Power Builders 02.27.15

This is Week #4 of my Power Builders creative links. If you’d like to see last week’s, you can find it here.

I call this series “Power Builders” because that’s what these little items do for me. They make me more powerful in my art and in my life. I hope they do the same for you. Some of the links will be about how other creative people use their time, structure their work, find inspiration. Some may be videos, music, or podcasts to inspire you. Some of it will be directly quilt-related but much of it will not. What you see in Power Builders will depend on what I find. Feel free to link great things in comments, too.

1) This story tells of one woman who developed her power through an outreach program at the Ohio Reformatory for Women. Yes, women’s prison. The women had the opportunity to create quilts, expressing themselves in ways they’d never before experienced. Here is one woman’s story. Seven more interviews are available here.

2) A few of Austin Kleon’s comments about sharing your work, your time, your inspiration with others. My take: sharing is part of what makes you powerful.

3) Want to boost your creativity? Take a walk! Here’s a link to the research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. For a quick summary, read the news report from The Stanford Daily.

4) If you are a quilt artist, you may be familiar with Elizabeth Barton. She’s written two terrific books on quilt art design. I own them both and think they apply well to any two-dimensional design. This blog post of hers on dissonance discusses something many of us avoid: conflict. Yes, I avoid conflict in my personal life, but tension is essential in good design. Take a look.

5) My post from this week on trusting my own creative process.

6) And the quilt top that results from that process so far:


It will get another border before it is finished. Current size is 44″ x 50″. The center panel was designed by Julie Paschkis for In the Beginning fabrics.


Get inspired by the world around you! What has inspired you this week?

Favorite Design Tools


Yep. Most of my projects end up with at least one sheet of paper like this. I write counts of blocks and patches. I scribble my math as I go. I sketch really crude drawings of blocks or corner arrangements. Sometimes I use graph paper to draw layouts, and when I do, the margins of those sheets are covered like this, too.

The calculator is an essential part of my tool kit, too. The quilt math IS NOT HARD! There are a small number of formulas. If you know where to find the formula (and YES there are several I look up every time) it is easy to plug in the numbers. No more long division like we did in grade school. Only the most basic algebra. You don’t have to solve geometry proofs or integrate the area under a curve.

Most of you know I use EQ7 regularly, too. Like a lot of electronic tools, one of the main benefits is ability to re-do your work quickly. Adjust a shape or block here, change a color there. You can do ALL THAT and more with paper and pencil (and colored pencils or crayons or markers.) You can just do it more quickly with the software.

Other design tools are several of the books I own. The books I like best are those with historical quilts for inspiration, and those with design principles, strategies and techniques, rather than patterns. Occasionally I troll Google images for ideas but not often. No Pinterest or Instagram, either. I’d rather spend my time doing than looking.

My favorite tool is my brain. What a wondrous thing brains are! :)

What design tools do you use? Let us know in comments.

Sawtooth Borders

This morning Jim asked me about a decision I’d made on my Tree of Life quilt. I arrayed the sawtooth (half-square triangles) border asymmetrically and he wondered why. If you look at the photo below, you can see that the points spray “outward” but without being split evenly at the centers of the sides.


He wondered, in particular, if I’d done that because there are 15 HST on each of the long sides and 12 HST on each of the shorter sides. I could split 12 at the center (6 going each direction), but it’s hard to split 15 at the center, without some other creative adjustment.

The truth is, I hadn’t even thought of that. Instead, I knew I wanted to continue the whimsical feel of the center panel, and to create the sense that it erupted past the narrow red border. To me the HST give the organic feel of more leaves. One other reason is because I heard Jim’s voice in my head. He has often urged me to use asymmetrical borders, and this seemed like the right time to heed that voice.

I’ve talked about sawtooth borders before. In my post Pieced Borders I show lots of ways to use simple units in a variety of ways. Sawtooth borders are one shown. This simple illustration gives 4 different ways to arrange them.

Different effects depending on value placement

In another post I showed you these four variations, which I auditioned for a small quilt.

Can give a cool effect, but probably not what I want for this quilt.

This one I kinda like…

Not actually wonky — these are just blocks I’ve overlapped.

Maybe too “sharp” looking?

The lesson is, try lots of different ideas when you’re using HST in a border. Though I didn’t try multiple arrangements for my Tree of Life, normally I would. I’ve been surprised more than once and chosen something I wouldn’t have expected.

Tree of Life — Trusting the Process

I’ve been working on my Tree of Life quilt. The other day I showed you my second start at it. The first go was … worthy of trying. But it wasn’t working out for me. I count it as a successful experiment, one from which I learned a lot.

I removed the side borders and began again. I showed you this much already:

The black strips in the picture above are attached now. That border took the finished size to 30″ x 36″. Those dimensions work well for a block border of 6″ blocks. Of course there are a lot of other ways to solve that problem, too.

I imagined the next border as an enclosure of variable stars with pale backgrounds, and centers and points of the same blues, greens, browns, and reds. With 6 blocks on each of the longer sides, 5 blocks on each of the shorter sides, and 1 in each corner, I needed 26 blocks. I wanted the backgrounds scrappy, too. Checking scraps first, I found pale golds and pale greens for backgrounds. I cut so there were an equal number of warm backgrounds as cool. I also cut points and centers with equal numbers of warm and cool. This technique works well for me when a quilt doesn’t naturally tilt to one side or the other.

After building 13 of the 26 blocks, I put them on my design wall around the center. Scary! They were so wild, so vibrant, I was afraid they would take over, overwhelming the beautiful center. I hollered at Jim to take a look.

“Looks like a celebration!” he said. We talked through my concerns, but that’s what I want — a celebration. So we agreed I should go ahead.

“Trust the process. Trust the process,” I kept muttering to myself the next day as I finished making those stars. “The process” is the process of experimentation, of taking a vision to its point of evident success or failure. I figured there was nothing lost by continuing to make blocks. If they wouldn’t work, I’d have 26 great blocks available for a different project.

And here is the work so far. Finishing at 42″ x 48″, it’s ready for another 1″ black line all the way around. After that will come its final borders, to finish at about 56″ x 62″.


I like that the star backgrounds are paler than the pale caramel in the sawtooth border. The value contrast helps keep the focus on the center, rather than mushing it all out into a sea of mediums.

I trusted the process. I continued with my stars, knowing that I might not use them. But that lack of confidence did not stop me. Don’t let it stop you, either. Trust the process. Experiment. No bad thing will happen. Trust me.

“It Feels Weird Asking for Pay”

Last week I wrote about why I don’t sell my quilts. It comes down to this: I value my quilts more than potential buyers would, and I will not sell them for less than they’re worth to me. I will give them freely to those I love. I will give them freely in compassionate service. But I won’t sell. Would that ever change? Perhaps, but right now it’s hard to imagine.

My post was spurred by the ongoing discussion among quilters (and other crafters and artists) about how to price handmade goods at appropriate prices. Many sell their quilts for the cost of materials and not much more, not recognizing the value of their time and all the other factors required to create their work. Others understand value in an academic sense but feel uncomfortable in asking for that much, that it seems immodest or something.

Women sell all kinds of products and services. We ask for business every day. We ask people to trust us, that we’ll be honorable in our end of the transaction. When they do, they are not doing us a favor. They are satisfying a need on their own end. It goes two ways.

Marie Forleo defines the particular problem many artists and crafters face here

But a strange phenomenon often occurs for passion-based business owners — especially when it’s time to get paid.
You have trouble bringing yourself to actually ask for money for something you’re so naturally good at.
Feels weirdly like cheating the system. Or taking advantage. Or somehow getting one over on people.

It feels weird asking for pay.

Women, in particular, have been taught to downplay our strengths to others, don’t show off, don’t brag. If you’re just really good and really patient, things will work out for you. Even today we’re told not to assert ourselves, especially with regard to pay. Last fall Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told a group of women in technology that they shouldn’t ask for raises, but to trust that the system will give them the “right raise”.

Having been a woman in a male-dominated field, I can tell you the system fails.

Fortunately, Nadella’s co-panelist at the meeting was computer scientist Dr. Maria Klawe. She offered better advice. According to this article from Salon, she said,

“First of all, do your homework…know what the appropriate salary is.” … “Then role play, sit down with someone you really trust, and practice asking them for a raise.”

Know what the appropriate price is. Shake off the voice that says you don’t deserve that much. Practice asking for the right amount. Ask.

One thing I learned a long time ago: you don’t get if you don’t ask.

So what about the voice in your head, the one that says you’re not quite good enough, not ready? This post by Tara Mohr addresses the doubt. She says that voice “is a wild liar. It has no bias for truth-telling. It says whatever it thinks might make you leap right back into the cozy territory of the familiar.”

Does it feel weird asking for pay? You can learn to quiet the inner critic that keeps you holding back. One way to do that is to practice. Marie Forleo’s post, linked above and here, includes a video on practicing. It’s kind of light and funny, but has some really good points.

Do you struggle with asking for pay? Do you have tips in asking to be paid, or paid more? Share with us.

My other posts on the subject:
You Should Sell Those: A Play in Three Short Scenes, with Commentary
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 1
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 2
Pay for Quilters (and other Crafters and Artists)

Power Builders 02.20.15

This is Week #3 of my Power Builders creative links. If you’d like to see last week’s, you can find it here.

I call this series “Power Builders” because that’s what these little items do for me. They make me more powerful in my art and in my life. I hope they do the same for you. Some of the links will be about how other creative people use their time, structure their work, find inspiration. Some may be videos, music, or podcasts to inspire you. Some of it will be directly quilt-related but much of it will not. What you see in Power Builders will depend on what I find. Feel free to link great things in comments, too.

1) Have you heard Jake Shimabukuro on ukulele? This young phenomenon is just as charming and talented in person as he is on YouTube. Linked for you, both the short clip that brought him world attention, and a 77-minute concert.

2) A walk through an exhibit of Matisse cut-outs.

3) This is just cool: thermal imaging of a robotic quilting machine.

4) Many of you have heard Ira Glass speak on persistence in developing your skills. It’s worth hearing again: do a lot of work; fight your way through that.

5) All of those are pretty absorbing and time-consuming, so I’ll finish here with a picture inspiration of the week. These beautiful women are in Taos, NM.


Get inspired by the world around you! What has inspired you this week?

The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life is an old motif, dating back thousands of years in religion and philosophy, and hundreds of years to textiles from India. This quilt from the Smithsonian collection dates to around 1840. It was appliqued in the Broderie Perse style, popular at the time.

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 9.56.00 PM

A couple of years ago on an outing with my quilting small group, I was lucky to find a panel printed with a Tree of Life motif. It was designed by artist/illustrator Julie Paschkis. In fall 2013 I began a quilt with it, but I got bogged down with other projects and didn’t get very far. Still it called to me to come back, try again.

With my initial start, I created and attached side borders. I also made a bottom border of a completely different nature. My intention was to applique the first border on the top. But last week as I analyzed the work, I felt increasingly uncomfortable. Asymmetrical borders don’t bother me at all. But I was intending to have 3 vastly different kinds of borders on 4 sides. They just didn’t seem cohesive, and the sizing would have been a problem, too.

Ultimately I removed the side borders and began again. This time I could visualize almost the whole quilt without struggle. Colors still confuse me some, but they will resolve as I proceed. This is what I have so far.

The picture is crooked but the panel is straight! :) The original panel includes the center with black background. The first border is the narrow red strip surrounding it. (Actually, there is a very narrow black coping border at the top and bottom of the panel, both to finish framing it in black and to create a size that was easy to use.)

The second border is of half-square triangles, using pale caramel as the background color. This creates value contrast with the black-backgrounded center, but uses a color that appears in the tree and branches. While all 4 sides are the same width, I’ve maintained the non-square rectangle of the panel. I also set the triangles asymmetrically to keep the light-hearted tone of the panel.

You see black strips around that, which are not attached yet. They’ll create a narrow border, allowing an edge and repetition of the center’s black. And after that… you’ll need to wait and see!

I struggled with this project before and set it aside. Deciding to unstitch and restart was a good decision, and I’m having fun with it now.