Creatives Talk

Iris van Herpen designs

Somewhere between the shock of a pandemic shutting the entire world down and its ripple effects, and this month’s realization that this quarantine stuff — if everyone plays nice — will probably go on for another year, I found an article where two creative forces, the designer Iris van Herpen and the choreographer Damien Jalet had a conversation.

It was May 2020, and after holding our breath since mid-March, we slowly began to exhale, wondering how we were going to get through this, would we ever get through this, and how to pick up the pieces of lives, covid-style. And then this article came into view (one in a series from The Big Ideas in the New York Times).

As you can see from van Herpen’s designs, she is not your average fashion designer. So this excerpt surprised me (Damien Jalet, asking the question):

Stanley Kubrick said that some of the artistic failures of the 20th century came from an obsession with total originality, and that innovation didn’t happen through abandoning the classical art form of your own discipline. . . Does the question “Is what I’m doing original?” ever come up in your creative process?

cotton quilt blocks from 1890, from here

At one point in our quilting world, we quilters spent a lot of time and spilled a lot of ink (figuratively speaking) over this issue. We were rabid with the question of who came up with this idea first? Who was the first one on the planet to draw a particular block, make a particular quilt, yada yada yada.

Scrappy Stars, from here

Ms. van Herpen replies:

Nothing comes out of nothing, so the craftsmanship that we master we can attribute to a long evolution of craftsmanship and innovation combined throughout so many centuries. And we are looking at that constantly. So in that sense, I don’t believe at all in originality. But at the same time we are combining it with technologies of today and newer techniques… Without the knowledge of the traditional craftsmanship, we would not be able to integrate these new techniques at all. So they really need each other.

Nothing comes out of nothing. This implies that we quilters, without the history of what has come before us, would not be able to create our designs and our quilts. In her words, “we really need each other.”

Log Cabin quilt, 1870

Back to Kubrick’s idea. I remember in my earlier days striving mightily to create something totally my own, something that had no origin from anything that we were familiar with. Anywhere. My early attempts were, as he says, “failures” as they “came from an obsession with total originality.”

D.C. Dots & Dithers, from here

Slowly I began to remember that when I was in college, in photography class, one of my professors noted that we don’t have to be original, that most of the best ideas are really only 10% new — anything more and they would be too far out of the mainstream to be accepted or enjoyed. An article on The Next Web reiterates this:

There is no such thing as a new idea. One of the most beautiful things about humanity is our ability to build on each other’s ideas, making small tweaks and giant leaps into new innovations. That doesn’t mean your ideas aren’t potentially interesting and even important — just don’t ever call them “original.”

The idea, that I don’t have to be original or new or startling or gee-whiz-bang, and that I can just make a solid quilt with good color choices and a somewhat fresh take, is a relief.

Criss-Cross Color

from Barbara Brackman’s Encyclopedia of Quilt patterns: a four-patch block known as a Lattice block

from here

This month’s Gridster Bee Block, chosen by Bette has its origins in a Churn Dash variation, known as Puss in the Corner, from Nancy Page in the 1920s:

I admit, sometimes I doodle around and then hit Barbara Brackman’s book to see what our early quilters did, and often what I think is something I’ve discovered, is actually on the pages of the Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns. There’s a whimsical sort of — well, of course — that goes on, but also another link from me to those women long ago. I honor this connection to our “classical art form of [our] own discipline.”

Happy Stitching!

Some Thoughts on Our Nation’s Milestone

COVID-19 Map_ May 24_2020

For several months, I’ve awoken every morning, and looked at this map.  I remember when not every state had COVID-19, I remember when New York started spiking, I remember when we started our stay-at-home time some two months ago.

I was aware that we were coming closer to the milestone of 100,000 deaths during this pandemic, and I thought about all I’d read about the Spanish Flu when I was in graduate school and wrote a short story about a dancer and her young soldier who went off to war and never came home, felled by the influenza that ravaged the world in 1918.

But how would I choose to depict our losses in our pandemic?

Kentucky Death Quilt

from here

I’d seen death quilts, with little coffins neatly stitched, tucked away in their little graveyard or around the edges of quilt.  Or would I want to depict them as Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae did, in his poem Flanders Fields?In Flanders fields the poppies

 

But this past Sunday morning, I saw this:

COVID-19_NYTimes1

I read the article online, scrolling through the humanizing choice that this paper had made, to give a person’s name and a salient, interesting fact about them from their published obituary.

COVID-19_NYTimes2COVID-19_NYTimes3COVID-19_NYTimes4

At first it was just numbing, then I noticed this: a quilter.  I began to look for other quilters.

COVID-19_NYTimes5

I found several.

COVID-19_NYTimes6

And on one page, I found not only a quilter, but a “collector of people, laughter and good stories.”  It made me wonder: what one line would I want people to remember about me?  I found several intriguing qualities, and I reflected briefly on that person, especially the one who was “Faithful in corresponding through cards and handwritten notes.”  A woman after my own heart.

COVID-19_NYTimes7COVID-19_NYTimes8COVID-19_NYTimes9COVID-19_NYTimes9b

I loved Patricia Yanni’s quality: “Wasn’t afraid to try new things.”  So often we look to people’s achievements, that they were this important person, or grandmother to twenty-five, or CEO of a Big Corporation, but wouldn’t you rather be known as someone who wasn’t afraid to try new things?  I would.

COVID-19_NYTimes9c

I’d like to be known as someone who gets things done.

COVID-19_NYTimes10a

Someone who had a life-long passion for learning.

I circled the second one (in red) because now this was in my hometown, a hospital where I had gone for a surgery several years ago.  Rosa could have been someone who cleaned my room, made my bed.  I will think this week on all those lives that have been taken too soon.

COVID-19_NYTimes10b

COVID-19_NYTimes11

I will remember the quilters.

Sawtoothmania2

Returned Samples

Samples Returned

I didn’t want to open the envelope when these teaching samples came back, even though I’d been expecting them.  The Guild Program Chair wrote me a lovely note telling me they’d never had to cancel a speaker before, and they were sorry.

I cried.

outer shell virus trojan horse

How do I write a blog post about what’s going on under the surface for those of us who love going out and teaching and meeting new groups (groups of 50+!) and hanging out with quilters and celebrating what they make in their classes?

When Bill Kerr and Weeks Ringle of Modern Quilt Studio, in a newsletter, said that they’d canceled all classes and Guild visits until there is a vaccine, I knew that what I initially thought of a just-a-few-weeks experience was now going to be at least a year, if not two or three.

I think it’s been slowly dawning on most of us — as we stay carefully put, doing our “i-sew-lation” sewing, doing our best to be cheerful — that a creeping sadness is all around us.  It’s not only the horrific amount of deaths from Coivd-19 or the stories of those on the front lines in the hospitals or that we share memes incessantly, trying hard not to be sucked under. That creeping sadness some call grief (and that may be what it is), interrupts creativity, joy, connection, and a host of other daily living patterns.

Urge to create is gone cartoon

One morning’s walk this week, I dissolved in tears as my husband discussed all the formal steps we would have to take for possible retirement: forms to be signed, Zoom calls, separation from his job and mountains of research and careful planning. It wasn’t that we aren’t prepared or ready for this new shift in our lives.  I was just jealous that he had forms to be signed, Zoom calls and mountains of careful planning.

I cried because all of sudden, doing what I loved was gone, and for the foreseeable future–it would remain out of reach.  There were no forms to be signed.  Just a lonely envelope in the mail from a most kind fellow quilter.

So many tears for such a little crisis, I thought.  I immediately shifted into Counting the Blessings Mode, as that’s my usual.  I have a wonderful home to shelter in, a sufficiently stocked sewing room, a kind and loving husband who works hard to understand me, sufficient steady income, a large family of brothers and sisters and parents and children and grandchildren and a wide expanse of friends, both in person and digital.

But it’s just hard to retire when you weren’t expecting to, when you’d found what you really loved to do.  I don’t know how long it will be until I can greet quilting friends again in person.  No one knows. But we’ll all just keep going, keep trying to count our blessings, keep working to bridge that not-in-person gap that we all face.  Some days I do fine at this.

And other days an envelope makes me stop and have a good cry.

Happy Box.jpg

I’ll be in my Sewing Room — my particular version of a Happy Box — if you need me.

tiny nine patches

QuiltCon 2021.png

This came in my emailbox yesterday.  Given what I wrote about above, I’m not surprised.  I’m glad that the Modern Quilt Guild is being proactive on solving the problems that might exist in our new covid-centric world.

And as far as my teaching goes, I am in contact with my future quilt guild gigs, seeing what their plans are, if they will be holding events.  If you have questions, and have already booked with me, please get in contact to discuss.  Things change quickly.

tiny nine patches

The illlustration of the virus above is:

“A rendering of the outer shell of an adeno-associated virus with the exterior partially removed. The shell is used as a Trojan horse to deliver a genetic component of the coronavirus to raise an immune response. Credit: Eric Zinn and Luk H. Vandenberghe”

I thought the illustration beautiful.

Leisa and the Sawtooth Star Quilt

Leisa and I at quilt show

Back in the day, Leisa and I were always hanging out at quilt shows. But now, she spends a lot of her getting chemo treatments, dealing with ALLeukemia, and hanging out at UCIrvine, where she is being treated.

LeisaJohn on NBC news

Here’s a video clip from the NBC Nightly News that explains it all.

So I floated the idea of a quilt for her, texting out little group of sewers who have hung out for a while.  Everyone was on board: Lisa, Marlene, Laurel, Caitlin, Simone, Beth and I.  But what block?  Well, you know I’ve had Sawtooth Stars on the brain since the beginning of the year, so we all scrambled to put blocks together, with Laurel sewing the blocks together and our quilter, Cathy, getting it done in record time.  Laurel bound it for us, too.

LeisaSawtoothQlt grouping

Laurel and I worked on the arrangement for all the fun Sawtooth blocks we received from everyone.  We finished it in time for Leisa’s birthday, and Laurel took it over to her.

LeisaSawtoothQlt_0

A couple of weeks later, I had the chance to catch Leisa in between hospital visits.  (Her dog Marley loves the quilt.)

LeisaSawtoothQlt_1LeisaSawtoothQlt_2LeisaSawtoothQlt_3

Close-ups so you can see the quilting of loops and hearts and flowers.  Cathy shut down her business after this, so it was one of the last quilt tops she did.

LeisaSawtoothQlt_4

The backing is the Tula print with bears all over it.  Because of this we called the quilt:

Leisa Quilt Label

LeisaSawtoothQlt_5LeisaSawtoothQlt_6

And then this arrived in the mail: I’ve known Leisa for years, and she knows the way to my heart is a lovely note.  Tomorrow she heads back to her hospital for more treatments, and we hope our hugs provide solace as she works her way through this difficult part of her life.  My heart goes out to her and to her family, and I’m cognizant of others who have suffered the ravages of cancer.  I can only hope for healing for you all.

tiny nine patches

Shu Embroidery

Recently I learned of a young woman on YouTube, Liziqi, who is worth watching.  As one commenter wrote, “Li Ziqi makes Martha Stewart look like a slacker.”  I learned about her video on garlic through the seasons and I was hooked (trust me, you have to watch this).

I found the episode about Shu Embroidery.  She doesn’t actually weave the base cloth for her embroidery in this episode, but I have no doubt that she probably could.  (In this video, she makes a quilt).  The music is tasteful, the mood serene, and the fantasy about living off the land in the Chinese countryside is complete.  While I usually shy away from excessive YouTube watching, I’m going to make an exception for Liziqi.

Liziqi screen shot

To you, to Leisa: Life isn’t easy, as a screen shot from Liziqi’s website attests.  And while her saying is a bit cheesy, it does have some truth:  we can live with our hearts engaged, thinking about each other, and bringing forward our best offerings.

Like a quilt.

Bee Happy in April 2020

While I titled this Bee Happy in April 2020, part of that is a statement: I’m working on my Bee Happy Quilt, started at least a year ago.  But part of that is also a question: is it possible to be happy in April 2020?  Let’s tackle the first, wander through the second and I promise I’ll leave you with something funny.

BeeHappy6_2

Like many of you I’ve been reading — no, gorging — on the news at this time, and one article about how nature is taking back the canals of Venice, the meadows of Yosemite and how we are seeing less pollution in our skies also commented on the amount of bird songs available now to us in our own backyards.  So one mopey day, I pulled out my Lori Holt Bee Happy quilt (!) and started anew.  I sat at the kitchen table, stitching, listening to the avian calls, and took a break from the chatter.

BeeHappy6_1a
BeeHappy6_1
BeeHappy6_full quilt April 2020

Hens stitched, blocks sewn and what I’ve finished is all smoothed out onto my design wall, a sort of vertical storage these days. Three of her rows are finished, ending with the clucking hen sisters.  I numbered how many I have left: 13 blocks.

I’ve been making a little tip sheet to go along with all the weeks on Lori Holt’s blog, where she has all her photos and pictures.  However, sometimes the info is not arranged as easily as I would like, and so I offer these as an adjunct to those working on the quilt who also need a bit more.  Click to download the PDF files. They are found on a page up in the tab section, under 2020 Projects, if you need to find them again.

Bibimbap Bowl
African Peanut Stew

I laugh at those COVID-19 memes that list a full menu for dinner on the first three days then devolve down to cereal and soda by Day 20.  I alternate between complete angst at dinner time and diving in to make a cool meal.  Here are two of my successes: bibimbap (top) and African Peanut Stew (bottom, recipe on ElizabethCooks.com).  My daughter, who lives too far away, has been baking these:

Barbara Macarons

Baking and selling them.  She’s really mastered this treat.

Like the rest of you, I spend far too much time scrolling on my phone, I’ve been happy to see the contests sponsored by major museums across the world to have those of us keeping quarantine to mimic famous works of art.

Art Imitation Frida Kahlo
Art imitation Last Supper
Art Imitation Rivera
Covid Meme Quarantine houses

I also follow the hashtag #quarantineart to break up the quilty quality of my IG feed, where I found this image.

Other components of our COVID-19 lives: Zoom conferences (this time with my brothers and sisters and my two elderly parents highly quarantined in their senior living building), memes, walks around our neighborhood in the morning, and finally, peering into the homes of TV newscasters, where I spotted a quilt on the back of a sofa.  Hey!  A quilter lives there…or at least they appreciate a quilt.

So, can we be happy in April 2020?  Possibly.  Probably.  Often.  Sometimes. Always.  Occasionally.

In January 2020, way back in another time and place, my local quilt shop asked us to nominate someone who could use a sewing machine in their lives, along with some sewing helps from Olfa and fabric from the store.  I wrote about my friend Hayley, a young mom who is in my First Monday Sew-day group, who has really taken to quilting.  She’s the wife a medical student, and has a sweet young daughter.  I then waited…and waited…and finally heard this week that she had been chosen!

Hayley Wins Machine
Hayley Wins Machine2

We all wore our masks, kept our social distance, and Janet, the shop owner read from a prepared paper, thanking all those responsible for giving this award.  Then the curtains parted to reveal a sewing machine–Hayley started to cry, I started to cry, Janet started to get emotional.  I was so happy that someone who is starting to love quilting could get her own machine.  Here’s the video on Facebook.

Kay sews a mask

Now a funny video about how to sew a mask.

Here’s hoping you’ll  Bee Happy/be happy in April 2020!

Economy and Rough Drafts

Economy Block_6

I help teach a group of beginning quilters, and we call ourselves First Monday Sew-day, and yes, I know it’s not the First Monday today, but it’s COVID-19 season and nothing is normal anymore.  For this First Monday Sew-day, I chose to teach the Economy block, also known as the Square-in-a-Square block.

April 2020 First Monday ILLUS.png

I’ve made a little handout to go along with this, which includes a detailed chart of measurements.  Click to download the PDF file:

FirstMondaySewday_4_2020

(NOTE: I’ve also collected all my First Monday Posts and put them in their own page at the top of my blog, just in case you want to find them easily.)

Economy Block_1

I looked at Catbird Quilt Studios’ chart, but then decided I wanted to test out my own measurements.  First I cut some sunny yellow fabric for the centers.

Economy Block_2

I pulled some neutrals from my stash, cut the triangles, then painstakingly went through each measurement, adjusting it to what I thought would work for teaching beginners, then went to work.

Economy Block_2a

After getting the first set of triangles on, I squared it up, jotting down the measurements as I went through each size.

Economy Block_4cEconomy Block_4bEconomy Block_4a

When you trim, do your best to leave a 1/4″ of seam allowance at each point, as shown above.

Economy Block_5

I love this color of blue, known around our house as painting-tape blue.

I’ve already put the triangles on the first two sides and pressed them.  Now I’m starting on the second set, with the finish below:Economy Block_3

Economy Block_7

Here are all the sizes, stacked up together.  I’m thinking bordering the smallest sizes again to equal that large 15″ block in the lower left, and seeing what evolves.

ISpy_ISpyPanel_Bermuda

This is a free pattern from the Robert Kaufman Fabric Company, and it uses the Economy block, but the quiltmaker fussy cut center blocks for more interest.

Into the Woods front

I added one more set of triangles on this economy block to get this quilt. Doing a search on “economy block” yields lots of images to scroll through.

Pinwheel with Economy.jpeg

I liked how this quilt maker had pinwheels inside their Economy blocks.  Our beginners learned how to make pinwheels when they learned about Half-Square Triangles.

tiny nine patches

Making Masks April 2020

And I’m still making masks.  I am making them for people I know, friends and family who need them as our particular county is a mask-wearing place.

Mask Iteration 4.jpg

So when two friends came by and I realized that these masks wouldn’t work for them, I went back to the Accordian-style mask, added a nosewire sleeve and turned the sides into plackets, through which I could slip some elastic.

I’d say this is the fourth or fifth iteration of cloth masks that I’ve made.  I kept wondering why I couldn’t be like all the other mask-makers of our particular universe, and just settle into one kind?  I was heartened by “Tear It Up and Start Again,” an article by Harry Guiness, that reminded me of things I used to teach my college students, back in the day.  I reminded them never to turn in their first draft, as the really good writing starts to happen on the third or fourth rounds (inevitably the class would groan about this point).  Guiness notes that “Too often, when it comes to self-improvement, we create idealized, top-down systems with unnatural rules and regulations. We naïvely assume that we will somehow stick to our rigid plans when life gets random and hard, throwing unavoidable chaos and crises into the mix.”

We’ve all had some unavoidable chaos recently.  While this article dealt more with those self-improvement plans we all make for ourselves (I hope you have all torn yours up during this stay-at-home time), I did like his nuggets of truth, such as this one: “When a plan or resolution fails, the solution isn’t to dismiss it and try a new, equally rigid prescription next year or next time. It’s to build on what worked, ruthlessly cut what didn’t and start straight away on a much-improved second draft.”  I like that I won’t have to discard what I learned in my first draft, but can carry forward the best parts.

“I never lose. I win or learn.” This phrase has been attributed to many, but whoever said it was on to something.  Hopefully we won’t lose during this time of forced idleness (for some), crashing boredom (for some), an onslaught of toomuchtodo (for some).  We can win at our tasks if everything goes smoothly.  However, you can tell by my variety of masks that it doesn’t — usually — go smoothly for me, but we can still learn new things about others, or new things about ourselves.

I’ve learned I like to tinker to figure out which mask will fit which face.  I’ve learned that I can’t read the news before I go to bed at night.  I’ve learned that my current forced isolation and distraction (courtesy of the novel corona virus) is not the best working environment for getting my quilting projects done.

I’ve learned a million new science-y facts about peak dates and doubling rates and flattening the curve and so on (I am married to a scientist), which may or may not come in handy in the Life After COVID-19.  But hopefully I’ve also learned that my first drafts can lead to successful subsequent drafts, no matter whether it’s writing, or quilting, or making masks.

tiny-nine-patches

Last Supper

The Last Supper of Christ, by Jorge Coco

Happy Easter to everyone!