Thursday, August 25, 2016

Monsters: A Stitching Saga

A gripping monster story unfolds

You sometimes need little more incentive than an utterly boring shirt to trigger a sewing project. It helps to have a five-year-old and seven-year-old on hand who are masters in art naif. I put in a request for monsters and they delivered, as shown in the test embroideries below.

Test monsters and victims

Big armless monster with horns

Fleeing victim with one arm and head on fire

Victim who looks ready to fight back

Small monster with lots of hair, no arms, and a beak

Before showing off the monster shirt, here is a quick how-to regarding altering and transferring a child's crayon scribbles into an embroidery template.

Here are the original drawings:

AJ's monsters and victims

Cici's monster and victims

The first step was to scan the pictures and then convert them from color to grayscale. I used Photoshop, but you can use any graphic software. I also played a bit with sizes of the figures, and arranged them on a sheet for printing out using InDesign. You could print directly from your graphic program or place them into a Word document or whatever.

Page full of monsters for printing

I then cut the monsters out individually, readying them for transfer. For the test monsters at the start of this post, I simply used a sheet of carbon paper to trace the black and white monster image onto the linen. For the monster shirt, which is dark gray, I used transfer paper specifically designed for use in transferring marks onto cloth. It rubs right away (in fact, you have to be careful not to smudge it away while hand stitching) and comes in a pack of five sheets of different colors. I used white to transfer onto gray.

Using chalky transfer paper to trace the image onto the cloth

The transferred image

Stitching the transferred image

And now for the final product: the monster shirt. The front of the shirt remains completely plain with no embroidery, offering no clues to the turmoil happening on the back.

Shirt front

On the back, a losing battle is in progress.

Shirt back
At the top, we see a monster in the center, surrounded by victims who are screaming, panicking and trying to flee.

Upper shirt back

Victims are fleeing to the back of either sleeve, and a bunch of victims think they've found a way out, running diagonally down the shirt and trying to escape at the lower corner. What they don't realize is that the small, beaked, hairy monster lies in wait for them there.

Victims try to escape

Little monster lying in wait

And there you have it — the shirt is no longer boring.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Rise and Shine 2: Working with Scraps

Rise and Shine card

When you are gifted with something as wondrous as Tennessee Williams' mother's curtains you want to share the wealth. For the back story on the curtains and a look at the primary art piece created for those curtains use this link: Rise and Shine: Tennessee Williams' Mother's Curtains. With lots of extra material and loads of scraps left over, I created a limited run of these Rise and Shine cards.

Card front

Card back

Card back text enlarged

Opening the card

Card fully open, sitting in natural light

I love the way the curtain scrap creates a little room with light shining in the windows, reinforcing the "rise and shine" theme.

Card with lamp nearby casting yellow light through lower "window"

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Rise and Shine: Tennessee Williams' Mother's Curtains

Rise and Shine, front

The nice thing about being known for producing an eclectic assortment of odd art pieces is that when people stumble across something odd, they give it to you. That was the case here, when my sister's friend's sister's friend bought Tennessee Williams' mother's old house in St. Louis and discovered that the mother's sheer curtains still hung in the windows. She took them down and eventually they passed along the chain of provenance described above and came to me. The resulting art piece, called Rise and Shine, is a gauzy child's dress embedded with quotes from Tennessee Williams plays.

Close-up, top front

Close-up, bottom front

Close-up, collar

The title of the piece, Rise and Shine, appears on the front collars of the dress and is taken from a quote from The Glass Menagerie: "Every time you come in yelling that God damn 'Rise and Shine!' 'Rise and Shine!' I say to myself, 'How lucky dead people are.'"

Front sleeve

Bottom front detail

Dress back

Back left collar

Back right collar

Back right sleeve

Back zipper

Back ruffle detail

There will be more to this Rise and Shine series in coming weeks — there were a lot of curtains. Meanwhile, here are the Tennessee Williams quotes used on this piece:

"Nothing human disgusts me unless it's unkind." - Night of the Iguana

"I'll be all right in a minute, I'm just bewildered — by life." - The Glass Menagerie

"I don't want realism. I want magic.!" - A Streetcar Named Desire

"Silence about a thing just magnifies it." - A Streetcar Named Desire

"We have to distrust each other. It is our only defense against betrayal." - Camino Real

"There is a time for departure, even when there is no certain place to go." - Camino Real

"We are all of us sentenced to solitary confinement within our own skins, for life." - Orpheus Rising

"We all live in a house on fire, no fire department to call; no way out, just the upstairs window to look out of while the fire burns the house down with us trapped, locked in it." - The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Creative Obliteration of Corporate Logos

Enough with all of the branding, a misbegotten idea that works very well for the businesses involved but a sadly humiliating prospect for human beings who are reduced to little more than ambulatory billboards. And let's not even discuss the type of branding that sends the signal to everyone else: "I have lots and lots of money as indicated by the logo appearing prominently on this item of clothing."

It is time to obliterate corporate logos and stand proud as the raw, unlabeled human beings we were meant to be. I have played with this idea before in an earlier post: Geek Chic: QR Code Patches (click for a complete how-to). There the idea was to take advantage of all of those wonderful nearly-new men's shirts at thrift stores that are sadly marred by logos (often of failed software start-ups here in the Bay Area). Simply cover the logos over with QR code patches that you create yourself to send whatever message you want. I believe the one below, if scanned with a smartphone, will say, "Eat the Rich."

QR code patch: "Eat the Rich"

The person for whom I converted a lot of those QR code shirts has clearly gotten the message. Or rather, he has gotten the message and now considers logos distasteful. He recently handed me a Smith & Hawken vest, purchased new, with the request that I cover the logo somehow.

Patching in progress over brand logo

I leafed through a packet of random iron-on images I had created in the past, and decided to go with the following, found in an old Scientific American magazine at a thrift store.

Three ways of tying your shoes

I cropped the image and converted it to sepia tone and then printed it onto iron-on paper (remembering, of course, to reverse the image before printing so that, when ironed, the words read correctly).

A little bit of stitching, and Smith & Hawken was no more.

Sewing on patch with iron-on image

The recipient of this handiwork is currently hiking around Yosemite, happy in the knowledge that he is not a walking advertisement for a clothing company.

Time for you to go out and start obliterating a few logos on your own.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Just Passing Through: Installation Art with Found Materials

Weekend picnickers and partiers at Lake Merritt in Oakland often employ folding metal gazebos — the kind you see vendors using at farmers markets. When I saw this gazebo-gone-wrong lying abandoned on the lawn of the park a few doors down from my apartment building my first reaction was annoyance. Clearly someone couldn't figure out how to fold the damn thing back up again so they trashed it and left it behind.

Folding picnic gazebo gone wrong

Then, while sitting at a bus stop across the street from the metal wreck I thought, gee, that shape is really kind of interesting.

The lines are so intriguing it actually looks sculptural. So... I decided to embellish it just a bit to create an installation piece that was already 95% installed.

I had recently collected a bunch of feathers left on the ground around the lake from the annual Canada Geese molting season. I decided to use an old Ohlone technique for working with feathers. They used them to create skirts and capes. I used them to embellish the metal structure. The feathers and how-to regarding the Ohlone technique are shown below.

Feathers ready for hanging

Ohlone technique for creating a hanging loop on a feather

Finished loop with string tied on

The concept behind this installation is expressed in the title, "Just Passing Through," as explained in the signage below.

Sign printed on card stock, attached to metal limb of piece

Sign wording

The final step was to tie the Canada Geese feathers to the metal limbs of the piece, creating a kinetic sculpture.

Any day when you can turn an annoyance into art is a very good day indeed. And... the entire thing vanished a day later, presumably carted off by city workers or the Parks Department, turning the whole thing from an installation into a very short-lived performance piece. Do I mind? No. Like all the components involved, it was just passing through.

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