Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Do the Right Thing

Tonight I rewatched Do the Right Thing on my laptop. I'd been meaning to do so for a while and as Netflix is removing it from their streaming video list tomorrow I figured I should hop to. I saw it in a theatre when it was first released in 1989. I remember being really affected by it - wanting to discuss it with other people and not really having the words or opportunity to do so. I can't recall where I was living at the time - was I still in Providence or had I returned to Illinois? - but I do recall that the theatre was packed, and that it was the first time I had ever watched a movie in a predominantly Black audience.

24 years later, I live in the neighborhood where it was filmed. In the first screenshot below you can see the sign for my street. Our building is a couple blocks away. It still looks pretty much the same. Not sure where I thought I'd be at age 47 when I saw this film in 1989, but living in this neighborhood would not have even occurred to me.

The film holds up pretty well, even on my computer screen. It's a little long, the pacing is a little weird at times, and some of the editing feels a little herky-jerky, but still, damn! Spike Lee was only like 32 when he made it. I remember feeling devastated at the end the first time I watched it. I think I am now too old to feel devastated by a movie, but I still felt moved by it, and sad, and frustrated by how timely it still feels - by what still hasn't changed in this country.

Monday, December 30, 2013

quilt couture

I've long held a not so mild prejudice against quilted garments. Not the puffy coat/parka sort of thing, but the patchwork appliqued sort of affair, usually made out of muddy calicos and wooden toggle buttons, and invariably stiff, boxy and unflattering.
Something a lot like this.

But I've started to collect examples of fashions that reference quilting, or utilize it in ways that I think are really kind of great. One of the first times I remember noticing what I thought was an interesting use of patchwork in clothing construction was a skirt by Jay McCarroll. 
This isn't the exact skirt I liked, but close enough.

I've found examples that run the gamut from affordable to high end - Louise Hedley is a designer who sells her clothes on etsy whose work is really interesting - and around $100 a dress.

This Cynthia Rowley dress refers to a string quilt pattern in the dye/print pattern:
Cynthia Rowley

This Jean Paul Gaultier skirt borrows from a boro tradition:
Jean Paul Gaultier

A designer that I've just run across recently is Reet Aus, whose work has eco-political roots.
Reet Aus

Another new (to me) designer is Carleen:

It makes me wish that I could sew clothing! But I'm hopeless when it comes to shaping fabric three dimensionally. Alas.

Friday, December 13, 2013

A man was shot to death in front of our apartment building late last night. His name was Daquan Wilson. He was 27 years old and on his way home - he was about a block from his building when another man shot him 4 times in the chest.

I heard the bullets. Pop. Pop, pop...pop. Our bedroom is in the back of our apartment. I had in the ear plugs I learned to sleep in years ago when my husband began snoring like a maniac. So I wasn't absolutely immediately sure it was gunfire. But my brain rapidly concluded it could be nothing else so I got out of bed and went to our front windows. There were 2 people with cell phones standing over a person on the sidewalk. It was still very quiet. There had been no shouting (that I heard) preceding the gun shots, and no noise after but for the the man pacing the street, cell phone to his ear, saying, "Oh my god, oh my god."

I woke up S. We briefly debated calling 911 as well, but it was obvious that the people on the street were already doing so. Where are the sirens? I asked S. What's taking so long? After a very long 5 or 6 minutes a stream of about 6 cop cars pulled up, followed by an ambulance. One cop pulled his car onto the sidewalk to illuminate the scene with his headlights. Only the man's legs were visible from our viewpoint as one officer bent down to check for a pulse. There was a lot of activity, cops waving flashlights around on the ground (looking for casings I presumed), talking into phones, the EMT people hauling the stretcher over to the victim. When they hoisted him onto the stretcher without using the back board, I knew he was dead.

About 15 minutes later, someone knocked loudly on our apartment door. It was an officer who wanted to know if we had heard or seen anything prior to the shooting. It was a short interview, the cop apologetic for disturbing us. Our downstairs neighbor peeked his head up the stairs, wondering what was going on - he had slept through the whole thing - it was the cop knocking on the apartment doors that had woken him. It was all so quiet, relatively speaking - just the Pops and then the cop knocking on the door. No sirens, no shouting. There was nothing on the street this morning to indicate that a man had been murdered there in the night.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

harmony and discord

It was the first week of college and our first dorm floor meeting. I can't remember her name, but I can picture her perfectly in my mind's eye. Tall with an athletic build and straight wheat blonde hair that fell in a perfect chin-length bob, even features, slightly severe looking, generally serious and unsmiling. Maybe not unsmiling - does that imply frowning? More a placid neutrality. She was intending to go into the apparel program (and did). She was wearing a print (or plaid, maybe?) skirt and a patterned knit sweater, something with reindeer. Her clothing neither matched nor clashed. She seemed so exotic to me, her ensemble daring and original.

I tried to study her during our meeting without seeming creepy. How did she pull it off? It was 1984 and I had never traveled outside of the country, had only twice made the 4-hour car trip to Chicago from the small city I grew up in. Moline, Illinois in the mid-eighties was a deeply conservative and isolated place. The kids I hung out with required a pretty firm allegiance to all things preppy, and my penchant for wearing mismatched earrings was considered fairly outré. There was not much tolerance for deviation in any form. It was a stifling sort of place.

Anyway. Mixing patterns. I still retain a deep love for smartly mixed patterns that occupy that narrow spot between harmony and discord. I'm not a fashionable person - but I find a lot of inspiration for my quilts in fashion.
Stella Jean

Project Alabama

comme des garcons

Gary Graham

Stella Jean

Saturday, December 7, 2013


I used to have a problem with magazines. I used to have this crazy love for them. I can remember going to visit my friend Marti, we were probably in third grade, and spotting piles of People magazines on her couch and practically salivating at the sight of them. My mom never bought People. I remember wanting nothing more than to just plop myself down on that couch and start browsing, but even at that tender age I’d learned that it was unacceptable to go over to a friend’s house to play Barbies and sprawl out on the floor to flip through a pile of old Cosmopolitans instead.

As a teenager I started saving (hoarding) mags with my first subscription (Seventeen, of course) and just never stopped. By the time I finished grad school in 1994 and prepared to move back to the Midwest from Arizona, I realized that it was just too ridiculous to cart that collection back across the country. But I wasn't ready to just ditch them wholesale, mind you. Impossible! Instead, I carefully x-acto-ed out all the most important pages, 3-hole punched those pages and loaded them into binders. Perfect! Well, sort of. Packing to move from Chicago to Brooklyn in 2009, I started loading the binders into boxes and realized that I had somehow amassed 23 very fat binders. And that each box, containing perhaps 4 binders each, weighed several billion tons. There was no choice. I needed to cull. Funny thing though, even the stuff I had first saved from 1994 still looked good to me. I hadn't tired of or outgrown it. At least my interests/tastes have remained fairly consistent over the years, I guess? Regardless, I managed (somehow, painfully) to winnow my collection down to the 9 binders that now fit neatly on my bookshelves.

Bouwerie Iconic
Anyway, over the past couple years I've stopped buying magazines entirely. I'm not sure what happened, really. They just stopped seeming so alluring. It might be that I finally hit some saturation point, because not even the Bouwerie Iconic could lure me inside, but more likely it's because of the internet. I have pages and pages of flickr images "favorited" (3,727 in fact), long bookmarked lists of blogs that serve as sources of visual inspiration, and just this past year I've been sucked into pinterest in a big way. Makes me wonder if digital hoarding is a thing. I'm totally going to google that.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

How red is too red?

So I've got a new quilt up on my wall. Perhaps I was a bit more influenced by that Diana Vreeland bio pic I watched a few weeks back than I initially thought because the starting point for me with this quilt was simply: red. Or, more specifically, could I locate the tipping point for when a lot of red becomes too damn much red. I think I am just skirting the edges of too much right now.
in progress

Thursday, November 14, 2013

urban quilting

SFChinatown (2007) 29.5" x 29.5" Dupioni silk and cotton

I ran across a new-to-me quilter a few days ago - Amy Ahlstrom. I really like the intensity of her colors, the collage-like applique technique, the layered, mash-up effect of billboards and fragments of adverts you see in the most densely populated cities. I've only seen them online, but they look so bold and funky. I suppose they are correctly categorized as "art quilts" - a genre I've never found particularly interesting - I seem to retain a sort of modernist prejudice against quilts that are "representational" - I always wonder why the quilt-maker isn't just making a painting or a photograph instead. I tend to be attracted to quilters who are interested in exploiting what I think of as the inherently 2-dimensional properties of printed and sewn fabric. In a way, Ahlstrom's work does both - since her references are objective but still flat (photos, ads, signs). I look forward to seeing how her work evolves.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Diana Vreeland is my new grrlfriend

Almost as soon as the movie started, I wasn't sure I'd be able to watch it. That voice. Gah. The affectation. The stream of pronouncements masquerading as conversation. The emphatic EVERYTHING. But then the photos and magazine layouts from her time at Harper's Bazaar began rolling across the screen and I was hooked. And, ultimately, won over. That extravagant absurdity! So delightful.

Look at that crazy horn (tooth?) thing! Fabulous!

Sunday, November 10, 2013


Love this guy. Look at that head gear.

I spent the better part of last Saturday wandering around the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Walking up the massive steps to the entrance, I think (every time) how lucky I am to have access to this amazing place. I love the Met. I love most of the public museums I've been to in the city, particularly some of the smaller ones like the Neue Galerie, but my big love is reserved for the Met. I always overstay, overestimating the amount of walking energy I have until I am completely out, and nowhere near an exit. Still, not the worst problem to have.

Loved this small piece. Such economy of color and type but so much impact.
I liked the pattern and color on this piece, the simple graphic circle for the flower.
Who painted this? I managed not to note.
Look at this! So utterly nutty.

This was in an area of the museum that was entirely new to me. It's easy to miss whole wings it's so damn big.

One of the other very cool things about the Met is their website. I've been looking at a lot of textile design lately, trying to puzzle out the elements of beautiful fabric design. The Met has an online archive available to anyone interested: http://www.metmuseum.org/collections/search-the-collections/

A Gustav Klimt fabric swatch from the collection.

Friday, October 25, 2013

peaceable kingdom

Conny saves animals. Cats mostly, but dogs, too. She started out helping the strays she encountered on the island, but became known for her willingness to provide shelter for the hardest cases - the lost causes - and people began bringing them to her. She currently has 5 dogs, 18 indoor cats, 18 outside cats, and a small cat community she looks after that lives in the park across the street from her house. One of the last days we were in Ibiza, I tried to photograph all her animals. I had a thought that I would assemble the pictures into a small blurb book for her. I should have started a little sooner in our visit because I just couldn't get all of them. Several of the ones that live in the backyard cattery tend to be shy, so I know I missed a few there, but I also managed to miss getting decent shots of some of the dogs, for which there is no good excuse. In particular Pixie, the tiny dog with non-working front legs. Conny speculates that it was caused by a car accident most likely, but by the time Pixie arrived at Chez Martin-Harrison, her front legs had healed into unusably bent L-shapes. They consulted a vet who didn't think re-breaking the legs and resetting them would work and so now Pixie wiggles her way across the floor with her back legs, or waits for C, always nearby, to pick her up and carry her. Caring for these animals is a full-time job for C, so many of which have special needs. I really love and admire her for her devotion - I can't wait to return in the spring to spend more time with her and them.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


While I was in Paris I got an email through my flickr account from Heather Grant asking if I would be interested in having one of my quilts reproduced in a book she was doing. Answer: wellhellyeah! The quilt she requested was one that I've given a few different names to in the past, but that I personally refer to as That Big Pink Orange One. It references a traditional log cabin pattern, the subject of her book, but that quilt, in particular, has always been more about color for me.

I took these 2 snaps on route to gawk at the taxidermied menagerie at Deyrolle. I love pretty much everything about these clothes, but especially the color combinations. That mix of burgundy-wine and salmon with that brown umber-ish printed scarf - so great. I rarely wear color myself. Like many women (particularly living in NYC), I have a closet of gray, navy, brown, black. My apartment "decor" is equally subdued. It's really only on my quilt wall that colors like chartreuse and magenta exist. Well, there and in the hundreds of photo/magazine references I've collected (hoarded?) over the years.

A link to That Big Pink Orange One.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Good Christ. October Already.

The days have drawn short. I made note of the hour that it was absolutely without question totally fucking dark already! tonight and it was 7:03 p.m. Possibly the surest indication of middle age, I think, is this: a general inability to reconcile the time/season you FEEL it is, with the time/season it ACTUALLY is. Sigh.

That said, the past many months between posts have been both educational and interesting. I am only one week home from a European vacation spent in the company of many lovely individuals. More on that next post.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

I'm really, really ready for spring.

Monday, March 11, 2013


If I'm not getting in my own way, how will I know where I am?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Cafe Reggio

Cafe Reggio, in the Village. I first came here as a college student in the mid 1980's. I'm fairly certain it was my friend Lynn who brought me here. I can recall her voice, and her telling me, "They have the most beautiful Italian boys waiting tables there. Trust me." Sure enough, she was right, though I became enamored of it more for the good, cheap food on the menu. I spent 4 years in art school Hungry All The Time.

Currently, most weekends I try to spend one day (or a good portion of it) walking around the city. This serves two purposes: the first is exercise, which I don't get enough of on a daily basis working from my home, and second, the opportunity to "map" more of the city on my frontal cortex (or wherever the brain stores navigational info). I have no sense of direction whatsoever. I read once that, like under-eye circles (another burden I shoulder), a sense of direction is a genetic thing. You're either born with one or not. I most decidedly was not. In the first letter I wrote to the woman who, in fact, turned out to be my biological mother, I inquired as to whether she had any problems in this area. I wouldn't have held it against her, of course, but as it happens, she can find her way around the world just fine. So maybe it skips a generation, like baldness?

Anyway. I took myself into Greenwich Village for my weekend perambulation with the express purpose of revisiting Cafe Reggio. It is mostly unchanged, though it feels even smaller and more claustrophobic than in my memory. But, no, it is the same as it ever was, with the tiny phone booth bathroom in the room center, that always made you feel like you were basically peeing in full public view. I had the stuffed croissant. It came with pickles and potato salad and I enjoyed it while reading a several-weeks-old New Yorker. And an excellent cafe latte. Though I sat by myself, I was only inches away from my fellow patrons. It's the sort of place you can go to if you are alone, but don't necessarily want to feel that way.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Fabric Hoarding

I began amassing a “stash” of fabrics shortly after becoming fully entrenched in quilt-making. I had begun to read other quilter’s blogs, and quickly realized that in order to really be able to compose the quilts I had begun to see in my mind’s eye, I needed to have a ready palette of supplies. I managed to spend an ungodly amount of money laying in fabrics that first year. Something I justified to myself at the time by thinking, "I am going to make a business of this one way or the other, so they will all be put to use at some point."

Ahem. Anyway. During the height of my insane fabric acquisition, I mostly (almost entirely) purchased fabric online. I soon learned that what might look charming onscreen (particularly during insomniac 3 a.m. binge buys) can look less than appealing in person. In short, I managed to buy a LOT of fabric that I soon dubbed the butt-uglies. How would I ever use that stuff, I wondered. Blaghhh. A waste of money! But NOT, actually.

I think for many quilters (I can certainly say so for myself) there is a pleasure in using up every last scrap of fabric. It somehow justifies the often high price one pays for good fabric - that you are at least using every bit of it. So there is a sort of weird (largely false) frugality that can go along with quilt-making. My point being that even though I inevitably hated a certain amount of the fabric that was arriving in my mailbox, by god, I was still going to use it. And, in truth, I soon learned the importance of ugly fabric to beautiful quilt-making.

During some early quilt experiments, I realized that using only the pretty fabrics I loved often resulted in less-than-satisfying, sort-of even maybe insipid quilts. How to fix this, I wondered. I started pulling from the butt-uglies, in part to “extend” or “fill” the quilts I was working on - though I might have initially wanted to use only that lovely Amy Butler fabric for the whole top, I found I often didn’t have enough, and acquiring enough was too cost-prohibitive.

So I started adding any also-rans that could work somehow with the color scheme I had come up with. And what I found, by and large, was that the uglies didn’t compromise the quilt as I had feared, but instead, helped ground it, offered a backdrop for the “starring” fabrics. That they were, in fact, completely necessary as a foil to the beautiful ones. I now regularly scan my stash, when in the beginning process of a new quilt, for the unlikely fabric additions, the ones that are going to act as a foil and counterpoint to the beauty queens.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Grand Central NYC

I'm thinking about doing maybe a series of quilts using Grand Central as the starting point. I shot some snaps last weekend. Mulling.