Inspiration

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Inspiration? Where does it come from? And when do you know its right? What makes some art “good” and other art “no good?” Recently I’ve been working a lot on a whole cloth embroidered piece. I had a general idea when I started, and of course, that idea has gone through several transformations since I started. But at each stage, I have despaired at whether or not this is a “worthy” piece. Should I just give up? Or should I continue on? How do you know when its time to stop, or if the next step will be just what the piece needs?

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I was encouraged to read Denise Schmidt‘s words in the new book, Abstract and Geometric. She is a trained AND commercially successful artist. She said

Looking and seeing is the only way to know. If I am not happy with how a quilt looks, the only way past this is to uncover what is not working by trying other solutions. Anything that changes your perspective can be a tool that helps you see more clearly. It can sometimes be a challenge, and no one is immune to it, but it is part of the creative process. I wish I could say it gets easier, but somehow it is always the same. It is less painful if you give yourself over to it and accept that design is a process of trial and error, of getting out of your own way, and of knowing your tools.

Okay then. So the other day I decided to spend the whole day working on this piece (I usually work on machine work during the day, and only hand embroider in the evening.)

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I decided to see if there was a good movie to watch while I worked. I chose one called Imber’s Left Hand. SO inspirational! This was a well-known artist who got Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Early on, he lost the use of his right hand, and so he just switched to his left hand and continued to paint. Lou Gehrig’s disease slowly erodes the use of all of the muscles in your body, but Imber continued to paint until 3 days before his death. And as I watched, I saw the exact process that Denise had described–many times he would paint something, and decide that it just wasn’t working, and paint right over it.

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And there’s the rub, right? Our work, whether with machine or by hand, is painstakingly slow compared to other artist’s work. And its not so easy to wipe it out or do it over. Sometimes we just have to let it go, and start from scratch with new information about what works and what doesn’t.

So you might have noticed I am not showing you the entire piece. That is because I am so unsure of it, so wondering whether to give up or go on. The piece is on the design wall now, pondering the next step. And, encouraged by these other artists, I am going to go into the studio and let myself cut up more fabric and put it back together. I am going to try my next big idea, not knowing whether or not it will work or whether it will be considered art. I am going to accept that design is a process of trial and error.

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Finished!

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When I returned home from Empty Spools, I had a couple of projects that I had left mid-stream, and I went back to work on those. Once those were well under way, I went back, determined to finish my project from Katie’s Artful Log Cabins class. Yesterday I finished the piecing and made the quilt sandwich, and today I completed the quilting, and put the binding on. Gotta love a 30″ X 40″ quilt. Even with dense quilting, it moved right along.

I don’t think its a masterpiece, but I am pleased with the finished product. I think it reflects my garden well, and I will enjoy looking at it for a while.

I did try Katie’s method of grid quilting block by block, and I did enjoy that.

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I am especially pleased that I made the decision to change the quilting in two areas–the reflective opening of the imaginary cathedral window, and pebble quilting to imitate the flower shapes of the white flowers. Oh, and you might notice that I circled the one little ladybug that showed up on the quilt 🙂

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I had enough pre-cut strips to use as the binding! And, I definitely over-cut the amount of strips I needed for class. I am thinking about making some regular  log cabin blocks with the leftovers. It might be fun to experiment with them.

Tangents

Here’s what happens when you finish a large project, and have some extra time. Tangents. Also, its all related to an upcoming trip, and I MUST HAVE THE PERFECT TRAVEL PROJECT for any trip. Even if the whole point of the trip is for rug hooking and getting started on a new rug hooking project that I am very excited about. I need something for my evenings. Something new and fun.

So, I noticed with my “stupid sewing” project that I really loved the colors of thread that I had picked out. Only with the darker background of this project, these colors didn’t show up quite as well. Maybe I would choose a neutral background and use just these threads to do some kind of stitching.

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Much doodling sketching ensued. I came up with this partial design while sitting in church Sunday and decided to go with it. A quilt sandwich has been made, and I am doing some experimental stitching on it.

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While cleaning out my fabric bins, I came across a collection of fat quarters that I had gotten a bit ago that I was very enamored of, and had not yet had time to play with. Maybe I’d take them and do some hand piecing on my trip. I decided to try this out. Did I even still like hand piecing? To be honest, I started on the machine. Then I decided that these little fiddly pieces would probably be easier to hand piece.

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As of today, I am undecided about which project I will take with me. I did remember that I had another travel project from my Colorado trip, so I will bring that for sure. I am leaving a little early for my rug hooking retreat so that I can visit the Road to California show! I will return with lots of new ideas, I am sure.

Cleaning and Restarting

One morning I woke up and knew this was the day! The day that I would clean out my fabric stash cubbies. I got sidetracked by a couple of unexpected chores, but I finally went out there and got it done! It feels so good to go through your fabric, weed out a few old things (or in my case, little bits and pieces) and know what you have and where it is. I have a LOT of commercial solids, and unfortunately, I stopped working with them a while ago, in favor of the hand dyes. But I might come back to them, knowing what is available.

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I actually didn’t straighten out the two cubbies with my hand dyes and my 1800’s reproduction fabrics. I know what’s in there already.

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Next, I decided that I liked the idea of using 36 of my stars (made from my box of 2 inch squares) as the center for a medallion, so I sewed those together, and then auditioned a few fabrics for the next few rows of the medallion. Because I had straightened out my fabrics, I found this birdhouse fabric that I had bought recently and really liked. I might use it in the medallion quilt with that gray fabric as a background. Before I put everything away, I decided to use the pink “log” fabric as the next border, and cut that and sewed it to the stars, about a 3″ width.

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The reason for doing all this was to clear the design wall. I wanted to get back to the small compositions I had made for my “characteristics of God” series. I am anxious to get back to work on these. I have 3 or 4 more fabrics out to make into compositions.

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And lastly, for your inspiration, here is a great little saying that perfectly describes the creative process.

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And Lastly…

 

While patiently awaiting the return of my Juki, I started work on a new series. It started out with inspiration by this weaver. The more I looked at her work, the more I saw the “quilty-ness” of it. Then I started drawing little sketches in my journal. And I decided to let myself play with my collection of hand-dyed fabric–some Cherrywood, some Ricky Tims’, and even some of my own hand-dyes.

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These are all really simple designs. But I enjoyed creating them, and choosing “just the right colors” for each. The small pieced squares that I am using in each were created on my Colorado retreat!

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I am going to use these pieces for a series on “the character of God.” I wanted to use characteristics that most people could relate to. And then I found an article where the author made two lists–one of characteristics that applied only to God, and the other of characteristics that He shared with man. That helped to define what I was thinking about.

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So although they are simple, they also provide a somewhat blank canvas that I can use to embellish with quilting or embroidery just the way I want.

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P.S. Just got word that my Juki has been shipped! Yahoo!

In the Meantime…

Its been a month since the Juki stopped working, and two weeks since I shipped it to get a new motor. I finished ALL the embroidery on the Hallelujah quilt, so it is waiting patiently for the Juki to return so it can be quilted. In the meantime, I have kept busy with other small projects.

I finally made myself sit down and work on one of the blocks for the Genesis quilt. For some reason, even though I had in mind doing primitive figures for this quilt, I was still intimidated to start. But once I started, it was fun. At first I was only going to put birds and fish on this block, but then I read the verse again, and realized I had to include an octopus and a crab to represent the things that scurry.

Then God said, “Let the waters swarm with fish and other life. Let the skies be filled with birds of every kind.” So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that scurries and swarms in the water, and every sort of bird—each producing offspring of the same kind. And God saw that it was good.

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I’ll be back with a couple of other posts showing the small colorful projects that have been keeping me busy.

A Colorful Interlude

You all know I need a little color in my life, right? After working so long on Hallelujah, I allowed myself some colorful play. Mostly meaningless, but fun-to-me projects. Remember this saying that I said I wanted to embroider? Well, one night, I just got a piece of cloth and a blue disappearing ink pen, and went for it.

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Here’s my version. Can you see where I personalized it? Its not finished yet, but getting there. Had to share!

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Embroider and a needle, instead of paint and a paintbrush.

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I recently ran across a new blog, and on the first time I visited, she was doing a giveaway. I was really impressed with one of her paintings, and said that if I won, that was the one I would choose. If you can believe it, I won that giveaway! And so I decided that I would embroider a version of that painting.

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A pen instead of a pencil, and I fashioned it after a special fountain pen that my dad had given me.

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I was going to make a regular cake instead of the cupcake, but it was just too cute. I left it as-is.

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And of course I had to add flowers to the seed stems.

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Here’s my design wall. I have been working occasionally on Noah, and then I need to take it off the frame and look at it for a while to see if I’m still on track. The two big blocks are just the start of that Genesis quilt I want to do. And the other blocks were what I let myself play around with on Friday.

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I just like making these cross-cut blocks. These are a lot bigger than the last set I did. I wonder if that means I’m on my way to making another big quilt??

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Last weekend I went down to Quilting in the Garden. I was pretty excited to see my quilt (#74) hanging at the front display right at the entrance to the show!

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And here is another of my quilts (the cross) hanging on one of the magnificent old oaks.

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It was really fun to go to this show, and to see my quilts hanging. Its probably not the best venue for my quilts, because they are small, and you can’t really see the details–they are hung pretty high. But what’s not to enjoy about walking around a beautiful nursery and looking at quilts at the same time?

Sometimes the Thinkie Part is the Best Part

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Once again I have noticed this quilt block that I saved on my desktop.

I am mesmerized by it. From a quilt made in the 1870’s. I think it would be so fun to make with my zig zag technique. To say nothing of the massive amount of embroidery on it! I don’t want to do that kind of embroidery, but it is definitely a big part of the design concept and the success of the overall design.

I want to go directly to the studio and start cutting out fabric. I even have a collection of fabric that I think would be fabulous for it.

Plus, look! Every block on the entire quilt is using different fabrics and colors. You know how I like that.

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But I am in the midst of quite a few projects right now. Some of them are very near completion, and I just have avoided the final bit of work needed to finish them.

And, I don’t even want to say it out loud, but the studio needs a massive cleaning out before I mess it up with yet another project.

All this sometimes makes me frustrated. But then I remind myself that part of the fun of a new project is the time spent thinking and refining a plan. Adding this and that, taking away something that doesn’t work as well.

So for now, I will keep this project in the thinkie stage, and remember to enjoy that 🙂

Time Away

I just returned from a week-long trip to the little town of La Veta, Colorado! My BF decided that she wanted to take an intensive workshop with Judith Baker Montano, and I said, “want some company?” I have done “self-retreats” before, and find it very profitable to spend concentrated time working on projects at a location other than my studio. Plus, Colorado? That sounded fun!

All the other times I’ve done this, I traveled by car, so I could bring all the supplies I wanted. This time we would be flying, and so I had to carefully choose what I would bring. My friend Ricky Tims also lives in La Veta, and he very graciously loaned us two of his sewing machines! So all I needed was to pare down the raw materials I would bring. I ended up bringing my bags of Cherrywood fabrics, a quilt blanket “blank” for embroidering on, and then cut out 8 squares of hand-dyes for a new quilt idea I wanted to try starting on. I also brought some muslin and batting “just in case.” And of course, a big supply of perle cotton thread, scissors, rotary cutter, pins, etc. LOL, both Robin and I forgot machine sewing thread! Fortunately, Ricky had some nice thread for sale in his studio 🙂

We found a great place to rent, with plenty of room to spread out all our quilting supplies. In between visits and “touristing” I managed to get quite a few bits and pieces done.

I admire piecers who work with small bits so very much. One of my current favorites is Maria Shell–check out her work in this blog post! So the first thing I wanted to do was to do some piecing with my bags of Cherrywood fabric. I also had a scrap of Ricky Tims’ multi-color fabric, and I decided that I would cut the center squares out of that, and then use the cherrywood bits to make some abstract log cabin blocks. Nothing was cut straight, but as I finished each piece, I squared it up to 4 1/2 inches. At the end I made three 6 1/2 inch blocks.

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Now, although I admire the work of others who work with small bits, this is about my limit. I get bored. So I will sit and think, and eventually these pieces will work their way into one or more projects. I did this a couple of years ago, and I used all those little blocks to make the “what they said” series, as well as several other pieces.

Next, that big blank canvas for embroidering on. I also admire the work of Judy Martin, Penny Berens, and others who work on daily “scratchings.” Once again, I don’t think I really want to spend the time doing this EVERY DAY. But I love the idea of it. So that was in my mind when I took this big (for me) blank  quilt sandwich to embroider on.

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The first day I took it out and stared at that big empty space, it started to rain. Evidently, this is “monsoon season” in Colorado, and the afternoon rains are very welcome. They don’t last long, and they cool things down nicely. So I embroidered that.

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Ricky and Justin took Robin and I out to their property (45 minutes from town!) and on the way there was an old church, the last remaining building of what had once been a small town.

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I was fascinated by it, and took several pictures of it. I decided that I wanted to try embroidering it.

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You can see with both of these that I started by cutting out simple shapes and using blanket stitch to embroider them to the blank. Hand dyes work very well for this–practically no raveling at all. I really enjoyed the “grass” stitching. Very quick and simple. I hope to do more of this.

So these embroideries were a little departure from most of my work–more representational than abstract. I enjoyed doing them, and I wonder what it will lead to. Right now I think I will keep this blank as a true travel project, and will take it with me on my travels, and add a bit to it with each new location.

The last day I got out those squares of hand-dyes that I had carefully packed. I spent a lot of time staring at my journal, making notes and thinking, and finally started two of the squares. They are for a quilt of Genesis. My brother suggested it, and I think it will be a very interesting project. Of course, some of the blocks will be on creation, but there are other interesting stories in Genesis that I am challenged to try to represent in cloth.

And now home, and I reverted right back to working on my Hallelujah Chorus quilt. I have three word panels done, and one and a half circle panels. I am motivated to work consistently on this quilt. Not only is it enjoyable to work on, I would like to finish it by November for several different display possibilities.

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Momentum

A few weeks ago, I made a little “in the meantime” piece because I had “nothing” to work on in the evenings–no handwork.

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Since then I have embraced the kantha blanket, and have begun the long journey of repetitive stitching that I had planned for it.

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And then, I finally bit the bullet and started a new project that I had been mulling over since last December.

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Can you guess what it is? I am doing a quilt of “The Hallelujah Chorus.” It has long been one of my favorite pieces of music. When I lived in Texas, our church choir sang it, and we were required to memorize it. The words are magnificent, and have so much meaning to me. I had the idea when I went last December to a beautiful cathedral in downtown Sacramento for a performance of The Messiah. My little idea was that the quilt had to be extremely beautiful, mostly white, with perfect extensive quilting, and of course, the words would be preeminent, and of course beautiful calligraphy. Hmmm. See why I was afraid to start it?

A little thought came along–why don’t you do what you know you can do well? So I decided to use my own handwriting, and to make my circles with embroidery. I bought some silk-type fabric at Joann’s to practice on, and it turned out that I really liked this fabric, so I stuck with it.

I wanted the piece to be a bit larger than most of my embroidered works, so I came up with the idea of doing the circles and the words in separate panels, and then after all of them are embroidered, I will join them into one quilt top and add more quilting.

All I can say is, you just have to try. It very well could have been that these things would not have worked. Heck, they still might not work. But by trying, even if I fail, I have learned something new.

And now, I must leave you. I have a bit of stitching to do 🙂