Sunday, September 30, 2007

Japanese Quilt Block: Spring Pillow for Fall

Here's my latest pillow, which is based on a block from the inspiring book Japanese Quilt Blocks to Mix and Match by Susan Briscoe. I just discovered her website and I'm thinking about reaching out to her - I've gotten so much out of this book! I'm hoping she might like to see some interpretations of her work.

I also have her book The Ultimate Sashiko Sourcebook, but I'm trying to resist the siren song of sashiko as I already have my hands full with an ambitious original embroidery project.

As folks who read my August posts know, I've been experimenting with patterns (primarily using dark blues) from this book, including:

Block #14: Kurume kasuri musubi (knot)
Block #5: Kurume kasuri igeta (Kurume well curb)
Block #6: Yamato kasuri igeta (Yamato well curb)

For this next pillow my specific goal was to enliven up a room that was somewhat depressingly matchy-matchy, and I wanted it to go with the colorful Heather Bailey pillow I'd already made for the bed.

I wanted to chose a design that would showcase Heather Bailey's bold fabric from her Freshcut series. Briscoe's book has a few patterns that remind me of a frame or window onto a vista, giving the block an elegant dimensionality. I settled on block 29 - Yosegi koshi kumitate (check frame).

I sketched out my interpretation of the block on graph paper. All the designs in the book are for 9" quilt blocks. I prefer the look and size of 16" square pillows but I wasn't up to doing the math - I simply "doubled the recipe" to make it for an 18" pillow.

Briscoe's designed calls for 2 different background colors, with the middle square cut on a diagonal. I merged these into my one featured fabric.

I went about this project very carefully and methodically, because it involved a lot of small pieces, and a "fussy" piece of fabric - fussy meaning that I wanted to keep the pattern framed in a specific way, so it was important that I didn't get confused and turn a piece upside down or change its orientation in the block.

I generally like to take shortcuts, like cutting as I go, or piecing together multiple strips fabric and then cutting them, but I knew there were too many potential pitfalls to take this approach.

The only shortcut I took was string-piecing the smaller pieces.

I enjoyed taking photos in the natural light!

I followed the instructions to end up with three large strips:

You'll notice by this point the natural light has faded as I push the project into the evening...

Finally done!

As usual, I put some special effort into the back:

I love to look at all the colors and patterns together:

... and somebody else does too!

Friday, September 28, 2007

This is Breakfast Boy

Pillow: Breakfast Boy
Model: Tar

This is Breakfast Boy. Breakfast Boy is one of my favorite pillows.

He is smiley and friendly and eager to please.

Breakfast Boy is based on a photo from a 1964 Physique Pictorial that I picked up in Provincetown. The history of physique magazines is interesting - from the excellent Planet Out article by David Bianco (who has a pretty interesting background himself):

'Bob Mizer was only 23 when he started AMG [publisher of Physique Pictorial] and its catalog in 1945. He originally operated out of a spare room in his mother's house. She wasn't particularly happy that he was gay, but she cooperated because she liked the extra income he shared with her. When Mizer's business boomed, he built a separate studio next door to Mom. He recruited models at gyms and along Venice Beach, searching for a particular type: chiseled, muscular, white. Many of the models he hired were heterosexual.

Popular demand for these homoerotic images grew, and Mizer looked for another way to distribute them. In 1951, he began publishing Physique Pictorial, a pocket-sized magazine created especially for a gay audience..."

Here's the cover of the issue Breakfast Boy's photo appeared in. Don't you just love the font? Yes, that woodgrain fabric is from Joel Dewberry's Aviary line. I just love to pair partial nudity with woodgrain.

The model's name is Gerald (Gerald?!) and is described here in great detail for his stats (including ankle, not pictured). He apparently "works as a salesman but wants to be an actor, or anything else that brings him lots of money." Hmmm.

More from the David Bianco's article:

'Because of the oppressive atmosphere of the 1950s, physique magazines were careful to disguise their homoerotic intent. Postal inspectors and FBI agents were on the lookout for pornographic content, such as "excessive genital delineation." They particularly targeted gay publications, trying to indict them for violation of the 1873 Comstock Act, which prohibited sending obscene material through the mail. To avoid harassment, Physique Pictorial adopted a lofty mission statement: "A fine healthy physique," it claimed, was "a great compliment to our creator who planned for the utmost perfection in all of his universe." A beautiful body, according to Mizer's publication, "makes the soul sing."'

Sigh. You may notice that the photographed model carefully avoids said "excessive genital delineation." He also apparently isn't cooking anything. I took a little creative license here - added back in the genital delineation, and gave him some fried eggs!

The yolks of the sunny side up eggs represent the first instance that I did a solid fill in embroidery.

Isn't he a charmer?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Jayne Mansfield - Portrait in Thread

I completed this Jayne Mansfield portrait in thread. It's based on a photo from the 1964 Best of Playboy, which I purchased in one of the last remaining flea markets in Chelsea (NYC Chelsea, not London Chelsea).

I used to buy most of my source material from the main Chelsea Flea Market which has now been replaced by a luxury condo - like many of the older and more lowbrow gems of New York City. This flea market moved to Hell's Kitchen, but when I went to check it out in its new location, it just didn't have the same vibe. Maybe it was me, but it felt more select/expensive and overall I didn't find it to be as fun. But go, really - any flea market is a good flea market.

Fortunately, there still remains one in Chelsea - The Antiques Garage - located in a parking lot between 6th and 7th Avenue, and 24th and 25th Street. Go soon, because like many good things in New York, this may not be here forever. I currently have a good stash of source materials to work my way through, but occasionally I drop by for additional inspiration. On the particular day I bought this magazine, my favorite photo vendor wasn't there, but another vendor did have this one issue.

I had never seen a Jayne Mansfield movie before, but I'd heard about her throughout my adult life. Associations I had: b-movie actress, beheaded in a car accident (this is an urban myth however), and Law and Order SVU's Mariska Hargitay's mother (did I mention I love Mariska?). I finally rented The Girl Can't Help It from Netflix. I recommend the version Netflix has, because it has a good 45-minute documentary about her rise and fall, and while the actual movie failed to bowl me over with her acting talents, the doc enabled me to appreciate her shining moments as a beloved sexual icon.

Jayne Mansfield was frequently called "the poor man's Marilyn Monroe" and unfortunately her performance in The Girl Can't Help It begs comparison to Marilyn's iconic appearance in The Seven Year Itch. Both involve questionable seductions of the weasly Tom Ewell. But no matter how much I like to root for the underdog, Marilyn is unquestionably the superior actor, and if you have any question about this, do watch these two movies side by side.

Above is the photo I used for my embroidered portait. While her cleavage or her waistline are probably her most popularly photographed attributes - she had an almost impossibly exaggerated hourglass figure (think Jessica Rabbit) - I think she looks beautifully voluptuous from the back in this photo. I was also attracted by the challenge of representing the feathery boa she's wrapped in, as well as her dropped earrings.

Did I get the essence of Jayne Mansfield here? I'm not sure. On many of my embroidered portraits, I had previously created a pen and ink drawing first, using the photo just as source material. The drawings are artworks themselves, and they convey (I hope) a lot of shading, texture, and personality. When I transform these pen and ink drawings into embroidery, I believe they are a little more quirky and emotional.

In my portrait of Jayne, however, I traced a xerox of the photo, skipping the drawing step. Overall, I think this embroidered piece is a good example of a pin-up girl, but I think I could have done a better job of conveying the complexity of Jayne Mansfield. I'm talking about the woman who won unheard of beauty contests like "Miss Magnesium Lamp," and who decades after her death is still inspiring angel vs. devil debates.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Heather Bailey Freshcut Pillow

I whipped up this pillow this morning before work because I was sick and tired of the strict brown and green color scheme I had established in this bedroom. I must say this pillow really helps!

As I said in my last post, I don't typically use pink in my designs, embroidery, decor - anywhere - but I do find it slowly creeping into my work. I must say it's fun to have a brand new color to my palette.

The flower pattern is from Heather Bailey's beautiful and unusual Freshcut series. It actually looks very similar to the wallpaper pattern and colors I had on my bedroom walls growing up in the 70s.

This is the back - but it could certainly be used as the front as well!

More fabric credits: the left is also from the Heather Bailey Freshcut series, the fabric on the right is from Amy Butler's Belle series (Okra Seeds), and the blue stripe is from Denyse Schmidt's Flea Market Fancy series - and it's one of my favorite accent fabrics.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Lifesaving Embroidery

After a very encouraging comment from Anna Betts on my CPR Embroidery post, I was inspired to try my hand at a few more lifesaving manual-inspired pieces.

I was on vacation all last week in Provincetown, Cape Cod, and the water-related theme blended in nicely. I started out the week at the Fabric Place, where I stocked up on blue and green spectrum Kona fabrics, my preferred brand for solids.

Maybe I went a little overboard, but I envision this as a series. I also have been buying related patterns so I can do some patchwork with these colors in the future as well.

I started with this: Underwater Approach I. I was really unhappy with how the man's hair came out, so I omitted him from this pic!

I wasn't entirely satisfied with the outcome. While I don't usually use the word "cartoony" as a negative, I'm going to apply it here. There was something a little too literal in this interpretation from page to embroidery.

After showing some friends a work-in-progress, they challenged me to experiment with a combination of drawing and embroidery.

This is the result, Underwater Approach II:

And here is Front-Head Hold Release, or by the other name we gave it when I was 14 and a lifesaver in training, "Suck, Tuck, Duck." If I ever do a show of these, that will be its name.

This piece was experimental for me in several ways -- leaving parts of the drawing exposed without being covered with embroidery, using the carbon transfer paper as a shading medium, and using the color pink. I never use the color pink -- not in home decor, not in art projects -- but I feel myself moving towards it...selectively!

The final outcome reminds me of the Sonic Youth album cover of Goo for some reason.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Embroidering on the Beach

Here in the temperate climate of Cape Cod, I've been enjoying a vacation with lots of embroidering. To say goodbye to summer, I'll soon be posting some new projects that I've been working on of underwater lifesaving scenes.

Stay tuned!