Sunday, October 24, 2021

The Importance of Becoming a Beginner. Again.

"El Greco's Alphabet"
c2019 by author

Greetings.  Years ago I was invited to wrote the "Last Word" article for an issue of Quilting Arts magazine.  To my amusement the theme is just as relevant today as it was over 5 years ago. Perhaps this will resonate with you, too.  Read on:

The Importance of Being a Beginner (Again)


As you encounter this title you may wonder why anyone, ANYONE, would want to be a beginner again.  Stay with me here as I extol the virtues of being somewhat clueless.

First, let’s acknowledge the pain and frustration that is often part of beginning.  The unknown is frightening, right?  Who doesn’t want to stay in the “safe zone”?  We all know that zone: we dwell in it and may have become an “expert” in that arena.  It is comfortable:  a bit like wearing our favorite old t-shirt and fuzzy slippers.  And that, in my opinion, can be good and bad for artistic work. 

Expertise implies mastery of a given technique.   Just for fun, let’s call that skill your “Superpower”.  It’s great to have a Superpower because it can be leveraged in another direction.  Yes, I am suggesting that you focus your energy into new territory.  I’m suggesting that you become a beginner.

Why?   Because nudging yourself out of your comfort zone leads to new and exciting work.  Should you abandon the comfort zone entirely?  Certainly not.    But I AM asking you to immerse yourself in unfamiliar territory because often (frequently!) that is where the magic happens.  We dream of trying something new but tell ourselves we will do it “later”.  Later becomes default language for “never”.  

Why am I thinking about this?  Recently I left my familiar realm and began to study improvisational design and sewn construction.  Embarking on this new study required me to re-set my brain into a learning curve, leave my ego at home, and open myself to new and challenging information.  The process has been both humbling and exhilarating.

“Around here we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we're curious...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths”. ―Walt Disney


It is, indeed, where one can capture magic and excitement.  

When I examine the body of any artist’s work I am fascinated to see changes that occur in style and subject matter.  I like to think about what might have informed the evolution. 

“Creativity takes courage.”.

― Henri Matisse

I tend to believe stagnation is based in fear of the unknown.  It certainly works that way for me. Often, artists are reluctant to move past certain work because it is a reliable source of income and recognition and is comfortable terrain.  One can and should keep making work that is satisfying.  I simply challenge you to push yourself a bit and try something new.  I believe the act of embarking into unfamiliar territory may influence everything else you create.  Understand this:  nothing will replace showing up in the studio and doing the work.  Some of the work isn’t going to be good:  accept it.  Nancy Crow states that it is “important to be ruthless with yourself” about your own work.  As a beginner (and someone with a Superpower!), we must be willing to edit our work and use disappointing results as motivation toward more elevated results. Another truth is that frustration can be fuel.  Fill the tank and take it out for a spin.  Who knows where the journey will take you?

“It’s supposed to be hard.  If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it.  The hard is what makes it great”. --Jimmy Dugan in “A League Of Their Own”.


“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” ― Kurt Vonnegut

hand-dyed swatches generated in Neutral Territory
a workshop facilitated by Carol Soderlund

I'm including info about the Neutral Territory workshop because I just finished taking it for the second time.  Packed with information, I learned so much by working through the course again.  Study with Carol if you are interested in learning about fiber-reactive dye!



Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Learn Graffiti Quilting From the Master


I had the opportunity to meet and become friends with Karlee Porter back in 2016 when she traveled to San Antonio to do a workshop for our Modern Guild.  Karlee is known for her style known as "graffiti quilting".

Karlee is the author of several popular books on the subject, among them:

Karlee is offering a fall online workshop, beginning September 12th, which will be based on Volume 2.  What better time to learn a new skill than right now?!

I can tell you from experience that her workshop is filled with great information and she is an outstanding instructor.  If you are interested I can sweeten the deal by offering you a coupon toward a $50 discount on the workshop.  The registration opens today, July 1st.  Please follow the link:

and enter this code:
The code will give you a $50 discount toward the workshop.  This is a great opportunity to learn this skill and what better time to do it?!

Below are some images of the influence graffiti quilting knowledge can have on a quilt.
Apologies for the lack of a better image, but this quilt is now in the hands of my daughter and I failed to get a full image before a shipped it to her!  Quilting was done my Joanna Marsh of Kustom Kwilts, who took Karlee's workshop with me is 2016!

Happy Quilting, Graffiti-Style!

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Creativity in the Time of COVID-19`

My blog has long been slumbering.  I've been busy, but the blog hasn't reflected it.

How are you doing?  That is what is on everyone's minds, what we ask each other.  The new buzzwords of our current situation are "pivoting", "be safe", etc..

My experience of the COVID-19 quarantine has been fairly typical of other creatives:  initially, I was unable to stay focused on anything that required much cerebral input.  My thoughts would easily scatter.  I think that was how I was manifesting my own anxiety and uncertainty.  I have been sharing this on Instagram, and I decided to stop worrying about it and just "do something":



 zooming (here with a weekly guild gathering)...


Constructing quilt patterns:
this is "Hunt", a pattern for hand-applique by 

"Cabin Fever", a pattern by Joanna Marsh of
Kustom Kwilts (pattern coming soon)
made with my newly-announced line called
"Warehouse District", by Wishwell, a division of Robert Kaufman

And this one is still underway:
The "Proverbial Quilt" pattern by Denyse Schmidt 
made with more Warehouse District Fabric

I'm not following the layout but I am using her letter templates.
My quote is "We Are All Bozos On The Same Bus".
Seems apt for the times.

Here is a peek at the new collection:

I would normally be introducing the new collection at the Spring Quilt Market, which was to have been last weekend in Pittsburg PA.  Due the the quarantine, market was cancelled.

I'm thrilled about this line, which includes 15 prints on Pimatex cotton, 9 prints on cotton-linen Essex, 3 prints on 108" wideback cloth, and an assortment of cotton lawn prints.
The collection will be shipping to your favorite quit shop in August or September, depending on the manufacturing situation.  Print images available (copied from the Robert Kaufman website) below:

I hope you will look for it.  I can tell you have have been truly enjoying working with the collection.  I love combining the beautiful pimatex with the essex prints.  If you have never tried making something with Essex, you will love it!  The cloth gets softer and softer when washed.  It feels like linen and "behaves" like cotton, with far less raveling than pure linen.  I love it.

Here are a few of the objects made with Warehouse District:

Monday, November 11, 2019

Missing My Father On Veteran's Day (And Every Day)...

Ten years ago I received a surprise package from my stepmother.  I tore open the box and literally gasped for air:  inside were pieces of memorabilia that I had never seen before.
My father was a Naval Aviator in World War II.  I knew about it, but not too much:  he never talked about it.  Some guys talk a lot about their experiences of the war.  Not my father.
Out of the box came a lovely 11x14 hand-tinted portrait of my young father in his navy uniform.  Two boxes emerged:  The Distinguished Flying Cross and The Air Medal.

inside were his wings and a couple of his ribbons.
I know there are more, but I don't know where they are.
The wool shoulder epaulets are all that remain of his uniform.

Rex J Tucker

I lost my father suddenly in February, 1980.  A diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes precipitated his discharge from the navy when he was called up from reserve status for the Korean war.
  His death was unexpected and too soon:  he was only 58 years old.  Next February will mark the 40th anniversary of his death.  I always miss him, but I've had  a lot of time to get used to his absence.  Ten years ago when I opened that box my loss was fresh and painful again.  On the eve of Veteran's Day I honor his memory and miss him with a fresh wave of grief.  

Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Peace Room

As I begin to resuscitate my blog from its long dormancy I have found a draft that I feel is worth publishing.  This has nothing (and yet everything?) to do with studio work. Read on....

My dear friend, Karen,  a wonderful therapist living in LA, wrote a self-care tip about the concept of a "Peace Room":

The Peace Room  

I once heard a story on NPR's Morning Edition about how one of Chicago's public high schools is trying to change its culture of violence. It has established a Peace Room. Students are instructed to go to the room when they are feeling angry or frustrated. There is an aide present to help the student with his or her anger. Ideally, students who are fighting would go together and the aide would help mediate a solution and teach fair fighting techniques.
Peace Room
This gave me the idea that we all should have a Peace Room in our home. Even if we can't designate a particular room, we could find a corner to be our Peace Corner. Adults and children could use this space to work out their own anger and conflicts, individually or together.

The area could be decorated with relaxing details and supplies:

  • tabletop fountain
  • tranquil artwork
  • calming music
  • a couple of comfortable chairs
  • affirmations and appropriate quotes written on cards posted on the walls
  • a notebook with reminders of how to fight fairly, instructions on relaxation techniques, and even poems or short essays on anger, forgiveness, and practicing mutual acceptance and respect
  • writing and art materials available for expressing feelings
I see the Peace Room as a time-out, a no yelling or fighting zone, a place of negotiation and respectful disagreements. It would be a haven of self care for all members of the family to seek and practice peace.  

I think of my studio as a Peace Room.  My only rule for the studio space is that if you want to come in and play with me, you have to be nice to me.  While this idea was invented during the era of adolescent children still living at home, it is a theme that I continue to embrace.  For me, and I hope for anyone else who is in my studio, it is a place of joy.  Sometimes it is a place of internal struggle and challenge, but it is a place for great creative effort.
Everyone should have a place like this, even if it is just in your imagination.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Improv HST workshop, and then a Design Project!

I took a workshop on using half-square triangle solids to create an improvisational composition with Nydia Kehnle when I was at QuiltCon 2019 in Nashville.  You may recognize Nydia's name as a pattern designer.  She designs the beautiful patterns seen on Alison Glass' website.

Initially, I was using pieces of solid fabric (both commercial and hand-dyed) that were scraps left over from other design projects.
Here is Nydia, showing how she simply "dives in" and gets a color story started.

She had a system that she used to separate her colors.
Eventually, I developed my own strategy (that had more to do with value than color, 
to be honest).
I used the 6.5" "Bloc Loc" ruler which made the trimming 100% easier.
Also:  I had a rotating square cutting mat which minimized moving the block around while trimming.
A quick web search of the Bloc Loc brand will take you to a variety of sellers.  These come in several sizes.  I recommend this tool!

Here is my first, and rather "under-whelming", effort.
I took this down and stacked the blocks for another day.

Weeks later at home I cleared a portion of my design walls
and started again.  It was clear that I needed a bunch more colors for making the 
transitions, with both color and value in mind.

I find it helpful, no matter the project, to use my mono setting on my phone camera to
check value.

Here is part of the development in the early stages....

More progress.
What I didn't document very well was how often I took things down and 
started over!

Closer... (sorry about the stack of fabric in the foreground.

Even at this stage I was taking blocks down and exchanging them, or sewing a new
color set to make a better color/value transition.

Piecing strategy:  I pieced each horizontal row, from left to right.
I put a safety pin in the upper left corner of the leftmost block.
I created a "stack" beginning at the right edge, on on top of the next,
for the entire row.
I took the stack to my sewing machine and sewed them together.
I pressed each set of seams for that row in alternating directions
(row one, all seams to the left, row two all seams to the right, etc.)

Once all the rows were pieced I joined two sets of rows at a time.
Then, two of those rows, then the two halves.
It was easier to minimize bulk and handling of the entire construction 
until that last seam (above)!

Here is the finished construction:  91 inches wide, 85 inches long.
I debated if I should add one more horizontal row but decided I was satisfied with how it looks.

It is off to the longarm quilter soon.
My plan is to use a low-loft wool bat for this quilt as it will most-likely be a useful one.

I'm calling this quilt "Prismatic Labyrinth".

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Kenya: Part 6

March 27, 2019

We drove back toward Nairobi.  Enroute we passed Kibera, the 2nd largest slum in Africa, second only to Soweto in South Africa. Incidentally, this is the place our guide, Eric, the owner of the safari company, grew up.  He talked to us about what his life was like growing up there.  He and his wife are still quite involved in the community.  Their goal is to help as many girls as possible.

You can see the modern Nairobi skyline in the distance.

During our long drives I stitched. ...

One thing I was intrigued by were the Boda Boda.
Think of Uber on motorcycles.  We would see large groups of them
stationed along the roadsides.  I just barely caught the back of this one, transporting
a nicely dressed woman.  I linked about them if you are interested.

And then we have donkey carts...

We visited the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust's Orphans' Project

Chris is taking a photo of our group.  See our Safari vehicles?

The babies are taken out into the compound during the day with their caregivers.
When it is time to go to "the barn" there is quite a stampede....

It's dinner time!

These orphaned baby elephants are raised and gradually returned to the wild.
Those of us who "adopted" an orphan were allowed to go interact with the animals and stand near
the track they use to return to the compound.
It was amazing!

There were a group of warthogs running around in the compound.

baby warthog.

March 28th, 2019

This morning we went to the AFEW giraffe centre (rescue organization) in Nairobi.
each of us was given a bag of "treats" for the giraffes.

and we had fun!

Some of us put the treat in our mouth in order to receive a "kiss".

You get what you pay for!

What funny tongues they have!  I guess they have to be long and tough
so they can grab leaves off those acacia trees.

warthogs are frequently found near giraffes.
We noticed this out in the wild.

Next up:
Karen Blixen's home!

Anne and I have been excitedly awaiting this part of our tour!
Karen was from Denmark and Anne is also Danish.

Karen is best known for her books, "Out of Africa", and "Babette's Feast".

Here is Karen Blixen's photograph...

and here are Robert Redford, who played Denys Finch Hatten,
and Meryl Streep, who played Karen Blixen, in the movie,

By sheer coincidence, Karen Blixen had the same Royal Copenhagen china pattern that
Anne does!

What an interesting tour!  I am such a fan of Karen's books and I was thrilled to have this opportunity!
Here is a piece of equipment from Karen's doomed venture as a coffee grower.

One of our last stops on our tour in Nairobi was to Kazuri Beads.
Started in 1975 as a women's cooperative the clay used for their products is sourced from near the base of Mt Kenya.
Their products are found in places like Ten Thousand Villages in the US.

some of the dried clay

the clay sheet press behind our guide

beads drying in the sun

forming, then painting, the beads

firing in the kilns


Anne and I left Africa the next day and headed to Mallorca, Spain, for a few days before heading home.
Kenya left a mark on me.  I fell in love with this place.
I will return.

Thanks for coming along with me to Africa!
Sorry the posts were so long but there was so much to show you.