I had an idea back in the 1980s to make quilts using ideas from Tarot cards. I was in a study group with two astrologers, Charley King and Kym Dickey, at the time. There is something about a connection with the Universe when you are in a group of like minds. It was esoteric. Everyone has their own individual Tarot Card. I had drawn my card earlier but when Charley asked who I was and I told him, he said let’s see. I thought this was a test and a challenge. I shuffled the deck and fanned it out — 72 cards, 22 of the Major Arcana. I put my energy into the cards. I was sure who I was but would the cards agree. I picked a card and turned it over — there I was, the exact card I told Charley that I was.
I was also taking college classes with a teacher learning Egyptology, and the history of the Tarot, ancient Assyrians, and the destruction of libraries and it all came together. At the time I also took a quilt class from David Walker, who was also designing his own Deck of Cards. David said something, I wasn’t happy about. Apparently his words had to do with me not wanting my work to be on open display when there was an open walk-though during the conference. Too often had I seen people taking pictures of work then copying the work and getting it published.
So I made my first Tarot Card. Then I came home and made two more.
I started buying the Quilter’s Newsletter Magazine when it came out printed on a mimeograph machine. I collected them even though I was not a quilter. I was a seamstress, I made clothing, including wedding apparel. When we moved from the East Coast to San Jose a group of the ladies in the neighborhood, all from New York, formed a Tuesday night group. We brought whatever handy work we were doing at the time. I did Needlepoint, my own designs inspired by a picture I might see in a magazine. Sometimes it was from a kit, but kits were expensive. I designed an occasional canvas that my friend Sharon Maher would buy from me.
One of the ladies in the group who kept the shell of an old VW bug in her backyard decided that she alone would bring a renaissance of quilting. I admired that. I thought someday I might be a quilter. With two toddlers I was sure it wouldn’t be anytime soon. I couldn’t even afford to buy a quilt at a flea market. If one was on the side of the road, I might stop for it, but that would be the only way I would own one.
I did love fabric and occasionally for an outing as a family we would ride the train into San Mateo. There was a mall there and in one of the stores they had a bin with scraps of fabrics leftover from silk ties. I learned to make men’s ties. My mother made the boys cute little short sets out of seersucker to wear so any sewing I did was usually for myself.
When we moved from San Jose to San Diego it was small and quiet. There wasn’t much to do and I didn’t know anyone. It was a young neighborhood with a lot of young children. Cheryl Herr lived down the street and in her living room sat a quilting frame. She could make a whole cloth quilt in a week completely hand quilted. She’d shop at K-Mart and buy two twin-sized sheets and a roll of polyester batting. All the furniture would be pushed to the side until she finished the quilt. I was inspired. I was not interested in a quilt made from sheets although her quilts were beautiful. She told me I could do it. Funny thing, I believed her. You have to believe you can do something or it will never happen.
The only place to buy fabric was at Sears. We had two and neither one was close, both were approximately the same distance in opposite directions. One day I was out with my next door neighbor and shopping buddy Barbara Johnson. She acted as my welcome wagon. She would drive me around and show me how to get places. One day we ended up in Escondido at Sears approximately 20 miles north of us. There was a needlework shop to buy threads for my needlepoint and Sears. I had scrap fabrics and an idea. My first quilt almost became my last quilt. When you say, how hard could this be, you then find out. Putting the top together was not as difficult as sitting and hand quilting the top. It was summer and it was hot. I had a large embroidery hoop on a frame. I would quilt during the day in the sunlight while the boys napped. My quilting time could be very limited.
I limited my pallet which simplified the design process.
I still like this quilt, which belongs to my oldest son.
Are there days you find yourself circling looking for something you want?
I wrote on my morning pages all the things I could do today. My list involved things I could do in my workroom. Clear out empty boxes that are taking up space. I checked that off. Then my stair stepper was in the way. I always kept it under the sofa in the living room should the urge to exercise strike. When we put down a new rug in the living room the stair step was moved to my workroom — yeah like I am going to exercise there? It went back downstairs to live under the sofa again. I need all the floor space in my workroom. Moving the stair stepper opened up enough space to set up my ladder to put yarn bins back on the shelf.
If you have followed what I’ve written you may remember I started sorting, and then I sorted some more, and then more. It was like an obsession. I am not an obsessive person. I just got to a point where I couldn’t find what I wanted when I wanted it. It happened again.
Since I have been going around in circles I thought it might be better to stop making new work and go back to working in a series which is what I like to do. I have to follow my instinct and my intuition. I wanted to find the last piece of art that was almost finished, but where did I put it? I am to the point where I can find everything. I have separated my finished works from my unfinished works and labeled it all.
I looked everywhere that I thought it could be for three days. Then I told myself, it will turn up I am certain. I was lost for what I may have done with it. Where did I remember having it last? The living room next to my favorite chair where I do my hand quilting, yes I still hand quilt special pieces which will probably never know a washing machine. One morning I thought of the most obscure place I might put it. I was knitting pet blankets in December, but then company was coming, so I fast gathered. Under the stairs there was a basket with bulky yarn. On top of the basket was the lid to a box I was using to put donation books into. I lifted the lid covering the yarn. Almost completely covered by the yarn was a corner of the quilt — hiding. I found you, my Very Colorful Quilt, a reason to celebrate.
If you think you can’t think again.
- These are all oil paintings I created from photographs I took:
- the old wooden gate in the side yard,
- our cat Pepper sitting in the window,
- Jabba the Hippo at the San Diego Zoo,
- my beloved Kuma laying in the grass,
- my son Ian at an afternoon soccer game,
- a reflection of my husband in a store window,
- night photography at the park,
- a painting of a friend’s rare Honda motorcycle,
- theme award at the Faire.
Try, and if you fail — TRY AGAIN!
I have been spinning my wheels for some time now. I’ve been sorting and wondering why I am stuck in this rut. Then it dawned on me. Although for most I may not appear to be organized — but an organized person is one who can find what they need when they need it. That was me until we emptied my studio to put down new flooring — which I do love.
Fabric was brought back into the workspace and just put helter-skelter on the shelves. It would make for interesting work if that were the way I worked. I have been lost and instead of making new work I am looking at UFOs (unfinished work) and trying to get my head around finishing them. That just isn’t possible when I can’t find what I need.
There was a time when I put all my WIP (works in progress) in shiny silver boxes supplied by a lovely local department store and labeled them. Even then when I open the box I find I am one fabric short, the dye-lots don’t even come close to the colors created today, which is a hazard of having projects that date back into the last century. Wow that sounds old and it is. But they are still worth finishing when I find the fabric in my many piles.
So I asked a trusted art buddy, Kim Burke, in Los Angeles to give me her opinion. She suggested putting the old projects aside and “MOVE ON.” I knawed on it for all of about 15 minutes and decided that was a worthy opinion and advice.
I put what I was working on into a shoe box and pulled out a different shoe box of 1 1/2 inch cut strips. This is not what I had in mind, it isn’t arty nor is it flamboyant, it is sweet. So this is March 11, 2016 and I am looking at my breakfast smoothie of banana, mandarin oranges and mango —
DAY ONE: Aunty Grace fabric and it looks like I will be making a baby quilt, smoothie in hand.
There is a difference between being blocked and being in a rut. When I’m blocked I have no momentum, I flat out lack desire am just not interested or motivated. Is there a way to get beyond this? To solve this I go and sit at my work table in front of my sewing machine and be here for 15 minutes. I tell myself it will just be for 15 minutes. Since I am staring at my machine, I think I will wind some bobbins. I can always use bobbins in neutral colors.
So I begin pulling empty bobbins which I buy at least 20 at a time. It starts ecru, tan, light gray and dark gray threads I by on large spools. If I am not making clothes or doing top stitching I use basic colors. I’ll wind about four of each. It is such a pain to have to stop in the middle of a project to wind bobbins when you run out. Or if you are machine quilting it is a bigger pain.
Once the bobbins are wound I am ready for something else. Once you begin, the flow has started. If bobbins aren’t enough to get the juices flowing I like to fold fabric. The colors inspire me to start mixing and matching fabrics.
Come back we’ll talk about fabric tomorrow.
Years ago I sat at the Old Town Mexican café with Libby Leman talking about making quilts. She said so many times we thing we are really “in the groove” we are making quilts and having a good time. But are we in a groove or are we in a rut? There is a tendency when we are artists to make the same thing over and over, perhaps it’s a Log Cabin quilt. Years pass and we are still making the same quilt, just in a different color. Are we moving forward, or are we standing still?
I’ve found myself sorting and organizing but not doing much else. My motor is running and my wheels are spinning but I am getting no where fast. I tell myself, “Today I am going to . . . .” and I start shuffling fabric from here to there and there is no action behind my movements. At the end of the day all I have is a bigger pile and nothing accomplished.
I did make a list of all the work I have “in progress” truth is, seeing that on paper was very impressive. I have managed to finish a few of the smaller works, but not the quilts. It’s a rut when you find yourself annoying friends and frustrating yourself. The challenge isn’t there. You feel that the world is moving past you. You aren’t excited about getting up in the morning and working in your studio.
Did you start this project with all the best intentions and somewhere it lost its steam? Was it a bad idea to start to begin with? Maybe the timing was bad, you didn’t allow enough time to meet the deadline? Are circumstances conspiring against you? Maybe the rut is caused by being too technical, what you thought was a good idea and now it isn’t. This can happen in a lot of areas of our lives, not just with our artwork.
Maybe what you liked last year, five years ago, or more is not you today. Your color preferences are different. It’s time to change it up, go on a creative date with yours. Go to a botanical park, an art gallery, even a movie or buy some upbeat music. Buy a new box of 64 crayons. You may not be as prolific as you were 10 years ago and that is bothering you. Stamina does diminish. Try getting together with younger people, buy some blank paper and share your crayons. Don’t over analyze, don’t question your inability to get out of the rut. If you are in a rut question everything but the rut.
Best to you,