It really is a small world after all.
I've always been struck by the number of astronauts who describe Earth as looking so small and fragile from space. I think it's perspective - that sense of space, the notion that we're all here on this one rock together, we're all connected. Whether we like it or not.
The quilting community is like that - no matter how much fussing there is amongst us over who invented what, which came first, how "whatever" is defined, we are all still connected. We like fabric - okay, we love it. We drool over it, lust after it, obsess over it. We share a love of needles and pins, threads and really sharp cutting implements. Mostly, we like making stuff... all kinds of stuff, any kind of stuff.
So no matter where we live or where we come from, what we do or how we got here, we share a connection that makes our little "global quilting village" seem a little smaller.
Still. When Sherri - A Quilting Life - asked me to answer four questions... I panicked.
I'm not that introspective. Really.
So... What am I working on?
Quilts! That's the easy part. I'm working on quilts for new Fall Market patterns and for a book deadline the end of this year. I have a "working list" of projects for both and I'm alternating between Market and book quilts. That means that when I finish a Market quilt, the next one is a book quilt. I was making blocks for the Modern Building Blocks quilt but alas, I've had to put those aside until December.
The quilts for both will be big quilts - scrap quilts made with fat quarters, fat eighths, scraps and so on. My first love. My roots. They're the kind of quilts I used to make all the time and got away from when "life" got in the way. There is a "full circle" feeling about it all because there is a lot of variety in the look and feel of the quilts. Some are quite traditional while others are a lot more colorful and "looser" - a bit more "make it do-ish". And there are a few pieces to a couple of them...
Why do I create what I do? I know... I'm taking these out of order but I decided to deal with them by degree of difficulty. (I took tests in school the same way - answer the easy questions first.) And I took out the "write" part because I'm not going to include actually writing the pattern as part of the "process." This whole thing started with quilts so why do I make stuff - quilts in particular?
Because I like the satisfaction that comes from being able to look at something say "I made that". I once saw an interview with Martha Stewart where she was asked why she thought she had become such a phenomenon and her answer voiced the same idea. Taking even a few minutes to make a meal, plant flowers or put a postcard in a frame is a tangible thing that speaks to who we are as individuals.
Because I like knowing that there is something I will always be working to be better at. Creative pursuits aren't mountains to climb or even a skill to master. I can always improve my skills and learn new ones but I'll never know everything there is to know about quilting - and I'll never make the perfect quilt. And because I like figuring out how to make something work - like Flying Geese from a Mini Charm pack.
And because I like that the things I make can become a larger expression of who I am, and maybe even of who I want to be. I know that I'm not alone in having made a quilt especially for someone, or having spontaneously given one away for some reason. Good or bad, pretty or not, taking the time to make something for someone is as much a gift as the finished quilt. As much as I enjoy teasing my brother about how he bores his friends showing them the quilts I've made for him, I love that he has a house full of well-used quilts.
The challenge of it all! That's another reason. I've always thought that a big part of creativity is "problem-solving". From deciding what to make, what fabric to use, how big to make it, it's all a process of how am I going to make something that looks the way I want it to? As crazy as it sounds, doing this uses every part of my brain. I have to use math - which I loathed in school but was really good at - and I have to use that acquired skill set. Then there is the personal aesthetic, some of which is learned and some of which just has to be part of my DNA. This wouldn't be nearly as much fun if I wasn't fully engaged in the "building" of it.
And finally, I do this because I like the teaching side of it all. I don't mean the traveling and psuedo-celebrity-ness of it all, I mean the stuff that's in the pattern. I'm writing patterns and books with the hope that something in those instructions will teach another quilter what they want to learn or need to know to make the quilts that are living in their head.
How does my work differ from others?
Can I get an Incomplete?
I don't know that it does as it's not something I think about. It's hard to explain but I don't look at what other quilters are making and think "that's different from what I do because..." I know that there are obvious differences - paper-piecing or applique or strip-piecing, a fast-and-easy quilt with 200 pieces or Sue Garman's Omigosh quilt, Korean Pojagi vs. Mrs. Billing's Coverlet. To me, they're all made with fabric stitched together in some way to make an aesthetically pleasing finished piece. Picasso and Monet were both painters. Their styles were very different but some of their techniques were the same, and some of their tools were the same. Canvas? Some type of paint? They were both painters - they just had a different "vision". So with quilting and quilters, I prefer to see the common thread of what we all do rather than the differences. (Categories really only matter at a quilt show.)
I think most of us get our ideas from other people - other sources. Whether it is an antique quilt or a style by a well-known quilter, a color palette from a famous painting or the pattern on a tile floor, most of us start and learn by emulating the styles and "art" of others. Okay, so Mozart was probably an exception, he created beautiful music as a teenager without any outside influence from Instagram. (Jerk.) I know that I am a pastiche of ideas, images, influences and visions from other people, mediums and interests. The best quilters - and artists - take those ideas and turn them into something unique and different. Something memorable. Art.
Is what I do art? I don't know. What I know for sure - borrowing from Oprah - is that when I see an antique quilt, block, setting or even a quilt pattern that interests me, my first thought is always "what can I do to make this different?" Different from what I've done before, different from what I've seen at Market, in books or elsewhere. How can I make this "mine"? Any kind of design needs to be personal to be successful.
Successful or not, this little addition makes mine different.
There is a terrific quote by T.S. Eliot that sums it up perfectly... "Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn."
Substitute "quilter" for "poet" and that about covers it.
(On a side note, being inspired by the work of others and trying to emulate a style is not the same thing as looking at someone else's work, blatantly copying it and passing it off as your own. Some folks like to say that "it's all been done before" but studying a contemporary's quilt or pattern to make a quilt for publication is copying. And not getting sued doesn't mean you're not still in the wrong.)
How does my creative process work?
First, thank you for assuming that it does. I appreciate that.
Second, no, I don't use a computer to "design" a quilt. Nor do I use graph paper to draw out blocks or layouts. That's just not how my brain works, maybe because that's not how I started. It pains me greatly to have to admit this publicly but... computers hadn't been invented when I started making quilts - by firelight. And drawing on the cave walls was really hard.
I wish I could tell you that ideas come to me in a flash but that rarely happens, at least it doesn't happen to me. It's often feels more like Whack-a-Mole... you keep whacking away at it until you finally - hopefully - hit the silly thing.
The simple unvarnished reality of it all is that it's work - at least it is for me. Actually, I think it's that way for most people who do creative work. Good work - of every kind - takes practice and practice takes time. You don't get it right the first time, and even on those occasions when you do get it right, it doesn't mean you get it right every time. So the work can be frustrating and rewarding, stressful and sometimes a bit tedious. It can be a challenge - the good kind and the bad kind... like when I'm trying to force something that just isn't working. But it's the process of that work that I love - solving the problem, trying to get it right, learning something when it misses the mark, and then starting over again. It's that whole "microcosm of life" thing.
And can I just say that social media doesn't help - it makes it all harder! All of those images of quilts and blocks that can be so inspiring can also have a very negative effect - Is this idea mine or did I see it on Pinterest? Wait - why is my quilt design all over Pinterest with someone else's name on it? Is my work good enough compared to "???"? Does having a lot of followers on Facebook mean your work is good? If you have the most, are you the best? The whole world wants to make "x" but that doesn't interest me, I want to make "y"... do I need to change?
Still... without social media, I wouldn't have run across this genius summation of the creative process - This is awesome. (I am awesome.) This is not working. This is crap. I am crap. This might work. OMG! This is awesome!
So even on those rare occasions when my idea gels quickly, there is still always going to be a nuts-and-bolts aspect to it. With quilts and that whole "design" thing - yeah, yeah... I really do have a hard time with that word - it goes back to the starting point of solving a problem. I have this fabric, what do I want to make? I have a block I want to use, what fabric do I want to use for it? And how big is everything going to be? It doesn't matter which comes first - the fabric or the block - there is some work involved getting from that starting point to any kind of finished piece - even before I start cutting.
Most quilts start and live in my head - mostly. (How frightening is that?) Once I've got an idea percolating, I will start thinking about sizes and calculating some options. Straight settings are easy - the symmetry of the design needs an odd number of blocks, the blocks are 8" finished so 9 blocks in a row makes the center of my quilt 72". Is it going to get a border? If so, how big? I will confess that I do most of that in my head. (It's not any kind of math whiz thing, it's practice, familiarity and repetition.) Diagonal quilts are a little bit trickier. Some of the numbers are even - a 3" block has a 4.25" diagonal measurement, a 6" block has an 8.5" diagonal measurement. But an 8" block has a diagonal measurement of 11.313708". I probably have as many mini calculators in drawers in my sewing room as rotary cutters. Yes, I do think about other quilts while I'm sewing.
If I've started with the fabric, then I have to decide if the sizes will suit the fabric. If I've started with a block, then I need to start thinking about what fabrics will work. Again, sometimes it all comes together quickly at that point. Other times... not so much. I've had brilliant, genius, amazing quilt ideas... that I can't find the right fabric for. And I've found gorgeous, amazing, spectacular fabric that I absolutely love... that I just can't quite come up with the right idea for. It's a process - it's work.
And like any work... it doesn't always "work". Another appropriate quote... from Samuel Beckett - Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.
Do I get a lot of ideas for quilts? Yes. Do I make all of them? No. Some shouldn't get made - ever. Fact - I have a lot of bad ideas for quilts. I also have a lot of boring ideas for quilts. I don't publish every quilt I make - some just don't come out the way I thought they would. (And the less-kind among us are probably snarking that I have published some of those bad and/or boring ideas. Meow.) Some ideas seemed really original when I started but ended up looking just like another quilt I made... or worse, just like a quilt somebody else had already published.
The funny thing with quilts is that what seems like an epic failure will usually wind up being somebody's favorite quilt. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Now here's where I'm going to get that Incomplete... I was supposed to "tag" a few people whose work I admire and enjoy but I kind of dropped that ball. I've got a couple of inquiries out... but well... Market is coming and I don't like annoying women with sharp cutting implements. So I am hoping that if you have a blog, you'll answer the same four questions and share something about yourself. And don't forget to tell me! If you don't have a blog, feel free to share your answers in a comment.
Now I'm off to sew some half-triangle squares - Market is less than 10 weeks away.
I'd best get back to work.