Friday, April 26, 2013

improvisation modern or traditional

design wall with improvisational blocks using green with white next to scrappy multi-colored blocks 
I have been working for almost a month on improvisational quilt blocks. They began with my green and white work from 2011 that is continued to be very stark and fun to play with on my design wall.  I got this far on the green/white and began a new series using scraps from the generous donations given at the March 2013 DC Modern Quilt Guild meeting mixed with my own scraps.
The colors I brought home were gray, brown and orange tangerine and marigold mostly and that is where I went with my improvisational block building once I realized it was making me feel energized to work with this mix more than others that evolved from the scrap heap.  Then I began wondering how big my project would grow and how to lay it out once I had a number of blocks assembled. 

Edge to edge or stacked on a gray background field were the two choices I considered. 
layout with a gray field background 
The feed back I have so far is to go with the all over orange theme and leave the gray ground out. Honestly it was the way I wanted to go in the beginning once I realized I had a new orange project that was looking good but I wondered if I could make enough blocks to create a whole quilt of these improvisational blocks. I would need some more fabrics to do one large enough for a bed. Then I wondered if that is really what I wanted to make because after seeing the Gee's Bend quilters finished quilts I knew I wanted to hand quilt this project and big means lots of work quilting. Wouldn't a smaller quilt be just as good?
I have been enjoying the play and the collection added one next to the other not worrying too much about size or relationships to the connecting blocks. This was meant to be very free and fun. To assemble them I need to be more thoughtful how the sizes line up and the edge designs and colors will come together. Also I am giving some thought to the balance of the entire collection of blocks. As I have worked on this I have had a few tiny scraps and I made two almost six inch square blocks to consider scale but over all the blocks have been getting bigger and the pieces wider and longer.
Mini block 6x7"
Miniature block 6x6"
The big blocks are adding in some of the new fabrics including a gray paisley, a brown printed black burlap design and the speckled gray "concrete" backing and a neutral tea stained muslin.

Do you have a preference or comment on how the final quilt or quilts might look best? I am looking forward to this week's DC Modern Quilters Guild meeting in Arlington where we are going to have another scrap swap this time with lots of quilter's bringing in scraps. We also have an orphan block quilt project that is seeking donations for a charity quilt and our quilter's name tag reveal. I also expect we will be talking about our plans to join the international organization of guilds called Modern Quilt Guild. I read the various definitions of "modern quilting" that the guild has used and began thinking that I need to look more at Modern art. I am a traditional kind of guy and look to Albrecht Dürer the 15th century German artist more than more recent works of art because I can relate to them better. Skill drawing and painting I can aspire to more than the mental feats of Modern art's conceptual creations. I understand these modern movements pretty well and admire and delight in the fun that they hold when they tantalize the mind and the spirit but sometimes I get board looking at them. So to quilt modern does one need to embrace the modern aesthetic? How does it relate to the history and the traditions of quilting? The ladies of Gee's Bend offer a way forward that uses both the fabric at hand and the chance of discovery by following your own voices when piecing a patch work. They were isolated from the museums and galleries that brought us minimalist and conceptual art yet they are heralded as makers of throughly "modern art quilts". I think the ideas of color and field and minimal are interesting but I like the complex layers of patterns and design that comes in a baroque like composition. Therefore I hope this orange project will be a beginning of a new kind of vision modern and traditional at once speaking to my roots and my education and our modern times.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

National Arboretum Azalea Collection

The collection of azaleas initially was planted in 1947 at the National Arboretum in northeast Washington DC. 1,500 azaleas in groups of 10-15 of each variety. That was expanded over the years bringing the whole wooded area to 40 acres of azalea filled woodland and some formal gardens featuring Azaleas of all sorts and colors.

Last year we almost lost most of the older plants due to lack of funding to maintain them and spending freezes from the crazy government budget stalemate. They were going to cut most of the older azaleas down and thereby lessen the work load for that part of the arboretum... anyway the community said NO! With money donated and extra volunteer hours given, the community managed to keep one staff person named Barbara, who we met yesterday.

The display lasts about a month from beginning to end giving you more time to go see than the famous Washington Cherry blossoms that only last a few days. Keith and I took our lunch, sun hats and cameras to take a tour walking for a couple hours in this wonderland and it was good. Here are some of my favorite photos from our tour.

Entrance to the Azalea Collection path 

creeping phlox a pretty ground cover under the red azaleas

Native woodland may apples are the green leaves  covering the forest floor

Keith zooms in with his telephoto lens to get close ups 

This reminds me of a real red azalea we had in front of our home when I was a child living in Springfield VA.  

Native type of orange azalea I saw in the appalachian mountains as a child.

May apple flowers under the canopy of the bright green leaves

truly a yellow azalea

formal garden with boxwood hedges is where we ate our lunch

we really did enjoy our walk

Some of the restored azaleas which were cut back in March to spur new growth 

Some of the work that needs to be done is removing by hand invasive English Ivy.

Eastern Towhee was one of many birds we heard singing in the woods.
Towhee songs played here: Eastern Towhee birdsong I enjoyed hearing the song while I was loading the photos... 

The other thing I want to say is there is no way to reproduce the feeling of awe and wonder of being surrounded by all these colors and sounds and smells. Photos are fun but they only go so far in conveying the experience. This weekend Friends of the National Arboretum have their annual spring plant sale Friday and Saturday. Money raised at the sale help keep things going while the government is underfunding this national treasure.