Archive for the ‘Mosaic’ Category

Mosaic Memories Monday: Moments with Barbara Walker

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

It was at the Interweave Knitting Lab, October 2012, in Manchester, New Hampshire. I was teaching a class about how to knit mosaic patterns and design your own. The workshop participants were enthusiastic and they were close to completing our first mosaic sample: a dotty heart pattern.

Barbara Walker

All at once, the door opened, and in walked a small white-haired lady wearing a sparkling mosaic sweater. We saw, as if in a dream, Barbara Walker, the first champion of the mosaic knitting technique, the developer of a very clever mosaic knit charting method, the designer of many, many mosaic patterns. All this and much, much more.

Barbara Walker's bag

Barbara examined the mosaic samplers and graciously allowed us to photograph her and her lovely sweater and bag. She never uses a sweater pattern. She just decides which stitch motifs to use, and then knits from the top down.

She left us star-struck, and we continued our workshop with renewed vigor.

Barbara was the keynote speaker for the conference. I wouldn’t have missed her speech for anything. She produced several treasuries of knitting stitch patterns, which to my mind are the foundation for all modern knit stitch treasuries and the inspiration for many knitting patterns we’ve seen in books and magazines for the last 30 years.

A 1952 graduate of University of Pennsylvania, Barbara wrote for the Washington Star newspaper for years. The paper closed two or three years after she left. At some point, she took two classes in medieval history, where, oddly, no mention was made of the Inquisition. This got her started researching the history of religion. Among other things, this study resulted in the publication of her thoroughly engrossing encyclopedias of feminine symbols and mythology.

Here are a few lines from Barbara Walker’s speech, which made me admire her even more:

Regarding the relative creativity of the people in the room:

“You have probably knitted as much as I have, but you didn’t keep count. You are as creative as I am, but you just haven’t put it in books.”

Regarding how she was able to produce so much:

The television broke. About six years later, she called a repairman. “I got a lot done in that time,” she said.

“I was always solitary. That’s how I got so much done.”

And finally,

“I want to surprise myself. I don’t want to be bored.”

Thank you, Barbara Walker. Your work has made a large and lasting impression on my life.

Suzann and Barbara Walker

New York Weekend

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

I met Crochet Insider’s Dora Ohrenstein for lunch and a visit to the Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art on Madison Avenue. We have both been authors for Lark Crafts, and we both design for magazines. Dora has only been crocheting for ten years, so I would say she obviously has a flair for crochet design.

Some years ago, Dora traveled to Tajikistan to explore the origins of crochet. Later she went to Istanbul, Turkey, for the same reason. I’ve written before about my fascination with Turkish crafts, which I think are beautiful. I want to go to Turkey, too, and Dora gave me lots of information and hints about traveling there.

Just before we went our separate ways, Dora asked if I had noticed any crocheted fashions on my walk up Madison Avenue. Yes I had! The motifs on this skirt remind me of old tablecloth or bedspread squares. I couldn’t find the name of the shop where I saw it.

Further down Madison Avenue, the Hermes shop amazed me with a strange and wonderful needlepoint display. I can’t begin to guess how many hours went into the planning, shaping, and making of these crazy wonderful pieces.

I enjoyed a leisurely Mother’s Day, walking south from my room through neighborhoods to the Strand Bookstore. This mosaic was a lovely, colorful surprise.

The Price for Handwork: Money for Time or Time for Time

Saturday, July 23rd, 2011

“The Price for Handwork” is copyright 2011 by Suzann Thompson. You are welcome to print this essay and keep it somewhere that it will lend you moral support, or give it to people who ask you to make things for them.

“You like to crochet.  Will you make me an afghan?” says a co-worker.  “Can you make me a quilt to match the new paint in my bedroom?” asks a relative.

You may be one of those rare people, who makes things for others out of pure love for the craft or love for your fellow beings.  That is great. Your friends are lucky.

However, when someone asks you to make something and you feel the slightest hesitation at spending your valuable time making a project for someone else, you really must charge for your time.  Otherwise, you will come to resent the person you’re making it for, and the project will become like a millstone around your neck.

After long experience, I respectfully decline casual requests to “knit me a sweater.”  I say something like, “I prefer to work on my own projects.” In other words: “No.”  “No” is a perfectly acceptable answer. 

 

Money for Time

Your potential client is persistent.  She really wants that afghan.  “Pleeeeeeeeease? I’ll pay for the yarn,” she offers.

You’re tempted to do the project, but how do you charge for handwork?

The client pays for materials.

No matter what, your client should buy all materials and patterns.  If necessary, give her advice about the quality of materials or where she can find the best prices.

You should charge by the hour for your labor, preferably at least minimum wage, which in the U. S. in 2011 is $7.25 per hour.  If you are highly-skilled and quick, you should charge more

I sense crafters thinking, “People won’t pay that kind of money for handwork.”  Maybe not, but do you really want to work for someone who thinks your time is worth less than the minimum legal wage paid in United States? 

For reasons of your own, you may decide to accept less than the minimum hourly wage.  That’s up to you.

Charge for the time it takes to make gauge swatches.

Whatever wage you settle on for yourself, you must estimate how long it will take you to make a certain project.  Remember to include swatching and finishing.

You tell your co-worker, “The afghan you want me to crochet will probably take me no more than 30 hours.  So 30 hours times my rate of $8 per hour will come to as much as $240.00 for the labor.  That’s in addition to the price of the yarn.”

Whoa, your co-worker thinks.  “I can get a really pretty afghan at Pottery Barn for less than that!” she says.

“You sure can,” you say, very kindly, as you smile and look your co-worker in the eye.  That’s all you have to say. You don’t have to defend your position.  After all she’s the one who’s asking.

Money for Time =

Your hourly wage × Estimated hours needed to complete the project

Client buys supplies and pattern.

 

Time for Time

Let’s pretend your potential client truly doesn’t realize the amount of time that goes into handwork. 

Finishing takes time. Include it in your charges.

When you tell him the cost of your time and how many hours you will be working on the project, he says, “Oh. I didn’t realize it took that long.  I can’t afford that kind of money.”

“We may be able to work something out,” you say, “but you’ll still have to buy the materials and the pattern.”

He brightens up.

You say, “How about trading time for time?”

Intrigued, your client says, “What do you mean?”

“Well,” you say, “when I’m crocheting, my yard work doesn’t get done.  Could we get together on the weekend, and I’ll crochet while you mow and rake my lawn?”

“You wouldn’t want me to do that,” he says.  “Lawnmowers have a habit of breaking whenever I’m around.”

“How about cleaning out my garage?” you say.  “Or running errands for me?  Do you have any ideas about how we could trade time for time?”

Your client may be glad to work in your yard or do 25 hours’ worth of cooking for you. Or he might have some other skill you would be glad to trade for, like house-painting or sewing or editing or installing bathroom tile. (Naturally, you should buy house-paint, fabric and patterns, or bathroom tile and supplies.)

The important thing is that the trade is exactly time for time.  If possible, the two of you should work at the same time, so your client sees what actually goes into the project.  Your duty is to work well and efficiently. Your client should do the same for you. Whatever you decide, write it down and make copies for yourself and your client.

Time for Time =

The hours you put into the project = The hours the client works for you

Client buys supplies and pattern.  You buy whatever supplies the client needs to complete the agreed-upon job for you.

 

You will run across people who insist that you should work cheap or free.  Their reasoning? “You LIKE to crochet!” (Or quilt or make stained-glass panels or whatever your craft is.)

You say with a smile, “Yes, I do.  So you can pay my hourly rate, or we can work for each other.  Which to you prefer?” 

While they’re thinking this over, remember:  however you decide to say it, you can always say… “No.”

Enjoy working together!

Magic Kingdom Mosaics

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

detail of a mosaic inside the castle at Disney World

Still footsore from our day at Epcot Center, we got to Magic Kingdom early the next day. I wanted to see one thing, most especially. A few years ago, when we were at Disney World with family, I glimpsed the mosaic panels inside the castle at the Magic Kingdom. Ella was only one-and-a-half at the time, and we were hurrying to some other place, so I didn’t get to study them. This time, with camera in hand, I was determined.

Cinderella in her ballgown

Oh no! The castle was roped off! Luckily D-World has employees every few feet, so we asked one if we could go inside. “The castle is open from, like, noon to 12:30 and 2:00 to 2:30, to let crowds through after the show,” he said.

guests at the ball

We were looking at souvenirs nearby at precisely noon. Eva and I ran over, and managed to get a few photos before the crowd made it too difficult. Wow. Several panels tell the story of Cinderella, according to Disney. The detail on the gowns in the picture above, is amazing.

It’s funny to see the caricatured Disney stepsisters rendered in such an ancient technique. My eye is used to seeing portraits of ancient Romans in mosaic—not cartoon characters!

Cinderella fleeing the ball

Here’s Cinderella, fleeing the ball. Most of the photos are at an angle, because I had to use the flash inside the castle. The flash of light reflects off the glass and it whites out the colors. So angles it must be!

Cinderella tries on the slipper

Cinderella tries on the slipper, as the prince (right) and one of the step-sisters (left) watch. Below, you can see the top part of this panel. The prince is fairly grown-up and stern-looking.

I’ve noticed that Disney has trouble with princes. We have two Disney-Cinderella storybooks at home. The prince is different in each one. In one, the artist goes to great lengths to obscure the prince’s face, for instance, when they dance, their clasped hands hide his face. We can see Cinderella just fine!

Any ideas about why this could be? I thought that the idea of handsomeness changes so much between generations, that there’s no caricature for it. And really, the beauty of the Disney princesses is very much a caricature. Badness is also easily caricatured.


detail of a mosaic inside the castle at Disney World detail of a mosaic inside the castle at Disney World

the prince brings Cinderella home

The prince carries Cinderella home in this picture. The details are so pretty: look at the horse’s trappings, all the gold tiles, and the ground with all its little clumps of grass (some blue-grass, I see!).

the prince brings Cinderella home

The mosaics are beautifully done and well worth seeing, if you find yourself in Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando. May I offer advice? Go with a friend or spouse. Marvel at the ingenuity of this totally artificial place. Be amazed at the extremely competent crowd control. Bring a fat wad of money to spend at one of the nicer and less-crowded restaurants (make a reservation). Leave before you become exhausted.

Don’t bring little kids. They get hot. They get tired and hungry. The jostling crowds of people way, way taller than they are, frighten them. Most of the rides are not appropriate for them. Many children are scared of those huge (to them), weird characters. I have never seen more unhappy children in one place, than I have at Disney World. Their parents, having spent so much money to get there and get into the park, are determined to get their money’s worth. Not a good combination.

Orlando Mosaics

Friday, March 21st, 2008

detail of mosaic in Orlando Airport

Eva and I are recovering from a busy school trip to Florida. When we stepped out of the plane at the Orlando airport, there was a gorgeous mosaic. It was probably about 30 feet long. These pictures show only a small part of it.

What a great start to our spring vacation!

part of large floor mosaic in Orlando Airport

We went to Universal Studios, Kennedy Space Center, and Disney World. One morning, we had an airboat ride, where we saw some sunning alligators. A bunch of cows grazed along the water’s edge. “Don’t the alligators eat the cows?” asked one of the students.

detail of mosaic at Epcot Center, Disney World

Our guide said, “No. A cow is too big for an alligator to swallow. Now a dog, on the other hand….” Alligators clamp their prey in those strong jaws, but they can’t chew, so they have to swallow everything whole. If it’s too big to swallow, the alligator is not interested.

We also saw some water birds standing near the banks, with their wings outspread. “The minnows go into the shade of the wings, and then the bird has a snack,” our guide told us.

detail of mosaic at Epcot Center, Disney World

A couple of days later, we were at the Epcot Center of Disney World. To enter “The Land” exhibit, you walk between two long and beautiful mosaics that remind you of landforms. The mosaicist used glass, tile, stone, and glass pebbles all together in these mosaics.

part of mosaic at Epcot Center, Disney World

part of mosaic at Epcot Center, Disney World

Was there anything at all for knitters at Disney World? Why, yes there was. Stay tuned.

This added a few days later: The mosaic at the Orlando Airport is called Florida Vacation, and it’s by Victor Bokas. You can see the whole thing at the Orlando Airport web site. The fish with the pink circles is at the bottom right. We saw another mosaic while we waited for the tram to take us to baggage claim. It was Field of Ferns by Henry Sinn. I didn’t take pictures of it, but find it, too, at the link above (scroll way down).

Back from Chautauqua

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

mosaic

In the 19th century, most Americans left school after the fourth grade. The founder of the Chautauqua Literary and Science Circle knew that many of those Americans wanted to learn more. Most could not afford college, so he developed a course of reading that would challenge them to think broadly.

mosaic

Upon graduation, each CLSC class commissioned a banner to carry in an annual parade, and a mosaic to be installed at the Hall of Philosophy, an outdoor lecture theater. Each mosaic has the year and the theme of the class, like the one above.

mosaic

Eventually they ran out of space for the mosaics, but there are over fifty of them. Here are a few. They are mostly done in stone. See how the motifs have an outline of one row of the background color? That’s an ancient technique used to emphasize the motif and separate it from the background.

mosaic

I’m back from the Highlights Foundation Writers Conference, but the people, the learning, and the strange and wonderful Chautauqua Institution will be in my thoughts for a long time.

San Angelo

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

seen at San Angelo's water lily gardens

My husband went to a Texas Archaeological Society meeting in San Angelo, Texas, last weekend. We tagged along, because San Angelo is a quirky and interesting city. It has a small university, a big art community, and attractions like the International Water Lily Garden. It’s big enough to have a lot of commerce, but not so big that you can’t find your way around. You can see a lot of local flavor and friendliness in the businesses, but the big retailers and food chains are moving in along the loop around the town.

A quick check of the yellow pages revealed a category for “Wool.” West Texas was a big producer of wool and mohair, until the government subsidies were removed. Still, San Angelo and surrounding areas, there were a dozen listings under “Wool,” which included:

Ballinger Wool & Mohair
Eldorado Wool Co
Ozona Wool & Mohair Co.
San Angelo Wool Processing
Santa Fe Grading
Sonora Wool & Mohair Co
Southwestern Wool & Mohair Inc
West Texas Wool & Mohair Association
Western Wool & Mohair Co.
Wool Growers Central Storage

mosaic mirror by Mary Swain

You’d think that such a wooly place would naturally have several yarn shops. Nope. The only listing under “Y” is “Youth Organizations and Centers.” No category for yarn, nary a yarn store. Oh, the local Hobby Lobby probably has yarn, but it’s not the same.

detail of mirror by Mary Swain

San Angelo makes up for this sad lack of yarn by having lots of art and artists. We visited the Chicken Farm Art Center. Among the wonderful painters’, potters’, and batik artists’ studios, we found an artist who works in mosaic. Her name is Mary Swain, and here is some of her work. I love how she uses natural materials among the tiles. This mirror frame has antlers worked into the design. Another mirror frame had fossil snails in the design. Mary coats the finished mosaic with some sealant, which gives all the components a glossy, wet-looking finish, and unifies the design elements. She said that a mirror frame takes her about two weeks to complete.

Mary’s mosaics are featured in other parts of the Art Center, like this step in the Gecko Gallery. She also decorated parts of Inn of the Arts, a bed and breakfast on site.

step in Gecko Gallery by Mary Swain

The Adult Literacy Council was having a used book sale–$1.00 for hardbacks, 50 cents for paperbacks. We couldn’t pass that up. A shop for really fabulous and colorful fashion and home decor was J. Wilde, also downtown. They had lots of knit and crochet fashions, plus lots of garments that combined knitting and crochet. Hey! TextileFusion at work!

My three-year-old ran out of energy about 4:00 in the afternoon, so we went back to the hotel, but not before I got a shot of this cute San Angelo mosaic is by an unknown artist.

mosaic in downtown San Angelo

Sore Feet in Washington DC

Monday, March 13th, 2006

“Eva, it’s your dream–the Library of Congress!” said one of my daughter’s classmates. Yep, he was right!

We’re in Washington DC as part of a school trip. It’s great. After a very short tour of the Capitol Building today, we had lunch at the Library of Congress and then went to its Visitor’s Center. It is one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen. Every surface is covered with decoration, including gold leaf, decorative painting, and, oh yes, mosaic! The mosaic floors and ceilings are breath-taking. Hope I can find something out about it–could be made by Italian mosaicist. Pictures in a week or so.

It may have been beautiful, but Eva was mad. “I want to see the books. When can we see the books? You don’t go to the Library of Congress to see the architecture, you go to see books,” she ranted. So the dream will have to be postponed.

Did I say pictures in a week or so? Why is that? Because we have been forced to fall back on film for this trip. Can you fathom it? I foolishly put down our digital camera to pay for something at one of the Smithsonian museums. I guess I forgot to pick it up. When we went back to look for it, the clerk said, “Was it on this corner?” Yes, it was. “I think a gentleman picked it up,” she said. Another clerk standing nearby said, “He must not have been a gentleman.”

I felt bad enough about it, but my daughter had so enjoyed snapping pictures of all the interesting sights, that I felt even worse knowing that she couldn’t do that anymore 0n this trip. Ah well. The thief will undoubtedly suffer karma. My current understanding of karma is that it is all bad, so apparently, “bad karma” is redundant.

But here is something funny to close with: at the National Zoo, a man walked up to the information booth. He said, “Do you have any kangaroos?” The woman at the booth, a National Zoo employee, said, “No, I don’t think so. We have emus. That’s the closest thing we have to kangaroos.”

That is a true story. I heard it with my own ears.

Mosaics of Mine

Wednesday, March 8th, 2006

I made this copy of an ancient mosaic!

Here they are! These are the mosaics I made at Luciana Notturni’s Mosaic Art School. This one is a copy of a tiny portion of the grand mosaic at St. Vitale, a Byzantine church in Ravenna. It is mostly glass, with quite a few gold tesserae. Along the edges, the browny-yellow is made with stone interspersed with gold.

We all got a lot of help with our copies. Several square inches of my left edge was mysteriously filled in, on the second morning. I learned best by watching the teachers demonstrate or correct mistakes. A million words might make your brain understand how to do a thing, but it’s much better to see hands at work. In fact, there’s Luciana helping a student in the photo at the top left—a familiar sight in our class, too.

Mosaic Art School brochure

Our small mosaics were of our own design or inspiration, worked directly into cement. I used glass tesserae for this heart, choosing the shades of pink and lavender from the many colors available in the studio. The border around the heart is thin glass pieces alternating with pebbles. Pebbles fill in the background.

Suzann's mosaic heart

I enjoyed our workshop very much. I’m sold on the groutless mosaic technique. Without a doubt, grout has its benefits for certain applications. The ancient technique we learned opens up far more possibilities for me, as I consider what sort of mosaics we want to have in our house.

Another valuable aspect of the week spent in Ravenna, was seeing a well-organized studio in action. As I mentioned before, Luciana’s studio was very much a community and family effort. She provided leadership and expertise for most of the pieces produced in the studio. It was a pleasure to see how the other craftsmen, apprentices, teachers, and speakers worked toward the common goals of producing mosaics and teaching classes.

detail  of Suzann's mosaic heart

Dale Chihuly, an American glass artist, works in a studio with many other glass-blowers, some of whom are also artists. I’ve read about his studio and seen an inspiring documentary about him and his cohorts in art. Chihuly’s studio, like Luciana’s, produces a great deal of work—much more than one person could hope to accomplish.

To me, a studio with several craftsmen and students is the best way to realize an artistic vision, and also to pass on a lifetime (or more!) of expertise to the upcoming generation. I guess weekend retreats and conventions are one way to do this, but a year with a master artist/craftsman would be a whole lot better. I want a studio like that someday. Give me about seven years.

Mosaic Art School - Ravenna, Italy

Some Recent Mosaics in Ravenna

Tuesday, March 7th, 2006

the DNA fountain in Ravenna

Gold tesserae have a thin layer of 24-carat gold sandwiched between one thick and one thin layer of glass. Ancient mosaicists used gold to symbolize the light of God and to actually reflect light from those lofty mosaics down to the church-goer at floor level.

Apparently, tourists love lots of gold in their mosaics. But our teacher, Luciana, told us several times that precious materials don’t necessarily make precious mosaics. Good design, good technique, and judicious adherence to the rules of mosaic, add up to a fine mosaic.

Mosaic-making rules include using light, medium, and dark colors; following the line of a design; and outlining design elements with background color before filling in the background. But once you know the rules, you can break them. “If it’s choice,” said Luciana, “it’s not mistake.”

Interestingly, one can make the same general observations about knitting and crocheting. Expensive, fancy yarn doesn’t guarantee a good product. Understanding the commonly accepted rules of design, color use, and garment construction, gives you a firm footing from which to break those rules.

Sorry, the soapbox is a constant temptation to me. Back to mosaic.

closer to DNA fountain in Ravenna

This breath-takingly fabulous fountain gives the impression of gold from afar. There are a lot of gold tesserae in the mosaic, but Luciana pointed out that orange, yellow, and brown tesserae, plus iridescent ceramic tiles contribute to the golden appearance of the fountain, without the cost of gold.

closer to the DNA fountain

The stylized double-helix shape is covered with multicolored motifs and patterns. It looks interesting from afar, and even more interesting up close. Here’s a really close shot of one of the patterns. It’s a detail of the top left of the photo above.

closest to the DNA fountain in Ravenna

detail of Peace Park mosaic

The Peace Park in Ravenna features mosaics by artists from across the world. I loved this one. It is a large crescent-shaped piece that is rich in texture, line, and contrast. In these details, you can see that it is made of stones, bricks, pipes, and stone paving tiles. “You can have a good mosaic with poor [humble] materials,” said Luciana.

detail of Peace Park mosaic

detail of Peace Park mosaic

mosaic in Peace Park, Ravenna

Look at the white, gray and dark areas of this next one. Those are made with dark-colored cement and white tesserae. The artist crowded the white bits together for white areas. She spaced them out or turned them up on their corners for gray areas, and she left the cement unadorned for dark areas. I love that. You can achieve a similar effect in knitting by combining knit and purl stitches in certain ways.

detail of mosaic to show shading

Here are some mosaics about town that you probably won’t see these in any art books. This is a strip that replaced a line of bricks in the pavement. Luciana and her students wanted to replace the bricks up the length of the street, but the city of Ravenna couldn’t or wouldn’t stump up the funding.

street mosaic in Ravenna

This pretty strip surrounds the window at the mosaic gallery of Scianna on Via di Roma.

frame around window at the Scianna's mosaic gallery

These are in the park in front of the city museum of Ravenna.

mosaic planter in Ravenna


mosaic planter in Ravenna mosaic planter in Ravenna

mosaic in Ravenna

Tomorrow, the moment we’ve all been waiting for! Well, I’ve been waiting for it. I’ll post the mosaics I made at Luciana’s Mosaic Art School.