Tag Archives: Storytelling

Fierce Little Bear

The first quilt I completed this year named itself, as many do. It is called “Fierce Little Bear.” The bear in the name refers to the bear’s paw block that centers it. “Fierce” and “little” describe the owner of the quilt, my niece, a petite young woman who has faced tragedy and trial with grit.

I started the project last fall with a bear’s paw block, made with fussy-cut paws. In a post called Transformation, I showed you the beginning of it, including changing corner blocks to the dark blue you see below. 

I finished the top, posting a few photos on Instagram of the progress. By mid-November I was ready to load the layers for quilting. And by five days later, I took it off again because of tension issues. This photo of picked stitches gives a small sense of the trouble. I unpicked more stitches for this quilt than … any other since the last one I finished! (I’ll tell you about it soon.)

I’ve mentioned (many times, probably!) that I’m trying to learn how to tell stories better with quilts. There are many ways to do that, including the choice of fabrics, block style, and layout. Any words or pictures added through appliqué or other means can help tell a story. Another way to tell a story is with the quilting, which was a big part of my plan with this one.

Because I wanted the quilting to be special, and because my machine was having some erratic tension, as I continued to quilt, I checked the back every couple of minutes to be sure it was going okay. Now mind you, “checking the back of the quilt” while it’s on the frame usually means getting on the floor, scooting under the frame, craning the neck while holding a light up to the back, scanning across all the work done, burrowing back out from under the layers, and standing up again. All doable, but not always comfortable.

With holiday and project interruptions, I finished quilting and binding it early in January. At that point, the next step was delivery. My niece lives near enough to see in person but far enough that it requires a special plan.

And then! Then I saw that IQF had a call for entries to the Chicago show in the spring. One of their exhibits was Midwest Traditional quilts. Well, what could be more traditional than a medallion? So I entered it, putting off delivery of the quilt to my niece. It was not accepted — I think their idea of traditional was somewhat different from mine — but I’m glad I tried.

Finally at the very end of March, Jim and I took a short trip to see my niece Emily and her dad, who is my brother. I had three quilts with me and said I just thought she would enjoy seeing them in person, since mostly she sees my work on facebook. I showed one, then another. And then I had her open the third, Fierce Little Bear. Below is a gallery of photos of Emily examining it with her husband Adam. Click on any to open and embiggen.

Here is the quilt.

Fierce Little Bear. 67″ x 67″. Finished January 2018. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

The piecing design of this quilt, along with the fabrics, begins a story. The bear’s paw center is a traditional block design. Each of the “paws” is fussy-cut from fabric designed by Julie Paschkis. Here are two of them.

The combination of this fabric and the batik surrounding the center drove the color choices, including the emphases on cobalt blue, turquoise, and red. The Julie Paschkis prints also included black backgrounds, allowing use of black, also. This is a wildly unusual color combination. (And I will say, Jim and I took dozens of photos of this quilt, more than anything I’ve ever done, and in various set-ups for lighting. The colors simply do not show well together in photos, but they are quite beautiful in person. sigh…) 

The inner borders of turquoise and yellow create a faux-on-point setting, and also allow the illusion that the center block and its batik border float on top of the rest.

The middle borders are intentionally sharp and jagged, and have a subtle reference to Native American designs. And the outer border repeats the batik, tying it all together.

The quilting finishes the story. It reads from left to right as a whole picture framed by trees on either side, canopied in leaves and clouds. At the base is a field of flowers. Butterflies float next to the tree trunks. An owl hides in the tree on the left, while a squirrel is on the lower right. And a fish swims in an aqua pool. You truly can’t see the detail without close examination. Here are a few pictures to give you a taste of it.

This is a very long post and I am omitting so many pictures I’d like to include, but you have to stop somewhere. The last photo I’ll show will give you different information. It is a black and white image of the top, prior to quilting.

While I made this, I fretted a lot, hoping it would turn out well and suit my niece. She is strong and vibrant; she loves the outdoors; she is generous and kind; and she is unique. That’s what I wanted the quilt to be. Over and over I showed photos of progress to my brother, and he continually encouraged me, reassuring me that she would love it. But the colors, though beautiful, are no one’s idea of an expected combination. Finally, I looked at the top without color, in the black and white version above. And finally I was reassured that it worked. Exactly as I wanted.

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Green Man Project First 8 days

Today is the ninth day of my 100 day journey through the Green Man. I’m not actually working on him today; instead, I’m writing this update.

My intention is to explore techniques of creating a Green Man medallion quilt, and my greater motivation is to learn more and better ways of telling stories through quilts. I don’t believe that a quilt needs to be an “art” quilt in order to convey meaning. And I don’t believe a piece of art (or craft) needs to be representational to do that, either. Even representational art can be brushed off as merely pretty (as if being pretty is a bad thing) rather than meaningful. Stories are told in many different ways, and meaning conveyed depends as much on the audience as on the teller of the story.

But the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” is repeated for a reason. Pictures create a shorthand. And learning how to draw a picture to help tell stories is a worthy endeavor.

With no further ado, here is a bit about my progress in that direction.

My friend, with whom I am bartering work, wants a quilt representing a Green Man. This is a figure with mythology intertwined with both pagan and Christian background. In general, the symbolism represents humans’ interrelationship with nature. Images of the Green Man on ancient Christian churches across Britain and France show how tangled the early Church’s religious messages were with non-Christian beliefs.

My goal will be to express the Green Man as mankind tied to nature, as my friend is with her small family farm.

I began by noticing the printed design on my bedroom curtains. I thought a face could easily fit into the lower part of one of the motifs.

That, and a photo of the friend’s husband, led to this:

I didn’t love the upper part, or what I think of as a crown. I also wasn’t comfortable with copying the fabric designer’s motif so nearly. I wanted a crown with proportion a little more comfortable for the face, and also a more original composition.

I rearranged some elements and changed others. Then I traced it onto freezer paper with a Sharpie marker and cut away the background. I pressed it onto solid black fabric, leading to this:

But that does a poor job giving a notion of what color would do to the appearance. I decided to try again tracing with pencil and coloring with crayons. This certainly isn’t the color set I will use, (and really, they photographed badly,) but it gives me a notion of where to start. This photo uses my dark green cutting mat as the background, rather than black fabric. I like the dark green but want some depth of value on it.

I’m pretty happy with the notion of this now. The real question is how to execute it. I’ve ruled out using wool applique, because I want my fabrics to be richer with pattern. However, I’ve also ruled out using only batiks. Other printed and solid fabrics will have their place, both in the center block and in the rest of the quilt.

My workshop Monday with Kim Lapacek also gave me new tools for storytelling. Whether or not the techniques show up in this quilt, my imagination has been broadened.

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.]

Power Builders 04.03.15

This is Week #9 of my Power Builders creative links. If you’d like to see last week’s, you can find it here.

I call this series “Power Builders” because that’s what these little items do for me. They make me more powerful in my art and in my life. I hope they do the same for you. Some of the links will be about how other creative people use their time, structure their work, find inspiration. Some may be videos, music, or podcasts to inspire you. Some of it will be directly quilt-related but much of it will not. What you see in Power Builders will depend on what I find. Feel free to link great things in comments, too.

Throes of Creation by Leonid Pasternak, from Wikipedia’s entry on “Writer.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Writer

Do you need to be published to be a writer? No. You just need to write. Writers write. Here are a few links about writing, storytelling, and persuasion. I’m not sure if they are inspiring, but perhaps they’ll lead you to think about how we communicate with others.

1) Three truths about writing, from Parker J. Palmer, via On Being With Krista Tippett.

2) From vox.com, “Want to know the secret to all good storytelling — and even all good writing?” We’re treated to three more essentials, this time words, which lead to more effective writing. We’re also warned off from the toxic connector, “and then.”

3) I’ve started following Seth Godin’s blog. He “is the author of 18 books that have been bestsellers around the world and have been translated into more than 35 languages. He writes about the post-industrial revolution, the way ideas spread, marketing, quitting, leadership and most of all, changing everything.” His blog includes mostly short notes on how we convey information, tell stories, and sell ourselves and our products. Here is a very short post from last year.

4) Writers are always told, “Show, don’t tell.” Our brains are visually-oriented. This post from IFL Science (via ArtsJournal) describes research into how we process words on the page, as pictures. Perhaps we need to rethink the old advice and figure out how to make our words even more visual.

5) The picture superiority effect is the impact of pictures on memory retention. Words PLUS pictures leads to better retention.

6) But as for persuasion, the written word and pictures aren’t very useful in changing someone’s mind. You can confirm for them what they already believe, and provide examples and supports for that view. But if they have the opposite view from what is written, it will not convince them they are wrong. Facts just don’t matter. Instead, try a spoken conversation. Ask them to explain, in detail, why they believe what they do. What are the mechanisms by which their theory works? This video explains how to change someone’s mind.

What has inspired you this week? Let us know in comments.