Friday, November 20, 2015

"Wet wood" is favorite medium for Helga Winter

Artist Helga Winter speaking at the Nov. 14 CQA meeting
"I like to work on the lathe with wood that's green enough to spray me in the face," said Helga Winter, wood turner, as she showed some of her pieces at the November 14 meeting of Contemporary QuiltArt Association (CQA). In a departure from standard wood-working techniques, where fully dried/aged wood is used for its stability, the Pt. Townsend, WA artist incorporates into her design ideas the changes and distortions that occur when green wood dries and resumes its natural shape.
Some of  Winter's turned bowls and "spheroid" shapes, after use of paints and/or dyes

Winter came to her wood-turning focus in a roundabout way. Born in a small town in Germany, she was exposed to sewing, knitting and fiber crafts in her home but didn't see this as her own creative path. She came to the U.S. as young person, studied Education at the University of  Texas at Austin, and received a graduate degree in Special Education from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.

During her graduate studies she did include one art class, and found that she loved it. It was at this time that she happened into a woodworking shop and began collecting wood scraps for projects with her special-ed students. On visits to the shop, she became fascinated with the work being done and, with great persistence, managed to get the shop owner to allow her to apprentice as a furniture maker. Winter eventually tried her hand at wood turning and became adept enough to acquire some grants in 1982. The materials she was using at this time were all hardwoods, native to the region.
These spheroid wood shapes are highly embellished

Winter moved to Pt. Townsend in 1987 and soon became acquainted with the native Madrone trees--a softwood variety quite different from the furniture stocks she had been used to. She learned that the Madrone was "ornery," in that no matter what changes she imposed, the worked wood always wanted to "take its shape back." She noted that in time "you learn to read the tree: crotches, where limbs join the trunk, are always good to use as they are strong."

Winter uses a chain saw to cut a "blank" from a donated Madrone tree.
A Madrone "blank" readied for the lathe
The metal fitting  on the bottom of the blank readies it for mounting on the lathe.
Asked how she sourced "fresh" trees for her work, Winter assured the audience that she didn't cut them down...rather, as her reputation has spread in the area, she often finds "donations" of fresh tree chunks in her driveway, or people will call her with news of a tree that's either fallen or being removed. (She will return the favor by making a piece for the donor!)

A "slimmed-down" blank ready to be turned into a bowl
Outside of the future bowl. A finished little "foot" will be shaped later.
Drying time for the turned pieces will vary with the season in which the tree "fell," with autumn wood being relatively dry and spring wood being relatively wet, and also vary with the thickness of the piece. A one-inch-thick piece can take a year to dry, whereas a thin bowl can dry in a couple of weeks. Winter will reverse each piece top for bottom every day to keep the remaining moisture from all going to the foot of the piece. She regularly achieves bowls so thin that light can be seen through the sides: "I do this by lathing slowly!"
Above and below: the setup for turning the inside of the bowl

Finished inside of the bowl
Turning the foot
Above: the finished bowl, off the lathe. Below: the same bowl after it's completely dry. Note the change in shape characteristic of  Madrone!

Madrone turns brown as it dries, so Winter completes her pieces by embellishing with paints or dyes or, often, pigmented wax, so that the finished piece may look as if it's pottery or glass instead of wood, thus drawing the viewer in for a closer look. Whereas paint can obscure the wood's grain, dyes will let the grain show through. Some of her pieces are spheroid in shape rather than bowls; these are created as two halves and glued together.

Blue dye colors the inside of this bowl. The outside is encaustic wax in translucent colors applied with "hot brushes," showing the various wax layers.

Winter will use an acrylic gesso to collage pieces of map on finished bowls, along with paints and dyes as embellishments.

(Above and below) Various layers of dyes, waxes and paint completely disguise the wood origins of these bowls.

Spheroids (above and below) are formed of two pieces glued together. Acrylic gesso is used to transfer portions of maps on these two pieces.

Here the red color came from paper than was "transferred" to the bowl.
Winter's latest artistic works incorporate not wood itself, but a wood product--paper, specifically  pages torn from books.  ("These are discards from a local bookstore," she added quickly. "I don't dismantle usable books!") After removing a book's binding, she will rip the pages into strips of varying widths.

Dismantled books provide stacks of paper of different widths.
Winter tears the pages into strips of varying widths, using a hacksaw blade mounted on a piece of wood.
 For a series of wall pieces, she has reassembled the strips by sewing, then mounting on board,  and added colored wax to create pieces that bear only a slight resemblance to their origin. "There's no significance to the words on the paper strips," Winter said.

Here, the torn pages were staggered and sewn together in 5-page "signatures,"  wax added, and the resulting piece mounted on board.
A more "measured" mounting of torn pages, with colored wax added.
Here, the sewing "strings" form a visual element in the board-mounted, waxed pages.
Another series involving the torn pages are open-front boxes that, depending on the size, can be wall-mounted or set on tables. Here, she rolls the torn strips into tubes and dips one edge into either clear or colored wax. She then folds the tubes into sharp angles and "meshes" them into the box shapes, creating an attractive pattern of shape and color.
The elements inside the boxes are "tubes" [below] formed from torn book pages with colored wax added. The tubes, in turn, are folded into angular shapes and fitted into the boxes.
This piece, full of folded, waxed tubes, measures 24 by 24 inches.

Winter's works are on display in a number of galleries in the Pacific Northwest. For more about her works and pictures of her extensive series of bowls, go to

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Corsets: constricting? Hey, they can be fun!

CQA member Mary Berdan finds this corset rather fun!
CQA members had a chance to lace each other into corsets that reflected the styles of our foremothers from centuries ago at the group's October 10 meeting...and pronounced a number of them to be surprisingly comfortable!
Hilary Specht Coffey of Period Corsets, speaker at CQA's October 10 meeting

Featured speaker at the meeting was Hilary Specht Coffey, owner of Period Corsets of Seattle, a company that has been supplying corsets and related undergarments for theatrical and film use for nearly 18 years.

Some of Period  Corsets' models (above) that were available for "audience participation." The antique models (below) were mostly admired...and only touched while wearing gloves!

Coffey described the company as "a cross between a costume shop and a factory. We started as a costume shop, complete with a 'head draper' and costume designers, but it's hard to be profitable making 'one-off' pieces." The operation really took off when the decision was made to select a range of specific designs that could be easily repeatable, in a specific set of sizes, and now employs seven people. "We produce every undergarment from head to toe," she added.

(Above) Typical silhouettes from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries relied on specific undergarments (below) to mold the body to the shape of the outer garments.
Imagine trying to get through a narrow doorway with this 18th century petticoat (above), whose "hippy" shape relies on the "pocket hoop pannier" (below). Both are designs from Period Corset.

Coffey took an informal poll among the attendees, asking what the word "corset" evoked. The answers ranged from the expected--"tight, uncomfortable, stiff "--to the more surprising--"sexy!" She pointed out that whereas clothes are shaped to the body, corsets are used to shape the body itself. "Every 10 years or so throughout history," she added, "a new silhouette becomes the vogue." And each century had its own quirks: 17th century corsets had to be laced up the back, as front lacing was considered "immodest." (Does this bring to mind the usual cover art on "bodice-ripper" romance novels?) In the 1830s--the period of the "dandies"--even men wore waist corsets.
Many silhouette changes occurred between the late 1700s (top left) and the 2000s (bottom right)!

Period Corsets' products are not true, exact reproductions, as whalebone and wooden stays are either no longer available or no longer acceptable. The company's designers research shapes and details of corsets in the relative periods, then pick out the main elements of the historic models and adapt them to the modern customer.
Period Corset designers research historical corsets and other undergarments at a number of museums (above and below) as well as surveying artworks, cartoons, and other materials from the respective periods.

For example, steel is now used for the stays--in sizes from 1/4" to 5/16" and in a spiral version that bends in two directions. Coffey added that they were not into the super-tight lacing of the past, though all the products feature laces as well as, often, hooks.
After research from a number of different sources, Period Corsets' crew create a number of mockups (above), then proceed to create finished patterns in different sizes (below)

(Above and below) "Cone-shaped" corsets in the Period Corsets line and details of the master pattern. This design stops at the waist in the back.
Period  Corsets' "Hourglass" designs (above and below) and master pattern details. This version nips in the waist and comes low enough on the body, front and back, to "control" some of the hip area.

As part of her presentation, Coffey showed a fascinating video titled "Dresses Undressed" produced by Vogue Germany (available on YouTube) that shows the many layers underpinning styles of various eras--a pregnancy dress and its accompanying corset elicited a lot of startled reactions from the viewers!
From right to left: all the underpinnings required for this once-fashionable outfit! (From the video "Dresses Undressed")

Above, "pregnancy dresses" from this era are a far cry from today's maternity wear! (From the video "Dresses Undressed")
"Ghosted" side view (above) and front view (below) of the frightening-looking corset worn under the "pregnancy dress" shown in the video "Dresses Undressed."

Period Corsets' retail line includes models representing eras from about 1560 to 1912, and mostly European in design origin. All are hand made. The company sells only online, but does have fitting rooms available for appointments. And, of course, Coffey stands ready to create one-of-a-kind garments for special order, with costs ranging from several hundreds of dollars to several thousands, depending on the fabric and embellishments selected. While the company does not rent out its products, they are sold to rental houses that supply corsets for film and theatrical use. Their corsets have been used in the movie "Cold Mountain," and several TV series  including "Salem," "Hell on Wheels," and "Sleepy Hollow"....and of course there was the special corset for Madonna....
(Above) Ginnie Hebert gets laced into a nifty black velveteen number that absolutely requires the pose below!
(Above)  Sonia Grasvik adjusts the front of a corset on Sally Morgan--who asked for a bed post to hold onto when the back of this number was being laced up! (Below) What can you say after this but, "Ta-dah!"

Following Coffey's presentation, the audience members gleefully lined up to lace each other into some of the many samples provided. One person said she seriously needed the traditional bed post to hang onto while another person laced up the back of her corset! The challenge of getting ones', um, front body parts (Okay! Boobs!) properly situated in these unaccustomed garments provided a lot of laughs. General consensus was that the corsets proved to be surprisingly comfortable, once properly fitted and laced, especially in providing some back support.
(Above and below) Nicole McHale likes the feeling of this "cone-shaped" number, especially after being laced up by Period Corsets' Hilary Specht Coffey, above left.

For more information on Period Corsets, including company history and photos of models available, go to