Tag Archives: Design

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?

Make Good Art

Thanks to all who read and commented on my recent post, in which I muttered about motivation for making quilts. If I make quilts and no one wants them, is there still a good reason to make them? In truth, the question should be somewhat different: who is the audience or “market” for my quilts?

When I began blogging, I knew I would have very few readers. Jim would read my writing, and I anticipated a few others might wander in by accident. Though readership has grown over time (thank you!) I try not to take that for granted, and know that any given post might capture little attention. Because of that, I write primarily for an audience of one: me.

My quilting is the same. While I will always make some quilts for specific people or causes, each quilt must be made to please me. Why? Once a gift is made, it is not mine. The new owner might love it or not, use it or not, abuse it or not, thank me or not. Only in the making is it truly mine. In the making it must please me. And if it is never given to someone else? Then also it must please me. So who is the audience? Me. And if it pleases me, that is enough.

So, back to work! Let’s catch up on my current project, using that odd historical print.

20160401_182819After attaching my on point border, I was stuck. Though I had a pretty good idea of what to do next, I was out of French blue fabrics like the darker blue in the photo. A quick shopping trip to Amana and South Amana refilled my coffers. In fact at each shop I found exactly one blue fabric of the right type, and at each shop I bought 3 yards. What I don’t use on the front will end up in the back. I also bought a yard of a cheddar orange, which is used in the center block as an accent.

I decided to use a narrow spacer border in the cheddar, only 3/4″, to take the center to 48″ finished. (The “center” is whatever is being bordered at the moment, regardless of how many borders there already are.) That size gives me options for a straight-set block border. For example, I could make blocks that are 12″, 8″, 6″, 4″, 3″, or 2″ length along the border edge.

I chose 6″ square blocks, with 8 blocks on each side. The zigzagging chain is made of double-4-patch blocks. The line created repeats the diagonals of the prior on-point border, as well as the diagonal setting of the center block. It also provides a nice change in value from the relatively light values coming before, especially the broad cream-and-tan toile corners surrounding the center.

20160406_084502

The lights that create the chain are all from my scrap drawer and pretty well cleaned it out of that type of light-neutral. Right now the blocks are built but not assembled into strips and not attached to the center.

The finished size of the center once they’re on is 60″. That is 48″ + 6″ + 6″. After that? More. I have the feeling this is going to be a big quilt, perhaps for a king-sized bed.

Finally, I’d like to offer author Neil Gaiman’s commencement address to art students in 2012. He talks about failure, disappointment, and discouragement, success, and work. The transcript provided by The University of the Arts says this:

And remember that whatever discipline you are in, whether you are a musician or a photographer, a fine artist or a cartoonist, a writer, a dancer, a designer, whatever you do you have one thing that’s unique. You have the ability to make art.

And for me, and for so many of the people I have known, that’s been a lifesaver. The ultimate lifesaver. It gets you through good times and it gets you through the other ones.

Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do.

Make good art.

Here is the video if you’d like to watch the whole thing:

MAKE GOOD ART.

 

 

 

Playing Today

My word for the year is PLAY! While I generally enjoy my creative time, some is more playful than others. Today I’ve played at two things so far. Both are designs.

Last evening I googled images for “urn flowers applique“. One of the images selected was an antique quilt done in only two colors, peach and white. (I couldn’t find out more about it. It had been a sale listing and the information was gone. No date, no name, no provenance.) The two colors formed a primary design as well as a secondary. I grabbed a piece of paper from the recycling bin and scribbled part of the design, enough so I could replicate it today in EQ7.

On analysis, it was done in 256 half-square triangles, in a 16×16 layout. The antique also included a peach inner border and a white outer border. My drawing below in blue and white skips the borders but includes a narrow white line to emulate the binding.

Binary Stars blue

Really cool, huh?

Here is a corner to show you the construction. Make the corner 16 times, and your quilt is ready for assembly.
Binary Stars blue 4 by 4

And since I was playing, I wondered how it would look in multiple colors. I love two-color quilts, but frankly I think this is a lot more interesting.
Binary Stars multicolors

And the corner for this one:
Binary Stars multicolors 4 by 4

Notice, if you will, that this design has absolutely NOTHING to do with “urn flowers applique“. That was my original search because I’m planning to start an urn flowers applique project! But first I need a design.

Since I don’t draw well, I decided to cut shapes and arrange them on paper. This gives me a pretty good idea of how big the shapes should be and how they might be arranged. The crumpled white paper is the wrapping label off a roll of batting. (Do you save some of that paper, too?) I taped two strips together and then started cutting shapes from another chunk. To save my arrangement I traced quickly around the shapes. It should be pretty easy to transfer to freezer paper and then fabric.

20160126_124416_resized

I’m planning to do old-fashioned needle turn applique, without all the glueing and pressing and fusing and fussing that some of the other techniques use. This will be relatively primitive, both due to my skills and my intention. The colors I’m choosing are joyful, not stuffy. I’ll show you progress as I make it.

What are you playing with these days? 

 

A Gift for My Friend BJ

Recently I mentioned I’ll be giving away a few quilts. I sent off two on Friday, and yesterday (Saturday) the first one arrived for its new owner!

In July and August I had a few quilts displayed in a local quilt shop. One day my friend BJ met me there to take a look, and to enjoy some time together. BJ and I met 18 years ago (MY GOODNESS!) at the bank where we both worked. We worked closely for several years prior to her retirement, and we’ve remained friends since then.

BJ is a sports fan, and while there were a couple of the quilts she especially liked, I thought this one suited her well. It is named Play Ball! and is 46″ x 56″.

This fun little quilt started from a pillow panel. Several years ago, on my first excursion into our local Mennonite thrift shop, I found two square pillow covers. With their vintage baseball theme and strong blues, reds, and greens, likely they were used in a boy’s bedroom. Besides the square(ish) panels on the front, the envelope closures on the back were lined with small baseballs on navy blue.

I used one panel to inspire a baby quilt for my youngest grandchild. (He is going on 5 now, so not a baby anymore.) It uses the Burgoyne Surrounded block on the front and the pillow panel to center the back.

But I still had one panel left. With a nice range of color and value, I continued the baseball and All-American theme.

The dark green tone-on-tone framed the panel to represent the grass of the infield, and then I mimicked the baseline and bases in the corners with cream and tan. Spark and movement comes from the simple border of 4-patches and half-square triangles.

The busy stars print frames all that, followed by borders only on top and bottom to elongate the quilt. This border uses the “economy” block, or square-in-a-square, described in this tutorial. I was able to use four of the fussy-cut baseballs for the corner blocks. Finally I framed the whole thing with red. This gives a balance between the red, navy, and green in the center panel.

I enjoyed making this quilt. I have a feeling BJ will enjoy watching her baseball playoff games and quite a lot of football snuggled under this lap quilt.

Playing with Color and Value Placement

Recently I showed you a block that uses the economy block as the center. It’s called “Union Square,” or “Contrary Wife Variation.”

Union Square block

I showed you two different versions of it. Here is the straight set with sashing.

Union Square straight set

Union Square or Contrary Wife variation, straight set with sashing.

What a difference it makes to remove the sashing. If you’re like me, your eye starts to focus on the dark shapes rather than on the blocks. In fact, you might start to see T blocks.

Union Square unsashed

Union Square unsashed

And one more change, putting some subtle color in the blocks’ corner patches. For me, this really blurs the block outlines.

Union Square unsashed 2

Union Square unsashed, with color/value variation

Now let’s try placing the values differently. Different colors, here, too.

Union Square unsashed 3

Union Square unsashed variation

Honest to Pete, it’s the same blocks. Putting the darkest value in the corners and their adjacent wedges takes the eye directly to them. In other words, the visual weight is where the dark values are. That is accentuated by using the pale yellow to create squares on point between the dark segments.

The lesson in this, if there is one, is that the way you see a pattern or design first is not the only way it can be done. Most of us are used to using our own preferred colors. But values can be placed differently, too. Experiment with designs to see how color and value placement changes the look.


 

If you’d like to see my other posts on economy blocks, the first post showed you how to make the economy block ANY SIZE with my tutorial and cheat sheet. The second showed you 17 different arrangements of the block with alternate blocks. They range from simple to fairly complex. The third is linked at the top of this post. It is on blocks that use the economy block as their center.