Sunday, May 31, 2009

Art Quilting As Therapy

Notebook Series: #11

Last month, I was contacted by Kathy Peterson, a designer, author, and TV host for Lifetime Television.  She had discovered my website and extended an invitation for me to be a guest blogger on Craft For Health, a web site devoted to stories of people who use their crafting as therapy in dealing with illness, grief, depression, and many other life-altering situations.  I was truly flattered, and I submitted an entry, which was posted on May 18th; I'm reprinting it below.

It’s taken me a long time to discover that the handwork passions I have pursued all of my life are my therapies in disguise.  I’ve always felt that there was a frustrated artist lurking below my veneer of high school math teacher.  I had complained for years that I was unable to meditate successfully (my mind continually moves around in ridiculous directions), and it took a highly intuitive friend to help me realize that machine quilting is my form of meditation.

 I enter a different world when I walk into my studio.  The physical aches and pains that accompany six decades of living seem to fade into the background –- I am about to have fun with fabric and thread, and nothing else matters.  It is nearly impossible for my mind to wander too far from the project before me; the left half of my brain, which has guided me through 24 years of teaching mathematics, refuses to give up on solving the problem at hand until the right half has played with all the possibilities.

 I seem to be in my most meditative state when I am guiding the quilt sandwich through the machine, following the lines of the motifs which I have drawn on the fabric, concentrating on the size of the stitches as I strive for uniformity.  Sometimes there is a great deal of un-sewing, but I know this is necessary, because, in the end, I want to experience that rush of joy at seeing my vision come to life in fabric.

There are some profoundly moving entries on the site, written by some incredibly talented artists. Please take a few moments to read their stories -- I guarantee they will touch your heart.  There are so many wonderful people to meet along this creative journey, and I believe that I am learning something special from each one of them.

Wishing you a peaceful, joyful week ahead.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Embracing All That Is Me (With Great Difficulty)

Notebook Series: #10
Private Collection

"Loving ourselves is a choice we must make if we are to fulfill our destiny as creators."

Artist Jeanne Carbonetti

Sue Ludwig, a very caring friend whom I met years ago at Quilting By The Lake, recently read one of my blog posts in which I expressed my desire to be more right-brained.  She sent me a lovely email, and I'm printing parts of it here, with her permission -- it made me stop and think.

Diane --

You're always trying to fight your left-brainedness; as a quilter, I was trying to do that myself, being very left-brained.  I know you're talking about your process as well as your product, but did you ever think of celebrating [your left-brain] instead?  I mean, mathematics is one of your muses; it's responsible for order and unity and many other things I don't understand.  And your quilts display that . . . Just thinking . . .


Her note made me smile, and I found myself taking a different look at my creative process. I've decided that, at my age, I'd better start to embrace who I am, warts and all; although I hope to continue to grow and learn, it's probably a little late to completely reinvent myself.  So, thank you, Sue.

Please share your thoughts on your own creative process -- have you come to accept the artist who you've become? 

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Creative Process Continues . . .

Notebook Series: #16

"Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes; art is knowing which ones to keep."

"Dilbert" creator Scott Adams

Now comes the second phase in the process of creating my next large quilt (please see my post of April 24 for the beginning steps).  At this point, the techniques still involve the precision of Mr. Left Brain, but Mr. Right Brain knows his turn is coming, so the two halves cooperate nicely with each other and I move along fairly quickly.
  • I now place fusible interfacing (I prefer Pellon Lightweight Shirtailor) over each motif in the cartoon and trace the outlines in ink.  I draw dots on the interfacing, rather than a solid line, for two reasons: (1) dots are less likely to show along the edge of the fused piece after it's appliquéd in place, and (2)  if I were drawing a continuous line, the pen would drag along the interfacing and distort the image.
  • All of the interfacing shapes are cut out, leaving about a quarter-inch allowance around each one.
  • I tape the master pattern to a glass door; I then tape my background fabric (also interfaced) over the pattern and trace the position of the motifs onto the background with a Clover white marking pen.
  •  I pin the background fabric to my design board and pin the interfacing shapes in their approximate places. 
  • Now the fun begins: the pieces of fabric show up for their audition.  Believe me, they all get a lot of time on the stage before I decide whether or not to send them to Hollywood (waaay too much "American Idol" lately . . .).  When I feel fairly certain of my choices, then, and only then, do the scissors make an appearance (I'm so stingy with my fabric that I hate to cut it and have to discard it -- but nothing is ever set in stone, so I do have a lot of orphaned shapes when I'm done).
More to come in a future post.  In the meantime, enjoy this wonderful weekend as we officially welcome summer. 

Monday, May 18, 2009

Home Again . . .

I've had two wonderful opportunities to travel a bit lately, and now that I'm finally unpacked (why does that always take so long to do?), I'm excited to share what I've seen and learned.  

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure and privilege of taking a class from Sharon Schamber, whose work I have long admired.  The workshop focused on the basics of machine stippling, and Sharon is a wealth of knowledge on this subject (and many others, as well).  The pattern pictured above was included with the class and contains a DVD which thoroughly explains her technique (this pattern can be purchased from her web site).  

We started with baby steps, however, and it's a good thing we did -- working with such tiny stitches obviously takes a great deal of patience and practice.  My first attempts are pictured above, and I needed a neck massage when I was done.  The size of my sample is approximately 3" by 6".  I also found myself holding my breath while stitching, a practice that is highly discouraged by Sharon, as it tends to make you a bit light-headed.  I used #60 Mettler fine embroidery thread on my sample, and I worked with Hobbs Heirloom wool batting for the first time; this type of batting has a good deal more loft than the cotton blends, and the result is a more textured quilt surface.  Needless to say, I was definitely out of my comfort zone, but that's a good place for me to be if I'm going to improve my skills.  

I hope to share more about my journeys in a future post.  My thanks to all of you who follow my blog -- I am always grateful.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Venturing Into the Unknown

"Never be afraid to try something new.  Remember, amateurs built the ark; professionals built the Titanic."

(author unknown)

I've taken several workshops from Jane Sassaman, whom I adore, and I learned more than I can possibly put down on paper.  One technique she demonstrated was the "Ouija Method of Designing" -- difficult to describe without an accompanying video, but I'm going to try anyway.  

The idea is to create your design, make templates of the pieces you wish to appliqué, cut them out in your chosen fabrics, place them on your background on a horizontal surface according to your original layout, and then move them around as if you were moving the pointer on a Ouija board.  We all got the idea immediately as soon as Jane moved her hands in a "Ouija board" sort of manner (you're picturing this now, aren't you . . . ), and we learned to let go of our original design, even if only temporarily, to see if we could discover a better one.  A helpful tip is to take pictures of the different configurations along the way, so that you won't lose a brilliant discovery because it became buried after several more arrangements.  One of my first attempts is pictured above.

Then we came up with this one . . .

 . . . and this is how I thought it might look after I had finished cutting all the pieces.  It turns out, however, that I still wasn't pleased with the layout, and I invited my good friend, Pat Spillane, to come over recently and "Ouija" with me again.  The quilt is still a work in progress, and I'm learning to boldly go where I've never gone before (I must get out to see the new "Star Trek" movie soon . . .).

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Degas As Inspiration

From September 16 through October 18, 2009, the Hyde Museum in Glens Falls is mounting a citywide art and music event celebrating the genius of Edgar Degas.  The members of ARTAA, the fiber arts group to which I belong, are joining in the festivities by creating an exhibit using selected works of Degas as inspiration.  The painting chosen as a theme by most of the members is "Dancer With Red Stockings," since this work is owned by the Hyde Museum, and the interpretations promise to be exciting and wonderfully diverse in style (check out Pat Spillane's blog).

I chose a different direction for my entry into this challenge, after doing a little internet research into many of Degas' works.  Since my fiber art seems to be more representational than abstract or literal, I decided to portray flowers as dancers and created "Wallflowers #4: Deux Danseuses (Hommage à Edgar Degas)," shown above.  For those whose French may be a little rusty, the title translates to "Two Dancers (A Tribute to Edgar Degas)" -- special thanks to ARTAA member Francelise Dawkins for helping me to phrase it perfectly.  I was inspired by Degas' painting, "Deux Danseuses," finished in 1899, and the idea that ballet dancers and flowers both display graceful movement and artistic form.  I hope you agree.

Thank you for reading and commenting on my blog -- your kind words are so welcome and always inspirational to me.


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