Monday, July 31, 2006

Goals for Week of July 31st

Although I got a lot accomplished last week, I'm keeping my goals for this week modest. I anticipate that a couple of outings during the week will slow me down a bit.

1. Grid 2: cut, arrange & satin stitch squares to background.
2. Finish piecing the mariner's compass block started as demo for workshop.
3. Quilt on Lone Star.

Grid 2 is what I was getting all excited about on Saturday, but limited myself to picking out a couple of candidates for the squares. It will be the same basic set-up as "Easter in America." I want to actually work through a series for a change, instead of just talking about it. When sketching out layouts for Easter in America, I came up with lots of ideas for interpreting this simple 3 x 3 grid design that would allow me to explore some basic principles in a way I have not allowed myself. I see it giving me a format for working with couched threads and possibly decorative stitching. I'm hoping the exercise will help me get over my knee jerk fear of specialty threads and perhaps out of a rut in terms of palette.

The mariner's compass block is a bit of a backslide, but if I finish it up, that's one more stack of fabric I can put away. I wasn't as enthused about completing it out as I would have been even a year ago, but as I've said before, these unfinished projects drive me a bit batty and tie up fabric that might be used in more current work. Still, it's been hard to motivate myself to sew on it because I didn't want to make yet another wall hanging, nor did I want to make additional blocks for a bigger quilt. Then it occurred to me that the colors work well with my livingroom decor and I could finish it out as an alternate cover for one of my throw pillows. I wouldn't even have to quilt it! Now with an actual outcome in mind, I'm a bit more enthused.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Desire to Work Returns

So, week's goals are met (yes, I've even been stitching on the Lone Star); I can quit now and go do something else, right? But a funny thing happened on the way to quilt that batting sample. It was to be the warm-up to stitching down the trunks on the Chinese Poem Challenge, a task I planned to put at the top of the list for next week. But why wait? I could feel the creative urge returning, the inability to focus dissipating, the desire to work welling up. It's been awhile since I've felt any excitement, too long that I've felt distracted, eons is seems since enthusiasm and not just guilt have motivated me in the studio. Perhaps it hasn't been as long as it feels, but I do know I've been tiring of the sense that what I did accomplish was because I made myself work, not because I couldn't wait to get to work. These are the times that makes one wonder if one's lost interest and needs to move on. But not today. Today I definitely want to be in here creating!

I've been thinking about one of the sunprinted pieces I'd reworked and planned to use as the background for a second grid quilt. As I put away the freshly washed batiks, I couldn't stop myself from going through the rest of my stash to see which of them might make good squares. I settled on two, grabbed a packet of decorative threads that might work with it and will play with it next week (even though the overwhelming urge was to proceed right now!)

And now to the challenge quilt. It's been on the design wall for a bit, and I wasn't sure I'd arranged the trunks on the best part of the fabric. I was hedging a bit too about how to sew them down. I referred back to my journal quilt journal to jog my memory of how I'd done it on this quilt.

These trunks were cut on the bias so I didn't have to worry about fraying edges. My notes said that with the tight weave of the batik background, I didn't need to use stabilizer and I'd just pinned the trunks in place. I found myself not believing me plus I wasn't sure which color thread would look best, so I tried a sample.

The bottom part of the trunk is free motion stitched with white Madeira 30 wt rayon thread. The upper part is done with Sulky Ultra Twist - a black and a greenish-grey thread twisted together. I opted for the darker Sulky rayon. I ran the stitching over the edge to keep fraying at a minimum. And I was not lying in my journal notes - by holding the background fabric taut with my hands, there was no need for hooping or a stabilizer, no drawing up of the piece. I'm still amazed at this. The color in the scan of the sample is a little truer than the picture below, brightened by the flash.

A Good Week, A Good Day

...Well, except for the fact that I'm still waiting for that call which will determine whether or not I get the rental in Sandpoint. Much better that I had a work plan for the week to keep me occupied.

I finished updating my tech journal, and it so motivated me that I went out with my Michael's 40% off coupon and got a photo album for the trip photos from last year. Yes, it's been bugging me that I had these beautiful shots of Northern Idaho, the reunion, the visit with my Walla Walla friends and the visit with my brothers in Raleigh still in envelops lying about here and there. Tired of the magnetic page albums I've always used, I picked up the kind with pockets and a small space to write in the details. Much nicer and all the pictures are in it, although I still need to go back and write those notes.

This felt so good, getting all these things corralled where I could find and enjoy them, that I also updated the scrapbook where I've filed pictures I've taken at various shows over the years, and also ones I've torn out of magazines. Besides being a reference to design ideas, quilting motifs and color combinations, it's an interesting record of changing trends in the quilt world as well as how my own interests changed. It's pretty obvious the year I fell in love with applique quilts, for instance, and once I started fabric dyeing, quilts using hand-dyes fill the pages. I'm taking far fewer pictures these days, but I'd taken quite a few at the Sun Prairie Quilt Show back in March. In to their album they went. This was more organizing than I'd planned for the week, but all on my mind to do before the move. I almost wanted to exclaim, "TA da!"

Instead, I decided to take advantage of the cleared space on the table and wash and set a stack of batiks. You know how the dye just runs out of them, so I'm in the habit now of at least rinsing by hand til the water is mostly clear, then washing. I decided to treat this batch with Retayne as well just to be safe. Then ironed and laid them out on the table. Wow, I haven't accomplished this much in ages! I caught myself really studying these batiks to see how the designs were laid down and in what sequence. Much to be learned from them for my own attempts at surface design. Here are a few of them.

That only left machine quilting the batting sample which I did this morning. Here it is before washing - a good example of the different look machine quilting (on the left) has versus handquilting (on the right) I've always said machine quilting has a much harder edge and look to it, a look I don't always want. However, motifs are often lost in the natural puckering of hand quilting. You just have to know which look is best for the piece or gives you the effect you like.

Friday, July 28, 2006

More on Sandpoint

Here are a few more pictures from my trip. This vendor was set up just like this in the same place last year when I was visiting. Takes me back to my days in Berkeley and oddly enough, my first thought this time was, Is this the competition? Well, no, not really. I don't plan to do a lot of dyeing or painting of fabric to sell, nor do I plan to set up outside like this no matter what I may be thinking of selling.

But I think we always check out the competition wherever we go, even when we don't plan to compete. Always this curiosity - is anyone else doing what I'm doing? That was exactly the purpose of me checking out the Artist Cooperative Gallery, and the answer appeared to be "No." That is not to say no one is doing art quilts in Sandpoint, just that they are not using the Gallery to market their wares.

The textile pieces that were represented are more fiber related - painted silk scarves and silk batik panels on handbags, felted wool made into hats and other items, llama wool dyed, spun and woven into shawls. I seriously considered what my current work would look like mixed in with the rest of the artwork, predominantly paintings and photographs, and decided I still have a ways to go to look like I belong. Most of the artwork was very good. On the plus side, I noted that many of the pieces reflected the area in which they were made - mountain scenes, wildlife, local flora. That would make sense, particularly with the tourist trade. Who hasn't wanted to bring back a souvenir reminding them of something specific about the place visited? And these nature themes are exactly what I am working with at present. Time to get to that level of quiet sophistication I've talked about so I'll feel comfortable exhibiting my work next to more mainstream art mediums.

One thing about the Sandpoint area that may take some getting used to are the trains. They tell me 120 pass through every day, With all those mountains and all that water, there's no place for the trains but right there along the roads, rumbling along and tooting regularly. Well, I DID grow up with that!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Labels & Records

Labels...every quilt needs one. Long ago I figured out how to print them off on my dot matrix printer (the ink is permanent when heat set) and have a template set up on my computer so it takes little time to produce one. I generally hand stitch them on, although I've been known to fuse them on occasion, and am usually disappointed with the wobbly edges I end up with. You know, the edges have to be pressed under, and eyeballing that quarter inch turn-under doesn't produce the squarest, straightest lines.

Today as I readied the label for "Silver Birches" I had one of those "duh" moments. Why not mark the turnunder line with a ruler right on the label? Worked like a charm. I also used Beacon Fabri-Tac glue to hold the seam allowance in place, especially on the corners, then used it again to tack the label to the back of the quilt rather than pinning. If applied evenly out to the edges, Fabri-tac would create a permanent bond, but I just wanted it to kind of baste things in place, so ran a quick slip stitch all around. Wow! I don't think I've ever had a label come out so perfect!

I also worked on my tech journal today. It is 8 x 10 - a lined journal with padded cover and ribbon page marker complete with beads dangling on the end. I found it on sale at Office Depot, so cheap that I couldn't pass it up, particularly with this lovely vase with flowers on the cover. Only later did I decide it would be a good place to record my surface design experiments.

Here's what I worked on today. Since I was dredging up details from my blog, I just printed out the text and pasted it in. You can see how the pictures compliment the text. I don't print them on photo paper, but use a less expensive heavy weight imaging and photo matte finish paper like brochures might be printed on. It give a good enough print for this application.

Here's a page that shows an actual sample on the left as well as hand written notes and a picture on the right. If the sample will fit, I glue or staple it in.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Goals for Week of July 24th

I said last week that perhaps I should get back to setting weekly goals starting today. So I pulled out my notebook where I've been keeping these lists only to discover it's been 2 months since I've done this. I had no idea it had been so long, but that helps explain the lack of focus or drive towards my work that I've been feeling lately. This attitude of "do whatever because I can't do anything serious until I move" is a bit of a cop-out. The lists must start again, both studio and regular life, or I'll just spin my wheels needlessly.

So both lists got made this morning and I feel better already. Here are my studio goals in no particular order:

1. Sew sleeve and label on Silver Birches.
2. Print pictures for Tech journal and catch up on entries.
3. Machine quilt batting sample
4. Quilt on Lonestar

The first is a housekeeping chore that I would put off indefinitely, or until the piece needed to be exhibited somewhere. Something that can be done in a morning with no thought.

The second is another housekeeping chore but "chore" perhaps puts a negative spin on it. I've always taken extensive notes on processes, but usually filed those in the documentation file of whatever quilt they were used on. Now that I am doing more experimentation producing samples, not quilts, I like the idea of having these records in a single location for easy reference. Adding small pictures to jog a memory that words alone could not has been a good move, especially when the sample is too large to include and may end up being used in a work. The pictures I printed out today are from my painting experiments, and it has been long enough since doing them that I'll have to go back to my blog entries to dredge up the details. While I was at it, I printed out a couple of photos for two recent quilts' documentation files. See? It doesn't take long to find yourself behind on paperwork, but I think it is very important to keep these kinds of records. Plus, it allows me to clean up my computer, deleting jpgs not needed after printing.

The third one shouldn't take long and would get me warmed up for working on my Chinese poem challenge. Making batting samples is something I got into after reading Harriet Hargrave's Heirloom Machine Quilting book and hearing her lecture. Like most quilters, I used polyester batts when I first started quilting, then cotton batts became readily available and preferred for the look I wanted. As I became more knowledgeable and the quilting industry became more attuned to catering to this burgeoning market, I tried out different brands and types of batting. It made sense to me, then, to make up these small samples so I wouldn't be unpleasantly surprised by their performance (like percentage of shrinkage)in a piece that mattered.

Because I both hand and machine quilt, that would mean for every batt I would make at least 2 samples. Then it occurred to me that I only need make one, hand quilting half of it and machine quilting the other half. This current sample is for Hobbs 80/20 black batt, which is nothing like their regular 80/20 in spite of what they say, and the hand quilting was started as something to be working on as I and a few members of my quilt guild demonstrated during a local historic home tour. I finished the hand quilting on my trip, so it's time to get the other half machine quilted. The picture shows the back side where before and after measurements will be notated to assess shrinkage due to both quilting and washing.

And finally, I feel compelled to put the Lonestar back on the list. I left it off for awhile, even though I still picked it up now and then, because setting it as a goal seemed to be having the opposite effect of motivating me to work on it. Why the contrariness I'm not sure, but once I quit putting it on the list, I started working on it more. I'm just over half done with the hand quilting and really wish it could be totally done before it has to be packed up for moving, but I just don't see that happening. Still, no point in not working on it at all, and the more I can get done now, the better.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Rental Car Games

Here is the first of two rental cars I had during my trip to Idaho. It is a Ford Focus and as rental cars go, it wasn't too bad, except the seat was hugely uncomfortable, forming a "C" shape with the headrest pushing my head forward and no lower back support. I wish I'd had the second one, a Chevy Cobalt, for more than just the last day. It was much nicer, with a more upright seat and lumbar support!

Now why, you may wonder, did I have two different rental cars? Well, that is where the games come in. Rental rates are based on blocks of time. One day rentals are the most expensive, weekend rates less so, and 5 to 7 day weekly rates are the best of all. But what if you need a car for 8 days as I did? Do I get any special deal for keeping it a day more? No, I'm penalized and have to pay nearly half again as much for the 8th day as I paid for all 7 days prior. Doesn't make much sense to me, but then I've never had much of a brain for business.

But the games did not end there. It seems that there are special penalties if one wants to return the car to a location other than where one picked it up as I needed to do. When I checked a weekly rate for that, suddenly the cost of the rental car jumped from about $175 to over $400, nearly matching my plane fare! Geez Louise, I'm running on a tight budget here and I still had my motel to book.

It finally dawned on me that dishonesty of a sort was going to be the best policy here in order to get me a reasonable deal on a car. I booked a weekly rate with one rental company with pickup and drop off at my arrival airport, then found the company with the best single day rental from this same airport to the other airport I'd be flying out of. It saved me a ton of money, but I have to admit it was a little odd dropping off the first car, having the attendant wish me a good flight, then heading a few counters down to pick up the second car to "fly" down the road to my friends' house three hours away.

I SO hate playing games.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Those nagging fears

It never ceases to amaze me how fear of the unknown or fear of change can keep a person clinging to current circumstances even when they are dragging one down, less than perfect, in need of improvement. Before taking my trip to Idaho, I caught myself fearing that if I ended up in a place where I wouldn't have as easy access to woods as I do now, I'd lose my design inspiration. What if exposure to the birch trees on a daily basis was integral to my creating art, and without them, I'd lose my vision and my art? What if, what if, what if, I started thinking about a lot of things. And on the heels of that, maybe it's not so bad here after all. Maybe I should just stay.

Well, yes, I would not shrivel up and die if I stayed right where I am in Wisconsin. On the other hand, on a very basic level, I am restless and unhappy here. If I had to stay, I would adapt, enjoy the few close friends I've made here, continue to work, try to make the shifts and changes I expect to make in a new environment. But it is that new environment that I crave, and these fears of losing my muse are just the little insecurities I've had to deal with all my life. They've needlessly held me back from making positive changes to improve my life before and I am determined not to let them do that this time.

So on a free day while in Sandpoint, I drove a little ways out of town and walked a bike trail, looking for my usual inspiration from nature.

On either side of the trail the undergrowth was quite thick and brightened here and there by wildflower blooms.

I spotted thimbleberry bushes and remembered how they flourished near the house where I grew up.

A little farther along, some trees shaded the path and I found something similar to my birch trees. Ok, I may be alright here!

Of course, the main draw for me that is missing in my corner of Wisconsin is the towering mountain backdrop.

I so associate mountains with lakes that when I first moved to Wisconsin, I checked out every nearby lake I could find assuming that would lead me to some mountains, but every one was surrounded by a fairly flat terrain. In Northern Idaho there's no such thing as a lake without a mountain.

I'd taken along a small sketchbook, but what my eyes were registering was not sparking any ideas. I just couldn't focus on anything that whispered, "sketch me, record me, figure out how to use me in a design." That was a bit worrisome, but I chalk it up to the stress and purpose of the trip, and then the sense of being a bit on vacation. Still, I spent one afternoon in the park by the lake and made myself sketch something, reminding myself that one never knows where some of these lines and shapes will end up. No need for a full blown idea, just observe and record.

There were sailboats on the lake, so I keyed in on the triangle shapes of the sails and the lines of the hull. One leaned over quite far in the wind and I tried to capture that effect. I also studied the ripples across the water and the direction of them. Finally, I noted the changing color of the lake from farthest shore to at my feet. Very dark far away, getting lighter closer in until it was nearly greenish gold in the shallows of the sandy beach. It is the only time so far since I started using a sketchbook that I wished I had colored pencils or some way of capturing the color there on the page. The lead in the mechanical pencil I was using was much harder than what I am used to sketching with and I was surprised how impeded it made me feel. I also felt constricted by the small size of the sketchbook, which surprised me since I've done quick sketches in a notebook even smaller.

Then I spotted a sumbather reading a book. Here was a real challenge because of the angle and opportunity to work with perspective. What really caught my eye initially was the angle of her left leg and the way the foot was pointed. Of course, she didn't understand I needed her to stay perfectly still, which made sketching her even more challenging. She was reading a book and kept shifting her right arm and her legs around. I never did get the arms right (and didn't even attempt the hands), but it was an interesting exercise.

Lastly, I sketched out a scene I'd noticed a few days before. There is a roped off area for swimmers including log booms and a floating dock. Lots of gulls flying about and looking for food. After the swimmers left for the day, the gulls flew out and perched on the log boom, almost perfectly spaced and all looking out into the lake. It was the craziest thing, as if they were thinking, "At last, the tourist have finally gone home!" This day they didn't line up so perfectly, but that is how I tried to sketch them. I was sitting farther down than I was the day before, so again, I tried to sketch adding some perspective. This is an area I'd like to do more with in my art quilts.

I fear the sketching was really lame, but I felt right at home doing it there in the park. No one stared or questioned what I was doing, really paid no attention to me at all, perhaps because there's so much impromptu music, dance and art going on in this park.

Driving back to the motel, I pulled off at the Chamber/Tourism Center along Sand Creek just on the northeast edge of town. It was nearly sunset and I couldn't resist taking some shots of the incredible reflections in the calm water. This felt more like mining for design ideas than anything else I did on the trip.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Back from Idaho

I've been back from my trip for several days, but have been putting off reporting in because I am still in limbo. Waiting for a call that will tell me whether or not I get the rental I fell in love with or have to continue looking from a distance. Absolutely no doubt in my mind, though, that Sandpoint is where I want to land. I tried considering other towns within an hour's drive of there, but they did not hold the same appeal. Not only is the scenery beautiful, but it has a visible art community, leaving me with the sense that I can be nurtured there in a way I could not elsewhere. Of course, based on the amount of time I spent sitting near the lake gazing into space, there's a chance I won't get anything done. The picture above is actually of Sand Creek as it flows towards Sandpoint. The covered bridge has been converted into retail space leased by Coldwater Creek up until a few months ago when they moved across the street into their own building.

During my stay I met a few people that feel like the start of new friendships, checked out the artist co-op, sampled the local wine and beer, dipped my toes in the lake and listened to activist trying to rally support to stop the dumping of chemicals to control milfoil. I drank in the beauty of the surrounding mountains, sensing how the vistas feed my soul. I whispered to the lake and the mountains and the town, "I'll be back for good soon."

And I will. I've established a relationship with a property management rep who is advocating for me on this house while actively searching for an alternative should it go south. Not exactly how I wanted to return, but not altogether disappointing. Just a bump on the road to relocating.

To take my mind off my troubles, I've spent the last three days preparing my Small Works II entry for shipping. Made a sleeve and label and sewed them on. Tweaked my bio, composed my artist statement, compiled my artist resume, took better pictures of "Wild on Birch Street" and tweaked them for printing. (We are allowed to send photos of two additional works to go along with the bio, resume & statement for the gallery notebook.) For an amateur, I don't look half bad. These are all the little busywork things I hate to do, that seem to take more time than they should, that sap my enthusiasm, but are essential if one wants to exhibit and sell work. Actually, it's a good thing to go through the process occasionally as it gives one a chance to re-evaluate direction and goals, give voice and focus to all those jumbled feelings bouncing about.

Of course, my time has also been taken up with reading back newspapers, e-mails and real mail. Buried in the stack of held mail that was delivered on Monday was a small padded envelop with return address of "Lowell Fiber Studio" which I figured had to be something to do with the Small Works II exhibit. And it was - postcards! Ah, now I feel I have arrived, if only momentarily. And by virtue of alphabetizing, my name is at the top of the list! If only they'd chosen MY quilt for the front, I'd really be flying high.

Back to reality, though. There's laundry to do, bills to pay, friends to catch up with. Still moving type things I could work on, even without a firm move date. How much studio work will I allow myself or be able to concentrate on or feel I must do to keep from going crazy? Some, I'm sure, before I feel I must pack it away. For starters, I can put the sleeve and label on "Silver Birches." Then putz a bit with the Chinese poem challenge. Maybe a handbag will get made in there somewhere as most of what I need for it is now assembled. I should have my answer on the rental by week's end, know whether I can call the movers or have to start trolling the listings again, so I suspect I should return to setting weekly goals starting next week.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Idaho Bound

I leave tomorrow for my big trip out west. Unbelievable the amount of paperwork I've had to copy to take with me, let alone the amount of time spent on the internet tracking down possible leads for rentals or houses to buy. Two possible options surfaced just a few days ago, so I am suddenly hopeful this may turn out well, instead of being an expensive bust.

As anticipated, the creative journey went nowhere this week. Not even a musing over my Chinese poem challenge (see previous post). Oh, I guess that's not totally true. While gathering things to pack, I picked up a small sketchbook to toss in, just in case, and rather than get on with my trip plans, I sat with it for a few moments, made a few notes and even sketched out one thought for my last setacolor painted piece. Talk about avoidance behavior! I didn't allow it to distract me long, but it gave me hope that perhaps I'll use it while I'm gone. Visions of sitting along the lakeshore sketching...

I'll be back on the 16th and try to post something here soon thereafter. In the meantime, here's a little something for you to muse over while I'm gone. It's a translation of the Chinese poem that is inspiring my challenge piece. I felt it was pretty obvious how to portray the dark woods, but the disembodied voices? To my amazement, I think I've come up with an answer to that one too (part of what I noted in the sketchbook), thanks to something I'd found in a magazine long ago and filed with my design ideas. You'll have to wait to see what that is.

Deer Park Hermitage
Deep in the mountain wilderness
Where nobody ever comes
Only once in a great while
Something like the sound of a far-off voice.
The low ray of the sun
Slip through the dark forest,
And gleam again on the shadowy moss.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Start of Something New

See, this is what I was talking about in the last post. I have a page and a half of projects either in process or on the drawing board, but now that I've finished one of them, do I go to my list for what to work on next? No - I go off on a new tangent.

I blame my internet friend, Margaret. She threw out a challenge of sorts, sending me to a website of Chinese poetry, some of which had translations. I found one that I thought I could work into my Birches series and made a copy of it for future reference. Margaret said, "Do something quick! Don't spend a lot of time on it." And I replied, "Me? Do anything quickly? I simply can't!" But of course, I realized I do occasionally put together a speedy piece. Such was the case with Silver Birches (that's it below), pretty much completed in a single day. But at the time Margaret challenged me, I felt I had higher priority projects to work on, so even something quick was out of the question.

While working on one of those higher priority pieces, my peripheral vision kept drawing me to something I'd put on my design wall. Silver Birches was made using reverse applique, and of course, I'd saved those tree trunks I'd cut away to reveal the silver fabric beneath. I'd carefully arranged them exactly as they had been in the original design, thinking I could use them in yet another version (a journal quilt, Silver Birches and Strawberry Moon are all the same basic pattern). I blame Margaret again for what happened next. I'd spotted a photo on her blog of birch trees in a Paris park, trees that were staggered rather than lining up like mine. Mmmm, I turned to the design wall and staggered my trunks - and a variation in my series presented itself. I decided right then and there, I'd use the staggered trunks in my Chinese Poem Challenge piece. Later, of course.

Once I get an idea that excites me, it drives me quite crazy not to follow up on it. And I've had to wait quite a bit to have an opening, but I could tell that as soon as Irish Eyes was done, I'd not be able to control my urge to get started on this. In fact, when I had my batiks out looking for ones to add to Irish Eyes, I decided to search for a background for the trunks too. This piece will do most of the work in portraying the mood of the poem, and with Irish Eyes boxed and ready to ship, I could not resist putting it up on the design wall and arranging the trunks on it. I don't anticipate having time to do more than mull over the next step until I get back from my trip (leaving Friday).

Yes, everything is as dark as it looks in the picture. I will add threadwork to bring light and definition, maybe a little paint as well. And the way it is cropped is not necessarily the size it will end up. I will try to heed Margaret's admonition to not spend too much time belaboring it, but I won't make any promises!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Size Matters

Ok, no snickering from the peanut gallery...

I'm referring to the size we choose to make our quilts, be they art or not. This topic comes up periodically on quilt art lists and blogs, and has been on my mind quite a bit as well, but not for the same reasons necessarily.

For art quilters, small has become the way to go, especially if hoping to make some money with sales, or if needing to transport samples for classes and lectures. But the art world often questions the art quilter's "commitment" to a piece, idea, design, if it is done in a small format. And sometimes these formats are indeed small - the size of a piece of paper or even smaller. A lot of huffing and puffing ensues, explanations and rationalizations meant to justify working small. A bit of soul searching results on occasion, and if an artist is secure and comfortable with what they do, this criticism from the art world does not ruffle.

I definitely agree that the size of a piece of art has a bearing on its impact to the viewer. If you've only viewed Amish Diamond-in-a-Square quilts in books and magazines, you are totally unprepared for their impact in real life. Larger pieces often take more of a time commitment, while some argue that smaller works may also take much time and may be even more difficult to execute good design - no margin for error.

I've made just about every size of quilt, from a king size bedquilt for my brother, to journal size quilts for my own enjoyment. The bedquilts required not only a lot of hours to complete, but more money for materials and more space for laying out during the construction process, not to mention more energy to physically maneuver them. I'd finish a big project with a huge sigh and swear I wouldn't do that again. Back to more manageable wall quilts! But then I'd make a few of those and think, ok, that's nice, but you can't exactly curl up under one. And before I knew it, I'd be started on another large quilt.

Since I passed the 50 mark, I realized I was losing interest in working on the really big quilts, somewhat because of the sheer logistics of working on something so large. It's getting physically harder to wrestle the units into the finished top, climbing up and down a step stool and stretching to take advantage of every inch of design wall, bending over a table to mark, layer and pin, then hauling it all bundled to run through the machine (or placed in a hoop) for quilting. If using cotton batting as I often do, those big quilts get darned heavy and I don't know how much more abuse this body can take. I feel it in my wrists, shoulders, neck especially, and where once I'd ignore the odd ache, I'm not so willing to do so anymore.

And then there's the issue of time, as in, just how much time do I have left? I think quite a few years, but then I also have a zillion ideas for quilts. Does it make sense to oversize my pieces if a smaller format will do? Not every design demands feet of space to make its point.

And lets not forget about storage space. I have a trunk of bedsize and wall quilts, and what I can't stuff in there have found a home in bins and on shelves. There are just so many beds, walls, friends, and families available for my creations. For those I hope to sell, their size will definitely matter to a prospective buyer who may also be dealing with limited space as well as limited budget.

The picture above was taken last fall and shows 4 projects of varying sizes in equally varying stages of completion. All but the lone star are done; it is in the process of being hand-quilted - at least part of it. I found myself with no desire to quilt the whole thing by hand, although sections of it I definitely wanted to hand quilt. It feels like an albatross hanging around my neck it has taken so long to make and has so far to go before it is totally done. I think it may be the last large quilt I make, although I've learned to be cautious about saying, never again. I'm just not willing to devote the time and energy, preferring instead to concentrate on more manageable sizes. The fact that the lone star remains unfinished while the other three quilts (and several more) are completed, helps to make my point.

Working on Irish Eyes was confirmation of all that. At 41 inches square, it went together quickly, was easy to work with on the design wall, did not require a lot of stretching over the table to get it layered, marked and pinned, and was light and easy to maneuver through the machine. In just 17 days it was done, and if I'd applied myself, I probably could have completed it in a week. Manageable and satisfying, with plenty of visual impact.

As I explore unfamiliar territory in my creative journey, there's security in working on a small scale. Not so much space to fill up, not so intimidating. A really large blank space throws me at this point when it's not to be filled with traditional blocks. I've rarely worked to a specific size anyway when designing, letting the quilt dictate how large it might grow as I designed on the fly. I seem to have better luck that way, starting with an idea, a small beginning, and seeing where it might go. Confining myself to the journal size quilts was a real eye-opener. I didn't think so much could be done in such a small space, but some of them are truly lovely and complex.

So that's my take on "size matters." My reasons may not be the best ones for choosing a size to work with, but they represent my current reality and that's good enough for me. If that reality changes, then I'm sure my thoughts on this will change as well.