This month’s BirdZeed challenge word is “new.” I did not sit down with a blank sheet of paper and brainstorm what the word means to me as I sometimes do to get started. Instead, I was talking with a friend about taking a step and doing something new and I imagined standing on a brink, looking down into a swirling blue abyss. I imagined jumping and when I got back to the surface and was again looking down at the blue, it was shimmering. I quilted the blue circle and some of the black background with a shimmery blue thread (Superior Threads Magnifico) to suggest that shimmering excitement of having jumped.
What is Creative Play and why do I keep talking about it? Well, I keep talking about it because after many, many years of fighting it, I have finally realized how very important it is. I stopped playing at about oh, two years of age. That’s probably a bit of an exaggeration, but not much of one. My mom has told me that I was the most mature five year-old she had ever met (and I think she really means “serious” when she says “mature”). My sister can vouch for what a stick-in-the-mud I was as a kid. Needless to say, I carried that into adulthood too. I love reading, but I read mostly non-fiction or classic, serious fiction. I took up quilting as a hobby initially because it resulted in something useful and was something that I could do while watching TV and thus otherwise “wasting” time. Honestly, it’s amazing people wanted to spend time with me!
I started playing in 2008, at the ripe old age of 33. That’s when I started my “Creative Play” blog and I went into the studio each week with the sole purpose of playing. During that time, I tried out many new techniques and I learned a lot. The most important thing that I learned from that experience, however, was how play feeds creativity. That period was one of the most creative times in my life, precisely because I was leaving room for creativity. I was just playing around to see what happened and what happened was some of my best work.
Fast forward to today, when after a hiatus from playing and after having fallen back into my old pattern, I am again leaving some time for creativity. A few weeks ago, I decided on a Friday to not make a To Do list. I decided that I wouldn’t work on any of the projects on my work table (unless I really felt moved to) and that I would just see what the day brought. I had barely finished my first cup of tea when I started thinking about the BirdZeed challenge word for the month. It was the 27th of January, four days from the end of the month, and I had had no intention whatsoever of doing the challenge. The word was “line” and I had not been inspired. But, on that day that I had left open, I decided to take up the challenge. An idea came very quickly to me and I made a good start on the piece. After buying some supplies, I finished it up before the end of the month. I had no plan to create this work, but because I gave myself some play time, my creativity flourished and I created one of my most heartfelt pieces to date. Read more about what it means to me in my blog post.
This week’s assignment in my sketching and watercolor class was to draw a machine-made object. I spent some time noodling over what object had meaning to me that I wanted to draw when I looked down on my work table and the answer became obvious:
Because this month’s BirdZeed challenge word was “pink,” I chose a pink color for the “fabric” in the background.
Here’s the finished piece for the BirdZeed January Challenge. “Line” was the inspiration word. For this piece, I began by thinking of phrases about lines: “Walk the Line,” “Tow the Line,” and “Line in the Sand,” which is the one that Robyn mentioned in her blog post about the Alamo in San Antonio. “Line in the Sand” made me think about the recent Women’s Marches, thus I made this piece with lines of text from speeches and signs at the marches, crossed by a pink “line in the sand.” The piece is dyed in tea, so that it wasn’t the bright white of the original fabric, but also because as a resident of Boston, tea is a symbol of protest, of revolution, of political action.
What this piece means to me:
Last night I was in the car with my husband and 4 year old daughter. My husband turned to me and said, “Guess what word our daughter knows.” I dreaded the answer, but was not expecting: “Trump.”
“His name is Donald Trump,” our daughter piped in from the back seat. “And Mommy doesn’t like him. I know because she was sad that day on the beach.” We were on vacation with friends the week of the election in a Grand Cayman paradise. The morning after the election, I took my cup of tea outside and sat on the beach, looking over the water and crying. My daughter came out and asked me why I was sad. “How does one explain an election to a 4 year old?” I wondered, but I did my best and said, “Every four years we have what is called an election to decide who we all want to be the leader of this country. Everyone in the country (I did not get into the fact that that isn’t remotely true but decided to keep it simple) says which person they want to lead, the votes are all added up and the person with the most votes wins. (I didn’t get into the details of the Electoral College and how majority vote doesn’t really win either.) I am sad because I wanted Hillary Clinton to win but Donald Trump won instead.” That was a sufficient explanation for her and she gave me a hug and went back inside.
I couldn’t really tell her that I was crying because, as a woman, I was deeply saddened and afraid because my fellow countrymen and women had voted for a misogynist who jokes about sexual assault. I couldn’t tell her about the deeply personal posts I had seen on Facebook from loved ones who had broken decades of silence about their own experiences with sexual assault to plead with people to not vote for such a human being. I couldn’t tell her that as the mother of a very young girl, I was deeply distraught about my ability to protect her, to keep her safe from the sexual predation that has been a lifelong fear of mine.
I did not attend the Women’s March in Boston and I felt a little guilty about that, enough to question myself about why. The easy answer is that I don’t like crowds, but it wasn’t just that. I realized that I was still grieving over the election. I was still in denial on Inauguration Day and was not yet ready for action. I still may not be, but that does not mean I don’t feel very deeply troubled about our country and that’s what is in Line in the Sand. I stand with the women and men who marched, who wrote slogans and made speeches, and who said, “No. Enough. No more. This is our line in the sand.” The last slogan on the work is one I saw on a vintage suffragette banner; it serves as a reminder that this struggle is a long one and not yet won. I may not have marched (yet), but I stand together with those who did and with my foremothers before.
I’ve seen a few “Year in Review” blog posts lately and decided that it is a great idea. I have long done that in my personal life and it seems like a good practice for my quilting work too so here goes:
- One of my biggest quilting accomplishments this year has to be publishing “Ravaging Rio and the Ghost in the Library.” This project had been on my mind for years and this year, I finally finished all of the quilts for the pages, photographed them (learning how to take good photos of quilts in the process), and self-published the book. While a graphic designer and professional book publisher could have done more with it, there is nothing like having a book that you created in your hands and it was great to bring it to fruition.
- I made 10 other quilts this year, in addition to the Rio ones. Most of them were wall hangings and many were created as small projects for the monthly BirdZeed challenges, but 10 completed projects is pretty exciting.
- I also began publishing my Creative Play Newsletter this year, which has legitimized all of the time that I spend reading and thinking about creativity and has given me a good excuse to buy more books on the topic.
- Lastly, I re-energized my teaching by participating in the New England Quilt Museum’s Meet the Teachers day in October. Self-promotion is not my strong suit, but I had a wonderful day meeting with guild reps and talking about the workshops that I offer. Actually enjoying that day reinforced for me that a quilting career is indeed the right path because I’ve never had that much fun talking about consulting.
So, what’s up for 2017? Well, 2017 represents my 20th year of quilting. I feel like I should have a celebration. I don’t know what that will be yet, but it gives me something to think about. Otherwise, here are my goals for the year:
- I’m hoping that my sister finishes another Rio book and I can start working on some new illustrations.
- I have several Arabesques quilts in mind so I would like to continue work on that series.
- I would like to teach more locally and get back into teaching online. If you know of anyone looking for a quilting workshop, send them my way!
This month’s BirdZeed word was “Celebration.” In what was an oddly religious moment for me, I was inspired by the star shining on the night Jesus was born. (It probably had to do with trying to explain Christmas to my 4 year old after reading a book that had a manger scene in it.) Here’s the final project:
I felt like a kid with a coloring book adding the Tsukineko inks to my illuminated letter for the BirdZeed “Typography” challenge for November. I am definitely going to have to find more ways to use the inks! The only bummer was realizing that I missed one of the flowers after I had rinsed the inks off the tray. Do you see the one I missed? Oops.
I have been continuing to work on my BirdZeed project for November, for which I’m quilting an illuminated letter. I drew out my design on Golden Threads quilting paper. This was the first time that I had used the paper and I’m sold. I used tracing paper before because I had it on hand and it was a complete pain to remove. The Golden Threads came off pretty easily, even with the tiny, tiny little sections I sewed. (I found that scratching at it like I was rubbing a scratch ticket worked well in those little spots, though my studio does need a serious vacuuming.) However, I used pencil to draw my design right on the paper and I don’t recommend that. Sketch on regular paper and then copy the final design with a permanent marker or something because the pencil lead seems to have really rubbed off on the thread. The drawn side was up and was not touching the fabric, but this looks like I quilted with gray thread and I did not. The thread was white when I started. So, lesson learned.
I’m now boning up on how to use Tsukineko inks for the next step – coloring between the lines! I’ve only used the inks a tiny bit before so this is going to be some real Creative Play for me. I can’t wait!
This month’s Birdzeed challenge word is “typography.” My first inclination was toward Arabic calligraphy, but then I thought about illuminated letters. This is just a rough sketch, but here’s what I am planning: