Tag Archives: Challenge


The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind. We traveled to see family; I finished four quilts with binding and gave two of them away; I gave away another; I began the 100 Day Project and successfully made it through the first seven (eight now!) days; I cleaned up my own guild presentations flyer and created one to represent my guild; and I took a full-day workshop.

Hopefully I’ll get around to talking about all of those things, other than the family trip, of course! But today I want to tell you about the workshop. Yesterday my guild (Old Capitol Quilters Guild, based in Iowa City, IA) hosted Kim Lapacek, best known for her Project Quilting challenges and the amazing Dresden Neighborhood pattern. (Kim, give me a link to your pattern for sale, please!)

Kim led a workshop in the style of her Project Quilting challenges. Nine guild members spent the day inspired by her take-no-prisoners style of quilt-making. She goes ALL OUT, with techniques, embellishments, color, and pattern. As our challenge, she provided fat-quarters of base fabric as well as two more fabric pieces to each of us. We were to create and FINISH a quilt top in the six-hour time slot, using those two printed fabrics and NO straight-edge ruler. In addition, we were given a limit on how much fabric we could bring — only the amount that fits in a brown paper lunch sack. (I eat a big lunch…) Also the fabric pieces we brought were supposed to be scraps, less than a fat quarter. While that lays a lot of constraints down, the subject or direction of our individual projects was completely up to each of us.

As she spoke, my thoughts turned to a project I’ve wanted to make for about a year-and-a-half. Inspired partly by her own “amazing technicolor dream heart quilt,” I decided to use a rainbow color scheme. Mine was not because of my love of all colors, but rather my intention to recognize LGBTQ rights as basic human and civil rights. It might be a poor shorthand, but it is eye-catching.

The verbal message is plain in black letters.

A guild friend asked me what I am resisting. I said I’m resisting racism, sexism, disenfranchisement, sexual assault as a norm, … Though I stopped at that in telling her, certainly my resistance is more inclusive.

From a technique standpoint, I used a piece of muslin about 28″ x 31″ as the backing. (This is bigger than the one Kim gave me. We joked that I was disqualified from the challenge for that, and for bringing a slightly bigger bag of fabric than she was picturing.) I drew lines through the center to divide the piece into eight wedge sections. My first take on filling the sections was to start “improv-piecing” green bits together. Quickly it was clear that would take too much time.

As an alternative, I got out my bottle of Elmer’s school glue. In the green section I made a wavy line of glue and started adhering bits of fabric. When the green section was covered in green fabric, I stitched down the bits in straight-ish lines, trying to move along most of the edges but not being very fussy about it. After all, this needed to be FAST to meet the completion part of the challenge.

I continued around my rainbow, adding in teal/turquoise and compressing the indigo/violet. After adding each section, I pressed it with my hot iron.

Once all the colors were on, I used fusible web and a strip of black fabric to create the letters and attach them. Yes, I remembered to draw the letters in reverse!

Make no mistake, the glue did leave a mess. I needed to wash the table top where I did the glue work, and I cleaned up my machine, where the glue-y fabric rubbed along it under the presser foot. Also I cleaned the bobbin area, to pull out any remnants of dried glue underneath. I do still need to wash the presser foot and change the needle. For the future, if I do this again, I’ll use my less-valuable sewing machine.

My project is not done, after all. I have a concept for the outer edge of the muslin, still uncovered by color. Also I need to decide whether I will quilt it or simply leave it as a poster for myself.

The workshop was the MOST FUN I’ve had at a workshop. With encouragement and inspiration, Kim helped me unlock a portion of my brain. I wonder what else is in there… ūüôā


A Challenge and an Opportunity

“Think of it as a challenge and an opportunity.” A wise, gentle boss would suggest this, when I balked at¬†tasks I didn’t relish. It’s taken me more than thirty years to fully appreciate these words, and I still don’t do them justice.

As a noun, “challenge” has multiple meanings. A challenge is a stimulating task or problem, an invitation to compete in a contest, or a command to prove identity, among other things. As a verb, it can mean to confront or resist, or to dispute something as being unjust or invalid, or to create a contest or difficulty.

It can be easy to identify challenges. Anything that creates a barrier is a challenge, whether it is difficult dealings with other people, a job interview or art show jury, or a fear of flying when you need to cross the country quickly.

This is where opportunity comes in. The root¬†of “opportunity”¬†is “port.” Some etymologists use the notion of “ob portus” or heading toward port in a storm, sailing away from danger. Other words derived from port are portal and porch, perhaps giving welcome refuge¬†from our challenges. More current usage of “opportunity” refers to a chance, or a favorable time or condition for achieving success or attaining a goal.

If we recognize a circumstance as a challenge and an opportunity, we recognize there is both a barrier and a way through it.

To practice this concept, I’ve chosen CHALLENGE and OPPORTUNITY as my words of the year for 2017.

As I look into 2017, I foresee many challenges. Some are personal and others are societal. For societal ones, I intend to offer the challenge of resistance and questioning. These give me the opportunity for expression and the potential to affect change. I’ll need to think creatively, exercise my patience and tact muscles, and work for equality and justice.

Personal challenges can come from anywhere, anytime. Disagreements, slow check-out lines, misplaced paperwork, and much more extreme difficulties, can cause stress and irritation. Again, patience and tact go a long way toward moving through them gracefully. These are skills I continue to practice.

My quilting challenges are of a different nature. Here I’m usually on the receiving end of challenges, mostly self-imposed. I challenge myself to try new things, or to do more or better at familiar things. On reviewing my last few years with their sources of satisfactions and frustrations, I found that most are related to teaching or learning. Here are a few.

Challenge: Teaching in person is a prime source of gratification, and I want to do more. My favorite local quilt shop, which had great classroom space, closed its doors last week.
Opportunities: Another nearby quilt shop just moved into new space, and they do have a classroom now. I’ll check to see if my classes suit their needs. I’ll refresh my list of quilt guilds to contact for presentation and workshop possibilities, and follow through with contacting them. I’ll consider options for teaching about quilt history in non-quilting venues, such as historical societies.

Challenge: It is hard to obtain high-quality feedback on my projects as I develop them.
Opportunities: My medallion class, at its best, provides good feedback for me and the students. Re-establishing a schedule of classes would help me as I help others. Beyond this, I’m not sure how to get regular feedback and would welcome ideas.¬†

Challenge: While I want to continue making medallion quilts, it’s important to me that each is unique, not simply a rehash of things I’ve previously done.
Opportunities: This week I’m beginning a new class at the community college on linoleum block printing. In February I’ll take a second class on printing on fabrics. I’ll look for more workshops and classes through the year to refresh my work. Any other thoughts on this?

Challenge: A specific intention is to create story quilts. I have a number of ideas to present this way but am unsure of how to go forward. I’d really like someone to help pull me through the process, at least for the first one.
Opportunities: Honestly I don’t know where to go on this one. If you have ideas, please share.

Other challenges come to mind, and more will arise through the year. However, these currently are my highest priorities. Any ideas and advice you have of how to create or expand opportunities is welcome!

Putting It Off

Why do you put off working on a quilt project? Here are a few possibilities:

* I don’t have the supplies I need
* Parts of the project got scattered, and I don’t know where they are
* I don’t know how to do the next step
* I don’t like what I’ve done so far
* It’s boring or tedious or just plain hard
* Non-quilting parts of my life are taking my time and energy
* I’m mad (or something) at the person it is for
* I got distracted by a different quilt project (ooo! shiny!)
* The deadline is coming up, so I’m waiting to do my best work under pressure

If you have a lot of UFOs, any or all of these reasons might apply.

I never have many UFOs, but that doesn’t mean I don’t put stuff off. I’m doing it right now, in fact! The reason? I don’t have the supplies I need (good textile markers,) and I don’t know how to do it. And I have lots of other things I could choose to do instead. The fact that there is a deadline looming doesn’t make me delay; it just adds stress to it!

The other day I mentioned my guild’s annual challenge, to be presented in less than two weeks. This year the challenge is to create a quilt inspired by Iowa. There is no size or technique limit. However it must be quilted through three layers, bound, and labeled.

I have a start on my project, and I have ideas for how to proceed. The photo below shows a map of Iowa lying on top of pieced fabric. I used blue tape to draw a “dead body” outline around it, so I know the basic outline within which I’ll work. My plan includes some text, as well as at least one wind turbine. But the other elements are harder to envision. And in truth, I don’t know how to execute my ideas!


What does that mean? I can keep putting it off and miss this opportunity to try new things. Or I can get busy, learn how to write text on fabric, play with sizes for wind turbines, and have some fun! What’s the worst that would happen?

Why do you put off projects? What great (or lame) ideas do you have for my Iowa quilt? Do you have advice or encouragement for me? Let me know in comments.

The Mountain

Last Monday I began a new quilt. It’s been a while since you’ve heard that from me. I’ve been working on other projects, including a couple of presentations and also some writing. Quilting has taken a backseat.

I decided to start a medallion with a familiar blueprint (size of center block and widths of borders.) The blueprint gives proportions I know work. I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. The challenges, then,¬†are¬†to make the project¬†interesting, make it fun, and learn something. And along the way, I want to make a good quilt.

My time is still a limited resource. One way to reduce the amount of time on any quilt, medallion or not, is to reduce the amount of piecing. Less piecing means less cutting up front, less stitching, and less pressing after stitching. One way to make a quilt interesting with less piecing is to let the fabric do the work. So I chose a stack of fabrics that don’t necessarily go together. There were a couple of batiks and a cute black print and an African fabric in brilliant orange. A wide variety of styles and colors made their way into my pile of possibilities.

I started with this and then changed it two more times before I was happy with the center.


Too much orange, especially with the peachy background. The points weren’t distinct enough.


I tried switching to a different color, but it didn’t work either. The large print mushed into the other large prints. (Irony at work here…)


This one worked better, with the darker large star points. I also like how the circles repeat the circular motion of the center patch and also the big round flowers in the background. But they all contrast with the angularity of the African orange.

Once I got going on this project, it really flew. I don’t take a lot of pix at intermediate stages, and I didn’t this time, either. So there aren’t more to share. But I do have a picture of the finished top. Its name is “The Mountain” and it is 60″ square.

IMG_20151018_134730 (1)

The Mountain. Unquilted top, October 2015. 60″ square. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

I won’t work more on this¬†for several days. Some time in November I can share the finished quilt and more process information with you. This I will say: it was both challenging and fun, and I learned a lot about using pattern. AND I LOVE IT!

My Creative Manifesto and a Challenge for You

About a year and a half ago I read a post by another blogger on her creative manifesto. It was a listing of her beliefs and desired actions for her creative activity. Inspired, I published my own.

Occasionally I think about who I am as a quilter, what I want to accomplish, how much focus I want to put on quilting… (When Jim reads this we will laugh together, as I actually think about this A LOT!) So I wondered if that creative manifesto, published more than a year ago, still fits me. It does.

If this post inspires you, I challenge you to write your own creative manifesto.

Here is a partial outtake of my earlier post:

I love the idea of the list (I love lists!) because when we consider our self-image as quilters, when we see who we are today and who we want to become, we also consider where our satisfaction stems from. Is it from design, execution, giving, teaching? If you test patterns for others and don’t find it nurturing, is there a reason to do it again? If your love is in sharing your knowledge, don’t you need to find more ways to do that?

I think self-definition helps provide the inspiration and motivation to continue growing in our craft.

With no further ado, and totally copying from Sarah’s format, here are some thoughts on who I am as a quilter, and “what kind of artist I want to be.”

  • I am creative, which means I create.
  • Transforming things creatively is part of transforming me.
  • Writing is part of my creative expression.
  • I include me in all of my work.
  • I try new things, even if it scares me.
  • I practice skills and don’t wait for the skills fairy to wave her magic wand.
  • I learn from frustration.
  • I take advantage of opportunities to grow.
  • I don’t have to do everything or like everything I do.
  • I help, teach, encourage, and try to inspire others.
  • I credit others for their work and words.
  • I value others’ work, even if I don’t like it.
  • I respect the history of quilting by learning more about it.
  • I respect the present and future of quilting by being part of it.
  • I am open to new ways of doing familiar things.
  • I say “thank you.”
  • Materials are to use, not hoard.
  • I share.

Some of these are aspirational, but saying them as statements of what I AM helps reinforce that this is the person I want to be, and can be.

I’D LIKE TO CHALLENGE YOU. If you’re a blogger, I’d love to see your blog post with your own creative manifesto. It can be in list form or paragraph, but explain what is important to you as a quilter and creative person. If you’re not a blogger, let us know in comments how you see yourself as a quilter.