Saturday, November 14, 2009

If It's Too Loud, You're Too Old--A Caveat to Cranky Christians

This is no doubt going to step on some toes or ruffle some feathers... oh, well... That has never troubled me greatly, so here goes.

My sons play in a secular hard rock band called Tailgunner Joe. They also play in their church praise bands. My older son plays guitar at Relevant Church, a fairly young, non-denominational church in Ybor City populated largely by 20-somethings. My younger son plays drums upon occasion at his home church, a Methodist church here in north Tampa. Their experiences are vastly different and highly instructional to those who care to learn.

Relevant, the non-denominational church, has a praise band that will just blow your socks off. They are gifted and they are loud. David Crowder, one of Christian contemporary music's most influential musicians, has a song entitled "Our Love Is Loud." And that, to me, is a perfectly valid style of worship. When I go to Relevant Church, I find myself energized, immersed in an internal place of worship. The music allows me to open up to God in some way. That's the only way I know to describe it.

When I go to the Methodist church, which has a long and deep history in the community, the experience is very different. Muted, faded, as though exuberance in worship is an embarrassment of sorts. But, I've learned to adjust my expectations. The praise band plays contemporary music but almost bashfully, as though there is some inherent offense in it. And, there is.

I have watched congregants walk up to the sound engineer during worship and complain about the volume. I have watched congregants cover their ears as though they are in excruciating aural pain. I have even watched congregants storm out in a huff, making sure everyone saw them and knew why they were leaving. It isn't that the church doesn't offer them a quieter, more traditional service earlier in the day. It's that they'd rather put on a little show of their own so everyone knows of their disapproval, not only of the volume, really, but of the musical style altogether. And people wonder why the Christian church is not only not growing, but is actually shrinking in the US.

The orthodox Christian church has long known it has a problem reaching and retaining the 20-somethings. The only exceptions I have found in my research are the non-denominational churches like Relevant, and the Assembly of God churches. Why is that? I propose it's because the established churches have become ossified and politically driven. They have forgotten that their overriding charge is given to them in The Great Commission, "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you".

The Christian church is growing overseas, especially in Third World countries. Why is that? I think it's at least in part because those congregants are not saddled with 300-year-old traditions, including music, that bear no relation to the culture in which they function. I also propose that in the US, the Christian church is dying for, at least in part, the opposite reason. One of the cornerstones of Christianity is that you must take people where they are and speak to them in ways they understand. Today's 20-somethings function in a culture that many of us cannot even begin to comprehend. The churches that get it, that speak the language these young seekers understand, will thrive, will create new believers. The churches that don't will die. And, maybe that's as it should be. If you are in your 50's or 60's and don't want to see your church die with your generation, make room for the new ones.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Hand Embroidery Versus Appliques

I love to embroider. It's like painting with threads. I can create images on a guitar strap that you just will not find anywhere else and that makes my customer and me both feel very special; however, in addition to being enormously gratifying, it's also time-consuming, detailed, and expensive. So, the balance I have to strike as an artist is this: I want a certain look; now, how do I achieve that and still keep my straps affordable? One thing I can do is forgo creating that look (which is not an acceptable solution to me) or I can look for the most cost-effective way to render that look. Sometimes, nothing will do but to hand embroider what I or my customer wants. But, sometimes, appliques will suffice and keep the strap within financial reach of my customers. My customer gets the look he/she wants at a reasonable price and I get a sale... everyone's happy and that's how all transactions should be.

So, when do I use appliques? I use them primarily when the look I want to create is technically beyond me. For example, here's a guitar strap with flower appliques only -- no handwork by me beyond stitching the strap together and making the leather tabs. As you can see, there's a lot of seamstress work required to create the gold flowers. If I tried to make these myself, I'm not sure they'd look as good and, even if they did, they would cost my customer quite a bit of money. I can buy these appliques for so much less than I can make them for that it's simply in my customer's best interest for me to do that. And who am I here to please? My customers!

Sometimes what I want to create simply can't be easily created without using appliques. For example, I have a guitar strap that is a combination of hand embroidery and appliques. While I could have embroidered the sunflowers without difficulty, I couldn't have extended them beyond the edge of the strap, which was my goal. The solution? Appliques.

Finally, monogramming... It's not cheap, especially if the customer wants some very ornate or large font. I have a strap that is one single letter, the customer had limited funds, and the solution was an applique, giving the customer a unique look for her strap without costing her more than she could afford.

Then, there are customers who want what they want and are willing and able to pay for it. The strap below is hand-embroidered lettering and cost the customer a substantial sum. But, that's what he wanted and that's what he got.

My point is this: my task is to create guitar straps that please my customers while staying within their budget. I gladly use whatever devices are available to me in order to accomplish that one single goal. If I can save my customer money while creating what they want, all the better. I want my customers to be happy. Thanks for reading! Terri

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Should the Federal Government Fund Art?

In February of this year (2009), President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which included $80 million for the National Endowment of the Arts. From poets to film makers to photographers, the signing was applauded as a triumph for the art community. I did not applaud. Federal funding for the NEA troubles me greatly.

The first definition of art is "The products of human creativity," and the history of art is one of patronage. Prior to the Renaissance, most art and music contained a religious theme and the primary patrons of the arts were the Catholic Church and its affluent supporters, such as the Wool Guild of Florence, their goal being to sponsor art and music that inspired and uplifted the spirituality of those who saw and heard it. A secondary type of patronage was the wealthy individual. Individual patrons' motivations for supporting the arts were primarily prestige and pleasure. Pleasure is the motivation most of us are familiar with. If we like something and can afford it, we buy it. And, if we don't like it, we don't buy it. And this is what troubles me about using public funds to patronize the arts. If the NEA funds a particular artist or artwork, you have bought it whether you like it or not.

The controversy began to emerge in 1972, when the NEA awarded artist Judy Chicago $36,000 for her exhibit "The Dinner Party," a giant dining table with place settings of famous women's genitals. The intent was to celebrate the achievements of great women. There's no question it celebrated their genitals but was it art? Was it worth $36,000 of public funding?

In 1989, when the NEA awarded Andres Serrano $15,000 for his photograph entitled "Piss Christ," a crucifix immersed in a glass of urine and cow's blood, the controversy began to bubble faster (no pun intended). Was it art? It was certainly shocking, but shocking is not a subsidiary definition of "art." Was it worth $15,000? Of your money? Because that is ultimately the question regarding publicly funded art.

The controversy gained additional steam when the NEA awarded Robert Mapplethorpe $30,000 for his traveling photography exhibit entitled "The Perfect Moment." Many of the photographs were sado-masochistic and one particular photograph, showing the genitals of a small girl, was considered child pornography by many viewers. Again, the question was, is this art? And, again, was it worth $30,000 to you?

This controversy is again on the front burner with the NEA's recent $50,000 grant to Frameline Film House, which produced "Thundercrack," billed by Frameline as "the world's only underground kinky art porno horror film, complete with four men, three women and a gorilla." I don't know how many people have paid to go see "Thundercrack" but that and that alone, not the NEA, should be the measure of whether this is good or bad art.

Here is the core issue to me. As much as I love and cherish the creative process, no one should be compelled to pay for art they don't want, which is precisely the function of the NEA, to make you pay for art you may not otherwise choose to buy. Funded art is given a platform of expression not available to unfunded art. This preferential treatment of some art over other art, especially art with a religious message, by definition promotes one religious point of view over another, an action prohibited to the federal government, and puts the government in the position of determining what is good art and what is not, a decision best left to the buying public. If I make guitar straps that people like and will buy, I will be a successful artist. If I don't, should I be able to get your money anyway? No, I don't think I should. So, this is one artist who objects to public funding of the arts. Thanks for reading. Terri

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Copyright Infringement In Handmade Arts-It's Not Cool!

Usually, when I work with a person to create a custom design for a guitar strap, the issue of copyright doesn't come up. We're putting something together that's completely original and doesn't borrow from copyrighted material. It's something I absolutely will not knowingly do (and make a diligent and conscientious effort not to do) and, upon occasion, have had to explain to my patrons that I'd love to do a strap for them but, no, I can't use Sonic the Hedgehog or Batman or whatever because those are copyrighted images.

I am astounded, however, at the number and brazenness of artisans who are willing to blithely trample on copyright laws. Hello Kitty, Twilight, Harry Potter, and the images associated with them, are copyrighted and owned by someone else. If stealing someone's images isn't enough, I see artisans embroidering or stamping copyrighted song lyrics on their creations with no apparent understanding that they are stealing. This is one area of infringement I'm particularly sensitive to because my son is a songwriter, and if I ever saw his lyrics used by someone else to sell something, without his express permission, I would go through the roof.

Another infringement I see on a regular basis is artisans who use copyrighted song lyrics to describe their items. For example, let's say I embroider a guitar strap with a rifle and a big "No" circle over it, then describe it this way: "America's the big back yard of boys who fight in wars--wars of blood and weapons, wars of books and words! You'll love this anti-war guitar strap embroidered with gunpowder gray embroidery thread, yada yada, yada." Well, the bold words are copyrighted song lyrics (used with my son's permission so I'm okay... not to worry) and their use in selling an item without the copyright holder's permission is a copyright violation. But that doesn't stop a shameful number of artisans from using other people's lyrics to sell their items or using other people's images when creating their items.

As a buyer, I know you want what you want, and every artisan wants as much as possible to provide it to you. But, on rare occasion, you can't have it if it means violating the law. Be wary, very wary, of artisans who are willing to sell you someone else's creations or use someone else's creations to help them sell their own work. It demonstrates a profound disrespect for another person's hard work and the fundamental propriety of the creative process. Thanks for reading! Terri

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Making Jewelry From Embroidery Thread

Sometimes I am just struck by a split-second image. Then I feel this terrible urgency to capture it in fabric and threads. I know other people are like this, too. They hear a certain brief combination of notes and suddenly there's a melody that must be written, or a little random word phrase runs through their minds and a song demands to be born. I think almost everyone has those moments.

I was in a jewelry store the other day, just kind of browsing, not looking for anything in particular, and saw some Navajo turquoise and silver jewelry pieces in the display case. It was nestled in a bed of black satin and it was one of those, "Oh, I must capture that somehow" moments. So, here you go. It's turquoise embroidery thread satin-stitched to black satin with silver thread, in a chain stitch, to finish out silver metal of the jewelry. It's lined on the back with matching turquoise satin. Thanks very much for reading and please let me know what you think! Terri

Monday, August 3, 2009

How I Make My Custom Guitar Straps-Striving for Excellence

Listen and learn, Grasshopper. Nothing is more important that the quality of your product, whatever it might be. What you make, whether it's music or guitar straps, must reflect not the standards around you, but your own absolute standards of excellence. And if your product doesn't meet your own exacting standards, you chuck it in the trash and start over. Never, ever say to yourself, "It's good enough." You must be able, always, to say, "This is really excellent." That is the starting premise of my guitar straps.

I use 3-inch wide 2,000-pound test polypropylene strap material, cut into 6-foot lengths, as the foundation for my straps. I then stitch onto it the material that will show on the front of the strap. I make sure I have a good, long hem on all sides (at least 1/2 inch) so the strap doesn't fray from being pulled and adjusted. Sometimes the covering fabric will be 2 fabrics, a sheer over a solid, which makes for a very interesting look. It just depends on what I'm thinking about making.

How It's Done 2

After I have covered the front of the strap, I begin my embroidery or beading or whatever I'm going to do to decorate the front of the strap. I begin the ornamentation several inches above the strap end to make sure that I have a good length when it's time to sew on the leather tabs and to make sure the ornamentation isn't hidden behind the guitar. This is, of course, the costliest part of making my straps, not just in terms of materials but implementing the picture in my mind, making it real.

How It's Done 1

After I've decorated the strap, I hand-stitch the fabric that will cover the back of the strap, again making sure there is plenty of hem length all the way around. The stitching is done by hand because I don't think machine stitches stand up to use and abuse as well. I use a modified double-threaded whip stitch, very strong, very reliable.

How It's Done 3

When I make my leather tabs, I cut an 8-inch piece of top quality leather, fold it over a commercial grade plastic adjuster, and glue the two halves together using tanner's glue. I then measure and trim the leather to a nice symmetrical shape, punch around the perimeter with an awl, and cross-lace, whip stitch style, through the holes with a heavy-duty waxed thread design for sewing leather.

I set the double slide and thread the strap through it. My final step is to sew the second leather tab on the front base of the strap, again making sure the hem is nice and wide. VOILA! Guitar strap! I hope you've enjoyed this little tutorial. If you have any questions, I'd be glad to answer them. Thanks for reading!

Shaun Hague Vine Closeup

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I Never Knew I Was So... Unique

I have been making custom handmade guitar straps for a very long time. For years I had filled our home with all kinds of needlework... needlepoint, embroidery, long-stitch, all of it. One day my then 14-year-old son, who was learning to play guitar, asked me if I could decorate a strap for him. So, I bought a $5 Ernie Ball strap and started working on it, just filled it up with every kind of color and stitch I knew. When it was done, I presented it to him and he LOVED it. His friends loved it. Their friends loved it. I made so many of those little straps! I decided to get serious and started researching guitar straps, the advantages and disadvantages of different materials, function limitations, width, length, just every detail I could find about what makes the best strap while balancing cost.

I learned that 2-inch straps are the standard, 3-inch straps are the ideal, 4-inch straps are difficult for smaller people to use. So, the foundation for my straps is 3-inch wide, commercial grade, 2,000-pound test polypropylene that I buy in 100 yard rolls.

I learned that the conventional leather button tabs on commercial straps are prone to warp and tear over time and bass guitars are particular victims of this flaw because of their length and weight. So, my leather tabs are double density, top quality suede, sealed with commercial tanner's glue and stitched with a heavy waxed leather sewing thread.

I learned that a guitar strap that doesn't extend to at least 72 inches (6 feet) is going to be too short for some people. So, all my straps are 6 feet long from button tab hole to button tab hole. While I can make a custom length strap that is longer, so far no one has asked for one.

I learned that one of the frustrations of guitar players is when the strap slides around on their shoulder and bunches their shirts up. So, all my straps are lined on the back with a slick fabric: satin, rayon, brocade, something that will slide when you need it to slide but won't take your shirt with it.

I learned that sewing machines are fast but, ultimately, the stitching is not reliable if a guitar is hard-played. So, all my guitar straps are hand-stitched. Completely. Totally. No machine, not ever.

It took me about a year to put all these observations and suggestions from musicians together. Based on them I have put together one of the best-designed guitar straps on the market. Also, one of the most affordable. But, honestly, I did not realize how unique my straps were until I started really looking around at the custom guitar strap market. To me, my strap design is a no-brainer. Why wouldn't everyone make their straps, at least their fabric straps, the way I do? Well, I don't know... but they don't. I could not find one single guitar strap maker, custom or otherwise, who makes their straps the way I make mine. Maybe the difference is that I'm less interesting in cutting my costs than in I am in making a guitar strap that people really, really love.

So, that's what I make. Soon I'll put a post up of HOW I make them. Then, anybody who wants to can make straps as good as mine... LOL Thanks for reading! Terri