Author: Nanette Zeller

First fly before we can soar

I don’t know about you, but I have a huge list of things that I want to accomplish. My limitation in task management is time. Some things take a little bit of time, some take a lot of time. Other things require a great deal of mental concentration and others require just some automatic motor skills. For me, juggling the priority of things on my list is a daily game.

What task is most important on any given day? Looming deadlines add urgency to some projects and sometimes someone is waiting on the project to be completed. Then, there are other things meant only for personal satisfaction and can wait, until … whenever.

Frequently, I find my plans get thwarted by other priorities. The good old “The best-laid schemes of mice and men, go oft awry” (Robert Burns,1759-1796). I’ve realized that being steadfast to my priorities, things do get done, just maybe not in the timeline I originally envisioned. Sometimes it is a matter of stop and go workmanship, but if I continue working I get it done. Sometimes I have to put something aside and then come back to it when time is available again. When I do this I feel a bit scatter-brained and it feels stressful. However, I’m always happily surprised when things get completed. There’s a proud sense of accomplishment there.

What gets me down, is when the project doesn’t produce the results I expected, in the time I projected. However, if I stick with it, I will start seeing results and then I’m motivated to keep going. So, in order to keep going …  I must keep going. Its a struggle some days, but I know that I should continue following through with patience and dedication. To reach our dreams, we must first fly before we can soar.

Carefully start again

Argh! Sometimes I just want to move forward. I think I have all my ducks in a row (in this case, its goldfinches). Its all about patience, paying attention and maybe taking some time to think things through before I go headlong into the execution. Sometimes, I don’t always use my own advice.

I’m trying to make 3 identical quilts. I have the bird pattern from another quilt I created a few years ago. When I started the project, I thought I found the correct pattern. Unfortunately after making the 3 larger bird appliques, I realized this pattern was too large for the design I was creating. So, I re-sized the pattern, then created 3 more birds. Ready! Well uh, … no! I fused a couple of pieces in the wrong order. No one else would see the issue, but me. And…it bothered me. So I decided to try again.

After 2 sets of mistakes, now my confidence was high! I could do this. I found the original small pattern. I was ready to try again to finish this with a positive ending. Three more birds completed and … uh oh! I realized I used the placement guide as the pattern, which means…they all face the opposite direction. Sometimes I’m the queen of making it work. I told myself, just make the entire quilt in mirror image. It will be OK. I placed the bird in its new position on the fabric. It “felt” wrong. I decided to sleep on it and move forward.

Today, my solution is … I have to make another set of birds (4th time is the charm, right?). There is something uncomfortably “wrong” with the mirrored placement of the birds. I know I could execute the design, but for me creating art is a gut feeling. Mistakes happen all the time, you have to be flexible and it can be challenging with fabrics. But whatever the solution is, I have to feel right about it.

Earlier this year, I watched a mural artist create a fabulous design on a building wall using layers and layers of spray paint. If he stepped away from the piece and noticed something he didn’t like, all he had to do is spray over the offending area and re-do it. That’s not so easy with fusible fabric applique. Removing the layers just damages the fabric and there’s the glue residue left behind. It is best to just start over. So in order to win this battle with myself, I’m starting back at the beginning. First, I’m going take a moment to focus my attention, think things through, then with patience I will carefully start again.




Find time to play

At the SAQA conference last month, we were gifted with a small bag of shirting fabric swatches and a spool of thread. Attendees were asked to bring samplings of buttons, fibers, findings or other notions to share with participants (see photo with green baskets). We were also welcome to swap, grab, or collect materials from a stash pile of fabrics. We were encouraged to stitch up something during our time together. The activity was designated as the “Community Stitch Project.”

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that I find myself increasingly fascinated with slow stitch fabric collage. And, you’ll know this project was right up my alley.

Most of the fabrics were slippery and probably some sort of synthetic. I didn’t care for that, but it was all that I had. I found a piece of batting and started arranging a base layer of fabric shapes. Then over the courses of a few days, I ripped and stitched shards of fabric to make this free-form design.

To me it is nonsense work; there is no plan. The design builds itself on a whim. It is slow work, with no reason and no purpose. And, is not how I handle most things in life. It is liberating to start something and let go of results. It reminded me to let go in life, spend more time experimenting and enjoying the process. Life is too short; find time to play.

Fill Our Souls

(click image to enlarge)

I recently returned from a week in Toronto, Canada were I participated in a SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates) Conference (my 5th conference). This conference was originally scheduled for March 2020. At that time, I was on a roll of good things happening. I had been traveling alot. Traveling is something I enjoy doing but wasn’t able to do much of prior to that era of my life. I was super excited to visit Eastern Canada. Then, a few weeks before the trip, it was cancelled; Covid was a thing … a scary thing. It was safest for everyone to cancel that conference.

(click image to enlarge)

Between 2020 and 2023, SAQA continued to have conferences, but they were virtual. I didn’t participate in those online events because it involved too much computer time. During those years, I missed the connection with people who understood the life of an art quilter. People to talk to without having to explain the details. When SAQA announced a re-do of the Toronto in-person conference, I had to go.

The conference proved to be all that I expected (that is, minus the delayed flight and subsequent lost luggage). It was fun to catch up with old friends, make new friends and be inspired by the presentations. I even got to be a runway model for Chunghie Lee’s “Bojagi Walk” (see her Pinterest images)

I think it is important to be inspired by other creative people, but it is equally important to be with like-minded people. To me exploring a city with people who appreciate the same things is a bonus to these events. Trying a iconic local restaurant, exploring street art, visiting museums, and exploring textile exhibits were all enhanced by the company I kept on the journey.

Its all about finding your tribe. It has been challenging to connect with people the last few years, but I’m glad I went. For me, it  fed my soul. It is important to step away, walk outside my comfort zone, and experience new things. And, if we’re open to it, the energy will fill our souls.

New to my toolbox

Last week my blog post discussed taking on challenges and how they force me to step out of my comfort zone. I have another one to share with you this week. Last December I accepted a challenge from Lesley Riley to take a black and white image that was printed on fabric and do some thread painting on it. At the time, Lesley was compiling material for her new book, “Photo Memory Quilts.”

When the portrait of Helen Louise Gilson (a civil war nurse) arrived, I had to really think about what to do. I couldn’t fill the portrait in like I would a fuzzy owl or cat. And, just adding a few stitches would overpower the tiny details in her face. Also, if I put a lot of stitches in one area and not many in another, the fabric would become very distorted. I really had to think about this. Before I came up with a solution, I ran some experiments on a sample image and then cautiously worked on the final project.

I chose to add some stitches in the detail of her hat brim and focused the denser stitch work in her shawl. I realized I needed to add some other colorwork so that the portrait looked balanced with the colored threads. So, I opted to give Ms Helen a little “makeup” using colored pencils. I feel I succeeded in the challenge and can confidently say I have a new tool to use for enhancing people portraits. And there’s how a new challenge added something new to my tool box.


Do you want to hear more about this beautiful book which is filled with inspirational techniques on making photo memories with fabric? Lesley has a NEW podcast Photo Memory Quilts PODCAST. Full episodes start May 2nd and every Tuesday after. She will have in-depth interviews with the contributing quilters, including one featuring ME!

Here’s the line-up:
May 2 – Margaret Abranshe
May 9 – Whitney Dahlberg
May 16 – Judy Gula
May 23 – Susan Price
May 30 – Lorie McCown
June 6 – Anne Sonner
June 13 – Bobbi Baugh
June 20 – Al Krueger
June 27 – Susan Brubaker Knapp
July 4 – Michelle Umlauf
July 11 – Wen Redmond
July 18 – Christine Vinh
July 25 – Beverly Smith
August 1 – Lindy Trenholm
*** August 8 – Nanette Zeller ***
August 16 – Patty Kennedy Zafred
August 22 – Gina Louthing Stanley
August 29 – Clare Murray Adams
September 5 – Katherine Wilson
September 12 – TBD

Just go with it

I sometimes take on challenges that are outside my comfort zone. I’ve been trying to control these impulses, because accepting them means this “adventure” is taking me away from something else I probably should be doing. Frequently, I find I didn’t understand the amount of time the commitment would take. I guess I’m OK as long as a I meet the deadline.

There is a part of me that enjoys trying something new. However, something new means I can’t predict how things will go. I don’t have enough experience. It makes me anxious. What if I mess up? And, I usually do mess up. The challenge is a lot about persevering and looking in my toolbox of ideas for how to fix it.

I was recently asked what sort of things are in my toolbox. On short notice, I was able to recite a handful of techniques that I confidently know; thread painting, applique, piecing, painting, etc. In hindsight I’ve realized the toolbox isn’t always a technique. The toolbox can also be an ability to process things…especially when I mess up.

For example, take this kite shape piece I’m working on. What you see in the photo is the result of at least 4 failed attempts. Every time I messed up, I had to figure out a way to recover and save the project. One attempt required a “start over” and was so frustrating, but I persevered and began again. There was no other choice, so I had to. The other mess-ups I was able to reach into my toolbox and come up with a way to save the project.

What you see is not what I originally intended, but it is what it became. I think sometimes art has its own plan and we just have to just go with it.

Sometimes we get lucky

I recently received a copy of Quiltfolk magazine. Quiltfolk is a beautifully-produced advertisement-free periodical that is all about quilting. About a year ago, I stumbled on a call-for-entry for dog quilts for one of their upcoming publications. On a whim, I submitted a quilt that I made of my dog, Storm. To my surprise, Storm was accepted into the “Quiltfolk Dogs” edition which is now in-print and should be available soon at newsstands. Of course, this makes me really happy!!

But…there’s more to know. In 2012, Storm was also accepted for the Quilting Arts (QA) Magazine annual calendar [sadly, the 2012 edition was the last publication of their calendar]. Storm was “Mr. September.” He died in late 2010. I created his portrait shortly after that and just in time to submit to the QA call-for-entry.

There are a lot of memories tied into this quilt…more than just the memories of my beloved German shepherd. His portrait was the first time I created a thread painting like this. Now, the technique frequently shows up in my art. His portrait was also the first time my art was accepted into a call-for-entry. There were many attempts before then, but nothing prior was accepted.

The acceptance of his portrait in the calendar was the first time my art was validated by someone who didn’t know me. That means a lot! And, seeing this work published again is a reminder of the journey to where I am now. We create things and hope people like, understand and appreciate what we’ve made. However, there is no guarantee that they will.

We have to have courage to show our work or submit it to exhibits, shows, publications, contests, etc.. For me, it is an important reminder to keep trying and appreciate that not everything can be accepted. But then, sometimes we get lucky.


Keep Walking (I mean Working)

“What if I fail?
Oh but my darling what if you fly?”
~ Erin Hanson

Fear is a challenging emotion. Do you ever feel fear about a project you’re working on? Do you try to concur the emotion? Do you pull up your boots and keep walking through the fear? Or do you give up? And, what is it about having a fear of failing before we we even try?

I am guilty of having the fear of failure. In just about every project I do, I feel some level of anxiety about the outcome. There have been many times that I gave up. There probably have been even more times that I pulled up my boots and walked through the muck.

A lot of creative people carry this fear with them. I think the more experienced you are in facing this demon, the more confident you are in walking through the emotion. How do you get the experience? Like anything, you have to do the work.

This past month I had the opportunity to reflect on my creative journey through a social media challenge with my Instagram account. The prompts in this challenge had me reflecting on my journey. As I was searching through photographs of my earlier days of quilting, I remembered all those strong fear-filled feelings.

What I learned along the way, was to stay true to myself. Not everyone is going to like what I make. We all have our own personal aesthetics and this view is only relevant to the person who owns it. You like something or you don’t.  What I’ve also learned (although its not always easy to accept) is that if someone doesn’t like what I made, that doesn’t mean they are judging me. This feeling of personal rejection is were the fear is coming from. Just remember, they are expressing a subjective opinion. So when the fear sets in, just keep those boots on and keep walking (I mean working).


Just let them go

UFO is an Unfinished Object. Sometimes I start things, but after gathering all the supplies, I never work on them. Some, I got a little farther along and start working on, but then get distracted and abandoned them. Most of the time I want to get back and finish them, but don’t. What do you do with them? Its an interesting dilemma.

Sometimes things have to sit and wait for their time. Other times, they just never receive the priority that they deserve. When do you let them go? Can you let them go?

For me, I have a mixed bag of things waiting in cue. Sometimes, I get into one of my moods and start making radical decisions about the future of these orphaned projects. They just have to go… and like Lewis Carroll’s Queen of Hearts, I proclaim “Off with their heads!” Then, proceed to cut them up, or less radically, I’ll just separate the collection and redistribute the supplies into my stash. Some supplies that I’m really over with, get sent away as charity donations (e.g., charitable resale shops).

My cut-up quilted bits get reassembled into patch work blocks (pictured) and repurposed into fabric postcards or other fun things (so many ideas waiting for me to try). And, yes…there they sit, too, as another orphaned project…waiting for it’s time for my attention.

I wonder about this…how many things do I hold onto because I think they’re too precious? I have projects where I was experimenting or trying a new skill. Why keep them? There are things that probably should be labeled as failures, then released from my capture and placed into the trash bin. Why do I I view them as too precious when they really aren’t meant to be be. Maybe I should just let them go?


Don’t ever give up

The last couple weeks, I’ve been following a “feed” on the socials. There was a call for entry for an upcoming exhibit; 400 art quilters submitted their work and due to space limitations, only 40 were selected for the exhibit. In this group discussion, people who submitted work shared photos of their submissions and noted whether it was “accepted” or “rejected” into the exhibit.

Entering a call for entry is not really like playing the lottery. In a lottery, your number is selected based on statistical chance. In a call for entry, some person(s) is/are saying “I think this one fits the exhibit better than this one.” So realistically, there is a level of rejection in the selection process versus what happens in a lottery. It is reasonable to have a bit of emotional sting when you’re told “we decided not to choose you (your art).”

On the other hand, they are kind of the same. With either option, you’re taking a chance to get something. Applying for a job is a similar chance opportunity. I would bet that most people, at some point in their life, have applied for a job. Maybe you got the job, or maybe you didn’t. I wonder though, if you didn’t get the job would you say you were rejected? It may feel like a rejection, because obviously there was something about your application that ranked you not as qualified as the person who did receive it. Its all a lottery and you are playing the game because you hope you’ll win. Yet, not everyone will.

This conversation struck me, because this week I received one of those “we didn’t pick you” notices. I applied for something a few months ago and reading the email stung. All that time I spent putting the packet together, wasted. Or was it? I had to stop and evaluate what I was feeling. Did I really think I was the best? No, because I didn’t know who I was competing against.

After a few days contemplating, I’ve come to realize that all of life is a chance. We receive opportunities along the journey. Sometimes we grab the brass ring and sometimes we don’t. Just because one opportunity didn’t work, doesn’t mean it will always turn out the same. Lesson learned is don’t ever believe it is a rejection of you and don’t ever give up.