Tag Archives: Power

Transformation

These days, HGTV is focused on total house renovation, largely done by hired contractors, and selling fantasy homes. In the old days, many programs looked at the smaller scale of crafts and DIY home decor. Those old shows, and current ones like Craft in America on PBS, elevate making as a means of expression, and as a source of pleasure in transformation. As I watched those shows I remarked more than once about my wish to make beautiful things by my own efforts. But though I took a couple of drawing and painting classes, and occasionally bought craft supplies to try at home, I had no particular skill or talent for it.

Sometimes I’m still surprised at my journey into quilting. In my first experience fourteen years ago, I cut measured squares using a ruler, pencil, and scissors. I sewed them with seams as wide as the presser foot edge. The machine’s tension wouldn’t hold, leaving me repeatedly frustrated. Once my quilt top was assembled, I used tack stitching to hold the layers together. I pinched together wide bias binding, from a package, around the edge and top-stitched. It’s amazing that little quilt held together as long as it did.

The effort was not very satisfying, much less inspirational. I was not transformed into a quilter, but I enjoyed choosing fabrics to go together, and deciding how they would be arranged. Perhaps that’s what spurred my second quilt. It also was from squares, but I had a new sewing machine and basic tools of rotary cutter, a ruler, and mat. Having better tools allowed more pleasure from the process, as well as a better product.

The tools we use include more than the tangible ones like rulers and mats and machines. They also include the skills and talents we develop over time. I remember in the early days of my quilting having to think about each step as I made a small table runner for a friend. My goodness, it was hard!

Terri’s Variable Star Table Runner, about 8.5″ x 25.5″. From my early days, maybe 2006.

Of course, I didn’t use a pattern. I didn’t know patterns even existed. By that time I understood basic patch cutting with a quarter inch seam allowance, so I used the few books I owned for ideas, not recipes. (Eternal thanks to the small number of quilters online, who offered tips and tutorials even without patterns. Because of them, I learned how to quilt. Hallelujah and Amen.)

Besides the books, I started subscribing to American Patchwork & Quilting. Here, too, were patterns that I misunderstood as ideas and inspiration. Though I made a few quilts over the years based on the beautiful projects they showed, I always changed things, subbing a different block into the setting, or changing the size. The quilt below uses the “streak of lightning” setting I saw in an APQ project, though nothing else about it is the same.

Em’s Bed Quilt top (unquilted.) Streak of lightning setting. From about 2007. I don’t have a photo after it was quilted and bound.

Though I always designed my own quilts, it was many years before I thought of myself as a designer. In fact, that thought came to me about four years ago, at a specific moment, which I wrote about here.

While that recognition didn’t change what I do, it did help change how I do it. Seeing myself as a designer made me take design more seriously. Design is something that can be learned, and can be taught. I started studying design principles generally, but specifically related to quilts. I learned about unity, balance, proportion, and movement. I learned how design elements such as color, value, shape, and size contribute to the look of the quilt. And I began to evaluate more carefully what I see and what I make.

Evaluation allows me to identify both challenges and opportunities for meeting them. Currently I’m developing quilts for the class I’m teaching on medallion quilt design. Sometimes when I’m making a quilt, something about it strikes me wrong. Does that ever happen to you? 🙂 I got this far on one of my tops, and was dissatisfied. I knew the problems, but I wasn’t sure about the solution.

bear’s paw center block with borders

The first border of batik around the bear’s paw center block is cornered by fussy-cut flowers. I liked the effect at first, but as I surrounded it with more borders, it bothered me more and more. (Construction note: I used separate blocks, including half-square triangles, to form the borders that create the on-point look. The blocks allowed better precision of placement than I would get by creating large triangles to set on point.) The last border in the picture above is also batik, and it is cornered with more of the red used in the interior.

What didn’t I like? Those corner blocks. Though small, they have a lot of effect on the look. In the interior corners, the black print with red flowers bled into the surrounding fabrics. It wasn’t distinct enough from the batik, the black print, or even the red. On the outside corners, the red is simply too hot.

Another problem is that I’ve limited the number of colors I can use in later borders. There are various blues, greens, golds, and browns in the prints. However, the large sections of aqua, red, and butter yellow make introducing more colors awkward.

The simplest solution to both problems is to change the corner blocks. I looked for blue in my stash that would emphasize the blues in the batik. I had one small piece, about 10″ x 15″. (This isn’t unusual for my stash. I usually buy a yard at a time, but the way I use it, often in small amounts, ultimately leaves me with small amounts.) I cut squares to replace the eight corners and covered the ones already sewn in. Immediately I was happier. The blue transformed the piece, making it cooler and simpler, and allowing blue as another color for outer borders.

As I create my class projects, I explain to my students some of my process, using the jargon of design. Explanation clarifies for both them and me. And I ask for advice and help at decision points. They, also, present their work, and the group provides constructive input.

Over the series of classes, they become more confident in their choices. Some who have never designed their own quilts before are guided through the process, transforming themselves at the same time.

One could define “transformation” as the act or process of being changed. Some synonyms are change, alteration, and metamorphosis. A “metamorphosis” is the transformation into a completely different form, unrecognizable from the beginning. My metamorphosis over many years has taken me from someone with no apparent artistic skill, to one who can change pieces of fabric and thread into things of beauty and utility of my own design, and to one who can teach others to do the same. I like this form, and I look forward to what comes next.

The Rooster

On Friday I finished a quilt top, with which I’m really pleased. When I started it, I didn’t know much about it. I didn’t have a plan. Though I drew some (many!) illustrations in my design software, fabric doesn’t look the same as pixels, so the quilt kept evolving as I got more done. Almost every part of it changed while in process.

I like most of my quilts, really, almost all of them. Some delight me in ways I couldn’t expect. This is one. When I feel that way, it’s because the quilt is something I could not have made before this moment. All the things I’ve learned, all that I know, had to get to this moment, so I could make this particular quilt. When you see this quilt (not now, perhaps in a few weeks,) you might not guess that about it. But I will know. I’ll remember. This quilt is special, because I couldn’t have done it before.

~ *** ~

There was a Japanese emperor who hired an artist to paint a rooster for him. The emperor was a patient man, so when the painting was not immediately forthcoming, he was not very concerned. Even so, years went by. How difficult was it to paint a rooster? The artist was benefitting from the patronage of the emperor, living in the palace grounds, eating the food provided, yet he had not produced the painting. After twenty years the emperor’s patience was spent. He went himself to the artist’s rooms to inquire about his painting.

The artist was startled to be visited by the emperor, but he bowed deeply and invited the other man to have a seat. “Please wait here, and I will get your painting.” The artist retreated into his studio. The emperor could hear him, singing softly to himself, puttering around.

After many minutes the emperor could take it no more. He leapt to his feet, as well as a now aging man could, and filled the doorway of the studio with his presence. “Twenty years I’ve waited and still you make me wait! Why should I not execute you now?”

The artist did not react to the threat, but stepped from his easel and said, “I am almost done now. Do you like it?”

The emperor’s temper calmed as he saw before him the perfect rooster. In simple lines it showed the rooster turned to look over its shoulder at him, just as he’d hoped. But then the man noticed dozens, no hundreds of other paintings almost the same, lining every surface of the room. To his eye, they all looked perfect, too.

“Did you just paint the rooster on the easel?” the emperor asked.

“Yes, your Majesty.”

“If you have painted all these other roosters, why do I not have one yet? Why have I waited twenty years for something you could do long ago, something you could do in just a few minutes?”

“Oh, your Majesty, I could not,” said the artist. “It has taken me this long to learn how to paint the perfect rooster. None of those before were good enough to give you.”

[Written from my memory of an old folk tale.]

Stuck in the Mud? I Guess Not.

I’ve felt stuck, unable to move forward or back, not even really spinning my wheels as the wheels aren’t turning. My red and white Fire & Ice quilt has been my major endeavor so far this year, and it’s still not done. Because of that, it feels (feeeeeeeeeeeels) like I don’t have anything to show for my year.

Not true.

In fact, I’ve done a few things I’m pleased with. Kim’s Bright Garden is one of the highlights so far. The real highlight is she loves it, and Son loves that she loves it. 🙂

Kim’s Bright Garden. 71″ x 71″. Finished March 2017. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

Another finish, which I don’t think I’ve shared with you, is a mystery quilt I made with my small group. The instructions called for strip piecing, but I wanted to use scraps. To find out if that would work, I looked forward in the directions, ruining the mystery but likely improving the quilt. For this I used all the bright pink, orange, green, and purple scraps from my scrap drawer, along with yellow background fabric and a pretty piece for the border. I donated this for my guild’s quilt show (June 2 and 3) silent auction.

Mock Irish Chain mystery quilt. Approx. 50″ x 70″. Finished spring 2017. I’m not sure who took the photo to promote our quilt show.

Early in the year I decided to make a pink and brown quilt using the Delectable Mountains design. My original intention was to make it the “easy” way, using large half-square triangles to create the jagged blocks. Because those blocks are not square, the construction confused me a bit and I opted to make them the old-fashioned way. The method suited the old-fashioned colors, as did the heavy feathering I used to quilt it. I did post a photo of the finished top, but not after it was quilted.

Delectable Mountains. 61″ x 61″. Finished spring 2017. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

After making the pink and brown Delectable Mountains, I still wanted to create the design with the HST method. Googling images showed me how other people managed the problem of non-square blocks. Simply, they used small spacer blocks to adjust the sizing. Because my guild is having a special exhibit of red and white quilts, I decided to make the quilt again with the HST method. (Very long, not pretty story of why this quilt won’t be in the special exhibit. My nose is a bit out of joint, but it will heal, I suppose.) I don’t have a photo of the finished quilt yet (but it is done!), but here is the finished top. (And you can read more about it here if you wish.)

Hibiscus Mountain. Unfinished top. 73″ x 73″. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

In addition to these four finished quilts, I have three going that are not quite done. The biggest project by far is Fire & Ice, my other red and white quilt. (This one will be in the special exhibit, and even that is part of the long, not pretty story. UGH.) It is done with the exception of the binding and hanging sleeve. Today’s number one priority is to get those attached so the hand-finishing can commence.

Besides that, a niece has fallen in love with the muslin mock-up, which I created specifically to test quilting for the Fire & Ice project. It also is done except for binding. I’ll finish it and send it along to her.

Finally, I began a project with a paper-pieced spinning star. The top is done, the back is made, and the batting is cut. It’s loaded on the longarm frame now, and I hope to quilt it tomorrow and finish it before the end of the month. Here is the star center.

Along with all the quilting (it will be seven projects finished by mid-year,) I’ve put in a lot of time for other guild projects. I’m a little worn down by it all. My brother jokingly suggested that my next six quilts be constrained to red and white, to see how well I can work within the limitations. I told him that certainly is an idea, but “My next 6 quilts, whatever they are, will be with a joyful intention. That will be my constraint.” While all these quilts have been valuable to me for their lessons, it’s time to shift back to happiness in my quilting, as I found with Kim’s Bright Garden and Hibiscus Mountain. The joy is where the power is.

Happy Holiday!

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In my last post I mentioned I’ve been busy. 🙂 Besides doing a lot of guild work, I’ve also taken four classes so far this year. Two of the classes were for quilting. I took a paper piecing class through a local quilt shop, Cotton Creek Mill. One of the owners, Tara, gave a one-on-one lesson that taught me enough I could paper-piece the triangle border on a red and white quilt. The other class was a workshop offered by my guild by a visiting presenter. I made two blocks using her pattern and am using one of them as part of a fidget quilt for a dementia patient. (Mine is not as pretty as the one in the linked post.)

The other two classes were through the community college continuing education group. One was a linoleum block printing class and one was block printing on textiles. Besides learning some techniques, this was the most fun thing I did in those classes:

Jim and I will be hiking on Saturday and spending Sunday with family. I hope you have a great weekend, too!

Transforming the Past | Transforming the Future

[A post I shared two years ago.]

Four bulbs brighten my studio, giving ample light to work by. Yet as I press, cut, and sew, shadows darken the corners. The shadows hide spectres, whispering my name, nudging my attention their way. I turn, blinking. Sometimes I see nothing; sometimes I catch a glimpse of days gone by.

The spectres buzz quietly, muttering just under my hearing. Like lines of poetry, their words swirl slowly in the air, finally pushing their way into my consciousness. Many of the words are names, but the names all have their own stories, each story a memory.

The spectres and their memories arise as I pull pieces from my stash. Made from new fabrics and old, yardage and scraps, quilts are more than shape and color. A quilt becomes a literal scrapbook, full of memories both happy and sad. Each shadow of the past is firmly stitched in, just as Peter Pan’s shadow was re-attached with a few snug stitches. In this quilt a memory of shop-hopping with friends; in that a fabric used in a grandson’s baby quilt. As I include scraps from older projects in new ones, the memories continue to build.

Most remembrances are happy. The creamy background of two quilts celebrates graduations for Son and his sweetheart. Besides the celebration, I remember finishing Son’s quilt during a very dark time, and sadness permeates the remaining scraps.

Similarly, the finely etched toile of a wedding quilt lives on, despite the death of the groom’s fiancé prior to their marriage. The beauty of the fabric does not hint of the ugly parts of the story, but the spectres remember and whisper tales as I work.

Creating a quilt transforms shapes and colors, wild ideas and rigid planning. The metamorphosis converts old fabrics and new into a new form, more than the sum of its parts. Those parts include the spectres’ stories. Research has shown that good memories can supplant bad. I need no scientific proof to know it is true. With each new quilt and each new brighter memory created, the darker ones lose their power. That fine toile carries death, rejection, and pain. But when the same toile is matched with joy, with new thoughts and happy circumstances, it throws off its shadows again.

The full complexity of life shows in my quilts. Happiness is woven with sadness, birth with death, weakness with strength. The contrasts give vitality to the whole. If you know how to read my quilts, you can read those stories, too. We step into a new year, not knowing the stories that will be written in it, or written on our quilts. But the beauty will come from remembering the past, in all its dimensions, as well as in creating something positive for the future.