Over the weekend I was pondering the meaning of art. My MIL used to say, “I don’t really understand your quilts, dear, but they are very pretty.” I was never really quite sure how to take that!
She was an excellent quilter and made many beautiful quilts over the years, most of which she hand-quilted, but she always followed a pattern. Meticulously! I have copies of patterns that we worked on together, and her notes were really a wonder to behold. Looking back at 2020, I wonder if she would perhaps now see a bit of what’s in my head and what I’m expressing in my art? Alas, she has passed on, but I often think of her when I’m sewing, especially since I often make decisions in a completely intuitive manner.
Last week was very productive, and I’m forging ahead with what I think, hope, and pray will be a pretty cool statement of “CHAOS” without using any words to describe what it feels like…
I’m getting a pretty good sense of what the final work will look like – and there are those who will love it, and those who will hate it! Isn’t getting pushed out of our comfort zones what art should instigate?
My current project, ‘Chaos’ is taking up quite a bit of time. The original plan was use my scraps and strips from other projects, make something busy, make it fairly small, but visually challenging. This original idea has morphed into something large, insanely busy, and wildly challenging to look at – meaning there’s no place to rest your eye. Some people love this kind of work – some people absolutely hate it because, again, no place to rest your eye.
The hardest part now is to just keep going when all the blocks begin to look the same. This week’s blocks, which seem to be legion, are similar to my original blocks back in October when this started, but in using up scraps, have a slightly different character:
Working with a finished block that is 3/4″ square is challenging, in that each block has to stand on it’s own. This isn’t like a large block, 12″x12″ or 16″x16″ which usually has just a little wiggle room when piecing as part of a larger top. When working this small, each block has to be precise. Period. To that end, I’ve started to think about each block like it’s a little work of art which could stand on it’s own merit.
Each block should be dynamic, interesting, have different scale than it’s neighbor, as well as having balance in color.
I have decided the finished piece will be (7) 9″x9″ rows wide by 9 columns down. It will be 27,216 pieces, or 9,072 blocks.
OK, that may be a bit optimistic, but in quilting, as in most important or meaningful goals in life, you have to keep working at it. Life is a journey, not a destination – enjoy it!
I’ve worked in a number of series in the last decade or so, but this last couple of months have flown by while exploring this piece called Chaos. First let me admit that sometimes working in a series is challenging. It’s easy to get bored or less inspired after you’ve explored the same theme or piece in a number of different ways, but to really grow, I find that pushing through that initial sense of boredom opens doors I never thought of prior to the exercise.
One of the most challenging factors in this piece is limiting my fabric selection. For the most part I started with using strips from 3 different containers, and I’m down to my last one, many from projects a decade ago. I’ve used many solids, also mostly leftovers, hoping that the juxtaposition between solids, which are mostly vibrant, and the myriad of patterns keeps it visually interesting.
Another significant challenge for me has been continuity. If the blocks made this week have a different composition or feel to them, the piece changes in a materially important way – no pun intended!
So the balance is continuity with continuing visual interest:
I daily, and sometimes hourly, refer to the design principles pinned to the top of my design wall: pattern, rhythm, proportion, balance, and unity. An example of proportion is this same pattern, free-hand cut but different size finished “blocks” of 3 pieces each:
It might be a little hard to visualize the finished work that is currently being done, but Rhythm is easy since it’s the same block again and again. The challenge is balance using color rather than size or proportion. I’ll keep you posted!
The first week of January I had a complete knee replacement, and admittedly, it slowed me down some. I spent quite a bit of time sitting, sitting, sitting, some hand-stitching, but still sitting. Then more sitting!
After a couple of weeks (aside from PT) the inactivity was getting really old, so I tackled a pile of blocks made before the surgery but waiting to be pressed, and bless my DH’s Engineer heart, he set up a pressing station in my chair using a small travel ironing board. When I was able to walk to my studio and begin sewing last week, even for an hour a day, I had blocks to be assembled.
As a quilter, maker, artist, or even parent, you know that the journey is often the adventure, and this quilt has become another adventure for me. Much like my sister’s quilt of Mourning, which took on a life of it’s own, this has too.
I watch the news…chaos.
I listen to the radio…chaos.
I look at Washington, D.C….chaos.
I see pictures of Portland…chaos.
I hear about the mask debate…chaos.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed, so I sew, making a visual record and representation of what I see just about everywhere.
Monday, Wednesday, Friday this week:
I’ll continue to work on this until I think it’s done, and yes, that’s ambiguous at best. Originally I thought this would be a 36″ x 36″ wall hanging for our office, but it’s already 36″ x 45″ and I believe it will continue to grow…significantly!
Make something today, and when you can be anything you want to be, be kind.
For many of us, myself included, 2020 has been a year of challenges, profound change, loneliness, and remarkable social upheaval. When the year began, who among us could have predicted the roller-coaster that 2020 will now most surely be labelled?
Many of us makers spent hours and hours making masks.
Many of us spent days and days in our homes alone or with our nuclear families, and some days we got on each other’s nerves.
Groceries were delivered.
We took our temperatures hourly if we started to feel like we might be getting sick.
We learned to binge-watch series and thought it was our new hobby.
We got frustrated as we had birthdays, holidays, and family gatherings via zoom.
We learned to work from home.
But, we also had new opportunities: we were able to spend time with our families when we realized, for a while, we had just been passing each other in the hallway. We played games together. We laughed more when we were together – sometimes at the absurdity of it all. We got to know each other again.
We cooked together. We baked together. We discovered new things about each other. We tried new dishes, new recipes, new desserts.
We realized how precious hugs really are.
We realized how fragile life can be…and how resilient we can be.
Some of us were blessed with new grandbabies.
I began to look for beauty in the small things, and enjoying everyday events, like coffee with my husband on our back patio, the arrival of hummingbirds and orioles, the summer sun on our faces, and eventually watching the leaves turn color and begin to drop.
Yes, it’s been a challenging year, and yes, there may be more to come, but join me in looking for the beautiful, the possible, and the unlikely joy.
To that end, I even began to see my trash as interesting… it might be time to get outside!
In October I began a new project, really with a goal to use up existing strips, stripes, leftovers, bits and bobs. My original goal was to use 3 containers of scraps. So far, it’s put a dent in two of my storage containers, but as the project grows, I’m liking it more and more, so opening even more storage containers to raid. This has been an awesome project to be focused on while still in Michigan’s Covid lock-down.
Blocks of 2, then 4, then 6… make a strip. Each block of 3 fabrics is 3/4″ finished. Then 6 strips are sewn together to make a larger “block” and so on. Four of the 6″ blocks sewn in a square is what I’ll use for the final layout.
After almost finishing (it’s now being blocked) the last really large project, Autumn, I decided that rather than keep walking through a path to my sewing room, I would work on actually clearing out my “scrap” boxes. Don’t get me wrong…I love using scraps, and especially scappy baby quilts that I make, but I’m on a new mission to use up 3 boxes of my scraps and strips. When scraps and strips from projects go into a scrap box at my house, they are washed, pressed and put away pretty neatly, often colors living nicely together – blue and green in the same box, orange and red together, etc. There is SOME order in my creative chaos!
So I dove in this week and am working on a quilt I think might actually be called “Creative Chaos” when it’s complete…
Creative Chaos Day 1, 10_21_2020
Creative Chaos 10_22_2020
Creative Chaos 10_31_2020
So go out and make it a great day – and make something beautiful…or nutty…or out of the box!
I’M ALMOST DONE with a piece I have worked on for slightly over 2 years! Other pieces have been completed during this time, but only because I could not do this work every day. Working with pieces that are 3/4″ finished gets tedious after a while, and with such precise cutting, I would actually have to rest my wrest to prevent carpel tunnel, but persistently coming back to this has been rewarding – challenging – but also rewarding. This quilt has been like putting thousands and thousands of puzzle pieces together.
Last Saturday, however, I finally finished the “rocks” that a hiker would be standing on when looking out at the Shenandoah Valley in autumn. While living in Virginia, hiking became a regular event, and there are few things as beautiful in nature as autumn in the mountains. The trees put on their showy and vibrant colors, depending on the type of tree they are. Stunning reds, oranges, golds, yellows, anchored by blocks of Pine trees, Blue Spruce, and Evergreens paint an unbelievable vista. It is honestly enough to take your breath away!
So…the “rocks” were laid out on plastic in my backyard, and I mixed dye in a number of small batches, then used small brushes to just flick the dye on in a random pattern. Because…rocks. Not perfect, no pattern, no plan, as nature just weathers what it finds, and in this neck of the woods, you will find Old Rag granite. This means some different shades of gray, deep shadows, rounded corners, weather marks made over centuries.
Granite rocks in Shenandoah National Park
Once “painted” they were sewn to the bottom of the last set of trees. Blocking will have to take place, as the shadowed areas are very densely quilted, but I like the perspective. It’s unexpected if you are not a hiker, but breathtaking and brilliant once you make the climb. Lots of blocking!
View from the edge, still in 2 large pieces, but ready to be sewn together
I’m not entirely sure I shouldn’t made the whole thing wider…
This seems like such a simple question, a question we used to ask each other when we answered our phones, or when we ran into each other in the grocery stores. Now so much of our lives are lived in cyberspace or the ether, or the world of social media, that while I ask this when I run into friends, I’m also starting to ask it on social media as well.
As some of my close friends know, I fell in our kitchen in January and within about 90 seconds my right knee was the size of a football. After about 10 hours in the ER, an x-ray, a CAT scan, and nothing to eat or drink (in case they had to do surgery!) it was determined that my knee was badly sprained, and “damaged.” Is ‘damaged’ a real medical term? Anyway, it turned out that my tibia was cracked and I ended up having surgery 10 days ago. Surgery was scheduled for March 13, but with the advent of Covid, it was deemed a “non-essential” surgery, so I was sewing with my left foot. It was a hoot!
Undaunted, I made this fabulous t-shirt quilt for a customer and friend, as a gift for one of her good friends. Some of the t-shirts date back to the 1970’s and 80’s but I love how they juxtapose with quilts as recent as last year. This tells a real story of this woman’s life! It speaks of trips to London and Chicago, including a Chicago Jazz Fest, Ann Arbor, hiking in Colorado, Indian Shores, Florida, law school, and her love of music. I hope she loves it as much as I loved making it.
As much unrest as there is in the world, aren’t we all just trying to juxtapose our lives? Be kind. Persevere. We all make mistakes – some of them whoppers – but that calls for grace, and again, perseverance.
If someone had told us on January 1, 2020 that between March 1 and April 1, 2020 we would be facing a world-wide pandemic and that untold millions of us would be in quarantine, or politically correct, “Stay safe at home” to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we would simply have written them off as crazy. A “prepper.” Or someone who saw catastrophe around every corner and generally mistrusted banks.
Worse yet is the reality that hundreds of thousands are sick with this virus, and that thousands more will fall victim to this disease before it’s all over.
Many sewers and quilters are busy making face masks that are being used to cover N95 masks worn by front line medical and healthcare personnel. These masks are now used for more than one patient, and in fact are put in personnel lockers in brown paper bags to be used over and over. Other homemade masks are being distributed to jails, police departments, elder-care facilities, and people who must go out to get something as simple as a gallon of milk and a dozen eggs. Numerous stores in my area now have special hours for Senior Shopping only, where some of the most at-risk group can shop first thing in the morning after the stores have been thoroughly cleaned overnight.
“Social” media has taken on a whole new meaning since many of us are meeting via zoom and skype, while many more are having church and larger group meetings live via social networks.
It’s hard to talk about art when the world is seemingly on fire.
So I’ll do what many others are doing and go back to making face masks for people who need them. It may not be earth-shattering, but it may help one person, who helps one person, who helps one person, who helps one person…