Each year my local guild has a new challenge, and I’m excited about this year’s! The current challenge is to create a medallion quilt. Though I won’t enter, I’m looking forward to seeing the entries and hearing from members as they create their pieces.
We just started our guild year this week, and it will close out in July with display and judging of these quilts. To help my fellow members move through the process, and also to help and inspire others who want to make medallions, I’ve decided to republish some of my prior posts. The best place to start is the beginning, right? Below you’ll see the fundamental rules of making a medallion quilt.
Before our latest travel adventure, I finished the muslin mock-up. It was the whole cloth quilt I made to test my quilting pattern for one of the red and white quilts. All it needed was a binding, which I finished by machine.
A dear niece asked if she could buy it. While I’d be glad to sell a lot of my quilts, this wasn’t one of them. Truly, it was created as an experiment. While it turned out very pretty, I couldn’t in good conscience sell it to her. Instead, I offered it to her as a gift.
This morning I put it in the mail, along with a bobbin of the quilting thread so she can mend it when needed.
Quilt for Becca. 68″ x 68″. July 2017. Photo by Jim Ruebush.
It was darn hard to get a good picture. It was hard to light it evenly and to avoid washing out the contrast and texture provided by the quilting. Here are a couple of pix from before binding, so you can see the detail better.
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.
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.
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!
The other day I showed you the photos below. They show a sequence of steps to creating a block, which is a variation of a block called “Delectable Mountains.” The variation is in using two fabrics (the teal blue and the stripe) for one half of the block.
This method to create the block uses a large half-square triangle. Once the HST is sewn, it is sliced into four equal-width segments. The segments are rearranged and sewn back together. My block uses a HST at 10″ (unfinished.) Each slice is 2.5″ wide. The finished dimension of the block is 9.5″ x 8″.
Here are a few HST and transformed Delectable Mountain blocks I made recently. Cool, huh?
I used the idea at the top with multi-fabric HST halves again. This time I edged my triangles on both sides, with a much narrower strip. You can see the paprika color is edged with a pale gold, and the mid-brown is edged with black. The four blocks are built but not sewn together yet. I plan to add turquoise to the center, using a stitch-and-flip method for each of the four blocks.
I’m playing, experimenting, designing as I go. Though I have an idea of where this is going, I’m ready to be surprised.
[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.