Category: Being an Artist

Godspeed

I set The Messenger free, again. I packed it in a box and now it is traveling across the United States in the back of a FedEx truck. I’m sharing it’s good karma with the Pacific Northwest Quilt and Fiber Arts Museum in La Conner, Washington.

“The Messenger” was selected to be part of the museum’s popular 5th Annual “Birds of a Fiber” exhibit. The exhibit runs from January 26 – February 27, 2022.

I’m very honored to have my hawk hang in the beautiful Victorian era museum aviary of filled with art quilt birds. I wish I could travel with it. In a way, a little piece of me is. The Pacific Northwest holds a special place in my heart. Its the first placed I lived after leaving Chicago. I treasure my memories of the beautiful landscapes and the first bald eagle I ever saw. I know a piece of my heart and soul was left behind when I moved back east. It feels good to be sending another part of me back after all these years (even if only temporarily).

Its also been a long time since my artwork has exhibited outside NC. It’s a good feeling. I hope this majestic bird brings good messages and joy to all who see it. Godspeed.

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5th Annual Birds of a Fiber Exhibit
January 26 – February 27, 2022
Pacific Northwest Quilt and Fiber Arts Museum

703 South 2nd Streed
La Conner, WA 98257

What is in front

It’s a busy time of year, so many expectations. At the end of the year, you never want to be given “one more thing” to add to your list. But, I got one anyway…

Last week I received an email from the company I host my online classes. They have decided after 10 years in business it was time to close shop. It’s a disappointment for sure, but now what? I just started building online course this year. Because of Covid, it was a necessity for me to help keep income coming in during these trying times. Lots of people converted to virtual methods of working and staying connected. This past year, you probably participated in online learning, social meet-ups, or even participated in one my classes/lectures. I think the technology is a wonderful tool.

Since the announcement, I’ve been spending hours researching and trying to decide what next. I have other things on my agenda for the next 7weeks and don’t have time to learn/set up a new system. I decided, instead, to postpone any decision until I have time to act on it. It’s a disappointment (one of many from this past 20 months), but its OK!

What is the bright side? That’s where I want to go with this. Life is always handing us stuff we don’t expect or want. Have you ever faced a change where you expected the worst, then in hindsight realized it was an amazing opportunity that made you a better person? I know I have. Maybe these challenges are the universe offering an opportunity to change for the better? Are we ready? Yes! this is how I’m looking it.

This is an opportunity for me to check-in with what is behind me to see more clearly what is in front.

 

 

Improve your stitching

Last month I wrote a post about using interfacing when you paint with thread (aka free-motion embroidery). This month I want to share some information about thread tension when doing free-motion sewing. This information is appropriate for thread painting and free-motion quilting.

When I was younger, I remember a sewing machine technician strongly telling me and my dad that we should “never touch the tension dial!” I adhered to that rule and it so intimidated me until I started quilting.

Thread tension is the the point where the thread coming from the spool (top of the machine) has a balanced pull with the thread in the bobbin (bottom of the machine). Think of it as a tug of war between the two (see image). If the top tension is too tight, it will pull up the bobbin thread and you’ll see little pop-ups of that thread on the top of your work.

If the top tension is too loose, it will get pulled to the back of the work by the bobbin thread.

The tension dial on the front of your machine controls the tension of the top thread and is helpful in balancing the tug of war.

  • There’s also a way to adjust the bobbin tension, but most of the time top tension adjustments are all we need. So to keep things simple and easier I’ll only discuss the top tension. If necessary, you can learn more about adjusting the bobbin tension by referring to your sewing machine’s manual.

Tension balance is affected when we sew different materials, think of the difference in thicknesses between quilts, fine fabrics, heavy denim, quilters cotton, etc.  The tension has to be adjusted to accommodate each because the thickness of the layers is different.

When you sew, always do some test stitching with the materials you plan to use. I check when I first start sewing, every time I change the top or bobbin thread (stuff happens), and any time I use different stitches (e.g., straight vs zig-zag). Look at the stitches on the front and the back of the work. Do you see an in-balance in the tug of war?

When sewing machine mechanics service our machines, they adjust the tension to accommodate straight stitching on light weight cotton fabric with the tension dial set mid-way. My tension dial has ten numbers (0-9). In this set-up, the mid point is 5. So the mechanic set my machine to have a good balance on cotton at #5. This is good to know…because if things get wonky, we can go back to the middle setting and start over. Also remember to set your machine back to that setting when you straight sew.

If your sample stitching indicates an adjustment is needed, you can refer to the chart on this page which indicates what you do for each scenario (feel free to right-click on the image and save it to your computer). Make minor adjustments at a time and check your stitching again. Check both front and back of your work because it’s possible to over compensate. Did you solve the issue? If not, make some more adjustments.

It’s not so intimidating when you get comfortable with the concept. When your stitches don’t look their best, you can be confident it setting them right. It’s good to know how your machine works and how to improve your stitching.

 

Just follow your heart

“I wish I were creative like you!”

Have you ever said that? I wonder what makes someone think they’re not creative?  What is creativity anyway? I know, I’m full of questions today, aren’t I? But if you ever said that, I just want you to know I’ve been thinking about you.

There’s a who lot of self-doubt piled into that statement. I know, because I’ve been there. This statement often hangs out with it’s good friend, “I could never be that good.” So, what does it mean to be good enough? When we say these statements, it generally means we crave to have those desired talents. Or maybe, we’re disappointed we don’t.

We are all so very unique. We have different skills and different life experiences. I think about these statements and wonder when a person decides that these are truths. Somewhere in their life, someone shut them down. The aftermath was an internal belief that they should give up trying.

“Why bother? I’ll never be as talented as you.”

Stop for a minute. Is this really true? Offer a little kid a creative project and they’ll usually dive in. Well, sometimes they might rather play their video game, but they never say, “nah…it’s OK I’m not good enough!” Hmmm? Once upon a time, we were that free-spirited child. When did we lose that spirit and willingness to try? No one is born with self-doubt.

Sure, maybe we might be better at some tasks than others. But, as the saying goes, “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.” If it doesn’t feel right, try something different. There are so many creative things in this world; music, literature, performing arts, visual arts, culinary arts, etc. I say, if you wish to be creative, then be it. How? It’s simply, just follow your heart.

 

 

 

Bring you peace

As a textile artist, I have plenty of fabric. Even with a closet full, I still find it hard to resist purchasing new yardage when it inspires me. Sometimes I store it away and occasionally pull it out to pet it. If you’re not a fabric person, this may seem odd. I understand, because when I started quilting years ago and purchased yardage I would use it all up before I purchased more for the next project. My friends sort of giggled at my “conservative” approach.

Eventually, I realized that fabric makers have a hold on us. Fabrics usually only have a limited run and then they’re gone … forever. If you purchase a little for a project and decide you need more, you may never find that fabric again. So that’s when my hoarding collecting began.

Sometimes I purchase a fabric just because I like it. Other times, I have a clear vision. That clear vision is what happened with this art quilt, “Seductive Tranquility.” The background is one piece of batik dyed fabric. The horizontal gradient of colors from blue to pink to purple is all one piece of fabric. It reminded me of a sunset and I had to purchase it.

When I made this quilt, I added the mountains, the foreground of grass and the tree. I feel peace when I see this quilt. It reminds me of sitting in a mountain cabin with the building lights behind me and the sun majestically setting in front of me.

Nature can be a very calming and meditative place. But, you have to take time to stop and look. It doesn’t require a big production or hiking adventure. When you see something, like a sunset/sunrise, cloud formations, falling leaves, an acorn in the road, a bird in a tree, whatever …. take a moment and a breathe. Observe, even if for a split second. The tiny respite will bring you peace.

 

The most creative inspiration

Finding inspiration. I feel challenged by it sometimes. I have tons of ideas in my head but where’s the inspiration to create it. I think sometimes we need to go somewhere else, either in our mind or through physically traveling.

Get away. If you could go anywhere, where would that be? Would you come back refreshed? Would you come back inspired? Would you come back ready to start work? Or would you need a vacation from your vacation?

I’m thinking about traveling for leisure next year. There are so many places to see. What place have you been that gave you the most creative inspiration?

Never one way to do anything

Last month in my newzletter, I explained my desire to engage more with my readers who don’t live in my local area. For a variety of reasons, this year has really grounded me to my local community. I exhibited locally this past June and have been focusing on teaching live workshops at a local creative space. My blog posts tends to be more about the mental/emotional aspects of being a creative. I don’t usually show too many how-tos here. I’ve been thinking maybe I should change things up the next few weeks and see how you like some occasional insight into my process.

So … let’s talk thread painting… one of my favorite things to do. The butterfly image is an example of a before and after of thread painting on a fabric known as “quilters cotton”. Quilters cotton is fairly lightweight and flimsy. And if you’ve ever tried to sew on it, you might notice that it starts to draw-up (pull in). You may even notice that the stitches don’t look very neat. So how do you apply such dense stitches onto this fabric without making a mess?

Stabilizers.

By definition a stabilizer is “a thing used to keep something steady or stable.” With lightweight fabrics we need to add something to the fabric to make the material more “stable” and less likely to draw-up. What’s fun is we have lots of options to choose from.

  • Interfacing: This material is attached to the back of fabric (or between 2 layers). Most commonly they are used in clothing construction to stiffen shirt collars or cuffs. There are interfacings that need to be sewn in and others that have a heat reactive (fusible) glue on the back that can be ironed in place. Every thread painter has their own preference. My go-to is Pellon 809 Decor Bond (fusible). It’s fairly stiff material giving me plenty of support and I can easily remove the excess material from the back of my work.
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  • Quilt batting: Think of the thread painting as dense quilting. Fuse or pin the batting to the back of your work and stitch. You may get more draw-up with batting than other products, but it has the bonus of creating a 3-dimensional (trapunto) effect.
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  • Canvas: A dense cloth used for boat sails, tents and painter’s canvases. Needs to be pinned or fused to the back of the fabric and draw-up is very minimal. It’s challenging to remove any excess, so plan to leave it in or add extra to stretch the finished thread painting onto a stretcher bars to make a finished art piece.
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  • Stiff Interfacing: A very dense, thick non-woven polyester material that does not flatten or distort with steam, example Peltex. Used most commonly for crafts, like purses, fabric postcards, etc. Used when you want a really rigid finished project.
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  • Embroidery hoops: Yep! just like the ones hand embroiders use. It’s common to find hoops that are 1/2″ thick in the hobby stores. However, the foot of some machines won’t raise high enough to get the hoop under it. I’ve find 1/4″ thick hoops work with any machine. Hoops that are 12″ wide (diameter) work best for most sewing machines. Note: when you use a hoop for thread painting, you want to the fabric in the hoop to be in contact with the bed of the sewing machine. Look at hooped fabric, one side looks like a drum and the opposite side looks like a tray. When thread painting, the tray side is facing up when we stitch.

I always encourage everyone to experiment. Try new materials and look at your results. Which do you like? There’s never one way to do anything.

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Want to learn more about thread painting?  Take my online on-demand course Paint with Thread to learn how. Learn at your leisure, with unlimited access to the materials.

Understanding of color

I find inspiration walking outside in nature. I don’t even have to be in some remote, exotic location; I could be in my own backyard or a city garden. I’m always finding interesting plants, animals or landscapes that catch my attention. If I find something really inspiring, I’ll take a quick photo. I try not to be too obsessive about picture taking, because I don’t want to distract from the ultimate experience of being in the moment. Being with nature is an opportunity to have all our senses engaged. What do you see? How do you feel? What are you smelling? How does the air around you feel?

Although I try to limit my photo taking, I do love the collection of images that I’m building. When I flip through them, its like being transported back in time; the memories, the senses, my emotions…I’m there, in that place, once again. Having this collection of images is also a great reference for art making.

Recently one of my blog subscribers, Cindy, wrote to tell me about a quilt teacher she once had. This wise instructor told her, “don’t worry about color; look to nature for combinations.” What a fabulous lesson Cindy learned! And it is so true!! My collection of nature photos work as a color reference too.

In my blog post last week, I questioned the purple and orange combinations in one of my felted bowls. Yes, of course it works! That combination occurs in many flowers, like the purple irises that grow in my backyard.

Flipping through my pictures, I find an amazing sunrise over a salt marsh with beautiful combination of neutrals. What a pretty quilt that would make with its rusty browns, greys, blues, a touch of green, and brilliant orange and yellows! Wowza!

Stunning 2-tone combinations can be found in the pink and green samaras (aka, helicopter or whirlybird seeds) of my Japanese maple. And, the chartreuse and brown of redwood trees could be the colors of wonderfully rich masculine/earthy quilt.

For creatives, mindful observation doesn’t just comfort our mind and soul when we’re in it. It can also open inspire us with new ideas and provide an intuitive understanding of color.

 

Permission to play

Throughout my life, I’ve explored new ideas. I remember as a kid making papier-mâché masks. My mom taught me how to sew and crochet when I was 10 years old. I messed around with paints and drawing. In high school I “minored” in art and had the most wonderful opportunities to study Chicago architecture and stained glass. Special bonus in my youth were field trips to the Art Institute of Chicago, Field Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry, each captivating my creative eye.

Later in my life I became more focused in what I created. You may have even found me through my art; nature-inspired mixed-media textiles. Even though my art is focused, I still dabble in a lot of things. My love of wool is pretty strong. I love to knit and felting is addictive for me too. This week I took some time for creative play and made these felted bowls. (Do you ever take time for creative play?)

Sometimes I forget about the importance of creative play. I get focused on what needs to get done – NOW! I frequently push back on the idea of taking time for fun creativity. Sometimes I almost dread it, because I know I’m going to create a mess, which means I’m going to have to clean up too (more work- ugh!). However, I truly believe its an important activity to add to your life. The easiest way to proceed is to take a class … explore something new with the guidance of a knowledgeable instructor. I do this occasionally. (Pro tip: one of the perks is you won’t have as much clean-up afterward. YAY!)

Playing is a way of learning. And, if you let go of expectations, it can also be a mindful experience. Felting is one of those crafts that you almost have to let go of expectations. As I built the bowls, I chose fibers from my stash that I had no idea how they would react with the process. I also selected colors that I wasn’t confident would work together (e.g. purple and orange?).

My point is by playing without expectations we can be present in the experience. If it fails, so be it. If it works, bravo. But either scenario, we learn and likely improve our skills. Best of all we take time for ourselves and let go of the other junk that consumes our brain. I give you permission to play!

Live life to the fullest

My life has been on overload this month. I can’t complain about any of it, but with the past 18 months of not much going on, this month is making me feel tired. Good news is October starts on Friday and I’ll be able to look at September in the rear view mirror and an emptier calendar.

I recently watched a Ted Talk given by Jean Shinoda Bolen. Her discussion of Liminal Time has been heavy on my mind.

Liminal time is a transitional period between events. Bolen focuses on our current transition between pre- and post- covid times. This threshold period between the two life events is called liminal time. Its easiest to understand in architectural terms, as the hallway between two buildings (liminal space). As you walk through the passage way, you transition from one building to the other. Its almost like being in limbo as you walk the corridor. Maybe you even have time to gain strength to face what’s in the next room.

This all resonates with me because I am transitioning again. Pre- and Post- covid for sure, but also soon to hit another milestone birthday. The questions on whether I have I lived my life to the fullest are weighing on my mind. I’m re-evaluating and looking for what makes me happy. What do I enjoy doing vs what I am doing? Its healthy to do regular litmus tests on your life. Check in. Are you happy? What could you change? What needs to stay the same?

My bearded dragon thread-sketch reminds me of the journey of the dinosaurs. Did they realize they were becoming extinct? I doubt it. I bet they lived life to the fullest. And, that’s what I plan to do, too; live life to the fullest.