Changing the World, One Letter at a Time

I blame it on pancakes. It changed my world when I discovered at an early age that pancakes weren’t PaMcakes and named after me. At least that’s to what I attribute my fascination with changing ‘pan’ things to PaM things.

I suppose there are lots of pan things. Pandemics, pancreas, pandemonium… But I really only have a couple of things under my belt. The PaMcakes (literally, under my belt, get it) and PaMdora I made up some years ago when I first started making quilts. She’s had lot of adventures, from Christmas aerobatics to banana split yoga.

She always finds herself in unexpected or ironic circumstances and has always looked at the world with some sort of permanent angst. Sometimes that doesn’t seem like enough these days. So I’m working on a new quilt called “It’s Dark Out There – Keep the Light On,” and this new character I’m thinking about calling PaMic, as in PaMic Attack. But maybe her hair should be red.

Working on the stack of books now. I think I’ll put titles on them of stuff that keeps me up at night, things like Alligators. Plastic in the Ocean. That Guy in Colorado. Is My Sunscreen Expired. And, That Awful Noise Down in the Basement.

I might make some pictures for the wall behind the bed too. King Kong on the Empire State Building. A Mushroom Cloud. A Weird Alien and Scary Lizard. What keeps you up at night?


Curious Curium – An Alternative Quilt & Journal

photoLast year I made a quilt using alternative materials for an exhibition called Radical Elements. Each artist in the show selected an element from the periodic table and was asked to create a quilt to the same size dimensions and without relying on traditional fabric and thread.

We were also asked to make a journal incorporating work samples. Since I used my real work samples, the book is sort of messy and irregular. It is spiral bound with a nice orange fiberoptic cable.

Curious Curium – A Radical Elements Journal


Curium is named for Marie Curie who pioneered research on radioactivity, was the first woman to win a Nobel prize, and the only person to win in multiple sciences.  I was fascinated that she like to ride bicycles. She and her husband Pierre went on a honeymoon bicycle trip after their wedding.

I had just bought a new bike and asked the bike shop to give me old used bicycle inner tubes to use in the quilt. Looking at photographs of Marie, I wondered how a forward-thinking person can look so old-fashioned to me?


I collected vinyl remnants that had a retro print look because I am drawn to those patterns and designs in my stitching and drawing style. As I began experimenting with cutting shapes and sewing, I realized the vinyl would be hard to work with, so I simplified my design and concept.


I started sketching, and from the beginning, I knew I would give her stars for eyes. Since at the time, I was also doing a lot of crocheting and yarnbombing, I decided to make the stars from yarn.

Blending images and concepts from 1895, 1950, and 2013 seemed impossible until I finally realized, regardless of our time or age, whether a scientist or artist, it is the commonality of curiosity that drives us forward.


Curium is a radioactive element used in space exploration and space probes. Last year we had visited the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, and I had seen how varied and beautiful were the designs of space probes and satellites. It seemed a perfect fit for those starry eyes.

I collected odd metal parts to make my own space probes — door hardware, old sewing machine parts, brads, rivets, wire. My friends teach art in school, so I raided their stash of recycled junk and computer parts. In one box I found a folder of old classroom math acetates, so I cut and sewed them into the quilt.

Today space exploration seems futuristic, and yet at the same time, there is old space junk floating out there from years ago.


Sewing all these objects onto the quilt was a challenge and an addiction. Once I started, I did not want to stop creating fantasy space probes.

By some odd coincidence, although the bicycle image was lost long ago in the making of this quilt, I found the best way to hand sew onto the vinyl was wearing leather bike gloves. I’m not very good at using a thimble, but wearing the gloves, I could push and pull the needle through very thick material.


The end.

Here’s the quilt. At first I was going to finish it like my drawing. Then I realized that if I stopped right where it’s at now — instead of one face, there are three faces. This was purely an accident. Can you see them?


The exhibition is now booked for the National Academy of Sciences on Constitution Avenue in Washington D.C. for April-September, 2015.

The concept and initial curation is by Jill Rumoshosky Werner, managing curator is Gigi Kandler with loads of help from SAQA traveling exhibitions coordinator Bill Reker, and the catalog designed by Deidre Adams. Other booking include the initial opening that was at Montgomery College earlier this year and in 2016, at the Funk Center for Textile Arts.

Detail photos:


p.s. The blue spot inside the test tube is part of a yoga ball!



Metamorphosis Show at the Creamery

Giant Girl in the City by Pam RuBertSuddenly I thought of what I could enter in this show. I made this small 12″ x 20″ quilt last summer for a Squidfoo show. It’s stretched on a gallery wrapped canvas and called “Giant Girl in the City.”

Our SRAC Visual Arts committee thought up the theme for the show because the Creamery will be undergoing sort of a metamorphosis later this year when the front entrance is remodeled for better visibility and parking. It interesting because each of us had a different idea of what metamorphosis is – some said change, some said nature, some growth, Jonathan said David Bowie, I thought Kafka. That’s when we knew it would be a good theme, because there are so many creative possible interpretations.

It’s funny because while I was making it, I was trying to decide if she should have plain glove hands or eyeball-tipped gloves, so I made one of each for her and posted a photo on Instagram. Almost everyone said they liked the combination, which I never would have thought of one my own. So metamorphosis – done!

My friend Stephanie who is organizing the show loves the eyeballs. She says they are great because we all see the world now using our fingers on computer keyboards, smart phones and iPads. I didn’t think of that either, I was just thinking she’s so tall, she needs eyeball gloves to see into people’s windows, so I think that Stephanie’s insight (ha!) is amazing.

Quilt National ’13 at Riffe Gallery in Columbus, Ohio

SeattleWishYouWereHair-web2A selection of quilts from Quilt National ’13 is showing at the Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery in Columbus, Ohio, from January 30 through April 13, 2014 — including my quilt, Seattle: Wish You Were Here. For her January 31 gallery talk at Riffe Gallery, the director of Quilt National Kathleen Dawson, asked participating artists about their process. Here is what I sent her about my process:
I usually start with some crazy idea that pops into my head – like a joke or a pun, or some life situation that bothers me or I find strange and interesting. Then I start doodling and sketching. I try to sketch in places and times when I’m relaxed like on a trip, or when I wake up in the middle of the night because my imagination is more free.
I scan the sketches into my computer, iPad, or iPhone so that I can trace the image, play with different colors and perspectives, and combine images. Often I work back and forth between the hand drawing and computer drawing stage, until I arrive at a design that I can enlarge to make a paper pattern the size the quilt will be. During this process, I try to retain the spontaneity of the original hand drawings, because I feel that’s what gives the quilts their unique quirky personality and also helps me to achieve the handmade quality that draws me to quilt-making in the first place.
Once I have the big paper pattern ready, I trace the elements onto fabrics, cutting and pinning the shapes like a big collage on a soft design wall in my studio. I don’t permanently attach anything until I have the whole composition pinned together, because I am always adjusting fabric colors and patterns to achieve good composition.
Once I have the composition complete, I temporarily fuse the whole thing together so I can sew it. I sew free-motion quilting on a Bernina and Viking machine. My sewing patterns are all designed for the specific quilt. If you look at faces and body parts, you’ll see kind of strange stiching that reminds me of tattoos or tribal body art patterns. The backgrounds will sometimes have thematic symbolic shapes stitched in them, such as wind, water, stars, or made-up hieroglyphics.
Because I change colors of threads often to match the fabric on the front, on the back of my quilts you will see a ghost image of the front. So I like to use coordinating batiks for the back that allow this ghost images to show up.


The One That Didn’t – Niagra Falls

Someone on one of my list-serve emails groups called Quilt National the Holy Grail of the art quilt world. That’s pretty close to true, so it was super exciting to get the news on Monday that one of my quilts was juried into Quilt National 2013.

Continue reading The One That Didn’t – Niagra Falls

Kitchen Stitching Quilt

I’ve often though about doing more abstract work or big simple shapes because I love to stitch with loopy patterns. It’s not that big, but here’s a simple shapes quilt that I delivered to a friend this week using this stitch in the background.

The simple shapes came from quick pen drawings that I later refined to use in the invitation to this show, then I enlarged them to make a food-inspired quilt. To make the background stitching show up, I used a course variegated blue thread, and then doodled around the kitchen objects. This is a lot of fun, so I hope to do some more of these.

The other day, I happened to run across an article about creating special touches for packaging your handmade items -it said there were a lot of Flickr photos tagged “handmade packaging.” So inspired, before I delivered the quilt to the collector, I hand-wrote a card thanking them for the purchase and wrapped it up with a fabric bow.

This is how a usually wrap my quilts for transport. I used to use white cloth to wrap them, but batiks with colors are just so much more fun.

Occupied with Octopi, part two

Or perhaps I should have said, Preoccupied with Octopi. This is the second of two blog posts about making a big quilt featuring PaMdora and an octopus. The first one is Occupied by Octopi, part one.

Part Two

While I’m working on a drawing of my idea, I am also going through my collection of fabric developing a palette. Sometimes I just throw fabrics on the floor, but eventually I may pin wads of fabric to the design wall. In this case, I want the octopus to glow from a dark background. If the abstract pattern and palette looks good, I feel I have a good backbone on which to build the final piece.

The way I work on the design wall is similar to how I work on the computer. I pin all my reference sources around the edges of my work space.

This is the pattern that I’ve printed from my drawing. I used to tile dozens of 8.5 x 11 pieces of paper and tape them together to make patterns. Now we have  a large format printer, but this design still took two tiles. Since big patterns tend to slip off my cutting table, I like to use old irons to hold them in place.

The octopus needs a lot of fabric, so I have to careful I’m not going to run out. It took a lot of fiddling with the patterns  to get it all to fit. You can see I’m playing around with colors for water in the background.

Just trying to make sure that I’ve got all eight tentacles covered! I did write one blog post about cutting this monster. It took me three days.

Like working a painting, I’m trying to keep the entire surface in mind. Each color choice affects every other part, so I’m just pinning things together and nothing is permanent. As I cut and pin, I also am constantly thinking about how I’m going to sew this monster together. Because of the many layers, it’s going to be technically difficult to quilt.

Starting to add the digital toys. Even though they are small, I want them to pop out to the viewer, so I’m using bright bits of turquoise. I’m also improvising waves at the top and sea grass at the bottom, and added that blue polka dot rock bed at the bottom to give myself a little more space to work.

Because I got in a hurry to finish this quilt, I didn’t take any photo of sewing the details. I usually sew the faces and small details on a Bernina sewing machine because I like the control it gives me. You can see me sewing another big quilt on my Bernina here.

After getting the octopus, PaMdora, and the digital toys sewn, I moved to a frame to finish the background with my Viking sewing machine.

This was one of the hardest pieces I’ve ever quilted. Because of the many layers and intertwining parts, I had to really concentrate and plan my method of attack to keep it flat. It may have turned out a little too flat — I would have liked a little more texture in the background, but we learn something from every project we do!

Looking back on the project, I realize it was challenging, but also lot of fun. I like making things like computers, old TVs and remote controls out of crazy patterned fabrics.

I barely finished this quilt in time to take photos and submit it to Quilt National. At the time I called it “Dancing with an Octopus” because I was in a hurry and needed a title. Since QN is strict about pre-exhibition photos on the internet, I never put any of this on my blog or website. By the time I found out this quilt wasn’t accepted, I had moved on to other projects.

The other day I realized I still haven’t put the final image on my website. Maybe one reason is I never really felt that title was right. Over the years, there have been so many great comments posted on PaMdora’s Box, and I get ideas and inspiration from all the input. So maybe you can help me out again. And thanks, all you readers who have stuck with me all these years — I really appreciate it!

Here’s the first post about this project: Occupied with Octopi, part one






Occupied with Octopi, part one

On a street corner outside a noisy concert, a friend pulled out her phone to make a call. I was shocked to see the front of her phone was shattered, yet she was still using it. When I asked, she started screaming at me.

“It’s just so easy to use this one. I have a brand new iPhone 4 at the office, and I just can’t bring myself to switch over. I just can’t deal with all this new stuff, having to keep up with the latest thing. I just can’t deal with it.”

I had to laugh because that was exactly what my last quilt was about — feeling underwater, struggling to keep up with the latest thing, and so many new tech devices, toys, and software being continually presented to me that I’m not sure where to direct my distracted attention.

Usually it’s not hard for me to title my work. The title is usually in my mind from the very beginning. But in this case, it was just a feeling I had and no words came to mind. I just drew.

An octopus.

Lots of them. Then I became a little obsessed with octopi, as I usually do when working on a project. Big ones, spotty ones, happy one. Looking at more photos of real octopi, I was amazed at the wide range of colors and patterns, the way their tentacles make such beautiful lines in the water.

I found this photo from our trip to Japan last year, and it reinvigorated my interest in drawing.

Randomly searching the internet, this image of an Austin-based band The Octopus Project came up and when I saw their electrical outlet heads, it made me wonder if I should draw the octopus with outlets instead of suction cups on his tentacles. (tried it later – no, too complicated)

It’s funny how when we are focused on something, the universe seems to drop little clues for us to follow. About that time Paul, the World Cup predicting octopus became popular. Then I heard this Beatles song playing on the radio and couldn’t get the tune out of my head for a week:

“I’d like to be under the sea
In an octopus’ garden in the shade…

We would be warm below the storm
In our little hideaway beneath the waves
Resting our head on the sea bed
In an octopus’ garden near a cave…”

Since the octopus was going to be handing, or rather tentacling me, a lot of high-tech devices, I decided to make him smart. I put a college t-shirt on him.

Next I started looking at old computers, phones, and electronic toys to line the bottom of the ocean bed – the “octopus’ garden.” Russ happened to walk into the studio one morning with this Prehistoric Laptop and I wrote a blog post.

Looking at photos of old swimsuits, snorkeling gear, and flipper feet was fun. I found some in this retro Jamese Bond Thunderball poster, but I wasn’t interested in the spear gun.

Here’s how all this crazy stuff finally starts to come together on my drawing wall inside my computer.

Tomorrow I’ll post photos of making this in fabric, because I need help thinking up a good title.

update: here’s the second post about this project: Occupied with Octopi, part two

Fiberart International opening on April 30th

Fiberart International 2010 opens at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, NY this Friday, and I’m sorry I won’t be there. Well, I will, sort of — by phone.

Last month the Curator of Education for the gallery, Marlene Hamann-Whitmore sent a request to all the participating artists to call into a system that records a short message. During the exhibition, visitors to the gallery will be able to dial numbers on their cell phones and listen to each recording as they stand by the artist’s work.

Since we had to keep our message between 30-60 seconds long, I think it would qualify for an “elevator speech.” Here’s mine (we also had to provide a written transcript for the hearing-impaired):

“Hello, my name is Pam RuBert and my quilt is called “St. Louis – Wish You Were Hair.”

This is part of a series of quilts and drawings in which I morphed the idea of vintage post cards titled “Wish you Were Here” that people used to send from vacations to folks back home into crazy hairstyles that look like famous world landmarks.

While this may seem like a weird idea, I believe the true power of art is the ability to take us to new or unexpected places, to stretch our imagination or to tickle our memories.

As I stitch my quilts for hours at a time, the thread travels the surface, adds structure and texture, and is tied to thoughts, memories and dreams.

I was born in St. Louis and have nostalgic memories of visiting the St. Louis Arch and eating at the only floating McDonald’s in the world. It was on a river boat under the Arch and I made striped french fries and a purple hamburger as tribute to my “golden arches” meal.”

The show will be up at the Memorial Art Gallery from May 1–July 3, 2011, then will move to San Francisco Museum of Craft + Design, October 13, 2011 ­- January 15, 2012. It’s sounds like Rochester’s hosting quite a few fiberart related exhibitions through this spring and summer, so check out the MAG’s Fiber in Rochester webpage.

A side note: It’s sad news about all the damage and destruction that occurred over last weekend when a tornado hit St. Louis. But fortunately no one was killed, and all our friends and family are okay.