Saturday, July 26, 2014

To Be or To Do - That is the Question!

So I spent a few days doing exactly what I felt like doing, and may I say it was fabulous?  It was, really.  I ate or I didn’t eat, depending on whether I was hungry.  I read a book if I felt like it, I finished a quilt, I meditated…I also cleaned my car, inside and out (the weather was nice and I like it clean), I weeded the garden, cleaned the house from top to bottom, I took some stuff I’ve been meaning to get rid of to the Salvation Army, I wrote a little, watched a movie, took a few naps, exercised, and had a girls’ night with my friends (which was wicked fun!).  I sat on the front porch thinking and watching the grass grow, I played on the computer…All in all, I simply enjoyed myself being responsible for only me.  Now I’m ready to get back to real life.  Because while it is nice to take some time to just be, having responsibilities isn’t so bad, either.
 In fact, I am suddenly thinking that it’s doing all the things that need doing in life that helps me be creative.  The more I’m challenged by life, the more I’m exposed to other people and their thoughts, the more I see when I’m out and about, the more I do for others, the more inspired I get.  I’ve always felt my ideas don’t always just come directly through me – often they are sparked by something I see, hear or experience while I’m being productive, or other people’s ideas spark a new idea in me, or I build on something I’ve seen or heard. 
When I was teaching I was willing to try anyone’s idea if it worked for them, and I freely shared my stuff, too.  I love bouncing ideas off of other people, looking at other people’s creations to spark my own – not necessarily to copy them exactly; sometimes their ideas lead me in the direction of something I’m excited about.   
We’re all connected in a sort of collective way, even though we might not realize it.  I’ve noticed often that I might have a design thought and I might even make the thing, and then I find out someone else has the same or a very similar idea (usually there’s a much easier way to do it than the way I figured out).  Some people find that idea threatening, but I think it’s beautiful - and it’s okay, really.  I can’t get too fussed about being completely “original.”  I’m just happy that I get lots of ideas that I can’t wait to create. To me, creativity is a gift, and I am grateful for it.  I’m not worried that someone else is creative, too.  There’s plenty of creativity to go around, and many, many different forms of it, too.
Sure, creativity does just happen sometimes, but I don’t think it ever occurs in a vacuum.  We may not be able to directly attribute a new idea to anything consciously, but it comes from the connectedness and continuity of life, an openness to new and different ideas, and it leads to more new and innovative stuff  - wave after wave of creativity, all welling up from the same abundantly creative ocean that we all swim in.  It may show up completely differently in most of us, but it is the same soup, of that I’m certain. 
Getting back to my original point, after just being for a while, I find that I am more of an action-type person – I like to be pretty busy most of the time, and it seems when I’m active and interacting with others is when I find the most inspiration and ideas.   I also see the value of just being, on a regular basis – sitting, contemplating, meditating – those things help me get centered, calm me, keep me open, help me remain present.      It’s a balance.  For me, my fulcrum is more towards the “doing” side, but I now find that without the equalizer of just being, I can’t necessarily remember to enjoy the doing. 
 I’d be interested to hear from you if you find you need more of one than the other, and where you find your inspiration.   

WIP Report
So I finished and shipped the charity quilt, Down the Red Steps.  I did a little less quilting on it  and used a little thicker batting, and it resembles a comforter, a little.  I’m pleased with it, and I hope it makes some little boy very happy and warm!

I also finished the “Happy Quilt” and it makes me happy.  I hope it will make others feel that sunshine-y spring sky the way it does me.  

 I really love it, and it looks so simple but graphic.  I learned a lot from it, as i always do. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Little Bit of Nothing

Generally I’m a pretty active person.  I have many things to do and I enjoy the challenge of doing them.  For the last couple of days, however, I’ve been having a problem with motivation – or lack thereof.  Blame it on my knee that’s been bothering me, blame it on the recent discovery that my darling cousin is fighting Stage IV cancer, blame it on hormones - whatever, but there it is!   I feel all of a sudden, as though I’m having to force myself to do things:  exercise, clean out my filthy car, or the refrigerators, or my house (usually I enjoy doing such things, believe it or not – I sort of use them as a spiritual practice – to enjoy whatever it is that needs to be done at the moment, even if it’s spending three hours vacuuming out the car – it is a pleasant feeling of accomplishment and a helluva(n) arm workout!) But I don’t feel like doing right now. 
 I don’t want to just sit and vegetate though, not at all – nope, instead I’m thinking back to my youth when spending an entire afternoon reading a book somehow didn’t seem like a waste of time at all.  What I really feel like doing is being; I want to meditate, pray, read – books and blogs and poems,  I want to write- in my journals, on my blog, on my stories, and of course, I want to create (okay, that’s doing, but it’s also a little like breathing for me – can’t not do it!)
 Of course I’ve got a long list of to-do’s but I don’t feel like striking the iron, so to speak.  Maybe the summer heat has made me indolent, I don’t know.  But for the first time ever in my adult life, I think I might be in a unique position to give in to it.  I’m on my own for a few days – my husband and son are in California, and so I’m going to experiment, and just do only exactly what I feel like doing, whatever that is at the moment.   I realize it is a huge luxury, but I’m calling it a Soul Time.  So what if the house needs cleaning, so what if I have errands to do, phone calls to make, etc. – they can wait a couple of days, none of them is particularly urgent.  I’m going to do the some of the quiet things that I often put on the back burner until I’ve fulfilled all my other responsibilities (which rarely happens, of course!) 
I’m thinking this is a fine idea -  that allowing myself this time to sort of catch up on quiet time will allow me to go back into my regular life with renewed purpose, vigor, and joy.  I also think it will lead to more and new inspirations, as being quiet often does.   Who knows, if it works out, I may plan on doing it on a regular basis – once every so often just giving myself a day to do – nothing in particular.  Sounds pretty dreamy but also it reminds me of the Sirens in Odysseus  – don’t want to get lost in a vortex of not doing for too long!   I’ll let you know how it all works out, of course.  Just – if you don’t hear from me in a few days, send someone in after me, okay.

                                                                  WIP UPDATE:

 Been working on a quilt for charity – it’s the first patten quilt I’ve done in quite some time – lots of little squares!  But I finally got the top finished and am on to backing and quilting.  I admit I had to bring myself to presence several times; I found it a tiny bit irksome because it has been rather time-consuming – especially in my quest for perfection.  It’s been a good practice to remind myself that I want to infuse everything I do with joy, especially something like this which is going to someone who needs it, and I wanted it to be special enough to show the recipient how important he is (it’s a boy quilt).   Anyway, here’s a picture –

I'm calling it "Down the Red Steps."  It's a simple split rail pattern, but I still like to think up fun names as pieces are developing.  I’m pretty pumped because I really have gotten so much from these fabrics – and one purchase!  This is the third piece I’ve completed using this collection – I am so glad I bought it!  It’s a really inspiring line,  I must say – if I had any more of it – I might come up with some more ideas!  So kudos to Carrie Bloomston  for a job well done – I know she’s designed more fabrics for Windham – can’t wait to check them out! 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Deceptively Simple

My latest project has led me to once again, learn a new lesson - sometimes it's the things that look the easiest that prove the most challenging.  Take for example, straight lines.  Straight lines are not easy to make look crisp and clean, especially when dealing with fabric.  Even attempting to quilt in straight lines is not easy, as I am learning.  And woe be unto you if you mess up on the first line, because then you find out all the lines after have to be corrected, but not usually until you've done quite a few.  At least that's what has happened to me.  After ripping out several long rows in my quest for perfection, I finally found a strange little arm I could attach to my presser foot that I'm using to guide me, but even with it, I still have to do a fair amount of stitch pulling.  I'm using it as a way to remain calm and present.  If I can't be cheerful while working on the piece, I stop.  Once I read where some quilter said "Not every day is a good day to sew curves."  The same can be said for straight lines!

It made me realize that we tend to look at simple pieces of art and think that not much thought or effort went into them, but perhaps we are mistaken.  There is a quote that I have perhaps shared before about how any idiot can make things more complicated but it takes real genius to make it simpler, and I agree.  We might do well to remember that next time we look at a sculpture, for example, and say "Oh, anyone could do that!"  I hear it a lot, especially when people talk about modern art, and I couldn't disagree more.  To make an eloquent statement in a simple manner is not necessarily easy.  The sculptor Andy Goldsworthy comes to mind. Here is an example of an incredibly simple piece of his, but to me, it speaks volumes.

I love this kind of stuff, and after watching a documentary on Andy Goldsworthy, I know for certain that a great deal of thoughtfulness and effort goes into his art.  And that the creation of it is anything but easy.  Still, it has a kind of effortless simplicity that is absolutely elegant.  I find it quite inspiring.  

Here's another remarkable, yet simple Andy Goldsworthy piece - most of his are the epitome of the fact that 

simple isn't always easy, but it can often can be quite satisfying. And it can be very difficult to achieve.  So here's to simplicity; no matter how hard it is to achieve, it's well worth the effort. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Update on Quick Quilt-Fixer Upper!

Well, I got it fixed - the warbled edges in my piece- such a relief!  Here I am, with iced tea, music, seam ripper, and the piece:
.  Note the smile - I had a positive, can-do attitude!  Here's what I did:  First, I ripped out the seams in the middle of the quilt, except for the blue center strip.  Then I measured down the middle of the top to the middle of the quilt and carefully measured inch by inch along the yellow and white and cut it to the same length.  Then I flipped it over and did the same for the bottom half and viola! It zipped up quite nicely - no more gaping.  Now the thing is sandwiched and ready to quilt, and for once, I know exactly how I'm going to quilt it.  My only question to myself is whether I should stitch in the ditch to preserve the straightness of the lines or just do the overall design.
I know Weeks Ringle, my current guru, is against ditch-stitching, but I wonder if in this case it's necessary, again, to keep everything super straight and crisp....I need some research for this, I think.  I'm going to the Craftsy Class I took from her to see what she has to say.  I'm also going to have a look-see at what another currently hot quilting guru, Angela Walters, has to say about it in her book.  Naturally I'd rather take the lazy way and not do it, but I'm pretty attached to this piece and I want to do whatever will make it look the crispest (if that's a word).  Oh joy, she doesn't stitch in the ditch, either!  So I guess I'm not going to because why do it if you don't have to? 
So far I'm quite pleased with this piece, now that I've gotten it fixed..  It has been rather a challenge, which may be surprising, given that it looks so simple.  But it really wasn't.  I had to be quite vigilant about making sure it was sewn as straight as a  semi-blind girl who tends to fudge and who is also without a quarter inch foot can sew (which, lacking vigilance and discipline, can lead to much stitch pulling, which in turn can potentially lead to cursing and frustration, which is not allowable if one's goal is zen... and which I am zen to report did not happen!   For once, I kept my presence about me, believe it or not!) And any time there is bias involved, it is tricky. But I'm nearly there, and like I said, pleased.

Here it is before sandwiching, hanging flatly on the wall, like it's supposed to.   It's simple, graphic and I love the colors - I think I'm going to call it The Sunny Day, cause it's just so darn happy!

Friday, June 27, 2014

You Do the Math!

I wish I had paid more attention in my math classes.  I distinctly remember saying many times over in my high school  “I’m never going to use this stuff anyway – what a waste of my time!”  (Sorry for my shitty attitude, high school math teachers, for the record, I was SO wrong!)  What I don’t get is how I managed to make straight A’s in math at the time?!  Go figure!  (And yes, that pun was intended.) Now I really wish I could remember how to do some of that stuff, because believe it or not, I find I often need (gasp) MATH for some of my designs. 

Naturally I would prefer to have a computer program that would do the math for me, but so far I haven’t found one that does what I need it to.  Not that I have looked very hard – yet.  But after the latest issues I’ve had, I may begin a search in earnest. 

It all started with the usual – my getting an idea for a design that I had no earthly idea how to put together.  Here is the original sketch. 

After dutifully drawing it on graph paper, with a scale of 1 square equals 2 inches (It sure looks all official and math-y to me!)

I still didn’t know how to figure out the exact dimensions of the side triangles (I was pretty sure it wouldn't work out to count them diagonally...) But I wasn't concerned about that yet because... 

First I had to think for a moment on how to actually construct it.  Even though it’s a simple graphic design, putting it together was not so obvious to me right at first (Yes, I readily admit to being spatially challenged!)  I decided to construct the middle triangles first,

 then add the one-inch strip of white to the sides of the triangles, (these blue triangles below are not sewn together yet, they just look like it)

So far, so good, right?  But now I could no longer put off figuring out the dimensions of the yellow triangles.   How hard could it be?  I knew the length of the one side by measuring the while pieces on the sides, and I knew it was a right angle, and I knew how wide it had to be from the skinny part of the triangle to the edge if the quilt - at least I thought I did, but I still felt unsure.   

 SoI tried to draw it on an online quilting program but there was no tool for just drawing a straight line and then getting the measurements. 

I thought and thought some more and suddenly the math fairy came to me and reminded me of the Pythagorean theorem: A squared + B squared = C squared.  Only every time I did it, it didn't seem right, and I was scared to cut the triangle and have it not fit and then have to cut more strips and sew them again. 

In the end I decided to forget about trying to be all scientific and just fly by the seat of my pants, like I always do.  I would sew strips of fabric together, then sew it to the side of the triangle and cut it to fit.  No problem, I thought – I have carefully sewn the middle and it should be easy to use the straight sides to use as edges for cutting the triangles. 

What a disaster.   After sewing it together twice, it is still all wonky and I had to stop for the night lest I lose all my ability to remain even the tiniest bit zen due to massive Frustration!  

I was showing it to my husband, and I got the brilliant (we’ll see) idea to measure each triangle down the middle and cut the bottom of the side triangle to that exact specification, (I already know the one side is the correct length as it is sewn on and trimmed) That should straighten it out.  I was too tired to do it last night, but I’m going to take out all the stitches and try it this morning.  I’ll let you know how it goes…I may end up yet cutting and sewing more strips, but I’m resigned to the idea – I really like this design and I’m going to (cheerfully, dammit) make it work.

This whole thing goes to show that I really need a book, a class or (and this is my favorite scenario) a computer program that will do the measuring for me.  All I would have to do is draw the design into the program and it will not only add the seam allowances and tell me the exact measurements, but will also calculate the fabric needs as well.  If such a program exists and doesn’t cost too much, somebody PLEASE  tell me, because my art brain and my math brain do not match up at this point and it’s testing my ability to be - you know -   


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Too Much!

So I'm here in California, helping my husband go through his parents' house.  Let me tell you, there is an awful lot of stuff here.  More than it would seem possible to fit in a house, I mean. Literally every nook and cranny is filled with (well, to put it nicely) detritus.  Naturally it's gotten me to thinking about stuff.
First of all, let me say how very much I loved my in-laws.  They were very loving and accepting of me, and always good to me, and I enjoyed knowing them very much.  They are missed.  They were children of the depression, who had little to begin with but through tooth-gritting hard work managed to not only survive but to build up their "fortunes" to the point that they never had to worry about retirement, or any other issue, as they aged.   They were able to do exactly what they wanted to do, and were able to be independent, and not a burden to their children in their old age.  I considered them both a success and also people whose characters were worth emulating.
That said, there is a burden left over for their children, and that is the sheer mountains of stuff that has to be looked at and disposed of.  My father-in-law, whom we called Sir, was in the building trades for most of his life.  He would bring home any and all building materials that were offered to him.  There are tens of thousands of nails, 60 years worth of rotten wood, buckets and buckets of plumbing supplies, wires, fasteners, scads of doodads and whatnots that he never actually found use for in his basement. It's overwhelming just to go down there, let alone to try to package it all up and do something with it.  In his backyard there is such an accumulation of pipes, wood, old equipment that doesn't run anymore that I was joking to my husband that we might find a dead body buried under the years and years of accumlated tree droppings which couldn't be cleaned up because there was just too much STUFF all over the yard! It was over a foot deep!  Really!  And being in the apartment business, my father-in-law would literally pull scads and scads of books out of the dumpster, and he never ever said "no" when someone who was moving out his apartment offered him some furniture.  They must own a hundred lamps (all of them ugly) not to mention side tales, chairs, and other furniturial odds and ends.
Now Maw and Sir didn't take these things because they were greedy, or even because they were pack rats ( although arguably, Sir was a pack rat).  They took them because they didn't like things to go to waste.  They believed in reduce, reuse, recycle long before it was politically correct to do so.  The only problem was that Sir was absolutely certain he would have use for 450 light switch covers some day...He had some ichthymal ointment that was still unused, in it's original wrapping from the 1950's, in his bathroom.  He had a hair trimmer that my husband said had to date from 1955 - he said he remembered his mother cutting his and his brothers' hair with it throughout the years - that he still kept in the original box.  There are between twenty and thirty telephones, some so antique they are, I believe, from before his time (he was born in 1923). He just couldn't let go of any of it.  I remember the days before we moved to Texas, Sir going into the basement determined to get rid of some of the things he had down there - he called it agonizing reappraisal.  But he never was able to let any of it go, even though by then he definitely knew he couldn't use any of if anymore.  So now all his spaces are filled with it and it all has to go.  
So what is my point in relaying this to you - well, it's twofold.   First, we need to be thoughtful about how much stuff we accept into our lives.  The truth is, we need so much less than what we have already, and even if we might need it in the future, it's better not to store it in our homes for years and years.  My rule for clothes is if I haven't worn it in a year, it goes, period.  It's harsh, I know and sometimes it's hard for me to let go, just because whatever it is is still good, but in reality, I won't miss it if I'm not using it regularly.  I have not followed this rule with other things in my life...but the reality is, I should.  Because it's just stuff, and believe me, you don't take it with you and your kids will have to deal with it if you don't and it can be really problematic for them. (For example, we just spent two weeks getting rid of things in three houses and frankly haven't made much of a dent, so much so that we are definitely going to have to go back for at least another month, which disrupts our lives enormously.  And the truth is, no one in the family wants any of it, but we feel obligated to make sure that it goes to the right place - recycle, hospice, etc.  For the first time in my life I have actually fantasized about committing arson!)
The second point is that I believe having too many things in our lives inhibits our creativity.  When we have too much, we not only cannot see it, we also cannot experience it.  Sure, creating takes materials, but if we have too many, we miss so many possibilities because it's just too overwhelming for our senses and brains to make use of all of it at once. 
 I read a quote recently that I really liked recently that said something like this: "Anyone can make things more complicated, but it takes real genius to simplify things."  (Sorry I can't attribute it, I can't remember where I read it!)  And having too much stuff, even to create with, does complicate things.  
 I'm not telling people they should go through and throw everything out, mind you.( I read this article one time written by a guy who made it his mission to have only 100 things in his possession.   Talk about ruthlessness -  I decided I don't want to be that austere!)  I'm simply saying that I, for one, am going to get rid of some things I have that I don't use, and from now on, I really am going to think twice, maybe three times, before I buy something that isn't a necessity (and that includes face and wrinkle creams, to which I am addicted).  I'm going to be a more mindful consumer - I like so much, so many things, but I don't need to have them in order to enjoy them.  I need to experience them, not own them.
So - my goal is to purge all the stuff in my life that I don't use or need, and that includes art materials, too.  I inherited a lot and I've added to it, and it's just too much - I'm not going to use it all and I know it.  Some of the things I have I've never used once - they are gone! (metaphorically at this point) 

 I'll keep you posted on my progress as I go along - it's good to have someone keep me honest.


I haven't sewn in a couple of weeks, but I did do a little painting - too busy to do much.  Here is all I had time to do:

 I'm really itching to get back at it...Got several projects I'm so excited to begin.  Alas, I have my nephew's wedding this weekend, so I probably don't have time to begin anything just now...of course that doesn't mean I won't - sometimes I can't stop myself!   

Monday, June 2, 2014

Don't Stop and Smell the Roses

I've been spending time with Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey lately -  not personally, of course - in the form of meditation.  I've always wanted to practice meditation but never took/made the time to do it.  I've been practicing it for nineteen days straight, and I have to say, I feel transformed by it.  No matter where life takes me from now on, meditation is going with me.  So imagine my confusion when this morning my other teacher, Eckhart Tolle talked about meditation and actually made fun of it! I was crushed, but I continued to listen nonetheless, and I think I understand now what he was saying. It's like the Godfather syndrome -  going to church every Sunday and then spending the rest of the week cheating, lying, stealing and hurting other people. Luckily, unlike Vito Corleone, I do feel it carrying over - somehow spending that 30 minutes every day reminds me to be more present all day. So for me, it's worth it.

What does medtation have to do with creativity?  Well, a lot, actually.  But before I explain, let me share another, related practice I've been doing, too.  Recently I realized I've missed a lot of things in my life, visually. Why? Well, my theory is twofold - one, I just haven't been present in the moment - I haven't taken time to really look at my surroundings and really soak up where I am because I've spent too much time interpreting it - labeling, thinking about it, and thinking about other things while I looked at it.  Now I'm more present every day, and I see, hear and feel things I never did before - I take a lot more in, wherever I am, because I'm just being, rather than thinking and interpreting all the time.

The second part of my theory is a brain thing.  I've had very poor vision since I was a young girl.  I'm convinced that as my brain developed, it just didn't get trained to connect to my eyes as much because they weren't that effective, and so I didn't form some connections that people with better sight did, which means I just don't actually notice what I see as much.  What I mean is that I see the big picture, but my brain doesn't necessarily register the details. Here's an example: On a hike and my husband and son saw a snake in a creek.  They tried and tried to point it out to me, but no matter how they described where to look,  I could not see it!  To them it was so obvious, they couldn't figure out how I could miss it but my eyes or brain simply didn't register it.  This scenario happens quite often.  

Since I've formed this theory, I have been going on what I call noticing walks - just trying to notice details. I keep them very short, because it's not about distance, it's about noticing things - really taking in the shapes of the trees or the birds, or the different types of grasses growing around them.  It's more than seeing things, actually - it's experiencing them. There's a deep sense of fulfillment, wonder and gratitude that arises from these walks- I quite like it!

Also, I'm testing out another idea I have - you see, I believe that even at my age (49), I can still form new connections in my brain.  So on my walks,  I'm trying to retrain it to see, to notice more. Not only do I think this is just plain good for my brain's elasticity as I age,  I'm also quite certain it will make me a better artist, a better writer, and most importantly, it will make me more present, more noticing,  in every situation.

So that's the link -  experiencing things in this way makes me feel strongly connected to my creative self and the creativity of the universe, to nature, to God, even to my family. I feel energized and exhilarated by it. And the cool thing is that I don't have to be surrounded by nature to do it - I can do it everywhere - in the midst of a city, on a night walk, heck, just sitting in my living room I can notice things I haven't before.  I still may not be seeing everything other people see, but I know that through meditation and "noticing walks" I'm experiencing more than I did before.  And I have no doubt that this will lead to more creativity and ideas.  Another benefit stronger clarity and focus, even when I'm doing things that I might have considered tedious before.  And even more beneficial, I feel like I'm actually gaining patience, which (as I pointed out in a recent blog), is still a developing skill for me.

So forget about stopping and just just smelling the roses - I'm going to experience them!

My Latest Project:

This is a quilt I call "Objects on the Bookshelf." that I made from leftover pieces of fabric from "Read Between the Lines."  It's a fun little piece, and I love that I made it from scraps!  I'm going to miss these prints - I had a lot of fun with them!   I'll be going on the quilting wagon for a couple of weeks - I may soon be experiencing serious withdrawal.  But -  I plan to replenish my creative well by visiting art galleries and being in nature as much as I can.  I'm going to take pictures, make sketches, and work on some other things I've neglected.  Who knows what inspiration may strike!