Monday, March 24, 2014

Taking the long way - was it worth it?

Ever since I made that shower curtain for my sister, I've been wanting to make one for myself, only perhaps not so complicated as the other one.  Well, I did make one for myself, but whether it was simpler?  Well, that's certainly debate - able! 

Let me first say that I'm pleased with it - it's cheerful and bright and it fits the shower perfectly, at least, now it does. (See below for explanation).  Still, there is a small thought niggling at me - I have to wonder if the finished product was actually worth the full two weeks of time I spent on it.  After all, one can get a perfectly good shower curtain for thirty bucks at Bed, Bath and Beyond.  But I wanted to make my own, simpler and easier to make than the one I made my sister but still custom-designed, one-of-a kind shower curtain, didn't I? 

Here's the (sad...amusing?) tale of simplicity gone wrong.   

To begin, I knew I wanted to make the curtain using my favorite African fabrics.  When working with heavily patterned fabrics, it's less about the design than it is about the fabrics themselves, but Initially I had a few key pieces of fabric I wanted to use in their entirety, (for some unknown, stubborn reason).  I put them up on the design wall, and then using my trusty blue masking tape, I taped up a grid that pleased me, intending to fill in the squares as I went along..Here's how that looked:

You can see that that particular method failed pretty much immediately - the sewn squares are already completely out of the grid!   I decided at this point that  I needed to use grid paper, so I dutifully drew a sketch (or five) and measured out the sizes of the squares, attempting to do the thing to scale.  " Of course, you clever thing," I thought to myself,  "a practical, mathematic approach is EXACTLY what is needed here - why didn't I think of that in the first place,my being so clever and pragmatic and logical and all?"

Naturally, what I ended up with  matches neither my blue grid on the wall nor my seven detailed, scaled drawings.  It's kind of a miracle that the thing fit together at all, to be truthful.

Another time-sucking activity was fabric placement - I wanted to have certain pops of color in certain places, and I kind of laid it out as I went.  In order to ensure maximum perfection I ran up and down the stairs  about a zillion times, (I cut on my kitchen island which was custom-designed for us tall people by my husband, and therefore I can stand at it for hours cutting up fabric or fixing fabulous food without getting the slightest backache but alas, my sewing studio is upstairs) cutting several of the same sized squares out of different fabrics until the last row, when  I pretty much realized it didn't really make all that much difference anyway!

By the time I was finished with the thing I was was both annoyed and amused at myself. Despite my (I thought) very careful choosing of fabrics, and my careful, mathematical approach, there are definitely some places where I think I could have moved a piece or used a different color, and -- it was way too short!  I ended up having to add two twelve-inch pieces at the bottom to make it fit the shower stall- ha ha!  (How did that happen, oh mighty math wizard Carrie?!)  

Despite the less-than-perfect outcome and the sort of time-sucking vortex it became, I did learn a few things:  One is that I like to challenge myself - that's just who I am.  I KNOW I can do it more simply, but the truth is, I like the road less traveled - why fight one's own nature?  I just need to accept that about myself and quit whining.  

Secondly, I really need to get a computer program to help me design my pieces and furthermore, I need to force myself to take the time to learn how to use said program (which is why I've been avoiding the it - I don't like to figure out computer stuff, it bores me). But I either take the time up front to learn how to do it more precisely OR I end up wasting a great deal of time (being NOT very zen) and "figuring it out" on my own, which makes more sense?

 Third, I seriously need to make sure I take time to exercise daily and get in better shape - I was totally exhausted by the time it was done! (Balance, balance, Carrie - spending too much time cooped up in the art studio has flabby consequences!)

The final thing I learned (which I thought I already knew because I'm constantly repeating it to my son but apparently I needed to be reminded that it also applies to moi) is that everything we do, or make, or endeavor to do yields knowledge, experience and skills that become a part of us and make us better versions of ourselves, and that we will use somehow in the future, perhaps without ever even realizing it, so --

I guess I just answered my own question, didn't I? 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Hey - What's the Big Idea Anyway?

About a year ago I took a Craftsy class on quilt design from Weeks Ringle, an artist whom I greatly admire.  I loved the class for many different reasons and I learned a lot and highly recommend it to anyone, not just quilt artists.   But watcher beware: this incredibly gifted, brilliant, well-thought out and just plain deep artist can be hazardous to one’s ego (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing) and a wee bit intimidating (although NOT on purpose; she’s really very open, accessible and friendly; she just can’t help it if she’s amazing and the stuff she creates is fantastic).  I feel the same way about Weeks as I do about Jo Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books:  They deserve every bit of their success!   And it’s really nice of her, I think, to be willing to share with us – I know I’m a much better artist because of it.  I’ll watch the series over and over, too (It’s that good,  and so rich!)  I love it!
During one of the composition sessions, Weeks talks about starting a design from what she called a Big Idea.  That really got me thinking – I want that!  Alas, I can’t say in all honesty that any of my designs so far have consciously come from a big idea.  A few times after I finished a piece I suddenly realized the idea or inspiration behind it…but that’s about as close as I’ve come.  I don’t feel like I have a shortage of ideas, mind you, but what can I say – I was inspired by Weeks’s thoughtfulness to be more thoughtful in my own design process!
As time went by it began to bother me that I can’t really say where my designs come from, specifically – they just seem to pop into my head, often at inopportune moments.  Suddenly I began to feel my designs are inadequate and maybe not as good or meaningful as they could be if they had a Big Idea behind them. (Don’t worry, Weeks, I don’t blame you – I just want to be like you!)  Also, inspiration rarely comes to me on demand – most of the time when I’ve tried to “think” about design, I’ve pretty much come up with exactly nil
Nonetheless, this notion of a big idea still quite appealed to me, so I’ve been searching for some big ideas of my own to inspire me far it’s been an empty big idea year. But - in the past three weeks I’ve been on three different trips for various reasons ranging from spiritual to practical - the Bay Area in California, on a cruise with the high school band to Cozumel, Mexico, and to Prescott, Arizona on a trip to visit a college for my son.  Each trip has been great for different reasons, and in the back of my mind the whole time I’ve been searching for big idea inspiration.
 In California I experienced the joy of consciousness and my inner being and the peaceful, deep beauty of the spiritual journey. In Cozumel I looked at the endless ocean, the contrast of the azure water against the stark white sand.  In Arizona I saw the Grand Canyon, snow-covered pine trees, the high desert, and I experienced the sad gladness a mother feels when her child is preparing to leap into a life of his own, away from her.  Man, talk about a lot of big idea opportunity!   But so far, not an ounce of specific inspiration has come from any of it!   So naturally, being my quick-to-condemn-myself self, I begin to panic. “Oh my god,” I think, “I’m too shallow to be inspired by a big idea…all my ideas are meaningless...I’ll never be able to create anything truly worthwhile…ACK!  I suck!” 
Then what I learned in California surfaces and I have to laugh at myself.  “Oh Carrie,” I think “there you go again!”  Of course I’m inspired by my recent experiences - or I will be.  Because (as I constantly tell my son when he complains about having to learn useless stuff he’ll never USE in his life) every single thing you learn or do matters, because it becomes a part of you and you use it ways you oft-times don’t even realize(yes, even Pre-Cal, Jonas)!  So just because I haven’t made a conscious connection yet doesn’t mean the big idea’s not lurking in there somewhere
Now I get it - we all have our different pathways to inspiration, and just because I can’t call it up on demand doesn’t mean it’s any less worthy or meaningful.  That’s just the way it works for me - it will probably come to me the way it usually does – in the middle of a pap smear, or waiting in line at the DMV, or as I write this blog…and does it really matter whether I make the connection before or after the thing is done?  Of course not!  As usual, I’m being ridiculous, or as Napolean Dynamite would say, “Gosh!  WHAT an IDIOT!”
All Weeks is trying to do is share some of the ways she gets inspiration.  I don’t have to be like her (although I admit I still want to, a little).  What I do have to do is simply be grateful - for getting inspiration any way I can get it, period.  And so I am, and very.

But just in case, I’m going to make a list of big ideas that have suddenly popped up in the back of my mind as I’ve been writing.  Like I said, take it wherever you can get it…

(Added March 24th)
I just realized that my latest project actually comes from a "big idea," if you can call it that!  It's called 'Pink Doesn't Stink!'  I'm pretty sure you can figure out the's a photo of the pieced top...

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Happy Trails to Me...

Life sometimes reminds me of a cattle path.  We (the cows) follow the same patterns so much that they become smooth and make grooves in the ground where eventually, the grass stops growing.  It’s our nature to take these established, easier to travel patterns until they turn into deep trenches. The paths are familiar, if not comfortable, and we don’t have to think too much about staying on them as we trek along towards our destination, which is the goal, the outcome, the cool drink of water.  But the paths are winding and dusty and filled with challenges and frustrations, and sometimes I'm just so sick of them I just want to be there, dammit!. Like, ten minutes ago.

Yesterday for example, I found myself extremely cranky at about four o’clock after several hours of working on a particular project.  I had just made a rather big mistake that I was going to have to once again spend a lot of time fixing; I was mad and I began to whine to myself “It’s too hard and it’s taking too long.  I just want to be done with it.  And it’s so complicated!  Why do I always have to make it so complicated?” and in the spirit of honesty, I added, possibly aloud “This sucks!”

Since I wasn’t enjoying myself, I decided to go for a walk, (To be precise it was more like “Screw this, I need to exercise, anyway!) I stomped around, kvetching obnoxiously, looking for lost earphones and sunglasses, and then suddenly while I was putting my shoes on I had to laugh at myself.  “What does that mean – it’s taking too long?” I thought.  “I’m the one who designed it, so why am I angry that it’s challenging?  And who am I mad at anyway?”  I realized at that moment that the project is as it is.  My irritation and frustration came from not being present in the moment.  Instead of looking around and enjoying the view from the path, I was racing to the water, as it were.  And it wasn’t that pleasant or fulfilling for me (or anyone who was within earshot of me.)
How many times have I done that, I wonder? Lost sight of the moment, dropped into the old pattern and gotten stuck in the trenches.  Not just in my art, but my life.  I’ve been so busy trying to get, accomplish, have, become - I’ve fallen, literally fallen into despair because I can’t seem to get “there.”  I seem to make the same mistakes over and over. But I keep taking the same paths!  I can’t get away from them because I’m so focused on what or where I want to be, and  I miss too much along the way. Maybe I even miss some new trails or chances to take new paths that go a different way simply because I’m not paying attention! 

Suddenly I’m realizing that it’s not the entirely the pattern that’s the problem.  The path’s just where I landed – I don’t have to stay on it if it’s destructive or circular, but I will always be on some path as long as I’m alive.  Happiness doesn’t come from reaching a destination or goal. The nature of life is to get right back on the same path, or another path, or start a new project, or find a new mistake to make.  That’s not to say it’s wrong to set new goals, to strive to improve oneself or forge a new pattern - that's part of the human experience as well. 

 But now I see  that I will never, ever, “get there.”  Because there is no “there.”  There’s only here. And true joy comes from paying attention to what is, from being  present as you travel your many paths. For me, it’s (yet another) reminder to be present, to enjoy (of if I can’t enjoy it, at least accept) what is, right here and now, because I’m already “there” and always have been.   I just hadn’t noticed.   

Here's my Happy Trails Quilt:

Monday, March 3, 2014

An Element of Fun

Be careful what you wish for, the old saying goes - you might just get it!  And get it I did.  And  I don’t know what to do with it?  Or how to make it work.  Recently, with my husband’s blessing, I quit my job with no immediate plans to look for a new one.    I decided to let a job come to me instead.  I know who I am and what my skills and talents are, and I just feel like I want to take time to find the right thing  - or to create ,the right thing, whichever.   Meanwhile, I'm super busy -  for the first time in my adult  life, free to spend hours a day creating and writing, something  I’ve dreamed of for years.   
The trouble is, I’m having just a little trouble embracing this unexpected boon.  Now that I have the time and the ability to work on my art, I can’t seem to allow myself to just enjoy it.   Instead there is guilt and anxiety about it – as though I don’t deserve it or it can’t possibly last or (and this is the worst one) I’m not doing anything important.  Well, maybe I don’t and it won’t and I’m not, but here it is anyway so why can’t I just shut up and “Carpe Diem,” dammit?   Clearly I’m creating a problem where there isn’t one – what complete rot! 
What I should be feeling is gratitude and excitement, but for some reason I’m fighting it – that stubborn, inbred puritanical streak snaking up and stopping all my fun!  Again!   It goes to show that humans can create struggles even in the happiest of life circumstances -  kind of the mirror to the silver lining deal.   In every good thing, there is an aspect of negative.  Hey - I’m living the Chinese philosophy of yin/yang!   How charming.
The trick is, I suppose, to just try to ride the yin and yang waves with equal parts acceptance, gratitude and hope and to try, whenever possible, to spread the love around, so to speak.   Enjoy and be grateful for the good, endure and accept the bad, but don’t be too attached to any of it.   I’ve always known that happiness cannot depend upon life circumstances, which are always changing -  happiness is a state of mind, even a choice.   I know this is true; during dark times I’ve used it to help me get through the tunnels of despair…still,  I’m amazed at how it actually takes just as much discipline to accept good fortune - to just enjoy the ride!  It seems that gratitude actually takes practice.
 In which case I shall just have to grit my teeth, work hard and just endeavor to endure this peaceful, blissful moment...even if it kills me!

Oops I did it again:

Okay, I know I promised to keep you updated on my vow to not start any new projects before finishing all my old projects.  I can report that I have completed three entire UFO’s.  Hooray, considering for some reason I found it very boring - I am so “over” those pieces.   I still have two old projects that need to be quilted, including the “Neverending Quilt,” which by definition will never be completed, I suppose, so whatever on that one.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve also started and finished two wall hangings and a large throw quilt, spent four days on a shower curtain for my bathroom and am currently working on a project I’m calling “Pink Doesn’t Stink,” which I am enjoying immensely, by the way.

Hey - I’ve not added anything to the UFO pile, so there it is - progress!   At least it's progress by my definition, and well -  I'm the boss of me, aren't I?!