Beth Markel

Blog

Sometimes in quilting, you take an unexpected left turn and end up in a swamp

Posted on September 15, 2021 by Beth Markel

I haven’t posted much recently, mostly because we had a hell-of-a-month I’m going to call August. Like many other parts of the country, most of southern Michigan has had lots and LOTS of storms this year. Wallopers! So it stormed here and we were without power for 5 days. Five. Days. Unless you have hand-work or slow-stitching ready at a moment’s notice, not much actual sewing happens.

Fortunately, I always do my binding by hand and was working on 2 small crib quilts. I worked on that during the day… when there was light. Sometimes you take the small things for granted – like walking into the kitchen and turning the light on. Again and again. It was probably 3 days before I remembered that no matter how many times I flipped the switch, no power was forthcoming.

So the following Monday morning I went down to my studio, about 5:45 a.m., not just because I like to get an early start, but because the Baltimore Oriole feeder was empty, and the jelly jar had been emptied the day before. The grape jelly is in the pantry on the left directly behind my sewing machine. I stopped on the bottom step for a moment wondering what was happening with the ceiling, but I’m grateful I could flip a switch and lights came on:

What IS happening to my studio ceiling?!

Now bear in mind, it’s not even 6:00 a.m., no coffee on-board, and I’m a huge SciFi fan. Star Trek (Chris Pine, hello?!), Star Wars, yep, all of them; Stargate (movie and 215 episodes on SyFy network)…you name it. Don’t judge. I’m also a huge fan of J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkein, Jane Austin, the Bronte sisters, and yes, even War & Peace, although that was a slog since none of the French was translated in the text, but located at the bottom of the page. But I digress. This was like a scene out of a SciFi movie. It took me a moment to orient that parts of the studio ceiling seemed to be peeling off. Like a brain surgeon, I said out loud, and to myself, “Huh. That’s weird.”

Then I stepped off the last step to walk over to see what the deal was when the carpet beneath my feet went SQUISH, SQUISH, SQUISH.

I immediately ran upstairs to grab my DH, who is happily sound asleep on his first day of a vacation, and inform him that there’s water pouring into my studio, and all hell broke lose. Apparently the water line from the kitchen sink to the ice-maker in the refrigerator split and water had been dripping, pouring, running all night long, over my sewing table and iron boards, gel pro mat for standing, the Ott light, pretty much everywhere.

Water running down the interior wall AND coming from the ceiling
Wet insulation, water everywhere, and naked thread. Dang it!
Floor is dry. No ceiling. I feel overwhelmed.

Good news: Bernina wasn’t damaged, although other smaller items were. Yellow Oliso iron I call “Ollie” hit the floor, ironing board won’t stand up, etc. Just discovered about an hour ago that most if not all of my Aurifil thread not still in it’s plastic is covered with ceiling debris. I thought I covered it pretty early on in the process of stopping the damage, but pictures look like it was much later than I remembered. Panic will do that to you I guess.

Bad news: Studio won’t be completed (or even have a ceiling) until after Thanksgiving. Don’t get me wrong, with the pictures I’ve seen in the last couple of weeks from the hurricanes, I know damage in those bigger storms makes my studio disaster just a hic-up, but there have been a lot of tears nonetheless.

In related news: 5 days after the studio flood I started a zoom workshop through the Schweinfurth Museum with the talented Rosalie Dace. So grabbing what I determined were a box of leftovers from Human Form #15, I’m working off the dining room table, mostly using paper but sewing some too, unrelated to the workshop itself. It’s all about design principles, and it’s fabulous to be able to interact with her half-way around the world. She’s a delight.

I would say I’m going to work on ‘Chaos’ now…but then I’ll cry again!

All the best,

Beth

<(((><


I need to enjoy the journey

Posted on July 19, 2021 by Beth Markel

I’ve been working on this ‘Chaos’ piece since back in October, 2020, since that’s what I was feeling. Every day, there was election chaos, Covid chaos, people on fb saying things they would never dream of saying to somebody’s face, so social media chaos… I needed to express that I was feeling overwhelmed no matter where I looked.

Now, what seems like a l-o-n-g time ago from my starting point, I’m making the push to finish this work. In the past month I’ve made more than 780 blocks that will be 3/4″ finished.

Stacks of 10 tiny blocks, 130 per row x 6 rows
What made me want to count these?
30 strips of 4 blocks, 24 strips of 6 blocks, 52 pairs of 2

So counting and sorting gives me a pretty good idea of how many blocks of 12 x 12 I am able to make, as well as getting my cutting table cleaned up and less chaotic. As I was counting the smallest units and putting them in piles of 10, I realized that I was focusing much more on the goal of finishing this top, and much less on the journey of making it. I had turned a corner somewhere in my thinking and approach to this piece of work.

Textiles, quilts, baby quilts, art quilts, knitting, weaving, needlepoint, woodworking, even gardening and photography – whenever I work with my hands I love the tactile nature of it. Working with your hands is honest, even when we use tools from a needle to a spade to a camera. Until I slowed down and counted what I had made, I was focused on the goal of finishing.

With all of the work of making these small blocks, and the (seemingly) million decisions that have gone into it so far, I’m now slowing down to enjoy the making of it without feeling overwhelmed. I actually stepped away from my studio to go to a quilt shop. A real-life, full of people and glorious fabrics, bundles, patterns, books, machines, thread, and ideas – Decorative Stitch in Shelby Township, Michigan. It was awesome – this is one of my favorite shops, as their fabric selections are vast, and right up my alley, including an entire wall of solids. Lovely shop, lovely staff, lovely experience every time I go in!

Refreshed and with a better attitude, I’m off to the studio now to sew a lot of small blocks together. I’m once again going to enjoy the journey of making.

Cheers,

Beth

<(((><


Designing Chaos

Posted on June 18, 2021 by Beth Markel

I clearly have a love of this crazy, tedious, colorful piece I’m working on, but I also have a love of design. The question, daily, is how to design and construct a work that must appear completely random?

So far, I believe it means making 1,001 design decisions a day.

Principles of Design are pattern, rhythm, proportion, balance, unity. You can expand the number of principles to include color, line, shape, negative space, etc. depending on what medium you are talking about, but these 5 basic principles are pretty universal. Even though I have chosen the size of each block, and decided early on that each tiny block would have 3 different fabrics, I did not decide, and do not decide, how to sew them together until I see how they all begin to play together.

Currently the 2 most critical principles for me in this work are proportion and balance. There is sort of an ebb and flow between principles when you’re working in what I’m going to call ‘structured improv’ but the bottom line is simple: make each & every decision like it’s the most critical decision of the day. Even though they are a mere 3/4″ finished, each individual block should be beautiful, dynamic, and vibrant! Proportions must change from block to block.

It’s easier to see changes in proportions using a B/W filter, as well as to gage whether or not you’re using values in different proportions. This art would be very dull indeed if all the proportions were the same:

Proportions within each block should be dynamic & diverse

The colors and size of the blocks will convey the idea of ‘Chaos’ as your eye zips over the top with no place to rest. Balance comes primarily in color for this buzzy, busy top. Color and value (light to dark), repeated again and again in similar sizes of the same block creates both balance and pattern/rhythm.

Ready to be sewn into larger “blocks” of 6 strips x 6 blocks per strip
Strip sets of 4, ready for last pair on each strip
New pairs completed 6/12/21 and ready for their haircuts

Yes, I’ve been busy sewing, and will post an update of the quilt itself in the next blog. I’m digging it!

Cheers, Beth

<(((><


One piece at a time

Posted on June 4, 2021 by Beth Markel

Sometimes the hardest thing about making art is literally taking it one step at a time. For Jackson Pollock it was one layer at a time, one paint at a time, step back, evaluate, then the next big splash. Evaluate again. Splash. I love his work!

If you have ever admired an Old Master painter from centuries ago, you’ll know that many had apprentices who would lay the groundwork for the canvas, working at the initial layers of paint for backgrounds, figures, or scenery. When I first learned this I thought, “That’s cheating!” but then I realized it was also the only way some of the Masters were as prolific as they were, and it was excellent training for the apprentices.

In my case, the CHAOS piece I’m working on currently is a challenge in that each “block” is so small when sewn together (3/4″ x 3/4″) that it has to be absolutely precise. It’s like the large Lone Star quilts which have possibly 64+ seams across the top, and if each seam is “just 1/64” off, you know your quilt will have waves.

So my challenge is 3-fold: first, that the blocks I’m making today look enough like the blocks I began making last October & November that the quilt will be cohesive, even though it’s visual texture and chaotic.

Creative Chaos Day 1, 10_21_2020
June 1, 2021 ~ The Chaos continues. Is there continuity?

Second, because the blocks are often bias on at least 3 sides, they must be both precisely cut and precisely trimmed so the fabric bias won’t affect how they lay in the end.

Tedious trimming because of bias cuts

Third, I have to knuckle down when the blocks become tedious and just keep going. This is hard for me, as I like NEW challenges, and NEW projects, and NEW ideas. Squirrel! At this point my Grandpa Day’s voice rings in my head… “Suck it up, Buttercup, get it done.” He was usually referring to some menial task that to this day, I don’t love (like mopping!) but it’s also a foundational life lesson. Nobody became an Old Master in a day. It was years and years of work as an apprentice, sometimes perhaps tedious. No beautiful work of architecture was erected in a day. The garden at Versailles didn’t bloom in one day.

Each endeavour worth our time is also worth our best effort.

June 3, 2021

Make something beautiful – every day!

Cheers,

Beth

<(((><


Chaos continues…

Posted on April 13, 2021 by Beth Markel

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…

Strips in the making…
Almost blocks of 6 x 6
These are little works of art on their own!

First 2 rows sewn together

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?

Cheers!

Beth

<(((><


27,216 Individual pieces or 9,072 blocks of Chaos

Posted on April 3, 2021 by Beth Markel

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:

March 29..the next 96
April 2, 2021
April 3, 2021

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 could be a small work of art on it’s own

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.

Chaos, 4-1-21

Almost there!

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!

Cheers,

Beth

<(((><


Serious about my Series

Posted on March 20, 2021 by Beth Markel

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:

3/14/21
3/15/21
3/17/21
3/19/21

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:

Detail of #7, “Chatter” Photo by David Roberts

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!

Cheers,

Beth

<(((><


Projects that take on a life of their own

Posted on February 12, 2021 by Beth Markel

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:

New pairs sewn this morning…Friday

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.

Cheers,

Beth

<(((><


Mixed emotions – 2020

Posted on December 31, 2020 by Beth Markel

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!

Happy New Year!

Beth


New Project – Still growing!

Posted on December 11, 2020 by Beth Markel

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.

This is 36 of the 6″ blocks

So off you go! Be creative and be kind ~

Cheers,

Beth

<(((><