Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Snow

It snowed yesterday - a couple of inches of the wet stuff. I ran out to take a few pictures so I'd have something a little more current than the ones I posted earlier in the month. Most of the previous snow had melted leaving things a little dingy, so this freshening was welcome. I live at the end of a cul-de-sac that backs up on a wooded hill. This is my view from several windows. The camera thankfully cuts out the four-plex to the left and falling down fence to the next property on the right. I've gotten pretty good at putting on my blinders to enjoy the view.

A little more fell last night. I can walk around the hill through a small field this time of year which allows me to walk the dog without a leash. There was so much to drink in along our route and I realized I should have brought the camera. What the heck...when we got back, I grabbed it and we retraced our steps so I could capture images I know my brain will soon forget, no matter how hard I try to sear them into memory. A fitting way to end the year. Happy New Year to all!

Friday, December 30, 2005

Cool Christmas Gift

My Christmas box from my brother in Raleigh arrived this week - late but forgivable considering what he got me. The picture doesn't begin to capture the sumptuousness and rich colors of the fabric in these silk ties - they are beautiful!

When I visited him in September, I told him about using tie silk in several quilts and that I'd even ended up buying ties at an antique store and Goodwill. "Gee", he said, "I probably still have some nice ties from when I worked in an office. I'll look and send them your way." It was like a lightbulb going off in his brain, connecting the fact that some of the nicest silks end up in ties and that I could use them in my art.

The note with the ties, however, said that apparently he'd gotten rid of the ties in his last move, so he scoured the thrift stores to come up with these for me. Now THAT's a brother who will be forgiven much!

As I stood fondling the ties and repeating, "Oh my God, oh my God," I realized how easy I am. The way I was going on about these ties, you'd think he'd sent me expensive jewelry, bought me a car, was sending me on a trip to the Caribean. No, just give me a few used ties, and I'm happy! And I had to share.

The one in the middle, by the way, is a Jerry Garcia design. I work a lot with birch tree images and I couldn't believe that here were tree trunks on tie silk. Way to go brother!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Goals for Week of Dec 26th

This public goal setting is working really well for me so far. Not only am I getting things done, I'm feeling so much better about myself in general by week's end. I've needed to get some control back into my daily life, and I thought that if I could make it happen in the studio, then I could make it happen in general. I got a little off this week, but I can mostly track that to not getting those lists written.

Another observation about the goal setting. I am setting the creative goals outside of the studio. When I am in the studio, emotion seems to take over. I lose time going from one thing to another until I settle. I set priorities on odd criteria including guilt and aversion. When I am not in there looking at all the reminders of all there is to do, I seem to be more dispassionate. Priorities are based on more rational and businesslike thinking. Then when I enter the studio, wants and likes and need to's don't have to enter in. I'm finding that having made the decision of what to work on several days in advance helps me move along more quickly while I work, not wasting time on wondering if this is what I should be working on. It's on the list; it's what gets done. I like the lack of hesitancy. And even when I've faltered momentarily, like when I was faced with all those paints and rubber stamps to choose from, rather than running screaming from the room (I Can't Do This!), the list of goals sitting there quietly reminds me to get on with it - it's ok. Seems silly but I have really felt the power of committing to those written lists. Confidence and self-esteem are returning.

The only goal I'm having difficulty reaching is the one set each week for the hand quilting. I've got to pin down what my problem is there. Once I get going, I'm fine, but I sure haven't wanted to make the effort each night, so never quite attain the progress I'd hoped.

I'm feeling iffy about the goals for this week. It is a short week for the studio and I want to work on an idea I had for some of the stamped fabric before I lose it. This will not be a traditional rendition and I'm not good at estimating how long non-traditional work takes. Plus, I have some straightening up I need to do before launching into a new project. Clutter is one of the things that makes it hard for me to work, so cleaning up the clutter rather than shoving it to one side is important. I think I'm also starting to feel the pressure of the New Year lurking; I've committed to teaching a workshop and making pieces for two challenges in the first few months of the year. I've purposely put off thinking about either one till after the first so that I could play and experiment. This week almost felt like my last chance before responsibility returned.

Well, enough! Here are some goals for this week:
  1. Heat set stamping from last week.
  2. Finish gluing leaf shapes to bases for future stamping experiment.
  3. Construct quilt top from 3 stamped squares and quilt. (Bind if time.)
  4. Finish quilting motifs in current square of Lone Star (1 corner & 2 hearts)
  5. Start sewing strip sets for WFW quilt.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Additional Update on Last Week

Here is what faced me after I finished the little quilt for my friend last week. This piece is one of two from last year that looked great on paper but once rendered in fabric had major balance problems. The first one finally got adjusted to my satisfaction after many months of contemplation and trial & error. This one, which I call "Something Bold" has been "done" for several months, but as you can see from the braiding draped around it, I still was not happy.

I made it in response to a challenge put out in June 2004 - make a quilt along the theme of Something Old, Something new, Something borrowed, Something blue. My something old is that bold print. A friend brought it back from her father's garage sale, saying it was the only "artsy" fabric he had. I'm sure it's from the 1960's and it was a very small piece which divided up into these three sections. The something new would be the gold solid fabric - one of my hand dyed cottons. I love that rich color and have worked it into antique-looking as well as contemporary quilts.

The something borrowed would be several things: the blue undulating over the gold areas is bias tubes I "borrowed" from the stack I made for some Celtic applique on my Lone Star quilt. Actually, that could also double as something new as I was learning that technique. They are hand sewn in place. There's also some red trim used on the border that was "borrowed" from the traveling mystery box when it came my way. It is stitched down by machine. The something blue is obvious.

I hadn't planned a border, but then again, I'd chosen to defy the Golden Mean, and the result looked squat and dowdy to me. It seemed to need some red out elsewhere, but nothing I had on hand looked right. I stumbled across that gold floral long after I'd given up on making the challenge deadline. It too is an older fabric and I had just enough to try different width borders to stretch the piece into a better proportioned rectangle. What made me think the blue cornerstones were appropriate I don't know, but I felt they were a mistake once they were on. But I left them anyway. Decided once I added the blue binding, it would all come together. It didn't. Now I started contemplating what a strip of dark blue along the border might do. Or maybe some quilting with red thread.

I ran across some embellishment in just the right blue. I don't know what to call this embellishment by the way. It reminds me of a shoe lace because it is knit in a tube, but it is rayon I think. I'll refer to it as braid until someone tells me otherwise. This is when the draping began, but I still wasn't convinced. Then not too long ago, I ran across more of it in rust. I was so sure it was not the right color, but held it up anyway. It was perfect! I still wasn't sure how to arrange it so I put off dealing with it until last week when I suddenly got inspired. I realized that the red braid alone probably wouldn't be enough but what if I intertwined it with that blue? At this point I didn't care anymore, I just wanted to get it done!

I actually had quite a bit of fun working my way around the border with the two and not worrying if I was doing the right thing. I became so absorbed that I lost track of time - a very good sign. Unfortunately, it was slow going sewing it down, working around pins mostly turned the wrong way and doing it with the feeddogs down. I really needed a third hand.

I still think this piece is problematic, but better and I am through trying to fix it. As with most of the challenge pieces I do, I tried some new things and learned quite a bit. And there was at least one moment that amused me. During the piecing process, I was very careful to keep those bold squares turned properly and remember which way was up. Yes, I'd spent a bit of time turning and shuffling them until I was pleased with the way the patterns looked. I got it pin-basted (working with it in the upright orientation), untaped it from the table and spun it to fold over the excess backing. It was then that I realized it looked just as good, maybe better, horizontally. In fact, it seemed to look pretty good no matter which way I turned it. I had a good laugh over that. Here are the two orientations and I'd love to know which you think works best. Finished size, by the way, is about 23-1/2 by 29 inches.

About yesterday...

I am my own worst enemy. Not only do I see the glass as half empty, I get ahead of myself and try to pour a bit more out of it! That's the only explanation to what happened yesterday.

I'd given myself the weekend off and spent it very enjoyably baking, listening to Christmas music, watching figure skating and chatting with friends & family on the phone. No way did I want to spoil it with "work" which in this case was starting on my guild's newsletter. It usually takes the better part of three days to pull together and prepare for mailing, so I often try to do a little here and a little there instead. But I hadn't touched it at all so knew I'd have to really be focused come Monday. Already I was ruing the time it would take away from my studio, as if I'd have no time at all this week for creative endeavors. Um, aren't there 7 days in a week and after the first three, won't you be free to sew? Oh, yeah...I guess you're right. Quit whining.

Unfortunately, someone mentioned that Monday was the official federal holiday, so no mail deliveries. Mmm, I hadn't thought about Monday being a holiday. Must mean I can give myself another day off, right? I knew I couldn't, but subconsciously the seed was planted and I wasn't keen on getting to that newsletter. I fell back into bad habits and wasted (yes, really) the better part of the day. I eventually gave myself a stern talking to and made good use of the last few hours, but it was such a silly thing to do. At least if I was trying to put off something I didn't want to do, I could have used the time more productively. A lesson I haven't mastered.

Rather than stay mad at myself, I tried to think why this had happened and how I could prevent the same thing happening as the week progressed. Then it dawned on me: I hadn't taken time to write out what I needed to do each day this week or established my creative goals for the week. I was just carrying that info around in my head where it made me uneasy. Before going to bed, I took a few minutes to scope out the rest of the week on paper.

Today went much better. I worked hard all day and the newsletter is ready to take to the printer tomorrow. I'll run the rest of the week's errands while I'm out, leaving me all of Thursday and Friday and as much of the weekend as I care to my sewing.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Update on last week...

I totally sabotaged myself today, so I don't have proper time at the moment to report in on last week or tell you of goals for this week. However, I thought I'd quickly share the results of my play day on Friday. I got those paints and rubber stamps out and gave it a whirl. Had a momentary "freeze" as I was confronted with three types of paints and half a dozen colors of each to match up with a stack of fabric and those stamps. Ack! Where to begin? But I remembered sage advice from somewhere - JUST DO SOMETHING!!! - and once I'd made that first choice, the fun of experiment took over. I didn't do a lot, but what I did was instructive. For instance, I thinned Liquitex Acrylic with water - too much water. Had to thicken it back up to get it to adhere to the stamp. You can see my tests on the white paper and the real deal on the two lighter squares to the right.

Then I switched to Versatex fabric paint. I didn't thin it at all although I think I could have. It's not as thick as the Liquetex out of the jar. It is advertised as not changing the hand of the fabric and I'd vouch for that. The teal was absolutely luscious! The silver was used in the small black square - very faint. (Both brands of paint may be found at Dharma Trading Company.)

I tried several ways of applying the paint to the stamps including one of those small wedge foam applicators. The brayer worked the best. I also tried rolling the loaded brayer over the black fabric as it rested on the orange netting. I really like the texture doing that sort of thing produces. The large green piece below was done by wrapping rubber bands around the brayer before rolling it in paint. As you can see, I ended up getting paint on more than the rubber bands which transferred in big globs on the fabric. Not exactly the effect I was going for, but at least I could see the potential in the rubber bands. I realized afterward that this piece reminds me of the results of finger painting as a child. Must be that color.

The fern-like design is a commercial stamp - I just love it. But I was most excited by the design right under it and on the small green square. It is something I glued up myself from slivers trimmed off a set of Celtic stamps you assemble yourself. I originally thought I would use it to stamp repeating sections turned the same direction or alternating directions, but I really like the look of stamping over the top of each other in different directions.

Best of all, I've got an idea of how to use some of these pieces and am excited to make up a small quilt with them. Usually my experiments go in a box I might as well label, "What in the heck can I do with THIS?"

Friday, December 23, 2005

No Apologies Accepted

I was going to post this picture the other day, then had second thoughts. I realized I was feeling apologetic about starting this blog to explore a creative journey in contemporary textiles or art quilts, and then posting so many pictures of traditional work. Better not show any more pictures until I have something artsy to talk about.

Many of us coming to the art quilt from a traditional grounding (me included) spend a lot of energy downgrading the importance of that background to our arty endeavors. We've heard so often that there's nothing creative or artistic about traditional quilting that even when we are confronted with an example (maybe even a quilt of our own), we deny that it is in the same league as "true art quilts." We remember instead responses from strangers when we say that we quilt, realizing that they are remembering grandma's quilt and thinking "craft" not "art."

You know what? I'm tired of apologizing for my love of antique quilts. I'm tired of feeling obligated to describe the time I spend making traditional quilts as less important and easier than art quilts. I love them both; they each pose their own challenges. I honed my skills on traditional quilts, skills I need to make the art quilts. The art quilts push me even further, and teach me things I can apply to my traditional quilts. They need not be at odds with each other. I should not feel embarrassed about either one. I will no longer accept my apologies about my love of traditional quilts.

As for the picture, it shows the old and the new: an antique applique quilt top from the 1860's or 70's and my own rendition of a poinsettia quilt block from an antique quilt. Holiday greetings to you all!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Time Management

Continuing the theme of the last few days, let's talk a bit more about utilizing time. But first a review. Everyone has the same number of hours per day. A gifted few weren't blessed with a few hours more, nor were the rest of us denied a full allotment of time. We each decide how to fill those hours. Well, sometimes parts of it are decided for us, but basically we pick and choose how our days will play out. We can organize our days to utilize our time to its best advantage. We can even learn to become more productive by capturing bits and pieces of time in between the major events. This, of course, depends on life playing out in the best case scenario.

But even the best laid plans go awry. Illness comes to visit. The changing seasons put extra demands on us. An unexpected (but not unwanted) phone call puts us behind. Life intervenes. Do we throw up our hands in defeat or are there ways around this as well?

Years ago, my brother shared with me something he told his young son: We can have anything we want; we just can't have everything we want. In this case, he was referring to things that cost money, but I've often thought what good advice this is about things that cost time as well. The lesson and reality he wished to show his son was that you need to decide what is most important to you and then figure out what it will take to achieve it. It will undoubtedly mean sacrifice and might take time to attain, but you can make it happen. In essence, this is setting a goal and focusing all your efforts towards reaching it.

Scaling this down a bit, this attitude can be helpful in negotiating those times when there really aren't enough hours in a day. Life has intervened and we must deal with the interruption. The holidays are such a perfect example of this. All I really wanted to do was work on my sewing projects, but I also wanted to send out Christmas cards, with personal notes on most. It was those notes that was slowing me down. I couldn't seem to fit them into the normal routine of my day. Something had to give temporarily, and I begrudgingly decided to put a part of my morning ritual on hold. Now, I've already told you how I prefer to ease into the morning. That easing includes leisurely sipping coffee while reading for 30 - 45 minutes. I can't emphasize enough how tied I've become to my routines and how much I hate to have them upset. But it was obvious that if the cards were to be written, and I wanted to continue to sew, I'd have to sacrifice something. The relaxing reading would be replaced by writing on my cards.

As you can imagine, writing those notes to faraway friends and family first thing in the morning was actually a very pleasant way to start my day. The reading material would still be there when I returned to my old routine. I'd really sacrificed nothing.

It got me thinking about the bigger issue of my creative journey as well. Too often I just want it to happen without having to upset my routines or work hard or give anything up. I'm thinking now that if I seriously want my quilting to be more than a pleasant diversion, I need to face up to the reality that I can have anything I want, just not everything I want. And I might just discover that the sacrifices I choose to make towards that goal really aren't so terrible after all.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Filling in between the grains of sand

In Monday's post, I admitted to my tendency to make a major production out of most everything I do. I also realize that I am an "all or nothing" sort of person, as in if I don't have a big uninterrupted chunk of time, I don't want to start the work at all. My glass is never half full; it's half empty or worse. I don't know if the two are related, but they both have conspired in the past to make me less productive.

I once worked for a manager who was taking a Dale Carnegie course. One morning he arrived at work eager to share with us a story he'd heard at his meeting the previous night. At first, I was doing the eye-rolling bit, but as he went on, I realized he was onto something. My memory is a bit hazy, but the story went something like this:

Imagine that you have a bowl filled with pebbles. You can't cram another one in. Is the bowl full? Many would automatically respond, "yes." But aren't there spaces between the pebbles? Try pouring sand in and around the pebbles; shake the bowl so it settles into every pocket. Ok, so the bowl wasn't full after all, but surely it is full now. Not one more thing could fit in it, right? Wrong! Here's a pitcher of water. See if any of it will fit in your bowl. Ah, the water finds even more pockets of space and perhaps your bowl truly is full at last.

Now imagine that the empty bowl represents one day. It is easy to fill your day with big things like the pebbles and think you have no time for anything else. The trick to using your time well is to be aware of those little pockets of time and learn to fill them with smaller things so that every minute of your day is well used.

I'll admit, I've never been particularly good at this. Every so often, though, I remember this story, put aside my all or nothing mentality and find that I can accomplish more than I think in 5 or 10 minutes. For instance, I've accumulated quite a stack of articles and ideas pulled from magazines that need to be filed. I keep putting it off because I know it will take quite awhile to do. But I could get a lot of pages filed in 5 minutes here and there. In the ten minutes between feeding the dog and having to walk her, I was able to sew several strips of binding on my little quilt banner. I always think cleaning the bathrooms is going to take a big chunk of time, but today I did it in 20 minutes. For real efficiency, check out Lisa's comment on yesterday's post.

So I am adding this mind set to my list of things to help me be more disciplined and focused. I'm going to fight against the temptation to turn away from or leave undone the simple things or parts of things that really only take a small pocket of time to accomplish.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Secret of Success

Last night's "Peanuts" cartoon hit a little close to home. There was Sally announcing, "They say the secret of success is to get up early in the morning." And there was, I mean, Charlie Brown, in bed, saying, "So?" And Sally exuberantly replying, "I'm up!"

I've never been a morning person. In my childhood, Mom would call me time and again until I finally pried myself out of bed with barely enough time to throw on clothes and race for the bus stop. (Once, my father tried a different ploy, standing silently at the end of my bed until I opened my eyes, then quietly said, "You know, people die in bed," then turned and walked out.) In college I was careful not to schedule an 8:00 class. When I became gainfully employed, I often barely made it to work on time, and then only because my husband (who was a morning person) was up first to make the coffee and let out the dogs.

Now that I have no place to be by a certain time, I find it incredibly hard to leave the warmth and comfort and drowsy dreams of my bed. Friends know not to call before 9:00 (not necessarily because I won't be up but because I won't be functional yet). I schedule appointments for no earlier than 10:00 if I can. It gets a little embarrassing at times, and it's not that I can't rouse myself out earlier. It's just that I know my body well and it prefers reading until 1:00 a.m. and hitting the snooze alarm numerous times before slowly easing into the day. And wouldn't you know it, this morning I hit that snooze alarm more times than usual and really did sleep in.

This is part of my problem lately with discipline. I know from experience that when I force myself out of bed even an hour earlier than usual, I am amazed at how much more I can accomplish. The earlier start seems to have an exponential degree of benefit. If I want to be more successful in my creative life, I need to be less of a Charlie Brown and more of a Sally (I'm up!) Now, if I can just convince myself of that tomorrow morning when the alarm goes off...

Bottom line (and no news here), we all have the same 24 hours in a day. It's how we choose to use them that makes the difference. More on this tomorrow. In spite of my late start, I got quite a bit done today, including putting the last few stitches in that little quilt - which I realize now I should really call a banner - and getting it and the other gift wrapped and in the mail. Pictures! Pictures! I know you all love to see pictures and I think it's safe to at least show this detail of one of the blocks.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Goals for Week of Dec 19th

The temptation, of course, is to not set any goals for this week leading up to Christmas. At least, nothing beyond finishing up the little gift with the three traditional blocks started last week. However, I have no good excuse for not put in some work. See? The goal-setting habit is good for me! Still, I'm tempted to keep it light; tomorrow promises to be a day of mundane chores the likes of which normal people attend to on the weekend. Maybe I can get that stamping experiment in this week. I've got the additional supplies now. Sounds like a plan.

So here are my goals for the week:
  1. Quilt and bind the little gift quilt.
  2. Apply embellishment to border of "Something Bold."
  3. Experiment with stamping
  4. Quilt 1 corner motif and 2 hearts on Lone Star
One of the habits I'm trying to break is the tendency to make a big production out of everything I do. I can take the simplest projects and make them much more complicated than they need to be. And more time-consuming, too, of course. I headed that direction several times in the course of making this current gift. All I need to do is simply set the three blocks together in a row, a bit like a tablerunner, stitch-in-the ditch and call it good. Thank goodness I was working with a limited supply of fabric again and nothing else in the house to augment it, although don't think I didn't spend time searching just in case. And wondering if I should set them on point. And thinking about other options. Good grief! This is not a masterpiece, nor an heirloom. Neither is it going off to be judged in some competition. It's just a small token of friendship.

If only someone would create and hire me to head up their D & D department; there's nothing I excel at better than D & D - Dithering and Dawdling. It's that moment's hesitation when I know darn well what I need to do, but question if there might be a slightly better solution. Now, there's nothing wrong with questioning and considering options, but it sure slows you down and isn't always necessary. Today it was not necessary, but as I looked for batting and backing, I caught myself wasting time considering various options. Fortunately, with my goal firmly in mind, I kept mentally shaking myself back to reality and got my little quiltlet quilted and the binding sewn on. I still need to hand tack it around to the back, but will do that tonight probably. With any luck, it and the pillow top will get in the mail tomorrow. I'd say the week is off to a good start.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Progress Report - Technical Info

Considering how I felt a few days ago, I'm pretty darned pleased with myself right now. I managed to put the finishing touches on the pillow top and join the three traditional blocks today. This evening I'll spend a little time with my quilting so should meet that goal as well. I can start fresh tomorrow.

Oh, and I got notes written on all my Christmas cards but two this week. Not to mention I took time out on Saturday to meet with a friend over coffee (mmm - eggnog lattes at Borders!). So you'll excuse me if I'm dancing around a bit!

Two observations for the week: 1) Again, I felt my written lists saved me from frittering away my time or worse, giving up on my projects. 2) A part of me was hoping my friend would cancel; I felt I had so much to do and my time would be better spent at home. Well, she didn't cancel and neither did I. After chatting and sharing and sipping that latte, I realized this was just what I needed: to get out of the house and away from my work.

I am not posting a picture of the pillow at this time, but here is one done in a similar manner. I was dithering over how to do this - the more traditional way with binding around the edges and an overlap on the back, or this method which uses a large rectangle with sides folded under twice, one seam along the bottom and buttons along the sides to finish it off. I went with the latter because the center panel was not square and that would be accentuated on a square pillow, especially if edged with the same fabric as used to edge the center. Besides, I probably didn't have enough of that fabric left for binding. (I make so many design decisions based on what I have on hand.) This method also allowed me to use some buttons from my grandmother's collection to add another layer of meaning to the gift.

I used paper instead of fabric under the batting when I quilted to reduce bulk and to protect the Thermore batting from the feeddogs when they weren't down. It also gave a nice stable edge to sew the single fold binding to. The paper was removed and the binding pulled to the back, but without turning under that edge like you would if it were exposed. Pins were placed parallel to the seam and the piece centered on the pillow top (held in place with a few more pins). Using clear thread, I stitched in the ditch all around which secures the binding but leaves its outer edge free. Adds a nice dimensional touch, but you could just as easily blind stitch that edge down as well. There are no buttonholes along the sides. On one side the buttons are sewn on through all layers. On the other side, they are sewn on through the top layer only, then I used Fabri-Tac to add Velcro under them for easy opening. The original directions had you adding the pillow form and sewing the buttons through all layers, but I like to be able to remove the form without unsewing anything. If making buttonholes doesn't give you grief, that would be a great way to finish it off as well.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Safety Nets

What do you do if you set goals and discover that you really don't want to work towards them this particular day? This is kind of where I found myself today. I have these two gifts I'm working on, starting with that pillow top. I realized yesterday that the fabric I'd picked out previously didn't work with this new print - the colors were that much different. So there I was auditioning again, and based on the quantity of the various "winners" on hand, reconsidering how I would put it all together. How wide should this first border be and can I stretch this little bit of fabric that far? Yes I can. Which direction should I cut the strips to get the shading I want? Double and triple check that math to make sure I've figured the lengths correctly. Sew them on and reassess my choices. Should I add another border or just sew this much on to a larger square of fabric?

So you see there was a lot of thinking and decision making going on yesterday. It ended with the center pinned to batting and paper, several threads laid across, and my mind toying with using embroidery stitches in the quilting. I had every intention of doing that quilting today and attaching the center to the pillow cover. But when I looked at it this morning, I simply couldn't bring myself to face it and the decisions I would have to make. I simply did not want to work on it, goal or not.

If I hadn't had a second goal for this week, I probably would have forced myself to soldier on. Instead, I turned to that other project, one not requiring me to make any decisions. The requirements for this one are simple: cut and piece three blocks in a traditional pattern. Only two fabrics in this block and they had already been chosen. I used instructions from a book that I'd worked with before so no figuring or trial and error. No tricky construction, just straight seams to sew - grunt work. I've done this type of sewing so much that it is second nature, unlike the machine quilting. It's the sort of thing that I can easily gauge how long it will take and be relatively certain of success. Traditional quilting - my comfort zone, my safety net when I start doubting my abilities.

I was right about how much I thought I could do; I cut and pieced the three blocks and they came out fine. The hum of the machine while I chain stitched the units proved therapeutic. The positive outcome has made me feel more sure of myself. I think I can tackle that pillow tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Goals for Week of Dec 12th

As I indicated in yesterday's post, I didn't get quite as far on Christmasy things over the weekend as I'd hoped . I was already wondering if I should bother with setting creative goals for this week knowing I should work on a couple of gifts and that today would be mostly shot with errands and appointments. My week seemed to be gone before it even started! Wow, what defeatist thinking, I realized. Not to mention the fact that everyone else has to deal with Christmasy things too while juggling much more responsibility than I do. I thought of Felicity's mild rant about "who isn't busy these days?" and agreed, that's no excuse for not making time for what you deem important. So stop whining and set some goals!

As it turned out, yesterday went really well and I got almost all of my Christmas preparations done. In spite of those errands and appointments today, I managed about 30 minutes in my studio. Amazing what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it. As for goals, I decided there was nothing wrong with having them include working on those gifts.

It occurred to me, though, that I was wording this all wrong. To say my goal would be to "work" on the pillow top for my friend, for instance, was not specific enough. It implied that I did not expect to complete it. It did not indicate what part of the process I would try to complete. It didn't demand a lot and made assessing my progress difficult to meaningless. A goal needs to be more specific. So with that in mind, here are my goals for the rest of the week:

  1. Pillow for gift: Choose and sew borders on photo-printed fabric. Complete minimal quilting. Bind edges with back.
  2. Small quilt for gift: Cut and sew three blocks and join.
  3. Hand quilting on Lone Star quilt: Complete two corner motifs and one heart.

Monday, December 12, 2005

One thing leads to another

This picture is one I took out my parent's living room window (with an Instamatic no less!) over 30 years ago. It was on my mind because we've gotten just enough snow on the ground for me to want to change my computer wallpaper from a fall one to a winter one. Oddly enough, I didn't have a decent digital one at hand but also didn't want to take the time right now to dig this one up and scan it in. The weekend was supposed to be devoted to Christmas preparations: composing a letter, printing off mailing labels, getting three packages gift wrapped and boxed for shipping.

It was that last one that tripped me up. I remembered I'd borrowed a family photo album to scan some pictures and intended to return it in the Christmas package. I hadn't gotten around to the scanning, so everything halted while I did that. In the process, I got out some of my old albums to make sure I wasn't scanning one I already had. Ran across several from my brother's wedding reception which resolved the argument we'd had back in September about when that was. (When you've been married three times, some of those early details blur I guess.) It was 36 years ago so we all look really young and I couldn't resist scanning a couple of them to e-mail to the brothers. And yes, I stumbled on my winter scene as well, so might as well scan it too while everything is out and fired up.

Do you think I could scan just one image? Of course not! There were, in fact, two different angles which I couldn't decide between. Then I hit the "color restoration" button and got a whole different look. Mmm, what if I played a little with the contrast, brightness, saturation on my own? And lets get some high resolution ones as well because I might want to play more with these and print them out. Well, you can see how one thing led to another and I didn't get as far on my Christmas tasks as I'd hoped. But I sure had fun! Consider this my little Christmas gift to you.

Progress Report

Before I lay out this week's goals, I wanted to recap how things went last week. I was very pleased with how making my lists kept me on track. I met my two primary goals by the end of Thursday, leaving me free to play on Friday. I always seem to have so much to do that it's hard for me to designate a weekday to play. But because I did, I'd given myself a carrot, and subconsciously I was pushing myself harder to complete those first goals.

I settled on stamping for my play day for several reasons, but mainly because it is another technique I want to try with my willow leaves. It turned out I wasn't as ready to stamp as I thought. I let myself fixate too much on doing leaves instead of practicing stamping and quickly discovered I had nothing on hand with which to make my own leaf stamps. I decided I could review some instructions I'd accumulated and get organized though, so picked out some fabric and started going through my cart where I keep paints and dyes and yes, stamps I've purchased but never used. I found ink and paint I'd forgotten I'd bought, a stamp I'd made with pieces trimmed off an assemble-yourself-stamp set, in short, plenty of stuff to play with. It's all out now and ready for some serious experimentation.

The amazing thing I discovered on Friday was the sense of freedom I felt all day. No looming guilt about what I should be doing. No disappointment in myself because I changed my plans about what constituted play for the day. No sense of obligation to work on something "important" as long as the stamping idea fell through. I'm notorious for beating myself up, and I wasn't doing it at all. It felt as much of a major breakthrough as when I tackled that free motion embroidery.

As for my hand quilting, I really had no sense of what a reasonable amount of progress might be so I ball-parked what I knew would be high, just to get me moving. As it turns out, I'm struggling a bit getting into the swing of it so the stitching is going much slower than I thought it might. The goal I set was totally unreasonable, even if I had worked on the piece every night (which I did not). Still, without writing down something, I may not have touched it at all. Here is part of what I finished this week. There is one of these motifs in each corner of this 22" square and a small interlocking heart design between them on each side. I was thinking I could get all those done, but that really was overly optimistic.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Failure humbles; Success buoys

Yesterday went so much better than Tuesday. And the lists seem to be working for both the everyday tasks and the creative ones.

Knowing I had two things I wanted to complete this week kept me from fussing with that purse. Time to start on goal two, but when I went into the studio, I could feel myself wanting to get out of working on it. Without it on my list, I probably would have chosen to put it off like I've been doing for the last couple of months.

"It" is something I'd printed onto fabric, something I'd put together from a vacation photo and some GIF's with the help of a software program. "It" looked great on the screen but didn't print vividly on the pretreated fabric sheet I was trying for the first time. My frugality kept me from experimenting more at the time to see if the problem was with my new printer or the new fabric. I'll just make do, I convinced myself, thinking it would be made into a gift for a friend. She'll never know what the original looked like. Bad reasoning there.

So here I have this 8-1/2 x 11 inch piece that just as well could have been printed on photo paper and framed. This is the on-going problem I'm having with photo printing on fabric. My brain hasn't moved beyond the photo part to figure out something unique to make it worthy of conversion to fabric. I've looked at what other artists have done and see the possibilities, but when I try, I just go back to the same old rut. But I'm tired of looking at this fabric and either need to make it into something for my friend, or turn it into a journal quilt.

The journal quilt idea was gaining favor, but after auditioning a number of batiks for a frame, I warmed to the idea of adding multiple borders and turning this into a tote bag or pillow top. One part of me said, quit dragging your feet and just put this together some way so you meet your goal. Another part of me said, since how you will finish this is partly dependent on whether or not you could get a better print on fabric, maybe you should experiment with your printer first.

It's good to have a plan and to stick with it - not let yourself be sidetracked, but then again, it's good not to be so rigid that you miss opportunities that might actually improve your work. I decided this was one of those times. I had some fabric treated with bubble jet set already, so I decided to go for it. I had to figure out the best settings to use with this new printer as well as how to stabilize the fabric to feed through it. It is very sensitive to the least bit of curling of whatever you are running through it and so far my usual method of ironing to freezer paper hadn't worked. I'd read somewhere about using spray baste to affix fabric to cardstock so I gave that a try. Success! The fabric not only fed through perfectly, the resulting print was much sharper, darker and truer in color. That freed me up to finish out the first piece as a journal quilt.

Can you believe, I was still dragging my feet about finishing this up today? Got sidetracked sorting through some beads before I realized I was in avoidance mode. Got back on track, added the bits on the sides to frame it, layered it and quilted it. Good practice for the piece for my friend. My other problem with photos on fabric is how to quilt them, especially if they are of people. I was pleased with how that part went, less pleased with my background choice. Relieved that I'd stuck to my goals and let them take me a little farther than I'd anticipated.

Tomorrow we play...

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Sometimes you can save too much money...

I should have bought the pattern.

This particular exercise in frustration started with what seemed like a good idea at the time. A friend & I were perusing the vendors at a local quilt show early in November. We spied a demonstration going on and watched while a lady explained how to make this nifty three pocket purse. The pattern was a brand new one debuted at Market in Houston the previous week and this local shop hadn't even received their shipment yet. But of course, you could pay now and have the pattern sent to you once it arrived at their store. Well, the concept seemed so simple that my friend and I looked at each other and mouthed, "We don't need the pattern, do we?"

That night, I played around with folding a piece of paper to lock the basics of this idea in my brain. Basically, you just take two squares of fabric with batting in between, quilt it any way you want and bind the edges. Then by folding on the diagonal and stitching two seams, the basic bag is formed and the points become flaps and outside pockets when folded in place. I could think of so many possibilities for creative variations by changing the size of the square, using patchwork instead of wholecloth, using heavier dec fabrics and eliminating the batting all together. I could see many personalized purses hanging from my shoulder and given as gifts.

When my father would let his Depression Era make-do training kick in only to waste a lot of time and effort (and sometimes ending up having to get those things he was trying to avoid buying), he'd look at me and say, "Sometimes you can save too much money." My two days of working on this "quick & easy" project have made me realize that once again, I made things a lot harder on myself than necessary, all in the name of saving a buck.

It started with my choice of fabric. Didn't want to spend time quilting and binding a square. But I had a pair of worn flannel-lined jeans I'd cut up and saved and was about to pitch (really - I'll never make one of those rag quilts). Wouldn't take much to piece some sections together and it should be heavy enough to avoid a batting layer. Plus, I can just overlap the jean sections and run a decorative stitch along the raw edge - do the same for the outside edge and just let it ravel. What a time saver! Except that I had second thoughts about the weight of the finished project so fused suit weight interfacing to the flannel. And I still had to run some stitches to secure the flannel and denim together. Just used random straight lines of the same decorative stitching...and ran out of that color of thread. Decided that was enough for one day as I had to run off to my guild Christmas party. Rats, and I really wanted to have that purse to show off during show and tell!

I tried to start off Tuesday with more optimism, but right off the top I needed to address finishing the edge. The thread color was the biggest issue - had nothing remotely like it. Kept trying to remind myself, this is a prototype - it doesn't have to be PERFECT. But I don't listen to myself very well. I spent some time stitching on a scrap trying different threads and decorative stitches and ended up back with my original stitch and black thread. How creative. I was starting to feel like a real clutz, dropping bobbins as I changed them, wrapping the thread on the spindle instead of the bobbin when I went to refill it, making tons of stupid mistakes. But eventually I got the edges stitched and trimmed and now it was time to figure out where the velcro and side seam stitching belonged. Oh yeah, the gal mentioned you could add straps as well (although her demo bag had none) and just HOW do you do that? I cut a strip of denim, folded it over and stitched it like the edge and hid the ends under the velcro. Eventually I got all the sewing done and it was time to turn the side points and tack. I was losing my patience big time and ruing my frugality as well. I began to suspect there were additional tips and tricks included in the pattern that the demo lady failed to share. Some of my seams fell in absolutely the wrong places which made the turning hard. And just how was I to tack that point like she said? In real defiance, I grabbed a bottle of Fabri-Tac and glued that sucker in place. That's when I realized I needed to take a break.

I was definitely calmer after lunch, got the other side turned and calmly tacked with thread, glue tacked a couple other spots for security and considered what to use, if anything, as closures for the flaps. Not buttons (no way am I doing buttonholes or tabs of some kind on this), not snaps (to my surprise, I had none on hand, just hooks). Well, I guess I'm back to Velcro, but didn't want to have to sew it on. So out came the glue bottle once more and with velcro in place, I set it all aside for the night.

So yesterday ended on a very down note. I did not feel very clever. I did not feel creatively satisfied. I had lost all enthusiasm for making more of these (unless of course I get my hands on that pattern!) and I was pretty mad at myself for falling into that trap of thinking I was making things simpler only to make them just as complicated and time consuming - possibly more so. The good news is that when I looked at the purse this morning, I decided it wasn't as bad as all that, there was nothing more I needed to do to it and I could move on to something else. Yeah!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Goals for Week of Dec 5th

I have gotten into a bad habit of late. I am very driven by lists; they help me focus on what I need to do and when I need to do it. If something is just floating around in my head, it often disappears when I actually get down to work. Now what was that I thought I needed to do today? There's also I real sense of accomplishment as items get crossed off a list. I seem to need concrete evidence that I have been productive. Making and managing lists is one way I can track that.

Whenever I get the sense I've been drifting, I can often trace it back to neglecting to make a list. Lists are a way of setting goals, and without goals, we really are apt to drift in a most unproductive way. My reading of The Creative Habit has reminded me I've been lax about making my weekly "to do" lists lately, and have totally neglected setting out definite goals for my quilting. No wonder I've been floundering in the studio.

So I started yesterday off by making out my general list of things to do this week, and then took it one step further by grabbing a fresh notebook and titling it: Project Lists/Weekly Goals. It's been too long since I listed all the in-process projects and yet-to-be started ones and prioritized them. I've just been carrying them around in my head and letting them weigh me down. The notebook is a safe place to put them so my mind can deal with now.

As for the weekly goals, I've not done this much, except if I'm working to deadline and need to make a certain amount of progress each day in order to meet it. In the book, Twyla talks about managing your time and how it is trickier to do when you have all the time in the world. Limits and limitations really do make us more productive and creative, in spite of our grousing about it. I'm in one of those periods with nothing immediately pressing so setting some arbitrary weekly deadlines, or goals, is just what I need to get motivated and moving, I think.

So here are this week's goals:
  1. Experiment with 3-pocket purse idea
  2. Finish out reunion photo printed on fabric
  3. Experiment with stamping?
  4. Complete 1/2 of hand quilting on corner square of Lone Star Quilt
I was only going to put the first two on the list, but thought perhaps I should challenge myself a little more. I'm hoping that the first two will be done quickly so that Friday will feel like a free play day, and I'll tackle that stamping. As for the hand quilting, that's my time in front of the TV at night and I've been lazy about pulling over the hoop and working on it. Perhaps if I expect to get so far this week, I actually will.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Where Inspiration?

The short answer to "where do you get your inspiration/ideas?" would be, just about everywhere. If I were to generalize, I'd say most come from nature, but many come from architecture. Nature is all about fluid lines, interesting shapes and color for me. Architectural details may also be about fluid lines and interesting shapes, but also some very basic geometric shapes and motifs. I'm thinking brickwork (grids), tiles & mosaics, the angle of a building's eaves, the stringing along the front of a piece of furniture. But in truth, I can get an idea from almost anything.

I keep a fairly thick file of traditional and more contemporary quilting designs. (I'm talking about the stitching design that holds the layers together, not the patterns that make up the top.) Tossed in it are also pictures from catalogs and magazines - a trivet, ironwork, carving on a table, jewelry, things that say to me they could be adapted to quilting. I have books full of quilting designs as well. My resources overfloweth.

So where did I find my design source for the quilting in Willow Leaves? In a most unusual place, even for me. I was reading a book from the late 1980's called "How To Live With A Neurotic Dog," by Stephen Baker. The illustrations by Fred Hilliard are just line drawings, but when I looked closer, I realized he'd done all his shading with a single device: a wavy line. Short or long, sparsely or densely overlapped, it was the same figure throughout. How clever and simple! And it was just the look I was envisioning for my background but not sure how to go about it. I think it worked pretty well.

By the way, the walk was cold but lovely. Think Christmas card with glitter. The snow sparkled!

The Rule of Three

You're familiar with the Rule of Three, aren't you? The Rule of Three states that however long you think a task will take to complete, multiply that number by three for the actual time you'll spend on it. Don't laugh; it's true more often than not, at least for me. So when I said I was looking forward to spending the other day completing the quilting on my Willow Leaves, I should have known I'd be working on it for three days, not one.

(Please note, when I say "day," I do not mean 24 hours, 12 hours or even a typical work day of 8 hours. My "day" is sometimes as short as 2 hours, but usually 4 or 5.)

I wanted to better define the center vein on each leaf and thought I could accomplish that during quilting. It was the first thing I tackled, using a 35wt cotton variegated thread. The plan was to quilt down the center, then around the outside of the leaf. I did several this way and realized that I did not like the look of the stitching around the leaf. Spoiled the whole effect of the embroidery. So I took out those stitches. I was also reminded that this particular thread is heavy enough that I prefer to pull the thread to the back, knot it and bury the tails. Argh! That takes a lot of time, but I forged ahead anyway. (I'm nothing if not stubborn.) I tried stitching around several more leaves running the stitching within the embroidery which worked very well on the first one but not on the next one. More ripping. I finally gave up and just stitched the centers. A few of those came out and were redone too because I misjudged which color of the variegation would be coming through. So you see why the rest of the quilting didn't get done that day.

Yesterday I had to go out in the afternoon, so spent the morning on housework and starting to tie off and bury those tails. I finished that tedious task last night in front of the TV.

I refuse to let this project slop over into next week so I've finished the quilting today. Not without fits and starts though. My first thread choice showed up more than I anticipated and I thought it would detract too much from the leaves. Thread two - black rayon - blended better but I still didn't like the look. The effect I'm going for here is texture of a blacktop street, perhaps looking a bit wet. It dawned on me that what I really should be using then is my smoke monofilament thread. It always glints a bit, but otherwise takes on the color of the fabric. Tried that and it was perfect. However, I had about a 2" square section each of the other two colors to rip out before I could proceed.

I powered through the rest of the quilting and here is the result. I don't usually quilt this heavily, but I like it for this piece. It makes the leaves look very realistic. It has distorted the piece quite a bit though, so major blocking is in order.

It's been snowing lightly all day, by the way. Very conducive to being inside quilting. But now I have to feed the dog and walk her before it gets dark. That's ok; I'd much rather walk her in the snow than the rain and I need a break.