I wanted to try this strange magic all by myself.  After cutting, arranging, sewing, it just wasn’t happening.  Then I took a photo, flipped it 180 degrees and it was like the tumblers in a lock falling into place.

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I look pretty tired

This is where I was at the end of the class, at 4 p.m.  I’m sure you are saying “what???” and I actually sort of agree.  I’m not really an improv person, because frankly I just never got that religion, but this technique of his was actually quite fun, and I didn’t waste the gallons of fabric I usually do when trying to do improv.

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Our class.  cunninghamclass_9a

Everyone cleared out, but the organizers let me stay and work, since I was signed up for the lecture that night and really had no where to go.  I had a lunch with me so I wasn’t worried about dinner, and just wanted to keep going on the borders.  I had a great piece of greyed circles fabric with me, and I thought I would try to see if it could meld on what I was working on.  So I started by extending blocks of color out from the quilt, and filling in with the circles.  I got to the above right photo and it was five o’clock and I wanted a break before the lecture (plus ice my sore shoulder).

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The nice guys at the pool deck bar let me have some ice, and I sat outside watching the gauzy curtains on these poolside bed/canopies float in the slight breeze, while eating my dinner and icing my shoulder.  It was a great break.  This conference was also on the same weekend as Desert Trip, that music festival with all the oldsters playing, and it had decimated the attendance at QuiltFest.  There were only six people in our class (amazing) and it turned out there were only four at the lecture that night (see next post).

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So this is where it all ended.  It’s not a huge quilt–maybe 33″ square–but it was a good experience in trying a new method.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself!

Chuck Nohara Redux

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(Redux: brought back, from the Latin word meaning returning, — or — from reducere to lead back.  First Known Use: 1860. So now you know.)

Well…I posted this photo recently, musing about how many more of these little suckers I was going to make.  Since they come from 2″ line drawings in Chuck Nohara’s book, any size is possible, but Susan and I went with 6″ finished.  Which is fun.  And small.  And I still have to make all the sashing and all that, so it has come to the time to think about sizing.

I tend to like square quilts.  And with four more, this quilt would be square.  I know I have 4 per month, three more months, but RETURNING to my senses, I realized I was pretty much done.  As one of the more fun quilt projects I’ve done, by teaming up with Susan gave me great motivation to get things done (because I knew she would).  If you jump in, try hooking up with the Instagram group and letting the motivation of those women pull you along.  But still, it’s time for me to be done.

So here are my four final blocks:

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I chose from the rest of what we’d identified as the last blocks of the year, pulling forward ones that I thought would blend with what I already have.  This also gives me a chance to take off my least favorite block and move it to the back (I’m not telling which one it is). Susan and I have also agreed to make each other a signature block, but keep it a surprise, so I have that one too.  Whatever is leftover after all this will go on the back.

Christina Xu, in her article “Your Project Deserves a Good Death,” notes that:

Most of the people I know are compulsive starters. We constantly create new projects, companies, organizations, and events; sometimes, we even get roped into adopting other people’s projects and entities…Almost all of them will not be the last thing we start.

She goes on to say that we don’t often know how to finish up, or end, all these projects we’ve started (we quilters call them UFOs).

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She notes there are five categories of projects-that-won’t-quit, with “The Indefinite Life Support” being the first.  That’s when we keep a project going way past the time it should be allowed to lapse.  Think of all those 100 block projects you’ve been seeing all summer.  Some actually do go all the way, but I say, if you get to #47 and you’ve learned what you had to learn, and you are ready to move on. . . then don’t feel guilty for not having A Complete Set.

Another category is “The Marathon,” when you carry on a project to the very end, but it burns you out or causes harm.  I had two of those this year: the Halloween quilt-a-long, and the Oh Christmas Tree quilt-a-long.  I loved doing both of them and have two lovely quilt tops to show for my efforts, but when I got to the part in Oh Christmas Tree where the pattern was wrong, it threw a big wrench into my Enthusiasm Works and I really had to run my own marathon to get that project finished (we corrected it).  Doing one quilt-a-long is huge, but two was like running two marathons at once.

She closes her article by noting the good reasons for declaring an end to some things:

Accepting the possibility of the end means periodically taking a critical look at your work and recognizing when its time has passed. Letting go of a project or an organization returns all of the resources it’s tying up — funding, attention, time, the emotional labor contributed by you and others — to the ecosystem. Whether by you or others, those resources will be recombined into new, surprising forms….The end of something, when unrushed and deliberate, is a time for celebration as well as closure.

And so I celebrate the end of the Chuck Nohara project. I still have several blocks to make, and then there is all that sashing, but it feels like a good time to wrap up this portion and move on.

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Yvonne Porcella

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Since I am an older quilter, I am familiar with many of the early pioneers in quilting, and one of them was Yvonne Porcella (photo above is from 1993).  I just learned of her death after her six year ordeal with ovarian cancer, and thought I would pass on pictures of her creativity.  Upon her death, the Modesto Bee wrote:

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I lived in the Bay Area when she was well-known, and it was another quilter, Elinor Peace Bailey who told me about Yvonne and told me I should learn about her and look at some of her work.

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So I purchased this book, and fell in love.  You can buy it for a penny on Amazon right now.  And then I bought another:

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Here is some of her work:

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(from here)

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(many images from here)

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Asked to reflect on her career, how it began and what drives her as an artist, Porcella says:  “As a child, motherly love taught me to knit and sew, and rip mistakes and make it right. Curiosity led to self education, enhanced by a collection of books, visits to museums, and exploration of textiles from other countries. Imagination generated inspiration and freedom led to invention. I learned creativity comes from making your own rules, understanding the limits of your chosen materials, and having confidence in personal skills.”

I’ll miss your influence and quilts, Yvonne.  Thank you for teaching me not to be afraid of color.

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Chuck Nohara Blocks, and This N’ That

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It’s Chuck Nohara update time, as I just finished my last block for September.  This is how one of them started: a wonky mess.  I realized that while I had decided to paper piece this one, not each piece was identical to its brother/sister piece.  If you decide to do #CN1723 (which is how we identify them on Instagram), number the pieces from 1-8, so you get neighbors together, rather than mixing them up.  Yes, I unpicked it all and started again.

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Here are September’s blocks: #cn1723, #cn1105, #cn570, and #cn1454 (links are to IG).
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I cheated on the EPP on this one, as I first pieced together the four-patch, then treated it as one unit in the construction.chucknohara0916_4

Here they all are.  Now that we are getting closer to the end, I need to think about the shape I want to make.  I tend towards square quilts, so if that’s what I want to do, I only need four more.  Or eighteen.  (Maybe I won’t make it square.)kcity_1

You know already that I went to Kansas City, but I thought their restored Union Station was stunning, which includes the ornate ceiling and scrubbed-up chandeliers.
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The folks in Kansas City are rabid enthusiastic about their sports teams, as I’m sure you can see the Chiefs logo in one of the giant windows.
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While I was there I had a chance to sew on a new label for Starry Compass Rose, and it was good to see an old friend again.  Not only was my quilt an old friend, so were the people who work at Paintbrush Studios–it was Anne’s birthday and we all went to lunch to celebrate.  Yes, we sang to her in the restaurant–she is a lovely person and I was happy my trip coincided with her birthday.pbstudios_2 pbstudios_3

They do food big here; it was delicious (I took home the leftovers).  I think there’s a special feeling about the Midwest.  You kind of feel like the center of the universe there, with all the trains and planes and people having to go through there, or pass over there on the way to somewhere else.  I lived in the Midwest for a couple of years, and still have very fond memories (just not of the snow in the winter).shine_0916_back

Lastly, I finished Shine: The Circles Quilt, and have been photographing it in preparation to enter Road to California.  I’ll give a big reveal here in a couple of weeks after I finish some more photographs, but for now–it’s done by the deadline.

road-entry-for-2017Now comes the nerve-wracking waiting part.

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(I swiped this illustration from Susan’s blog: we are doing this Chuck stuff together.)

˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚
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I do not know about, nor choose, the content, nor do I receive any money from these ads.
˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚