Sunday, January 12, 2020

Assessing 2019

Early in December in preparation for composing my annual Christmas letter, I reviewed my blog posts of 2019 and was honestly surprised at what I found. Did I really do that shibori snow-dyeing this year? Finish up that dragonfly book that was a response to a recycling challenge? Play with silk fusion and stamping into hot glue? All those things felt like they'd happened the previous year and I didn't have much memory of what happened before June, when I gave machine quilting a tentative whirl. Instead, my faulty memory insisted I'd pretty much focused on sketching and various media on paper, and then got some hiking in before the weather turned. But it was enough to get me assessing my year off from quilting and exhibiting.

That's why I think it doesn't hurt to do a year-end review, and those who do have probably finished that task by now. But it's not too late to look back at the previous year and see what you can learn from it. Here's a simple tool I came across that mirrored what I'd been doing in my head but taking it a bit farther. You might like to give it a try. Simply divide a piece of paper into four quadrants, the left hand ones to list "wins" and "losses", the right hand ones to record "lessons" you learned from each of those wins and losses. The "wins" would be things that went well, that you were excited about, and even proud of. The "losses" would then be what didn't go well, what disappointed you, and what didn't go the way you wanted them to. I still need to do this written exercise but already I know a few things to go in each quadrant.

First and foremost would be to put my 2019 resolution word, "wing it" into the "wins" quadrant. I've never been very comfortable just winging it on anything, but making it my mantra gave me a freedom I'd not allowed myself very often. Not only did it help me to get up the courage to try some things without spending a lot of time researching how to do them, I quit worrying about how I would use the results of all these trials and sometimes errors. Just do it for the experience and to decide if it's worth exploring some more.

I recently read an interview with Urban Sketcher and teacher Paul Wang (January 2020 issue of Drawing Attention) where he talks about the need for "roots and wings" and I realized that my wing it approach was the wings part of his analogy, the part that has been missing a bit from my creative journey:

"One of my teaching philosophies is to have roots and wings at the same time. Some students are too rooted in (in formula). They need to fly. Experiment. Other students might benefit from grounding in principles and concepts and theories . . . When you have the balance of both, you're going to be stable yet adventurous at the same time. So today... should we fly?...Or take roots?"
Paul Wang on Instagram

So getting used to winging it should make it easier now to break out of my rootedness as I return to my art quilting.

"Roots and wings" isn't the only place where I need more balance. I've always had so many interests vying for my time and attention, and the ability to dabbled in so many of them in 2019 was surely a win. But it also pointed out my "all or nothing" nature, the tendency to focus on one thing to the exclusion of most everything else, and to let time get away from me from either lack of scheduling of my time or finding that my curiosity has taken me down an internet rabbit hole. (Working on my family history is a good example of that.) I think the key to a satisfying year for me is to find a balance in how I spend the time set aside for creativity (all those competing interests from sketching to multi-media to surface design to quilting), and to also find a balance in attention given to my other interests (reading, knitting, genealogy, organizing and digitizing the family history files, hiking). I really need to manage my time better, and with that, balance should come. After all, whenever I engaged in something with short-term daily requirements (like INKtober or all those soon to be disappearing free Sketchbook Revival videos), I WAS able to schedule the time required to keep up (a definite one for the "wins" quadrant).

To be honest, I have not missed the quilting as much as I thought I would and I'm not sure which heading that would go under. I've caught myself feeling reluctant to get back to the quilting because I'm not ready to give up the sketching and the multi-media experiments, which the quilting focus always demanded what with its constant exhibit deadlines. That may be why my 2020 resolution word rose to the top of the list and felt like an answer to this quandary of so much I want to do but running out of time to do it. If I heed this resolution to GO! at every turn, I shouldn't have to give anything up, should I? There should be a way to balance my time to include more than just one thing, to be efficient as I work, to seamlessly move from one to the other during the day or week, to schedule my days and weeks so nothing gets irretrievably left behind. Because I truly believe that everything in my life feeds into making me happy and productive and creative. Without engagement in all that variety I'm left unhappy and full of regret and longing. Time to GO!

Tuesday, January 07, 2020


I'm one of those "resolution word" people - so much more helpful than the old writing out of resolutions for the New Year that soon go by the wayside. A single word can help propel you, serve as a reminder of a larger yearly intent, guide you back onto your path when you think you've gotten lost. I started thinking about a word for 2020 weeks ago, even jotting a few words down as they came to me. While all were good candidates for helping shape my vision for the year, the one I kept coming back to was "GO!" So "Go!" it is. Let me explain why by starting with a recap of how 2019's word served me.

You might remember that I chose "Wing It" for 2019. I am NOT a wing it sort of person (as I explain in this post about my choice), and in my intended sabbatical year, I sensed a need and a desire to continue to break out of my usual personality type of being totally prepared before starting something. This tendency to research something to death did often keep me from wasted time and frustrations during the making, but it also could serve as encouragement to my other tendency to procrastinate. And so while I might have the proper desire to start a project or try a new technique, the discomfort of not knowing what I was doing would drive me to track down all the information I could find first rather than just plunging in and seeing what happened. Well, not so much in 2019. If something caught my interest, I had permission to give it a go with minimal information, just wing it and see what happened. And for the most part, there were many more pleasant surprises than frustrating failures. I could get to like this.

However, in looking back at the year, I know I did not always spend my time well which meant I didn't get to or make progress on too many things that I intended to. There was too much sitting and thinking and looking and wanting to do followed by I'm just too tired or I've run out of time today or a myriad of other excuses for not taking action. It is true that I still struggle with the sometimes daunting fatigue which is a frequent symptom of the auto-immune syndrome I live with and that often leaves me unable to face doing the simplest tasks. But often I'm just procrastinating again, finding simpler ways to fill my time (i.e. too much time on the internet or watching tv). And so, I came to the conclusion that instead of sighing in defeat on any given day, I needed to constantly remind myself to GO! Not just when it comes to my creative endeavors but in all parts of my life. As I general rule, I always feel so much better (both physically and emotionally) when I do. And of course, I am so much more satisfied when I'm getting things done.

So that is what I hope to do this year. When I think of something I should or need or want to be doing, I won't put it off to a better time, I'll just tell myself to GO! Even the smallest thing that I'm tempted to put off, just GO get started on it and do it. When I try to talk myself out of something, rationalize why it can wait, don't accept that, just GO! And as much as anything, re-establish some routines and schedules sorely missing in my life the last few years so the excuses of running out of time become moot, balance is established, and I approach my everyday life with this energy of GO!


Previous resolution words:
2008 - Freedom
2009 - Calm
2010 - Focus
2011 - Refocus
2013 - Perseverance
2014 - Explore
2015 - Fearless
2016 - Light
2017 - Endure 
2018 - Wing It!

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Post-Christmas Review

It was supposed to be a quiet Christmas, just me, my Christmas music and some holiday goodies. It's what I told everyone on the cards I sent out. And then this guy called a couple of days before Christmas, asking if I had plans. Yeah, plans to clean house because you must be headed my way! This is my nephew Darren who lives about a 5 hour drive away. He's a manager at a Trader Joe's in the Seattle area, and as such, rarely gets enough time off around any holiday to get home to his family in CA. But if he has even two days (which was the case this time) and clear roads, he asks if he can come spend them with me. How special is that?

He arrived mid-afternoon on Christmas day, bearing gifts of wine, chocolates, mini-cakes and the most fabulous apple tortes (missing from the photo because we drowned them in cream and devoured them for dessert). All selections from his Trader Joe's store. I accused him of not being able to decide what to get so he got a bit of everything!

About 24 hours later, after staying up late talking and drinking wine, and the next day bundling up to take the short walk to the neighborhood Mexican restaurant for lunch, he was loading up and heading for home.  Rolled up under his arm was the quilt he had slept under. I've pondered about giving him this quilt for quite awhile but was worried about all the pink fabric mixed into it and on the back. But when I saw his reaction when I opened it up to spread over the guest bed, the jaw drop and the "wow" and the "this is so cool" that exploded out of his mouth, well, I found myself saying, "I guess you should take it home with you then." It is so gratifying to know that this quilt is going to a new home as something desired and appreciated. I'm sure you know what I mean - there's no guarantee that a gift of a quilt will be received in the same spirit as it is given and duly appreciated. I know this one is in good hands, because before he left he quizzed me on whether it could be used and washed (he has a declawed cat) or should just go up on the wall. Well, either, I assured him. It was made with the intention that it be used, but it looks fantastic on the wall too.

View out my front door
A front was predicted to pass through overnight, pretty much like the last Christmas he spent with me, and I was relieved to get the text later that night that he had made it safely over the pass (but not the cranberry bread I'd sent with him, he noted with a laugh). Because this is what I woke up to the next morning - a couple of inches of very wet snow that made the roads slick and icy and caused lots of accidents in the area. Since most of the snow had melted off the lawns before Christmas, only visible along the tops of mountains, I was happy to see this new bit of snow, even if it didn't come in time for Christmas. In fact, its absence was what gave me my very special Christmas this year.

View out the back

Hope you also had a special, family filled holiday! 

Monday, December 09, 2019

4 Needle Coptic Binding Book

4 needle coptic binding - signatures measuring 5 x 3-1/2 inches
I actually finished this "level-up" coptic binding book last weekend but have been almost literally sitting on it, having had it under heavy books trying to get it to behave. I was eager to make this slightly larger 4 needle version now that I'd tried the simpler version and gotten some great information about how to navigate some of the issues I had making it. Forged ahead with confidence that I would end up with a perfect book this time.

Eco-printed paper wrapped around every other signature

I decided that while learning the ropes, I'd follow as closely as possible the materials the teacher is using in her tutorials, and make my books the same sizes before I strike out on my own experimenting with alternate materials. I don't want to be the bookbinding equivalent of the beginner quilting student who comes to class with wool or polyester fabric instead of quilting cotton and bargain barrel sewing thread. But for this version, the teacher was using handmade paper which I don't have, and wrapping each signature in two different colors of it to add interest. However, she did say her paper was 140lb which is the same weight as the watercolor paper I have on hand - hopefully close enough. And I got really excited when I realized I could use some of that eco-printed watercolor paper for the wrappers. Time to start cutting!

Rather than wrapping each signature in eco-print paper, I alternated wrapping around the outside and placing it in the center

Remember me mentioning similarities to quilting I kept running into? Did I mention that you have to be cognoscente of grain direction, not only in the paper for the signatures, but in the book board and whatever you choose to cover it with? It's not an issue of stability like in fabric (different directions stretch more than others) but an issue of making folds that do not crack the paper or spring open (try it with a piece of copy paper - hold it flat in the palms of your hand and gently bend in each direction - one with resist more than the other), and cover paper that doesn't warp the boards because the grains are pulling in opposite directions. All grain in each part of the book must be going in the same direction. And so when I went to check my eco prints, I realized I couldn't fold them in half as I'd intended, but that the grain ran the long way. Wouldn't be able to use the measurements from the teacher, so got some practice figuring what mine would be based on the paper I'd be using. Definitely worth it. But in preparing to cut that 10 inch long eco-print in half for my 5 inch high signatures, I thought to check if the paper was really still 10 inches after eco-printing it. Yikes! Just like in quilting fabric, watercolor paper can shrink! I'd lost nearly a quarter of an inch in length! So glad I paused to check.

Looks much more like leather. Need to clean up around the holes.

While the signatures spent some time under heavy books (really helps to flatten them out and set the fold) I proceeded to cover my boards. I decided to use the "faux leather" paper colored with several different shades of blue paint, the result of a second round of experimentation. It just looked too flat so I tried rubbing different colors of ink pads over the wrinkles. Black was too stark. I didn't have a navy blue one. Brown didn't look right. I didn't think a lime green would likely work, but tried it anyway, and it was just the thing. I think there are more wrinkles in the pieces I used than in the first trial of this technique, I was more careful when I glued it to the boards so I didn't inadvertently smooth them out, and it definitely looks more leather-like.

When I took the signatures out from under the books, they sprung open a bit which concerned me but I decided to get them stitched together anyway. I left more of a gap between the covers and the signatures as suggested to give more breathing space for the book to close up. It all went very well, but the more signatures I added, the more I could see the signatures springing open. But I couldn't believe that more space would solve things, though I pulled and wiggled and tried to make larger gaps. After more time under books and still resistance in staying closed, my best guess is that my watercolor paper is stiffer and perhaps thicker than the teacher's handmade paper, and I probably should have used fewer pieces in each signature. I'm trying to decide if carefully removing a folio from each signature would make things better, or if I should just make a closure to hold it together.

I really do love it though. I found a piece of handmade lotka plant paper in a sampler pack my niece gave me long ago that was perfect for the endpapers. And cutting those eco-prints up and interspersing them with the blank pages changed them from too precious to know what to do with them to images sparking inspiration. I've got ideas now of how I want to fill the blank pages. Not unlike quilt fabric that sits in the stash not knowing what it can be until one gets it out and starts working with it.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

What Else Percolated

Apologies for not the greatest photo . . .
Towards the end of summer, I think my creative brain had rested enough that it was starting to fire again. Even before my palette musing I had another one of those accidental juxtapositions of fabric that resulted in a perfect pairing. Thing is, the two fabrics had been sitting a foot or two from each other in separate stacks on the floor for months. I'd seen them numerous times as I stepped over them or glanced that direction while sitting at my laptop. Eventually, yet another glance down that narrow piece of floor between work table and storage cabinets suddenly made the connection that the batik with mariner compass designs provided the design solution for that piece of snow-dyed fabric. I've always liked it but knew I needed to add something more to it, and had only thought about how it could be quilted. Ding dong - that compass in the batik looks the perfect size to fit in the upper left corner if cut out and appliqued in place, and has the right colors to go with those in the snow dye. Well, THAT was exciting to discover. (Don't ask how soon I'll follow up.)

More recently, I found I couldn't let this faux leather from paper bags technique go without giving it another try for better results. This time I experimented with both brown and white paper bags. On the white one I used acrylic paints which moved and blended once laid down and worked with a wet brush. Much better results than with the Art Graf. On the brown one I used several shades of blue from a Marabu Fashon spray set. I wasn't too keen on the nozzles on these spray bottles - did not give a fine spray and were prone to sudden unexpected big drops. But it was a quick way to get some color on the paper.

These still look more like hand-dyed fabric than leather to me, but I'd been doing a little more research and learning that most of the time, people were rubbing additional layers over the paper to either create depth or highlight the wrinkles. I planned to use one of these on my next bookbinding effort so tucked that info away for later - my usual mulling process.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019


If you've been quilting for as long as I have, I'm sure from time to time you look through your stash and realize you have a few pieces here and there that are starting to look dated or that you thought were similar to a newer fabric but when seen side by side, you can see the fabric designers have altered the color just enough that it will not go with the older fabric. I have such a stash, started in the 1990's and added to as I shopped at numerous quilt shows, that was specifically for a state block quilt that never got beyond the first block ("Michigan" made for a block contest) and some patterns I tracked down. It resides in a bin drawer along with orphan blocks, leftovers from strip sets and other odds and ends too good to toss but difficult to know what to do with. I have looked at that stash now and then over the years, never wanting to dip into it for other projects, but the last few times my best sense said it's time to incorporate those fabrics into my regular stash because it is clear I am never going to make that state block quilt.

Close-up of BOM quilt ad next to my stash and my Michigan Block

However, the last time I looked at them, which was probably earlier this year, I had to admit those peachy fabrics looked mighty dated and didn't belong in any of my stashes. Maybe I could make charity quilts with it but I thought it might be embarrassing to hand over a quilt with obviously dated fabric. So imagine my surprise when an October Connecting Threads catalog arrived advertising a new block of the month quilt that included these exact peachy colors paired with the same green. I can't believe it's back! But maybe it's only back because this BOM quilt is "inspired by an actual heirloom quilt, handed down from one generation to the next" in the designer's family. According to the ad, the original was paper pieced which means it can't be THAT old and perhaps was made during the same period as I was collecting my fabrics. And the original color palette was faithfully copied for the new line of fabrics. Whatever the story is, it is rare for a fabric color to reappear unchanged years later (unless it is a faithful reproduction fabric) and uncomfortably confirms my general modus operandi of keeping things forever because one day it might be just what I need. Uncomfortable because it leaves me conflicted about something I was close to letting go of!

Yes, I've been at this for a long time, and my tastes and leanings have definitely changed over the years. My stash is filled with batiks and hand-dyes now and brighter commercial fabrics that would be easy to match up with, say, the flowers in this year's deck garden. I haven't done that kind of "bring the outdoors in" sort of matching for years (my Azalea series started just so), yet here I was in September, thinking about what joy this little garden had brought me all summer and wondering how much longer before a season change would stop it in its tracks. As you know, quilting hadn't exactly been forefront in my mind for months, and yet as I sat there, my thoughts idly wandered to considering that these many colors might make a pretty scrap quilt. Stunned that I would be thinking this after all this time, I followed up by getting some shots of the various flowers, just in case whimsy would find me following up on the idea and needing reference photos. What do you think? If nothing else, if you are sitting in snow or rain and feeling a bit dreary, this might perk you up.

Lots of yellows and oranges, bright and pale.

Deep burgundy to light pink and some blue.
The tiniest pale lavender bloom, no bigger than 3/4 inch

And my most favorite, the dahlia with red accents.

Monday, November 18, 2019

What Else Is Percolating

"Art is much more interesting and makes a lot more sense (at least for the artist, anyways) if you think of the finished works as just the remains — the “fossil record” — of a process of looking, thinking, making, etc."  Austin Kleon

I loved this as I often refer to my cleaning of the studio/work table as being akin to an archaeological dig. But it also resonated because I am getting closer to starting a project whose idea germinated way back in February 2017 after a snow dyeing session. The piece shown above gave me the idea to quilt a labyrinth over the top of it. But it has taken over two years of thought, research, pondering of technique and materials, gathering of necessary supplies, hunting down a source for a key embellishment . . . You get the picture. And this is not unusual for me. When a quilt idea goes quickly from inspiration to completion, it startles me, and I wonder what I've forgotten to do. 

Here are the steps so far for this project:

Once I decided I wanted to quilt a labyrinth over the fabric, I researched labyrinths, finding different styles and eventually finding a square one that I thought would work. I bookmarked the site where I found it. I'd deal with enlarging and printing it out later.

I thought I had the perfect embellishment to go in the center of the labyrinth - a sparkly broach that had belonged to my grandmother. But when I placed it on the fabric, I could see it wasn't right at all. Neither were the bugle beads on hand that I thought would work. They were shorter than I remembered and not the right color either, to go with that sparkly broach OR the fabric.

In July 2017 I found myself in "the slightly bigger city" where there are several stores that carry large buttons. I brought these home to audition, the one on the right turning out to look perfect once placed on the fabric.

Now the hunt for bugle beads to go with it. I spent a lot of time looking on line and trying to find a bead store anywhere within a couple of hours of my home. No luck. I had no idea these longer bugle beads would be so rare, let alone not available in the smooth matte antique gold finish to match the button. That button sat on my desk in front of the computer screen for well over a year and the whole project ground to a halt as I worked on other art quilts and then got sidelined by that finicky nerve issue.

With company coming for the 4th this year, I decided it was time to clean off that desk a bit and there, buried under papers and notes, was that button. I've been thinking about this quilt again, wishing I could get going on it now that my nerve issue had calmed and I might be getting back to the machine before long. In a sudden fit of frustration, I set the search engine again, and to my surprise, the first website to pop up had exactly the bead I was looking for! Of course, I checked a few more websites too just in case, but soon realized it wasn't going to get better than this. I don't like buying beads on-line though when I need a specific color - beads are notoriously difficult to photograph - but I didn't have much choice. I held my breath until they came and proved to match the button perfectly.

Well, NOW I was running out of excuses not to proceed. That labyrinth pattern would need to be enlarged - I'd been sussing that out in my head for a long time - and because it needed to be around 16" square I'd either have to print it out in poster mode (multiple letter size pages) and tape the pieces together or take a copy to the print shop and have them enlarge it. I ended up dong both because the one I took to the printer was not the right labyrinth, although you probably can't tell the difference.

But now I started pondering the best way to transfer all those straight lines onto the fabric. I was leaning towards using Golden Threads quilting paper but really needed something that I could see clearly through to get it positioned just right over the pattern in the snow-dye. Suddenly, an option presented itself in an issue of Quilting Arts I was reading, using Press and Seal. I remembered hearing about using this cling wrap to aid in quilting a long time ago but didn't think it was for me. Now it sounded like a possible perfect solution. I still need to do a sample to make sure it will work, but I think this just might be the ticket.

But before getting to the quilting stage, I have long wondered if I shouldn't add a bit of border of some sort, probably of some of the other pieces of snow-dyes from the same batch. However, when finding my labyrinth patterns, I had saved one that had a Greek Key border and an interesting applique, and now I am thinking I may add a similar border around my little piece.

Here's another example bordering a square labyrinth. Of course once i get the border resolved, the quilting design positioned and the top sandwiched up, there will be a thread choice to make (have several in mind) so the mulling and pondering continues at every turn.

When I finish this particular piece, I know all this process I've gone through will not be evident, that most will not realize they are merely looking at the fossil record that goes back quite a ways. It's one of the reasons that makes answering that question, "How long did it take you to make?" so difficult to answer. Another reason, of course, is the distractions and diversions that keep one from working in a straight line from conception to completion. This will continue to be on hold now that I am focusing on my book binding club. But I wanted to assure you, working in fiber is not far from my mind . . .