Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Creating Community

Spring classes started last week, so I've got less writing time than I did last month. At work, we've had some meetings that turned into discussions about ways of creating community for students, faculty, and staff on our (commuter) campus. After one of these meetings, I started daydreaming about sponsoring a crafters' group; a few hours later, one of our students emailed me with the same idea. So we're going to do it---and I will finally realize my dream of making stuff on company time! (That's a joke.)

I'm tempted to surf hither and yon, looking at how other people organize their groups, but the student who shared my brainstorm subtly convinced me that we need to keep it simple. I am, though, going to indulge my need to produce a cool-looking flyer.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Block Printing

I found a book called "Instant Printmaking: Simple Techniques to Try at Home" (I think) at the library. A great book---but there's not a lot that's simple to learn or easy to do at home. I guess that if it doesn't require a giant printing press, the authors assume that people can carry out a technique at home.

I did, though, find a bunch of approaches I wanted to try, so the kids and I went to the art supply store (after they attended a work-related breakfast meeting at my office). I don't think Elliot had been at a big art supply store before, so he had that kid-in-a-candy store look....after a while, though, he told me, "You don't have to get *everything* I ask for, Mom!" I hadn't realized how Santa-ish I was being. I have a strong weakness for art supply stores.

The main things I needed to start my printmaking journey (or walk around the block, depending how it went) were brayers (rollers) and printmaking ink. I actually asked a worker at the store to help me choose paper (I feel awkward asking for help, and I often distrust the advice they give, but this guy was very helpful)---I didn't have a clue what would work but not break the bank. (On my own, I found the most expensive, double-deckle boxed paper, and I wanted it *bad*, but I needed to be sure I knew what I was doing before I sank that kind of money into a project that I might abandon after ten minutes.)

I had tried carving lino blocks and pieces of rubber about a year ago, but the results stunk, so the first discovery I made last night was that the brayer makes all the difference (last time I just stuck the block into some paint, and the images came out gloppy). I even used one of my old lino blocks this time (a small, square Arts and Crafts design), and the results were excellent.

My great success, though, was the rubber rectangle I carved for making Valentines. I was surprised at how easy it was for me to copy my sketch into the rubber, and then carve it up. Without the brayer, the prints would undoutedly have been awful; with it, they turned out great.

I'm not sure what comes next. I've got a pair of jeans cut out for me and some fleece slippers for Elliot, but I don't feel like sewing right now. Classes start on Tuesday....the week is going to be very busy so I probably need to rest in a serious way tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

I keep losing the point(s)

About ten days ago, when I was in the can't-handle-unstructured-time funk that I get into whenever there's a break from work, I decided (probably on my way up the stairs--it was a five-second decision) that making a quilt would perk me up. I've had batting and backing for a child-size quilt in my stash for almost a year now--I bought it thinking that I was going to make a quilt for my niece, Imogen, back when she was a newborn, and then I heard that my brother and sister-in-law had received a ton of quilts, so I gave up on the plan before I did any work on it.

I always regret the decision to make a quilt, mostly because my interest in the project dies long before I'm even 2/3 done with the work, but also because I'm simply not that good a quilter. I hate projects that take a long time, so I've never even made a quilt the old-fashioned way--I always strip-piece them--and even so, it takes too long for me. My other big problem with quilts is that (perhaps because I strip piece) I always end up cutting the points of the squares off when I'm assembling blocks or large triangles. I was so determined not to let this happen again, but of course, it did.

Anyway: ten days have gone by, and I'm almost done with quite a nice little quilt for Astrid's bed. Yes, the quilt is largely pointless, but it's a nice melange of purples, blues, greens, and tea colors. Elliot helped me arrange the half-blocks (cut on the diagonal), and he also helped me pin the quilt top, batting, and backing together. Best of all (from his perspective), I've let him start learning how to use the sewing machine--he got to sew for two lengths of the quilt. He will also help me hand-quilt a design in the center of the quilt (which is made of the same purple I used for the backing--I found myself one block short, so I turned a square of purple into a parallelogram--it looks almost intentional, as my husband kindly put it). Elliot's involvement is great on several levels: I'm obviously delighted (and a little nervous) about his interest in learning how to use the machine, and it's great to spend the little bit of extra time with him at the sewing machine. But it also reminds me of the last time I made a quilt--yes, pointless--which was during the last six weeks of my pregnancy with Astrid.

That quilt was for Elliot: it marked a change of family status for him, as he was about to become a big brother and was preparing (very resistantly) to move from his little bedroom into a bigger room that had been his father's home office. As a way of easing the transition, he picked out the fabrics for the quilt that would go on his new "big kid bed." At five-and-a-half, he was too young to do any real work on the quilt, but he loved having me ask him how I was making the quilt. The answer: "With love in every stitch." He needed a lot of reminders about his importance in the family.

I also like thinking about that quilt, and about the events that (sadly) link it to Astrid's new quilt. I started Elliot's quilt in the weeks leading up to the US invasion of Iraq, so some of the symbols hand-quilted on that one reflected the family's hopes that there wouldn't be a war. The invasion started about two weeks after Astrid's birth--I will always remember being up with her all night and listening to Anne Garrels' NPR reports from Baghdad. Tonight, as I guided Elliot's hands on my sewing machine, I considered the address that Bush was making that minute about his decision to escalate the war (we weren't watching it), and I wondered what would be happening the next time I decide to make a quilt. (Maybe Elliot will make the next quilt in our house....)

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Unorganically yours

I spent some time on New Year's Day looking at websites that sell organic fabric--cotton, wool, hemp, even bamboo--and reading stuff written by people who prefer it, whether for environmental or health-related reasons. I had conflicted responses to what I saw. First, a lot of these textiles are beautiful; I can see myself having a happy time sewing and wearing these materials. Many of them are not as expensive as I'd imagined they'd be (with the exception of the printed cottons--eeek! they cost a bundle). And then, of course, I was troubled by what I saw as the fanaticism of some of the people writing about organics--some of them have an obsession with purity that seems to block out any recognition of how impossible it is to avoid "contamination" with the world we find ourselves living in. Some, I suspect, actually spend so much of their time and resources trying to leave the smallest environmental footprint that they miss all kinds of opportunities for involvement and action with people who can't afford to be organic fundamentalists.

(OK, end of rant. I have to remind myself that I, too, have my fundamentalist tendencies. The sight of women bottle-feeding their babies, for instance, turns me into a Talibanish dervish. "Breast milk or nothing," my attitude says. "Burn down the formula factories!" I cry, to the obvious concern of parents with all kinds of good reasons to bottle-feed.)

Anyway, looking at the organic textiles made me do a double-take on a dress I just finished for Astrid. This cotton knit, which I got on sale at Sewbaby.com, could not be less organic, I fear. But I love the print! So many colors! What girl wouldn't like to wear a whole tropical jungle? If I went organic, Astrid wouldn't get to twirl in a dress like this.

Excuses, excuses.

Controlling Art Teacher on the loose....

The four of us have been home together for almost two weeks now--for the kids' winter break from school--and Astrid is losing her mind. Actually, I'm losing my mind (I can't speak for my husband) because Astrid is (I think) so bored that her behavior is just awful right now. She's a challenge under the best circumstances, but I don't think I realized what a good job her teachers and friends do of tiring her out. Lately, even when she's exhausted, she still finds reserves of energy for mischief and mayhem.

I'm not sure why it took me so long, but last night after dinner I realized that we needed some serious, kid-focused "project time." I got out the paint-and-glue-covered purple vinyl tablecloth (left over from one of Elliot's early birthday parties)--a signal to both Elliot and Astrid that it's "project time"--as well as a fistful of glitter glue tubes, a couple of shirt box lids from Christmas, and some mosaic squares and strips I quickly created with my rotary cutter and some scraps of paper. I always have a process or product in mind when I get a project going, and, of course, it's never the process or product my children are interested in pursuing---this, obviously, is my problem, not theirs. As a way of making myself feel better about my need to control their experience, I tell myself that, if I didn't go with my own ideas about what might be fun, I'd probably never be able to create chances for them to get their hands messy and concentrate on something other than mentally torturing each other.

At first Elliot didn't want to participate, but he eventually jumped in (more about him in a moment). Astrid, on the other hand, knew just what she wanted to do: squeeze as much glitter glue as possible onto her shirt box, and then leave it there. Controlling Art Teacher (me) tried to get her to spread it around with her fingers (not possible: with the exception of bread dough, she can't stand the feeling of most squishy things) or a paint brush, or to use it as glue to make a mosaic. No: it was, and would be, a mini-mountain of glitter glue, one that would, were the heated air in our house not so dry, be moist for at least two days.

When Controlling Art Teacher saw that Elliot had produced a semi-evil looking face with the paper bits and glitter glue (reminiscent of the face on the peeing Calvin cartoons that some people still have on the back windows of their pickup trucks--not that Elliot probably had it in mind), she decided that he needed to work in a more abstract vein. In order to keep this wish from seeming like a form of negative criticism, C. A. T. gave Elliot an "art challenge": using a 6" X 6" styrofoam square (also from our Christmas trash/recycling pile), he needed to cover the whole space without attempting anything obviously representational. C. A. T. believed that Elliot would relish this challenge. Elliot's pretty smart, though, so, of course, he saw it as an imposition (which it was! Even C. A. T. knew this!). He played along for a while, and then got bored.

That's when C. A. T. made her most desperate move: she told Elliot that the "art challenge" was going to prepare him to help arrange a big pile of pieced strips that were going into a small quilt for Astrid's bed. He needed to learn how to visualize how bits of different colors look when they're placed close together. Yeah!

I have two really good kids. Sometimes I realize how lucky I am that they put up with me. I did let Elliot help me arrange the blocks for Astrid's quilt, and he did a great job--the "art challenge" notwithstanding.