Alaska improv quilt detail

Every quilt has a story

One of the aspects of quilting that impressed the art deep into American culture is its storytelling nature. Every facet of a quilt is meant to tell a part of a story, from the blocks, to the layout, the fabric, the quilting…players in the maker’s memoir. When a quilt is extracted from a box, buried deep in a basement or attic for a generation, fascination ensues as the lucky finders wonder about the materials and workmanship. Who made this? Why these fabrics…this design? If they’re lucky, there might be a bit of information scrawled on the label: the maker’s and the recipient’s names, the date it was made and where. Every quilt has as story.

Some quilts stories are about a fabric or color combination or pattern that caught the quilter’s fancy. Others mark an important event or milestone. I made this quilt as a part of an Instagram swap with the theme of “Mini with a Story”. Typically, a mini swap is about using preferences and clues from the recipient to make a secret project they’ll (hopefully) love. This one, however, was different in that I got to use my own discretion to design a mini quilt to tell my own story.

“Out of Alaska”

This mini illustrates the first half of my life, and that of my parents and grandparents, under Alaska’s stunning sky. I incorporated a skyline of high rise building, magnificent in its own way, to represent the current leg of my journey in Chicago. The piecing is improvisational in nature, while a typical pattern can be lovely, I wanted to show my penchant for carving my own path. This is my story, after all.

I loved the adventure of creating a new material, piece by piece.  I worked in small sections adding bits and combinations to create something usable from scraps of solid and low-volume blues. The textures and the play of the shades of blue were a delight to work with. I started by laying out small cuts in the way I thought they might work for my scene, to act as a sort of sketch to guide the improv. I do I wish I’d used a greater variety of shapes; I think the combination of squares and rectangles worked well enough for this piece but when I recreate a version of this for my home I’ll definitely remember to vary the bits I used for the sky.

Alaska improv quilt layout

Once the top was completed, I used a combination of free motion motifs to bring the scene to life. In the sky, I used a line of lazy eights in a variegated thread to draw a line of dancing northern lights, and a shiny gold thread for the eight stars that represent Alaska’s flag. Throughout the sky I drew swirls and waves in two different shades of blue and on the buildings I used a flat black thread in a variety of angular meanders to portray the urban textures. The quilting is, by far, my favorite part of this quilt, both to create and to look at.

I used two fabrics to piece the binding, a navy speckled with white stars for the sky and a black and white grid to coordinate with the lower half.

Alaska improv quilt detail

I’ve done several mini swaps, the swap community on Instagram is a fabulous place to find quilty people, so this isn’t my first go-round with sending off something I’ve made. This is, however, the first piece I designed from start to finish, and it’s the first I’ve done specifically to tell my own story, so this one was a little tricky to let go of.

But, mail her off I did and nervously waited for my partner to receive it. Words can’t even describe my delight when I received word from my partner that not only did she love it, but would be hanging it in her husband’s office in honor of his own childhood in Alaska. I cried when I read that. What a perfect end to this quilt’s story.

Alaska improv quilt finish

 

 

cropped-cropped-RL-creates3.jpg

Creating a Beautiful Life

I’ve been a quilt maker since I was fairly young, all the ladies I knew at that time were quilters. I think I was 15 when I joined the ranks and made my first quilt. I was young enough to not be intimidated by the 1″ postage stamp pattern that I insisted upon making. My mom, in all her wisdom, convinced me to start with one block and go from there. Wise indeed. That quilt ended up as a charming, quirky, sampler lovingly hand-quilted by the sewing bee of my grandfather’s childhood church. It’s not what many would call fabulous but it’s an important part of my journey.

Garden Quilt
My first quilt, circa 1993, age 15.

Because I began quilting in my formative years and grew into it as I grew into adulthood, I never learned to appreciate what a creative force it has been for me. It was always there and I was always making at some level. And all was good…until it wasn’t.

When we needed my quilting room for a nursery, when it was necessary to pack up all my supplies and relocate them into nooks and closets, that thing which both facilitates and fuels my own unique expression was shoved away as well. If maintaining a creative practice is like tending a garden: pulling the weeds and pruning the plants for optimum beauty, then I had let my garden grow fallow. While it led to a low point in my own journey, it also enlightened the path for the rest of my journey. I can no longer deny the importance of a creative practice. And not just any creative practice – I’ve tried lettering, painting, pottery, crochet…none of which make my heart sing. When I returned to quilting after a five-year hiatus, I knew I was home.

So, what is it to “create a beautiful life” and what does this have to do with quilting? It’s about the obligation we have to feed our souls with that creative expression that makes us come alive. That thing that you could gladly stay up all night to do, make, practice? That’s the thing. You must do it. We are created in the image of a creative God which means we are wired to create. It is our job to pursue that thing we’re meant to create and get on it. Find a way to practice it daily. Do away with the notion that being creative takes a great amount of time, dollars, space, or talent. Stop making excuses and make something beautiful.

A beautiful life is one lived slowly, in pursuit of creating rather than consuming. I make my family’s bread and other staples because by slowing down and taking the time to make these things by hand, we are given the gift of knowing the ingredients, feeling the textures, smelling the smells, tasting the freshness, and anticipating the goodness. I make quilts for the same reason – it’s slow, it touches so many senses, it nourishes the soul and cares for the body. It goes deep.

A beautiful life is one spent observing the small, beautiful things that occur naturally all around us. Where I live, this often means building a muscle of shutting out the noise and clutter, ignoring the constant hustle, slowing and making space to go deeper. When you make something you are forced to go deeper, whether it’s brief or ongoing. But to be deep is to savor and appreciate, to focus on finer details and force the weight of a daily grind to take a back seat. That is a beautiful life.

It’s not about physical surroundings. Or the aesthetics of the thing being made. But the intentional act of making. The daily practice of honoring the creative aspect that makes our heart sing. This doesn’t come naturally and it isn’t taught in school. It’s a practice. What is your thing? What can you be more intentional to practice, even just moments at  time, every day?  I dare you to start. Dive in. Don’t hesitate. And definitely don’t compare yourself to what’s found on Pinterest.  Close the computer. Put away the devices. Take up your fabric, your paint, your pieces, your ingredients, and make something.

Pause. Breathe. Sit in the gratitude that’s to be found in the making. And then set your hands to work and your mind to rest.

Ponder that thing you create. Dream up a way that you can practice this thing every day. Is it a page? A piece? A few moments at an instrument? A new recipe? The same recipe pursued to perfection? As you begin the practice, be sure to note the difference it makes. Is there a new lightness to your step? A clarity you hadn’t felt before? A new joy? Progress? The simple act of reflecting on your practice is bound to bring you deeper.

So let’s do this, shall we? Make a beautiful life with me. What’s your creative thing? I’d love to hear about it! 

This post is a part of the 2017 Quilt Bloggers Hop. I’m excited to spend the next several months exchanging insights with a group of talented quilt makers and bloggers. For more quilty goodness, be sure to stop by and check out these others who are also sharing this week:

Leanne @shecanquilt : She Can Quilt

Yvonne @quiltingjetgirl : Quilting Jet Girl

Beth @CookingupQuilts : Cooking Up Quilts

Jess @SewJess: Sew Jess Handmade 

Amanda @ Quiltologie : Quiltologie All Things Handmade

Abigail @CutandAlter: Cut and Alter

Rose @ SomethingRoseMade: Something Rose Made

Stop by and say hi (there’s prizes!), bloggers love to hear from you. And stay tuned for more great posts from the group over the next several months.

cropped-cropped-RL-creates3.jpg

Find Your People

____ is better in community.

Life. Dinner. Quilting. Everything is better in the company of friends. This is known, but it doesn’t always come easy. I’ve found community of all sorts particularly elusive here in the suburbs. But a vibrant quilting community? Mythical.

For over a decade after leaving my hometown, in which everyone I knew quilted, I practiced alone. But in retrospect I chalk up that solitude as one of the factors that led to the loss of my quilting mojo. Don’t go alone, friends.

I used to think that joining a guild was something reserved for those better than me. Admittedly, that’s no only undefinable, but it’s just not true. I don’t know why I had this idea about guilds. An early assumption it’s time to put to rest, for sure.

But since I’ve come back, quilting 2.0, I have made the most amazing discovery. Quilters have converged on social media! It’s fabulous! Apparently while I was busy having babies, Flickr and Instagram birthed vibrant yet virtual quilting communities and I am having the most amazing time, being inspired and exchanging feedback and advice with quilters from all over the world.

Do you swap? Yes! I knew it. I’m the last quilter on earth to discover swaps.

On the off chance that you’ve never participated in a swap via social media, please consider this your cordial invitation to join. I participate on Instagram, but they’re to be found on the other social media platforms as well. How fun is it to receive a set of guidelines from someone else, being forced to work with colors and concepts I wouldn’t normally choose, to make a gift for another maker, and to then receive a gift that’s lovingly made for me….super fun.

I’ve completed two swaps so far, not my usual style for sure, but I’ve learned something from each piece. And I’ve certainly gained a new kind of confidence as I’ve sent my works off to strangers and anxiously waited for public feedback. But it’s so great. Quilters are gracious, grateful, encouraging, and kind. So, I’m preparing to send off a third this week and I’m brewing seven more with deadlines this spring. Seven. Somebody stop me.

Here’s where it gets even more fun. Via my community on Instagram, I was tipped off to a list of local guilds, and I’ve since found a place in a vibrant, in-real-life community of quilters. It’s a quirky yet sweet quilt-loving group of nearly 300 women who are my people. In a way I don’t fit in, I’m younger than most and my style isn’t quite as traditional as most, but sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your quilt’s name.

Find a community. Quilters are nothing if not hospitable and eager to include and embrace more quilters. Sign up, join the conversation, show your work and be a part of something.

 

cropped-cropped-RL-creates3.jpg

Book Chat: The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters

Quick note: this post contains affiliate links. All this means is if you buy a product I recommend, the seller shares a small percentage of the sale with me, without affecting your price. I only recommend things I use and love myself. 

Most quilters begin by choosing a pattern and a set of fabrics, follow some instructions, resulting in a lovely and functional piece. I did this for many years and in so doing built a strong foundation of skill and taste. But in working through the works of others, I did not build a voice.

Enter improvisational work. I don’t know why this style has drawn my attention at this time when it’s never resonated before. It’s fascinating actually. So I’ve been reading up on what makes improv work and I’m excited to tell you about The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters by Sherri Lynn Wood {affiliate link}. Improv Handbook

My friends: this is a book for every quilter. Even if you think improv isn’t your thing, there’s much to learn from the author’s approach to creative quilt making.

“At the least it requires a willingness to take risks and make mistakes”

The Score

One of the first concepts she presents is the score. This is the set of parameters the artist determines at the outset of a work and can range from colors and materials, to size, tools, scale, process, time, and more. The myriad possibilities are in themselves inspiring, and the challenge of working within a prescribed framework is both freeing and supportive. She talks about pushing limits and breaking rules as the way to innovation.  Make a list of the facets of your project and then challenge yourself with a new score.

I’m looking forward to working up a piece with a score that involves only scraps from my past projects, using scissors, and working up to 60″x 60″…stay tuned!

I realized that, like the author, I’ve seen my quilting evolve from my earliest works which were perfectly lovely, but prescribed and relatively uninspired. I played carefully to the patterns and choices of someone else, never testing my own footing, building a repertoire of technique and a strong foundation. But “as I became more skilled and familiar with techniques, materials, and process, my quilts often became static and self-conscious. Once I figure things out I’m tempted to strive for perfection”…yes! In that pursuit of perfection I lost sight of my own creative process. I’m not sure I ever even saw it, actually. I was too busy reinterpreting the work of others to have my own ideas. I lost my way and stopped quilting.

Cultivating a Beginner’s Mind

Since I’ve rediscovered my connection to making quilts, I’ve gotten to see with what Wood calls “beginner’s eyes”. Unintentionally at first, but now it’s an intentional part of my practice. I set out, on purpose, with openness and eagerness. She encourages makers to focus on questions rather than answers and to respond with an attitude of not knowing. How easy is it, after so many years of making a particular thing, to think we have the answers?

She writes about working with a spirit of willingness and curiosity. It’s easy to settle into a particular style. A groove. A rut. This can be a fine thing when we’ve determined a specialty or a niche. But if we’re settled in a complacent place, then we ought to accept the challenge to willingly explore and experiment in new and unfamiliar territory, letting go of self-consciousness and working within a comfort zone.

Most important is her advice to cling to awe, wonder, and gratitude and celebrate mistakes. This book has definitely changed the way I quilt.

Buy this book

cropped-cropped-RL-creates3.jpg

The Art of Daily Practice

When I set out to make quilting my life, I couldn’t just drop everything and quilt. Daily demands don’t simply fall into line just because you decide to change career paths. As much as I’d love to spend my days fondling fabric and churning out fabulously original designs that sell for thousands…I had to figure out how to fit quilting around freelance work, household chores, and motherhood in crazy, suburban 2017.

Balance is always good.

There’s old advice for writers that says something about leaving your work with a sentence unfinished. This way, when you sit down again and start to write, you can pick right up where you left off. There’s no searching for the next flow of words. The words will flow. It’s actually relatively transferable.

I used to look at quilting as project to be done in big blocks of time. But in order to make it a sustainable part of my life I needed to reframe it to fit into little pockets here and there. And perhaps the occasional large chunk of time, seized after bedtime. Enter #30minutesaday.

 

 

Just like exercise, brushing teeth, and eating your vegetables, building a creative practice is a fundamental part of a healthy life. Not that I do all of those things every day. But I know that I should.

In thirty minutes, an active daily practice, I can try new techniques and play with new ideas that may not be ready for a full-blown project. I work on multiple projects simultaneously, brewing several while moving one forward, moving on another one the next day. I get to appreciate short, immediate results and the challenge of new parameters – an immediate gratification that’s motivating, even intoxicating. It’s changed the way I create and made me a better, stronger quilter.

Try it. Just a few minutes of daily practice leads to growth, change, forward momentum.

cropped-cropped-RL-creates3.jpg

I Sold a Quilt and Everything Changed

I’ve quilted for years, given gifts, dabbled with selling little things. But I didn’t consider that I could make an actual income via quilting until very recently. It’s hard to sell a quilt for what it’s worth when the market is flooded with products from over seas where makers are paid cents on the dollar. While I assumed there’s no buyers to be found, I stumbled on one in an accidental conversation. And that changed everything.

There I was, thinking out loud and processing my lack of satisfaction with my career choices, pondering this daydream of being a “real” quilt maker. My friend, the faithful listener, says, “I’ll buy one.” Just like that. Sold. All of a sudden my dream of being a working professional has come true. In a way I’m a little ashamed that this changed everything. I was no more or less a maker before or after the transaction. But I felt totally different. Inspired. Activated. Legitimate.

Now I understand the value of a patron. I quilt like it’s my job now. All of a sudden I’ve been given the chance to do what I love to do. I’m a long way from a full time income, but there’s forward motion. The validation spurs my pursuit of mastery which girds my confidence and fuels my vision for the next project, the next idea, the next.

I’ve concluded everyone should have a patron. Obviously. Find that thing you love and then find someone to pay you to do it. Boom.

Ok, it’s not quite that simple. I stumbled on my first commission and the life-changing artist-patron experience. I wish I’d been intentional about making it happen years ago. Ah hind sight. But now that I’ve seen what it is to live this dream, I won’t go back. It can’t be unseen. If only I’d known this then.

If you’re an artist who hasn’t found your patron, here’s three simple changes to make that could change everything:

  1. Declare it – Think like an artist. Talk like an artist. Plan your day like you are the artist. Because if it walks like a duck…
  2. Make it – Intentionally. Mindfully. Gratefully. Do the diligent work of creating.
  3. Show it – Make something and show it. And then do it again. Be brave. Own it.

There is a market for you. Make like it’s your job. Just start.

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-26 at 10.23.16 PM

Finish: Range Quilt

It’s only two-and-a-half weeks late and my darling husband is so understanding. This was one fun project. Michael’s Range.

Range Quilt from Nicole Daksiewicz at Modern Handcraft just called  to me. Particularly last fall, after our road trip. I grew up in and around mountains. Not hills, mind you. And not off in some hazy distance. My mountains were just beyond the boundaries of my neighborhood, circling my hometown, embracing us with 12,000 feet of majesty. I know my mountains.

But when we passed through New Mexico, into eastern Arizona and discovered Tonto National Forest, my mind was blown by mountains like I’d never seen. So many layers disappearing into the atmosphere. Every switch of the road revealed a new vista. My poor husband would have been blown away as I was, had he not been driving the RV down a long and winding road at 10% grade. He didn’t find himself at liberty to partake, but I did my best to describe what he was missing, in all my speechless wonder.

When I saw this pattern, I knew right away I needed to make this quilt to mark our first cross-country trip. She perfectly captured the depth and ethereal perpetuity of mountains like I’ve never seen.

I double batted it, and quilted with organic almost-matchstick lines. I may regret the extra layer, but it is cuddly! And so soft!

The pattern is really well written and designed, very easy to follow. I would recommend it to anyone, and will continue to follow Nicole’s work, for sure.

image2 (1)

Planning a Year

Quilting is in, my friends. I have rearranged the family room to permanently accommodate a miniature studio, I’ve taken up with a guild, I’ve taken a significant commission, and I’ve got several classes scheduled in coming weeks. What a change from a year ago.

I’m on fire.

Not to sing my own accolades, by any means. I’m just little old me. But I’ve been intentional to practice the art that makes my heart sing. And my soul is lit. How fun is that?!

2017 readingThis year I embrace my calling to create. I’m a quilter. It’s what I do. It makes me a better version of myself – my bucket is filled, my energy is renewed, and my mind races with beautiful things yet to be made, rather than trivial worries that used to drive me batty. It’s glorious, actually.

I have a stack of books at the ready. There’s been so much good publishing done in the five years I’ve looked away. Wow! All those yellow “E” stickers at the top of the stack? They’re actually “New” stickers, designating books that have been added to circulation in the last 90 days. Yep, I took them all! I do love my library so I suppose I’ll give them back someday. I can’t wait to get through these books and share the highlights in future posts!

I’m declaring this the year of paper piecing and wonky stars. I’ve dabbled in both so they’re not new techniques, but I am diving in this year, to add depth to my repertoire. I have several project ideas stashed away. I will (WILL!) finish a New York Beauty before too long. Soon, my precious. And all the wonky stars?! Oh yes.

Also, can we talk about Instagram swaps? I think I’ve signed myself up for five in the last few weeks. Somebody stop me! But really2017 goals, how fun is it to be a part of a vibrant community, each of us tackling the challenge of making something for which someone else set the boundaries. And then I get to receive something that was lovingly made according to my own preferences? So fun!

Seriously, if you haven’t joined a swap, you must find join in. It’s like the twenty-first century version of a quilting bee and an important part in the evolution of our common thread.

I’m setting my sites on conferences, maybe Quilt Fest here in Chicago in April, and Sew Pro in the fall? Quilt Con? Sadly it’s too far away and right around the corner, but it’s high on my list for next year! I’m anxious to get out and experience this new, modern quilty community for myself. It’s so different than the one I thought I knew so well.

Goals are good, but life happens. So much life. I hold goals loosely and like to take a broad. Mainly, in the coming year, I’ll be working to deeply inset a daily practice of creativity. It’s more and more obvious as I’ve been working and creating these past months that a creative practice is every bit as critical as daily exercise and brushing teeth. So I’ll add #15minutesofcreative to each day and work on a few neglected skills like free motion quilting, applique, and curves (knowing I won’t likely be able to stop after just 15 minutes!).

Keep me accountable, will you? Another goal I have is to use this site as a weekly record of what I’m learning, what’s working for me, what I’m working on, and maybe if I get my act together I’ll dip my toes into tutorials. I look forward to sharing this adventure!

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-26 at 5.59.43 PM

WIP & What I’m Learning V

And here we are with another installment of the year-long guild project set to simmer. This one was again a challenge to my preferences (not only would I not have chosen it based on the author’s image, but I’m pretty sure I made a sour face when I first saw it). So this one simmered even before I set to sewing. I was determined to finish but had no idea where to start.

I think it was the author’s choice of fabrics that I couldn’t appreciate. They conspired to make the entire pattern scream 1983. Not a bad year, I’m sure, but not a favorite, stylistically. Anyway…what to do about it?

Make a palate.

shnibbles wonkyI was stuck with a project I wanted to see through, but wasn’t feeling. So I set an incremental goal to land on a palate. I went with a forest theme, of sorts. Not necessarily in color, but in subject matter. I didn’t start with a focal print, just curated a dozen or so prints that spoke to my love of nature. I’ve never approached a quilt this way and found the exercise to be very introspective. And I discovered Cotton + Steele, Tula Pink, and Heather Ross (I know, I know…where have I been?! See this post)…oh. my. word!

I chose another grey background, this time I went with a linen which may or may not have been intended for quilting. I still haven’t decided. It’s lovely and I like the texture, but it made for some bulky star points. And oh! the wrinkles! Note: stick with quilting cotton.

wonky starsBut in order to make this palate work, something needed to be done with the pattern (I’m not sure if it’s kosher, but I am intentionally choosing to leave the original pattern off this post, since I didn’t have the greatest experience with it). First up: the nine evening star blocks in the center. What to do.  Of course! Wonky stars! I love wonky stars…and just look at those little star babies!  I messed with the size and placement and points, nothing was safe and I loved the process.

And the geese…let’s make them wavy instead of all straight and boring. In keeping with my wonky theme, I added the border of half-square triangles but made them more random than I should have and am not quite happy with them…but not so unhappywavy geese that I’ll be ripping the stitches. But my favorite part of this adventure is the bit of curve I added to the bottom border. It worked! Who knew? There will be more curves.

I did it my way. Breaking from a pattern so dramatically was new to me, but in banishing all the straight lines, I finally started to feel something for this project! I was excited but nervous to show this one at the guild meeting (note: no one said anything…as with most things we’re worried about people noticing, they’re probably not paying enough attention to you to take note).

So, this one simmers because I’m not quite sure that it’s done. Scratch that…it’s not done. There’s more to be said for this one and I’m just waiting for the words to come. It’s got a bit of a medallion swagger so more borders are in order. Stay tuned!