I want to always have a bouquet of flowers in my hands or in the background of my earnest gaze, filling my world with color. I just paused for a moment, maybe to listen to a sweetly singing bird, while I gather fresh vegetables and fresh flowers at the Saturday morning outdoor market. In Guatemala.
My clothes are all embroidered. Not in a kitschy way, but in a swingy, carefree Boho jumble of flowers — on my jeans, my shirts, my belts, and yes, on my shoes. I have just the right amount of bangles and baubles. Not too many, but always enough to make you think that I’m never seen without a perfect accessory. Turqoise is my fave, but basically anything with a piece of leather attached to it will do.
Welcome to my home, where even the easy chair has a touch of colorful embroidery. The quilt on my bed is hand-stitched, makes no difference who made it or where. Don’t envy my iron accessories or rough-hewn wood furniture. It all just flew in through the mountainous/desert/woodsy scene out the window where it was created naturally by the forces of nature, and simply appeared on the weathered Uzbekistan rug.
It’s time for me to grab my jaunty, fringed, leather bag and head out to meet my friend in the mountains. He’s a lumberjack, with one day’s worth of beard. He and his friends are busy chopping logs in front of the cabin where we all gather to wander in the snow wearing textured sweaters, bulky cabled hats and scarves and heavily embellished fingerless gloves.
I must enjoy the moment. Before long, I’ll be off to the beach, taking my melancholy barefoot stroll, sandals in hand, gauzey, fluttery sundress and waves rolling in behind me.
I want to live in a sundance catalog.
Where everything and everyone is aesthetically beautiful. And no one is grieving or devastated or angry.
And the biggest question of the day is whether to put my hands in my pocket or lean against the warm stone wall with the sun shining down and the bougainvillea framing my view.
People tell me, “It’s where I go to get good ideas.”
Yet, social media is a double-edged sword. So many things come our way to discourage us on our way to creativity and inspiration.
Short list of inspiration-killers:
–Someone will always be better than you at whatever it is you want to pursue. They have more time, more money, more resources, more experience, or more years of life ahead of them. And let’s face it, they often have better ideas.
–You’ll waste time on social media. Yes, you will see pretty things. But you are more likely to get discouraged than to be inspired. It’s the nature of the beast. (By the way, that’s also the reason that new studies are showing that the more time kids spend glued to their phone, the more likely they are to become suicidal. This is especially true for teenage girls. Don’t think adults are so very different.)
–Life gets in the way. We’re busy and pre-occupied with raising our children, working, caring for other family members, getting side-tracked by every day chores, like home repairs, grocery shopping, health issues (our own or that of loved ones.)
So what can we do?
- Take a walk in nature. Get to the woods, the trees, a botannical garden, your own backyard, a local forest preserve, any place not overly occupied by humans. Notice the birds, and the other tiny things. The change from flower to seed, the turning of the seasons, the smell of the air, the sky on any given day. Listen. Is wind rustling? Which birds do you hear? Are you near water? Crashing waves or trickling creek? Is it starting to freeze? What patterns do you see?
2. Visit some place new. Extensive travel to other countries is fantastic, but we’re not all willing and able to do that. I recently drove a half hour from home to a tiny shop that sells Polish Pottery. I’d never been there. The owner was a bubbly young lady, and had just moved into a new building. The shelves were filled with bright, cheerful pottery, hand made by women an ocean away. Lovely.
3. Learn something new. This could mean anything for you. Attend an exhibit. Take a class at the local community college or park district. Or easier yet, read a book. I recently saw a statistic that said that 30% of college graduates never read another book once they finish school. 80% of families have not purchased or read a book in the past year. How is this even possible? I’m not entirely sure I believe the statistics but the trend is discouraging. We already know that reading books makes people more empathetic. Where are we headed?
A book suggestion to get you started: Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson.
It’s a peak into his journals and famous works, as you also travel through life with someone totally committed to his art. Think you already know everything about him? I bet you don’t. Some of his geometric studies would make fantastic quilt patterns. Granted, he lived in a time when diversity, architecture, aesthetics, craftsmanship, and great art were all honored and appreciated at the highest levels of society.
Let us recommit ourselves to advancing the arts, in ourselves and in our society. Get out into real life. Experiment. Enjoy a visual and auditory feast.
And step away from social media for just a bit. It will be there when you come back.
The quilt shop where I worked closed this week.
I don’t think very many people understand what a small quilt shop does for a community.
Yes, we sold machines and fabric, notions, patterns, doo-dads and what-nots.
But that’s not what a quilt shop is all about. We also provided support. And inspiration. And education.
We loved our customers and became close. And they came to visit us when they had enough of the outside world, when they needed a place to unload, to unburden, to be among like-minded people.
We celebrated with them and mourned with them. And they with us. We all grew together and processed life through cloth and fabric, needle and thread.
The purchases? They were just an extension of all that wholeness. We didn’t close because we weren’t doing well. On the contrary, the shop was doing great. But sometimes life intercedes and the owner was unable and unwilling to deal with the crushing demands on her time from her home life and work life combined.
I could go on about the number of quilt shops in this area that have recently shut down, or the economy, or the aging of the quilt-making market. But I know better. I’ve been around long enough to see that to everything there is a season.
I was fortunate enough to work there from the time that my son started first grade to the time he entered high school. What a season! From crayons to perfume…or deodorant, in this case.
I know that these things are cyclical. The market will re-emerge in a different way. Our customers will find their way to new and exciting shops and relationships, and the world will keep turning.
I will never stop sewing. In fact, I have some new and interesting plans for this blog. Endings provide the catalyst for new beginnings. Stay tuned.
Here’s the quilt I was working on from my last post. Completed, just need to add the label. Crazy squiggly lines through the color, straight and narrow through the grey.
The ombre blue on the back turned out to be exactly what I wanted.
Colorful binding signals the end of this project. But we never really finish our work as quilters, or as artists. We’re always ready for the next project.
I’m ready. Are you?
When I had the privilege of hearing Bill Kerr from Modern Quilt Studio speak last year, someone asked the question, “What makes a quilt modern?”
Bill’s answer has stayed with me ever since. He replied, “It reflects the time we live in.”
I thought a lot about that lately, and it came to mind again as I worked on my latest quilt.
An extended family member is suffering from a heroin addiction. He’s 23 years old. (Close family).
Unless you live under a rock, or unless you have your head buried in the sand, you know that this country is in a crisis.
- Addiction is the number one killer of those under 50 years old in America.
- This is the worst overdose epidemic in our country’s history–mostly heroin and fentanyl.
- In 2015, more people died from drug overdoses than from gun homicides and car accidents COMBINED. And that number has exponentially risen since then. (nytimes).
I don’t want to go into the heartbreak that opioid addiction brings into a family, or the destruction, or the loss of trust and money and emotional fortitude. No, those are just side shows to the vice-like grip of tragedy and despair that accompany a person with an addiction.
He told his mom that the world is grey, and only appears in color when he is on the drug. All of this is likely a symptom of underlying depression, but reaching it is difficult through the fog of substance abuse disorder.
Awhile ago, I began working on an improv quilt. It was basically chaos, and felt like 2017 to me. Layer on top of that the never-ending chorus of my family member’s opioid treatments, shaky and hesitant recoveries, disappearances, and temporary relapses, and “chaos” becomes the perfect description.
But hope lives.
And I found myself creating a quilt for him, made of this crazy, chaotic improvisational fabric. It was interspersed with grey, reflecting the many times he has been through rehab.
But the main message of this quilt is one of hope…for my family member and for all those suffering from this disorder. This cheapest of all street drugs will not get the last word. The rest of us surround him with belief that this can be overcome, knowing full well the difficulty.
Next, I took the improv fabric and positioned it under some of the grey to see if it was going to work. I love that the sun was pouring in as I worked.
I’ll be using the serger to piece the back in a beautiful blue sky ombre with splashes of color.
It’s the goal…a blue sky goal and a life of color, on the other side of the grey.
In the big picture, the grey and the colors of anyone’s world mix and mingle back and forth. The world is not always in glorious color for any of us. Sometimes it is the grey that provides the relief in order for us to carry on.
In the meantime…
…hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (romans 8:24-25)
We had some family in from out of town this week, and a day-long trip to the Art Institute of Chicago was on the agenda.
Let me start by saying that I checked with the information desk and they had no problem with me taking a few pics and posting them to a blog. So that’s what I did.
As you know, the Art Institute is an overwhelming and inspiring experience. After a bit of roaming, I came across a painting of a woman sewing. On a whim, I took a picture.
(Just as an aside, I hate when I see people running up to a painting and taking a picture. That is not how it is meant to be enjoyed. Look at it. Study the brush strokes. Discover the color palette. Contemplate it. Enjoy it. But whatever you do, don’t run up and take a picture and then run to the next. That’s silly. Lecture over.)
That said, I decided to record what I could of women sewing. A few samples:
Renoir was the first I happened to see. It’s lovely…with such movement. I did, however, study her hands. What was she sewing that was so bunched up? That’s not really how one would hold something for embroidery or detailed stitching. Though her right hand is perfectly positioned to pull a needle through the fabric, her left is a bit awkward. The white lace near her left arm is, I suspect, entirely an afterthought. Go ahead, hold your finger over that piece of white lace. The whole painting recedes into mid-tones. While it is still gorgeous, it lacks enough contrast to draw your eye somewhere. With that touch of white, your eyes go directly to her work and her hands, and it even lights up her face.
This one is done by Camille Pissarro around 1895. Titled “Woman Mending.” I studied her hands once again. She might very well be sewing. Or she might actually be knitting in some way. Her project is rather amorphous. Yet, I recognize her expression. I have the same one when I’m trying to figure out what I did wrong. After these two paintings, I started to wonder if male painters truly understood in any way how women work. They recognize that women are doing SOMETHING with fabric or yarn. The detail is so precise in every other aspect…down to the carvings on the leg of the table. But what this woman is actually doing? Based on this painting, it’s a mystery.
Ahh. Diego Rivera, 1936. The Weaver. As we move into the 1900’s, we see that women’s work becomes a bit more of a fascination. It’s not just pretty things in a young woman’s hand, but a skill, a craft. He even pays homage to her by including the tools of her trade. He admired this woman, I’m sure of it.
This last one I saw was from the 1800’s, St. Rose of Lima. She was a patron saint of the Dominicans, and the story says that she embroidered to raise money for her family and for the poor. In this painting, she is creating the symbol for Christ. (This pic is taken from a pamphlet I brought home from the museum.) I love that her work is clearly shown, and that her sewing was her employment.
I hope you enjoyed this little jaunt through the Art Institute. If, like me, you haven’t been there in over 20 years, I encourage you to visit again with new eyes. While you’ll see plenty of women as subjects — in portraits, as madonnas and mothers, lovers and muses — these are the women I found that had a project. A purpose.
A reason to create.
Is it really mid-October?
Will this election ever be over?
Like the whole country, I feel like I have had enough. And when I’ve had enough of anything, I turn to sewing. Usually, I find something completely new to occupy my mind…an outlet to create something I haven’t before. But the past few weeks have been spent mainly finishing projects, working, taking walks, and finding mindless sewing work from time to time to de-stress.
Here is a little gallery of images showing some of the things I’ve been working on.
In late September, I attended training at the Creative Center at Bernina. They are introducing some new products and I am excited about them.
Bernina 700 Embroidery Machine
Without a doubt, one of the coolest machines Bernina has introduced in a while. It has all the same features as the 790, with these new features:
- Pinpoint Placement – you’ll never have to worry about hooping something crooked again. (This is cool…and easy.)
- Thread Away – Never stitch over those loose threads.
- Programmable jump stitch cutting – it will cut jump stitches as small as 1 mm…no more cutting those tiny jump stitches!
- Multiple Spool Holder – Put all the threads for a design in one place.
- 320 designs included
- 18 alphabets (I love them.)
- New Monogram Alphabet with ornaments (gorgeous!)
Honestly, I loved this machine. The engineers definitely had heart to heart conversations with actual people who embroider. Everything we could have asked for is right here. LOVE!
Bernina Embroidery Software 8
The improvements to the software are worth the upgrade. Even if you don’t use some of the main new features, just the improvements to existing features is worthwhile. For instance, when choosing your hoops, now you tell the software what machine you have and it will only display hoops for that machine. Remember when you had to scroll that long list just to find your hoop? Not any more. Also, for newbies, you can turn on labels for all the icons..how helpful is that in learning the software?? (Very, for those who are not familiar.)
- New! Color Photostitch – This is a vast improvement on Photosnap which was pretty particular in the types of images that would work.
- 3D Globe Effect – Great graphic effect.
- Alternating Pattern Fills
- One-click Auto Digitizing – Simplified and made easier to use.
- Quilt Layouts
- Automatic Quilt Backgrounds
- 3D fonts
I spend a lot of time in software, so for those of you who use the software a great deal, it’s completely worth the cost to upgrade. For those of you who use it only occasionally, only you can decide if you need these new features. It is still a very familiar layout, with colors moved to the bottom.
If you are someone who has held out from upgrading for a few versions, especially if you have been holding out with version 5 or 6, now is the time to move up. Version 7 was a big change, and was a very user friendly upgrade. It made the software much easier to use. Software 8 builds on that.
That’s all I have for the moment, with a few new ideas brewing. More to come, as always!
When you work in a quilt shop, you talk to people. You get to know them, you share stories, you find out their struggles and generally share tips, life hacks, experiences, and sometimes we even talk about quilting and fabric.
Yesterday, a young man walked into the shop. I’d seen him many times before, he does gorgeous and unusual piecing…technical stuff. He likes to bring them in to show us, and we love to see his work. Honestly, we love to see everyone’s work, it’s so inspiring. But his is always a bit different. One quilt he brought in was completely Harry Potter themed, with books and potions and characters all arranged on a series of shelves, with tiny pieced accents and Harry Potter memorabilia. Cool stuff.
I turned to greet him, “Hey, haven’t seen you in awhile!”
He shuffled his feet a bit, as uncomfortable early twenty-something young men do, and said, “Well my mom got sick and had a long illness and died.”
At that, all of us working stopped in our tracks and went over to him. We offered our condolences and then he said, “After she was diagnosed, for the next 9 months we worked on a quilt together, and it’s showing in Madison. She died the day before it came back from the quilter.”
At this point I needed a Kleenex.
I asked if he had a picture of the quilt. It was stunning…gorgeous…meticulous. It reminded me of a Judy Niemeyer. He said he did all the cutting, pinning and pressing, his mom did the machine sewing. He told us that they matched every single thread, and if something wasn’t absolutely perfect down to the thread, they corrected it. He said the medallion in the middle had 24 pieces of fabric coming together at the center and he managed to get it down to about 1/8 of an inch thick. He said Best Press is his friend. When they went to square it up it was 100 inches by 100 inches precisely. They worked on it in the nine months that she was still feeling OK.
I cannot include a picture because it’s in competition in Madison at Quilt Expo this coming weekend Sep 8-10.
As part of the show, he’ll be having his picture taken with the quilt. He said he’ll be bringing a picture of his mom to hold up so she’s in the shot.
If you will be at Madison Quilt Expo this weekend, you may want to send a little love and encouragement his way.
And, I don’t know, his quilt may or may not take Best of Show or any award at all.
But it sure is a winner.
You can’t fool me with colorful new fabrics and joyful projects and slick looking retro-styled trailers and chef-inspired meals on Pinterest, cooked over wood-burning fires with tents and campers lit softly with warm beds and bathrooms and lighting.
I have been camping. And there is nothing “glam” about it.
I pitched tents that required directions and patience to assemble…long before they snapped together in minutes. I canoed down a muddy stream in a strange state in the pouring rain with a boat partner who had no idea how to steer. The couple behind us had a large black snake slide into their canoe. That’s the definition of horror.
I’ve slept on air mattresses that flatten completely by morning, on earth that slopes and slowly rolls me downhill all night till I’m shoved up against the door.
I’ve cooked real meals over an open fire and inhaled more than my share of campsites (especially in a state preserve where everyone is close to the next campsite and all are burning God-knows-what all night long.)
I’ve bathed in lakes and cold community shower stalls, discovered 5 ticks on one foot, and been terrified of the fierce growling in the middle of the night no more than 6 inches from my head on the outside of the tent.
Yes, I’ve been camping. Or do you say glamping.
Love it or not, the trend is hot hot hot.
And sewists are all over it! Take a peak at this link to hand embroidery that everyone is into these days.
I purchased this design from an Etsy shop called Disorderly Threads. You can purchase the design here.
It’s a lot of steps for a small design but the instructions are pretty clear. I love how it turned out and made a couple of them.
And if you’re looking for me, I’ll just be enjoying the whole trend vicariously from under the covers in my cozy, warm, dry bed.
When the chaos in my mind and in my sewing room reaches the breaking point, it helps for me to get out and smell the lilacs.
This is my favorite time of the year. The promise of warm weather, the anticipation of wonderful, summery things. Those last few days before the kids are out of school, when expectation runs way ahead of itself. Lemonade and carnivals and rides on golf carts.
Green leafy things and colorful blooming things, and thunderstorms and sprinklers and fresh sweet corn and tomatoes. Farmers markets, and sandals, swimming pools and vacation adventures. Road trips and plane trips and hikes in the woods. Barefoot feet and long conversations on patios, decks and kitchen tables with air conditioners humming.
Trashy novels with no deep meaning, except maybe a lovely or surprisingly sweet ending. Grilled chicken and kabobs and sun on my painted toes. Lawn mowers and bicycles and screen doors. Red, white and blue, or basically white with any color.
Big juicy watermelons and fruit salads for breakfast with a warm croissant. Sunsets and bug spray, sparklers and beach towels. Water slides, hoses, and ice cream trucks.
Parades, tears, laughter, dirt.
Lilacs open the door to it all.
But all is well and all will be well.
The lilacs are in bloom.