I am planning on teaching a class at Northampton Center for the Arts in the fall – Fabric Collage and Art in Boxes. Because I have become very fond of making small art, and then putting it in a box for better presentation. My friend Matt gave me an entire 4×8′ sheet of plywood, precut into sixteen 1’x2′ sections, so they fit into my laser cutter. Since they are cheap, I feel perfectly happy using them for testing out patterns and making prototypes. Since the plywood has a nice finish, I also feel quite cheerful about the end results. I am rich in plywood!
My affection for containers, and for smooth stones, seems to have deep roots. My grandmother had several boxes of stones she’d collected over a long life. When I was invited to choose something from her possessions after she died, I picked an owl shaped with a handful of peculiar stones in it, some dated. My mother has at least one jar of stones that sits in her window to catch the light. I have a clear plastic bucket full of mostly nicely rounded stones from beaches of New England. My daughter Alice has a series of Mason jars filled with fossils and samples from geology field trips.
I made this yesterday, and it took me two years, plus an afternoon.
It has been two years that I’ve been thinking about the ways I could make use of laser cutting in my work. It has been two years of getting a grip on the software and concepts, the capabilities and limitations of the tool and the materials it could cut. Each time I learned something, my vision of what I wanted to do got clearer.
And so I can make things like this now.
I feel like I am balanced at the top of whole new mountain – gathering my courage to descend into a valley full of ideas and projects.
Our friend Alice graduated from U. Mass. this May with a degree in Geology. Alas, she was not able to have a proper graduation ceremony, so her sibling, Aerin, decided to organize a small ceremony in the backyard today at 1:00 pm. The three of us Vertses grabbed various robes, ceremonial accoutrements, and masks and drove over to Northampton. Bill brought a speech he wrote before he got up this morning.
Upon arrival, Bill dressed up in full academic regalia, RJ put on high school robes, including a mortarboard trimmed with dangling wooden mammoths, and I declared that I was an Audience, so I didn’t have to get dressed up.
Someone went upstairs and woke up Alice, the star of the show. Al and Aerin put on their academic robes and shoved some robes at Alice. Al added a speaker on his chest so that he could play “Pomp and Circumstance” as he walked.
Bill, Al, RJ, Aerin, and Alice lined up and processed around the backyard, while the Audience, Jared, and Lee applauded. Bill, as the only honest-to-gosh U. Mass. faculty member around handled the graduation speech. I include the exact speech in total (Bill read the numbers, too):
1. Thank you to Irrelevant Authorities 2. Welcoming Remarks 3. Stupid Joke (wait for laughter to die down) 4. Introduction of Other Irrelevant Authorities 5. Generic Congratulatory Remarks 6. Comment About Weather 7. Reference to Special Nature of Current Class 8. Thanking of Faculty 9. Thanking of Parents 10. Personal Amusing Anecdote 11. Obligatory Reference to Antonio’s Pizza 12. Long-winded and Boring Tale of Self-Sacrifice that Nobody is Interested in. 13. Homily about Doing Well in the World 14. Welcome to Ranks of UMass Family 15. Reference to Alumni Association and Donations 16. Will Graduates Please Stand 17. Conferring of Degree
At this point the graduate’s mother, Lee, handed Alice her degree which had been mailed to Alice. We all cheered.
18. Singing of Fight Song (nobody knows words) 19. Go UMass! 20. Under Your Seats you will Find a Pin
At this point, Bill tossed the U. Mass. pin at Alice (social distancing) and she picked it up off of the ground.
21. Please Stay in your Seats while Platform Party Exits (ignored) 22. Random Milling About
We milled around. Lee asked Alice if she felt any different after our ceremony and Alice said, “Yes, the diploma feels more real.” We sat in the shade, wearing our masks, and visited. Chris showed up fashionably late, but brought Lindor Truffles, so we forgave her. A good afternoon.
Last year I signed up for Rebecca Mezoff’s class on weaving tapestry on little looms. She is a delightful teacher, and I enjoyed the class a lot. I was working on a loom I had cut from thin plywood using the laser cutter at Smith College – the first loom I made was too flimsy, and the next several attempts were respectively not cut all the way through, excessively burnt and off center. I decided I had enough things to work on in the fall and stopped weaving for a while.
With the pandemic and resulting directions to stay home, I have revisited the idea of tapestries, particularly weaving small, four selvedge pieces. After a good deal of thrashing about in the shop yesterday, I produced a prototype small loom with adjustable tension.
The “comb” parts came from one of the heavier failed laser cut looms. The rest is scraps and a large bolt scrounged from various bins. While I am pleased with myself for accomplishing this object, it turns out to be less than completely functional. The teeth are too fat to make a selvedge (a woven edge that does not need finishing) and the not quite deep enough to hold multiple loops of string for a string supported warp. I found these things through trial and error, and a series of false starts.
On the left, from top to bottom, my first, second and third attempts at weaving, along with another picture of the loom. Not shown, the various warp experiments that failed to stay in place long enough to weave anything. On the right, my first four selvedge piece, with a penny for scale. The side selvedges are spectacularly wobbly, but the basic idea is there, and I am pleased.
And I have ordered a Mirrix Saffron loom, because while I could indeed continue to work on this one, it will be so much easier to get going on a loom that is designed to do what I want from the ground up. And having had a lot of fun weaving, and a good deal of aggravation getting set up, I’m all about decreasing aggravation, and increasing the fun quotient.
I should likely talk about the Daily 100, and the creative project next time!
I am packing for a workshop today, and leaving tomorrow, and coming back on Sunday. The workshop is at Bennington College, in the lower left corner of Vermont. A bunch of different things are being taught, from glass and woodworking to embroidery. I signed up for Embroidery Expanded, which I am very much looking forward to.
I have a rudimentary knowledge of embroidery, and enough knowledge to look up stitches I do not remember. I signed up for this particular workshop to gain some ideas for how to embroider on non-traditional surfaces, and with unusual materials. I’m looking forward to seeing what kinds of things we talk about, and the community of people who think this sounds like fun.
I’m also pulling together materials for the #DailyFeb2020 challenge that starts this Saturday on February 1st. The plan (subject to change) is to embroider something every day, honing my newly acquired skills, and post the results on Instagram. I have a bunch of tiny laser cut frames for that project, although I have also been thinking very hard about three dimensional shapes and how to form and embroider them. Plans are allowed to change – that’s how I learn things!
The third thing I am working on is the 100 Day Project. I started that (stealthily) on Jan 22. It will run through the end of April. I seem to be able to think about 100 days more easily than a whole year. I’d like to try another daily for a year project, but my last couple of tries have not been successful, so I’m scaling back, and looking for a shorter horizon. You can see my progress with my 100 things on Instagram, with the tag #the100dayproject.
In 2012 I went to Haystack Mountain School of Crafts for a two week course with Marian Bijlenga. It was intense, and lovely, and the food was amazing, and I had a wonderful time. We were working with water soluble stabilizer, making fabric out of thread and strange objects and thin air.
Before I left for Haystack, I was having trouble sleeping, and having stress dreams about not fitting in, not having the skills I’d need… Eventually I had a soothing dream about going to the shoreline, and choosing rocks, and sewing little velvet coats for them. When I got to Haystack, I was fine. I had all the skills necessary, and wonderful people in my studio to work with and share with. But my dream of little coats for rocks stuck with me, and I made several.
And when I got sick of velvet, I made some lined linen jackets for more beach rocks.
The application of whimsy is almost always a good plan.