I was going to announce today that my Lightning Bolt knitting pattern is for sale in my Etsy shop (which it is), but instead I’m announcing that I’m about to join the Etsy strike.
I just became aware of this petition: “Etsy: Cancel the fee increase. Work with sellers, not against us!” It’s protesting a number of serious grievances against Etsy’s current and planned policies, including unjustifiable hikes in transaction fees, random shop shutdowns without warning, little or no support for sellers from the parent company, and a refusal to crack down on mass-produced goods that weren’t even designed by the sellers, which have been against Etsy rules from the beginning.
I’ve been an Etsy seller since 2009, never in a big way, but I chose it for the same reasons many other people did. It was affordable, it was easy, and it allowed me to reach a big audience without a big advertising budget. Since the company went public, seller’s fees have been hiked even though the company’s profits are soaring, policies have become ever more exploitative, and there’s been little or no mechanism for the community of sellers to protest or resist. All these decisions show a transparent preference for short-term profits for Etsy at the expense of the sellers who have made the platform what it is. I’ve signed the petition, and I’ll be joining the strike, April 11-18.
If you’re interested in supporting the Resistance, please click on the link above and sign the petition. Consider spreading the word to your friends or followers, and joining the strike. You don’t have to be an Etsy seller to sign, or to strike; you can boycott Etsy during the strike period, or even better, buy something today before the fees go up! Support a small business owner!
I only have a few listings on Etsy, so I have the option to leave pretty painlessly if things don’t get better. But there are a lot of people who have invested in their shops so much they depend on it for their livelihood. For their sake, please consider doing what you can to protest.
I want to thank everyone who’s still reading my site while I’ve been absent for so long. I’m delighted to announce that there are some new things in the works! I’m expanding my designs to a couple new platforms, including, today: Ravelry! If you’re not familiar, it’s a fantastic online database of knitting and crochet patterns, both free and for sale, information about yarns, and great tools to help keep track of your patterns, projects, and stash. I’ve just posted my first knitting pattern for sale: Lightning Bolt, a Vertical Chevron Hat!
So I had this beautiful yarn, three balls of Noro Kureyon that I bought on impulse sometime last year, and I wanted a pattern to really showcase the color change. In the wonderful “Knitting Noro” book, I found a pattern for a long chevron scarf that perfectly fit the bill. I tried the Kureyon next to a lot of things in my stash before choosing this beautiful Malabrigo Rios as a dark contrast color.
As I was starting the second ball of Kureyon, I mentioned to my husband that I was going to have enough yarn to make either a really long scarf, or a matching hat. He asked me, “Could you make it so that the chevron goes around your head vertically?”
What a challenge! I had a look around the internet, and couldn’t find any pattern that seemed to do it (my apologies if someone out there has done it), so I set out to design it myself. (Designing something to a challenge is my very favorite craft-activity.) Of course I’m learning that if something has never been done before, there are usually reasons why not. It took a few tries to figure out whether to start or end the first row with the ribbing, how to shape the crown, etc.; I unraveled it about six times and started again, but that’s a pretty usual part of my process. I didn’t expect it to end up slouchy, but in the end I’m really happy with how it looks!
A couple friends from my knitting group were kind enough to read two drafts of the pattern for me, and offered some really helpful feedback. I’d written instructions for cross-stitch patterns and a quilted pillow once, but this is the first knitting pattern I’ve ever made. And now it’s available to buy! You can find it by clicking on its name above. I’ll also be posting it in my Etsy shop in the next few days.
Stay tuned for another announcement of how I’m getting my designs out there. Thanks for reading!
Hi there! I’ve been wanting to write a checking-in post for a while, and today the stars finally aligned and I had both time and energy to do it.
I want to say first that I am so thrilled and flattered by all the people who have started following and all the people who been reading, even while I didn’t post for almost a year. It’s always a wonderful surprise to check the stats and see that something I’ve produced is actually useful and interesting to others out there, and I thank you for your time and attention.
If you’re wondering where I’ve been for a year, well…
Yep. We had a pandemic baby! He’s going to be five months old next week. He’s big, and healthy, and the smiley-est little guy you ever did see. He beat his brother on birth weight by a solid two pounds, which helped to explain why the pregnancy was harder and more draining for me than my first. His big brother is two, almost three now, and adjusting to mothering the two of them has been a joyous and rocky journey. So I’m not exaggerating when I say this is almost the first time in a year I’ve had spare energy for blogging.
As you might imagine, not a huge amount of crafting is going on these days, but I’ve managed to plug away at a few things during naps, after bed-time, and on the occasional dad-sponsored sanity break. I decided a few months ago to pull this long-term English paper piecing project together…
I’m knitting a completely unnecessary scarf from the two most expensive yarns in my stash…
And, although I realize as I type this that I don’t have a picture of it yet, I’m hand-quilting a quilt that my husband’s grandmother asked me to finish. Her sister made the top, but passed away some years ago, and Grandma wanted to see it complete. It’s a very classic Drunkard’s Path, blue on a white background; I’m hand-quilting it very simply (although I wish I could long-arm it, but, you know, no long-arm). I’ve had it for almost three years now, but it’s time to get it done, because…
We’re going back to the States for Christmas!!!
It’s been almost two years since we’ve been home, and even once we’d decided to go, things were deeply uncertain for weeks while we worked to get the baby’s passport and visa, and then waited to see if they’d get processed in time. But now all that is done, and the tickets are bought, and I’m figuring out how to get our COVID tests done, and soon we shall fly!
As you might imagine, I’m totally stoked about spending eight hours in a closed metal tube with my toddler, my baby, and several dozen strangers (in masks, yet!), but Husband will be with us, and it will be over at some point, and then, we will be with family for the holidays.
As the song goes, I’ve got plenty to be thankful for.
Nobody and nothing can cancel Christmas. During famines and plagues past there has been Christmas. In the trenches of the World Wars they managed to have Christmas. It needs so little, to rekindle our joy at the blessed birth of Christ, a new spark of hope in a dark and weary world: the telling of the story; the giving of a gift (no matter how poor or abstract); the lighting of a candle; the singing of a half-remembered song. Let us all remember the lesson of the Grinch. We learned as children that Christmas is still Christmas without ribbons, boxes, bags, or roast beast, and there will be too many people this year who have to do without any of that.
Let us learn the harder lesson now, that Christmas is still Christmas without parties, without friends, even without family. The hope that darkness will pass, that spring will come again, that God is doing something wonderful and new, in some humble place out of sight, is something we can all celebrate. It’s never more important than in dark times. And even if we could only sing one song and light one candle, all the darkness in the world could not snuff it out.
I received an email through the blog several weeks ago from one Caroline Biggs, who said she was writing an article for Martha Stewart Living about how to hang a quilt. She said she’d seen my tutorial on How to Hang a Quilt with Command Strips, and could she include it and quote me as an expert? Uh… yes! So she sent me some questions, and I wrote replies, and now I’m in a magazine! Almost a month later, and I’m still amazed.
But, as you might have gathered from the title, the true purpose of this post is to announce that my Fitz Stitch Piece is complete, and submitted!
Here it is, pinned to a piece of cardboard for shipping. The background is a 400 thread-count white cotton, layered on cotton batting and machine quilted.
Once I was finished with the fish, I faced up to my next problem. I’d been planning the whole time to mount the pieces for the design onto the fabric with no visible stitches. I decided to use a technique I’d learned a few years ago from a tutorial on Modern Handcraft for modern hexies. It basically requires folding fabric around a template, steaming it so it holds the shape, popping the template out, and then gently gluing the resulting hexagon onto your background. Of course, this would work with all sorts of shapes, but I wasn’t sure it would give me the sharp edges that I wanted.
There are so many problems with trying to make anything in fabric look three dimensional. You can go full 3-D, which may be effective or may look really weird, or you can try for forced perspective, which again, very difficult to make it look good. I decided that, for this hand, with the techniques I know (which absolutely do not include convincing three-dimensionality), the only thing for it was to do it understated, flat pieces with lines that implied shape, and nice crisp edges so that it would read as a hand from across the room.
And then it occurred to me: what if I made templates for the hand, that didn’t have to come out?
So I made the templates out of heavy-duty fusible interfacing, the kind you use for bags.
I fused the templates to my purple cotton, cut them out with seam allowance, dug out my American Clover iron and my voltage converter, and very carefully folded the edges around each template and glued them down with Glue-Baste-It. (Which is one of my very favorite quilting tools; makes piecing and machine binding so much more precise!) You can see the three fingers that are finished in the picture above.
I did the same thing with the extra pieces of glass that are being re-assembled, and I embroidered a few wrinkles on the purple glove to kind of imply a shape. (Stem stitch, one strand of midnight blue DMC embroidery floss. The stem stitch made the curved lines slightly thicker in the middle, tapered at the ends, which was great.)
But for the fish itself, I wanted it to pop just a little bit more, and seem closer to the viewer than the pieces in the background. So, I added a layer of batting underneath the interfacing. Then, I carefully positioned my pieces on the quilted background (I so did not want to make all these elements all over again!), and glued them down with Fabri-Tac. (It’s a little thick and strings as it starts to dry (which it does really fast), so I might dilute it slightly next time. But it did make a great bond!)
Since the thumb had to rise slightly off the background, and couldn’t be fully glued down, I added a piece of black cotton to the underside, glued on with the edges turned under, just so no raw edges would be exposed. I’m sure no one’s ever going to see it, but I know it’s there.
Once I’d done this much, I knew exactly how much space I had left for my other blue glass pieces. (I confess I never bothered with drawing a complete sketch to life-size, since I knew I was going to handle it this way.) I made some decisions about rounded corners vs. sharp, and whether I felt like making a bit of tail for the fish. And I decided, this time, less is more. Let the original museum piece be the star of this square.
And there we are.
I also added some “distressing” with French gray Prismacolor on the blue pieces, to try and convey a sense of age, and it’s convincing in person, but I found it was all but impossible to photograph. So, that’s the way that goes.
And that wraps up a project that’s been on my mind, one way or another, since June. I’m REALLY pleased with how it turned out. The squares are all being sent to a master quilter to be assembled into a single piece; the Fitzwilliam’s Education Team has said they plan to display the finished quilt sometime next spring, and when I know the official opening date, I’ll pass it on.
For now, my tutoring job has abruptly picked up (now that I’ve been added to the part of the site where I can answer student questions and read essay drafts), and I’ve had kind of a bumpy ride the last few days getting up to speed on their protocols and paperwork, but it seems to be smoothing out. Crafting-wise, I’m planning to resume work on my blackwork patterns, which fell by the wayside when the house purchase started to pick up (which is thankfully going very well, btw). You should see the letter “W” up in my Etsy shop soon, and after that I’ll be adding letters as I complete them. I’ll try to check back in in a week or two.
So I decided a few weeks ago that I needed to re-design my piece for Fitz Stitch. This was motivated by two realizations: first, I wasn’t sure that I could make the broken fish platter as well as I wanted with my current technical skills; second, that I’d maybe wandered too far from the original piece from the museum collection that inspired me.
So I went back to that piece.
This exquisitely detailed fragment is a piece of Egyptian glass from their Ptolemaic period, when Egypt was ruled by Greek kings. I found two similar fragments in the online galleries of other museums, one of which had measurements attached, which leads me to believe that this piece is only about three inches tall. The intricacy, the brilliance of the colors, the individuality of the fish; I found it arresting.
I still wanted to keep the idea of something broken being put back together by a conservator in the museum. The conservators at the Fitzwilliam use these vivid purple gloves.
So, my re-designed design is the fish piece, in the center, held by a hand in a purple glove, and behind them, more pieces of the blue glass, possibly with another piece of the fish.
I didn’t want to post about the re-design until I’d satisfied myself that I could really do it, which meant, you know, actually doing it.
I had a lot of fun combing through my stash to find color matches to the original piece.
I made templates, cut out pieces for raw-edge appliqué, and fused them to the blue fabric with Mistyfuse. (I might use a thicker fusible in future; the Mistyfuse wasn’t that great at holding down the raw edges.)
And then I started to embroider.
What gave me real trouble was the yellow edges of the scales. I tried embroidering them with the chartreuse thread, but the contrast was too sharp, and I couldn’t get a smooth curve on those unusual shapes.
Then, on a rough day, I was sitting down to fold some fabrics to help myself calm down, and had a brainwave: can you draw with colored pencils on fabric?
It turns out, YOU CAN!
Here it is side by side with the original. I’m so happy with how it’s turned out!
It’s a relief to finally be at a point with this project where I’m confident that I can finish it and it will look how I wanted. Next, I’m cutting out freezer paper templates for the hand, and deciding how 3D I want to try to make it. Probably only a little.
My deadline’s coming up at the end of September, so stay tuned for updates! Thanks for reading!
What’s changed in the last two months? What hasn’t?
Our son is walking. He took his first steps at the beginning of July, and now he toddles all over the place like it’s going out of style.
The two grad students who were staying with us during the lockdown have moved out, one at the beginning of August, and the other yesterday. It’s just the three of us at the house now. We’ll miss the help they provided, and the company, but it’s also nice to have the place to ourselves again.
We’ve started the process of buying the house we’re renting. It’ll be our first home, if we succeed, which after the debacle last year, I’m maintaining an attitude of cautious optimism.
I’ve started designing a line of blackwork patterns, each one a large letter of the alphabet.
I stitched a sample, and I really like how it turned out. Once the other designs are complete, I’ll list them all in my Etsy shop. I’ve stopped making masks for the time being, and I’m taking the shop in a more patterns and quilts direction.
I’ve also completely re-designed my Fitz Stitch piece. On reflection, and after some productive conversations, I decided I’d wandered too far from the prompt, so I took it back to the beginning and designed a new piece more in line with what originally inspired me. I’ll write a new post about that, hopefully in the next few days.
Last, but certainly not least, I just started a new job with an online tutoring firm. It’s my first job since before our son was born. We went through our financials in July, when we had finally had a normal settled month in the UK, and decided it was time for me to go back to work. I wasn’t too excited at first, and it took a while to find the right fit, but I start this week, and it feels good to be able to look forward to a paycheck and teaching again.
As for what I’ve been making…
Knit Swirl Sweater
From the book “Knit, Swirl!” by Sandra McIver. This has been my mindless knitting that I do in front of the TV, or during Mah Jong, as pictured here. These sweaters have cascade necklines and long lengths, swirling out from neck to knee in one giant hem. They’re knitted in one piece, so you actually start by casting on the giant hem: in this case, 601 stitches. From there you decrease inward, then knit the back, and the sleeves, all the way up to the neck. I’m knitting the sleeves now, so the thing overflows my lap. In a couple weeks, it might actually be done!
So yes, there’s a lot going on in our lives right now, but it’s also a good time. We’ve been living in the same place for six months and don’t expect to have to move for years. We’re still healthy, and building a good life. My quilt guild is starting to have in-person meetings again this month, and I hope I’ll be able to go. We’re even beginning to discuss when our families might be able to visit again; it probably won’t be until January or later, but at least it’s on the horizon.
We’re grateful for some order in the chaos. Here’s hoping things are improving for you too.
It kills me that the next round of Marvel movies have all been pushed back, for the trifling reason that people can’t go to movie theatres.* How am I supposed to wait two more years for another “Doctor Strange” movie? And the “Black Panther” sequel? Not to mention finding out how Natalie Portman can possibly be Thor. Sigh.
*Sarcasm, I promise. We’re taking the pandemic very seriously.
I’ve begun to make progress again toward the third draft of my novel. Oh, haven’t I mentioned that I’m writing my first novel? The seed of the idea first came to me when I was seventeen, and I wrote fragments and thought about it in off-moments for YEARS, and completely re-invented the whole framework about three times, and then in 2014 I finally sat down to write a complete first draft. It took a year.
And then it took another four years to get to a second draft. I finished it (for some definition of “finished”) last August, when my son was seven months old. (I’d only been about a chapter and a half away when he was born, so it didn’t take too long once I had time to put my mind to it.) I gave the second draft, inconsistent and full of holes, to my husband, his sister, and his mother to read. They gave me encouraging feedback, and basically told me that I needed to write more of it. Then a whole lot of life happened, and finally last month I found my hard copy of the second draft, and started to work on the third draft.
I’m reading the second draft straight through and working toward the third draft at the same time. There are some significant structural problems with the second draft, and massive pacing problems, and there’s something essential missing from the middle that I don’t know what is. I made myself crazy for about three weeks trying to figure all this out, and I did make some good lists of questions and fill a corkboard with index cards…
…but after a while I started feeling like I was chasing my tail in five different circles. I just wasn’t ready to figure all these things out yet, certainly not all at once.
Thankfully my mother-in-law got me untangled again. I was telling her about how I felt stuck and something was missing and I wasn’t getting anywhere, and she suggested I should try writing some chapters from other characters’ points of view.
My imagination lit afire. Immediately I could see how Chapter 7 could be better from Augustus’s point of view, how 12 could be better from Finn’s, the prologue from Flora’s. My book has a big cast, and the many perspectives this idea offered might help me to think from different angles, try something new, shake things loose that might help to address the big problems that I couldn’t figure out in the abstract.
My husband and I have recently agreed that I should have a weekly four-hour block when I can work on my book uninterrupted. Things so fell out that last week, I couldn’t find time for it until Friday, and then I had a spasm of trying to figure out all the big abstract problems again, and began chasing my tail. And I was feeling so miserable that it finally hit me. “Enough!” I said to myself. “Just start writing!”
And I sat down and started five different chapters from five different points of view and wrote a total of 2,500 words in less than four hours. I had a blast! It was such a relief to let my imagination go, try out different perspectives and voices, and just to write again.
There are always a million things I want to do, and one of the things that’s difficult about trying to do them with a toddler in the house is that any progress has to be agonizingly slow. It can even feel sometimes like I’ve tried something, and it hasn’t helped me, when all that’s really happened is that I haven’t had time to actually do it yet. My “apparent lack of progress” can be really discouraging, because my sense of what I should be able to accomplish in a given amount of time, bears no relationship to what I actually can fit in around a toddler and a house and life in general. It was really important to realize that my expectations were wildly unrealistic, because then I could cut way down on the stress about not getting very much accomplished.
I’m also trying to remember that this is just one season of my life, when my son is small, and there are aspects that just have to be survived, along with the ones that must be cherished. Right now most of my responsibility is to him, and in some ways that’s a lot harder than I’d expected, but in some ways it’s also better than I’d hoped. He’s getting bigger all the time, and it gives me so much joy that he’s always really happy to see me. I get to be here while he learns, and plays, and can walk but still prefers to crawl. I get to rock him in the chair every night. The truth is, he’s so good at entertaining himself, and usually such a regular napper, I’m lucky to get as much time for my own projects as I do.
I’ve often said about teaching, that a professor’s expectations of their students should be high, but attainable. Is there anything harder than taking your own advice?
I’m very excited to announce that I’ll be contributing to Fitz Stitch, a community stitch project organized by the Fitzwilliam Museum, here in Cambridge.
Several weeks ago the Museum began advertising for 45 stitchers, of any skill level, each to contribute one 25 cm square (just shy of 10 inches) to a quilt, that will be hung in the Museum’s entryway when finished. Each square should be inspired by something in the Museum’s collection. For my inspiration, I dug through the Fitzwilliam’s Instagram feed until I found this beautiful plate fragment.
I was immediately drawn to the idea of an ancient piece of pottery, broken, now being restored so it can be put on display again. Pieces in museums that have been carefully re-assembled have always spoken to me; there’s so much implied story, and time, and care. I imagine the person who made it, the accident in which it was broken, the restorers who put it back together. (And I love the detail on that fish.)
About a month ago I emailed my idea to the Fitz Stitch organizers, and received word back that I was welcome to contribute (Yay!), and that they’d be having a Zoom meeting to discuss ideas and questions in a couple weeks. In the two hours before the meeting, I finally sat down and made some sketches so I’d have something to show. I’d done some digging and found pictures of Roman fish platters (which I’ve always loved in museums; they’re made to serve fish, so they have fish painted on them, and that tickles me), and I’d also done a little thinking about break patterns.
The meeting provided a very stimulating discussion; everyone’s ideas were so different, and it was clear from how they talked about implementing their ideas that these were experienced and capable makers, and it made me feel so honored to be counted among them.
Yesterday, I found some time to start working on full-scale drawings of the final piece. I checked the final measurements and converted them to inches again (none of my acrylic rulers are in centimeters), drew a square for the finished size on an A3 sketchpad, and pulled out my compass. I’d originally imagined the platter being an oval, but the Roman fish platters are usually round. I eyeballed where I wanted the mostly-reassembled plate to be in the frame, and added a border around the rim and the distinctive medallion in the center. Now I know how much room I actually have to work with to depict the fish. .
Then I re-drew the square on another page, centered the circle more carefully, re-drew the outer edge and the medallion to the same measurements, and free-handed the break pattern.
Next I’ll make copies of these two pages, sketch the fish into the complete circle, then trace the break lines from the second drawing, and cut the complete circle apart to make templates for the fabric pieces. I’m planning to paper-piece the segments of the plate and embroider the fish. (Have I ever embroidered anything that sophisticated and pictorial before? Not even close. Is that going to stop me? Of course not.)
But, there’s also another exciting wrinkle! During the Zoom meeting, listening to other contributors talk about bringing ideas together and their diverse approaches to textile art, I was so inspired, and began to think about ways that I could make my idea more relevant. One obvious connection was kintsugi, the Japanese method of mending broken pottery with gold lacquer: not hiding the cracks, but celebrating the new beauty of the piece in its re-assembled form. (If you have to put it back together anyway, why not make it prettier?)
The organizer from the Fitzwilliam thought that was a great idea, so now, I have three questions before me: 1. What color scheme should I choose? 2. How three-dimensional do I want to try and make this? 3. How am I going to work the gold into the seams?
I’m not sure whether to end that question with “already” or “only.”
We are managing over here in our various ways. My hard-working husband (like so many dedicated educators) is having to give his lectures online, in his case four mornings a week, but thankfully only for four weeks. The grad students are doing all their grad-student things, and one of them is making some bold forays into learning how to cook, which is charming but slightly scary, because he’s the same one who woke us all up at five in the morning two days after they moved in by setting off the smoke detectors, because he’d put something in a cardboard tray into the microwave. The baby, blissfully ignorant of global health crises, continues to thrive and get into things and learn to stand on his own and say lots of new words, just as he would if none of this other stuff were happening.
For myself, I am managing variously. Most days I am able to muddle through much as I would normally. Some days I’m overwhelmed by the vastness of what’s happening, and all the loss. Other days I get completely fed up with being confined, not being able to go places and shop and socialize in person. There are days when I’m not good for much of anything. I think it’s safe to assume that that’s true for everyone right now.
I’m making masks and ear-savers for my Etsy shop, and on Tuesday I completed a test version of a kaleidoscope quilt top!
I’m mostly pleased with this as a first outcome. I made this test version out of fabrics that I was given through my quilt guild in New Jersey some years ago (a donation from Massdrop). I did run into some issues with cutting, and with running out of fabric from simply not having realized how much I would need, but setting that aside, I think there are some clear ways that I can improve this the next time around. (For one thing, I think I’ll make the next one smaller so it doesn’t use quite so much fabric. It ended up a LOT bigger than I was expecting, somehow.)
Sadly I don’t remember the name of the quilter whose work originally inspired this; I saw her kaleidoscope quilt several years ago, and broke it down into a template for one-twelfth of it (see below to get an idea), and then it just sat in my files for about six years. Of course, her quilt was much more impressive because her individual segments were intricately pieced, but I just wanted to get an idea, so I chose mostly directional fabrics and went with that.
I think I partly had it wrong-way-around in my head. I drew angled lines on my template pieces so that each piece would always be oriented the same way, but I think I was working up from the flat bottom, instead of down from the pointy top, which is the center. The star in the middle is nice, and more or less what I planned.
When I do this again, I’d also like to make the individual segments less obvious, by using some common colors for the background, and creating more secondary patterns to blend the pieces together.
But of course, the great thing about this whole concept is that it’s very forgiving. On some level, absolutely anything looks good when you’ve reflected it around a center twelve times.
I have a great yen to do one of these with a color-changing fabric that I used for the sashing on my son’s baby quilt…
…but I only have so much of it, so I’ll want to get better at kaleidoscope-thinking first.
Hopefully next week I can start some test-swatches to resume work on my Planet Quilts! I also just received my first Knitter magazine in the mail (so exciting!), and a pattern I ordered for a coat. My quilt guild issued a challenge for us to make something with only scraps this year, and I decided I’d like to make something to wear. Being plus-sized, I needed to pick carefully, but very happily discovered this:
I’ll start with a muslin mockup, tweak it to fit me beautifully, then make up the panels from my scraps! (May have to cheat a little for the lining…)
But that’s still a ways down in the queue. Next up, some volunteer sewing, and place mats.
So I haven’t made much progress on my planet quilts lately. Of course, I’ve been busy, preparing for lockdown, unpacking after our move, keeping our fifteen-month-old from pushing the buttons on the washing machine. I’ve even listed new things in my Etsy shop: XL face masks in several prints and solid colors, and ear-savers in white and blue. (Coming soon, hopefully, a new cross-stitch pattern or two.)
But I’ve also, in my leisure time, started working on a test version of a kaleidoscope quilt, which has nothing to do with the planet quilts at all.
And the reason I haven’t been working on the planet quilts is that I’m afraid. I’m afraid of messing them up. I’m afraid of making artistic decisions which, if I get them wrong, would mean completely starting over. And I’m afraid of using new techniques which, if I get them wrong, would mean completely starting over. This paralysis has held me tight for months.
But recently, in my desire to connect to a larger community, I joined the Community Stitch Challenge at TextileArtist.org. Every week during the lockdown they’re hosting a video from a different textile artist, talking about their process and philosophy, and providing a small challenge for everyone to do at home. For Week Four it was Richard McVetis, who emphasizes hand-stitching as a record of time. I was watching him talk about his process, and show examples of couching, which was his challenge for the week, and he pulled out this big square of linen with small squares, spaced out from each other, each filled with a different stitch experiment. And it reminded me that I’d seen the same thing on the video for Week One with Sue Stone, and in a video “Behind the Scenes at the Royal School of Needlework” (timestamp 5:13, but the whole video is only eight minutes and totally worth watching). They were test swatches. And this finally grounded in my mind something I’ve been on the verge of learning about artistic process.
Working artists don’t just make glorious works of art in a sudden rush of inspiration. Art takes time, and care, and technique acquired through many hours of practice. And part of that practice, or working up to any finished piece, is doing tests, trying things out. Making sketches, and more elaborated sketches, making maquettes or test swatches. It’s how you know whether something will work before you try it on your final canvas. It’s how you start to work past the fear that you’re going to irrevocably mess it up.
I’ve done this a few times in my quilting career. I made a test block for the Challenge Quilt, which was made of three-inch blocks, just to make sure I could actually piece something that small. (It eventually became Anika’s Micro-Quilt.)
And I did a little test-planet a few months ago, to make sure I wasn’t completely crazy to buy a bunch of supplies and start needle-felting.
But mostly I just build my design in exhaustive detail and then start making the thing, pushing through or working around whatever challenges arise as they come. When I’ve done tests, I’ve usually only done one, to move on to the actual making, and to avoid using up supplies.
But I feel like I’ve come to this stage in my development where I’m ready to level up, in my writing, in my making, and grow as an artist, as a maker. And there are so many possibilities for the planet quilts that I haven’t explored yet. And there’s really no reason NOT to do test swatches. It’s not like anything is wasted. Test swatches are small, and I have plenty of the fabrics, and a sheet of test squares becomes a thing of beauty in itself.
And there’s also this. I have to face the fear of failure. I know this about writing; how many times have I told students that the first draft WILL be bad? It’s not the first draft’s job to be good; the point of the first draft is to have something that EXISTS, so you can work on it and get to the second draft. You can’t be afraid of writing badly. You will write badly. It WILL happen. We do it, we get through it, and maybe eventually write well. Maybe I don’t have the skill yet to achieve what I want for my planet quilts. There’s only one way to find out. And if I fail, well, nothing has been wasted. I will learn. I will try other things. I will fail better. Learn and grow.
So I’ll try some things and hopefully soon have some progress to report. In the meantime, I have a few homey projects in the queue: placemats, curtains for the kitchen window, and some more ear-savers to crochet.
If you’re craftily-inclined, and want to help out during the ongoing pandemic, there are lots of things people need that can be whipped up at home with basic sewing supplies or a ball of yarn. These are just a few I’ve heard about:
Scrub bags: basically just a draw-string bag for nurses to take home contaminated scrubs to wash. Don’t know if they’re needed in the US, but the NHS wants them in the UK. Free pattern
Scrubs: again, I know they’re wanted in the UK, but check for the US
Pairs of hearts: these are made for families who have someone in critical care and can’t visit them. One of the hearts goes to the patient, the other to the family, to give them something tangible to hold and feel connected. This is where I heard about it: Appeal for Fabric Hearts. Check what the requirements are at your local hospital.