Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Perfect Sewing Table for a Grasshopper

When sewing with the Elna 1 "grasshopper," I noticed that if the table top was too high I had a hard time making contact with the knee controller. I started searching for something to sew with the grasshopper—it had to be something low enough to make it comfortable to sew with the knee controller but small enough to be portable to put away when not in use (or to make it easy to travel with).

I remembered seeing those old-style metal typewriter tables when thrifting, the kind with two leaves that fold up/down and sturdy rolling wheels. I wondered if they might work, and about 6 months later found a vintage metal Hon typing desk in an antique shop up in Wisconsin. Looking at the typing desk in person, it seemed like just the thing, and the price was right!

My husband helped me take the dirty old thing apart, paint it, and put it back together with new hardware. The only thing we couldn't replace were three of the four missing rubber adjusting feet on the legs, which allowed you to level the table after lowering it to the floor from the wheels. We added some plain rubber feet, but it's not quite the same as the originals. Still, it does work well!

The grasshopper fits PERFECTLY on top of the table, and the knee lift comes to a comfortable height for me to use. 

The leaves make for plenty of space for notions and tools. While the Elna 1 sewing case that transforms into an extended sewing area DOES NOT fit on the typing table, that's perfectly okay for me. I'm planning on using the machine and table for small piecing and sewing, so the free-arm will work just fine for me.

The only possible drawback to this set-up is the narrow leg space under the table. There's just 14.5 inches between those front bars, and that "I" beam at the base of the table leaves little room to move your feet. This restriction hasn't bothered me at all, but it might feel claustrophobic to some. Also, note that there is no space for a foot control under there! Believe me, I tried to use this with a Singer 221 featherweight, and there is not one comfortable place at all to use a foot control.

If you like what you see, start searching thrift stores and antique shops for one of these old, metal typing tables! I keep seeing theme here and there throughout the Midwest, so there are still plenty out there!

Happy stitching with your vintage machine!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

300+ Years of Color Theory: Modern Chromatics

This book is included in a reading list on the history of Color Theory. Find the home-page for the series here.

Ogden N. Rood (1831-1902) was a brilliant American physicist and accomplished artist whose contribution to Color Theory is an important one. His book bridged some earlier color theories with the most current scientific research in the mid-19th Century (based on the work of Thomas Young, Hermann von Helmholtz and James Clerk Maxwell). His book published in 1879 was the first major work on Color Theory to clearly delineate the differences between the systems of subtractivecolor used by artists mixing paints (dyes, inks, or any colored media) and that of the additivesystem of light, as well as offering some basics on the theory of trichromatic color vision.

Rood’s book was a great influence to Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist artists like Monet, Pissarro, Seurat and Signac. He described a painting technique he called divisionism in his book. His work was also a major influence to Albert Henry Munsell, who gave credit to Rood by inspiring his basics color solid system.

Modern Chromatics begins just like many previous volumes on color, by first presenting Rood’s theories on light and vision supported with documentation and notes on experiments. His description of how the eyes work with the brain to give us the sense of sight (page 10) is amazingly close to what we know today. In fact, I think this book marks the exact spot in time between the truly modern books on color that followed, and the books full of hopeful guesses and poetic fancies that came before.

Rood was deeply influenced by Maxwell’s spinning disc experiments, which demonstrate the difference between visual mixtures of colors from the direct mixtures of pigments and paints. Rood made note of various results of color mixtures with the discs in his book, and used this method to create a new color wheel of visual complements. While his color system was one of the first “color solids” clearly influencing Munsell’s system, there aren’t any illustrations of Rood’s color system out there. His book only includes a few small black and white illustrations to show the idea of his system. Very strange compared to the intricate color wheels in similar books by Chevreul or Harris.

These very simple charts and illustrations were included at the front of Modern Chromatics.

Despite the lack of a detailed example of his system, Rood does continue in the footsteps of his predecessors by laying down rules and best practices for using color combinations. Included is an entire chapter “On the Combination of Colours in Pairs and Triads,” and a closing chapter “On the Use of Colour in Painting and Decoration” specifically for artists.

There's no doubt that the scientific information and new color wheel in this book were revolutionary for artists, as it was based on actual visual results and could be used to find truer complements and combinations than previous systems. Looking back, this would have been an amazing time to be an artist the late 19th Century.

Looking forward, once the trichromatic theory of vision was well established, you will see a pattern to color theory books, so take note! Authors are sure to use an established system to represent their ideas, either the system of vision, or the system of the artist (whereas authors previous to Rood aren't aware of differences in painter's pigments and human vision).

Saturday, August 27, 2016

300+ Years of Color Theory: The Principles of Light & Color

This book is included in a reading list on the history of Color Theory. Find the home-page for the series here.

Originally published in 1878, I read the Faber Birren reprint of The Principles of Light & Color: The Healing Power of Color published in 1967.

The first Color Theory books on the reading list were compiled by some of the world’s best known scientists and thinkers. This book’s author not only helped spark the still thriving cult of color therapy over 130 years ago, but also earned the unfortunate reputation of a Quack Doctor .

While there are many studies today on the subject of color psychology, Babbitt takes his personal theories and builds an entire system of what he terms Chromopathy (also Chromotherapy), or the “medical practice” of healing with colors. Many Color Theorists have written about the physiological effectsof color, even Goethe noted in his book on colors how some hues are associated with “emotions of the mind.” For instance, Goethe labels Yellow as a positive color, associating it with light, warmth, and action; he labels blue a negative color, associating it with darkness, coldness and weakness.

Babbitt’s beliefs in the physiological and healing powers of colors reach dizzying, unbelievable heights as he creates a new system of color healing where he documents simple colored lights curing even the most deadly of diseases and medical conditions. Not to mention his belief that a few special people can see an “Aura” or Odic Light around objects or people, and can read minds as well.

Babbitt’s color system is loosely based on the Subtractive color system that artist’s use, and follows the basics of Moses Harris’s system: Red, Yellow and Blue are the primary colors that mix to make a secondary set of Orange, Green and Violet. He creates what looks like more of a color chart than a wheel illustrated in his book. Other Color Theorists expand upon the relationship of the colors to each other or elaborates on color harmonies, but Babbitt is more interested in particular properties he’s assigning to different colors.

               Red is a warm, stimulating color associated with the blood.
               Yellow/Orange are stimulating colors associated with the brain and central nervous system.
               Blue/Violet are cold, contracting colors to the overall system.

You might be wondering how Babbitt expects to heal with colors, and in the middle chapters of his book he introduces three of his Chromopathic inventions. The Chromolume, the Chromo-disk, and the Chromo-lens.

The Chromolume looks like a majestic stained glass window, made specifically with different colored glass sections to correspond with each area of the body. Treatment with the Chromolume consisted of placing the giant stained glass instrument in a sunny window and allowing the colored light to fall fully on the patient. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any pictures of a Chromolume – either no one today has made one, or is crazy enough to document it online!

The Chromo-disk is a simple device that shines light on specific parts of the body. Different colored lenses can be placed in front of the light depending on what kind of healing rays are needed. I’m not sure shining a colored light at any part of your body could cure a serious disease, but it is interesting that you can purchase simple light boxes and lamps that are proven to help with Seasonal Affective Disorder.

The Chromo-lens was to me the strangest of Babbitt’s healing magic. These were just big lens-shaped bottles in different colors, meant to hold a liquid to imbibe it with the special powers of the colored light. Once a liquid was put in the bottle and exposed to light, it was ingested by the patient.

Other highlights of this book are the great imaginary way that Babbitt describes the atom and its parts, including intricate spirals that create frictional electricity and spectral colors and a vortex of whirling ethers passing through the center of the atom, and a pretty fantastical description of the magnetic and colorful fields generated by the human brain.

Definitely a different breed of book, and pretty safe to say this one will not appear in my list of top favorite Color Theory books! Still, I am glad to have read it for the different perspective on how Babbitt imagined colors to be important to human psychology and health.

Now! I am ready for the next book on the list - are you?

Friday, August 12, 2016

300+ Years of Color Theory: The Principles of Harmony and Contrasts of Colors

This book is included in a reading list on the history of Color Theory. Find the home-page for the series here.

So far, The Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colors and Their Applications to the Arts by Michel Eugéne Chevreul has been the hardest book for me to read in this list. Not because Chevreul’s ideas were difficult to understand, but because of the incredible level of detail in his writing - like list, after list, after list of how colors interact together.

M. E. Chevreul was a brilliant and beloved French scientist in the field of chemistry, appointed to oversee the State controlled tapestry works Manufacture des Gobelins in 1824 by King Louis XVIII. Chevreul formed his ideas and principles about color interactions while working at The Gobelins while improving the dye laboratory, and learning the manufacturing process of weaving.

His book influenced countless artists (Pissarro, Monet, and Delacroix to name a few) as well as the overall Impressionism and Neo-Impressionism movements. The first edition of this book was published in 1839, and subsequently reprinted a number of times with a special edition in 1889 (to celebrate Chevreul’s 100th birthday!), a facsimile of the 1889 volume reprinted again in 1969, and finally the Faber Birren edition published with biographical information and commentary in 1987. I highly recommend reading the Birren edition if you can find it (check your library first, then see if there is a copy available through inter-library loan), the extra information was invaluable in getting through this meticulous volume.

Chevreul was aware of Newton’s theories of light, and mentions this early in his book. In explaining his own Color Theories, Chevreul focuses on the subtractive system of pigments where Red, Yellow and Blue form the primary colors.

His color system is comprised of a basic color wheel containing 72 distinct hues, and a dome or hemisphere in which the 72 color hues are represented in other tints and shades.

The color wheel at first may look similar to the Artist’s color wheels of today; it includes the three Primary colors (red, yellow, blue), three Secondary colors (orange, green, violet), and six Tertiary colors (red-orange, orange-yellow, yellow-green, green-blue, blue-violet, violet-red). Each of these 12 sections is further broken down into 6 more divisions of color, making for a total of 72 individual hues. Chevreul felt his color wheel with 72 hues was the best to help determine true color relationships and harmonies.

His color sphere was an early attempt at a three dimensional color space, showing how the hues in his system mixed with black and white to create graduated shades at the top of the sphere, and graduated tints below.

Based on his color wheel and sphere, Chevreul put forth several laws and rules of colors, all cataloged in great detail.

The Law of Simultaneous Contrasts
Through many examples and experiments (that you can recreate yourself with Chevreul’s detailed instructions), he presents the theory of Simultaneous Contrast. This can present as a contrast of value, where light and dark values interact in different ways. This can also present as a contrast of hue, where different hues interact in different ways. In contrasts of hue, the visual perception of simultaneous contrast also takes effect, where one color can create the optical illusion of a second color – which can affect the overall appearance of the colors viewed. And now begins the exhaustive lists in which Chevreul attempts to catalog all the effects noted when colors interact.

Just as with the previous books on Color Theory, this author also holds complementary colors (those directly opposite each other on the color wheel) in high regard for their special, vivid properties.

Harmony of Colors
Here the author lists what he feels to be the most harmonious ways that we see colors. And there are many more lists in this section! In a nutshell, these harmonies are:

  • ·        One single, monotone color
  • ·        Two colors of the same value
  • ·        Analogous colors located next to each other on the color wheel
  • ·        Widely spaced colors located on the color wheel
  • ·        Various colors in the same tint, tone or shade
  • ·        Harmonies of contrasts consisting of the same color of different value, analogous colors of different value, or of very different colors of similar value
  • ·        Colors that look best when on a white, gray, or black ground
As if this wasn’t enough Color Theory to get artists motivated, the author continues on for several more chapters in his book with specific advice on how to use color when painting various subjects in virtually any lighting situation, when creating tapestry or textiles, printed fabrics, mosaics, stained glass, and staining or printing on paper. And, last but not least, Chevreul ends with a chapter on the subject of applying all of his theories to the specific practice of art criticism and appreciation.


While Moses Harris was considered an accomplished artist, his simple Color Theory booklet looks like a self-published zine next to this massive volume from Chevreul! It’s no wonder so many artists were influence by this book, especially those who worked with dots or spots of pure color applied directly to the canvas as a means to experiment with the interactions of colors described within these pages.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Are we asking the right questions?

This post is in direct reference to the conversation started by the Modern Quilt Guild’s controversial post about Derivative works here, and the many blog posts and comments that have followed.

I’ve had many conversations with fellow MQG members and friends over the last several days regarding not only the derivatives post, but all things MQG. I have seen many, many great questions raised, such as... Who decides if a quilt submitted is a derivative? When can you make the call if a quilt is a derivative? Is it even possible to make a quilt in which no other quilt or quilter ever in the history of man can be cited as an influence?

And in a conversation last night with a few mates, more questions were raised such as: Is our membership’s work really being represented as much as it could be at QuiltCon? If the juried show looks only at which quilts best represent modern quilting instead of how many members are getting a chance to participate, is that fair? Who’s interpretation of modern quilting is used to curate the quilts at QuiltCon?

And then this morning it hit me that these are all questions pointing to an even more important, larger question:

What is the purpose of The Modern Quilt Guild?

No, I’m not talking about the mission, this question goes deeper than that.

Here is one possible purpose:

The Modern Quilt Guild is an organization developed by members who wish to define modern quilting, its unique styles, variations, and esthetics in order to educate others as to what constitutes modern quilting as a whole. This organization realizes its purpose through:
  •  Offering members an exclusive way to learn about modern quilting styles, esthetics, and related techniques through an online community and locally authorized guilds.
  • Offering members educational information to learn about modern quilting and quilting related subjects (history, construction methods, techniques, styles, trends, etc.) through national MQG channels (blog posts, webinars, free quilt patterns and block tutorials, etc.)
  • Offering a selection of lectures, workshops and classes that aligns with the current definitions, styles and esthetics of modern quilting at the organization’s yearly event, QuiltCon.
  • Delineating the most current view of modern quilting by selecting only the best member’s work that most closely fits the current definition of modern quilting for exhibit in the organization’s yearly show, QuiltCon.
  •  Informing members at all levels (local, national and global) what the most current definition, styles and esthetics are associated directly with modern quilting.
  • The mission statement for the organization with this purpose could look exactly like our current MQG Mission Statement.

And here's a second possible purpose:

The Modern Quilt Guild is an organization developed by members who are passionate about modern quilting in order to connect, share, converse, learn, and support each other communally. This organization realizes its purpose through:
  • Supporting members desire to connect, share, and learn from each other by offering an open member’s only online community forum, and supports local guilds where members can meet-up in person.
  • Supporting members desire to learn by offering a variety of information about modern quilting and quilting related subjects (history, construction methods, techniques, styles, trends, etc.) through national MQG channels (blog posts, webinars, free quilt patterns and block tutorials, etc.)
  • Supporting members desire to showcase our current work by organizing a yearly member exhibit through QuiltCon which reflects as many different members as possible and as many different styles under the modern quilting umbrella as possible, with the overall goal of exhibiting quality work.
  •  Supporting members desire to learn more about modern quilting, quilt techniques and trends at each QuiltCon event by offering lectures, classes, workshops and demonstrations that are a mix of what members have requested as well as on-trend subjects that members may not yet be aware of.
  •  Reflecting the majority of the membership through change and growth by re-assessing the organization’s mission, purpose and goals. Requesting member feedback when making short and long term goals for the organization.
  • Reflecting membership views at the national and global level as to what the most current definition, styles or esthetics are associated with modern quilting.
  • The mission statement for the organization with this purpose could look exactly like our current MQG Mission Statement.

Yes, you’re probably thinking of things I didn’t even list, or maybe you have different ideas, or perhaps you think I’m totally full of shit right now! All great feedback, and please let me know in the comments what you are thinking in regards to what the MQG's bigger purpose is.

Personally, I like the second option above, and feel that giving the most people a voice can only strengthen a group. Funny, in my mind I thought that’s the way we were all headed as a group. Obviously, there’s lots of room for improvement if the MQG is going to reach that point.

There are some people who have realized they no longer (or never did) feel a sense of belonging in the MQG have left the group publicly. Others have not said as much, but are thinking about leaving. Obviously, if you’re part of something that is not giving you joy, purpose, or you no longer feel an affiliation with, it’s definitely time to think about moving on.

At any rate, now is the time to stand up and speak out about what you think. In recent communications with the MQG, I’ve learned that in all the social media conversations, comments, and confusion going on, there hasn’t been very much official feedback emailed directly to the MQG. And it may sound counter intuitive that all this online stuff may not be considered official feedback, but I’m telling you that this is how it is.

So, this post is me standing up and speaking out to you directly. Please, if you feel strongly enough in The Modern Quilt Guild to want to see this conversation through, start really talking to your fellow mates and friends about what exactly you don’t like, and what kind of changes you want to see in the organization. Even if you've already decided to leave, speak out about your thoughts on the organization. Give your feedback directly to the organization, and include as many concrete examples of what makes you unhappy or new ideas that would make things better that you can. Don’t just send your feedback as an email to one person; send your message to your Guild President and local Board, send it to your National Regional Rep, and send it to the National Board.

I plan to start this conversation with our guild as a whole, and I am anxious to see what comes out of the conversation. I am planning to collect my thoughts and send feedback myself, but I am also exploring the option of getting together with others from my guild to send feedback as a group, or possible as the official guild.

I'd like to hope that if you feel strongly enough to post your thoughts and ideas publicly, you'll also send it directly to the organization and let your thoughts be heard officially.