Stitches

Then & Now - 70 - CopyA stitch in time...well, a stitch in time takes time. And it keeps you from other things like writing a pretty regular weekly post that's been a fairly consistent routine for the last five years. Oh, and there were the three graduations and a wedding, trips to NY and CA, lots of wedding preparations, lots of people to see though we missed a few, and all that ridiculously arduous air travel that has become the American way of life. Let's just say I felt a bit unstitched and exhausted after a month on the road.

But there were other stitches needling my creative attention. During our California time I attended a stellar art retreat with cherished friends at the C Gallery in Los Alamos superbly hosted by gallery owner Connie Rohde. Entitled "Transitions, Identity and Threads," the weekend retreat was facilitated by therapist/poet Roslyn Strohl and artist Peg Grady. Lifelines, birds, embroidery floss, prose writing and haikus were all part of the first evening's invitation followed by the next morning with a daylong whirlwind of collage on canvas paper incorporating pattern pieces, buttons and threadwork.

We were each encouraged to bring several photos of ourselves for possible inclusion in our artwork. The one I chose to work with is a recent portrait by talented photographer Pam James. Using  a photocopy, the process of transferring the image to the collaged canvas paper was quite simple...using a push pin I punched holes to create an outline of what I wanted stitched. I left the face blank as I'm still discovering my identity in this new place called home in NC.

Since I enjoy handwork, the stitching part of this art project was very satisfying. And one art piece wasn't quite enough. So I've begun a series of thread portraits using photos of myself at various ages in hopes of eventually completing a life span of images. So far I've completed three others at ages three, four and eighteen. Each stitched portraits includes pattern pieces, birds (or butterflies), and buttons. The accent collage colors correspond to the clothing I was wearing - a yellow smocked dress, my favorite red and green butterfly print dress, and an orange dress made for a backwards dance also worn for my senior picture.  And consistent with Roslyn's invitation, each stitched portrait includes a haiku. That takes a bit of doing to encapsulate a snapshot of life in seventeen syllables!  My "Austin Powers" mid-twenties portrait from the psychedelic 60s will be next.

If you were going to create a thread portrait, what photo of yourself would you begin with? What design elements like birds, buttons or accent colors would you include that told part of your story at that moment. What would your 5/7/5 seventeen syllable haiku say about this particular moment in your life? What memories have you awakened or anchored with this creative process?

For all of you who emailed to inquire about my well-being because of my long blogging silence, thanks for missing me!

Stars

Bali Wedding Star QuiltThey've worked four arduous years for their goal. I only worked for six and a half months. But it was an accomplishment for all of us...tackling something that we thought at times was completely beyond our abilities. Nevertheless, we persevered.

Our only granddaughter, and her fiance Colin, graduated this weekend from West Point and were commissioned as 2nd lieutenants in the army. We were privileged to attend many of the week's celebrations from the final parade formation on the hallowed parade grounds to the pinning ceremony on the Catholic Chapel's balcony overlooking the stunning Hudson River Valley.

In the midst of the pomp and centuries-old ritual, we found time to relax and visit. And to share with them the Bali Wedding Star quilt created for their up-coming wedding. The quilt top was finally finished the week before the West Point festivities. Soon it will be taken to a long-arm quilter to create the quilt "sandwich" - top, batting and backing held together with decorative stitching. Then I'll somehow figure out how to complete the quilt with a curved edge binding. Perhaps just in time for their deployment to Fort Bragg, NC next spring.

Let's just say this quilt has been a learning experience every step of the way...especially in regards to reading instructions which typically took me 24 hours to decipher for each step of the process. And there were many steps. Which became many groups. Which became many units. Which were eventually sewn together to become one large 80 x 80 quilt. Phew.

After months of clipping things into groups, then storing them in specifically labeled baggies, the units were artfully arranged on our expanded dining room table prior to final assembly, a process that took only a few days and seemed somewhat anticlimactic until the final seam. Which was like wrestling a bear while attempting to perfectly match all the seams. I staggered back to my corner hardly able to believe the quilt top was finished. Finally! My design wall was full of exquisite stars!

But the real stars are Colin and Judy who have finished their time at West Point, been commissioned into the Army, and who will begin their life together in a few weeks as husband and wife! May they always be blessed and protected by Jesus, who called Himself "the Bright Morning Star."

 

Scrapped

Scrappy Happy Hollyhocks-1-1My parents came of age during the Depression, an event that had great influence on what was saved and stored away for some rainy day need-it-now occasion rather than scrapped. My brother and I fussed and fumed and laughed our way through cleaning out their home after our mother passed away. A hundred empty gift boxes crammed into bedroom cupboards. A thousand empty coat hangers. A complete set of Reader's Digests in the garage rafters bookended with complete sets of National Geographic and Family Circle. Empty Mason jars which hadn't held homemade jelly in decades. After the industrial size dumpster was filled to over flowing a couple of times, we swore we'd never do that to our children!

My brother is by nature a minimalist. I, on the other hand, am...well, an artist. Our home isn't teeming with empty anything, but there are art and sewing supplies which my children might possibly fuss and fume and laugh about at some point in the distant future. Especially since I can't bear to throw away fabric scraps. Particularly those that are created in the process of making a Lil Twister pinwheel quilt for a baby shower recently. A significant pile of scraps - 3" tall triangles, 2 1/4" squares, and 1/4" raggedy bits were left behind...too big a pile of precious sewing possibilities to be scrapped. I just knew there was a rainy day need-it-now moment right around the sewing room corner.

Tumbling Pinwheel Baby QuiltWhile the complicated looking but easy baby quilt looked like this, I especially love the improv quilt that emerged out of the pile of scraps. The black fabric, batting, improvised quilt backing, and a few buttons were all leftovers from other sewing projects...scraps too good to scrap. The two crocheted doilies were a gift years ago from a West Coast friend who was sure I "could find something to do with them." She was right. Another one found its way into the embellishments added to a fabric collage included in the recent art installation In Clothing We Remember at the Cary Arts Center.

This pile of colorful scraps got me to thinking about the ladies at the Lighthouse, a year-long, faith-based, residential treatment program for women recovering from substance abuse, and their willingness...to begin with...to believe that their lives were a pile of filthy rags that needed to be scrapped. Little by little, as they progressed in their recovery, learning of God's love for them, they began to see the potential for making something beautiful out of the scraps of their lives. Sometimes, those rainy day need-it-now scraps are more important to keep than we thought possible. The original pattern was beautiful. But sometimes, what we courageously, creatively do with the leftover, throwaway scraps is far more engaging and inspiring.

If you've cleaned out an ancestral home, what are some of the favorite hordes you discovered...and threw away? What are the beloved scraps you've saved that will make your children fuss, fume and laugh? Are there interesting projects you've created from scraps that others might have thrown away? If you were to describe the "wholecloth" made from the scraps of your life, what would you say? What would it look like? And what would you title your creation?

Stories

Tri-fold Book-1I've listed to a lot of stories this last week. Thankfully. They were a great amusement, comfort, and distraction as I waited for results of a medical procedure my husband was undergoing at a local hospital.

One of the disadvantages of moving away from long established relationships is that no one knows you story. One of the advantages of moving to a new area is that no one knows your stories. Those often told anecdotes that gift life with its rhythm, drama, and humor. I heard stories of skiing accidents where a heart surgeon skillfully sutured a facial wound so finely no scar remains. I heard stories of a navy man, lashed to the conning tower of a surfaced submarine, who was momentarily, though it seemed like a lifetime, submerged by a rouge wave. And the story of a prank pulled on a nurse by a patient who substituted ginger ale for his urine sample. When she worried that it looked a bit pale, the patient seized the beaker, drank it down to her horror, and said, "Let me run it through again."

The stories were well crafted, stripped of the inessentials, allowing the drama of the event to build, the blood to drip, the ocean-swelling fear to register, the quasi-revulsion, see-it-coming recoil to mingle with laughter. What a way to spend the day with two new guy friends listening to one another's stories. The books of our lives are filled with such artistry. Yet at the heart of each story is a crisis, a possible bad outcome...that ends, thankfully, with a good resolution. By swapping these ski and sea stories the guys were speaking hope into our story...even that hospitals can be a place for lightheartedness.

Our story? Though slightly more bionic, my husband is home, doing well, creating sawdust out in the garage, and making excellent progress on his Mississippi riverboat model. At the same time he is researching a more heart healthy diet...as well as more elaborate model ships. That's our story...and we're sticking to it.

What's one of your stories that names a crises, suggests potential bad outcomes, and resolves well? Have you ever considered that as a story of hope that you might speak into another person's story? Have you ever considered including that in a book of your spiritual story? If not, will you now?

PS - One of the sweet pieces of the story was being able to spend the afternoon and evening with someone who knows our stories - our daughter who loved us as a mother hen.

Improv

In My DNA - Wretched Man That I Am-1Some weeks you just have to improvise. Too many balls in the air. Mostly fun, but a sad one as well. We've lost a beloved friend from church who hosted our weekly Bible study at her home. Valerie never met a stranger; she was so graciously welcoming when I first met her at a retreat last October. On hospice care for the last few weeks, the weekly study has migrated to our home and the group is improvising how to do life without this inspiring friend.

And at the same time, life goes on. We remain engaged with all the activities and responsibilities that crowd our calendars. Yet one of my projects, our granddaughter's wedding quilt came to a screeching halt a couple of weeks ago. A complicated pattern that requires intense attention to a tome of written instructions, I reached a point where I wasn't sure I was doing it "right." I didn't want to continue sewing units together with the very real possibility that they might all have to be taken apart...all 72 of them! The clerk at the quilt shop who specialized in these kinds of patterns had been ill, was still ill, and wasn't going to be available for consultation for another week. Have I mentioned making this quilt is all about delayed gratification? Now things were delayed more than usual.

So in the interim, an idea from Pinterest inspired some improv digging through my stash. Enough of everything was available except a pattern...which I had to improvise...more or less successfully. The pattern reminded me of DNA strands which invited me to reflect on the pleasure of creativity being in my DNA. But during the process of piecing the quilt front, I made every rookie mistake there is to make in quilting. Let's just say my seam ripper and I were on a first name basis. Which got me to improvisationally reflect on Roman 7's "oh wretched (wo)man that I am, I don't do what I want to do, and do what I don't want to do..." Yup, that's in my DNA too.

DNA - Back ArtBut it was the back art for the quilt that brought me the most pleasure...and immediate gratification. I began a quilt backing that would hopefully use up as much of the remaining fabric as possible in a way that used bold colors, large negative spaces, in a graphic composition that was both balanced and irregular ....improvisational... qualities frequently found in contemporary modern quilts. My studio design wall didn't lend itself to laying out this composition, so our large, round oak dining table became an improv design space. Only small bits of yardage remain of the substantial original pile. While this scrappy quilt was a great stash buster, the immediate gratification of this two-day project was immensely pleasurable. And taught me that the pleasure of improv is also in my DNA. The things we learn about ourselves when we're, seemingly, looking the other way!

In the midst of delayed gratification, what have you turned to creatively for a wee bit of immediate gratification? What have you learned about yourself in the process? What were the improv pieces that were a part of that learning? How might what you learned about yourself influence your future?

Unmasked

WCC - MaskedI could barely walk by the time I drove home and got out of the car. An hour and a half nap was immediately in order as a chaser to a couple of ibuprofen. And nine and half hours of overnight sleep mandatory for a woman of my vintage to recover from a deliciously wonderful day of art making with the youth at church.

A growing group in a growing church, the youth really had no room of their own and weren't too keen to hang out in the non-nondescript room set aside for their use. With some inspired Pinterest hunting by Meg, their youth leader, an "industrial cool" coffee house theme began to emerge. And Saturday was set aside for a youth work day...with lots of adult volunteers with big-boy-toy tools and paint store art supplies.

When the youth room makeover was announced about six weeks ago, I volunteered to help the youth paint a mural on the largest wall of the room...the one you encounter the moment you step into the space. When Meg pitched the idea to them they were skeptical they could do something of that magnitude that would have the requisite coolness. But thanks to my art making buddy Tara Lamont Eastman, I had a creative ace up my sleeve...rolls of blue painter's masking tape. By masking off a mural design suggestive of cool industrial pipes or a cool computer circuit board, we created a coloring book fill-in-the-spaces easy-to-paint wall for those who'd never touched a paint roller in the past.

Not surprisingly, the youth were slow to show up in the morning, but that turned out to be a blessing. It took me a while to draw grids on the wall and tape out the beginning design. Once that was in place, one of the younger teens, Caleb, became my able "monkey" scrambling up ladders to finish taping the upper portion of the design, plus all the side walls and baseboards. After lunch, the never-done-this-before painting crew arrived, and we all set to work coloring in the various blocks...more or less according to the small graphic design I'd created for their approval.

Meg had a primary color scheme in mind for the room, so my preliminary design was boldly colored. There was some concern among the youth that it might be "too bright" and suggested maybe substituting secondary colors - purples, greens...and something...well, not so red. I was delighted with their input. Coffee houses these days tend to have a more muted secondary color scheme so their suggestion seemed spot on. But the thing that grabbed me was realizing that, probably unconsciously, they were suggesting a color scheme harmonious to the already existing decor in the church's fellowship areas. While this was clearly going to be a youth inspired room, it wasn't going to be visually off-putting.

We pressed on beyond our scheduled quit time to finish all the painting, leaving the unmasking until after worship the following day so the paint had ample time to dry. Besides, a dad and his soon were busy attaching an abandoned crib frame to the ceiling so that various sizes of cool silver slinkies could be hung on it. We had our priorities. Across the room the license plate topped coffee was coming together. And in the near future, Philippians 3:14 will be added near the yellow arrow that wraps the corner of the mural - I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 

The final unmasking took maybe five minutes. And tada! There you have it! Some pretty happy kids who accomplished something they didn't think they could do! Ka-ching. Spends at my bank...and makes all the aches, pains and fatigue worth it.

WCC -Tada

PS - Click on each of the photos to see some additional details I've mentioned.

New

Thank YouThere's always something new up my sleeve. Combined with being a crafty (as in sly) grandma type, I had a very creatively fulfilling time this week. I also had the privilege of helping our pastor's eight year old twin daughters and his ten year son learn how to sew. Their first project? A pillowcase with a contrasting cuff and flange. Way easy and a lotta bang for the buck as they say.

Our adventure began on Tuesday with a trip to a fabric store with their mom. To my delight they swiftly moved beyond the Valentine novelty prints. Although the girls both love all things pink, they opted for contemporary fabrics with more sophisticated designs and color schemes. Their brother Daniel? He wanted something soft like satin...but in greens and brown! I love how kids embrace the creative process and make it their own.

As sewing day approached I realized with three kids and one sewing machine there'd be a lot of down time for two of the kids while the other sewed. This is where my crafty/clever grandma gene got fully expressed. I've discovered small 500 piece jigsaw puzzles at the dollar store. An easy day's entertainment during winter weather, once they're done, they're done...unless you can do something creative with them. Like smooch shades of green paint all over the puzzle while it's still assembled. Dried and popped apart, the individual pieces are great for simulating foliage on a tree. A brown paper bag stamped with a wood grain pattern made wonderful tree trunks and branches using each kid's arm and hand as a pattern. Prompted by Psalm 1:2,3 - a man's delight is in the law of the Lord...he is like a tree planted by streams of water, they added star-burst punched suns and grass clumps, and streams of water. I'll be borrowing these as project prototypes when I teach a workshop next year entitled Altered Papers/Altared Images at Montreat.

We moved from the cutting/pinning area to the sewing machine to the ironing board all afternoon with excitement...and a little apprehension about using the unfamiliar...namely the iron. All three of the kids took to the sewing machine with ease, a learning process that requires hand, eye and foot coordination. All three were very satisfied with their first experience sewing. And then there were all the head bands they made from the scraps. The twins wanted to know if they could come back next week to begin their quilts! Mom had to remind them they were headed to the coast for spring break.  Going to the beach? Making quilts? Going to the beach? Making quilts? That's a tough one...

And of course, during the course of the afternoon, each one stuck her/himself with a quilting pin. There was even a wee bit of blood involved. Rather than have that be a discouraging experience that might dampen their sewing enthusiasm, I simply enthused that one wasn't really a sewist until one had drawn blood sticking themselves with a pin. What had been a painful experience all of a sudden became a badge of honor!

My young friends headed home very happy with their new pillowcases and an art project to boot. It was my pleasure to introduce three new sewists into the wonderful, magical, creative world of sewing!

If there was a crafty/clever older person or grandparent in your past, what was something new you learned from that person? What is something in your "bag of tricks" that a young person might love learning from you? Think outside the paint box...cooking, carpentry, home maintenance, knitting, bird watching, gardening, music, sharing a particular field of interest...anything at all that others would appreciate having handed down to them. With your particular flair attached, of course!

PS - Since sewing is no longer a gender specific activity, the term seamstress is no longer appropriate. The new term sewist is now currently in Vogue....pun intended.

Discovery

 

Fireworks - BeforeLadies and gentlemen, I have just discovered that after two whole weeks of activities and appointments cancelled because of snow and ice, a day-long evacuation of our home because of area wide power outages, the ornamental pear trees in the front yard are shaking their limbed fists in the face of winter; buds abound on the bare branches all around. Spring is going to win after all. And we've discovered that we've tolerated winter better than we imagined.

I've discovered that snowy days are the perfect occasions to explore what can be created with the amazing assortment of altered art paper left behind by one of my grandsons who self-admits he's addicted to my Fiskar paper cutter! From decorative die cut punched note cards to embellished note card houses (created by another grandson) to collaged backgrounds from the prodigious pile of paper strips, there was art to be made. And to rummaging through long-neglected art supplies with the hopes of discovering something I've never taken the time to explore...like the water-soluble oil pastels in this fireworks scribble, a product I haven't touched in over ten years.

There was also the paper pieced name tag I stitched from a pile of batik scraps generated working on our granddaughter's wedding quilt - an extreme delayed gratification project that needed an instant gratification token. While the final two images aren't fully realized yet, I've discovered begin cooped in the house for days on end, needing to entertain myself, has its benefits. Ideas begin to bud shaking their fists at boredom, just like the ornamental pears trees in the front yard.

If you were to be snowed and iced in for two weeks, what would you do to entertain yourself creatively? What interesting resource, art or otherwise, has been languishing unexplored in your home for far too long? What discoveries might await you...that you don't fully understand? I've discovered relaxing into the art making of others and simply enjoying the collaborative process of being together creatively. The end product is not the end product. Such a lovely discovery!

Comfort

Love My Honey QuiltWe're slightly over the sixth month mark in our transition from California to North Carolina. Some of the predictable stressors have come and gone. And we are finding ourselves more comfortable than we imagined at this stage of the game.

In a part of the country where roads wind and wander like a river making its leisurely way to the sea, in a metropolitan area that hasn't considered a grid pattern for laying out roads, our GPS was a daily essential in getting from point A to points B through Z. I considered it a good day when I didn't have to use "my new best friend" to accomplish routine errands. But lately, I realize I'm getting familiar enough with the roads and the accompanying terrain that I find myself occasionally daydreaming about plans and projects while I'm driving. While I don't recommend that as a full time driving strategy, it is a sign that the recently yearned for process of embedding a new routine is taking place.  I'm getting comfortable in my new surroundings.

So comfortable that I negotiated the distance between our house and the monthly Capital Quilt Guild in north Raleigh for the second time with confidence...and comfort! Glad I did. Won a $10 gift certificate to a fabric store and had a winning silent auction bid on some leftover fabric from someone else's completed project. The sweet honey bee themed fabrics were just enough to create the Lil' Twister baby quilt. And there were enough leftover leftovers that a pretty big bee will buzz around on the quilt back.

Bee - Quilt Back

The quilting community has been another amazing arena of comfort. Warm, embracing, enthusiastic, creative, helpful, inspiring, inclusive, friendly, crazy, funny, informative....there just aren't enough adjectives to describe how this group of women have made my transition so comfortable. Especially the local bee Material Girls which meets months very close to home. And a number of them work at local quilt shops so I'm well supplied with hand-holders and advisers. My comfort cup runneth over.

And speaking of a comfort cup running over...we, without looking any further after our first visit, have found an exceedingly comfortable place to worship filled will people comfortable to be with. It's not exactly Cheers yet. Not everybody knows our name, but there is a church-wide ethos of purposefully getting to know one another. Both of us feel comfortably well-connected after such a short period of time. We're both engaged in small group Bible studies, growing ministry opportunities, and fun friendships with other couples.

A collaborative art project I'm participating in at the senior center has also provided the comfort of other artists who often are familiar with the experience of searching out a new art community when they've relocated. Some are newly arrived in the area; others have been here for years. All know the importance of making art in community. I've dusted off some decades old embroidery skills as we currently embellish the clothing collages that will become an April art installation "In Clothing We Remember" at the Cary Art Center. Needle arts allow lots of cross table visiting. We are getting to know one another better while realizing our project is nearing its end...but we don't want to quit meeting together. Ideas are afoot about what we will do next. How comforting!

Oh, and there's the comfort of being rescued in just fifteen minutes after a AAA dead battery roadside assistance call.

Like the Lil' Twister quilt, the seemingly random fragments of life are coming together in some sort of organized, comfortable pattern. And we're like a couple of busy bees buzzing from one sweet adventure to the next. Even while propping up our feet to relax from time to time...as well as taking that occasional, comfortable nap.

If there are places of comfort in your life, what are they? What aspects of your life might you need to remove, move around, or make room for to be more comfortable? How does your comfort influence how you gather with or serve others? When will you put your feet up for a few minutes and think about what makes for comfort in your life?

PS - One of the other comforts I enjoyed last week was giving myself permission not to write a post when nothing came to mind I wanted to write about.

Cement

Cement LeafSomethings are chiseled in stone. Other things are set in cement. Which is intended to mean that somethings never change. But sometimes they do. Like we've been going out for Mexican food most every Tuesday night for over twenty-five years. And although we've found a Mexican restaurant we like here in Cary, it isn't our beloved La Cabaña in Santa Paula. So we've un-cemented ourselves from that tradition and are venturing a little further afield each Tuesday with our coupon book full of cuisine twofers.

This week took us to The Big Easy for some tasty creole choices, but what really fascinated me were the two long tables seemingly set up for a large party. People approached the green tableclothed tables, put drinks down, and then wandered away. Occasionally, someone would walk up to the guy at the end of the table engrossed with his computer, exchanging a few words. They would walk away after he handed them what looked suspiciously like poker chips from the way his hand was a cupped claw. Other guys were shuffling cards. My curiosity had gotten the best of me by the time our bill arrived. Inquiring what was going on "over there," the waitress, thumbing that direction, effused, "Oh, every Tuesday night is poker night. These people are really serious!" Apparently people come for all over as this is one of the local spots in the player elimination process that leads to the World Poker Championship. Who knew... And the flash fried spinach was pretty darn good as well.

And of course, another tradition set in cement is my weekly blog posted on Wednesdays. This week I didn't feel like it. Still on Thursday I didn't feel like it. My ideas were formulating, but I just didn't feel like hitting the self-imposed mark this week. Finishing another unit of a complicated, long-in-the-process wedding quilt for our granddaughter, I needed some instant gratification...a wee Lil' Twister baby quilt full of sweet honey bees, a project that could be pieced in two days. There went Wednesday. There went Thursday.

Cement LeavesBut it was Monday that was all about cement. Cement leaves...an art form that heretofore has escaped my attention. But thanks to my new art buddy Anna, we were gathered around her kitchen table full of boxes of sand covered with plastic, assorted leaves from her winter garden, baskets of paints, and a bucket of dried concrete, courtesy of Home Depot, waiting to be mixed with water to the consistency of a brownie mix...a direction I'm not sure most guys would give to another guy. While the summer garden provides the more spectacular elephant ears and hostas for larger leaf bowls, our smaller magnolia leaves were a great first experiment. The leaves are pressed over the plastic-covered, mounded sand to provide a cup-shaped support. Wet cement is patted in place, the edges smoothed along the leaf edge, and set aside to thoroughly dry...for a few days to a week depending on the thickness of the cement. Acrylic paints were added at our pleasure and the whole leaf sprayed with concrete sealer. Voilá! Garden art. Something new to cement into my arsenal of art activities.

What are some of the cemented routines of your life? What, if anything, prompts you to un-cement yourself from these set-in-cement activities? If you were to step outside a chiseled in stone part of your life, what wet and wonderful thing, mixed to the consistency of a brownie mix, would you like to try?