Two Quilts for Two Sisters

In June of 2018 my family took a dreamy vacation to Paris and Southern France. We shared the second part of our trip with old friends and their two kids, and found that adding these humans to our time in the French countryside made it all the more magical.

These friends happen to live in Barcelona, so we don’t see them often. Before we said goodbye I made sure to ask the girls their favorite colors. Lili said black and Josie said rainbow.

When I got home from France I immediately started working on these, using templates that I had made for one of my art classes earlier in the year. I’ve been trying to use fabric from my stash this year instead of purchasing more. I was able to make both of these 100% from my stash, which felt great.

I’m finally about to give these to their recipients, so I hope favorite colors haven’t changed too much in the past year! I put snails on the backs because of a walk we took one night. French countryside snails everywhere. A beautiful memory.

Josie’s quilt

Josie’s quilt

Josie’s quilt, detail

Josie’s quilt, detail

Josie’s quilt, back

Josie’s quilt, back

Josie’s quilt, back detail

Josie’s quilt, back detail

Lili’s quilt

Lili’s quilt

Lili’s quilt, detail

Lili’s quilt, detail

Lili’s quilt, back

Lili’s quilt, back

Lili’s quilt, back detail

Lili’s quilt, back detail

These were quilted for me by Nikki Maroon. Mitch Hopper took photos for me. They measure about 60” square.

Two Mini Quilts

This quilt was made for a swap between my guild and the Ann Arbor Modern Quilt Guild. My partner didn’t give me any requests, just told me to make whatever my heart desired. So I used scraps from a previous project (my Good Bones mini quilts from my drawing final) and the design was loosely inspired by the Arne Quilt by Rossie Crafts. I did my own quilting on this one and was pretty happy with the outcome.

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And another mini for a swap. This time it was a swap within my own guild. Again, my partner left it pretty wide open in terms of what she likes, so I tried to make something that reflects what I see in her: bright, vibrant, energetic. I had fun improving my way through this mini. My partner liked it and it turned out to be a parting gift, as she soon after moved from Chicago to Milwaukee.

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Art 112: Introduction to Drawing

The second art class I took at UIC was an intro to drawing class. Once again, I was incredibly nervous. I can’t draw. No, I really can’t draw. I have no sense of proportion or perspective. I have no natural gift for it. But I signed up for the course with a teacher who was highly recommended by two friends, and that made all the difference. My teacher Professor Frid opened my eyes and my mind so much. I learned that what I thought of as “good drawing” came from a tradition of white, European males, and that there were so many other traditions of drawing around the world and through history. Professor Frid also encouraged us to experiment with all kinds of mark-making techniques. And so I tried not to worry about how I “can’t draw.” I brought my textile skills, my curiosity, and my willingness to learn to the work. It was a good class, a challenging class, and here are the projects I made that semester:

For our first assignment, we filled our sketchbooks with lines we observed in the world. Then we cut those lines out of white paper and added them to a black background to make a composition. I decided to let my lines come away from the page instead of gluing them completely down. I used little stitches to secure them.

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Assignment two was to do some contour drawings of an object (I chose a rock with a hole in it), and then to render several versions, in charcoal and in paper cut outs. I did a fifth version in fabric, using a reverse applique method.

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Next we had a self-portrait assignment. We had to draw our faces with pencil at least 12 times. I can’t overstate how uncomfortable I was during the drawing process of this assignment. I hated all of my efforts, struggling mightily against my perfectionism. I never was happy with any of the drawings of my face, but it did make me happy to slice them up and make them into a paper quilt.

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For our midterm projects we were asked to make two pieces featuring two animals morphed together. Here is my first, in which I drew a raven and a scorpion. Then I did an embroidered panel over the top. There is a story here about old age, waiting for death, and the administrative tasks at the end of life. I didn’t feel very confident about this piece, and it was very hard to photograph.

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For the second animal-morph piece, I asked my daughter her favorite animal and she immediately said mantis shrimp, followed closely by water bear. I decided to throw in a cat because she has historically loved them. I started thinking about boxing, and boxing robes, because the mantis shrimp has the most forceful punch in the natural world. I was thinking about my daughter, and what she might encounter as she navigates healthcare as a trans individual. I also think of my friends with chronic illnesses, and how they have to fight for all the care they need. The paper exam gown is appliqued with tissue paper to represent fragility and vulnerability, while simultaneously referencing the strength and resilience of a fighter.

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For the next assignment, we drew scenes from a conservatory, and another interior space (I chose my daughter’s bedroom) and then used the drawings as collage materials. Each piece had specific requirements. 1. Combine the conservatory and interior drawings. 2. Combine the conservatory and interior drawings; include one or more of the live-model drawings we did in class. 3. Pick one of the two collages and draw it again but with one material (I used oil pastels), and incorporate a self portrait. Of course there is always room for improvement, but I was pretty happy with these. They might have been my favorite pieces of the semester. My kids liked them so much they asked me to frame them and hang them in their rooms, so that was fun.

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For our final project of the semester, we got to choose our own topics. My theme was the poem Good Bones by Maggie Smith, which looks at the duality of hope and realism. I was also inspired by some paintings and drawings by Paul Klee. The shorthand depicts words from the poem. It doesn’t have much to do with the project other than that I love the look of it (I previously used it in my Train Track Pennies quilt — I associate it with my grandma). In one piece I wanted to show a dilapidated house in a beautiful setting, and in the other I wanted to depict a perfect house in a toxic atmosphere. I felt these two images illustrated the push and pull present in the poem.

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This was an exhausting semester. I was really inspired by my teacher to work hard and try new things. I made some work I’m really proud of. This class really made me confront some of my artistic insecurities, and I survived with my creativity and confidence intact.

Art 140: Introduction to Sculpture

In the fall of 2017 I went back to school. There were a lot of factors that went in to the decision. Long story short, I decided it was finally time to finish my undergrad studies, after a 14 year hiatus. My major is psychology, with the goal of getting my master's in art therapy after finishing my bachelor's degree. The art therapy program requires a lot of studio art classes as a prerequisite to apply.

The first art class I took as a college student was Introduction to Sculpture. I was so nervous when I registered, thinking I knew absolutely nothing about making sculpture. But it turned out to be a fun semester. And I learned that sculpture can be anything.

found objects self-portrait, Laura Hartrich 2017

found objects self-portrait, Laura Hartrich 2017

Our first assignment was to make a self-portrait out of found objects. I had plenty of materials to work with since I've been collecting little bits and interesting objects for most of my life. I made the wooden stand in the wood shop at school. As I made this self portrait I was thinking about my domestic life of 14 years as a stay-at-home mom, a new life I was building toward with the decision to go back to school, and the sometimes-scary, often overwhelming and uncomfortable balancing act it will require. So basically that house is me, hanging on for dear life. 

found objects self-portrait, Laura Hartrich 2017

found objects self-portrait, Laura Hartrich 2017

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Our next assignment was to take a familiar object and make it into another, recognizable object. I struggled to commit to a concept but finally decided to make a soup pot out of a quilt. We were required to use chicken wire for this assignment, so that's what I used to form the pot, and the ladle. I then proceeded to dye an old quilt I thrifted. I was going for grey but it came out rather purple-y. I hand-sewed the quilt into place around the chicken wire structure. For the lid I bought a big plastic garbage can lid and covered it in quilt. I borrowed hardware from my son's dresser to make the handles. 

When I presented this sculpture, my class had a lot of interesting ideas about what it might be about. There was a lot of discussion about domesticity, femininity, softness, and motherhood. In truth, when I made it I was thinking about how much I hate to cook because it takes time away from the quilting I'd rather be doing.

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Instructions for the cooperative sculpture.

Instructions for the cooperative sculpture.

For my third assignment I was inspired by Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawings. He used to write simple instructions and have assistants execute them. I liked the idea of other people participating in creating a work. So I pieced these quilt blocks, measuring 12”x12”. I affixed some batting to the wall so that the blocks could stay on the wall but also be easily moved around. I presented the instructions shown here, and my fellow students put the blocks in the arrangement above. The students enjoyed the exercise of playing with color and movement in the layout of the blocks. I was really pleased that basically using a design wall could count as sculpture in my professor’s very generous definition.

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For our final assignment we were given full freedom, though our professor told us to think big. It had been about a year since the passing of my grandma, and I was thinking about her a lot. She was my last living grandparent. I have vivid memories of spending time in her little house in Southern Illinois. One summer I stayed with her, by myself, for a couple weeks. We had adventures. Stringing beads. Feeding food coloring to Queen Anne’s lace. Putting pennies on the train tracks behind her house. Later, I didn’t want to stay home and go to community college. So I moved in with her and went to community college. I was a terrible roommate, that’s for sure. But I still treasure the nights we spent washing dishes, playing Scrabble, watching the Bachelor. I felt closer to her than any of my other grandparents because of all the opportunities I had to spend time with her. And I miss her.

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The piece I made for my sculpture final was called Fort, and it’s about loss and memory and seeing through the fog of time. The materials include a lot of nods to my grandma… her doilies and linens, her cut up blankets and notebooks, photos of her, flattened pennies. And of course you can see that I incorporated the memory quilt I made using her clothes and linens. I wanted to make this piece to resemble a fort that a child might make out of blankets and pillows from around the house. I wish it was hanging more horizontally (more taut), and a little lower. But in the space we had, and with the time we had to install, this was the best I could do. I had a lot of help from Nate for the installation process. And the piece was well received during my final critique. Sculpture class isn’t so scary after all.

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Train Track Pennies

My last living grandparent passed away in early 2016. My dad's mom lived to be 90, and lived independently very nearly until the end. She was wonderful in many ways. She was sweet and funny, crafty and thrifty, made THE BEST scrambled eggs, popcorn, and lasagna, and had the greatest stories about her life as a young woman.

When I was a little girl (around 6 years old, I think), I spent 3 weeks at her house during the summer. It was much too long for a kid that age, and I was a homesick wreck by the end. Still, I have a lot of great memories from that trip. We took walks, put coins on the train tracks, picked Queen Anne's lace which we then put in a cup of food colored water. We made seed bead bracelets and I repeatedly spilled the bowl of beads we were working from. We would patiently pick them up together. Once I spilled an entire bottle of Calamine lotion on her carpet. Again she surprised me with her calm reaction. Coming back from one of our walks one evening, I ran ahead and locked the back door and the front door and then ran out again. I had locked us out of the house. I think I thought it would be funny, but I was soon in tears realizing it was not actually a good joke at all. Grandma took it all in stride, again, and calmly found a neighbor to help us pick one of the locks and get back into the house. 

Grandma and me, 2001

Grandma and me, 2001

I think because of the good experience of staying with her that summer, I always felt close to her. When I graduated high school, instead of staying home and enrolling in community college, I decided to move in with her and attend one near her. I was a terrible roommate, self centered and inconsiderate. I know she must have been irritated with me much of the time but once again I felt so close to her because of the time we spent together. We watched the first season of The Bachelor together and had to hide our eyes and giggle when things got too sexy in the last few episodes (same thing when we watched Coming Home with Jane Fonda). I was vegetarian at the time and she went out of her way to cook things completely foreign to her so that I could eat. We spent countless hours chatting in the kitchen as she washed dishes and I dried. She beat me at Scrabble many times. She was still playing with and beating my parents until a few weeks before she died. I wish I had recorded some of her stories somehow, and I wish I hadn't waited so long to make her a quilt. She only got to use the one I made her for a few weeks. 

One of grandma's garments I included in the quilt

One of grandma's garments I included in the quilt

Stack of clothes, waiting to be cut

Stack of clothes, waiting to be cut

My parents and sister did most of the work of cleaning out her house after she was gone. I asked them to set aside some things I could use to make a quilt. They delivered a large box full of clothes and bed linens, and also lots of my grandma's own craft projects, like doilies, or table runners she had embroidered. These items sat in my house for over a year before I was ready to cut into them and make this quilt. They carried the smell of my grandma's house so strongly. It was an emotional experience just to open the box. After a couple false starts, I finally got going. 

Ovals in progress

Ovals in progress

Ovals cut in half

Ovals cut in half

I decided to make these oval shapes to represent the pennies we used to smoosh on the train tracks behind Grandma's house. I used the six-minute circle method to piece them, and was happy to discover the technique also works for shapes that aren't perfect circles. Once the ovals were made I cut some into halves and some into quarters and mixed them all up. I felt inspired to include another design element... I had always been fascinated by notebooks full of Gregg shorthand that my Grandma used for practice during her time in secretarial school. The secret-codedness of it all was intriguing to me and I thought the lines were beautiful. I decided to applique shorthand symbols over the top of the flattened penny shapes, and I chose words that describe the attributes I most admired in my Grandma. Patience, generosity, love, curiosity, humor, service, fortitude, and neatness.

shorthand symbols applied with a bias tape machine applique technique

shorthand symbols applied with a bias tape machine applique technique

This quilt was emotionally challenging at first. Then it developed into a technical challenge. I've never worked with so many different types of fabrics before. There are silks and polyesters in here, along with cottons of all different weights. There are thick fuzzy blankets, and nubby hobnail bedspreads. I put interfacing behind the stretchy fabrics and forged ahead. It's extremely thick in some spots but my Juki handled all the different fabrics beautifully. I quilted this one myself. I was proud to have it hang in the juried show at QuiltCon 2018. Thanks to Mitch Hopper for taking final photos for me, the last four images here are by him.

Final quilt, measures 51" x 63"

Final quilt, measures 51" x 63"

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quilting detail

back of quilt. I used a flannel sheet found in my grandma's house, new in its packaging.

back of quilt. I used a flannel sheet found in my grandma's house, new in its packaging.

Label and key for shorthand symbols 

Label and key for shorthand symbols