Tag Archives: Creativity

Who Is Your Worst Critic?

Here is another re-run post for you to ponder. I’ll be offline for the next several days. In my absence please feel free to comment on the post, to each other… I’ll look forward to seeing your discussion when I get back.

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Who is your worst critic in general?

Who is your worst critic about your quilting or other crafting?

What does that critic say to you about your quilting or crafting skills and talents?

Do you believe that critic from an intellectual standpoint?

Do you believe the critic from an emotional standpoint?

If the critic is right, do you care?

If the critic is wrong, do you care?

If you care (and want to “improve,”), is there something you are willing to do to address the criticisms?

If you don’t care (or don’t want to “improve,”) is there something you are willing to do to address the critic?

Does the criticism affect your desire to try things?

Who is your biggest fan?

How do you know?

What can you do to get more positive feedback from that fan or others, including yourself?

Will you show up, be big, regardless of the feedback?

Will you listen to this talk by Brené Brown, about the critics in your creative arena? It’s about 20 minutes. I found her affirming and inspiring.

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Be Powerful. CREATE!!

I first published this two years ago, and had linked it on my personal Facebook page. Today Facebook “memories” brought it back to me. I thought it was worth sharing again. 

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In my class on making Design-As-You-Go medallion quilts, students choose their own center block and borders, one decision at a time. As the quilts develop, the students engage and encourage their classmates in making skillful choices. All the quilters in that class are very experienced and talented. But not all of them design for themselves regularly.

Last night I received an email from one of my spring students. Sarah said, “I feel so liberated after taking your class.

Her ability to create, to design for herself, allows her to become more of herself. Liberated. To be herself. She is more powerful. And I believe we all have that power.

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I had a long discussion about art and creativity with my friend Ben recently. I asked Ben, “Why is art-making so rewarding? Why must we make art — write, play, sing, act, paint, quilt, arrange flowers — ? How are we transformed by the creative process?”

Within a much larger answer, Ben said,

I think we are least destructive, even within ourselves, when we are most creatively fulfilled. Isn’t this where we separate ourselves from all other animals? In the ability to create what was not there before? In new and totally unique ways? Doesn’t creative exploration create new and different creative pathways within us? Don’t we thereby become more than we were before?

I think we are most true to our natures when we create, when we engage creatively. …

I think it is rewarding because we are doing what we are meant to do. Growing, learning, trying, failing, succeeding, exploring and expanding our natures.

We are expanding our natures. In my response to him, I agree with his summary and explain my personal experience.

I find creation to be powerful. My tagline on my blog is “Be powerful. CREATE!” I mentioned when we visited in July about my work to regain my personal power after my illness. And I have found that expression through writing and designing, and transforming ideas and colors and shapes into tangible objects is one of the primary ways [for me] to build power.

I keep pushing my personal boundaries of what I can do. That growth makes me more powerful and MORE OF THE PERSON I AM.

A book I read several years ago by Anna Quindlen is called Object Lessons. One of the things that struck me most when I was finishing the book is how the characters, through the period of the novel, all became more themselves. NOT that the book revealed that, but that their true selves were more revealed to other characters and even to themselves through the story. They became themselves.

And funny, I just dipped into the first of the novel on Amazon and I find a passage I hadn’t remembered, don’t remember as being part of the theme of the book, about the 12-year-old girl main character. The passage describes being in school and told by the nun to write an answer to the question “who are you?” The girl wrote “I am still becoming who I am.”

That’s how I feel. … my quilting work has taken off in ways I never would have anticipated. And that also has been creative growth, which has pushed my other personal growth in new ways. Mostly, perhaps, I’ve become more willing to try other things that are different or “hard,” even if not in the realm of creativity.

All I know is that creation helps me become myself. And becoming myself is powerful.

We all have creative power within ourselves, though we express it in different ways. It is a power of transformation. We transform materials, notes on a page, our thoughts, ourselves. We transform others as we reach out to them to teach or encourage. As we exercise that transformational power, it gets stronger. We become more liberated to be our true selves, revealing layers even we did not know were there.

You can become more powerful, too. Be powerful. CREATE!

Lessons: Starting a Medallion Quilt

The Mountain. 60" x 60" with 15" center block. 2015.

The Mountain. 60″ x 60″ with 15″ center block. 2015.

While I love all quilts, medallion quilts continue to fascinate me for a number of reasons. They’re one of the oldest formats of bedding quilting, and I love the history behind them and the huge range of styles they can take. Aesthetically, the variety of borders makes them exciting, while the symmetry appeals to me, too. Each one teaches me new lessons. But one of the things I like best is they are a mystery to be solved. I don’t need to know the ending before I even begin.

If you would like to make a medallion quilt, where should you start? First you need to consider a few things.

What is the purpose of the quilt? Will it be a gift? Will it be a wall-hanging, a baby quilt, a bed quilt? Do you need to please someone else or just yourself? Colors and size, and even blocks used may be influenced by this.

Is there a specific center block you plan to use? If so, that will drive many of your decisions as you go. If not, here are a number of centers that may inspire you.

What colors/fabrics will you use? Are you busting stash or will you buy some new? Are you comfortable with scrappy and improvisational fabric choices? The tradition of medallion quilts allows incorporating “new” colors and patterns clear into the last border, as long as they continue to relate to what’s gone before. If you’ve already chosen a center (or have a plan for making one,) you may want to pull fabrics that might work, knowing that others likely will be used, as well.

THE CENTER BLOCK
Once you’ve decided the purpose for the quilt and the approximate size, you can consider the center block. (Or alternately, if you already have a center block, that might guide the purpose and size of the quilt.)

How big should the center block be? When I study “successful” medallions (meaning, ones I like,) the center block is at least a quarter the width of the whole quilt. A smaller block tends to lose its importance when the scale is less than that. My largest block was about 60% of the width of the total quilt. [For some illustrations of center block proportions, see my post Proportion, Part 1.]

For example, if you have a 15” block, your quilt might be up to about four times that, or 60” wide. If that 15″ block were half the width of the quilt, your quilt would be 30″ wide, perhaps a wall-hanging.

What if you want a larger quilt? Well, you could use a larger block, or you could increase the scale of your block by turning it on point. [See my posts on turning a block on point: Straight or On-Point Setting? and How to Set a Block on Point.]

That same 15” block, if turned on point with an exact (not over-large) setting, creates a block that is 21.21” wide. How do I know? Using the math for diagonals,
15 x 1.414 = 21.21.

Using a block about 21”, you can make a quilt up to about 84” and still have the same proportions.

(If you make the setting triangles “too large,” you can increase that more. If you decide to do this, you’ll want to think carefully about scale and how the block may “float” on the setting. If the block’s design is too far from the edges, it again may seem too small.)

Another way to make a block larger is to make it the center of a bigger block. Rather than turning on point with setting triangles, as above, you could frame it with the outside piecing of a larger block.

To the left is a basic variable star block, with the center left blank.

Imagine your block surrounded by star points. A variable star would double the size of your center, as shown in the photo below.

The little star below is framed by the bigger star, which could turn an 8″ block, for instance, into a 16″ block.

But there are any number of ways you can use your block as the center of another. Here are just 16 frame blocks I found in EQ7! This may be a little hard to see, because there are so many and all so different. But the idea is, you can frame your chosen block with any one of the bigger blocks below to expand it and make it more substantial, just like I showed with the little mock-Amish wall-hanging above.


I’ll write more about center blocks in the next Lessons post. Look for more Medallion Lessons here

Do you have a block? Have you thought some about your goals? I’d love to hear about your ideas in comments. 

What’s the Worst that Would Happen …?

[Note: I published this long ago, in the early days of this blog. Recently I read a post by Kathy Loomis on fear and art, wondering if we focus on the fear too much, teaching fear rather than boldness. That may be so. But the most important thing to learn about fear in art and in most making is, there is really nothing to be afraid of. In that context, I post this again.]

A friend recently posted on Facebook, “Usually I’m a pretty good cook… today was not one of those days. Man did I mess breakfast up. Oh well, the dogs liked it.”

I said, “If you ask yourself ‘what’s the worst that would happen if…’ and the answer is that the dogs will get to eat it, you might as well try it!”

There’s a lot of stuff I don’t try in my quilting. Sometimes I actually don’t have interest in a technique or style. Sometimes I do but feel a little (or a lot) intimidated. While I definitely have favorite styles and colors, I want to push my creativity by being open to failure. I want to, but honestly sometimes I have trouble doing so.

There are many sports metaphors about risk and winning – Wayne Gretzky’s famous quote is “You’ll always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” However, we don’t always apply the same thinking to our art. In reading about creativity, I understand that we don’t take risks because we fear failure. Really, failure or success is determined by setting some standard to reach, and then measuring whether or not we reached it. The worst part is, we set our own standards in quilting, and usually we set them too high. We hesitate to try new things because we fear we won’t do them as well as our heroes, or as well as the best thing we ourselves ever did, or because we are worried about others’ opinions.

Another facet of “failure” for me is I am a finisher. If I try something, I want the results to be “good enough” to finish the project. (Others might have an odd fear of success with the same result — those who don’t finish projects may not wish the obligation that comes with a successful experiment!)

Could we measure success as having been bold enough to try something new, and having learned something from it? Then every project we undertake could be a success. And every experiment would be its own finish, with or without a completed project.

Another friend, an actor, talked to me recently about stage fright. A particularly bad commercial shoot several years ago led to lingering anxiety about how each “next shoot” would go. But the stage fright makes him angry and he refuses to succumb to it, becoming stronger all the time in overcoming it. He says, “Perhaps we are too ‘full of ourselves’ and think that we should be ‘perfect’…and when we are not, we just can’t handle the thought….”

Stage fright, writer’s block, quilting fear, all part of the same structure. There is fear to try, to be judged a failure, if only by ourselves.

In Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird, she talks about the process of creation. As a writer, she’s well aware of the desire to create perfection each time we begin a new project.

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.

Or more bluntly from her, “In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.”

Shitty first drafts, practice blocks, even finished quilts we assess as failures, are the predecessors of better work. Go ahead and write that shitty first draft. Only when we begin something can we learn from it, improve on it, and be done with it, one way or another.

Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of bestselling Eat, Pray, Love, gave a TED talk about the elusive nature of creative genius. Genius, inspiration, the “muse,” when they show up at all, sometimes show up at inopportune times. Whether or not genius shows up, she says, keep at it, keep showing up. Do your job, whether or not genius does.

At the end of the talk she reiterates, “Don’t be afraid, don’t be daunted. Just do your job.

Sometimes it feels like we’re doing our job with little guidance, no clear path.

Anne Lamott again:

“E.L. Doctorow said once said that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”

It’s okay to not know where you’re going, or how it will turn out. Don’t let fear stop you. Don’t be afraid. If the worst that would happen is the dogs eat the breakfast, the first draft is shitty, or the block goes into a pile of orphans, try it anyway.

What’s the worst that would happen?

Lessons: Medallion Books Review

Very few books on medallion quilts have been published in the last 35 years. Mostly they provide patterns. A few provide some historical context. Only one has an in-depth discussion of design.

For those interested in medallion quilts, whether made by yourself or in a round robin, I wanted to give short reviews of the ones you might encounter. Some I own and others I don’t. All reviews are presented in order of year of publication.

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The Art and Technique of Creating Medallion Quilts by Jinny Beyer, 1982
I own this out-of-print book and am glad I do. It’s a useful reference even though it is dated in presentation. Beyer’s writing is wordy; the book is largely in black and white; the quilt styling is formal and symmetrical; and construction methods use individually drafted templates for piecing. None of this is very appealing to today’s quilters, used to rotary cutting and quick piecing methods, as well as less formal styling. Things I like include a comprehensive history of the medallion format. Also, two chapters specifically consider design, though they focus on the broad outlines of proportion and not on aspects like color, value, shape, line, and movement. This book acknowledges construction challenges but provides little help for solving them, and there are no projects or patterns.

Classic English Medallion Style Quilts by Bettina Havig, 2003
This book shows traditional styling, providing patterns but no design context. The author asserts you can make an authentic English-style quilt using a center block and borders that alternately are pieced and wholecloth. There are ten types of border block units with instruction. The layouts of quilts are attractive, but the colors would be considered dated now. In addition, there are no construction strategies offered to help the quilter get borders to fit, assuming all sizing is absolutely accurate. The author provides planning charts, allowing quilters to customize their quilts with different blocks. However I find the charts very confusing, and the borders sizes odd. I don’t use this book much.

Medallion Quilts: Inspiration & Patterns by Cindy V. Hamilton, 2006
I don’t own this book but I’ve checked it out many times from my guild library. It includes some historical information about medallions, as well as beautiful photos. Hamilton is a skilled designer and includes patterns for four quilts. (I have not made any, so can’t comment on quality of instructions.) Though she encourages substitutions in border styles for the quilter’s preference or skills, her patterns include complex piecing with templates, and significant amounts of appliqué. Also, Hamilton’s book mentions making borders fit but doesn’t discuss solutions so quilters can do so.

Liberated Medallion Quilts by Gwen Marston, 2012
Marston is best known for her exuberant, “liberated” style. With its wonky, non-standard styling, liberated piecing gives plenty for the eye to enjoy. In this book she extends that styling to the traditional medallion format, and provides plenty of evidence for the notion that liberated IS traditional. The quilts in this book are playful and unique, a treat to look at.

In text Marston argues for design-as-you-go, but she doesn’t support that with strategies the reader might use to design their own, though there are patterns for a number of quilts. In addition, though I love many of these quilts, the liberated style is not how I like to work. So I use this beautiful book for inspiration if not instruction.

Focus on the Center by Pat Sloan, 2012
This is a pattern book with no design discussion. There are patterns for six lap quilts and one bed quilt. The marketing information doesn’t say what sizes those mean. I haven’t seen it in person, but the pictures of quilts are generally attractive.

Blocks, Borders, Quilts! by Sunny Steinkuhler, 2012
This book includes one blueprint for customization of a 40″ square quilt, with a number of specifically sized blocks. Though the creative reader could deviate from this pattern, there seems to be little to no design or construction information. I haven’t seen this book in person. One thing in the Amazon preview puts me off entirely. Steinkuhler says about contrast, “… you may not want any contrast in your quilt at all. There are no wrong answers here.” While wholecloth quilts can be very beautiful and interesting, they do have contrast in texture. And her book is on pieced medallion quilts, not whole cloth. What reason could there be for piecing a quilt with no contrast? I found this confusing.

The Modern Medallion Workbook by Janice Z. Ryan and Beth Vassalo, 2015
I don’t own this book but I’ve checked it out from the public library. Compiled by Ryan and Vassolo, it is a book featuring patterns by 11 designers including themselves. In addition, there are notes on basic quilt creation such as choosing fabrics, improving seam allowances, and cutting, which might be useful for beginning quilters. It is marketed as a “workbook,” as implied by the title. The premise is that the quilter can pick and choose favorite elements from the patterned designs, to customize a quilt to their taste. The workbook section does provide some helpful tips for this process. However, at only six pages, it really doesn’t cover either the design process or construction strategies in any depth. In the first printing, all three formulas given were stated incorrectly. All three said to multiply when the function should have been to divide, and one of the three had incorrectly stated order of operations. An experienced quilter might be able to suss that out, but a new quilter might be hopelessly confused. I won’t add this book to my personal library. For a more complete review, check the one written by Joanna the Snarky Quilter.

Quilter’s Academy Volume 5: Master’s Year by Harriet Hargrave and Carrie Hargrave, 2016
I wrote an extensive review of this new book when it came out in January. It was a big disappointment to me, for several reasons. The book is poorly formatted with at least three page layout styles; photos are murky; and all the quilts shown are in dull, muted colors. The content is marketed as a reference book and specifically not as a pattern book. Instead, it features patterns. The design reference section focuses on how to draw medallions on graph paper. The writing is confusing, both for basic text and pattern instructions. The authors’ tone is at least as off-putting as anything else. Please see my complete review for more detail.

Do you have any of these books? What do you think of them? What are your favorite medallion quilt books?