creative block

(Yes.  Lower case title, just to reclaim some of my quirkiness.)

I recently posted about taking a break from the creative world, from the quilty world, from whatever and while I was gone, I had some to time to think about how I’d gotten to that non-creative place.

irons in a fire

I’d say, for me it was a factor of four: Time, Health, and Mental/Physical Fatigue, as well as a Too Much to Do.  My Dad used to say “Too many irons in the fire put out the flame.”  While a reference to the bars of iron that blacksmiths use, I did have too much going on.

creative block_99U

from here

I was intrigued with the idea of Creative Block, and one article “7 Types of Creative Block and What to Do About Them,” from my favorite place online (99U) discussed this issue, that apparently is a very-much-real thing.  In that piece, I liked the sub-topic of  Work habits that don’t work, as I have been struggling to (re)learn three new computer programs: EQ7 (I learn it, then forget it, and there’s so many hurdles with the design of this software…but then that’s another post), Affinity Photo (to replace Photoshop) and Affinity Designer (to replace Illustrator).  Three more irons in that proverbial fire.

99U’s advice to “[s]tep back and take a good look at how you’re working, and where the pain points are….If you don’t have enough energy, are you working at the right time of day? If you feel paralyzed by freedom, introduce more structure and order into your day. If you feel constrained by routine, find room for improvisation” felt like it was just for me.

I always love the Brain Pickings articles, and the review on a book from Danielle Krysa (Creative Block: Get Unstuck, Discover New Ideas. Advice & Projects from 50 Successful Artists) seems to hit some of those stuck spots:

Creative Block_Alex Cornell

Jessica Bell noted that “When I can’t make progress, it is often because I am mentally scattered; this happens when I am overcommitted or have a schedule without any breathing room in it. I have to have a lot of space and quiet in my head to think my best thoughts. An artist I admire told me a few years ago that “you can’t make art in the cracks.” Carving out a block of time devoted to nothing else but the pursuit of new work has never steered me wrong.”

So,  Miss Gasoline Station stepped aside and made space for some creative time.  I’ll be posting a few projects in the next post, but since it’s summer and it’s time to play, it’s good to keep a balance between working and quilting and cooking and playing and family and friends…

Family Reunion_stone house

Eastmond Family Reunion, atop Brian Head Peak (11,000+ feet)

Thanks to all of you who wrote and left comments on my last post.  We headed out that day for a family reunion and I left the keyboard behind, but I read them all and appreciated your encouragement.  I’m slipping back into the creative life, one stitch at a time.

7 Magic MountainsThe block of granite which was an obstacle in the pathway of the weak becomes a stepping stone in the pathway of the strong. –Thomas Carlyle

Each is given a bag of tools,
A shapeless mass and a book of rules;
And each must make, ere life is flown,
A stumbling block or a stepping stone.

–R. L. Sharpe

Giveaway Banner

Because who knows what might spur your creativity, I’ve got some books to give away.  If what I’m giving away (this will go on, erratically, for several posts) tickles your fancy or appeals to you in some way, if you leave a comment, please let me know you’d like to enter the giveaway.  Some of the books are ones I’ve purchased and read, and no longer need; others were publisher giveaways at Quilt Market, and it’s time to pass them on.

Grifka Book1

The first one is Lines by Design by Debbie Grifka, a lovely book on how to make elegant modern quilts.  Good luck!  Giveaway will close in a few days and I’ll contact the winner by email and get it sent out.

 

Quilting System

System_1

Some time ago, Oliver Burkeman, writing in the Guardian newspaper, discussed the idea of implementing “systems” rather than using goals when we are striving toward a new frontier, whether it be in quilting, or better exercise.  He starts by quoting the Dilbert creator, Scott Adams:

“when you’re trying to get better at something – a creative skill, such as cartooning, or a habit, such as regular exercise – think in terms of systems, not goals” for “when you approach life as a sequence of milestones to be achieved, you exist “in a state of near-continuous failure.” Almost all the time, by definition, you’re not at the place you’ve defined as embodying accomplishment or success. And should you get there, you’ll find you’ve lost the very thing that gave you a sense of purpose – so you’ll formulate a new goal and start again.”

Systems ideas mean that if you are a person who walks in the morning, you’ll strive to change one small thing about your stride, or improve your time slightly, and incorporate that into your exercise.  The trick is to keep it simple and small, much like the kaizen idea formulated in Japan, which means continuous change for the better.

Adams notes that working in a system is “something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run,” regardless of immediate outcome. Burkeman goes on to say that “drawing one cartoon a day is a system; so is resolving to take some kind of exercise daily – rather than setting a goal, like being able to run a marathon in four hours. One system that’s currently popular online goes by the name “No Zero Days”: the idea is simply not to let a single day pass without doing something, however tiny, towards some important project.”

Keagan_6

So how does this apply to quilting?

If you think of all our words for unfinished goals (e.g.: WIP, UFO, etc.) and look at the number of online “finishing” blogs that give away prizes if you finish quilts on your list, you can see that we in the quilting world might need the idea of a system.

What IF you approached it as having no zero days…or…continuously making one small change for the better (kaizen) by sewing for small increments at a regular basis, rather than trying to do a blitz over a weekend?  Certainly how your time is managed for you has an impact, for I recognize that small children, spouses, bosses and health issues can indeed interrupt the time available to you.  But what if you had a idea of doing a small part of your project, but doing it daily? Soon your system would bring you to a completed quilt project.

goals

from Here

It’s hard to grasp the idea of process, especially if you’ve spent your life thinking in terms of product. We’re very good at beating ourselves up over our procrastination or lack of motivation or our inability to get that quilt done.   But I like the idea of leaving behind a “state of near-continuous failure,” exchanging that instead for a series of small, manageable tasks that become a part of my day.

shine-block_quilting

I leave with you a little saying on my bookshelf from a past leader in my church, which, when I’ve overwhelmed myself, helps keeps me centered:

Making Progress on Oh Christmas Tree Quilt

OhChristmasTree7_Final

Remember this?  And did you know there are (at this writing) about  35 days until Christmas?  So I decided I’d better get to it.  counter-pinning_1

Since rolling around on the floor pin basting a quilt is not really something I want to do, I do my pin basting on the counters now.  Some people use ping pong tables or dining room tables, but the principles are all the same:  Tape/clamp the backing to the counter, using the edges of the counter to help locate the center of the backing, and keeping it straight.counter-pinning_2

Lay out the batting, previously cut to size.  Tape down.counter-pinning_3 counter-pinning_4

Drape the quilt over the above, matching centers and getting it on straight to both axis–both North-South and Left-Right.  (Ask me how I know this.)  But I did find out that you can unpin pretty quickly when you find out you neglected to pay attention to the Left-Right axis.  Quilt is all pinned now.

oct_quilting-around-flowers

That felt is really thick on some parts, so I used it to help scoot my needle around the disc.  I decided not to quilt through the felt ornaments, but to instead outline them.  I know I may go back in at some point and put in some stitches so that it is not too poofy, but aware of the deadline, I just outlined today.  On the first day of quilting, I did all the way around the tree–all flowers, leaves, birds and the manger scene at the bottom.oct_quilting-background2

Then I had some time left before the next interruption activity, so I had decided to keep going on the background around the tree.  I had chosen a really really really low-key free-motion design for that space, given how much was going on in the rest of the quilt.  I quilted little stars (less than 1″ tall) and loopy lines in between them, using a matching thread: Masterpiece from Superior Threads.  Bisque is my go-to color for nearly everything and it worked well here, too.oct_quilting-background

At the end of the first day I felt like I made great progress: all around the tree stuff and then all the neutral background on the righthand side.

oct-day-2_1

Day Two.  I tackled the lefthand side of the tree, filling in the background with the loopy star path, as before.  I am trying to get better at “puddling” up the quilt all around me so I don’t end up tugging and pulling as I work.  Lots to learn.  I have a Sweet Sixteen Handi-Quilter quilting machine, and I’m amazed at how much more quickly I can stitch a vast amount of quilt, than I could when using my domestic machine.oct-day-2_2

After I completed the center background fill, I outlined the triangles, then stitched in the ditch down the backside of them in a long straight line, outlining them.
oct-day-2_3

Here I am at the end of my quilting session on Day Two.  I’m now stalled at how to quilt the wonky stars and am letting my brain think about it for a while.  I might yet make my deadline of Dec. 1 if I can work out the stars challenge.

I also realized that I shouldn’t do a star-studded-over-the-top quilting job, as it will change the look of the quilt.  Those wool appliqué pieces are rather flat and glob-like, if you want to know the truth, and if I quilt heavily, it will further emphasize that they are “floating” on top of the quilt.  I’m trying to keep everything flat, not puffy, so that the quilting feels integrated with the quilt.

As I reviewed the quilts I’ve made this year, it feels like it’s been the Year of the Tiny.  Some of it is due to group challenges, like Four-in-Art, some of it is due to swaps and collaborations, and a lot of it was due to my being gone a lot from home.  I can’t get the work done if I’m not here.  Writers have a phrase for it, something to the effect of the need to apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair in order to get to the writing.  And unlike writing, with its portable paper and pen (computer?), when quilting, there is a lot of stuff you need, that can only be found in the sewing studio, room, or nook.

Joseph Campbell understood the idea of a place to create, when he noted that

“To have a sacred place is an absolute necessity for anybody today. You must have a room or a certain hour of the day or so, where you do not know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody or what they owe you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. …This is the place of creative incubation. At first, you may find nothing happens there. But, if you have a sacred place and use it, take advantage of it, something will happen.”

Annie Dillard wrote about the time she had a space upstairs in an office with a window.  She reached over and closed the blinds, even on the Fourth of July so she could keep writing, undistracted by the view, the noise, by anything.  I had a quote of hers taped to my computer when I was in grad school:

“Every morning you climb several flights or stairs, enter your study, open the French doors, and slide your desk and chair out into the middle of the air.  The desk and chair float thirty feet from the ground, between the crowns of maple trees.  The furniture is in place; you go back for your thermos of coffee.  Then, wincing, you step out again through the French doors and sit down on the chair and look over the desktop.  You can see clear to the river from here in the winter.  You pour yourself a cup of coffee.

Birds fly under your chair.  In spring, when the leaves open in the maple’s crown, your view stops in the treetops just beyond the desk; yellow warblers hiss and whisper on the high twigs, and catch flies.  Get to work.  You work is to keep cranking the flywheel that turns the gears that spin the belt in the engine of belief that keeps you and your desk in midair.”

We are the same in our places of creation, whether it be the dining room, the corner of a bedroom, or a big fancy studio.  We need our place to create, we need distraction-free blocks of time.  We need to keep cranking the flywheel, to turn those creative gears.

We need to work.

Uppercase Fabrics, Kevin Umana, and Creativity Breakout

KevinUmanaSnap

This post is the story of two creatives, well, maybe three.  One is an artist living and working in Los Angeles.  That’s Kevin Umaña, up there.Vangool

Another is Janine Vangool, a graphic artist and editor-in-chief of Uppercase Magazine in Canada, who recently released a line of fabric through Windham Fabrics (photo of Janine from *here*).

And then there’s me, but you know what I look like.

UmanaUppercaseQuilts1

And it’s also the tale of two quilts and a quilt block (which is at the end, by the giveaway from Uppercase and Janine, so keep reading).KevinUmanaIGfeed1

Some time ago, my nephew linked me over to Kevin’s Instagram feed, as he knew I am slightly passionate about quilts and designs, and I’m especially in love the the “grid.”  Apparently Kevin loves it too, as well as color and shape and repeated lines. (All these images are posted with his permission.)
KevinUmanaIGfeed3

I had sort of been in a creative slump, slightly burned out, not really knowing what to do next besides bee blocks and the Same Old. Idly scrolling through Kevin’s feed one afternoon, I found a few designs that interested me; he and I began to correspond, and then collaborate.

Stitch-IlloAbout the same time, Uppercase Magazine‘s Janine Vangool announced that they were producing an Encyclopedia (images from Uppercase’s website), and the one that interested me was her Stitch-Illo, one of three that was launching the Encyclopedia series.  Since I’d missed submitting to her Compendium (which is always on my nightstand), I went right to her website and started choosing pictures to submit, planning on getting the submission in early. Everything was going along swimmingly until I hit this question: “What makes your work unique?”

Unique?

No matter what I wrote, it sounded trite and useless and idiotic and banal and cliched, and believe I re-wrote the answer to that question about 50 times. I felt dead in the water.  (I’m sure Kevin wondered what happened to me.)  It was like coming up to a mirror and instead of seeing a reflection of my image, it was like seeing past me into an empty sewing room, forty million quilts stacked to the ceiling, but they were all somebody else’s vision or creation or idea.  Nothing unique anywhere.

That question rattled around in my head while on a trip with my husband, and where it rained nearly every day, giving me lots of time to think.  I slowly reviewed all the quilts I had pictures for while sitting in my hotel room, wondering; do we all make the same quilt, over and over?  Not our own same quilt, but the One of the Moment, currently seen on everyone’s Instagram feed, or splashed all over the quilty magazines?  Where was my unique?  If someone saw one of my quilts, would they say, “Oh, yes–that’s Elizabeth’s!”  And if I really had a unique, what was it?  What did it look like?  How could I tell it from someone else’s?

And in my more cynical moments, I’d say, “Well who cares, if it’s unique?  Doesn’t matter enough that I’m a maker, that I express myself with cloth and sewing and cutting and stitching?” Really helpful, right?

IllusionofColorsQuilt

Back home, I began looking at Kevin’s designs again.  In college we were encouraged to do “imitations” of writers, using their form in order to get the meter and the words under our creative nails, as a way of training up a writer. It was a form of limiting, giving us structure, but not letting us off the rails, so to speak.  So I decided to allow Kevin’s form to give me structure. And I chose to limit my fabrics to a (delightful) bundle of Janine’s Uppercase fabrics, which I’d purchased at Market.

The first experiment (above) with Kevin’s work was almost an exact copy.

KevinUmanaIGfeed2

Umana Cross Quilt 2

But the second quilt took off on its own.

Crossroads Center Block

The center cross morphed.
Crossroads_frontfinal Crossroads_detail

Somewhere in here, the experiment sparked an original idea.  And when I quilted, I kept seeing more.Crossroads_3 Crossroads_2 Crossroads_1

Crossroads, after Umaña • Quilt #165

Until finally, I’m here.

I won’t tell you what I wrote for Uppercase, because in a way, it’s really irrelevant to the idea of this particular story.  What resonates is that challenge laid down in those words of the application, one that I think about to this day.  I’m incredibly grateful to Kevin for allowing me to collaborate with him, and to borrow a little from his light when I needed it.

I’m also grateful to creatives who make fabrics for me to use, such as the excellent line shown in this post.  All fabrics, with the exception of the solid white, are from Janine Vangool’s Uppercase Fabrics line.  Yes, even the wee metallic letters in the sunglasses below, an echo of Kevin’s at the top of the post.

UppercaseFabricSunglasses

 (Chuck Nohara block #345. Pattern for the Crossroads quilt coming soon to Craftsy.)

And finally, the cheesy way to close out a conundrum: let somebody else do the talking for you.

I narrow-mindedly outlawed the word ‘unique.’ Practically every press release contains it. Practically nothing ever is. (Fred Hechinger)

Every person born in this world represents something new, something that never existed before, something original and unique and every man or woman’s foremost task is the actualization of his or her unique, unprecedented and never recurring possibilities. (Martin Buber)

Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else. (Margaret Mead)

Nobody can be exactly like me. Even I have trouble doing it. (Tallulah Bankhead)

Giveaway Banner

Uppercase Giveaway

When I saw Janine at Quilt Market, her booth was handing out free Uppercase Magazines.  Since I’ve been a subscriber for several years, I mentioned to Janine that with the free magazine I could instead do a Giveaway on my blog, and she handed me another magazine, her fabric catalogue and the charm pack of her fabrics to sweeten the pot.  To enter, please leave a comment.  Blog followers get double their chances (shameless promotion), but it’s not necessary to follow to win. 

NOTE: Giveaway now closed.  Thanks to all who entered.

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And finally…

Giveaway Step 6_OCT

…congratulations to the winner of the Dresden Carnival book, Beth T, who wrote about making a squared Dresden plate block for her niece’s quilt.  I’ve sent you an email and I’ll get that off to you this week.  Thank you to all who entered.  You have lovely Dresden Plate Memories!

Three Mini Quilts and a Few Thoughts on Deliberate Practice

 

RoadFriendsHouse

The Road to a Friend’s House is Never Long, Quilt #159

I started this July 2015, and you know what happened to me shortly after that, so it was nice to get it fixed up and quilted, because I’d had a purpose in mind: a gift for a friend.

RoadFriendsHouse_back

Leisa likes it!  Pattern coming soon.  I used the new Northcott labels I bought at QuiltCon.  I just cut them apart, backed them with freezer paper, and ran them through my printer; see the complete how to under the tab “Tutorials,” above.

Thread Doodles_front

Thread Doodles, Quilt #160

And then there’s this one, a mini quilt made as a class sample for the Free Motion Quilting Class I’m teaching in late summer at Quilter’s Cocoon.  I had to think of a way for the students to practice their stitches, yet display what they’d learned in a pleasing way.  As soon as they master one of these stitches, I’ll have them stitch it onto their own class sample.  They may want to finish it all up that day, or may want to add to it as they get better.  Thread Doodles_back

I’m big on naming my quilts.  Another Northcott label.  After they are printed, I cut a square of lightweight interfacing and fuse it to the back the “light” section of the label so I won’t see the fabric underneath.

Electra Magnetic_front

Electra Magnetic, Quilt #161

I seem to be finishing up quite a few things lately, a nice change from the months November to February, where I felt swamped all the time, unable to seemingly get to anything.  Do you have times like that–like you see everything around you and just can’t get to it at all?  Where you are climbing, climbing Mt. NeverFinish and wish you could find the summit?  That’s why these minis feel like a success story to me.  Electra Magnetic_back

So, with all my rainbow-type quilts this past year, I’ve about run out of names.  Combine that with the funny comment I got on one of my quilts that they thought it looked like Hal the computer from the Space Odyssey 2001.  This quilt might also suffer from that comparison, so I thought I’d go with it.  The electromagnetic spectrum is all the colors, from those that we can see to those that we can’t; they call it “wavelengths, both visible and invisible.”  Okey, dokey.  So I feminized that idea and came up with Electra Magnetic, mother of Hal.

I’m still working on these patterns, and should have them out shortly.  Well, maybe not this week;  I’ll let you know.

But let not’s stop there today.  I have Brain Pickings in my Bloglovin’ Feed, and occasionally they hit a streak of book reviews on topics that interest me, and recently they did a review of Ursula LeGuin’s latest revision of her masterpiece on creative writing, Steering the Craft.  Brain Pickings references her written piece “How do you make something good?” and notes that:

LeGuin Quote1

Isn’t that also what quilters deal with?  We can make a decent quilt from stuff from the garage sale or someone’s basement (with that embedded fusty smell), but why not go for better ingredients?  We are surrounded by loads of high quality quilt fabric.  Perhaps instead of focusing on accruing endless supplies of this good fabric, why not focus on being good?  That means getting in those oft-cited 10,000 hours of practice, but as Joshua Foer noted, sometimes just making and making doesn’t bring us to the place of making something good.  Foer Quote 1

According to Joshua Foer, this is called hitting what is called the “OK plateau.”  That’s when we are just going through the rote mechanics of quilting, making quilts of only rectangles, or traditional fixed patterns in a loop that’s known as thinking from “bottom-up,” where we are good-enough, automated, rote practices to get our work done.  Yes, even those modern improv quilts with their fluid patterns can get stale.  Daniel Goleman notes how we can get stuck here:

Goleman Quote1

Foer also emphasizes this point: our deliberate practicing must be hard for us in order to engage that higher focus of creativity.  I, like many of you, can cut and stitch until I’m so bored I can’t slice one more piece of fabric or sew one more HST.  I’m falling right in line with studies that indicate that about four hours of concentrated deliberate practice is about the most amount of time we can do anything well.  At that point, we have to take a break and do other things.  Perhaps that’s why we are sometimes distracted by a new quilt, or a new design, or a new piece of fabric, as we try to restore our ability to refocus.  Perhaps we just need a break, in order to deliberately practice well.   But what I learned from these authors is that when I do come back to my quilting, I must “counteract the brain’s urge to automatize” and actively concentrate on what I’m doing.

So take a break, read that magazine, scroll through your IG feed, and then get back to it with a determination to make it good, make it better, and to fully engage.