Rodeo Robots

November 15, 2017

I took a workshop from Alexandra Von Burg. She planned to teach free-form piecing for boats or houses, but mentioned she also has used this technique for robots. That was enough to make me pack up my sewing machine and schlep it down to the class. As she demonstrated making robot legs with feet, I was seized by a compulsion to make boots for my robot.

That was just the beginning. One of the other students said I ought to make a cowboy hat for this robot. Sondra cut the pieces for me and shaped the hat.

I already knew this robot was going to be female, so I gave her a waist, which gave her a bit of attitude, which tickled others in the workshop to no end.

She may be a robot, but she’s also a baseball fan

She needed a companion, so I made another block. Someone suggested I put a bandanna on that robot. She even had some fabric I could use. I made the scarf from a prairie point.

Here’s the finished robot.

I want to make a spaceship for them, and maybe a steer (for the bull riding competition, of course). This doesn’t resemble the quilt I had in mind at the start of class, not one little bit. And that’s fine with me.

Luck and wisdom!

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Surprise and the Lesson of Letting Go

November 8, 2017

Two words – origami frogs.

I didn’t make them, but I do treasure them

These little darlings were the surprise in the bottom of a container I cleaned out this week. They were under an old flip-phone that I never got around to recycling. My husband discovered the manuals for the phone and decided it was time I had another lesson in letting things go. My reward was finding these cute frogs.

The universe gave me another surprise reward when I decided to let go of my desire to make the perfect piece of art. I wanted to combine a batik and a wool square, but couldn’t come up with an ideal design. Tired of the frustration, I basted the batik to the square and started embroidering lines. Then I cut the fabric away from some of the lines. Here is the result.

I added more embroidery and some beads.

Always let your materials tell you where they want to go

Now I have to decide on a finishing technique. One of the candidates is to add a beaded fringe that has been sitting in my lace and trims box.

Learning how to let go is a lesson I’ll probably need to study again and again. As long as I get the occasional surprise at the end, I guess it’s okay.

Luck and wisdom!

My Scary Halloween Story

November 1, 2017

I usually write funny stories, so Marlene Dotterer’s challenge to write a scary story really made me work. Since the whole shebang started with critters in the sewing room, I decided to go there for inspiration. This is what I came up with:

Yes, anything can inspire a story – or a quilt

The jeweled spider is an important character, as suggested by Julaina Kleist-Corwin, so it has a prominent position on the tray. I made the ceramic crow and the purple snowflake ornament, but the other pieces are things I found in odd drawers and corners.

This isn’t the first time a sewing room find inspired a story. Another horror story I wrote, “The Family Tree” (published in Eve’s Requiem by Spider Road Press) was inspired by my tree fabric collection. This story is called:

All Over But The Screaming

My sister cornered me in the sewing room, demanding a quilt for her fifth grandchild. She grabbed the amethyst batik I had just made and said, “This will be perfect for little Angelica. Her aura is such a vibrant purple, it’s as if she told you this was what she wants.”

“Angelica hasn’t told me a thing. That batik is going into an art piece I’ve been planning for six months.”

My sister tossed her perfect auburn curls. “But you will be making art. It will cover Angelica instead of hanging on a wall, but it will still be art. I’ll make sure Angelica knows how lucky she is to be related to a famous fiber artist.” She flashed the million-dollar smile I paid for after the car accident, with me at the wheel and her side smashed into a tree.

Every cut I made into that batik felt as if I were slicing into my own heart. Never say no to family, that’s the motto pounded into our heads. I made the quilt with care, but not with love.

I finished the center and realized there was still enough of the batik left for my project if I used something else for the borders of the baby quilt. I searched through my stash for a suitable substitute. A golden leaf print blended well with the other fabrics, as did an aquamarine solid, but both seemed more like afterthoughts than integral parts of the design. While I never apologize for my decisions, I knew my sister would nag me about those fabrics so put them back in the drawer.

I considered a black polished cotton with gray circles, even sent a picture to my sister. She was horrified. “The specter of death is hovering over this quilt,” her text read. “Didn’t you see the ghost in the corner? It’s on the right, near the edge of the screen.”

I stifled the impulse to throw my phone across the room. The talismans my sister had given me at the summer solstice – a ceramic crow, a jeweled spider and other bric-a-brac on a tray – caught my eye. She said it was an altar of protection, and that I desperately needed it. I snatched the jeweled spider and broke one of its legs.

The wire pierced my skin. A drop of blood welled on my finger. As I watched it grow, the blood turned from dull red to a glowing red-orange, like lava. Sparks of light rose along the edges, as if they were bubbles in water about to boil. The sparks flashed diamond-white.

The spider wriggled from my grasp and crawled up my arm. My skin opened everywhere the raw wire touched, bringing pain and heat.

I heard a crackling sound, and the spark bubbles exploded from the blood drop. They scattered about the room. Smoke puffed from each spark. I smelled burning cotton and silk, and the toxic odor of melting plastic.

The spider waved its wire stump at me. “Apologize.” It spoke with a crystalline voice – sharp, high, unyielding.

I tried to sweep the spider from my arm, but the beveled edges of the jewels sliced my hand as if it were so much sandwich meat. My knees buckled. Stacks of fabric tumbled to the floor with me. The air swirled with each avalanche, fanning the tiny sparks into flames.

“Apologize, and I will bite you,” the spider said. “You will die tonight, one way or another. My poison will make your death easier.”

I watched the flames jump from fabric to bookshelf to curtains. The smoke smelled angry. It smelled of my own hate. Now I must choose how I will end, in bitterness or rage.

Scary Stories

October 25, 2017

I’ve been thinking about scary stories set in my sewing room. The room itself is a scary story, but let’s not dwell on that. On the other hand, perhaps we should, and keep the title I came up with earlier in the year – Thread Brain: A Story – in mind.

So, let’s suppose the schnibbles and thread snips have gone beyond the dust bunny stage. They’ve accumulated critical mass and developed language skills.

Schnibbles of the world, unite!

Then they make an alliance with the stuffed toys to take over the sewing room, and then the world. Or maybe they infect the stuffed toys, like a parasite, and turn them into their own little army.

Birds worked for Hitchcock, why not for me?

Now let’s add another critter, one I only bring out once a year. Like this Halloween spider.

Halloween decoration or guardian angel?

This spider opposes the schnibbles. Why? To have the sewing room for herself? Or is the spider my guardian angel, sent to protect me from my willingness to create art in squalor and chaos?

This is the outline of a story. I have no idea if it should be funny or scary, short or long. It’s like a sketch of a quilt. Whether it should be king-size or miniature, art or utilitarian – those are questions that sometimes won’t take the answer I give myself at the beginning of the creative process. If you’ve got an idea for the story, write it in comments and we’ll see what happens.

Luck and wisdom!

Creativity with Clutter

October 18, 2017

I made a quilt with tea towels, because I needed to get creative with my clutter.

Scotland forever, warming up my toes

The towels were gifts, so I knew from the get-go that I could never dry the dishes with them. I still wanted to use them, but for the longest time couldn’t figure out how. The absurdities of aging gave me an idea. I very often have cold shoulders and hot feet, so I made a small snuggle quilt. It is also a good size for when my shoulders are hot and my feet are cold.

The borders and binding came from my blue and green fabric drawer. I pulled out the smallest pieces, the ones that were essentially cluttering up the drawer, cut them in strips and sewed until I was satisfied.

My guard hippo and lucky egg

This is one of the non-fabric collections that lives in the sewing room. I call it a decorative display. My family calls it clutter. My friend Bettina suggested I write a story about monsters hiding in the sewing room. I glanced around at my toy collection, and an idea was born.

What secrets does the black-eyed seal hide? Will the roadrunner tell?

I think my toys are cute, but those are the things that make horror stories even more frightening, yes? So, now I’m thinking of the stories as well as the quilts that can come out of my sewing room clutter. There are still a couple of weeks before Halloween, so maybe I’ll come up with something to celebrate, either in words or in fabric.

Luck and wisdom!

The Suck It Up, Buttercup Effect

October 11, 2017

I made a public announcement that I would have two (2) quilts ready for our guild’s annual charity donation. The tops were finished, but I still had to quilt and bind them. The deadline is next month, but knowing what a procrastinator I am, I gave myself a stern talk. “Will it be easier to finish the quilts tomorrow, Self? The next day? The next week? What’s wrong with now? Suck it up, Buttercup, and get them done.”

Amazingly enough, it worked. Both are finished.

The Twist-and-Turn pattern is great for making quilts you intend to be used. You can let the fabric do the work.

The backing is made from black and yellow prints like the binding – stars, polka dots and squares.

Here is the binding I used on the cowgirl quilt I showed a couple of weeks ago. It was the only piece in the collection large enough to cut all the strips. Now the quilt is finished and the collection has been reduced to a couple of strips. Mission accomplished.

Luck and wisdom!

The Scary Month

October 4, 2017

I love Halloween. I love the scary movies, candy corn, costumes and bat jewelry. This year, however, the month is starting out more scary than I’d like. It seems a little sacrilegious to indulge in horror movies when the whole world is living in one.

That’s the origin of Halloween, the acknowledgement that life is pretty darn scary. People have always created rituals to help with fear, ease grief, share joy. How those rituals change over the generations is a testament to humanity’s willingness to adapt, and to its stubborn optimism that the future is worth the effort.

That’s where artists (including writers) help the most. We’re blindingly optimistic, even when our inner critic is screaming at how unworthy we are. We still create. We adapt to all sorts of things – new technology, art trends, the rising cost of our favorite media. We find a way to create.

Healing a wounded world won’t be easy, or cheap, and we may never know if our approach is the best. Do what you can. Do it with love. Take the scary month, the scary year, the scary life, and make your own rituals to cope, to thrive. Be artist strong.

Looking for beauty in the dark

Luck and wisdom!

Who You Are Supposed To Be

September 27, 2017

I had an epiphany this week, and here’s the item that started everything in motion.

For years, I have attributed my stuffy nose and sinus problems to autumn allergies. Since so many of my friends and family have much worse symptoms, I just soldiered on and made sure there were tissue boxes in every room of the house. The last couple of years have been a little worse, so I went to the allergy clinic this week to find out what exactly I’m fighting every fall.

Turns out that is a more interesting question than I thought. Turns out I might not have allergies at all but some other issue that presents with similar symptoms but needs to be treated far differently than an allergy.

That was the epiphany moment. Who I am supposed to be isn’t written in stone. I may look like one thing, but be another. My art might suggest it is one thing, but really is another. I need to dig a little deeper and find out who I truly am, what my art actually is about, and present that story to the world. And in case you need a little encouragement, you should give yourself the gift of finding out who you are, and what your art is about.

Luck and wisdom!

The Last Generation to Remember . . .

September 20, 2017

I heard a speaker lament that people his age would be the last generation to remember the world before the internet. More important to me as a quilter is that I am part of the last generation to remember the world before rotary cutters.

The tools that changed my quilting life

When I first started quilting, scissors ruled. I cut every piece one at a time. I drew cutting and sewing lines by hand. I pinned the living daylights out of every unit I sewed because they were all so dang small. Then my quilting teacher introduced me to rotary cutters. Life as I knew it changed forever.

More useful tools

Well, sort of. At the time I had very little disposable income, and getting a cutter and blades and rulers and a mat was outside the range of my budget. Soon after my first quilting class was over, however, I had squirreled away enough money for a small mat, one ruler, and a decent cutter. I never looked back.

Well, almost never.

Still useful, but not my go-to tool

Scissors still have a place in my sewing room, especially pretty ones. I like hand work, and having the right scissors for the right application makes the project even more pleasant. The important thing is it’s now my choice when to go old-school.

I’m not great with change. I didn’t get a cell phone until public phone boxes disappeared, and computer upgrades send me screaming into the night. With the example of the rotary cutter, however, I have the assurance that sometimes the end of the world as you know it isn’t such a bad thing.

Luck and wisdom!

Fighting Procrastination

September 13, 2017

I’ve known for ages that I’m pathetic without a deadline. No matter how good my intentions, if there isn’t a date circled on the calendar the project may not get started (much less finished). This year I took a position on the board of my quilt guild, so I’m using that to fight procrastination – and use some of the fabric in my stash – by declaring my intention to make at least two quilts for the guild’s charity drive at Christmas.

Cut patches, ready to sew

I found these cowgirls and some blue squares in a plastic bag on the shelf.

Cut squares, sewn in pairs, multiplying before my eyes

Who knows where they came from, or what I intended to do with them. All I know is that I looked at the bag and said, “Self, you can let these go. Someone else will be much happier with the quilt than you could ever be.” I started with the dimensions the charities prefer and worked backwards. This is the quilt-in-progress.

Cowgirl quilt in progress

I have a gazillion collections of fabric that still appeal to me, but not as much as when I bought them. Having it all languish on my shelf makes no sense when there are plenty of organizations in my community that want quilts. Turning these collections into charity quilts gives me the pleasure of using the fabric without the burden of figuring out what to do with it. I’m also training myself to fight procrastination – a lesson that I need to relearn on a regular basis.

Luck and wisdom!