What Inspires You to Create?

You’ll find no shortage of social media out there:  Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter.  Every single one of them is loaded to the brim with lively “inspiration.”

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?

Some ideas:

  1.  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.

I promise.

Art and Art Only

“Art and art only can cause violence to be set aside.”  –Leo Tolstoy

For anyone with a child in the school system within the last 15 years, you know what STEM stands for:  Science, Technology, Engineering, Math.

Experts (MANY experts)  tell us that’s what all our children must be trained in, in order to move the country forward, in order to get jobs, in order to be successful.

Do you agree?

As for me, I have mixed feelings.  No doubt, STEM provides key strengths for our kids to make a living in the future.  No doubt, we all need these skills to build infrastructure, cure diseases, and solve problems.  No doubt.

Where, then, in society, do we learn more subtle skills?  Things like anger management, empathy, caring for one another, caring for the planet and the rest of the world around us?  Or even less subtle skills like critical thinking, decision-making, morality, justice and local and global citizenship?

In the last election, only 12% of 18-30 year-olds even bothered to vote.  I wonder what percentage of them own a smart phone.  My guess is somewhat more than 12%.

“Art and art only can cause violence to be set aside.”

Tolstoy had a wide vision of art:  literature, paintings, music, poetry, drama.  Soft skills to say the least.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love doctors, scientists and engineers…(I’m married to one).  But STEM is only useful when it is accompanied and partnered with creative thinking, creative expression, beauty, appreciation, and acceptance of our common humanity.

IMG_2466My embroidered tablecloth and fabric tulip vase. I ‘ll teach it at a Software Inspirations class.






When Your Quilt Needs a Time-Out

If you have followed this blog for any length of time, you know I participated in a polka dot fabric exchange last year.  I received 60 – 10 x 10 in. squares of polka dot fabric from all around the world.

I resolved to include them all in a quilt somehow, and managed to cobble together a tree with the fabric as leaves.

But then I had to put the quilt in a “time-out”, as a friend of mine likes to say.  Quilts need it, you know.  They become unruly, arrogant, resistant.  Or sometimes they just become passive or apathetic.  Either way, when a quilt reaches that stage of behavior, it’s time to put it in time-out.  It makes absolutely no sense to argue or to fight your way through.  The quilt needs time to find its way.

So I put it in the guest bedroom where it could have some time alone to ponder its future.

I checked on it  occasionally, offering ideas and solutions, a way out.  But the quilt obstinately refused.  “OK for you,” I would think.  And walk away again, to work on another, more cooperative project.

For months it sat, sulking, pouting, depressed even.

Then one day, shortly before Christmas, when I walked in to check on it, the quilt looked eager. Just a hint of it, you understand, but there it was:  a small little whisper of earnestness.  It had formed an idea about its future.

So I listened.

And I let the ideas float around for awhile with no pressure or desire for any of them to be successful.  Tentatively, we tried something.  And then another thing, after that.

And now, the polka dot quilt and I are moving forward together, both listening, both asserting, both with renewed vigor.

I’ll let you know how it all works out.

Truth and LoveGandhi

Stitching on Paper? Leather? Fabric?

I don’t really know what to call it.

Technically, I believe it is paper.  But, apparently it can be machine washed and tumble dried. Call me skeptical.  Even so, it is a very fun product to stitch!

It’s called Kraft-Tex paper fabric.  The project is listed on weallsew.com.

kraftexkraftex explanationThe description on the packaging is pretty accurate. It DOES look and feel like leather.  It’s also a nice warm brown color, that makes everything pop out a bit.  I can see using it in a number of different ways.  For me, it borders a little more on the “crafty” side of sewing. But I could see it used in collage work, scrapbooking or anything that requires some dimension.







binder coverbinder spineI went ahead and created the binder cover in the pattern.  Of course, I used a different embroidery design.  Mine is a medallion from urbanthreads.com.  

The feel of this stuff is pretty hard to describe. It’s not rough, it’s rather soft. Which is why it compares to leather.

I have not tried to wash it yet, so that’s an experiment for the future.

The project went together quite easily and frankly, I was impressed by the quality of the paper/fabric. I had never heard of such a thing and it behaves, in my opinion, a little more like paper than fabric.


If you are someone who dabbles in multimedia, you’ll want to give this a try. I’d love to use this for painting and drawing and then incorporate sewing into the mix.  If only I had more time in a day, and more inspiration in a night.  The products are out there.  Might as well find out what you can do with them!

I Wonder if Tolstoy Ever Sewed a Button

From the words of the master:

To evoke in oneself a feeling one has once experienced, and having evoked it in oneself, then, by means of movements, lines, colors, sounds, or forms expressed in words, so to transmit that feeling that others may experience the same feeling – this is the activity of art.

Art is a human activity consisting in this, that one (wo)man consciously, by means of certain external signs, hands on to others feelings (s)he has lived through, and that other people are infected by these feelings and also experience them.

I think Tolstoy was brilliant, but I have a soft spot for many of the Russian novelists. Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Gogol, Pushkin…all that angst, guilt, stream of consciousness (not to mention the Russian names). They do the heavy lifting, for sure.  And somewhere in the middle of it all, I find scraps of truth.  Maybe it’s my European ancestry that harmonizes with this dark bunch.

So when Tolstoy tackles the definition of art, I listen.  He knows art.

But, Dear Tolstoy, what about the bodies of work that never get seen?  What about the unpublished novels, the paintings in the closet, the songs scribbled on scraps of paper and buried in desk drawers, the dance, done at home, the private journals, or for that matter, the flower deep in the woods, the snowflake on the mountaintop, the galaxies we never would have seen if not for Hubble?

You, Mr. Tolstoy, may call them many things, like creations, or nature.  How, you may ask, can it be labeled art, if no one knows it exists?

I wish I had an answer.

Your definition of art is by far one of the best I have ever seen.  But where is the soul of the artist?  If work is never shared, or never recognized, is it still art?  If not, then what exactly is it?  Because work done in private may be just as powerful as work shared publicly…for the creator at least.

I leave you with this thought, dear Tolstoy.  If art is only art when it communicates to others, then why do any of us strive to create in private?  Why do we put down the brush or the pen and set something aside?  What would happen to the world if we never bothered with the pre-art, the first drafts, the disposable stuff, the mediocre?

Again, I wish I had an answer.

But I know this much:  the world would be a shallower place without it.


More Paintings


high school

I painted both of these…probably 20 years apart.  One was from a place I had actually visited, and the other from a postcard.

Can you tell which is which?

Maybe it’s obvious to you.  It is to me.

I worked hard on both of them.  One is a study in nature, the other…a study in nature.  If you’ve ever painted, you know that when you are in the middle of a painting, you are in that location.  You have to be.  Whether it is coming from your imagination, or from a picture, or whether it was your experience in real life, at the moment that you are painting, you are there.

It would explain why I love to paint landscapes, scenes of tranquility or astounding beauty.  Whether I am in that location or not, I have most certainly traveled there in my mind.

But a painting done from life experience almost always has more courage.  It is more expressive, and usually more emotional.  It may not be the best at capturing details but it captures a moment.  And, on a good day, lets the viewer in on the wonder.

Ready for the answer?  I gave enough hints.  I’m sure you know by now.

The top one was from our honeymoon in Hawaii.  I dragged my not-a-morning-person newlywed husband out over a bluff along the shore in Kauai.  We sat together in the dark, listened to the relentless surge of the ocean and watched the sun come up.  It turned out to be a stunning display, becoming more brilliant with every passing moment.

The other is a painting I did a few years after high school, from a lovely postcard.  I don’t really even know the exact location.  Wyoming, maybe?  But I do love the mountains and so painting it was joyful.

Which is the better painting?

Well.  I leave that up to you.

Whooshing Poems

Have you ever been called to create something?  I’m not talking about receiving a phone call, or a commission request, or even an inspiration from a fabric or pattern.

I’m talking about a full-press, hard-core, wonder-full, mystical, unexplainable urge to create.  I’m talking about  brief clarity from the signal of cosmic consciousness, the Holy Spirit, the Great Mystery, a siren wave of energy from the universe.

Sounds melodramatic?  Maybe.  But I think we hear from it all the time–especially those of us who are creators. And I don’t think it’s always about huge endeavors.  My experience is that sometimes, something in the universe just wants or needs to be created, and it searches for a receptive mind/spirit to assist in manifestation.  The key word here is “receptive”.

You can call me crazy for this belief, but one day a couple of years ago, I watched a TED presentation that reminded me that I am not alone.  I’ll attach a link to the entire presentation by Elizabeth Gilbert. The part that stuck with me the most was the visual of an American poet who told Elizabeth that sometimes she would be out in the field with her family when she felt a poem coming…she could see, feel it heading toward her, and she had to drop everything, run into the house and write it down before it whooshed past her.  If she missed it, the poem would continue on, in search of another poet.


I wish I were always so in tune with the universe.  Here’s a link to Elizabeth Gilbert’s entire presentation, and a quick view of the next thing I’m going to create. I don’t know why. I don’t ask why any more.

But I’m up for the task.


Adventures in Zentangles

I’ve never tried this til now.  In a project for work, we needed to create a few of these with the idea that zentangle doodles could be used for stitches or for machine quilting.

Drawing zentangles is a simple process from what I can decipher, though  I think it is supposed to be meditative. For me, it’s doodling with a purpose. Here are a couple of my zentangles, but if you are interested visit zentangle.com to find out more.

How crazy are these things?  The good news is that I don’t think I would ever sit down by myself to draw this way. Ever. Basically, you draw a squiggle line on a piece of paper and begin to doodle around the edges, letting yourself just flow with whatever line formation comes to mind.  If you feel like tiny small squiggles, great. If you feel like giant bold strokes, OK too. Miraculously, eventually, patterns emerge and no matter where I started, I was surprised by the ending.

Despite my original skepticism, I did find it calming. Like any repetitive task, it required just enough concentration to stay focused, but not so much as to cause frustration. And in a world where I spend very little time completely focused on one small task, it’s a refreshing exercise. In the end, I’ve created…well, I don’t know what I’ve created–something unusual from my hand and my brain.  Good enough for me!