Stargazer Studio

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Stargazer Studio

The “Button Bee”

May 18, 2008 · No Comments · Post from Mrs. Broady

May is the time for a delightful annual event held for our 4th grade students at A.L. Lotts. Laura Ingalls Wilder Day is a celebration of the stories and era written about in the Little House on the Prairie book series. The event features a program in which the students star. Parents get to enjoy songs, dances, informative introductions, and a wonderful play based on On the Banks of Plum Creek. Afterwards, students and parents attend a variety of stations that focus on aspects of life on the Prairie. From butter churning to woodcarving, students are immersed in fascinating activities and presentations. The horse-drawn carriage is always a highlight. And yes, there is a wonderful quilt presentation that focuses on patchwork traditions!Our modern-day Stargazer Story Quilt was not only on view during Laura Ingalls Wilder Day—one of the most exciting, busiest days of the school year!—it was actually an optional activity! Parents could stop by not just to see the quilt but also to select a button and sew it on! Students could sew on a button, too, as long as they had an adult working with them. Mrs. Richters spent the day at the school facilitating the “Button Bee.” It’s a good thing she was there, because we discovered that sewing handmade buttons onto a giant art quilt was NOT as simple as one would think!

Mrs. Richters put great care into the craftsmanship of the quilt. She hid all of her knots and buried within the layers of the quilt the ends of every single thread on the quilt.  The back of the quilt is as well-crafted as the front of the quilt—and just as beautiful, though not nearly as colorful! The backing is a mottled blue, and the embroidered leopard is the only subject that is visible on the back. It looks glorious; all the orange-yellow swirling spots Mrs. Richters stitched freehand on her machine really show up against the intense blue fabric.

When sewing on the buttons, we wanted to maintain a high degree of workmanship. We didn’t want to have buttons sewn on all willy-nilly! We needed the buttons to be sewn on securely. We wanted the knots to be hidden under the buttons, not visible on the back of the quilt. We wanted the stitches on the back to be neat, short and subtle… not messy, long and obvious. We also had made a decision that all of the buttons would be sewn on with a dark blue thread, to be less obvious on the mottled blue backing…except for the buttons in the sashing. I suggested that the buttons on the sashing be sewn on with the same yellow-orange thread of the leopard’s quilting. I thought it might make for an interesting frame around the leopard on the back, filled with a confetti-like pattern of warm-colored stitches.I have come to regret this idea. Choosing a different color thread for the buttons on the sashing made the Button Bee a bit more complicated than it needed to be! But the decision was made, and we are sticking to it.During the Button Bee, we aimed to stitch buttons onto the sashing and inside triangles, not onto the sky panel. This was for several reasons. The sky is in the center of the quilt, making it more difficult to access. The sashing and inside triangles are closer to the edges, making them an easier location for our volunteers to stitch onto.Volunteers could select a button from our button table. They would let Grandma Donna know whose button they had (Grandma Donna was our record-keeper for the day), and where it was sewn on. Mrs. Richters and I tried to oversee the sewing-on process, and provided instruction whenever needed. As I stated earlier, it was more difficult than we anticipated! But it was also tremendous fun. We had a wonderful response from the parents and students and community members who came by. Our Button Bee was set up right outside the school office, so any visitor was sure to see it.We managed to get 83 buttons sewn on that day. Our Principal Mrs. Lenn as well as our Assistant Principals Mr. Pratt and Dr. Mobley all stitched a button to the quilt. Our school nurse, Mrs. Menestrina—an accomplished quilter herself!—donated her time, as did our music teachers, Mrs. Ward and Mrs. Swinson. We had parents, grandparents, students, and even some community members who donn’t have students enrolled at the school stop by and donate their time and attention. How enjoyable it was!My father, a.k.a. Poppop, took some photos early in the day. Thank you, Dad! And thank you, Mom, for your diligence in keeping the button log! We sure have a lot of buttons to keep track of, but it is my intent to have a record of each button on the quilt. Mom, a.k.a. Grandma Donna, did a wonderful job of documenting each button throughout the Button Bee.


Whirlwind Weeks

May 14, 2008 · No Comments · Post from Mrs. Broady

 The end of the school year seems especially hectic this year; the weeks have been hurtling by. It’s as though the hands of the clock are spinning faster than a pinwheel in a hurricane!

If you are a teacher, you know what I mean. If you are a parent, no doubt you, too, know what I mean. And if you, like me, are a teacher who happens to be a parent, or, rather, a parent who also happens to be a teacher, you REALLY know what I mean!

 If you are a student, you probably have no idea what I mean. *wink* Summer break is just around the corner, and I bet you’re just wishing it would HURRY UP and get here!

I have “Lotts” to update here on the Stargazer Studio Blog. The project is actually nearing completion-we are in the last phase. But I am getting ahead of myself!

Here’s what’s been goin’ on:

On the evening of Tuesday, April 22, I visited Mrs. Richters in her studio again to settle on a thread color and stitching pattern for the quilting of the leopard, the focal point of the quilt. We also needed to decide upon our fabric for the sashing that day. This decision was not as simple as we anticipated… no one fabric satisfied our vision, so we chose to use a variety of the warm-color prints that were used in the pinwheels. Thus, the sashing colors of our quilt range from yellow-orange to red-violet.

In order to increase the visibility of our focal image, we decided to go with a yellow-orange variegated thread for the quilting within our fictional leopard constellation.  As for the stitching pattern, we decided to go with meandering swirls to imply the leopard’s spots, rather than distinct and separate spots.

Mrs. Richters was also in the midst of finishing the pinwheels for the border; she would have them ready the next day, so…

On Wednesday afternoon, April  23 , I headed to the art studio again-this time with a big task and a tight timetable, due to some special family plans. Our tasks for the day were to arrange the sashing, to determine the placement of each pinwheel, and to decide upon the arrangement of the inside bright triangles that fill in the spaces between the pinwheels and the sashing.

We started with the sashing, which was inexplicably tricky. It is hard to say why some sashing fabrics “worked” in some places while others didn’t.  We just kept experimenting until it looked “right.”

Arranging the pinwheels was actually not so difficult. We abandoned any efforts to have a logical progression of colors-it was too complicated, given the wide range of pinwheel variations. Again, we used our artistic instincts to place the pinwheels in a pleasing manner.

Perhaps the greatest challenge was in arranging the bright fabric triangles that would connect the pinwheel blocks to the sashing (the “inside triangles” as we call them.) We kept arranging and rearranging until we both felt there was nothing left to rearrange.

The “outside triangles” did not pose the same difficulties as the inside triangles. We knew that each of the outside triangles needed to be one of the deep, cool blue prints from the sky panel, to frame the entire quilt in a unified manner and calm the bright energy of the multi-colored pinwheels and inside triangles.

When I left Mrs. Richters’ studio that night, I was ecstatic. The Stargazer Story Quilt was now completely “composed.” Mrs. Richters had the immense task of constructing the composition we had planned together, and binding the edges with a deep, dark blue. She also had to add the backing to the sashing and border without covering the backing of the sky panel on which the quilted leopard was visible. Add to that the 4-inch sleeve that must ran across the top of the back of the quilt for the purpose of inserting a pole on which to hang the Stargazer Story Quilt.

The workload was immense, but I knew that Mrs. Richters would pull it all together with skill and care. I felt so thankful to be working with an artist in whom I could trust not only to get the job done, but to get the job done to highest standards.

Meanwhile, button work at A.L. Lotts continued. Each student had to complete his or her collection; all the clay buttons had to be varnished, all the shrink plastic buttons had to be shrunk. And from each student collection, a button had to be selected to go on the Stargazer Story Quilt.

How did we keep track of it all? Poly bags! Clear little plastic ziploc bags that you can buy in various sizes in the jewelry making department of Hobby Lobby or any other craft store. Each student had a larger poly bag (about 3-by-4 inches or 4-by-6 inches) for their collection, with a colored name tag inside. They also received a smaller poly bag (about 2-by-3 inches) for their quilt donation button, also along with a colored name tag.

But back to the series of events:

On the afternoon of Thursday, May 1st, Mrs. Richters arrived at A.L. Lotts to DELIVER THE QUILT! And for the first time, she had a chance to look at all the student-made buttons!!! Up until this time, the only buttons Mrs. Richters had seen were some samples that I had made. She knew which materials we were using to create the buttons, but she had no idea of the wonderful artistry that is present in the grand buttons made by my talented students. (Yes, I have to brag!)

And guess who else was in town at that time, also marvelling at the amazing buttons?! My own Mom and Dad, also known as “Grandma Donna and Poppop“!

They drove to Knoxville from my hometown of Fredericksburg, VA on Wednesday, April 30. you see, Friday, May 2 was Laura Ingalls Wilder Day-a very special day for all the 4th grade students at A. L. Lotts each year.  My own daughter happens to be in the 4th grade this year, and had a part in the Laura Ingalls Wilder play. Of course Grandma Donna and Poppop had to see that…and it just so happened that their visit also coincided with our Stargazer Story Quilt “Button Bee”!

Next post, to come soon: The “Button Bee”!


A New Technique

April 20, 2008 · 2 Comments · Post from Mrs. Broady

Last week I taught a new technique to a few of my 3rd grade classes, to foster more variety among their buttons. I ended up also teaching it to a few 5th graders, and a couple of 4th graders, as well.  Add one of our fabulous EAs (Educational Assistants), and our TAG teacher to the list, too!  It is a modified version of a process called “Polished Stone Technique” (or, PST) that is usually done on glossy card stock using alcohol inks.

In my modified version, students apply patches of analogous colors using permanent markers on shrink plastic. (which is why I was teaching my 3trd graders this technique). Then, 91% isopropyl rubbing alcohol is dabbed on in small amounts with a brush. Tap-tap, up-and-down with the brush, on top of the color patches. Not swish-swish, side-to-side, which leaves brush marks. The rubbing alcohol dissolves the ink and causes it to spead out. The color then becomes more concentrated near the edges of the applied alcohol drops, and very pale in the middle. It is really a cool process, and the results are not fully visible until the piece is shrunk. Then…WOW.

You must see the photos! I must post some. Again, this weekend has whooshed by, and I have still not worked through all of my technical issues. Please be patient! I will get the photos up, I promise!


Enthusiastic Responses

April 16, 2008 · 1 Comment · Post from Mrs. Broady

It is so fun getting to share the Stargazer Studio blog with my students, thanks to my new Promethean ActivBoard! The students are excited both about the ActivBoard and the Stargazer Story Quilt/button project, which they are learnng more about thanks to the blog. I haven’t yet had a chance to show the blog to every class, but at least most of them have seen it now.

Last week was a different kind of week. Our 3rd-5th grade students took their TCAPs (standardized achievement tests) every morning. I proctored a class during the test, and afterwards, taught a highly modified art schedule–30 minute classes, back-to-back, which limited our studio (hands-on activity) options.

Those 30-minutes were perfect, however, for sharing the blog with some of my classes and answering questions about the project. I have discovered that many of my students are not familiar with the concept of blogs. Some 5th graders are, but not many 4th or third grade students. So I get to introduce them to a whole new realm of the internet! Mrs. Deaver’s class noticed that I mentioned them specifically…they liked that.

Last week I also sent home a letter to families about the project and the blog. We are now getting more visitors. I love checking out the ClustrMap in the side bar each day to see how many visitors we had the previous day, and see if there are any new dots indicating visitors from afar! I am also delighted that we are getting more comments. I haven’t had time to respond to all of them yet, but I am so happy that people are visiting and sending in comments, questions, and encouragement.

Up until now, my students have not had a complete picture of the Stargazer Story Quilt project. It will be our focus from now until the end of school, as I teach them more about quilts–traditional quilts and contemporary art quilts.

I am flabbergasted at how quickly the school year is coming to a close. I wish I could slow things down a bit. There is so much more I’d like to do with all my classes!

I have lots more to share with you…come back soon for another update.


The room is abloom!

April 8, 2008 · 17 Comments · Post from Mrs. Broady

 Buttons are bustin’ out all over the artroom!

The students and I have been extremely busy, and now all of my 3rd-5th grade classes are enthusiastically making buttons of various shapes, sizes, colors, and materials. They are all over the artroom in various phases…all of my spare tables look like they have sprouted button farms, with rows of cardboard and paper clip contraptions supporting buttons that have been recently painted or varnished. Keeping track of who made each and every button, and keeping them sorted by class has been quite a challenge, let me tell you.

The 5th graders are working with polymer clay with stunning results; I’m nearly done baking all the batches-no small task! Each batch gets 30 minutes at 275° in one of my 2 small toaster ovens. I don’t know how many batches I have baked, but before this project is over, I want to tally the total number of buttons created! The polymer clay buttons lose some luster after they have been cured; their surface appears dull. We use a water-based, indoor-outdoor varnish that dries to a satin finish to add just the right amount of gleam without the glare of a high-gloss sealer.

The 4th graders used Sculpt•it! air dry clay to create their buttons (as did the first button class, Mrs. Deaver’s 5th graders). They look stunning when painted with metallic acrylic paints. The buttons, I mean. (Not the students!) These buttons, too, get a coat of the satin-finish varnish after the paint has dried. We are currently in the midst of the painting and varnishing sessions.

Perhaps the 3rd graders are the most excited of all about making their buttons, which are created from shrink plastic. Many of them have never seen Shrinky Dinks before, and they watch in wonder and joy as I shrink each button individually with my heat tool. Using the heat tool (a.k.a. an embossing tool, which can be found in the rubber stamp section nearly any craft store) is far more interesting and viewer-friendly than shrinking them in the oven.

In addition to the buttons that have burst into being in the past few weeks, my classroom has another wonderful addition: a Promethean ActivBoard! It was installed the week after Spring Break. I was actually out of town that week, attending the National Art Education Association (NAEA) annual convention, which was held in New Orleans this year. (That should explain why I have those festive Mardi Gras beads hanging off my computer cart!)

 The ActivBoard is an interactive white board that works in conjunction with a digital projector that is hooked up to my computer. I now have the ability to make digital presentations to my students, and as soon as I figure out the Promethean software and have a chance to develop some good lessons with it, I will be teaching with interactive technology! I am thrilled! In fact, today I finally had a chance to share this Stargazer Studio blog with some of my classes!

There is still much to write about, but I can’t write it all in one post. I am also frustrated by several unsuccessful attempts to post photos…I am determined that one day I will figure out how to resize the photos for optimum viewing. And when I do get that figured out, I have dozens of photos to share with you. I hope you’ll “stay tuned” and visit again soon! And maybe leave a comment…no one leaves me comments, and I would just love to get some feedback that I could share with my students!


Project Progress…

February 26, 2008 · 3 Comments · Post from Mrs. Broady

January slipped by quickly and quietly, but how in the world did it get to be the end of February already?!

Since my last post, there have been numerous phone calls and emails exchanged, but this past Sunday (February 24) was my first visit back to Mrs. Richter’s studio since my January visit. Mrs. Richters has been busy! The sky background is already constructed, and the sunset and hills will probably be done by the end of the week. The quilt that I have been envisioning for months is truly taking shape as a real object.

What we had anticipated as a quick consult turned into 2 1/2 hours of experimenting, seeking solutions to design dilemmas, and exploring new ideas that just kept popping up.

Mrs. Richters had prepared a number of pinwheel blocks to test color combinations. Some worked; others didn’t “read” correctly as pinwheels when we looked at them, so we pinpointed why. Now she can finish preparing pinwheel block kits to distribute to local quilters. I’m excited about having members of our community contribute their skills to our project. We also made some adjustments to our layout plan for the for the pinwheel border. Mrs. Richters had enlarged our constellation concept to the ideal size, and we tweaked the lines of that and discussed how to best enhance the design through quilting stitches.

I have been stocking up on button-making supplies, and researching options. Some of the buttons will be made out of shrink plastic (FUN!) while others will be clay. I am determined to work with polymer clay for the first time, so I found an internet community that focuses on polymer clay. Having joined the group, I have found the members to be a wealth of inspiration and encouragement. Based on their tips, I stocked up on Prēmo, a popular brand of polymer clay that happened to be on a great sale last week for President’s Day. Thanks to A.C. Moore for not just price-matching but beating the sale price of another store.

Meanwhile, at A. L. Lotts, I have nearly completed administering the Quilt Questionnaire that I designed to measure students’ current knowledge of quilts (basic information). Only one of my 24 classes has yet to complete the questionnaire.

Most exciting–today I taught my first button-making class!!! Mrs. Deaver’s 5th grade class made button sets out of an air-dry clay product  called “Sculptit!” by Sargent Art. I ordered it last fall. It is a product that is new to me, but I find it very pleasant to work with–much cleaner than traditional ceramic clay that must be fired. It is strong, yet lightweight. It smells a lot better than some of the products on the market. The only drawback I see to using this product is that its surface seems to reactivate when wet. It gets all slimy. Eeew. But we do not plan to display the quilt in the rain, and we will paint these buttons with acrylic paint, which will help to seal them.

The Sculptit! I ordered last fall came in small packets, perfect for distributing to students. Locally, Sculptit! can be found at P&S in a 2-lb. tub, an also in a set of  basic colors (I haven’t tried those yet). I think you can also find it at A.C. Moore and possibly at Hobby Lobby.  (Anyone interested, don’t forget to check the Sunday paper for coupons!) I don’t recall seeing it a JoAnn Etc. or Michael’s.

The students seemed to really enjoy it. At first I had planned for them to make sets of matching buttons…but then they would not be able to explore different shapes and textures, and what fun would that be?! I brought in dozens of rubber stamps from my personal collection that they used to create relief designs…they also had access to the texture plates that we use for crayon rubbings. Only a few students made use of those, but they seemed to work well. Also, I showed the students how the eye of an oversized plastic needle (for yarn weaving) could be used to press designs into the clay–both on top and on the sides. I’m quite glad I had those tools handy (they are brand new–just got them out of the package today), since we also used them to improve the button holes. The button holes were made first with a corn holder, which ensured adequate spacing between the holes. But the tiny holes made by the corn holder had to be enlarged, or the buttons might not be usable.

It was an exciting day…but I have more work to do. Like posting some photos! Off to get my digital camera…..


A Delightful Visit

January 27, 2008 · 2 Comments · Post from Mrs. Broady

Mrs. Richters in her StudioGlossy Magazine Cutouts CollagePainted paper, woven into a samplePieced cloth sampleBeautiful batiksPinwheel Possibility (set on point)

Mrs. Richters and I have met to discuss the Stargazer Story Quilt project at a number of locations–several times in the Art Room at the school, of course…one important brainstorming session at The Pizza Kitchen on Northshore…and then there was our Saturday morning meeting at the local quilt store, Gina’s Bernina, just before Christmas. Now that was an exciting morning–we selected the fabric, a wide range of batiks, to be used in the quilt! (You can see a few of our selections from that day in the blog header, and the little pinwheel quilt block square picture to the right.)

Today I visited Mrs. Richter’s art studio for the first time, to see the space in which she’ll be bringing our project into creation. Her studio is a colorful, cheerful, inspiring space, built right next to her home. It has a wood floor that is stained a warm, sunny orange! There is a huge “island” worksurface in the center…and lots of stations set up around the perimeter–a counter with cabinets, a paper cutter, a light box, sewing machines, a design wall, and everywhere, everywhere delightful visuals: textile art from around the world, magazine clippings, fabrics, fibers (yarns), and more. Plenty of windows bring in natural light. It was easy for me to envision our quilt coming together in this room.

Mrs. Richters had several layout and design samples (some cloth, others paper–see the photos above!) all ready to show me, and lots of questions which we needed to address. We did a lot today, from choosing the basic design for our focal image (a Lotts leopard, illustrated as a fictional constellation) to planning the border, which will feature the traditional pinwheel block, in recognition of our school’s participation in Pinwheels for Peace. The border layout took on some complicated twists, and we made use of her design wall to try out some options using squares of paper around a pieced cloth sample she had constructed. Her computer is in the shop, so I used my laptop to show her the Stargazer Studio blog! Now that she has seen it, I am ready to announce our blog to the world….


Let the adventure begin!

January 17, 2008 · No Comments · Post from Mrs. Broady

The time has come to introduce a wonderful project that I have been dreaming of for over a year.

It is being made possible though an ABC grant from the Tennessee Arts Commission, who is providing funds for an artist to work with our school to create what I have entitled the Stargazer Story Quilt.

I don’t want to reveal all the beautiful details of our plan in this first post, but I can tell you that this quilt will be a unique expression of our school spirit.

I teach art to students in grades 3-5 at A.L. Lotts Elementary School, and each of my students will have the opportunity to make a tangible contribution to this quilt. It will not be a traditional block or patchwork quilt, though it will feature some patchwork blocks (see the mini square to the right). This quilt will be what is known as an Art Quilt.

I will be sharing our progress over the next few months, and beyond, as we hope the finished quilt will have the opportunity to travel to a variety of venues, to be viewed by as wide an audience as possible. This blog is a way to further increase our audience.

As the quilt comes into existence, thanks to the skilled hands, creative mind, and collaborative spirit of local artist Suzi Richters, my students will be learning about various aspects of quilts–the structure and variety of quilts, the rich history of quiltmaking, the community of quilters, and more.

Thank you for visiting our blog. Please check back over the next few months to see our progress as we discuss the development and chronicle the creation of the Stargazer Story Quilt!

Amy Broady, new to blogging

Art Teacher, Grades 3-5

A.L. Lotts Elementary School

Knoxville, TN