Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Goals for Week of Jan 30th

I have spent so much time in front of the computer or working on paperwork at my desk for a week now. So much for following up on my "stream of consciousness" creativity. But then again, I anticipated I'd not be able to settle down as the week wore on and the paperwork was just the thing to keep my occupied. I finished the block assessment and designing possible sets, printing out copies & writing explanations before sending them off to my friend. (She was duly impressed, by the way.) I caught up on my bookkeeping so I can tackle the taxes later this week or next. End of the month bills are figured and paid. It's guild newsletter time again and I finished that up today. Tomorrow will be a trip out to get it copied, processed and in the mail. Stuff I need to get rid of before I move is going up on eBay - always a time-consuming process. The workshop is over - a success on all levels. I'm feeling very good about what I have accomplished, a little light of step in my excitement over getting through these tasks.

As far as goals for this week, I'm transferring most of what I wanted to do last week but didn't to this week. I have another week before the Warmth From Wisconsin quilt is due, but I'd like to get it done to show off at guild next Monday. Ditto on that journal quilt. Don't know if it's feasible but think I'll try. As always, hand quilting to be done on the Lone Star, with time already spent on that Sunday and Mondayt. Here's hoping I can sustain the momentum.

Saturday's Workshop

Here is half of the Mariner's Compass block I used for my demonstrations at the workshop I taught on Saturday. It is lying on the "focus fabric" I thought I'd use as either the frame or border so you can see where I thought I was going with the color scheme. I wish I had the time to work on it more right now, but I can't so it is destined to be yet one more UFO nagging at the edge of my consciousness.

As for the workshop itself, it went very well. The weather cooperated (no icy, snowy roads to negotiate), I didn't get lost and the ladies participating were delightful. With only 7 students, there was time for each one to get help with fabric selection, something we did as a group so everyone could see various ways of approaching it as well as offer additional opinions. My only regret is that there's never time for students to sew a complete block, so I don't get to see how well our decisions work. It's so exciting for a teacher to see the results of a class; I can only hope they will send me pictures, as some of my students have in the past.

Experiences like this are such a boost. If I could guarantee every teaching job would be as positive, I'd be tempted to pursue it more seriously. But I know better, which is why I'm getting out of teaching. Plus, even when it is positive, it puts me in such a tizzy. It's just the way I am. Still, my track record working with guilds is pretty good, so maybe I'll stay open to the odd workshop that might come my way.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Good Idea Gone Bad

I was right about not being able to concentrate on sewing this week, and only partly because of the workshop tomorrow. I think I reached critical mass again with clutter and paperwork piling up, so have spent a lot of time at the computer and my desk. Just in the proper mood to tackle that sort of thing.

Some of my de-cluttering also included clearing a few things off the table in my studio. I'd pulled something for the journal quilt from the "crazy quilt fabric" box (don't ask) and before putting it away, I paged through a book I've kept in that same box, because it references embroidery stitches for crazy quilts The book is Volume 3 of "LeeWards Complete Library of Needlecraft" published in the early 1970's. This volume covers sewing, patchwork and applique with Carter Houck and Jinny (Virginia) Avery as contributing authors. I'm sure you can imagine how wild some of the fabrics and designs are. If not, here's a sampling of some ties which made me cringe. They're Jinny Avery's and her directions are typical of that era - brief and general: "Use any tie pattern. Piece enough squares and rectangles by machine to accommodate the pattern for the wide tie piece, remembering that it must be laid bias, as shown. The narrow back piece of the tie may be cut from any of the fabrics used in the front. Lightweight fabrics work best, cottons, wools, silks or synthetics, but they must be crease resistant. The squares should be about 1-1/2 inches in size." Did she really think this was a good idea??? Ok, I admit I pieced a bunch of 4-1/2" squares from dressmaking scraps for the skirt of the ever popular prairie dresses of that time period, much to my father's chagrin. And yes, it did seem like I good idea at the time.

To the book's credit, I notice that there are quite a few antique quilts pictured, mostly from the Smithsonian's collection.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

My Dog, My Overflow

This is for my friend Bill, who said he enjoyed seeing pictures of my house and wanted to see more. I mention my dog a lot, so thought I would include her too. Here she is on her couch (yes, it is her couch, one bought in the 1980's that refuses to die, so makes a perfect dog couch), glowering at me as she so often does. There's not much she approves of concerning my routine, except the part that includes walks, treats and scratches.

My "house" by the way is a two story unit in a rental 4-plex, euphemistically described as a townhouse. Yeah, that definitely sounds better than a 4-plex. Upstairs holds three bedrooms; one I sleep in, one I use as a studio and the last one, which is smaller than the other two, is Jesse's room which she allows me to use as an office. The stuff on the end of the couch is the overflow from my studio - stuff that for a long time resided on the ping pong table until it had to be cleared. I didn't want these bits of projects to get too far out of sight and forgotten, but truth be told, seeing them every day hasn't helped get them any farther along. Ah, well, someday. There's a vest in there, and the pieces of a quilt used for a workshop that I will never teach again. If I finish it, it will go to charity. The pillow, by the way, is made from cheater cloth and hand-quilted by my mother-in-law. She didn't want it anymore so I snagged it. It's perfect to take to classes to soften those metal chairs and boost me up a bit to compensate for tables that are always too high.

This is looking at the opposite side of the room at some of the things that people might find incongruous. Well, I told you I was into motorcycle racing and the poster of the very leaned over racer is a shot of AMA's Aaron Yates. Honest to God, those guys rub their elbows on the curbing sometimes. Talk about extreme sports. Right below you see a calendar with quilts - of course. The other calendar stuck to the cabinet door has a picture I took when I visited Sandpoint, ID last year. It's there to remind me that I have to move there this year. The various framed pictures are of my late husband and I posed various places in our motorcycle gear along with our Harley Sportster. We had major fun on that bike, let me tell you.

I actually have two desks in this room and several file cabinets. One desk holds the usual - bill paying and letter writing stuff. The other is devoted to the computer. Besides all my internet time, I have several software programs that I use in one way or another to aid me in my quilting. Those postcards behind the clock and speaker are from a friend from my Tacoma, WA days. I think they were meant to make me homesick for the West Coast as they show Mt. Rainier, the Space Needle in Seattle, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, waves crashing on the beach and Tacoma's infamous drive-in burger joint, Frisco Freeze. On the side of the desk is yet another motorcycle poster. This is Pascal Picotte who used to race for Harley-Davidson before they dropped the program. These guys are so buff. They have to be in shape to muscle these machines around. I actually got a chance to talk to Pascal and get his autograph while my husband took a picture. Major drool going on here because he was one of the older racers (but still younger than me) so had a little more maturity that certainly appealed. Ah well, I can dream, I guess. Unfortunately, he's married and has gone back to Canada. But what a nice guy.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Goals for Week of Jan 23rd

I didn't do too badly last week, although I fizzled out a bit towards the end of it. I started out gangbusters, completing the prep for Saturday's workshop, getting a good start on the journal quilt and even hunkering down to tackle and complete the hand quilting on my list. I chalk up some of my enthusiasm to getting that brief spate of identity crisis under control. What I wish I could get a better handle on, though, is sustaining momentum. No, I'm not going to regale you with my wisdom on the matter, because it is one of my bigger problems that I have yet to solve. I'm sure my notes from "The Creative Habit" harbor a suggestion or two, but I haven't taken the time to check. At any rate, momentum returned on Sunday and is still with me today. It may be a defense mechanism to keep my mind preoccupied so I don't unduly obsess over the workshop. There isn't another thing I need to do for it short of packing everything up on Friday, but my mind has a way of worrying anyway if I let it.

Frankly, I was a bit reticent to write down any goals yesterday. I haven't a good explanation for why having a commitment at the end of the week makes me not want to commit to anything else in the time between, but I think that is part of it. Oh, I plan to get some work done; I just don't want to promise what it will be in case I can't concentrate well after all. But something else is going on, too. I feel a need to work open-ended, almost in free-fall, to deviate from the task at hand if an idea comes to me and I want to pursue it. I'm remembering the outcome of doing just that a few weeks ago, the unintentional piece that made me think in a new way, my brother's comment to "Remain open to the underlying serendipity of life." So although I set out a few goals, I've found the last two days to be ones urging me to work in a stream-of-consciousness manner. Not very controlled, and certainly not very disciplined, but amazingly liberating and satisfying to stop and pursue a new idea or a thought about a simmering one rather than set it aside and fail to get back to it, or lose it altogether. Oddly enough, it hasn't made me feel disorganized, nor has it had the effect of weighing me down which sometimes happens when I get too many things going at once. I think it worked on my brain a bit like when I write things down on paper. It was progress I could see, thoughts and ideas joined fabric and embellishments, safely tucked away in their own little containers and ready for the next step when I am ready to proceed.

So here's what I thought could happen this week: I could seam the backing and batting for the WFW quilt - maybe even get it tied. That's one of those no-brainer sorts of projects. On the other hand, I started some beading on the journal quilt, and any of you beaders out there know how time consuming (but enjoyable) beading can be. With this mood I'm in, I could see myself easily spending the rest of the week on that. As for my handquilting, I am ready to move on to another square and will try to finish one heart and one corner motif.

One other thing I've been working on this week - an unexpected pleasure cropping up from my past - is an assessment of some old blocks and ideas of how to put them together. I used to live in a little town that had no guild, but I found a small group of ladies who met once a week to work on various sewing projects for their church. A couple of them worked on quilts and welcomed me to their meetings. It didn't take them long to find out I had a soft spot for old fabric and quilt tops/blocks. One of the ladies called me last week wondering if I'd look at some blocks that had been donated to them. See? I can't escape my traditional past, nor do I want to!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Soul Mate in Another Medium

My public library has a small gallery space used to spotlight local artists or artists with a local connection. These exhibits stay up for quite a few weeks, which I love. Unlike a quilt show, which is pretty much a one-shot deal, these longer running exhibits allow me to go back time and again to study the pieces from many perspectives. Often what I thought was stunning first time around, doesn't strike me as strongly at a later date. Or I will pick up on some small detail I missed in a previous viewing. Works run the gamut of artistic mediums; I find it stimulating and informative to see how artists with a different set of skills interpret their world.

There was a feature story in the paper about the newest exhibit, one of tiles and other clay works. The pictures led me to believe this would be worth a look, but didn't begin to represent accurately what was really on display. The "tiles" are actually "carved clay" done in muted earthtone and in all the shapes and motifs I've been dreaming, studying and working with in my own work. Landscapes with sinuous curves, trees, leaves...willow leaves! Yes, among the triptych, boxes, groupings of squares, and pottery, there was the exact rendition of scattered willows leaves (right down to the same color palette) that I am working towards, beginning with my own "Willow Leaves."

The artist is Deb LeAir of Minneapolis, MN. Unfortunately, she does not have a website and the few pictures of her work that I could find don't show these latest pieces that I viewed, but this link will at least give you an idea of how she is working: http://www.claypeople.org/sep01a.htm

I was pretty pleased with my reaction to her "Black Willow Leaves." Instead of thinking what I often think (dang, somebody's beaten me to it and I may as well forget about pursuing my "original" design), I found myself thinking, ok, I must be on the right track; I can hardly wait to get back to my own willow leaves. No doubt I was not thrown into depression because she is working in a totally different medium from me, but still, this felt like progress in my creative journey. In a way, it was affirming to see that the design I envisioned actually works well in reality, since I often have trouble taking the design in my head to a successful outcome.

My other reaction was that I really wanted to own that piece! How cool might it be to have her rendition and mine hanging side by side? But then again, I hardly have nearly $700 to invest in a whim like that! I love her work though, and plan to go back several times to study and learn from it.

Quilt Intimidation

This is my theory for why there are so many UFO's (unfinished objects) hidden away in quilters' closets. Lord knows, it's happened often enough to me. We get a great idea for a quilt. We enthusiastically pick fabric to go in it. We energetically start the construction process. We are HOT! Then somewhere along the way, we start to doubt ourselves and all the choices we've made up to this point. The quilt seems to jeer at us, "Just WHO do you think you are? What made you think THIS was such a great design (fabric choice/embellishment - you fill in the blank)?" Unsure of ourselves, we convince ourselves we don't know what to do next, or the piece is a failure, or that we just aren't interested in this project anymore. The quilt has totally intimidated us, and in total submission, we put it away unfinished, hoping that at a later date, we can resurrect it or pawn it off on someone else.

I was feeling that way about my little journal quilt after piecing it. There was plenty of contrast between the two fabrics when laid side by side. Once they were cut up, the dynamic changed. I wondered if maybe it was too dark and muted. Would the design I'd be appliqueing on top show up well enough? I was already coming up with solutions to solve that problem before I even knew if it would be an issue. That appliqueing step, by the way, will be posing its own technical challenge and I had some question about which would be better: quilting before it went on or after? And let's not forget, I still feel unsure enough about my machine quilting abilities to instinctively freeze when I get to that point in a project. Yes, I was letting a little 8-1/2" x 11" quilt intimidate me.

What's the best way around intimidation? Screw up your courage and barge ahead! The quilt generally knows to get out of the way if it ultimately wants to survive. This little one apparently did. After finding ways to avoid it for the last few days, I decided I was being silly. Just do one little thing to re-establish dominance, I reasoned. I did. Now that wasn't so bad - worked just like you hoped it would. And I'm pretty sure that I need to quilt first, applique second. So I can at least pull the papers off the back and layer the thing. Didn't mean to actually sit down and quilt it today, but before I knew it, I was marking lines and threading up the machine. Before long, the quilting was done. Tomorrow I can work on the applique. Dominance re-established.

In the process, I got to looking at the swirling lines of the marbled fabric, considering whether I could enhance them with a few beads. As I did a mental inventory, I suddenly remembered some antique teal beads I'd succumbed to. When I looked through my bead drawer, I not only found teal seed beads, but a second bag of slightly larger teal beads. I laid the strands next to my top and think they will be just the thing. I also pulled one of my samples from the stamping experiment that might serve as binding. Things are falling into place - a good day at the office.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Demons Under Control - For Now

My identity crisis seems to have abated a bit this week. I started work on my "self-portrait" journal quilt and I feel like my feet are back under me. Here is the background for it. I'd dithered a bit about what to use, what would characterize me. Should I use reproduction fabrics? Should I piece some tiny units leftover from other projects, pieces so small most people would have tossed them, but that I snag and incorporate somewhere eventually? I could always piece a small version of my logo block. Or maybe using a batik or hand-dye would express who I am better?

I've heard of people who dream about quilt ideas, but I've never found solutions that way. Usually, my lightbulbs go on in the sometimes lengthy moments between turning the light off and actually falling asleep. This time appears to be similar to when I'm walking; the brain goes into free-flow and solutions often pop up seemingly out of nowhere. This time, though, I had wanted to jot down some notes about the prep I'd done so far on the design and found the only time I had was right before bed. I ended the notes by brainstorming the possibilities for the background. I'd pretty much dismissed the block idea as being too time-consuming or fussy, and even said no to printing the block GIF directly to fabric for the same reason. Well, it was late so I closed the notebook and turned off the light, falling almost immediately to sleep.

Perhaps I should do this more often, because the next morning there was little doubt about how I would execute the background. It had to have my Idaho Beauty Block in it, and in my favorite color - teal. I don't know why I haven't thought about teal when talking about favorite colors lately. I mean, look at the color I chose for my logo block. Look at the color of this blog. Is teal not what defines me, even though it hasn't made its way into many of my quilts? I love wearing it, I have it in my stash, I need to start using it more. So I pulled out my teals and spotted this one used in the stars. It started life as a reproduction fabric from a grab bag. I couldn't believe how much I disliked it. Black and lime green on a white background - garish and not very reproduction in my book. When I first experimented with dyeing fabric, I'd come up with a luscious teal recipe and decided to try overdyeing a commercial fabric. Mmmm, what fabric did I not already love that could be sacrificed to this trial? Ah, of course! This ugly fabric - and it was transformed beautifully. Gosh, that must have been 10 years ago and I had never used it, I have no idea why. But now I have.

As for the background fabric, it is probably 10 years old as well. It is from a line of Nancy Crow fabrics and mimics the marbling that I was so unsuccessful with in my own attempts. I love marbled fabric almost as much as I love batiks and hand-dyes, but have a hard time working them into my pieces. In it went, creating the low contrast I wanted for the background, the low contrast that says me, me, me! (I'm afraid that the colors of these two fabrics really aren't coming across well. At least on my monitor, the teal of the star is not as rich as in real life, missing a bit of bluish tint. I hope you get the idea.)

As for the block construction, I broke down the sections of the block into paperpiecing unites and printed those out on freezer paper. Then I used this "folded back foundation" piecing method that I will be teaching next week. I always like to work with a technique for several days running before teaching it, just so the process will be second nature again, so that was part of the reason I chose this method to work with this block. It is slick, slick, slick and I am so excited about it now. This is the back after all the piecing is done. I hope you can see that the freezer paper pattern has not been stitched through and because of that, the seams can be pressed any which way and get tucked underneath the pattern as units are sewn together and pressed. Makes for a very tidy package and easy removal. Click on the picture for a larger view.

So identity crisis solved for the moment. Here I have done homage to all that has brought me to this point, without apology and without loathing, but with gratitude and desire to incorporate it still when I can. The next stage of this quilt will speak more to the recent influence of art quilts. It'll all be in there.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Goals for Week of Jan 16th

Wow, the month is really moving along, and I can't seem to get a handle on realistic goal setting. I want the weekly goals to be somewhat ambitious, to push me to accomplish just a bit more than I otherwise might. On the other hand, I'm starting to tire of being so far off week after week. Of course, last week, I failed to take into account the 3 days worth of figure skating (U.S. Nationals) that would keep me in front of the TV. Or the daily half hour updates of the Dakar Rally. Unlike some programs I watch, skating and racing are not ones I can mostly listen to while hand quilting. Mmm. Don't think there's anything like that coming up this week.

Once again, the self-portrait was ignored, although I did think more about how I might do it. If you read the previous post, you know I ran into a bit of a snag on the workshop prep. I revised my lesson plans, but I did not get all the way through a trial run of the demo with the new technique. Something about Mondays, lately, though. I seem to be refreshed and revved up and determined to finish up what's leftover from the previous week if possible. That means that yesterday I completed what I needed to do to prep the workshop, so I can move on. Looks like the journal quilt gets top billing this week in my list of goals:

  1. Finish prep for workshop (including sew 1/2 of block) - completed Monday
  2. Self-portrait journal quilt - started today
  3. Make preliminary sketches for "Changing Perspectives" entry
  4. Complete quilting on side triangle - Lone Star - working on it!

Oh, by the way, I am pleased to report that I kept my resolution to get up one hour earlier each day - Oh, except for that one morning when I'd stayed up until after 2:00 a.m. - extra late even for me.

Update on last week...Workshop Prep

I am in deep trouble...

I mentioned in my goals for last week post that for over a year now, I've sensed a subtle shift in my interest from traditional to more art related quilts. Apparently, the ground is still shifting under my feet and it's quite disturbing. After a day and a half of trying to settle on a suitable group of fabrics for my workshop demo and cutting a few pieces out to help me see better how they were working, I found myself staring at the block, totally uninterested in working on it. Actually, worse than uninterested. I felt a bit of loathing. I wanted to be working on something else, something less structured, something more challenging, something with more curves.

You may wonder what is so disturbing about that. What is disturbing is that the block I will be teaching is the Mariner's Compass block. This is a block I've admired from the beginning of my love affair with quilts. It's probably safe to say it's my favorite traditional block pattern. I spent quite a bit of money taking a three day workshop from one of the masters of the Mariner Compass block. That workshop gave my waning confidence in my abilities an incredible boost. I've been teaching this block in one form or another for 10 years. It's been by far my best and most dependable offering. I recently paid off over three years' worth of layaway payments on a prime example of a classic Mariner's Compass quilt made around 1850. To say the Mariner's Compass block has defined my quilting life would not be an exaggeration. To say many people link me and that block is very true. And now I wanted to turn my back on it. It didn't make sense.

The call to teach the workshop came after I'd made my decision to discontinue teaching altogether. I caved because: a) I've always had good experiences doing workshops for guilds; b) they wanted the Mariner Compass class which I can just about do in my sleep and which I love because it teaches skills applicable to more than just this block; c) I could use the money. Lot's of people have to work doing things they don't particularly like, I reasoned. Why should I be any different? I worried that it was a step back when I was making so much effort to move forward. But once we had settled on using the new book and new method, I convinced myself I could use the workshop as a way to master yet another way of working.

In thinking about how I struggled with my fabric choices, and some of the emotions I'd felt for a couple of days, it soon became clear that because I was prepping for a class, I was falling into old habits and mindsets, bad ones at that. Somewhere along the line, I'd convinced myself that class samples had to have safe and clear fabric choices, which often led to safe and boring blocks. They were uninteresting for me to work on and probably uninspiring to the students. My best examples were often not the sample quilt made specifically for the class, but a quilt from my own collection made for something else. I was always whining that I wish I could use my own fabric instead of being restricted to the selection in the shop. Or, I would listen to the voices with their oughts and shoulds, or my own silly rules instead of trusting my instincts. I found myself doing both as I tried to pull together 4 fabrics keying off a focus fabric, making choices for all the wrong reason and with miserable results. When I finally quit worrying about all that and found combinations comfortable to me, I finally got moving. But there was still that unwillingness to start sewing the block.

More analysis uncovered the other truth about my disenchantment with teaching. I'd discovered after several years of developing new classes and setting up files with teaching aides, it was really bugging me to have all these partial and finished blocks lying around that had to remain forever unfinished. I like to think in terms of how something will look as part of a bigger project, but these bits and pieces had no ultimate destination other than back into the files. I only enjoy doing one-off blocks if I'm sending them off to someone else who will make them a part of a bigger whole. This block for this workshop, I realized, had no bigger whole. I'd picked that focus fabric with the idea of using it as a frame or border, but my mind was saying, "How dull and boring. And I don't have any reason to be making this block right now except for the class. I don't know if I'll ever finish it out." See? My fabric choices were not inspiring me to bigger and better things; my mind was stopped at the edge of the circular block and it had no inclination to go further.

All this reinforced my belief that I'm doing the right thing by giving up teaching. But again, it rather bothered me that I didn't want to work with these fabrics (reproductions that I've collected for years and have always loved to work with) or this block. It felt like someone had knocked my feet out from under me, or cut me adrift in the ocean. I took a day off to think this through, got out of the house for most of it for a change of scenery, came back to the workshop prep on Friday, and most of the animosity had dissipated, thank goodness. I focused on the construction sequences, and technician that I am, found that working through the process gave me a bit of satisfaction and a great deal of relief. My final fabric choices were a bit of nose thumbing at what I think of as convention, so I am much happier. I even started considering how I can jazzily finish it out into a small quilt.

So maybe I'm not in as much trouble as I thought. Going through a bit of an identity crisis, perhaps, but not the end of the world. The ground may be shaking but I think my framework still stands.

Have to share what faced me on Day 2 of the fabric selection process. My studio is a small bedroom that always looks like an explosion hit it when I'm searching for that perfect combination. Good thing I preceeded this with a good straightening up!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

What To Do With Inspiration

Last weekend I talked about how I see, which somewhat explained how my eye interprets and distills the world around me, registering line, texture and color, the basis of inspiration for my work. I have files bulging with pictures and sketches, and my brain is full as well. Finding images that capture my imagination is not a problem. The hard part is knowing what to do with them. And more often than not, I have no idea how to use all these things that strike me as worth remembering. An excellent case in point are these two pictures of the sky taken several days apart back in October. The cloud formations were unusual enough that I raced back inside for my camera. I have no idea how to use them, but I save them just the same.

At the other end of the spectrum, sometimes I know immediately what I want to do with what I see. The leap between inspiration and interpretation into cloth is short. Such was the case with Willow Leaves, the first in a series of experimental pieces attempting to render a scene from one of my walks. As my eyes beheld the street before me, damp from a recent storm and strewn with willows leaves, the thought, "Autumn confetti!" popped into my head. By the time I returned from the walk, I had a great idea for a quilt and started sketching and planning.

In between the two extremes lies a murky area, where various design elements, techniques and ideas (inspiration) come together in unplanned and often unexpected ways. These are perhaps the most exciting quilts to work on, the ones where I notice I have the least control, but attain the best, most creative results. In these cases, I may start with a germ of an idea, heading in one direction, while my subconscious sifts through my "image files" looking for that bit of inspiration that would work better or solve a problem. When all is done and I look back on the path I took getting there, I marvel that often you never know where you're going until you get there. This is the creative part of the journey. I really like how Sally Collins sums it up in her book, The Art of Machine Piecing:
"I have learned that I do not actually "create anything" new, but rather I take inspiration from the things I see around me, from events that happen to me, or often from serendipity...The creative process is one of pulling various existing parts into a new or different whole. It is not originating, or creating the parts and the whole, as much as it is noticing and orchestrating the beauty that is already all around us."
That's all pretty general information. Now let me be a little more specific about how one gets from point A (inspiration) to point B (interpretation or finished work). I'm finding it difficult to organize my thoughts on this into hard & fast categories, but here's one way to look at it. My personal experience tells me it can happen in four ways: 1) Literal interpretation or replication; 2)
lifting an element - shape or color or texture - to add to an unrelated design; 3) distilling the essence to use in a non-representational way or metaphorically; 4) subliminal intervention. Of course, there are times when these arbitrary categories work together in a piece. For instance, a lifted element can be used either literally or distilled. A color combination may appear for no accountable reason, except that somewhere in the recesses of your memory it has been stored without your knowing it, to surface instinctively, subliminally. These are not hard and fast rules here, nor the only paths but at least a place to start.

For me, replication is often the most obvious way to interpret inspiration, and I get stuck there. (Must be all those years of making traditional quilts where replication of block patterns was the norm.) I'm not saying there's anything wrong with working that way, but it's not always the result I want or have the skill to achieve. Yet I can't see past that solution onto something that would satisfy my need to create in fabric in a different way. I crave a little literary license as it were. Lifting an element should come more easily to me - that has been my experience when choosing quilting designs for my traditional quilts, for instance. Something about using nature as inspiration, though, throws me right back to that literal interpretation thing. I discovered that sketching rather than photographing, or sketching from a photograph or painting can help me break out of that, since my drawing skills are very limited. As for distilling the essence, mastering that is something that I think would move my work forward tremendously.

Underlying all this is mastery of technique - many techniques. The best idea in the world, the most perfect design idea, the edgiest vision is nothing without the proper means to execute it. A few years ago when the highway department started cutting trees in preparation for building a bypass highway through my beloved woods, I happened upon one of my birches, lopped off near its base. Wood chips were strewn all about the stump, and the gleaming white trunk lay at an angle where it fell. Ok, it was just a tree, but I was stunned and saddened. The idea for a quilt called "Bypass Fallout" began to form. I knew of just the piece of hand-dyed fabric for its background. It had been folded such that the dye created a pattern not unlike three fir trees. My vision was to enhance that image with thread embellishment, but I had no experience in that technique and didn't know how to go about it. I thought of other details to enhance my design, not knowing how to execute them either, so the quilt has had to wait until I learned and mastered the techniques necessary. I think I'm at that point now, or close enough. I am ready to take a crack at moving from point A to point B.

I spent a year making journal quilts with a friend - not part of the official journal project, but certainly inspired by it. I used that discipline to try out ideas and techniques to take my newfound nature inspirations into reality. Some of them are good examples showing the link between what I see and how to use it. Below is one of the first ones I did, coupled with the photograph used for inspiration. You can see how I copied the birch trees almost exactly from the photo, my main goal to capture their subtle curves. I couldn't think of anything else to do but be fairly representational, but instead of trying to duplicate the background foliage as well, I just quilted in some simple lines to represent the essence of other trees. The bright green background was an attempt to match that fresh new leaf green that was evident everywhere at the time I made the quilt. It wasn't part of the original photograph, but an element lifted from a separate image. This was how I took line, texture and color inspirations from A to B.

Later that year, when the trees started coming down, I used this same design as the basis of a new idea and technique. I was decidedly angry and depressed and there wasn't a thing I could do about what was happening. I suddenly thought,
as long as everyone else is chopping up my trees, I guess I may as well too. I pieced the trunks into the background, taking my color cues from the tans and browns of the wood chips and exposed earth. Then I sliced the piece into random width sections, rearranged them and sewed them back together. This effectively moved me away from a literal translation of the chopped up trees into expressing the essence of the idea through metaphor. (As an aside, I found this process uncomfortable because of the lack of control over the outcome, but I must admit it produced design lines and relationships I would not have drawn if left to my own devices. The source of my discomfort was rooted in my belief that, since I was not responsible for the final result, I shouldn't take credit for it. Me and my control issues.) For the quilting, I tried to replicate the look of the wood chips as texture, lifting that one image from the overall theme to use more literally.

Speaking of texture, I find it very difficult to figure out how to incorporate the texture I see into a textile piece. Again, I seem to have a difficult time being more imaginative than just creating it with quilting or thread painting in a mostly literal sense. I'm just beginning to think how beading, stamping, painting and other fabric manipulation could do that. But back when I was doing this next journal quilt, I was still stuck at threads in my attempt to distill the essence of the texture I saw in a stand of trees, devoid of any leaves or snow. I used several colors of threads to quilt over one of my favorite batiks, my mind thinking vertically like the trees, with a few deviations left and right for the branches. This was very unsatisfying. I realized I'd been using this vertical tree line for quilting on several of my journal quilts and I needed to break out of that thinking. So the last layer of texture was quilted horizontally, which seemed to do the trick to make it more interesting.

Every now and then I experiment with bringing color from the natural world into the studio in order to find a match from my stash. I have so many dried autumn leaves at my disposal that it is ridiculous; I can't seem to stop picking up the red and yellow ones on my walks. One day I had paused while the dog continued her "hunting" and eventually looked down at my feet. The ground was covered with brown leaves. Ugh, I thought, how boring. On closer inspection, I noticed that the "just brown" leaves actually represented a wide range of browns, some with red undertones, some more yellow, some very pale and others quite dark. I picked up an assortment and headed back to the studio. The picture below shows the leaves matched to fabrics and the resulting journal quilt. More metaphor here: My father-in-law had recently died. The decaying leaves reminded me not only of death but rebirth as they add nutrients to the soil for future plant life. The gradation of colors to the yellow represents the transition from death to the afterlife. Wavy vertical quilting lines complete the theme of "Spirits Ascending." I apologize for the quality of the scan. It's much redder than the actual piece. The colors in the fabric selection photo are a little truer.

Another example of using color from nature is this more representational journal quilt which shows how I sometimes see color in swathes. It was nearly dusk when I caught this flash of red out of the corner of my eye. What in the heck is that, I wondered, as I turned to take a closer look. Instead of something solid, the red was composed of many leaves along a branch with those birches as a backdrop. In the fading light, the branch itself was barely visible, and the leaves seemed to float like chiffon in mid-air. So in my rendition, I do not depict the individual leaves, but the essence of the effect they made collectively.

In these previous examples, I had at least some idea of what I wanted to do with a particular inspiration. I took that inspiration and built a quilt around it. Often I can't figure out what to do with an image, try as I may. I put it aside and much later it may be incorporated into another idea lacking a certain element. That's that murky area I spoke of earlier. That's how "Wild on Birch Street" went from a problem design to a problem solved. I'd gotten stuck with a balance issue. I needed something to go in the lower corner to offset the tree branches thrusting through the upper left of the window. Every solution I came up with seemed trite and predictable (cat looking out the window, vase on a table). I sought advise from the AQL group. I believe it was Margaret who suggested introducing free-cut triangular shapes that could also be interpreted as leaves. That set off a lightbulb in my head and sent me to my sketchbook. Months earlier I'd noticed grass that had angular seed heads; the curve of the stem coupled with the angles intrigued me and I came home to play with the idea. Here are four of the six sketches I made that day, but I felt I was going nowhere - not having a complete concept. Now I could see how I could lift the triangle shapes that started as seeds and transform them into a design element suggesting leaves. Some of the triangle shapes ended up in the quilting as well.

And what about subliminal intervention, that knowledge you don't even realize is influencing your work? I often wonder if the reason why so much of my work is dark, that I instinctively reach for darker values for backgrounds, is because of where I grew up. My little town was nestled in a narrow canyon whose steep faces were dense with pines which created a rich dark backdrop to my daily comings and goings. The mountains cast early shadows. Tamaracks turned yellow in fall and the maples turned a brilliant red or orange, colors I use consistently in my work when my brain isn't in overdrive. I'm drawn to fabrics with those colors so much so that friends & relatives describe quilts or textiles they think I'd like as being in "my colors."

Probably the best example I have at the moment of subliminal intervention, though, would be "Darkness Has Not Overcome It," my first real attempt at an art quilt. It was the result of an AQL challenge to work with 4 randomly picked words from a list generated by the participants. My words included "light" and "evening" and my original sketches revolve around a single flame. Yet once I started working with fabric, I realized with a start that two more flames had appeared and wouldn't go away. Eventually, I figured it out - my religious background had worked its subtle way into the design. What began with the idea of showing a single light in evening dusk morphed into a symbolic representation of the Trinity and the scripture from John 1:15: "The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it." I deemed it subliminal intervention at a time when I was recovering from a major loss and needed assurances.

So that's my story. The more I think about seeing and interpreting and creating, the more I realize what I've covered here is only the tip of the iceberg. The journey is indeed long and can be delightfully so. There is so much to learn and experience, so many ideas to convert into cloth.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Tagged, eh?

Well, now I feel I've arrived in the blogosphere! I've been seeing this tagging going on and wondered how it started, what it was all about. And yes, felt a little like that chubby gradeschool child I once was who always seemed to be on the outside looking in, rarely included in the play. So thank you Linda for the tag!

Four Jobs You've Had:
Clerk in a drugstore near the UC Berkely campus (students wanting to buy condoms had to come to the counter and ask - we evil clerks prolonged their embarassment as long as we could!)
School Secretary (oops, I mean, "Administrative Assistant")
Asst. to the ad manager in a major department store (being able to type was the main requirement)
"Educational Sales & Service" position with a major music store (fancy title for someone who rented a lot of band instruments and sold a lot of valve oil) They begrudgingly let me fill in as a traveling rep to the schools for 6 weeks while they found a man to "really" fill the opening. Actually, while it was fun for a change, I didn't want to do it on a regular basis.

Four Movies You Could Watch Over and Over:
Star Trek: Wrath of Khan
Tequila Sunrise
The Hunt for Red October
An American In Paris

Four Places You've Lived:
Spokane, WA
Berkeley, CA (9 months and I wasn't even in college or demonstrating)
Walla Walla, WA (always good for a joke)
Tacoma, WA (and that did it - we bolted for WI)

Four TV Shows you love to Watch:
Desperate Housewives
Battlestar Gallactica
Boston Legal
Any of the BBC murder mysteries, like Waking the Dead and Touching Evil

Four Places You've Been on Vacation:
Victoria, B.C.
Jackon Hole WY
Along the northern shore of Lake Superior - Thunder Bay to Sault Ste Marie is spectacular on a motorcycle

Four Websites You Visit Every Day:
I have 1/2 a dozen or so blogs I check on now nearly everyday, but nothing I check daily.
If I didn't get posts e-mailed to me, I'd be reading them daily on the Alternative Quilt List (yahoo group)

Four Of Your Favorite Foods:
mashed potatoes
fried green tomatoes (really - even before the movie came out)
cherry pie

Four Places You'd Rather Be:
Northern Idaho
New Zealand
studying the quilts in museum collections
getting a massage

Four Albums You Can't Live Without:
That is so unfair. I can barely pick four within each genre I enjoy. But here's a go:
"Full Sail" by Loggins & Messina
"Ridin' High" by Robert Palmer
"Cold Spring Harbor" by Billy Joel
"Brain Salad Surgery" or "Love Beach" by Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Plus please let me throw in one classical too...

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Goals for Week of Jan 9th

I only met half of my goals from last week: No journal quilt, no getting those contest deadlines on the calendar, only half of the hand quilting completed. I must have over-estimated how long everything would take, because I really did put in quite a bit of time, even into the weekend. I completed the two most important goals - revising and mailing the workshop supply list and piecing the WFW top. Plus I spent quite a bit of time on Sunday's post of "How I See" which led to some revelations. In other words, I am not upset or down on myself for not reaching every goal on that list. I just think that I was overly optimistic again.

Yesterday was all about "housekeeping" and boy did it feel good. I have learned that one of the things that definitely does not nurture my creativity is clutter, especially clutter left over from other projects. I realized I had quite a bit of clutter lying about from the flurry of finishing a lot of projects in December, and I'd failed to document the work. I am pretty meticulous about this documenting process, having devised a form that I print on large Manila folders and file chronologically in 3-ring binders. I generally take the time right away to fill the form out with at least minimal info - Name, size, techniques, start & end dates. I glue fabric swatches next to where a picture will go and note batting and "other things about this quilt" which usually covers inspiration, struggles, details that might come in handy in an entry form description. Notes, mock-ups, extra pictures, copies of contest info, anything else pertinent to the creation of this quilt eventually get filed in the envelop and notes made on the outside concerning where the quilt has been and if it won anything. I even count up the days spent working on it, sub-totaling the various stages, and estimate the cost of the materials used in it.

So here I was wanting to clean up a bit before launching into the next task, grabbing a few stray papers that needed to go in the envelopes of older quilts and staring at the last envelop in the binder - a quilt finished in May. Could this be? Had I not finished anything between May and December? I know I have a lot of things in progress, and that I went through a bit of a dry spell over the summer, but this was stunning and disturbing, so much so that I couldn't focus on documenting the three pieces I'd recently finished.

Instead, I decided to work on updating my calendar. I'd felt the panic rising all last week as I worked on the one contest quilt and received e-mail reminders about a deadline on another. Crowding in were concerns about what had to be done for the workshop 3 weeks away. And remembering that I'd have to start on taxes soon. And, and, and... Yes, I really needed to get at least a part of my life onto a calendar so my mind would quit rushing ahead of itself. I had some information in hand, but spent a good part of the morning pulling more off the internet, then sat down with it all and that blank calendar.

I made an interesting discovery during that process - a change I first felt coming on over a year ago. I've been entering traditional quilt shows since 1993 and only in the last few years had started seeking out less traditional venues. There are a few shows I enter every year, others only if prize money is involved and I think I have a quilt with a good chance to win something. I had a run of winning at least 1 ribbon each year and I found myself trotting my quilts around to shows until they won something. Entering competitions is a lot of work, and sometimes a lot of money and by 2005 I could feel myself tiring of it. My interests were shifting, I wanted the opportunity to sell something, I wanted a break. I looked at the ribbons on my wall and thought, I have ten years in a row of winning ribbons; that's a pretty good run. Would it be such a tragedy if I didn't win one this year? I decided not and that took a lot of pressure off. I still entered a few contests, and I even won a ribbon, but my focus was definitely changing.

As I sifted through my stack of entry information yesterday, I was amazed at how very uninterested I was in the old standbys I'd always turned to. Instead, I found myself tossing those and seriously looking at ones catering to art quilts or offering opportunities to sell the work. They seemed to be challenging me to stretch myself, and they reminded me of the quilts I meant to make in 2005. It refocused me and clarified that my priorities had changed. I had to quit operating out of habit. I have always struggle with change, not wanting to let go of anything, but am slowly making myself do it. Here was one more thing to let go, and instead of sadness or regret, I felt the load lightened and a bit of relief.

I finished up the documentation today. In the process of going back through my engagement calendar for start dates, I discovered what I had done with that time between May and December. I'd made blocks for a benefit quilt. I'd pieced my guild's queen-size raffle quilt. I'd squared up and joined blocks donated to the guild for a wall quilt. I pieced another top for my guild's charity project and on a whim, made and hand-quilted a matching doll quilt from the leftovers. I'd spent many evenings appliqueing. I'd machine quilted a lap quilt for a friend in exchange for sealing a new quilt hoop stand. I guess it wasn't as dry a spell as I'd thought. When I added the two Christmas gifts to the 3 quilts I recently finished, I now had 5 documentation pages to add to my binder. I definitely felt better about myself.

I also discovered that my documentation form doesn't quite fit the way I'm working lately, doesn't ask the right questions to glean the information I need to record. Another indication that I am indeed shifting and changing. A revision of my whole filing system may be in order. But not today.

Today, I have to tell you what else I plan to accomplish this week. I think I will keep it simple:
  1. Work through and revise workshop lesson plans, including making sample block stages (started today!)
  2. Still want to make that self-portrait journal quilt
  3. Finish hand quilting in triangle of Lone Star Quilt
Oh, yeah, and I resolved this week to get up 1 hour earlier every day. So far so good, but it's after 1:00 a.m. so tomorrow will be a challenge!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

How I See

This is for Felicity and all the rest of you who crave knowing more about how inspiration and surroundings influence work. Bless your curiosity - it got me thinking about just what it is I see and how that makes its way into some of my quilts. Bear in mind, though, that the following observations are generalizations. As I sorted through my thoughts, I realized that for each area I identified, I could immediately think of exceptions. But I think this is a good start to understanding how I see.

As I've mentioned in "Where Inspiration" I glean many (but not all) ideas from nature. So I thought I'd use, among others, some of the pictures I took last weekend to illustrate what I mean. Click on any of them for a larger view.

I think it is fair to say I see in three basic ways and often in this order: 1) line; 2) texture; and 3) color. Does it surprise you that color would be last? It surprised me a bit, but after careful consideration, I decided that at least these days, that is true. Now let me explain what I mean by each category.

When I refer to line, I mean not just a straight line, but curved and undulating lines as well. I also cannot separate line from shape, which afterl all, is just a line whose beginning and end meet. Sometimes contrast enters in, because without it, a line or shape would have no definition. Traditional quilt designs are all about line and shape, and those endless patterns made up of lines and contrast were what originally fascinated me. I'm thinking the real connection between what I observed in nature and quilt designs started when I moved to this area about 5 years ago, and started walking regularly through a heavily wooded area nearby. It was mostly pines with some oak trees, and against this dark backdrop, the occasional stark white of birch tree trunks that naturally caught the eye. Light and dark wasn't the only contrast my eye picked up on. I found myself interested in the gentle curves of the birch trunks, interrupted by very few branches, so different from the straight and heavily branched trunks of the pines. About this same time I was losing my fear of curved piecing and applique thanks to some techniques picked up in workshops. This opened the door to so many more design possibilities as I gained confidence in being able to execute them. That undoubtedly led to my eye being more attracted to curves in nature and a near obsession with subtle curves and interesting shapes.

Here is a shot from last weekend. There's a lot going on in this picture, but my eye was focused on the curve of the tree in the center. Secondary to that, I noticed the interesting contrast set up by the way the snow covered the right side of the trees nearer and to the right, echoing the line of the trunk Lastly, I noticed the angles created by the trees that had been snapped off near their bases in a recent storm. So when I look at a scene, I usually am not looking at it as a whole composition, but at individual components that may or may not be used together.

To the left of this shot is a grassy area. The recent heavy snow had bent the clumps of grass into interesting shapes. Perhaps I found them interesting because I knew that normally they would be stalks rising perfectly straight in the air. I think I was also attracted by the fact that it was not just one clump shaped into a curve, but repeating similar shapes creating a certain rhythm to the scene.
And lest these pictures make you think I live on the edge of the wilderness, they are taken in a section not much bigger than a city block hemmed in by houses and roads. Note in the picture below that it overlooks a 4-lane highway!Texture
After line, I often see texture. Texture is created by intersecting lines and curves, or a denseness of line and curve, parallel or at angles. Here is grass from a different spot, this time maintaining more of its individuality, so rather than shape, I am seeing how the blades overlap to create an interesting texture.Here are two other examples of texture. They are formed by the many small dark branches of the trees as outlined by the snow. In the one to the right, I see the interesting lines, then the background texture of the branches. In the one below, my eye is seeing past the larger lines created by the trunks and focusing on that fine texture.

Usually it is fabric that gives me my color cues. I don't think I consciously looked to nature until I was encouraged to do so by Jinny Beyer and Joen Wolfrom. For a gal who grew up in the woods of Idaho, I was woefully unaware of the variety of greens nature successfully combines, greens that I was taught clashed. No way would I combine them in my quilt! In fact, after reading about these greens in Joen's book, I marched right out to my favorite stand of trees to prove her wrong. To my amazement, I indeed saw as many as 6 different greens, all working beautifully together towards a richer more interesting scene.

Once I started appliqueing, I began looking more closely at flowers, leaves and landscapes in general for color cues. At one point I was collecting iris patterns and was thrilled to discover an extensive iris garden along my morning route. I only meant to get some ideas of different colors I could use (did they come in more than purple?), and just what color were those fuzzy parts near the center? On close examination, I discovered an amazing array of hues, tints, and shades used in combinations I had not considered.

Other than these examples, I usually do not look specifically for color. It tends to find me, after my eye has assessed line and texture to move on to subtle shadings, stark contrasts, unexpected combinations. More likely, it takes me by surprise. I notice certain colors at certain times of the year, like the particular green of new leaves in spring or the turquoise tint of a winter sky.
Swaths of color catch my attention too as in a hillside turned russet and gold in autumn. In the picture to the left, I wasn't seeing individual leaves but the layering and placement of the yellow and orange accented by streaks of black and white. I was envisioning a pieced design having nothing to do with leaves and trees but using those colors in those placements and proportions.

Occasionally I note how two colors play off each other like the red of the mountain ash berries against this blue sky. Those orange-red berries popped! I have to admit, when I think red and blue, I'm more apt to choose a burgundy or brick and a stronger blue, probably navy. This red was a revelation at the time.

And while we're looking at the sky, let's not forget sunsets. I can't begin to describe all I've seen in them. Talk about a range of hue, tint, shade and tone, all shifting and changing until all dissolves into grey and black. Parts shimmer, others are simply pale. Some colors are vibrant and saturated. They all work together, in spite of my tendency to believe they can't. They always make me puzzle over how I can recreate them in fabric.

In a separate post, I'll talk specifically about and show examples of how all this plays into my quilting.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

About fabric choice...

At some point early in my quilting career, someone of authority said it didn't matter if you liked a fabric if it was the color you needed for your quilt. I was skeptical, but inexperienced, and these were the days of a limited selection of quilting fabrics, most being those tiny floral "calicos." I needed a certain golden yellow to depict a small sun in my blocks; the only fabric remotely close was one of those calicos, and I really didn't like it. With the authority's words crowding out my own judgment, I purchased the print and put it in my quilt. The suns were so small, I reasoned, that you really wouldn't see the print, just the right color. However, every time I looked at the finished quilt, my eye went straight to the offending fabric and I was never really happy with it.

A year or so later, I found myself in a similar predicament. This was a more ambitious project needing many more fabrics, but the selection in the stores had only slightly improved. I played it a little smarter this time, bringing home many options. I was playing off a "hearts" theme, so one of those options had tiny hearts on it. Seemed like a good idea at the time. In the end, it was rejected and that is how this fabric, incorporated in my WFW quilt, wound up in my fabric stash.

I rarely work with heart motifs - it's just not me. That's probably why this fabric has been hanging around for so long. Even if it were the right color and value, I would be hesitant to include it because of those hearts, remembering my experience with that first yellow fabric. These "bad" fabric choices are all right for charity quilts, but even then I find I have a hard time using them.

I'm not sure why that "authority" gave the advice she did, or if she still believes it. I just know that it didn't work for me. Once I started teaching, I always told my students to only buy and use fabric they really loved. Otherwise they would run the risk of being disappointed as I was, of their eye always gravitating to the offending fabric. It's worth the time and effort to search for not only the perfect color but also the perfect print or style in a fabric that you love.

If you look closely, you'll see that the light fabric also has hearts on it. I purchased it for not a lot of money specifically to use in these Warmth from Wisconsin quilts. Each entry has to incorporate a starter block from the store which has an appliqued heart on it. Here we go with the heart theme again. Not my style, but works for this. Makes me a little uncomfortable, but I don't have to live with it. The dark fabric is one I snagged from my guild's bin. No one else wanted to work with it and as a general rule, I like working with browns. The plaid is a Roberta Horton that I found on sale. It is the one fabric in this quilt that I truly love and possibly the only thing that made the constant repetitions of this pattern bearable.

Quilting Aerobics

Maybe it's the fact that it's been cold and grey and dreary most of the week. Or that the quilt I've been working on is rather dark and dreary as well. Or maybe it's the a sensitive tooth that decided to act up and take my sinuses with it. All I know is that my cheery mood deteriorated as the week wore on, leaving me with a feeling of doom this morning. Even the dog has been lethargic all day.

Still, the sewing machine has been humming along for the last three days, getting that Warmth From Wisconsin quilt pieced. So much for my ability to estimate the time it takes to put together traditional work: I truly thought I could sew the units in a couple of days, three at most. By the end of day two it was obvious I needed more time, but even steady work yesterday only got me as far as the blocks sewn into rows. Drat. I really didn't want to work on it today, but I also didn't want to have to work on it next week.

Twyla Tharp (The Creative Habit), says sometimes all you need to do to get going is to move, i.e. do something physical. The walk this morning didn't improve my attitude, so I decided to vacuum rather than put it off to the afternoon as planned. That finally did it. By the time I'd finished, I was ready to sew those rows together. The quilt also has a plain border, but as I said, I didn't want to tie up my whole day on this quilt. I'll give it just one hour, I decided. That was just what I needed to sew the rows. But now I was tantalizingly close to being done - how much longer could adding the borders take? I thought maybe an hour, but it was closer to two. There went my computer time, but at least I can set it aside now until after I give that workshop (see goals for this week). Not quite falling within the "Rule of Three" but darn close.

I believe I predicted that working on this quilt would be "soothing grunt work." Grunt work it certainly was but I don't know about the soothing part. It felt more like doing aerobics. Day 1 was like warming up. It's been awhile since I've just sat and sewed continually for any length of time and I think you have to build up a tolerance for it. Checking the directions and sewing the first stripsets and cutting them was like stretching my muscles. By the end of that first session, I was getting my rhythm back, starting to move, getting to the aerobic part. Day 2 I was still moving right along, sending those units through the machine making long chains. I'd hit the jogging-in-place part, the constant repetition and I soon felt the enthusiasm wearing thin. How many more of these identical pieces are there left to sew together, for pity sake? I ended the day "cooling off" pressing seams to one side. Day 3 & 4 felt like the part of aerobics when you'd just rather stay in bed. Now you know what's involved, you're a bit bored with it all, but you've got to do it anyway.

Granted, I did not pick the most interesting palette to work with, but then again my intention was to use up some fabric on hand and end up with a utilitarian quilt. In this pattern's defense, I have to say it is clear, concise and accurate. It would be a great quilt for a beginner - minimal pinning and includes pressing instructions so all seams abut. I could even see how interesting it might be made up in batiks or more scrappy. However, making 40 identical units, then 40 more with fabrics reversed, which then go together to make 20 identical blocks was something that made me lose interest pretty fast.

By the way, what are the chances that every intersection would perfectly match if this quilt were going to a regular judged show? Exactly - slim to none. Yet every single one does. Maybe I should care less more often!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Observation on Work Habits

I'm not sure this is directly related to goal setting, but I suspect if I had not been setting arbitrary weekly goals, it would not have happened. What happened was this: I acted on an idea before it faded, before it even had a reason for being. I don't usually work this way. I am nothing if not methodical, even plodding. I am very progressional in deciding the order in which things get done. I am more likely to say "No, wait your turn" to an exciting new idea than let it go to the top of the list for immediate exploration. Its only chance of moving up in priority is if it will result in a finished product to fill an immediate need, say a challenge contest entry or a gift. My studio and my brain are littered with exciting ideas set aside for when I have time to pursue them...after the ideas that proceeded them chronologically are completed. No doubt that order and priority have an important role in the grand scheme of things, but I suspect that my habit of saying, "Not this until that is finished," or "No time to play - too much 'real' work to finish," has not served me well where my art is concerned.

I came to this conclusion in a lightbulb moment as I studied my piece with the stamping (which by the way, I think I will be calling "Changing Seasons"). I'd been putting off the experiment with stamping for at least 2 years, yet that one afternoon of play triggered the idea for this quilt. Maybe by chance I would have tossed other fabric squares on the table at some other time and triggered a similar response, but I think that not likely. There was no "good" reason to follow up so quickly with working up the idea - this little piece has no where to go, no real reason for being. Yet in working through it, I may have stumbled upon a form or way of designing that will finally move my art quilting forward in a way that has alluded me so far. This unimportant, unplanned, unpretentious plaything may have led to a breakthrough. By letting it go to the top of the list, it may have filled an immediate need I've been downplaying or thought could be achieved through more progressional, methodical means.

We shall see. All I know is that it was quite an exciting feeling after so many months of being unsatisfied with my work and not knowing what to do about it. It showed me the importance of flexibility in scheduling. It reminded me that I will not discover and grow if I remain in such tight control of the work and process. That will be a huge concession for me because I am all about control.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Goals for Week of Jan 2nd

The parade's over and it's time to get back to work! In fact, I was so angry at myself last night about not reaching last week's hand quilting goal that I did it before going to bed. There! Now I can feel like I'm starting off fresh this week.

Last week I wrote in my guild's newsletter: "I am clinging to the last few days of 2005 like a school child who dreads the end of Christmas vacation...I've maintained a certain freedom from dealing with the serious stuff of the outside world that will surely disappear once the calendar flips to January." And sure enough, even before I could flip the calendar, I received the call confirming that the workshop I'm scheduled to teach at the end of the month will be using an updated book, requiring me to revise my supply list, lesson plans, even demo pieces. Studio time will have to be shared with workshop prep, but that is not an entirely bad thing. It's forcing me to move forward with a technique I've only somewhat dabbled with, in spite of my intentions to explore it more. It will become a part of my creative journey and take its place among my weekly goals.

More reality: It's time to get serious about my Warmth From Wisconsin (WFW) entry, which over-optimistically showed up in last week's goals. This is a local contest sponsored by the Pfaff/Bernina dealer, a quilt shop and a radio station to generate quilts for the needy in Montery, Mexico. Prizes include cash and gift certificates, but really, the draw to entering is that your quilt will end up in the hands of someone who really needs it. Judging criteria is quite different too. The winning quilts must be durable and preferably made from fabrics that won't readily show dirt. That doesn't mean people enter "ugly" quilts by any means. But it does shift the emphasis from counting stiches per inch to will this quilt hold up to abuse. Many are tied and polyester batting is actually preferable to cotton because it dries faster. Mine will be from a Mystery quilt pattern this year - I didn't have time to participate when the series was running in the guild newsletter (except to get the strips cut), but knew I could make it work for this contest. Not much creative about this, but it will be satisfying to work on, soothing "grunt work" (or woodchopping as my friend Bill calls it - Hi Bill!). Deadline is February 11 and I don't want to wait until the last minute, so will get going on that this week.

I also feel a journal quilt coming on. If I'm a good girl this week, I will allow myself a play day to work on it. So here's what I plan to do this week:
  1. Revise workshop supply list and mail. (Finished today!)
  2. Piece WFW quilt
  3. Make self-portrait journal quilt
  4. Hand quilt main motif in side triangle of Lone Star quilt
  5. Transfer contest/exhibit info to calendar

Monday, January 02, 2006

Update on last week...Another balancing act

Here's my quilt using those stamped squares from a week ago and I am so pleased. As I stated in my goals for last week, I wanted to pursue this before I lost the idea but wasn't sure how long it would take. There is no piecing involved and it is only 17-1/2 x 11-1/2 inches, so you would think it would whip right up. However, since the fabric squares were not picked with the idea of using them together, there was a question of whether I could find the proper background and arrangement to make them work. That black (actually a very dark midnight blue) really draws the eye and I couldn't make it smaller to balance the visual impact.

I went to my batik stash once again with a particular piece in mind...a bit muted with greens and dark blues and golds running through a viney leaf pattern to continue the design of the commercial stamp. But I always try additional fabrics even if I think I've hit upon the perfect one. Eventually I had 6 or 7 candidates and through the process of elimination came back to my original choice and a second one that was a little zippier. Then on a whim, I pulled out the piece you see here. It was not as bright as another purple I'd had out, but definitely made those squares pop instead of recede in a muddled mess like my favorite. I put the two on the design wall and kept switching the squares back and forth between the two until I couldn't deny any more that I needed to use the bolder piece. This process also gave me a chance to rearrange the squares into different placements and positions.

Yes, here I was again, working with three squares trying to work out an asymmetrical arrangement that looked balanced. The overlapping was making it harder and I eventually spent a little time reviewing balance and proportion information in Joen Wolfrom's book The Visual Dance and it helped. I was amused (and a little disheartened) to find in her section on asymmetrical design no hard & fast rules, but the suggestion to "attempt to work intuitively as much as possible. Allow time for your design to simmer in your mind; don't rush your progress. Give yourself time to see your design when you are not actively working on it." Ok, good advice, but my intuition has failed me in the past and I wanted to finish this up in a couple days! Well, I could certainly set it aside until the next day and see if I was still happy with the last arrangement I came up with.

Next day, I was totally happy with the background and had pinned the squares together to preserve the arrangement, noting where on the background they fell. I squared up the background fairly close to a figure on Joen's Golden Mean chart. Then with it positioned on grids of the cutting mat I laid down the squares. Ah heck. They still didn't look quite right, so I penciled a few marks so I knew where I'd started and began shifting and changing the overlaps again. It didn't take long to come up with this which I felt comfortable with. I used a little glue baste to secure them, then pinned a tearaway stabilizer underneath and satin stitched around the raw edges. I wasn't sure about using the black, but once it was around the first square, I couldn't believe how good it looked.

I used Hobbs 80/20 black batt and did minimal quilting with rayon thread. Felt very iffy about how that looked. But when I looked at it the next day, I was quite surprised at how much I liked this piece. Went from hoping it would be good enough to sell to perhaps liking it too much to part with it. One more square-up and applied a single fold binding. Hand-stitched it to the back last night.

As for my other goals, I didn't do as well. I only spent one night on the handquilting so did not reach that goal. And as for the WFW quilt I think I threw it in more as wishful thinking than any real belief that I'd find time to sew strip sets. That can easily move to this week.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

New Year's Traditions

Watching the Rose Parade on New Year's Day has been part of my ritual since HGTV started airing it live and uninterrupted. I get up in time to make coffee and fry some eggs to go with pastries before settling in on the couch, in my jammies, under a quilt, with said breakfast and a glass of orange juice spiked with champagne left over from the night before. The drumbeats of a marching band makes my heart race (yes, I was in band AND a majorette in high school) and I love those imaginative floats. It's my little treat to myself that gets the New Year off to a pleasant start. But as most of you probably know, the parade isn't until tomorrow, a fact that alluded me until last night. So I was in a bit of a state over how to spend this morning to make it special (Do I spike the OJ or not? Do I save the pastry for tomorrow?). And then, do I watch the parade tomorrow like I'd normally do, even though I'd planned a regular work day? Oh the trauma! Well, yeah I'll be watching the parade. Sheesh.

My other tradition for the day is getting my new calendars up. I love this ritual almost as much as watching the parade. There's something about a fresh calendar that exudes hope and optimism and opportunity, unlike the one it replaces which may be full of disappointments and lost opportunities and too many things to do. It also represents a chance to start over and a freedom that soon dissipates once appointments and meetings and other obligations begin to fill it. But on this day, I am only transferring birthdays and anniversaries from the old calendar to the new. It gives me a chance to reflect on those people I remember on their special days. Paging through the old year also reminds me of trips I took, friends I lunched with, special people I lost and others I gained. Some years are more pleasant to remember than others. This one was not so bad compared to several from a few years back.

That's my kitchen calendar, the overall ruler of my days. I also have a Diane Phalen calendar I hang in my bedroom. She paints pleasant country scenes with quilts draped about. I make no notations on this calendar - it is purely for pleasure.

Then there are the two calendars in my studio. One is the AQS engagement calendar that I use to notate and track my daily progress on projects. It also has some space at the end for notes. I use it to list what I'd like to finish in the new year and also look back at how well I did meeting my goals of last year. Some years I really don't want to look at those goals, knowing how few of them I've reached. Other years I find I've done pretty well. Once I've scoped out the "resolutions" I don't look at this page until the next year. It would undoubtedly be better if I peeked at it now and then to see if I'm on track, but I've never used it in this way. Something to think about.

The other calendar in my studio is a wall calendar where I notate contest deadlines. I usually try to find something quilt related, often traditional, but two years ago I found one with inspirational quotations and beautiful outdoor photography that seemed to fit the artistic path I'd begun to follow. Anyway, this calendar usually doesn't get dealt with today, but sometime this week I'll collect the contest info I've gathered so far, assess it for overlaps and fit with quilts ready (or soon to be ready) to go, then get those dates blocked out on it. This is my calendar for keeping my quilting on track.

I also have a pocket calendar for my purse which duplicates the kitchen calendar. Hopefully it keeps me out of double-booking when I'm out and about. For awhile, I tried to maintain a separate engagement calendar just for scheduling classes and workshops. I was forever setting these up on the phone NOT by the kitchen calendar and it felt more professional to have this special calendar by my office phone. But I found it meant updating 3 calendars with this info, and more than once the kitchen calendar, the ruler of my days, would get the info incorrectly transferred to it. I've stopped teaching now (with the exception of one last guild workshop at the end of the month) so only need a simple one-page calendar by that phone.

I've been posting my weekly studio goals here and I will continue to do so. I'm glad I did not take my usual tact of waiting to the new year to turn over a new leaf and change my daily habits. It has made me feel more in control as I stand at the threshold of 2006, more able to seize opportunities that may present themselves, more confident that I can make real progress. What I'll not do here is set out any long term goals, resolutions or the like. Not yet at least. But I will share that I plan to make serious progress towards my goal of relocating to the West. I'm not sure I'm prepared to say it WILL happen in 2006 - many factors yet to be explored and worked out - but I think it is a real probability. And I do think it is time I make it happen.