Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Up a Creek, Without a Net

Oops - ran out of fabric today.  I guess that's what happens when one just starts cutting up and sewing fabric together.  The thing is, I had two yards and it wasn't enough.  Yikes that's a lot! I had originally bought it to use on a quilt I want to make for my son, Jonas, who is graduating and going to college this year, but then I decided to use it on my current project and like I said - I used it all up.  And dammit, I had plans for it! Well - I use the term plan loosely here because although I have some fabrics grouped together I don't actually have a PLAN plan, just a few idea plans.  

Which brings me to today's topic, improvisation.  I got the idea to write about this from the brilliant Marianne at The Quilting Edge, who shared (one of) her processes of improv creating which I found quite fascinating, especially given the development of the above project. (Which I shall expand upon, dear reader, momentarily.)  In fact, when I think about it I believe that most of what I do is improvisation, of a sort.  Here's the way it often works:  I get an idea (usually at some strange or inopportune time - often just as I'm drifting off to sleep) and I sketch it.  

Now you might wonder where I go to get my ideas. I guess I go to the usual place - 

Where is that?

The truth is, I don't really know all the time, specifically.  It's rather strange - It's happened before that I got a whole bunch of ideas all at once - like I'm channeling the universal creativity.  When that lightning strikes I spend a lot of time sketching crazily - can't get them on paper fast enough.  (By the way, they're not necessarily all GOOD ideas...I'm just sayin') 

Other times my brain's offline and I have to go looking - through books, magazines, or catalogs(all kinds), or staring at artwork (all kinds).  I've also gotten ideas from books I've read, dreams, graphics on a commercial, from hikes or trips I've taken, from songs - you name it. 

Sometimes inspiration or ideas actually come from the fabrics themselves.  If I have a group of fabrics I really like and I want to use I'll pin them up on the wall behind my computer. That way I spend a lot of time staring at them and if I'm lucky I might come up with something. 

I keep notebooks pretty much everywhere, just in case.  I'm thinking that for every eight or ten ideas only a few are worth pursuing.  But I do sketch most of them, because I've had it happen that a bad idea can turn into a good one with a little time and tweaking.

Here's how the one I'm currently working on developed: Last week while sewing with my friends I was a little at loose ends, so I began to willy-nilly cut a bunch of coordinating fabrics into one and a half inch strips.  I wanted to do something "architectural" and I thought I just might need some strips.   When I finished cutting all the fabrics up, I was like 'Oh crap!  I have no idea what I'm going to do with these things - have I just wasted a bunch of fabric?'   But it was time to go home, so I began to pack up all my stupid strips, rather annoyed at myself. I mean - what the hell was I going to do with them, really! 

All of a sudden, I got an idea.  But I had to hurry off to some deal I had to go to for some - thing - I don't remember what - but I do remember I all I wanted to do was go home and sketch my idea before I forgot it.  Luckily it lurked around in my brain so when I got home I could still remember it enough to make a sketch.  I don't know if it's actually architectural but I thought it was kind of cool.  

But geez - how to do it?  I had no measurements whatsoever - no idea how big the thing was going to be, no idea how to construct it...or if it was going to look good with the fabrics and ideas I had.  The only thing I did have was a design wall and lots of one and a half inch strips..  I thought "What the heck, I'll just start sewing."  So I did.  I cut up and sewed strips together and put them up in the general direction of the sketch on the wall, and then sewed some more, until I had this:

I kinda liked it.  But now O Shit I had to sew it together if I wanted to continue, which I did. The question was, how?  In what order? I did try to go back and measure, hence the numbers on the sketch,  but it really wasn't helpful at all so I gave up on it.  (You're starting to see the difficulties challenges of this type of creating, I'm guessing)  I went to bed at that point.  I was all 'figured' out.

Anyway, I managed to get a sort of rhythm going the next day, and I've been working on it enthusiastically for over a week.  Until today, that is, when I ran out of background fabric. 

'And why did this happen, Carrie?' asks my disapproving Auntie Superego.   'UH - DUH, Auntie Ego - it's because I had no idea how much fabric I would need...because I had no idea what I was going to do...because I HAD NO PLAN!  So what's your point?'  (Luckily I was able to order more of the background fabric; I say luckily because it is that popular Crosshatch pattern by Riley Blake which is getting difficult to come by. It really is a great background fabric...I do get rather attached; at times I've kind of wished I'd bought an entire bolt of of certain neutrals just so I can use them whenever I want...but I digress.)
Naturally, the piece is on hold until more fabric arrives.  I'm not entirely sure how it will end up at this point, but so far, I like it, and I'll stare at it until I can work on it again.  And while I wait, I'm going to start my next project.  And no, I don't have a plan for it, either - just a sketch.   

I guess it all comes down to the fact that I really just like the freedom of recklessly creating, even though it may be a path fraught with - well, I think of them as shit piles, like the cows constantly leave in the road right where the tires go, but let's be genteel instead and call them obstacles.   If some part (let's face it - a large part) of me didn't like it this way, I'm sure I would use the fabric calculators or computer drawing tools that others use with such amazing results.  I'm not saying I never will use them, by the way.  I think - no I KNOW - they are fabulous and I will learn to use them some day, I'm certain.

It's just that for now, I'm having so much fun up here dancing on the wire - despite the - er - obstacles below.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

WIP Wednesday - Starting New Projects, FInishing Old Ones

My brain is tired today...from having to figure out how to make ideas or sketches into reality. Sometimes I just wish my ideas would be a little more simple, you know?  (Sigh)

However, it's all good because I'm so pleased with the baby quilt I've made for my exchange student's new baby brother.  It's almost finished.  It could be completely finished  right now except I admit, I'm mostly playing with my new machine. Audrey is literally a dream to quilt with.  I love her so.  

It has the most amazing minky on the back.  You can tell I'm out of the baby business - I had no idea there were so many cool, modern, multi-colored designs for minky nowadays!  I think I might make myself a throw with some of that mod minky for next winter - it's that hip, really!  I was scared to quilt with it but it has been just fine - even fun.  I love the puffy effect it has on the front.  

As for the quilting design, I'm kind of flying without a paddle (How's that for mixed metaphors?).  I figure it's a baby quilt - it's going to pee and pooped upon and it doesn't have to be perfect, so I'm just adding things in here and there, and I even dared to use colored thread, too.  Although I don't know what I was so afraid of - you can't really see the colors! 

I'm officially obsessed with hexies - cannot get enough of them!   I already have a new idea for some really cool ones...but I have other fish to fry before I get on with that baby. 

This week I cut up some fabrics for my next project - in oranges, blues, greens and yellows using lots of Riley Blake and some graduated fabrics.  I have a sketch but no real idea where I'm going with it - it's an improv-ed improv.  But like I said, sometimes I don't feel like figuring things out...so I'm really just piddling with it.

I also received fabric for the Riley Blake MQG challenge - forgot I had entered it, to be honest.  I have two potential ideas for that one, too - but naturally, both involve figuring...not today!  And I've got time - it's not due till July.

Last, as promised, here is a look at the finished product from Monday's blog, called Magnetism.  I still have a couple of things I want to tweak, but for the most part, it's done. I'm so pleased with it now that the quilting is exactly right.  I even feel like it may be some of my best work to date. 

Which leaves a lot of room for improvement, some might say.  Hmmm.  I'm okay with that!

Thanks for stopping by - I really enjoy our little weekly visits to each other's blogs.  It's so fun!  See ya next week...

Monday, March 16, 2015

When is Failure not a FAIL?

Failure isn't the opposite of success, failure is a stepping stone on the way to success.
                                                                                      Arianna Huffington's mother

I finally finished my before un-named piece that I've been working on for a good two months or so.  It now has a name, Magnetism, but before I show it*** I want to tell the story of its creation.  This is one of those pieces that looks really simple (in fact I had to seriously check my ego when my sister-in-law said it looked like it was easy to make), but wasn't actually easy at all.  Basically once I had the drawing, I had to work out the construction, and it took a lot of thinking (for me at least) to figure out.  Once I got the how I was gonna do it, I had to actually do it.  Let me say, however, that although I felt it was a challenge, I really found myself enjoying it rather than being frustrated.  In the end I made about 7 extra squares because I wanted to make them as well as I could (notice I didn't say perfect, because I know better than to strive for perfection).  I even only got mildly irritated when I cut right through two completed squares and totaled them while trimming the colored circle seams. No cursing or even kvetching at all - that has to be a record!   

Once I got enough squares completed to my satisfaction, I was ready to construct the top. In my original drawing I had continued the yellow through the black sashing.  I worked on it for several days and tried many different ways, but I was just not able to make it work.  To my surprise, I really didn't find myself irritated or impatient at all even though nothing I tried worked.  Yes, I was a little disappointed, but once I saw it put together I was completely happy with it even though it hadn't lived up to my original expectations. 

Yahoo!  Now I was excited to back and quilt it, but then - I got another idea!  I decided it might be nice to put little black and white pluses in the middle of the piece.  Knowing it was not going to be a quick deal, I debated with myself and even took a photo and asked my friend Diane if I should.  She said yes of course - why wouldn't she?  It looked good and besides - she didn't have to do it!  But I agreed, so I then had to go back and undo the sashing and do what it took to add the pluses, adding more time and challenge.   And yes, some mild irritation attempted to sabotage my zen, but I succeeded in ignoring it and remaining calm and patient and yes, I really loved the result and deemed it totally worth it.

Finally I was ready to back and quilt it.  I don't really remember when I started it, but I have to say that this piece had already taken a lot longer than I thought it would but - and this is big but for me - despite the challenges so far I really had intensely enjoyed making this piece and I really, really liked it.  I spent a lot of time thinking about how to quilt it, but I couldn't come up with anything. Finally I got irritated with myself for acting like I was designing the Taj Mahal, so I just sat down and started quilting just the corner pieces.  And I'll be darned if I didn't like it!  

It was really time-consuming, however, and in the meantime I spent at least three hour-long walks trying to come up with a quilting design for the middles of the squares.   Again disgusted with myself putting too much energy into it, (I mean, I'm not going to be put in quilting jail or lose a limb if it's not right, am I?  It's just not that important, Carrie!) I sat down and started quilting the middle squares.  This time, however, it didn't work out.  Well, let me correct that - at first I thought I was happy with it.  In fact, I was so happy with it I actually quilted three entire squares.  Then I put it up on my design wall and looked at it for a day or so and realized not only was I not happy with it - I HATED it.  It wasn't true to my own personal design aesthetic at all - I realized I was trying to do heavy quilting like I'd seen on many quilts at Quiltcon - and more importantly, it wasn't at all right for this quilt.  But it was a heckuva lot of quilting and would take a heckuva a lot of time to pull out all those tiny stitches...

I thought about leaving it and just finishing the piece, I really did.  I mean, how important is this quilt?  I'd already spent so much more time on it than I had anticipated, and I do actually have other obligations to fulfill.  On the other hand, I really, really love this piece (sans the quilting, of course) and I really, really wanted the quilting to be right.  So I sighed heavily and began to pull all the stitches out.  It took over 45 minutes to undo the quilting on only one side of each square, but I took my time and pulled out every one of those suckers. And (and this part is almost miraculous to me) I actually felt grateful while I did it, because I was so glad that I could actually fix it.  After all, I wasn't in a hurry to finish it, and no, it's not important in the great scheme of things, I get that.  But when I had time, I worked on it a little bit.  To say I enjoyed it would be exaggerating, but I didn't mind it at all.  When I got too fatigued I just stopped and put it aside.  It took about a week, during which I finally figured out how I actually DID want to quilt it, and now, well - I sort of feel like it's some of my best work, ever!

But more importantly - I enjoyed creating this quilt, failures and challenges and all.  It was frustrating at times.  It took a long time.  It could have been a complete failure.  But it wasn't. And I really believe that in part it succeeded because no matter what happened, rather than allowing negativity to creep in, I just enjoyed the challenges.   I stayed calm and positive and was almost  - dare I say it?


Do I expect to be this way all the time from here on out?  Of course not!  I'm still me, and I'm far from enlightened.  But I'm going to try to remind myself of the joy of this experience often - especially when confronted with things that frustrate or annoy me.  Who knows - maybe in time it will become my way of handling things MOST of the time.  I think I'd like that.

***  I'll share some photos of the completed Magnetism in my next blog, I promise - it's late and I'm too tired to deal with photography right now.  Here's a look at the piece with the "all wrong" quilting, though.  I made it extra big so you could see it.  (Ugh - I still don't like it!)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

WIP Wednesday - An Extremely Productive Day

Both yesterday and today I've actually sewn very little because I've been so busy doing other things...but I have so many fun things to share!  

First of all, I got a new machine and table and they are already so happy-making!  I got a Bernina 750.   She's a real beauty, my Audrey.  Just look at that long, graceful neck...and she purrs like a kitten! 

I call her the BMW of machines.  It was love at first stitch but there's so much more to her than her looks - I'm definitely going to take the classes so I can make sure to get the most out of her.  Although I suspect that the truth is, I would love her just for her thread cutter and all that extra space, but she's incredibly deep, too!    And just look at how she greets me every day...

She's just brilliant.  I could spend all day with her and never get bored!

So I've been working on my tree.  I won't lie, it's been a serious bitch, I won't even bother with the details, but much cursing and ripping of seams has occurred.   Finally got it put into the background, though - phew!   It's all wonky, but I simply cannot worry about that at the moment - it's fixable (I'm sure).

 Next step - figuring out the leaves.  I have the fabrics all pulled, just need to decided how to move forward.  I'm putting it away for a few days, though - I'm not feeling particularly friendly towards it at the moment.

I've also been ripping and ripping away on my as-yet unnamed piece.  I quilted three squares entirely before I realized I didn't like the way it was looking.  I actually timed myself - it takes an hour and a half to pull them all.  But I don't mind, actually, although it is tedious for sure.  I really like this piece and I want to do it right.  I'm just glad I can take the crappy quilting out - I would be worse than sad if I had to leave it all wrong.  But I've taken my time, just doing one side of the square at a time.  Had to go out and buy a new ripper, though - burned the old one out -  RIP old ripper!

Last (but still extremely exciting)...I'm published!  In Fresh Quilts Spring 2015 - it's awesome!  I really love this magazine. Here's the cover:

 It's a little surreal to see my piece in there - but I can handle it.  Here's the spread:  (Pardon the shit photography please, I'm in a bit of a rush - the real magazine is gorgeous, I promise.)

I've also spend a good deal of the day on these adorable little Ombre dots charms pack.  I cut them into quarter squares and have make about 20 different arrangements so far...and the problem is, I liked them all.  Nice problem to have, I would say...I don't have a photo to add right now, but I promise to add one later...

I also went to the quilt store today and did laundry and vacuumed the house (not that you can tell - we are drowning in mud at the moment and a lot of it makes its way inside so I give up.

But a very busy, very fine day, I would say!  I'll be around later to check out everyone's work - right now I'm headed out to dinner - such an excellent way to end the day (no cooking)! 

CIAO Bellas y Bellos!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Irony of Giving...

Four years ago May, my excellent mother died, bequeathing me all her quilting paraphernalia, her copious amounts of fabric, and her sewing machines.  It quadrupled my fabric collection (at least), not to mention all the gadgets, doodads and whatnots she had.   To be honest, the amount of stuff she gave me was overwhelming, and I wrote about it at the time (see my post from 7/13/11 -  When is Too Much Not Enough).   

The year after my mother's death was the most challenging time of my life for many reasons, and it helped enormously to throw myself into creating.  It was as though in leaving me all that stuff, Mother knew I would need it to get through that period, and I did.  And I feel I did it justice, too. In the summer following her death I made at least six quilts.  In the years since - too many to try to count, really.  And a lot of it was using her stuff.  Especially her fabric, which I believe I have mostly used up, although if I were to guess I would say at least a fourth of my current fabric collection was still hers  

Recently I decided to take stock of my stockpile and pass some of my incredible good fortune along to my sister Erika.  Now you're probably thinking, why didn't Erika get some of this sewing stuff when our Mother died?  Why did Carrie get it all?  It's no scandal (sorry to disappoint ;).  I actually have two sisters and a brother, but at the time I was the only quilter in the family besides Mother, which is why it all came to me. However, recently Erika, a stay-at-home mother of four children and whose youngest went off to kindergarten this year, expressed an interest in learning to quilt.  She figures she has a little time, so I figured I could get her started with some of Mother's stuff.   

Now let me say, Erika is truly gifted; she constantly amazes me with her ideas and creations, and I am fully admitting right now that I had to fight a little feeling of competitiveness when I was gathering things to give her.  I knew she would be good at it and to be completely honest, a little devil thought popped into my head that she might be better and more successful at it than I (I'm not proud of it, but what can I say, I'm human). Luckily I was able to recognize that niggling negative for what it was (just a thought) and I dismissed it summarily because I know that there's enough to go around and it is NOT a competition. Plus, I love my sister and so did my mom and she would definitely want me to share the wealth with my siblings if they wanted it. So last week we went through all the stuff and she took what she wanted, and I was happy to share with her. 

And am I glad I did -  I mean WOW!  Today I went over to Erika's house to see what she was working on and I was blown away!  Her very first quilt is already showing her incredible talent. I can't say I was surprised, entirely, because I know how gifted she is, but still, I left her house in tears.  What a profound joy it was for me to see her success in creating - I can't believe how amazing it felt.  I won't say I felt proud, because pride implies that I had something to do with it.  I just felt such a deep peace and a sense of connectedness...and excitement - it's gonna be fantastic fun to share this creating with my sister.  It's one of the best feelings there is, really.  Talk about gifted - I'm the one who got the gift.

And as I got into my car to head home, I knew too that our Mother was somewhere out there nodding her head, smiling her beautiful smile, and feeling the same thing, too.   

Here is a photo of my sister's first quilt: