Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Quilted Birdhouse

Alan starting a new Crazy Quilt Birdhouse

at the Indian Wells Spectrum Art Show
     As a kid growing up I was surrounded by women who had some kind of craft as a hobby. Most sewed. I can remember hours spent at the fabric store as my mother leafed through the pattern books trying to find just the right item to make ... be it for her, my father, for me and later for my sister. I guess I got a discerning eye about clothing because back in the 50's famous designers lent their names to McCall's, Simplicity and all the other pattern makers. I can remember admiring Coco Chanel's designs and hearing my mother mutter, "Less may be more but these things are (then looking at me) 'hard' to make!" I got any number of shirts most that I hated to wear because they were homemade and to me, looked it.
     She also knitted, crocheted and later in life made creations that employed all three. I however, was content to draw or paint, skills that I guess I inherited from my father.
     My Mom made some quilts but it was my grandmother who was the quilter, and rug maker and knitter.  In college my best friends grandmother had beautiful, heavy quilts mostly made during the 30's when nothing went to waste. I can remember one quilt made entirely of old ties. Man, I wonder what that would be worth today! Quilts could be made of anything and one, an especially heavy one was made from old men's suits. Sleeping upstairs in an old uninsulated attic of an Oklahoma farm house in winter, you needed those quilts, several in fact. No one realized of course they were treasures.
There may be only 7 base colors but it still makes a mess!
       I can remember a show in a small museum in Memphis that showed Tennessee quilts from the 1850's. Many were gorgeous, true works of art. The amount of work in them was stupendous. I don't think anyone would even waste the time today. A friend in a home in Southern California had a crazy quilt from the 1840's framed behind plexiglas that was huge and stunning.
     Most people don't realize that quilting is the only original American art form. I am sure that colonists recognized that many manufactured goods would be difficult to obtain or even afford and had to make do with what they had. Hence, quilts. They inspired the very first recycling.
     By now of course, it is done around the world and many are influenced by their own design traditions. It is because my wife also quilted and had a stash of quilting books that I would look at, I quickly realized that those designs could easily be transferred to my birdhouse painting. In fact the designs of Pennsylvania Dutch, Norwegian Rosemaling, Germanic, Polish and Russian folk designs shared many common motifs as did the quilt designs.
Here are the painted fabrics on wood. Seven colors 

usually make a base then each fabric has the same
design used on the same color base coat. 
      It was the crazy quilt though that caught my eye. In fact, the very first one I did I entered in a contest sponsored by DecoArt. Since I used their paints primarily, when I got the email to enter, I quickly finished and photographed my very first Crazy Quilt painted birdhouse. I found out a month later that I was one of three finalists chosen from entries nationwide and then while on an Alaskan Cruise found out I had won! Just think ... a man painting crafter. I then branched out in a variety of colors and items ... birdhouses, plates, kleenex boxes, even cubes that could hold a 3" x 5" recipe card.
     Most of them sold on ETSY store and when I couldn't find a new creative mood, could always do a Crazy Quilt design.
     That was what prompted me to start one at the Spectrum Art Show last month. I figured that everyone else would paint (and they did) so I painted a birdhouse having marked it all up and then began painting the background. You'd be surprised at how many people stopped and talked to by me asking questions.
     Then I got distracted but after spending all the time setting up my studio and then sorting it so I could actually find things, sat down this week and seriously got to work. I also started another birdhouse because Crazy Quilt designs are complicated and its a three dimensional object while a painting is not.
Here I show the "fabrics" and the
Craftsmart pen from Michaels that
I used to create the stitching. 
      It is difficult to pick colors and I have experimented with various combinations ... all similar colors such as reds or blues, a variety of colors such as this one, pastels, strong colors and all seem somehow to work. After all, our relatives had to use whatever they had. Only today do modern quilt makers head to the fabric store and buy fabrics.
The stitched birdhouse. All that remains

is the antiquing that gives a new item an
aged look, a seeming heirloom.

     For me, the finishing touch, before I purposely antique the items, is the "stitching." I have tried a variety of gold colored pens and such. The one that worked the best for me in the past were the thin points using nail polish designed to make fingernails fancy. Those enamels were perfect and were not affected by varnish. When the enamels became too expensive to replace I tried a variety of inks hoping to find one that wouldn't resolve the minute I put acrylic varnish over it. So far, the only one that seems to work is the Craftsmart brand from Michaels. I think that the stitching gives it the perfect finish replicating the look of hand stitching. The beauty of course is that the "fabric" is painted and won't fade.
The finished Crazy Quilt birdhouse painted, stitched

and antiqued for an old, older look!
                     These are fun to do but because I try to use every color on every side, it is easy to smear paint. The red base used here had white polkadots and since this color was used everywhere I would get so zealous putting on dots I would forget that the other side or sides may not be dry yet. Usually it wasn't. I used the base of a wooden chopstick dipped in white paint ... over and over and over again!
     Oddly, these are a great way to get the juices flowing again. Because of the complexity of color and design, it forces you to focus and remind you that if you are going to spend all the time such a project requires you might as well do it right. If you face such similar blocks, maybe you, like me, can recreate something that was successful in the past. It tends to unlock the freeze and get your juices flowing again. It has for me!!!

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ...

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