Thursday, August 13, 2015

Riley Blake Challenge Adventures

Before I went to Europe this summer, I signed up for several challenges.  Don’t ask me what I was thinking because I can’t tell you.  It’s not as though I had any time to work on art before I left, so what the heck made me think I would have time when I got back?  
Oh well. 
Following is the tale of the Riley Blake challenge  It is not for the faint of heart; but I tell the tale in order that you may learn from my mistakes, grasshoppers. (For the young ones who didn’t get it, that was a reference to the 70’s show Kung Fu, btw.) Also, be warned, there is some explicit language, as there often is, in this entry.  I can only say it is necessary to the telling of this tale.
This quilt was a challenge from the get go.  So many times I thought "I should just quit, dammit," but I felt totally compelled to see it through - every time I walked away, I came back.  I can't really know what it was for certain, but I've decided that there was just something I was supposed to learn from it.  Hope I did...
         I got home on July 3rd from being gone basically all of June.  This meant I had a few weeks to make this thing.  Since I knew I would need more than the fat eighths and some other fabrics too, the first thing I had to do was find and order fabric.  This was not as easy a task as I thought it would be - both the assigned fabrics AND their matching counterparts had to be ordered from several different places.  So I lost a week waiting for fabric to arrive. Some of the coordinating fabrics weren't exactly as coordinating as I thought they would be, but no matter, I had no time or money to order more, they would have to do.  So now I had  less than three weeks to design, make and quilt.  Normally, this would be plenty of time, but right now my life is anything but normal.  I’ve got so many irons in the fire I have trouble remembering what day it is.  On the other hand, I really wanted to participate in this challenge, because I had an inkling of an idea, and well -  I had committed and been sent the free fabric, so I felt I needed to at least try to do it.  
Before I left I had made a few sketches, but after seeing all the amazing art on my trip, when I got back I knew I wanted to somehow incorporate some of the tiles from the amazing tiled floors I had seen in the Medici house in Florence.  And since the challenge was to do something I’d never done before, I was going to attempt to do hand turned appliqué and paper piecing.  So far, so good.  But for some reason I just couldn’t get the layout of the piece to flow.  Everything I did looked boring.
Ugh I can barely stand to look at this - what a mess!

 I could only steal a couple of hours here and there to work on it, so all the interruptions didn’t help I’m sure.  I decided to just work on one square at a time and deal with the layout later.  Again, sounds doable, right? Well, huh!
       I was pretty pleased with the first square, which I pieced - until I tried to add some hand-turned appliqué ovals.  I had watched several different Youtube videos and it looked pretty easy.  Well, it was not in fact easy at all.  I was so disappointed in the results, I re-did them three times and I still hated them.  

Let's face it, people, these ovals suck! Look closely at the finished piece for how they look now...
       I left them on, though and went to the next square, which I was paper piecing with reverse appliqué.  Everything went pretty well on this one at first, but when I went to take the paper off, somehow the purple marker I had used bled all over the white!  And no water or alcohol was used during the making of this square, I promise.  Couldn’t deal with it as time was of the essence,  so I just continued on with the square trying not to see the bleed marks ALL OVER the edges as I attempted to hand appliqué a skinny pink ring around the center.  No go. After three attempts I admitted defeat and did raw edge appliqué.  I liked the square design, but it was a damn mess. If I had time at the end,  I thought, maybe I could remake the square, or at least get the marks out somehow…but I had to move on.
I was two weeks away from the deadline.  The next square I did do the turned under hand appliqué - this time took me only three tries to get a just somewhat passable result.  Whatever - at this point,  done was good enough. 

This was the best I could do?!

        I kept stealing whatever time I could the next week to work on the last tile square, on which I completely wimped out and did all raw edge appliqué.  This square, naturally, looked really good.  Now I had to nail down the layout, which I did, mostly.  I decided to use the side shapes in my original sketch, but no way in hell was I going to attempt to do hand-turned appliqué on them - I went straight to raw edge.
In the meantime, I began experiencing problems with my new, fancy, expensive 750 Bernina sewing machine whom I had lovingly named Audrey for her grace and beauty.   First it wasn’t so bad - I was unable to thread the thing using the threader - it kept giving me a message to bring the threader down and restart the machine over and over, so I just threaded it by hand.  Annoying, but not a big prob. One day, however, I walked in to sew and turned Audrey on and nothing happened.  I mean, she wouldn’t turn on.  I checked the plug, checked the connection, etc. and turned her off and on a few times and finally she came on.  Over the next days she changed from “Ahh - Good morning, lovely Audrey,” to “Turn on, bitch!”  I could get her on by flipping the switch about twenty times and then walking away for ten or so minutes, but it sucked., and every time I turned her off I felt a twinge of anxiety that this might be the time she went off for good.  I didn’t have time to take her to the shop to get fixed (remember I live in small-town Texas, so I would have to drive a couple of hours to Austin for repairs and I didn’t know how long it would take…) So by the last week before the deadline, I just left her on permanently  - except for the time when I accidentally switched her off and it took me about 45 minutes to get her back on… it wasn’t pretty, but I was trying to finish. this. quilt. dammit. 
Busier than ever in my life, I was really quite put out with the whole deal  It was not at all fun and worse, I was not at all zen.   It was and had been from square one (pun intended) a major exercise in frustration.  There were so many flaws - from the purple marker disaster to the crappily done hand appliqué, that I  seriously thought about cutting (more likely ripping) the thing up and throwing off of the roof of my house.
      At this point, I decided that maybe the universe was telling me it was time to cry uncle.  I mean, it wasn’t imperative that I participate in the Riley Blake Challenge 2015 - the MQG police weren’t going to arrest for me for accepting fat eighths and then not completing the challenge…were they? And maybe I just wasn’t supposed to spend any more time on this piece - maybe I needed to give up, it was okay, it’s not as though it was a commissioned piece or anything.  It wasn’t all that important, I got it.  So - I left the thing for two days - didn’t even look at it.  
On the third day, which was about five days away from the deadline, I came back to try one more time.  I had decided that while I did not have to finish, I had come so far that I did want to try.  But only if I could do it properly.  So I repeated out loud to myself 
several times “I will try to finish this but I will enjoy it and be pleasant or I will stop.”  I meant it, I really did.  And for the next two sewing sessions (and in the spirit of being completely honest, I will admit that both sessions were late evening with a glass of wine nearby) everything went down quite well.  I got it all put together - I finished the top - hallelujah!  
No matter that I was only three days away from the deadline and still had to 1) come up with an idea for the back 2)sandwich and 3)quilt the thing - I was certain I could do it.  I would use the somehow not really matching solids for the back with what little floral I had left, and certain sandwiching is not fun, but it’s easy.  And although I hadn’t the slightest inkling of how I was going to quilt it, so what?  I told my husband I needed the next two days off to finish this sumbitch, (This is code for "Don’t ask me for one teeny tiny little thing  - not even a kiss or any attention at all!" Luckily for him by now he knows my code pretty well)  Suddenly I was feeling pretty optimistic.
Got the back done, was oddly pleased - check! On to sandwiching. This piece is a little larger than my usual art pieces, but not as big as a lap quilt so I decided to sandwich it on the dining room table in order to save my aching knees  from doing it on the floor.  Then, for some truly inexplicable reason, I made the (nearly fatal to me and the quilt) decision to use the clamps I had inherited from my mother but hadn’t used in years intead of tape, and to only pin baste, not use any sticky spray or real basting - after all, the quilt only hung off about eight inches on one side and not at all on the bottom, so it would be fine.  
It was a disaster.  The clamps worked not at all (thus reminding me why I hadn’t used them in many years) and the back was a buckled mess.  I tried to fix it, but after much (sadly) more un-zen behavior I realized it wasn’t going to happen.  So I huffed it upstairs and tried to do it on the floor of my studio using the usual duct tape, but the thing was having none of that either.  It simply would not stay stuck to the floor, no matter how much tape I put on it.   So I tried clear packing tape.  Nope, would not stick!  By this time I was worse than un-zenlike - I was a towering fury, and my mouth ranneth over.  My husband had come home, and he got really (justifiably) mad at me.  He told me that it was quite unpleasant to listen to me, and if I was made so unhappy by doing it, maybe I should simple stop quilting altogether.  It was as if he had poured a bucket of cold water over me - he was totally, completely correct.  There is no excuse for a grown woman to mishandle frustration that way.  Chastised, I walked away and I apologized to my husband and the universe for my un-adult-like behavior.  I resolved to give up on finishing the piece once again.
     That night I could not sleep, I felt so small.  Was I really not meant to quilt anymore?  No, that couldn’t be it.  But I needed to learn from my mistakes.  Never again was I going to put so much importance on something that I would completely lose my cool.  Nothing is that important.  And to prove it, I was going to calmly finish. that. quilt. 
The next morning, two days before the deadline, I thought “Okay.  It doesn’t matter in the least whether I finish this thing, but for some reason, I really, really want to try.  The only rule is - not ONCE am I allowed to sigh, curse, or otherwise be impatient.  If I do, I am done.  
       Okay, okay -  I was unable to COMPLETELY follow the rule, but I did follow the spirit of the rule.  No cursing, no anger, but I did catch myself sighing a few times.   I had no earthly idea how I was going to quilt the thing, so some precious hours of the next day were spent figuring it out.  I went back to the pictures of the Medici floor and decided to quilt it only using shapes from the outlined areas of the tiles.  THAT part went somewhat better than I expected, based on well - EVERYTHING that had happened so far - my expectations were pretty low, and then having an unreliable machine as well as just kind of quilting blind, as they say.  Once the squares were quilted to my satisfaction, I worked on the floral elements.  This too proved way better than my non-expectations - I could do it and it really, really actually looked GOOD! Hooray!  But now I had these huge open white spaces on the sides - what the heck was I going to do with them?  Once again, I went to the tiles, and came up with an idea of sorts.  But I was scared to free motion it - it needed to be precise so I decided to make a template and use my handy water soluble marker to mark the quilt.  This was fine, too, but I really used that marker - I mean, I made lines all over that white and it turned out that the water soluble marker wasn’t so water soluble after all!  It didn’t come off with just a sprinkle of water - it needed a dousing!  And even with that, there were still marks on the first side when I finally went to bed that night, July 30, miraculously I had the thing about 60 percent quilted.  Tomorrow was the deadline, but I went to bed thinking I still might make it…

To end my tale, I will say nothing more, because a picture says a thousand words, right?

Monday, August 3, 2015

When a hero is not heroic, and other off-quilting musings...

First off, I need to make a disclaimer.  This particular blog entry is not about quilting, so feel free to skip it.  It’s the middle of the night and my middle aged hormones and too much iced tea have me awake, and this particular, heavy happening is weighing me down.  I want to make it clear that I’m not trying to be controversial or in any way stir up trouble, but I really feel the need to work through this thing.  I know I’m not the only person who is upset about this and unfortunately we are all damaged by it whether we think we are or not, so I hope that in working through this aloud I can maybe help others with it.  This is a blog about creativity and the journey, but it’s also about spirituality, and this weighs on my spirit.  The “this” I’m talking about is Bill Cosby and all the allegations, some he has already admitted to, of using drugs to rape scores of women.

 [Please read no further if you don’t wish to, I get it. In fact, skip to the very last paragraph of this blog, also in red.

I keep asking myself, does what he did negate the good that he did?  Is he nothing but an evil predator and liar?  Did he actually mean anything he said, ever?  I feel so keenly about it that I want to try to make some sense of it not just for me but for us as human beings.

Years ago - when I was first married I think - it was revealed that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had had one or more affairs.  I was devastated.  He had always been such a hero to me, I was crushed to think that he could be so venial as to cheat on his wife.  I cried buckets over it.  I felt so deceived, my entire view of him was tarnished.  He wasn’t the man I thought he was.  He was a liar and a cheat, I said to my husband, and I could no longer admire him.  It changed everything, I thought.  My husband sat quietly and hugged me.  He then asked me one simple question “Does his cheating on his wife change what he accomplished?” Of course the answer was “No.”  He may have been a less than admirable husband, but he still made this country a better place, he still did what he did, he was still a hero, and while I would not model my marital behavior after his, I could still learn so much from him, his philosophy and the good that he absolutely did do and say was done, and this revelation didn’t take away from it.

Just that one question has had a huge impact on me over the years.  Of course it’s naïve to lionize anyone – we all have feet of clay.  Just because we’re strong or true or even extraordinary in one way doesn’t take away our humanity or struggles (Michael Phelps comes to mind).  I realized, too that maybe our expectations are too high for people we consider heroes.  Because in the end, no matter what anyone accomplishes, they are still in this human skin, and we are all deeply flawed and make mistakes.    
So a few years later, when The Monica Lewinsky scandal broke I was able to see that it was not the only or even the most important thing about the Clinton presidency.  And over the years, with some or even a lot of effort at some times, I’ve come to see that this realization leads to forgiveness and helps me let go of judgement a lot easier, even of myself.  (At least sometimes, anyway.)

But this stuff about Bill Cosby – this cut is deep.  What he did, his pattern of behavior is deeply destructive.  He has long been a hero of mine.  I grew up listening to his records, and watching his specials and his Jell-O commercials, and the Cosby show is, or at least it was, one of my all-time favorites – I mean, it was perfection.  This is one of those go-to shows for me over the years  - when I needed a laugh or just wanted to be entertained by life, this was one of the ones I could count on to bring joy.

I admired what I thought he stood for, what he said and did, and how he, in my mind, helped our struggling country with deeply divisive race issues.  He was erudite, classy, and he stood for something, I thought.  He wasn't afraid to say what he thought, even if it angered the African American community.  I listened when he talked, because I really thought he had some wisdom to offer.  And he was hilarious, to boot!  For me, there was an innocence to his humor that was delightful – he wasn’t crass or crude, didn’t curse too much or talk about private things – he made us laugh, at least I thought, in a pure, genuine way. 

When all the allegations against him came out I was outraged.  I was convinced that some ignorant racist (black or white) scumbag was trying to punish him for speaking out, for being defiant.  He had just written a letter which I had read about being tired of putting up with other people’s ideas of how he should think or be, and it was controversial, so I figured it was just the usual jerks trying to make him look bad.  I resolved to ignore the whole thing.

There was a point, however, when doubt started to creep in – I mean, there were so many allegations, and it just went on and on.  I remembered something else my husband had said in a similar situation a few years earlier – “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”  That axiom has been proven right in many circumstances over the years, too.   But my heart squeezed -- how could this incredible person be a sexual predator – not someone who just cheated on his wife, but someone who has so much anger, disdain, and maybe even hatred for other human beings, namely women, that he would actually plan how to drug them and then degrade and rape them?  

It’s so much darker, and so seemingly completely incongruent, with what Bill Cosby has said and done publicly over the years.  So I’m wondering here - these things he’s done - they mean he’s not an admirable person, right? He’s a disgusting pig, right?  His so-called “contributions” were just lies - right?  It’s unforgiveable - right?

That is my struggle with this thing.   If I believe my spiritual teachers (and I do), the answer is, easily, that he does deserve forgiveness. Okay, that part’s not so hard to accept.  But the other questions’ answers don’t come so readily - does this heinous behavior change or even erase the positive contributions he made?  Will anyone ever be able to just sit and enjoy an episode of The Cosby show again? 

I admit that I’m devastated at the revelations that a person who influenced me and whom I deeply admired could have such a deeply distressing, horrible side.  I’m also admittedly, more than a little angry at anyone who could have spoken up about it years ago who didn’t.  But I know too that our society tends to blame the victim - why did they go to his room alone,blah blah blah…But - I can tell you in all honesty that if he had invited me up to his hotel room, I’d have gone – I thought he was completely devoted to his wife and family, I thought he meant what he said about people and equality. I’m not saying I would have definitely ignored warning signs - if there were any - but I might have.  I mean, he literally was a father figure to me.  So no - I don’t have any admiration left for him or those who helped him cover up, and the simple truth is that anyone who took hush money from him was basically enabling him to continue his inexcusable treatment of women.  That is a fact, by the way, not a judgement. 

I can also unequivocally say I believe he deserves any consequences that society imposes - including jailing his sorry old ass - he gets. 
Because there are consequences for that kind of sick behavior, Bill.  Karma does exist, dude, and you have created a helluva a lot of the bad kind.  I don’t know if you can fix it in this lifetime; I can only hope you will try, but even if you don’t, it’s still there, and it’s still yours to deal with – whenever.
Well now.  Having explored this in writing and thinking and meditating about it, here’s my personal conclusion:

Like other flawed heroes, Bill Cosby still achieved what he achieved.  He still made me and millions of other people laugh – a lot. And he did have some important and relevant things to say and he thought he meant them. He is not a completely evil person – he does have a shiny goodness inside him still – and that part is real, too. It just got overshadowed and overtaken by a gargantuan ego. 

While Bill Cosby's behavior is completely unjustifiable, and in some ways does take away from his achievements, his contributions, while diminished, still stand.  The Cosby show was funny, and I don’t have to feel bad for laughing at it or for believing the truths that he did say when his ego wasn't running the show, because truth is still truth, even out of a snake's mouth..

But what it really means is that Bill Cosby is not the admirable person I thought he was, and worse - he's not even the person HE thinks he is.  What he is in fact, tragically, is someone who knows nothing about and has experienced even less, true equality and even worse - love.  I feel so very sorry for him.

It’s not too late for him to learn, but it’s up to him.  I hope for his sake and for all of us that he does because it would create an opportunity for all of us to show true love and forgiveness.  And we could all benefit from that.
 If you’ve stuck with me through all this, I just want to say that I’m off my soapbox now, and promise to go back to writing about art and creativity again.  In fact when I sat down to write I thought I was going to write about my struggles with my Riley Blake challenge quilt, which I will share next time.  But again, I really believe that this situation affects us all as human beings – we all struggle with forgiveness and being flawed. As I’ve repeatedly said, that’s in part what this blog is about – my struggle with my own flaws.  So I hope I don’t lose you over this, dear readers and quilting community – you mean a lot to me in so many ways. I hope that if you chose not to read this you will still come back again.  But I’m sharing this because I feel compelled by love and humanity to do so.  I’m not going to promise it will never happen again, either, because like I said, I’m human. But I can promise that this blog is mostly about creativity and art and the journey, and that I will laugh at myself often and that I will be open and honest about the zigs and zags and zippers I meet along the creative pathway.