Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2011, A Building Year

At the end of last year, many of the people who belong to the QuiltArt list chose a word that would be their beacon for 2010.  I did not.  It seemed like a good idea, but I just couldn't choose.  I read and was impressed by the thought others put into their words, but just was not able to do that for myself.

I had no way of knowing then that 2010 would be a year of new ventures.  There was no grand plan in March when, after gentle nudging over the last few years (thanks, Ulie!), I decided to be a vendor at the Links Assembly in Detroit with my dolls and quilts (thanks, Mommy!).  While everyone was excitedly helping me prepare for what they saw as a new chapter for me (thanks Karen and Royce and Chloe and Courtne and Uly B and Alyssa!), I was sure this was nothing more than a one-time lark. 

I was wrong.

The interest my dolls and quilts generated at the Assembly and, later, at the Urban League Convention was totally unexpected (apparently, only to me) and hugely gratifying.  Suddenly I was a small business.

With my mother at the Links Assembly

Urban League Convention

And so, my word for 2011 is BUILD.  Build on the foundation of 2010 with careful planning and unrestrained creativity.  I think I'm ready.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


The sewing machine is quiet.  It deserves a break.  I shall deeply enjoy the beauty of the season, and the beauty of a perfectly golden sugar cookie.

Merry Christmas.  Peace on earth.  Good will to all.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What I Did For Love

I am a doll murderer.  I have only done it once, and it was for love.   

When my daughter was about 9 months old, her Aunt Ercelle gave her a doll.  It was sort of a mouse, but with a baby's face, kind of like if a child was wearing a mouse costume.  There was a little pink dress, too.  We named her Dolly, because we are super-creative.

Alyssa holding Dolly by the ear. 

Alyssa had received many dolls, but she really took to this one.  She dragged Dolly around by the ear; she slept with Dolly; Dolly was always within easy reach.  She went everywhere with us. 

And then, one day when Alyssa was about 14 months old, her Daddy picked her up and she dropped Dolly onto our hardwood floor.  Until that moment, we had had no idea that Dolly's head was porcelain.  Porcelain breaks.  I was aghast.  Not at the shattering, but at the apocalypse I was sure would be visited upon my home with the loss of Dolly.  My husband said, "Just give her another doll.  She'll be fine."  I did not truly believe this, but I put her to bed with another doll and all was well...

...until 5AM when Alyssa awoke shrieking.  I knew what I needed to do.  I needed to replace that head and quick, because we were going out of town to a family reunion the next day and there was no way I was traveling with her minus Dolly, a four-year-old, and no other adult. No way.

So Alyssa and I set off as soon as the stores opened.  The doll had been purchased from a vendor at a luncheon and had no tag or anything else to identify the maker, so simply getting another one was out of the question.  I thought an art supply or craft store would be the perfect place to find a suitable head.  I was wrong.  The heads were too small, or too big, or not brown like the original. 

Everywhere we went, it was the same drill: I put Alyssa in the cart and kept poor, broken Dolly in a bag at the other end of the cart where I would surreptitiously pull her just far enough out of the bag to make a comparison, but not far enough that Alyssa would see me if she turned around.  Finally, at Toys R Us, I found a doll head that would fit.  The problem was that the head was attached to a doll.

When we got home, I passed Alyssa to her father and went upstairs to make the switch.  I had to decapitate the new doll.  I felt terrible about it, but rationalized it by saying it had given its life so another -- all of us, really -- could live.  I disposed of the body as quickly as I could.

Alyssa noticed that there was something different about Dolly; the eyes opened and closed, where they had not on the old head.  She poked at the eyes and frowned, but then sniffed her and decided this was her doll after all. 

The apocalypse had been averted.  Peace in my home had been restored.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

How Long Did That Take?

This is probably the question I am asked most frequently. I wish I had a good answer, but I don't.  The best I can do is to say that it is hard to calculate because I rarely work on one thing at a time.  Here's the truth:

There is the time daydreaming about what the piece should look like and refining the concept in my head.  There is the actively-not-thinking-about-it period, which usually involves working on something else until I feel ready to start.  There is the going to the fabric store and considering what I might need.  This could last days or even weeks, but I don't count it in my "how long" estimate.

The day I start pulling out fabric is the real Day 1.  The best first days involve loud music and an empty house.  I enjoy pulling out fabrics I might want to use, tossing them on my work surface, seeing how they work (or don't work) with each other, changing my mind -- basically making what would look like a big mess to anyone else. 

Red and pink living together peacefully in the drawer

Sometimes I get stuck right away; there is a color that doesn't work or something feels off and I can't quite figure out what to use.  What to do? Walk away, for as long as it takes for the answer to come to me.  This could take a while.  I usually work on something else in the meantime.

Then there is the construction of the quilt top.  Again, an empty house and loud music are bonuses.  This is where it becomes even more difficult to track my time.  Everything will be coming together and then the screeching halt.  That fabric I really wanted to use isn't working, or the design needs I do what I can, walk away, and work on another piece.   I might return sporadically for months before the piece feels finished.
Detail from Chief Osei, in progress
Chief Osei and I parted company about two years ago.  This piece is based on a picture I took in Ghana when I worked for the African Development Foundation.  (The people in this village named me Adwoa Osei and made me queen mother. I might be married to this guy.)  I was unhappy with the foliage I had put in the background, so I took it all out and tried something else, which I disliked even more and removed as well.  The solution would not present itself and the Chief hung on the design wall, unfinished.  Eventually, his reproachful gaze got to me, so I covered him up.  I can still feel the unspoken plea...

Once the top is completed and layered with batting and backing, it is ready for quilting.  I can usually give a pretty good estimate of how long this phase takes, because I try to get it all done as quickly as possible.  Even my largest, most complex pieces take less than one week, quilting up to six hours a day, but this is after weeks or months of starting and stopping in the design stage. 

That's an awfully long answer.  Maybe I'll just stick with "it's hard to tell."

Monday, November 15, 2010

New Venue for The Unspoken Truth About Color!

I am thrilled to announce that "The Unspoken Truth About Color: A Dialogue in Art Quilts about Racism" will be exhibited at the ARC Gallery and Educational Foundation in Chicago, IL April 27 - May 22, 2011.  My quilt, "America, the Unbeautiful" will be part of the exhibit.

The opening reception will be held on Friday, April 29, 2011 from 6:00 to 9:00 pm.  This is in conjunction with the YWCA's National Day of Committment to Eliminate Racism.

For more information about the exhibit and the artists, please visit our blog at

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A sigh of relief

The Christmas quilt has been signed, sealed, and delivered!   

My client and I first discussed the idea for this quilt one year ago.  She wanted a recreation of the scene she remembered her grandfather setting up under their Christmas tree when she was a child.  We conferred over almost every detail; the size of the gingerbread men, the placment of the beads, the little figurines. 

It was my goal to have it in her hands before Thanksgiving this year.  Considering when I started, that would not seem to have been much of a challenge, but this year has been extraordinarily busy and she was incredibly patient and understanding.  It really was a joy helping her recreate this cherished Christmas memory.  So here it is:

Under the Tree, 2010 by Jacqueine Bryant Campbell
27" x 47"

Friday, November 12, 2010

Doing the Work, part 1

People ask how I get ideas for quilts and I don't have a good answer.  I could be driving and see something that makes an impression on me, or hear a great phrase that is just begging to be made into a quilt.  I am always sure that it is the best idea in the history of ideas, except for maybe fire and the wheel.  I have a couple of post-its near my desk where I write down these random thoughts before I have a chance to forget them.

Some artists sketch out their ideas.  I don't.  Working from a photograph is one thing, but drawing my own idea? No.  Not because I can't draw (I am a little past stick figures), but because the quilt isn't going to look like the sketch when it is finished, if it does get finished.  The two times I sketched out an idea, I got so frustrated trying to adhere to the sketch that I stuffed those attempts into the bottom of a deep drawer put those attempts away to perhaps reappear as something else some day.

During the summer of 2008, I took a five-day workshop in Traverse City, Michigan, with Pamela Allen, an art quilter whose work I truly admire.  She encouraged us not to overthink what we were doing.  The scissors are her pencil.  Everything is thought out so that she develops a sketch, but in fabric, not on paper. Those five days were incredibly intense, but I came away from the workshop knowing that however the work got done was just fine.  If sketching doesn't work, don't do it!

2-color study from workshop

Restructured fabric from workshop

Next step, running with scissors ideas!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Mommy, Me, and the Worst Quilt Ever

Marian Brooks Bryant, age 8

I made my first quilt when I was in the 9th grade, if your definition of quilt is very generous.  There are no pictures and I had forgotten about it, until today.  In honor of my mother's birthday, here is the sad and sorry tale.
We were living in Birmingham, AL.  Alabama history was required for 9th-graders and my history teacher, Ms. Haley, decided we should read some of the Foxfire books that detail the traditions and way of life of people living in the South in the 19th century.  Not only should we read these books, but she had us choose a project, like learning a traditional dance, or making lye soap, or quiltmaking.

I, foolishly, chose quiltmaking.  My mother does not sew.  She taught me to crochet, and how to sew buttons back on clothes, and I could sew the elastics and laces onto my ballet shoes, but that was about it.  I thought I understood the instructions in the book (how hard could it be, right?), so off we went.

Because she is fantastically supportive, Mommy borrowed a friend's sewing machine and we went to the fabric store where I picked out some fabrics to use.  I remember the coarseness of one, and I'm not sure any of them were 100% cotton.  A bad start.

The instructions were for a simple nine-patch square.  Each 9-patch square was supposed to be 12 inches, which meant that each patch should have been 4 inches.  I thought each patch was supposed to be 12 inches, so I merrily went about assembling the quilt top into one giant 9 patch square.  Just wrong, wrong, wrong.

It got worse.  Neither of us knew the difference between batting and stuffing.  We had stuffing.  So we stuffed the quilt.  By the time we got done with that thing, it looked more like an understuffed pillow than anything else.

Presentation day, and one other girl in my class had chosen quiltmaking.  She pulled out a beautifully quilted 12-inch square.  I had a giant shopping bag containing ...a...comforter?  My classmates felt sorry for me.  The teacher called it a shot in the dark.  I cursed the Alabama Board of Education for making me take the class in the first place.

I don't know what happened to it.  We had no dog, so it didn't end up as a dog bed.  Maybe it just got thrown out.  I would bet that Mommy doesn't remember this project at all; I blocked it out so well that I have been making quilts for eight years without a single flashback to it.

So happy birthday, Mommy.  I'm glad we didn't try to make lye soap.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Christmas is Coming Early This Year...

Today I finished quilting the Christmas tree for a commission quilt.  I'm so pleased!

I agonized for months over how to make a Christmas tree that did not look like my six-year-old nephew drew it (no offense, sweetie, you're a wonderful artist!).

I started with three different evergreen-ish fabrics, cut into limb shapes, and overlapped onto each other.

Then I quilted it all over in a zigzag motion to simulate pine needles. 

On to the decorations!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The trouble with me and blogs

I like to write.  That is not the issue.  Here is what happens:

I might be cooking, or driving, or something else that is not writing-conducive.  An idea for a blog post pops into my head.  I compose the entire post in my head and consider which pictures to use.  I edit.  I am happy with my imaginary blog post.  And then my brain is finished with it and moves on to something else, as if I actually posted. 

This tends to leave the actual blog neglected, but the one in my head is fantastic, kind of like when you plant dozens of bulbs and imagine the glorious spring bloom, but end up with three rather sickly daffodils. (I just made that up.  That has never happened to me.  My daffodils are quite hardy.  All three of them.)

So I am going to try -- really, really try -- to post on a semi-regular basis about what I am working on and occasional randomness.  Are you with me?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

New season, new blog!

Jacq's Baby Girls are ready...

and join their big sisters, Jacq's Girls.

A ballerina will be joining them soon!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I Was Just...

Those have to be the most dangerous words in the world.  "I was just" usually leads to a lengthy explanation of all the obstacles that cropped up in the course of trying to do something simple.  One time, I was just going to dust the coffee table and the bookshelves.  But then I thought it would be good to see what we really had on the shelf under the coffee table.  Which made me think sorting and culing was a good idea, not just for that shelf, but for the bookshelves that were also in the living room.  Which led to the floor being so overwhelmed by books that it was impossible to cross the room. 

Today's journey into "I was just" started with a simple task: cut the strips for a baby quilt for a church member. 

That didn't happen.  PTA discussions, website design, children, website.  Maybe tomorrow I'll just...

Friday, February 19, 2010

Christmas Tree! Oh, Christmas Tree!

The elementary school my daughter attends holds an auction every year. The bidding is always fast and furious on the class art projects, as parents want something that their child helped create. When my daughter was in pre-kindergarten, I offered to do a quilt with the class. I thought it would be a one-time thing. I was wrong. People so enjoyed that first quilt that I have done one for each auction after that -- kindergarten, 1st grade, 2nd grade.

But last year, 3rd grade, I was out of ideas and out of time. I had spent the previous months working on the aquarium quilt, which was a special project for the school.

I had considered doing no quilt at all. This was not a popular decision. So I simply offered my services to do a custom quilt for the winner. And that is how I came to be flummoxed by the Christmas tree.

The winning parent asked me to recreate a Christmas scene from her childhood. She provided all the details, pictures, everything. I was really looking forward to getting started.
I started with the keepsake photo she lent me (center pic) and I took some pictures of her children.

I Photoshopped them all together, enlarged it, and was very pleased with my template.

And that's when I realized I had a problem -- I don't know how to make a Christmas tree. Any child can make a tree out of a triangle, or several triangles stacked on each other for the super-deluxe version, but that wasn't the look we were after. What to do? Possible resolution to come...