Completing the Challenge!

February 20, 2019

I am working on the last project for the guild’s Unfinished Quilt Challenge. This is actually project 14 on my original list of 18. I turned one project into a tote bag and one project was shared early by mistake, so I’m completing more than 12 projects in this year-long challenge.

This top started with a square that my grandmother had marked to embroider. She used the famous blue pen, which is supposed to wash out but probably won’t as it has been sitting there for at least 25 years.

I may attempt to take out the blue dots by carefully applying water with a cotton swab. If that doesn’t work, I can always bead over them, or just keep them as a design element that will anchor the piece in a specific time of quilt history. As long as I’m finished, I’m going to be happy with it.

Luck and wisdom!

Shorthand and Character Development

February 18, 2019

We inherited some of the family papers. Going through them is a hoot, and sometimes a howl. Trying to read handwriting from 100 years ago is the howl part. My mother is translating a ledger that her father acquired, although he did not make the entries. Whoever did write those entries wrote hurriedly, and probably used his or her own personal, private shorthand. That got me to thinking about how I could use handwriting and notes-to-self to develop my characters. What would it say about my antagonist if he consistently wrote with perfectly formed letters, and in complete paragraphs? What if my hero preferred his original emojis and doodles to real words? I generally have pretty good handwriting, but when I’m in a hurry, or making lists (like the one pictured) that I expect to be the only one reading, my letters turn into random squiggles and spiky lines. Don’t get me started on the abbreviations I use that even I can’t decipher a week or two later. Keeping my own penmanship in mind as I create my characters could give me a whole new appreciation for who these people want to be.

Luck and wisdom!

Fabric Design = Quilting Pattern

February 13, 2019

I hate to mark quilting patterns. Sometimes I’ll quilt loops or leaves when nothing else comes to mind, but this quilt included fabrics that didn’t call out for either. The fabrics convinced me to use their designs for my quilting pattern.

I didn’t concern myself with restricting the quilt design to the square. If there was a flower that I could extend to the next square, I did.

By the time I finished the center, I felt comfortable enough to try outlining most of the butterflies in the border.

Next time you just can’t make yourself mark even a simple grid for your quilt, listen to the fabrics. You might like what they suggest.

Luck and wisdom!

What Are The Odds – Coincidence In Life And Fiction

February 11, 2019

This past weekend I was confronted with the reality of coincidence. Both events were of limited scope, but both made me ask myself what the odds are of getting a break when I thought it was a setback.

The first was buying flowers for a friend. I picked up some lovely blooms, and called to see if I could bring them over. Turns out she was out of town, but as it happened I was having a meeting at my house so I could use them as part of the decorations. Then I went to put them in a vase and discovered I had bought almost too much even for my largest vase, and the resulting display weighed a ton. Given that I have no idea what sort of vases my friend has, but I do know she’s been having back issues lately, this was definitely a case of the universe saving my hinder.

The second event was of similar magnitude in terms of the greater scheme of life. I had brought a donation quilt to the guild meeting. I planned to show it during Sharing before turning it in to Community Quilts. A friend asked if she could examine it, and as I took it out I noticed I didn’t put the Amador Valley Quilters label on the back. We always label our donation quilts, and in fact I HAVE some of those labels at home. I simply forgot to sew it on. Luckily, Community Quilts had extra labels and a hand sewing kit, so I stitched it on before Sharing started and was able to turn the quilt in as planned.

There are times in my writing when I wonder if the coincidence I absolutely, positively must have for the plot to work is all that credible. The last weekend gave me my answer – sometimes, the universe does provide.

Luck and wisdom!

The Surprise Instinct and Cleaning My Sewing Room

February 6, 2019

I may have acquired a new means of tricking myself into clearing up the piles in my sewing room. Steven Johnson (in Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World) writes about the surprise instinct, a neural mechanism that kicks in you when you learn something unusual. Surprise “rewards you for breaking out of your usual habits, for stumbling across something that confounds your expectations.” I was looking for a quilt that I made a couple of years ago – which I haven’t yet found – and I ran across a little Valentine’s Day piece.

This quilt hasn’t seen the light of day in years. The pleasure I experienced finding it almost cancels out the disappointment of not finding the quilt I was looking for, and might be sufficient to make me put what I do run across in its proper place so I can find it again.

Luck and wisdom!

The Wonder of Workshops

February 4, 2019

Tri-Valley Writers, a branch of the California Writers Club, is putting on its third writers conference on April 13. I’m president of the branch this year, so naturally I’m biased in favor of the event, but even so the day is going to be pretty special (shameless promotion alert, here’s the website link). I’m telling everyone I know to consider attending because there is nothing like gathering with a group of like-minded people pursing a shared passion to ignite creative bonfires.

You would think, given my last statement, that I would always be searching for workshops and conferences. Not so. Luckily, I have friends who point out the treasure I’ve overlooked, like the Mechanics Institute in San Francisco, which holds workshops and classes on just about everything. I attended a wonderful writing workshop on sentences presented by Nina Schulyer. We spent three hours reviewing sentence structure, and playing with different forms to create amazing emotional effects (For you art quilters, imagine the fun of spending three hours experimenting with different embroidery techniques to enhance the overall artistic vision and impact of your piece.).

Schulyer has written a great book called How To Write Stunning Sentences. Still, there’s something magical about being in the same room with creative minds. You learn from each other almost as much as you learn from the presenter. So, look for those hidden gems around you – the adult learning annexes, small conferences, extension courses – and register for as many classes as time and your budget allow. You’ll thank me later.

Luck and wisdom!

The Projects Strike Back

January 30, 2019

We all know pride cometh before a fall. I was so proud of myself for getting my projects sorted and ready to go that I forgot about the consequences. The projects are striking back, starting with this one.

I made the four blocks as part of a demonstration. Rather than stick them in the orphan block bin, I put them in a bag with some other fabric for a charity quilt. I envisioned a charming quilt for a little girl, what with the pink flamingos and all.

As I was unpacking the the bag, I found this.

This does not fit the theme of “charming quilt for a little girl” and is in fact not yardage but a panel for making boxer shorts. Don’t ask me where I got it, or why it found its way into my flamingo block bag. It just did.

The palm trees and pale fish fabric also found their way into the bag, and although they go with the theme, I’m coming to believe they want to be in an art quilt all on their own. So, instead of one project I’ve got two, and a shark panel. Oy.

                                                        Luck and wisdom!

Asking Questions

January 28, 2019

My copy of Wonderland, already flagged and tagged

Creating art usually starts with a question. What if I mixed these colors? What if I sewed these fabrics together? What if a stranger came to town with a mysterious gift? Then you bring out the paints, or the scissors, or sit at the computer and let the rest of the project flow logically from that question. Turns out writing history is the same. You start with a question, assemble your supplies – in this case, the documents, photographs, and artifacts of the era you’re studying – and let the story flow logically from the facts. Except that the interpretation of the facts is colored by the way you ask the question. Steven Johnson asked a question about fashion, recreation, entertainment, and the unknown masses and came up with a different take on history. The first chapter of Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World is called Fashion and Shopping. I’m not thin or rich enough to be a fashionista, but I certainly have experienced the benefits of retail therapy, especially at a quilt shop. How wonderful, then, to read Johnson’s discussion of the effect of cotton on Europe. Not only was cotton a revelation in texture to people accustomed to wool and linen, but the results of the dying techniques developed in India were irresistible. “When Vasco da Gama brought back a cargo full of textiles in 1498 from his landmark expedition around the Cape of Good Hope, he gave Europeans their first real experience of the vivid patterns and almost sensual textures of calico and chintz.” The next line is even better: “As fabrics, calico and chintz first made their way into the routine habits of Europeans through the gateway drug of interior decorating.”

My first thought on reading these paragraphs was about my next stories and novels. I could build my grand civilizations not on the bones of conquered peoples, but on the imagination of interior designers. My planets could be ruled not by emperors, but by fabric artists. Storytellers could be the most highly regarded in the population. The economies could work because they already have worked here. I’ve just begun the book and have already flagged a dozen pages with notes-to-self on world-building. All of which proves that asking questions is always valuable, and asking odd questions is even better.

Luck and wisdom!

Collaboration – Quilting

January 23, 2019

One of the best parts of belonging to a quilt group (or several quilt groups) is the opportunity to share ideas. Sometimes that sharing is in the form of collaboration on a project, even if the actual work takes place in pieces. I wanted to give a quilt to a friend, but was crunched for time. One of my quilting buddies, Lori Vogel, shared a top with me. I finished the project on deadline, and everyone is happy. I also got a chance to see how Lori approaches quilt design and color use, which helps me learn and grow as a quilt artist. Surround yourself with other artists, and take every opportunity to collaborate. You’ll thank me later.

Luck and wisdom!

Collaboration – Writing

January 21, 2019

Tri-Valley Writers published its fourth anthology last year. We had a party to celebrate, and in the spirit of collaborative writing we gave ourselves a challenge. Each table (of seven people) was given three prompts and ten minutes to come up with a scene. My table’s prompts were exaggerate, climbing a hill, and an unexpected gift. In ten minutes we had written a scene where a man is certain a mountain lion had pushed him down the hill at the back of the yard, but he would continue pruning the undergrowth. His wife says it was the neighbor’s cat, and he slipped on the ivy, but never mind she’s already called a gardening service. It was a silly scene – and great fun. If you want to bring out a different side of your writing brain, get a group together and toss out the prompts like candy at a parade.

Publishing an anthology is another way to collaborate with writers. Finding a way to agree on editing standards alone is worth the effort. You’ll be amazed at what you learn in that process. At the end, you’ll have a book of stories, and that’s always worth the effort. Voices of the Valley: Journeys may only get local notice, but you never know what that attention will bring. If you have a large enough group to share the expenses, consider publishing your own anthology to see your work in print.


                                                         

                                                    Luck and wisdom!