Friday, June 11, 2010

Sussing out the problem

I think a year is long enough for a top which is pinned and ready for machine quilting to sit, don't you? It's been another one of those lingering projects on the work table I keep thinking to work on and irritating me when I find reasons not to. Since I'm having a tough time anyway with the next steps on the small pieces, I knew this was something I could dive into and see results and progress. The only decision to make was thread, and it didn't take me long to zero in on a multi-color Aurofil that came compliments of my mother-in-law when she gifted her quilting stash to me. Just by chance, the setting of the blocks allowed me to start my diagonal stitching through the center of them in one corner and continuously quilt all the diagonals that read as sashing until I came out in the opposite corner. Each time I crossed a line of quilting, I had the satisfying proof positive of progress. The stitch is a modified pre-programmed "quilting" stitch that I've elongated. The backing is also from the MIL and is a chambray that nearly went to Goodwill - at the last moment I realized it'd be perfect for this quilt. You can see that the subsequent rows of quilting will parallel the first laid down, spaced about 1-1/2" apart. I completed about a third of it today I think, making my way around the outer triangles and completing 2 full blocks at one end.

This may be a diversion from what I should be doing, but I think part of the cure for what ails me is getting used to sitting at the machine again for extended periods of time, finding the rhythm to turning and shifting the bulk through the machine, forcing myself to focus and keep working beyond an hour or two. I didn't used to have this short of an attention span, and know from past experience that one has to work up the stamina for longer productive stints just like an athlete builds stamina by going a little farther each workout. I can also tell that the right side of my brain likes this kind of activity so that it can work on the solutions eluding me on those other more creative pieces.

I think I know what else is ailing me, dampening my artistic enthusiasm. I see so much bad art, or at least questionable art, being touted as good art, and sense that much of what I make may fall into that category as well. It's difficult to muster the enthusiasm to do the work when the outcome of the work doesn't seem to warrant the effort - more bad art in an already crowded market of bad art. It's nice to have people enthusiastic about my work, but I am well aware of the weaknesses in much of it and don't care to be praised for what is not praiseworthy, or at least has lots of room for improvement. I have those moments when I think/know I've created a really good piece, but get frustrated when these feel the exception and not the rule. It was in this mind set that I ran across an interview with Regina Benson (Quilters Newsletter - April/May 2010) and this section which seemed to speak directly to me:

"She is quick to point out, however, that mastery of a technique is not immediate, and that within every perceived failure are the seeds of future success. Regina believes that personal commitment and persistence will overcome the initial setbacks encountered as part of the learning process. 'Too many of us dabble in a variety of techniques just enough to make some interesting marks and then rush to sew pieces together in some random fashion or in a way we just learned in the last workshop. We need to have greater control over our techniques and design skills so that when we choose to make work, it is the product of intentional creativity and sparkles with mastery.'"

Oh, yes. I am always grateful when a successful quilt artist boldly demands technical mastery and design skills, commitment and intent. And I know that is part of my problem. I can fairly confidently sit down and work on traditional quilts, confident in my mastery of the skills needed for that type of work, but I have not been at this art quilting stuff long enough and persistently enough to gain the same kind of control. It's what causes me to stare blankly with no idea of how to proceed. It's what leads me to make the same disappointing decisions time and again. When it works and magically comes together, it is the best feeling in the world. But I often don't really understand how I got there, and I'm the type of personality that needs to know. Benson had reminded me that I have only been dabbling, not focusing on the learning process very seriously. She reminds me that growth is dependent on perceived failures and that every experience can be a stepping stone to better understanding. There must be trial and error to discover what works and what doesn't but then there must be that persistence to hone the discovery into mastery, to complete the learning process. Ok, I see I need to focus less on the outcome, and be more bold in the trial and error part. Then I need to learn from the experience, repeat it until what I learn is near second nature, and build upon it. I knew that. I just needed to be reminded.

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