Tag Archives: Word of the year

The Perfect Set-Up

Remember the fun we have as the year turns, defining our resolutions or choosing a word of the year? For the last few years I’ve tried the “word” game. When it’s working well, I have my word in mind often, and consider how to move my life more in line with the word’s intended values.

This year, I’ll admit, I haven’t thought much about my word. Actually, it’s two three words, “challenge and opportunity.” My intention is to see barriers or obstacles — and problems! — as chances for creativity and growth, and to face opportunities bravely, even when they are hard. But while I haven’t thought much about it, I’ve been living it. My quilty world has been rife with opportunities for growth, for re-engagement with my guild, for creativity in my quilting, and for cultivating speaking and teaching gigs.

One personal challenge I set was to create a special red and white quilt for my guild’s upcoming quilt show. I’ve shown you the unquilted top already.

Creating the top presented challenges of its own, including interpreting the original quilt in a way that would honor it, learning to paper piece those triangle borders, and appliquéing various parts of the motif.

Originally I planned to have it quilted professionally. For various reasons, including encouragement from my brother, I decided to do it myself. As you can see, it is a challenge and an opportunity! 

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been working on a plan, including both design and implementation. For the stitching design, I’m inspired by Welsh hand-quilting motifs. My draft includes double arches and spirals, among other traditional elements.

Implementation is multi-steps. To start, I’m drafting the design with markers on plexiglass sheets, overlaid on the quilt top. I’ll transfer the design to a product called “Golden Threads” paper, a specialty tissue paper intended for quilting right through, and tearing away. If this works, it will allow me to avoid marking on the quilt top itself. I’d rather not, as I don’t want marking to stain the white fabric.

I’ll test the Golden Threads paper with a first go, which will also allow me to practice the shapes. I have a muslin whole-cloth top the same size as the red and white top. It won’t have the same effect without the piecing, but I’ll be able to tell whether the whole plan will work or not.

The muslin backing is loaded on the longarm frame, and I have batting the right size, as well as the top. Within a few days I’ll start quilting it. I’ll do the borders at each end (top and bottom,) and stabilize it through the middle with basting. Then I’ll take the whole thing off the frame and turn it 90°, reload it, quilt the other borders, and quilt the middle. IF it all works okay (learning as I go, I’m sure,) I’ll use the same process on the real deal.

Wow. This is the perfect set-up for challenge and opportunity. Wish me luck.

A Challenge and an Opportunity

“Think of it as a challenge and an opportunity.” A wise, gentle boss would suggest this, when I balked at tasks I didn’t relish. It’s taken me more than thirty years to fully appreciate these words, and I still don’t do them justice.

As a noun, “challenge” has multiple meanings. A challenge is a stimulating task or problem, an invitation to compete in a contest, or a command to prove identity, among other things. As a verb, it can mean to confront or resist, or to dispute something as being unjust or invalid, or to create a contest or difficulty.

It can be easy to identify challenges. Anything that creates a barrier is a challenge, whether it is difficult dealings with other people, a job interview or art show jury, or a fear of flying when you need to cross the country quickly.

This is where opportunity comes in. The root of “opportunity” is “port.” Some etymologists use the notion of “ob portus” or heading toward port in a storm, sailing away from danger. Other words derived from port are portal and porch, perhaps giving welcome refuge from our challenges. More current usage of “opportunity” refers to a chance, or a favorable time or condition for achieving success or attaining a goal.

If we recognize a circumstance as a challenge and an opportunity, we recognize there is both a barrier and a way through it.

To practice this concept, I’ve chosen CHALLENGE and OPPORTUNITY as my words of the year for 2017.

As I look into 2017, I foresee many challenges. Some are personal and others are societal. For societal ones, I intend to offer the challenge of resistance and questioning. These give me the opportunity for expression and the potential to affect change. I’ll need to think creatively, exercise my patience and tact muscles, and work for equality and justice.

Personal challenges can come from anywhere, anytime. Disagreements, slow check-out lines, misplaced paperwork, and much more extreme difficulties, can cause stress and irritation. Again, patience and tact go a long way toward moving through them gracefully. These are skills I continue to practice.

My quilting challenges are of a different nature. Here I’m usually on the receiving end of challenges, mostly self-imposed. I challenge myself to try new things, or to do more or better at familiar things. On reviewing my last few years with their sources of satisfactions and frustrations, I found that most are related to teaching or learning. Here are a few.

Challenge: Teaching in person is a prime source of gratification, and I want to do more. My favorite local quilt shop, which had great classroom space, closed its doors last week.
Opportunities: Another nearby quilt shop just moved into new space, and they do have a classroom now. I’ll check to see if my classes suit their needs. I’ll refresh my list of quilt guilds to contact for presentation and workshop possibilities, and follow through with contacting them. I’ll consider options for teaching about quilt history in non-quilting venues, such as historical societies.

Challenge: It is hard to obtain high-quality feedback on my projects as I develop them.
Opportunities: My medallion class, at its best, provides good feedback for me and the students. Re-establishing a schedule of classes would help me as I help others. Beyond this, I’m not sure how to get regular feedback and would welcome ideas. 

Challenge: While I want to continue making medallion quilts, it’s important to me that each is unique, not simply a rehash of things I’ve previously done.
Opportunities: This week I’m beginning a new class at the community college on linoleum block printing. In February I’ll take a second class on printing on fabrics. I’ll look for more workshops and classes through the year to refresh my work. Any other thoughts on this?

Challenge: A specific intention is to create story quilts. I have a number of ideas to present this way but am unsure of how to go forward. I’d really like someone to help pull me through the process, at least for the first one.
Opportunities: Honestly I don’t know where to go on this one. If you have ideas, please share.

Other challenges come to mind, and more will arise through the year. However, these currently are my highest priorities. Any ideas and advice you have of how to create or expand opportunities is welcome!

Thoughts on Work and Play

Near the end of 2015, I wrote this:

“Play” might sound the same as “experiment.” Both are means of learning that require openness and flexibility. But experimenting is methodical, and typically takes a process from beginning to end, including appropriate analysis. Playing is not necessarily methodical and it doesn’t require completion to end. How many messes have you seen in living rooms and playrooms and classrooms, as children abandon their play to do something else? Playing is no less important than experimenting, but it is approached less seriously.

After struggling to “play” as I made my recent table runner, after being encouraged to improvise rather than following plans, I realized I need more thought on the differences between work and play. (And I intend to follow up with some thoughts on improvisation vs. planning.)

So I thought about what defines play for children. Children play in physical ways, learning to roll a car or ball across the floor, or do somersaults or skip or swing. They sing silly, rhythmic, made-up words. They color and cut and paste, and build towers of blocks before knocking them down. They love games like Concentration and Snakes & Ladders. They play house and pirates and going-to-the-store. They expend enormous amounts of energy learning about their environment, developing physical skills, and understanding relationships between people. Child development expert Maria Montessori said, “Play is the work of the child.”

But what they do is not the only marker of whether they are working or playing. Imagine a child in pre-school during time designated for art. The teacher has given each child a sheet of paper, a glue stick, and a stack of pre-cut, construction paper shapes. Then the teacher shows the children how to attach each of the shapes to achieve a colorful flower. Does the child see this as play? Research suggests not:

According to the few studies that have been conducted around children’s views of play they distinguish work from play based on cues; emotional and environmental. Emotional cues “include the amount of choice a child has in an activity, whether the activity is voluntary or not and how easy it is.” Environmental cues “include where the activity takes place, whether or not an adult is involved or evaluates what the child has done and the physical nature of the activity.” Children use all these cues to determine how play-like an activity is, meaning things can be more or less like play or work.

In other words, children define play based on who is making the rules, and who is evaluating the results. When the child gets to choose when, what, and how to participate, and is not evaluated for their performance, it is play.

So what does “play” mean relative to quilting? Sometimes it’s easier for me to understand something if I back into it. What does “play” NOT mean? It does NOT mean
* joyless struggling to fit someone else’s definition
* following patterns to a T
* wonky stars and log cabins just because wonky
* or simple just because simple
* or complex just because complex.

To me, play does not mean following someone else’s decisions or labels. As for the children, it is doing what I want, when I want, by my own rules and subject to no one’s judgment but my own. Play is both natural and educational. It teaches new lessons and reinforces lessons already learned. It is, more than anything, a pleasure even if not always “fun.”

By that definition, almost all of my quilting is play. I choose what I do and how I do it, to please myself. I learn and relearn and generally enjoy the process. This is regardless of how planned, structured, or deliberate the process.

Perhaps I just need to change how I see it. Maybe this is the part I need to take to heart more completely:

In 2016, I will try to guide my quilting and other parts of my life with PLAY. I will try to take a light-hearted and compassionate approach, for my quilts, my relationships, and myself. I want to be unafraid of abandoning things that don’t interest me. I want to learn to tell stories in a playful way. I want to read with more pleasure and less feeling of obligation. I’ll try to see and hear with a beginner’s mind, open to new ideas and new ways of doing things.

Making with a light heart, compassion, and pleasure. That is play. Let’s PLAY!


PLAY! Three on One

Last week I started working on a new table runner for a cabinet in my dining room. I have a Christmasy one and a couple that work great for fall. But I didn’t have one in brighter colors for spring and summer. We’re throwing a party this month, and I thought this was a good time to add one more thing to my long list of stuff to do make one.

I’ve also whined to Jim oh-so-many times about not having cheerier placemats for our kitchen table. Really, who could fix that for me??? And certainly what better time to make placemats than now?

But here’s another thing: I didn’t have a plan, and I have a very hard time working without a plan. Should I design a block for the placemats? Or for the table runner? What should I make?Aaaaaaack! SO HARD! In fact, too hard. Lots of times I make things too damn hard, too complicated. This should be fun, easy. I should PLAY!

PLAY! My word of the year. So hard for me to do, which is why I need to practice that more.

I started with the table runner. Recently I’d sorted the scraps from my kaleidoscope quilt. (Still planning a post on it.) The 12 wedges that make up the star are built from strip sets. You sew together matching pairs of four to six strips, then cut shapes from the matched strip sets. The scraps from cutting the shapes are pieced from strips, too. That makes them harder to use than single-fabric scraps.

But in the spirit of PLAY, I took a rotary cutter to a couple of chunks, cutting rather perpendicular to the seams. I didn’t use a ruler so they weren’t exact. Then after wondering what the heck I’d do with those pieces, I found a fat quarter I like but have had a hard time using. (Do I say that about a lot of my fabrics?) So I cut strips from it, too. And without a plan, I built the centers for three blocks using the kaleidoscope scraps and a weird fat quarter. The block centers were different sizes once built. Then I framed the block centers with strips of another fabric, and I cut the blocks all to the same size. The frames are wonky because the centers are wonky. Narrow sashings between the blocks separated the frames. Then I bordered the whole thing with the sashing fabric.

Then I needed to make a back for the table runner. Again, I tried to make things too complicated. If it were pieced, the table runner could be two-sided. So I started pulling fabrics for a pieced back. Then I thought, no, maybe I’d make two table runners. Blech… Ultimately I cut a bunch of 5″ squares, thinking I’d just piece squares together for a second runner, and thought I’d piece a bunch more into sizes for placemats. Complicated, yes?

As I dug through things for that, I found a piece of yardage just the right size to make three placemats.

Here’s how it shakes out: I made a table runner. I pieced together a bunch of squares, which I’ll cut into two placemats. I cut a piece of wholecloth that will be three more placemats.

Then I found one of the ugliest fabrics I ever bought and used it to back all those things.

This afternoon I quilted them all. I loaded all at once on the ugly fabric, with an old piece of batting.

The wholecloth placemats are on the left, the pieced squares are in the middle, and the table runner with wonky blocks is on the right.

Binding still to come, but otherwise I’m reasonably happy with my play time.