Laugh with life whenever possible

I believe we learn lessons about life from situations we’re placed in. We can also learn alot by watching how others handle situations. I’ve been learning a lot the past few weeks as I witness 2 friends battle cancer. They are both amazing women, creative and funny. They make me laugh; I love that about them. Because of their sense of human and strong character, they are both facing their diagnosis with positive and determined ways. They are powerful to watch.

Shortly after receiving her diagnosis, one of my friends made a promise to her husband to clear out her stash before she dies. She didn’t want to leave him with this burden. She held to her promise and organized her things, then invited people to come “adopt” her craft supplies. “Take all that you want and use it,” she told us with a big smile. It gave her great joy to see her things go to people who would love and appreciate what she had. I don’t know that I would be so organized and determined after receiving such news.

I surely don’t need more fabric, but I did go “adobpt” a few things and brought home a mascot. This funky hedgehog is truly special to me. It will remind me of the strong character, grace and humor of my friend. It will also remind me to love what I do, give graciously, and laugh with life whenever possible.

 

 

SEE MY QUILT “Soar” at the 
Sacred Threads Exhibition
July 7, 2017 – July 23, 2017
Floris United Methodist Church, Herndon, VA
www.sacredthreadsquilts.org

Call this a win

Today is one of those rare June days that I can have the windows open. I love hearing the birds sing and call outside. There’s a red-headed woodpecker visiting our bird feeder. I can hear its distinct chatter. Somewhat migratory in it’s nature, the red-head seems to only visit us in the breeding season. I always look forward to seeing them. They are definitely hard to miss with their bright red head and black and white tuxedo-like body.

We have several varieties of woodpeckers who visit our yard. Another impressive species is the pileated woodpecker. Pileateds are large birds and amazing to watch. Last week we saw one feeding its young with suet from our feeder. It is so special when they play in our backyard.

Both of these birds are common in the longleaf pine forests in which I live. Like many habitats its being lost to encroachment of people. The pinecones of the longleaf are massive. I’ve been working on a concept using the longleaf pinecone as inspiration. This week I sketched out a digital drawing based on a photo I took a couple years ago. Now that I have the line drawing in Adobe Illustrator, I can easily resize the image to fit any project requirements.

I tried to send the line drawing to my Cameo Silhouette plotter. The Silhouette has a blade attachment which will follow the lines of a drawing and cut out pieces of fabric. (Here’s a link to a post where I describe how it works.) I’m not sure I’m sold on using the Silhouette. I can see it’s potential, but I also need a lot of practice trying to get the techniques down. The image in this post shows my results after I fused all the tiny bits together. I still need to fuse it to a background fabric, then add some depth and detail using thread and pencil. For the most part I’ve accomplished what I tried to do, so we can call this a win.

 

This one may take awhile

A part of creating original designs is figuring out how to accomplish them. I always say I have a huge tool box [of ideas and resources] I can use for my art. The ideas don’t always work as planned. Its OK, because sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t.

Right now, I have an idea that’s pretty solid in my head.  I want to create an art quilt using a photo I took at Muir Woods. First I need to make the background. I want it to appear as if the sun is beaming through the trees. I want to use pieced wedges of fabrics. Brilliant idea … I “think.”

Well the bugger is I don’t have a lot of yellow fabric. So, I went shopping at NC Quilt Symposium 2 weeks ago. They usually have some great vendors … not so this year. Sadness.

So, then I decide to use what’s already in my stash and make it work. Yes… Yes… I think I can do this. I spent an entire day cutting, piecing and sewing (remember I’m not using a pattern). I’m confident its looking good … but … not … so … fast. The final outcome failed. More sadness. The piece is not large enough to cut square and get the effect I desired. I don’t have enough yellow fabric to try again. The nearest fabric store is an hour away. With this “trial” run, I’m sure the idea will work, but I’m stuck until I can get out of town and go fabric shopping. Even then, there’s no guarantee that the store’s fabric selection will work with my idea.

I’m not defeated…just feeling challenged at the moment. I will get this one done, but for now its on hold. Sometimes that’s just the way it goes … this one may take awhile.

Stay there or get out

I’ve been trying to develop a rhythm. The summer is in front of me and I hope to have a lot accomplished before it ends. I think we are all guilty of falling into the treadmill trap. Think about it. When you’re walking on a treadmill, you’re physically moving but the scenery doesn’t change. Its almost like you’re not moving at all…except when you stop and realize that you’ve used up a lot of time and may even feel exhausted.

I think life can be like walking on a treadmill. You get pulled into the day-to-day activities, time is moving, but you’re personal goals aren’t being met. Its easy to postpone things when daily activities stand in your way; dinner should to be made, bills have to get paid, laundry is piling up, and the dog begs to be walked. These are the treadmill duties…they keep you moving through life, but they don’t take you anywhere. As soon as you get them done, there’s more waiting for you.

Long ago, I’ve realized if I want to see change, I have to shake things up. I have to fight against the current rhythm and and create a new one ~ one that includes fulfilling my personal goals. Let me tell you, it ain’t easy. If you want it bad enough, you have to put your mind into gear and find a way to do it.

For me, I’ve been purging and rearranging my studio space to give me more comfort and efficiency when I work. I’ve also been working on my health (actually spending a lot of time on a real treadmill ~ so explains my metaphor). Both changes have given me strength to keep moving forward. I see progress. Its not easy pushing yourself out of a rut, but if things aren’t working there are only 2 options: suck it up and stay there or get out.

The force is with you

Several years ago, I took a class given by textile artist, Dottie Moore. I was immediately drawn to her spiritual interpretation of creativity. I noticed as she walked around the classroom meeting students that she would stop and ask them thought provoking questions. Her question to me was “What’s holding you back?”

Recently, I’ve been reminded of this question and it has me thinking. I’m moving forward on my path, setting goals and executing them. But, goodness it seems slow moving some days. What’s going on with that? Every now and then, it’s good to ask yourself questions like this. Do you have a good answer?

Sure, I could answer the question by laying blame on all the outside forces impacting my life. But really? If I wanted it bad enough, wouldn’t I just get to it?  What really is really holding me back? The answer, to be honest, is … me.

That’s the key, you know. When we question what we think is holding us back, we’re likely to realize that its in own power to change the situation. AhHa! So there lies the magic of Dottie’s question. It’s like Star Wars and Luke Skywalker … “Luke, the force is with you.”

It affects all of us

The past 6 months has given me tremendous food for thought. I have pondered the direction of my art, my life and focus. On this blog, I guess I’ve always pondered those things. Yet, something is different now.

As long as I can remember, I’ve had deep interests in nature and art. I was a big-city kid who loved hugging trees, picking dandelion bouquets and playing with earthworms. I also loved learning new crafting skills at school or with my mom. I majored in art in high school and earned college and graduate degrees in environmental and wildlife biology.

When I shared my artwork in the Paper*Canvas*Cloth exhibit at the the local Arts Council galleries this past November, I realized that my art reflected my education. I knew I had found my voice. Many of my pieces silently speak of lost natural habitats.

In February, I happened to be at the right place, at the right time, and was granted the gift to take a short walk through Muir Woods in Northern California. The giant and ancient sequoias seemed to speak to me. I felt I was in a magical place.

Then this past week, I took a once-in-a-life-time anniversary trip with my husband. We planned a visit to Las Vegas to see family. The majority of the trip was intentionally designed to explore the local desert landscapes (not the casinos). The last time I took a trip similar to this was in my youth with my family. To say that I was overwhelmed by the beauty of last week’s journey is underselling the emotional impact it had on me.

Simultaneously to these events,  I was also observing other things that impacted me, my art and my focus. It also happened in November; the election. As with any new presidency, there is curiosity about the what will happen with a change in administration. The past few months, I’ve been watching as new history unfolds and have become concerned with the  actions that effect my core beliefs. I’m seeing an assault on scientific fact and aggressive actions that would impact the natural landscapes of this great country (and possibly the world).

I grew up in a big city, I know what that’s like. But, I also grew up with a strong love and appreciation of nature. Before the election, my artwork was already giving account to the lost and endangered habitats. My mission hasn’t changed. What has changed is the level of caution I’m choosing to embrace in speaking out about it. I’ve decided that, from this point forward, my blog will not only serve as a forum for my journey with art, but also address my concerns about habitat destruction and preservation. I can’t stand quietly anymore, its too important. I hope you stay with me, because it affects all of us.

Fine-tuning

The past few weeks, I’ve been trying to fine-tune some techniques I’m using. Right now, I’m revisiting the Carolina Parakeets.

The attached photo shows the same quilt at different stages of the process. (If you click on the image you’ll get an enlarged view to see the details.)

With the image on the left, you see the fused fabric pieces and a little bit of coloring on the head/beak of the parakeet.

The bird on the right bird is completely colorized and has a sealer on it to keep it from smudging when handled.

When comparing the 2 images, look closely at the wing, tail feathers, and feet. The image on the right has more shading and definition. It doesn’t look so 2-dimensional. This is what I’ve been playing with.

I’m trying to make 2-dimensional applique look more like a painting. There are many different things I can use to accomplish this. Right now, my weapon of choice is colored pencils. There are limitations to using pencils on fabric, but there are also limitations to using pencils on paper. I’ll be experimenting with this process over the summer. I like where its going, so stay tuned, it still needs some fine-tuning.

Working in a series

One of the things I wanted to work on was small art pieces based on birds. I’ve completed a few already, but there are a whole lot more birds to choose from. The other day, while trying to get some inspiration, I did an Internet search for songbirds. Wow! There is definitely a ton resources related to neotropical migratory songbirds (birds that migrate during the winter months).

I studied “neotrops” in grad school and therefore have a personal connection to these birds. They’re another one of those creatures who’s populations are dwindling due to habitat loss. Doing the internet search opened up a plethora of ideas for me.

Starting with the Scarlet Tanager (pictured), I’ve decided to work on series. I’m going to make small art quilts featuring these pretty little songbirds. I’ll start a new one whenever I get into the “I’m not sure what to do next” stage of creating. The idea of working in a series has spurred a lot of creative inspiration. I know its going to be keeping me busy in the studio. It’s taken me awhile, but I finally understand the reasoning behind working in a series.

Either you’re in or you’re not

“Technically” I make quilts (2 layers of fabric sandwiching a middle layer of material, joined with stitches). Some people tend to classify quilts as craft.

Among the art quilt community, there is tremendous push to have what we do carry more respect in the art world. Some venues have strong views on art/craft classifications. Good and bad, I’ve seen a lot of art in my life. Some has me scratching my head in disbelief and other’s has me mesmerized in awe! Ultimately, art is in the eye of the beholder.

I’ve decided to go the way of my peers and enter more fine art exhibits. I’ve also pondered whether to ask a venue to clarify if they accept art quilts. After much consideration, I realized that asking is just casting doubt onto my own work? Do I really think what I do is craft? No! So why should I project a message of doubt?

It’s all relative and, take it or leave it, its all in the hands of the selection committee. The reality … its just a competition. Like every other competition in life, either you’re in or you’re not.

Let the left foot drive

When I purchased my HandiQuilter Sweet16, the salesclerk at one of the shops was rather insistent that I purchase their $1k stitch regulator. I insisted I didn’t need it and today I still agree. Want to know why?

Somewhere along my journey, I was taught to sew with my left foot and without shoes. Most everyone drives a car using their right foot on the gas and I am right-handed, so you’d think using my right foot would be the most comfortable way to control the foot pedal. And barefoot, why would that better?

First, let me explain the sewing process. The secret to consistent stitch length is to move the fabric in sync with the needle. The more “gas” you give the machine with the foot pedal, the faster the needle moves up and down. The faster the needle moves, the faster the fabric needs to move to keep in sync with the needle. When sewing pieces of fabrics together, it is the machine’s feed dogs that move the fabric. In free-motion quilting, however, the feed dogs are not engaged. The only thing moving the fabric is the sewist.

Free motion quilting becomes much like a dance, where your hands and feet need to work in harmony to keep the stitch length consistent. For people who have the extra $1k to buy a stitch regulator, they are paying for the luxury of having the machine control the process (much like a self-driving car). These regulators can sense movement of the fabric. The faster the fabric moves, the faster the needle goes…it doesn’t matter what you’re doing with the pedal.

Since I’ve sewn and driven right-footed for several decades, you would think my right foot could handle the job. In reality, my right foot knew too much. Piecing fabric and driving a car is different from free motion quilting. While I was learning to quilt, I literally had to re-train myself to sync my hands with my feet. It was a struggle. My right foot had strong muscle memory and knew “pedal to the metal”; my hands couldn’t keep up. In contrast, my left foot never had this kind of responsibility and didn’t “know” how to sew. By switching to my left foot, I no longer had to fight my old habits and I trained my left foot to control the gas. Sure it was awkward at first, but I quickly got the hang of it.

And why am I bare footed? In general, we wear shoes to protect our feet from sharp objects. The thicker the shoe, the less our feet “feel” the surface we’re walking on. When I’m shoe-less I have greater control of the pedal, because I can sense how much pressure I’m applying. Shoes barricade this sensation.

So, if you want to gain more control of your sewing, I suggest getting comfy, take off those shoes, and let the left foot drive.