Why we create

I’m currently preparing for an exhibit at the Arts Council of Moore County that will open in November. I will be exhibiting with 3 other woman who are all very diverse in what they do. There’s a collage/painter, a potter, a stained glass artist and me, with textile art. Knowing the ladies I am exhibiting with, I know this is going to be a color-filled exhibit.

As I’m busy creating, I’ve noted that thread painting (aka free-motion machine embroidery) is still one of my favorite things to do in my textile art. As I’m adding the stitches with my sewing machine, I find myself drifting into a flow-state. Flow is a mindset when outside distractions fade from consciousness. When you’re in flow, your mind is fully engaged and tuned to the task at hand. You have very little self-awareness or critical self-judgement, you’re 100% into the task. Flow is a very meditative and peaceful state.

As I work on my thread painting, I’m in-tune with my sewing machine. The stitching is so intrinsic, that my body movements go into auto-pilot mode and my brain is focused. I’m not thinking about cleaning the house, going to the grocery store, or walking the dogs. I am 100% in the act of stitching. Eventually, my brain will kick me out of this thought pattern. That’s when I realize, I’ve been at it a while and should probably get out of my seated position, walk around a little bit, and maybe get something to eat.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is known as “the father of flow” after he conceived the flow theory and associated it with methods of finding happiness. I agree with his theories, because flow brings an internal sense of happiness and comfort. And, I believe it is partly what we seek when we create.



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Step outside the box

Several years ago, I was dyeing scarves and over-dyeing garments. I stepped side-ways for awhile to work with applique designs designs in my art quilts. My brain is now pulling back toward other possibilities using different fiber techniques in my art quilts. I have an idea of how to use wool felting in my designs, as well as use of shibori dyeing techniques. Opportunities are endless.

What’s intriguing and somewhat frustrating is when trying new things they don’t go as planned. I try to look at those times as learning opportunities. Over the weekend, I spent a couple days working with indigo dye. I had wonderful success the first day. An indigo vat (dye pot) is reactive to light and oxygen, which gives it a limited life-span. Some vats can last a few days. Mine, unfortunately, did not.

The second day when I tried dyeing the last teensy bit I needed to complete, the dye was no longer active. I didn’t want to create an entirely new vat for an hour dye session, so I went to a back-up plan. I pulled out some blue Rit dye and created a vat of that. Bottled dyes don’t work the same as indigo, light and oxygen shouldn’t affect them. Everything seemed to be working ok. I hung the fabric out in the sun to dry (see photo) and everything had the blue tint I expected. Then I washed everything in mild detergent in the washer to remove any excess dye. To my surprise these last few fabric pieces came out of the wash a very pale lavender color. I have no idea what went wrong. However, no matter what the outcome, it is ok.

Except for a handful of pieces, my dye sessions this weekend produced designs that have me inspired. The first day was a success and the second day was a learning opportunity. Now, I’m visualizing the possibilities and ready to step outside the box.

Lack of experience

I’m happy to say my sewing machine is back at home. The inspector tells me everything looks good. I’m also happy to say that the machine didn’t need a new motor after all. The technician checked with Janome who suggested resetting the machine’s computer and replacing a fuse. So far so good (and finger’s crossed). September is going to be a full month for me, so I’m glad this worry is off my plate.

In a way, I liked sewing with the vintage Viking machine, but I did have some serious muscle memory frustrations. I’ve had my Janome MC6500 for 19 years. I completed many a projects with it. I learned how to quilt and thread paint using it. I’ve had it so long that I don’t even think about which buttons to push when I’m sewing. One button automatically brings the needle up; another one cuts the thread. My mind and body are well trained on which button to push, and when.

My ability to sew these past couple weeks where challenging, because¬† I was forced to use a 50 year old machine that didn’t have these fancy computerized controls. If I wanted the needle up, I had to turn the handwheel. And, if I wanted to cut the thread, I had to find the scissors to do it. I felt klutzy. It reminded me of first learning all the things I know about quilting and thread painting. The more practice I had the more proficient I was at these skills. I didn’t recall how challenging it was when I first learned these skills. I was reminded this past month, when I was forced to do without and learn a new (old) way.

I was reminded that when I’m learning something new, I can easily get frustrated with the process. However, I realized today that it isn’t the process that is frustrating me. My angst is caused by my lack of experience.

It will all work out

The past 2 weeks have been filled with layers of frustration. I’m working toward an artwork deadline for an exhibit that opens in November. I was eagerly excited about the extra down time I would have in August and September to work on this. Life is always filled with juggling responsibilities. What becomes priority at any time is never 100% in our control. So, the fact that I saw these “free days” on my calendar had me planning all the things I would accomplish.

Earlier this summer I explained my trials with image transfers. There is nothing wrong with this technique, but I had erratic results. So, I decided to return to my “tried and true” method of using image transfer paper to accomplish the task. With the designs ready on my computer, I was ready to run them through the printer. And that’s when the plan started to fall apart.

I have learned since, that if you own an inkjet printer it is highly important to print a full color image at “least” once a week! This process helps keep the ink jets from getting clogged. I “YouTubed” [is that a word?] the problem, found multiple solutions for my printer and proceeded to try them. I spent several days cleaning the print heads. I’m somewhat of a techie, so I enjoyed trying with great hopes I would succeed!

During the downtime between processes, I came up with another plan for the art creation. I turned on my sewing machine and starting creating, things were going well. Until the thread kept breaking, which happens with some threads. Even with the breakage, I felt on a roll, until the thread broke again and the machine produced an error message on the display. As a techie, who services my own machines, I tried to figure this out. I’ve had my workhorse Janome MC6500 sewing machine for 19 years. She’s a tank, never had any issue. Researching the error code, it looked like I blew a fuse on the machine. I wasn’t going to mess with this, she really could use a “professional” servicing anyway…so I sent her for a visit to the sewing machine hospital. The technician confirmed it might need a fuse and a cleaning. [Keep your fingers crossed for me, please!]

Ok…now I’m on plan #3. I pulled out one of my vintage machines (“Joyce,” the Viking) and began sewing again. Ok, I’m fine, but back to the printer. I spent a few more days working with it and decided it was time for plan #4. For the cost of a new printer and the time I’m wasting “not” fixing the problem…I just ordered a new one. It arrives today. [Another set of Fingers crossed that there are no other issues!]

Sometimes that’s the way it goes, there are set backs and we have to re-group. We must try something different or continue to feel frustrated. So, I tell myself to just hang in there, it will all work out.



[follow-up reporting: the new printer is up and running. AND, further investigation on the sewing machine, the technician found that it isn’t the fuse, but the motor that’s bad. My 19 year old baby, will be in the hospital a bit longer while she gets a heart transplant. Starting plan #5! ]

Who told you, you can

I’m still pondering my thoughts from my last post. It is proven that children will play and explore freely, until someone convinces them they can’t. Some people give up their creative joy because they feel defeated. They don’t believe they should keep trying, because they’re not good enough. Other’s rediscover their creativity later in life, because they’re ready to try again. And some never give up, even when their critics advise them they should. I don’t think art/creativity is always about being good at it. It is so much broader and deeper than that.

It takes tenacity to be a creative spirit. You must be willing to overcome the self-doubt, artistic frustrations and personal critics. It takes a lot of passion and energy to keep going. How much time do you put into it before you just get tired and give up? When things get tough we have to find energy somewhere. Where?

I think that’s were our support team steps in. These are the people who see the light within us. When they show up they bring us energy. Our support team doesn’t have to be family or friends. Sometimes it is a random stranger we’ve just met who sees our talents and tells us they like what we do. Who told you, you can?


Who told them they can’t

I recently I found myself in several different conversations in which people (mostly artistic people) recalled that “one person” who criticized their art or their dream of being an artist. Each of these people mentioned how it stopped them (at least temporarily). Some of these people remembered the person by name and shared great detail of the situation. Frequently, it was a teacher from when they were in high school or lower grades. The good news is, that most of these individuals have found success and happiness in their art.

Success isn’t always about making art a full-time job. It could be just having a regular practice and enjoying what you’re creating. It surprises me that many of these people found this peace later in life and usually after years working in some non-related field.

The sad part is how they recall the “sting” of the conversations. They share vivid details of the circumstances. But there’s also this strong attitude of vindication. They don’t want to punish the person who stopped them. They are content feeling justified to have proven the individual wrong. They had the determination not to give up, even though they might have been slapped down in the past.

These conversations have me thinking about the people who say they “wish” they were creative, artistic or talented. It is interesting because, practically every child enjoyed creative play, until they got older. I wonder who told them they can’t.

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In the closet

My life has been a whirlwind the last few weeks. Lots of things going on between making new art, teaching classes, entering exhibits, and working on other special projects. That’s the way things go sometimes.

This shouldn’t be a surprise, because I had some hand in it all that I’ve been doing. However, I had no idea that my art would be on display in two different local art exhibits at the same time.¬† Now that was an extra bonus.

I took a chance and entered 2 different exhibits. One is a Fine Arts Festival (FAF) at our local Arts Council. Everyone who enters gets their work displayed. Some crazy talented people enter. You can see my “self-portrait” in red over the fireplace mantle. I had the stitchwork on this piece completed a while back, but never finished it (photo on right: portrait over the fireplace in red with the hat on). This opportunity encouraged me to finally complete the work and enter it into the show.

The second opportunity was for a textile exhibit at the Arts Council of a nearby town. I entered the “spigot” into the juried call for entries (photo on left: me standing in front of my art quilt). I had no idea how this piece would be viewed. When there’s a jury selection process, your odds for being accepted has a lot to do with who else entered work (how good is the competition?). You just have to have hope that the jurors like what you submit. And!…be willing to graciously accept if they don’t. Art is subjective that way. Yet, this one totally surprised me. I entered on a whim.

It has reminded me to submit my work into more exhibits, because no one will ever see it, if it always stays in the closet.


Time to try it again

Something to keep in mind when you’re creating is to just stick with it. In my last post, I shared some experimenting I was doing. I really felt confident about what I was doing. After I wrote the blog post I tried one more time. This time was going to be for the final project. I felt ready for this.

When I finished transferring my birds onto the fabric using the acrylic medium technique, I wasn’t impressed with my results. Its not that it didn’t work well, more that the results didn’t live up to my expectations for THIS project. I wanted something that would look “cleaner.” If I wanted the design to look more distressed, I would probably stick with it. Also, I felt the image colors weren’t as sharp as I envisioned. I spent a few days thinking about what to do next.

I’ve always had good results with image transfer products (e.g., Transfer Artist Paper (TAP) or t-shirt image transfers). So, I decided to go back to my tried and true method of using them. I used TAP transfer sheets to copy the bird images onto white fabric. Super easy to do and the colors are vibrant. Now I feel ready to move forward on this series of art quilts.

During my trial and error, I wondered if I was being too much of a perfectionist. I decided I was not. I know what I expected and I knew what results I was capable of achieving. I experimented with something new. Although, I liked the result I got from the acrylic medium they weren’t the results I wanted for these new pieces. All is not lost, I have a new skill and I will use it for something. It is just another tool in my toolbox. And some day in the future, I’ll decide when it is time to try it again.

Not always the best option

I took some time this week, for some “playful” experimenting. I read an article by Ana Buzzalino in the Quilting Arts Magazine (Spring 2023) and was curious about her process of “Paper Lamination” (page 82). Her technique is a method of transferring a printed image onto sheer textiles. I’ve read similar articles in the past and even had some of the acrylic medium products she referenced. However, I couldn’t remember if I ever really gave it much consideration before. Her article inspired me for some creative play.

Acrylic medium is a glue-like substance which is frequently used by artists to adhere things to a surface or use as a top coating (e.g., paper collage). Someone discovered that you could put the medium on the ink side of printed paper (lazer or ink-jet) and use it to transfer the ink onto another surface (wood, fabric, etc.). Years ago, this was a technique artists used before printer transfer papers became popular (I remember those days!!)

Initially, I followed Ana’s directions explicitly. However, I wasn’t very happy with my results (e.g., bluebird image, upper left corner of photo). The color of my bluebird was “off” and there was “something (?)” I didn’t like about how the medium looked when it dried. I had to think about this… I looked online for similar tutorials by other artists and I tried a few more attempts. This was no longer play…this was a true experiment, trial and error, plus making adjustments to techniques after I thought about the results. At times I wondered is it me “failing” or something else? Should I give up and go back to my tried and true transfer papers. I was determined to conquer this…or at least get to a point that I succeeded or exhausted all my options (and admitted defeat).

A week and many attempts later, I got the results I was looking for (e.g., bottom 2 bluebirds in image). What I discovered was, the gel medium I was using was too old and thick and I had to tweak the image in Photoshop to get the colors I expected. I also discovered the “mystery” fabric I tried to use (looked like painter’s canvas), probably had a coating on it that resisted the ink transfer process. Every attempt I had with the fabric resulted in the same awful mess because the ink never fully adhered to the cloth.

With new medium and some known source cotton muslin, I tried again and had a successful outcome. I also tried again using a sheer fabric like Ana recommended; success again!

Experiments always provide some type of lesson. In this case, I learned what did and didn’t work, that not everything is under my control, and I reminded myself that giving up is not always the best option.

Pass us by

I’m working on some new art for an exhibit I’m participating in this November. I’m juggling many hats and changing directions every day to feel like I’m accomplishing all the tasks on the list. I know I’m not alone trying to keep up; we all have a list of things to accomplish. Some things need our short term attention and other deadlines are much farther out. Plus, we also have to be aware and ready for those “surprise” tasks, like unexpected home or car repairs, family illness, etc.

It is all a part of life. It is important to find time to be calm, focused, then setting the priorities. One ball goes up, as the another starts falling down. Some days keeping track of things feels like the old Abbot and Costello skit, “who’s on first, what’s on second, I don’t know is on third.” It can be confusing.

I think of setting priorities as finding balance. Do we follow after each lovely bird that flies past? Are we strong enough to say not this one, but maybe the next? Will we be ok with just letting the opportunity pass us by?