Sunday, September 17, 2017

Eclipse-o-mania: Cosmic Uses for Batik Scraps

Guess what, there's another eclipse tonight! I'm not kidding - scroll to the end of this article.

Inspired by this past August's solar eclipse, and the NASA #EclipseArtQuilt challenge, I aimed to make a quilt that would inspire quiet reverence for a natural phenomenon. Instead, I wound up with a batik tailgate party. Afterwards, extra batik and batik-esque circles and crescents were strewn about my cutting table, coffee table, ironing board, sewing room floor, kitchen floor, purse, socks, but not my hair. Dramatic recreation:
So I picked them up, dusted them off, and started arranging them on a blue background.
And, to make a long story short, I made the following. It's called, "There's Always an Eclipse Somewhere."

How do we love batiks? Let us count the ways! They're full of irregularities that give them an extra-terrestrial look. Especially batiks that are so splotchy that you don't know what else to do with them - they make terrific astronomical and astrogeological phenomena. Sunspots, craters, crevasses...

...atmospheric anomolies...

...purple mountain's majesty and amber waves of grain (oh wait, that's America)...
...shining seas...

...valleys rings, dorsa, promontorium...

... single-cell seeds of life, seas, arachnoids, domes...


...lava tubes, dark matter...

...channels and canals (built by mother nature or ET)...

(That yellow globe above is a bit of hand-painted fabric with experimental smears, arguably from brush cleaning.) It's so much fun to find strange parts you would otherwise discard, and cut planets around them. I stuck everything down lightly with a glue stick.
Then considered whether to throw a tulle net on top. Tulle can soften/hide edges of raw edge applique, and the hue can change the look of the quilt in unexpected ways. If you freemotion quilt on top of tulle (instead of directly on the cutouts), there's less concern about loose edges causing tangles and creases.

Let the testing begin. Black tulle:
Purple tulle: 
A vintage red organza scarf, full of runs:
The tests made me decide not to use tulle at all. That meant more pressure to do a neat zigzag around each shape. Used either matching or variegated rayon threads. I ignored the pressure and did a non-neat zigzag. 
By the time I finished the machine applique, it was already 5 pm, and I have a rule: Never FMQ (freemotion quilt) after 5, except in case of emergency potholder. From dusk forward, I make lousy decisions, monotonous dinners, and my handwriting decays worse than usual. FMQ is all about excellent handwriting. 

But I do let myself PRACTICE after 5 pm. I started out on paper. My first idea was freemotion sky motifs. 
Second, I tried freehanding five-pointed stars inside pentagons....
I liked that, so I tried it on dressmaker's tracing paper, using a watercolor marker (for easy removal in case ink leached through, which it didn't.) In process: 
....And after removing the quilt: 
Waaaaaayyy too fussy and small.  Need something simpler. 
Better. The next morning, I did a bit more pencil practice, then stitching practice, and finally, I went for it. 

 I like that it looks like "low poly" designs. I did a rolled-edge facing (favorite tutorial), and called it done!
When's the next big eclipse? TONIGHT! I learned in this morning's New York Times that a type of eclipse called a "lunar occultation" - the moon hiding planets and stars  - will take place from the evening of September 17, 2017, through tomorrow evening.  (Yes, the August  21 eclipse was also a lunar occulation.)

Depending on where you're located, the moon will briefly hide Venus, Mars and Mercury, and maybe Regulus, the brightest star in the Leo constellation. Read all about it in the New York Times here.  And then get out your batik scraps!

UPDATE: Amazing NASA images from Saturn/the Cassini mission are here. They're also crying out for a batik interpretation!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Look, Up in the Sky! Eclipse? Fruit Cocktail?

For the NASA eclipse art challenge, discussed in my last two posts (1,2) I planned to do something serious and dignified, in keeping with cosmic awe, science, wonder and all that. Inspired by austere NASA photography, it would probably involve discharge (chemically removing dye) from black fabric, which creates this kind of a mood...

...(from a years-old stamping-discharge experiment stuffed into my stash), except less wrinkly.

But a funny thing happened on the way to austere dignity, and I wound up making this:

It all started when I started to create the patchwork background, inspired by my friend Anne's photos of the eclipse reflected through tree leaves on tiled Atlanta sidewalks, which I showed last week.
I figured I would discharge the moon shapes onto a pieced sidewalk. But blacks and greys seemed too dull. Instead, I cut shadowy brown and purple batiks into 1 1/2" strips. I also cut strips of used packing paper to 2 1/2" x about 15". (Never throw away packing paper - it's also great for drafting freemotion quilting designs). Pieced the fabric strips on the paper at an angle - half had the strips going from upper left to lower right, and the other half with the strips going the other way. In process, it looks like this: 
 Cut off the tails.
 I wound up making five.
Stitched the rows together. (I wanted it rectangular, like a sidewalk, so I only used four).
 Then tore out the paper. The background was done.
Time to bring in the moody moons.  That would require rummaging through my craft supply closet to locate my jar of preferred discharge agent, Decoulerant. (no financial affiliation). But I happened to be at my cutting board, where there were some batting scraps. Just for fun, I cut some crescents and strewed them on.
Below is the next photograph in my camera. I'm not sure what happened between these two photos. Maybe I blacked out. Or maybe there was another eclipse. When I awoke, I'd done this:
OK, I didn't black out, there was some logic that got me pulling colorful scraps from my batik scrap bag and raucously cutting them into moons, planets, telescopes, eyewear, sidewalk leaves, etc.

I viewed the eclipse from the Caltech campus in Pasadena, CA, where my husband works. It didn't get very dark, so, at least as impressive as the teeny waxing and waning crescent in the sky was how it drew people together, joyfully grooving on the vibe. In 1967, when I was 10, I went with my parents to a Be-In in Central Park. The eclipse was like the Be In, but without the cannabis, protest, or big hair. People were getting high on astronomy.

So, dang the cosmos, I let myself quilt a colorful celebration. 

After looking at what I'd made for about ten seconds, I was a little bummed to realize that my crescent suns look just like bananas. 
I can't think of a cure for that. (Ideas welcomed.)

On further reflection, one might argue that there are also maraschino cherries and grapes.
Oh well. I added batting and backing, and freemotion stitched everything down. I hand-embroidered the location and date on the telescopes. 
I do still have one extra strip - maybe I'll try some serious bleach discharge on it.  
Or maybe I'll just throw on some more bananas. 
 You have until September 15, 2017 to complete your eclipse-inspired art work, take a picture and upload it to social media using the hashtag #EclipseArtQuilt.  There's no judge, no jury, no voting, just sharing!  It's a cyber-Be-In. 
  • To learn more about the Eclipse Art Quilt project, go
  • To see pieces that have already been posted (including fiber art pieces), use the #EclipseArtQuilt hashtag in a social media search engine, especially Twitter and Facebook. 
  • Machine quilting guru Leah Day has a tutorial for making her cutaway eclipse applique pattern, here
  • And here's a gorgeous, serene video of the event, with a lots of people oooohing and aaaaahing in various languages. 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Watching Blockbuster Skies, Brainstorming Eclipse Art

Nature put on two high-altitude shows last week, one astronomically stupendous, and the other meteorologically harrowing. We are all worried about people in the path of devastating tropical storm Harvey - they don't need quilts, but we can donate funds to a variety of helpful agencies

For those of you in need of a distraction from the storm news, let's discuss the eclipse. How was yours?  Here in Los Angeles, I felt a bit let down. At 62% coverage, the world didn't look any darker. Birds didn't flock, dogs didn't bark, everything seemed normal. 

But as an opportunity to commune with humanity, it was a blast! I rendezvoused with my DH at Cal Tech in Pasadena, where he works. This campus is normally so quiet that you rarely see more than one person at a time walking its shady paths. But on eclipse morning, it was thronged with joyful crowds. I had to park a half mile away, and hike in. The event sponsors ran out of viewing glasses long before I arrived. Fortunately, my DH had obtained some in advance.

Gazing through the glasses, I kept thinking: A little smiley face in heaven!

More thrilling were contraptions people made or enlisted into the effort to watch safely. There were welding helmets, and cereal boxes with aluminum foil patches. And I especially loved these two physics students' clever colander contraption:


Now I am trying to figure out what kind of fabric art piece this inspires. NASA people to share their eclipse-inspired art, as I explained in my blog post last week. The deadline is September 15, and the rules are at (I am assuming that an art quilt fits into their "mixed media" category.)

My friend Anne Finkleman witnessed the eclipse from Atlanta, where they had 98% totality. Here are some pictures she took outside of her office building of the eclipse's shadows coming through tree leaves, which act like a giant colander. I think I'm going to base my NASA quilt on her very cool images (I have her permission!) That brick pattern is so similar to log cabin piecing.
 Here's another image she took of a different sidewalk. This sidewalk has squares on point.
That is a lot of smiles. Which brings us to the question: how to render this kind of image effectively. Applique? Thread painting? Last week, I mentioned bleach discharge as a way to get a spacey effect. 

Since then, I dug out and photographed this experimental piece made a decade ago, as a failed attempt at an astronomy-themed prayer shawl for my son's bar mitzvah. I ended up going in a different direction, but I still have it, made with Decoularant on black fabric (safer than bleach, no toxic fumes, no financial affiliation). It's over 2 yards long: 
It's based on this famous NASA photo of a spiral galaxy: 
I just painted on the Decoularant, did a little overspraying with more from a spray bottle, ironed and washed, and the results were pretty cool. Here's the front, center. 
And the back, center: 
 The back is even better, right? Below, the back, from a distance....
 Some cool blobs from the front:

And the black:
So you can see where discharge has potential for eclipse art! As does paint. Here's a Rosh Hashana postcard I made years ago with rubber stamps and white acrylic paint. 
That planet on the lower left? It's stamped with a foam circle in white paint.   Here are a couple more experimental foam circles made with paint for a different postcard (Just don't ask me why I put mah jongg tiles in space. I was young.)
More eclipse art: Oregon State University held a quilt show in honor of the event. The Quilt Show showed off some great images of art made BEFORE the big event, here.

If you need more inspiration for eclipse art, photos collected from private citizens as well as NASA scientists are on Flickr, here. If the photo is taken by a private citizen, you will need their permission to use it. If you want to view (and possibly use) NASA photos only, there's a wealth of images starting on this page. For example, here's a wonderful time lapse image taken for NASA by Aubrey Gemignani:
And below is another NASA image taken over Madras, Oregon. 
NASA's generous image terms of use are explained here
Finally, don't throw away your eclipse glasses. Donate them to Astronomers without Borders so needy young people can use them in the future!  Find the information here.
For those of you in Harvey territory: Stay safe.