Tuesday, November 11, 2014

how to get over our fear of time

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Time -- perhaps the most scruntinised aspect of artists' and makers' lives. How many hours did that take? Where do you find the time? I found that this week, in response to the Foxy quilt, many people expressed a wish to make one similar, but with a sad resignation that it would take too long.

This tally of hours we assign to handmade things seems to be the number one reason to say "no" to creativity -- the overwhelming thought of forty hours, perhaps, on just one project. Nevermind that you might love those forty hours. Nevermind that you might spread it out in a happy half-an-hour here, a slow hour there (you can read more about fitting in these little pockets of creative time here). Just the idea of that much time, added up, can stop creativity dead.

How can we overcome that fear of finding time that often holds us back?

Perhaps it starts with shaking the negative connotation that anything that takes a long time must be dull and inefficient, or else impossible.

I first read about the idea that in order to become a master at something you must practice for 10,000 hours in Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers". I'm not sure I believe in this exact pin-point of time required, but I love the way that hours are seen as a goal, an accomplishment, instead of a chore.

I remember, at first, feeling overwhelmed -- mourning all the things that I'd never be a master at because I hadn't started learning them early enough. But, at some point this year, while searching for joy in the long long hours of sewing straight line after straight line, the idea of 10,000 hours took on new meaning to me. There are lot of hours of less-than-inspiring manual labour that go into quilting. Previously, I'd found quite a bit of pleasure in counting these up so as to moan about them -- "six hours! oh, my back!" -- but the idea of that bigger picture of 10,000 hours put all that time in a different light. Those hours could now be amounting to something much greater than just back pain -- amounting to this deep, deep knowledge of something that I love and really do want to master the skills of.

As beginners at anything, it can be very useful to look to experts in that field for guidance and inspiration. I'm very grateful to the quilters who have laid out their techniques to help me learn. However, we must be careful of the danger of comparison -- of thinking, "I'll never get to where they are. And even if I do, they will already be so much better!" Perhaps it will be impossible to keep up with others. But it what is possible is to move down your own path, mastering things in your own way, at your own pace, with your own voice. And along the way, well before the 10,000 hours, you will see moments of mastery -- moments when you can look back and see your own progress taking shape.

So much depends on what we choose to include in our days, and what we decide to leave out. In that choice, we make our lives.

There can seem to be an illusive secret to finding time to create, but I wonder if it doesn't all come down to these small choices -- not right or wrong, but indicative of our priorities and goals. I often choose an un-vacuumed floor in favour of following a surge of inspiration. I choose messy hair, and unfolded laundry and simple meals. We all give things up in order to make time for what we see as important, and these choices, minute by minute, add up to who we are.

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(Fancy Fox Quilt pattern by Elizabeth Hartman)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

my year (so far) in books

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At the start of September, I stumbled across my list of goals for the year -- a list that my energetic January-self had written, and my less-motivated rest-of-the-year-self had never bothered to re-read. There were a few that had stuck in my memory -- either because I'd already finished them, or had given up on them (ahem, "run a 5k")-- but one that surprised me was "read twenty books."

I promptly listed the books I'd read this year so far -- a sad total of five. Three-quarters of the year gone; one-quarter of the goal met. And then, fueled by some strange determination to prove to January's version of me that I could do it, I spent the next two months buried in books. Now, twenty books have come and gone, and I can't stop -- it's a lovely habit that's come, and stayed.

I've put my list of books here, just in case you're looking for your next good read, with a star next to the ones that I particularly loved:

* The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
* Beachcoming at Miramar (Richard Bode)
* The Secret History (Donna Tartt)
* Housekeeping (Marilynne Robinson)
* My Year of Magical Thinking (Joan Didion)
* Me Talk Pretty One Day (David Sedaris)
* Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (David Sedaris)
   In the Woods (Tara French)
* The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd)
  The Little Friend (Donna Tartt)
  When You Are Engulfed in Flames (David Sedaris)
  Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls (David Sedaris)
  St. Lucy's Home For Girls Raised By Wolves (Karen Russell)
  The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Stieg Larsson)
* The Virgin Suicides (Jeffrey Euginedes)
  The Woman Who Walked Into Doors (Roddy Doyle)
* The History of Love (Nicole Krauss)
  The Girl Who Played With Fire (Stieg Larsson)
  The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (Stieg Larsson)
  Normal People Don't Live Like This (Dylan Landis)
* The Great Divorce (C. S. Lewis)
  The Gift of Stones (Jim Crace)
* Snow Falling on Cedars (David Guterson)

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A few weekends ago, to mark the end of the twentieth book -- as an excuse for a party, and a way to get some new reading material -- we had some friends round for a little book exchange.

We asked everyone to bring along a book that they had read and enjoyed, wrapped up with the first line of the book written on the outside. Then, much like the rules of the game "White Elephant" that we often play at Christmas parties, we all drew numbers from a bowl, and then, in turn, each had a chance to pick a book from the centre and unwrap it OR to steal a book previously chosen by someone else. (With the agreement that each book can only be stolen twice).

It was so much fun! There was an amazing variety of books -- literature, romantic memoir, spy novels, plays, and a two-volume statistical study (which my husband happily took home). Something for everyone.

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And, just because I couldn't stop laughing at these food-themed literary puns, we had much too much fun with the snacks -- serving up Poisonwood Trifle and Bananas Karenina, with Huckleberry Gin and Tonics and some Sense and Sensibili-tea. (Groan!)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

fifty shades of fox

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In many ways, life at home with two little children revolves around the seasons. The spring is for picnics and planting; the summer, for dashing from one air-conditioned space to the pool and back again. This year, I loved sewing for these seasons: pastel quilts in April and May inspired by the lengthening sunsets; deep, rich quilts in July and August to remind me of what our garden gives us at that times of year.

And now, autumn is setting us free again -- the outside beckoning with new curiosities. I have not, once, though, sewn anything for the autumn -- until now.

I have to confess, I'm a little bit in love with orange this year in general -- it's been my secret weapon numerous times this year, in giving a bit of extra energy to the rather predictable turquoise-white-grey combo. And so, inspired by the (few) leaves that have begun to change in our garden, and the rather excessive family of pumpkins that have taken over our house, I chose a pattern that would fit an all-orange/red palette rather nicely...


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These fancy fox faces are made using a pattern by Elizabeth Hartman (Fancy Fox Quilt, bought here). I don't think I can properly describe how much fun it is to turn little squares and rectangles into faces -- and, after the first one, how surprisingly easy! And addictive.

And so, the fox wall keeps growing, thoroughly freaking my husband out whenever he comes in -- as he says, "It's like walking into the woods on a foggy morning, and there's this pack of hungry eyes staring at you...".

I'll leave you with that thought, and these forty eyes, staring at you...

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

how to be a unique, one-of-a-kind creation

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Something that has been weighing on me recently is the incredible commercialization of creativity -- the propaganda put out there that makes us feel that we need to use colour or pattern or designer fabrics in a certain way in order to make something beautiful. Having toyed with sponsorship last year, I've had my eyes opened to the business-side of this world, and the reality that lots of people receive all the new and trendy things for free, in return for selling them to the rest of us.

And while it can be a positive way to support small shops and designers, something about that role of advertiser makes me a little uncomfortable -- in general, but especially in the way that it affects how we express ourselves creatively.

I don't want to sell you "new and trendy".

I don't want to sell you the idea that you have to take one designer's fabric collection and plug it into another designer's pattern -- a sort of "paint-by-numbers" creativity. 

I don't want to sell you anything, other than the belief that you are a unique, one-of-a-kind creation, capable of creating beauty, and that you do not have to buy any specific product to make that true.

It's a real struggle for me to shake off that need to have whatever is new. I love buying fabric and love being inspired by what others are making. There's nothing wrong with either -- we all need to get our materials somewhere! When that translates to actual creating, though, I've started to ask myself, "Is this really me? Is this what I want to make, or an idea I'm being sold? Is it the compulsive-consumer in me who wants to do this, or the one-of-a-kind artist?"

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And with all that in mind, I've been sewing with scraps this week -- putting fabrics together that may or may not go -- and finding that this is where my heart really is. In this sea of blue scraps, it's the moments when the vintage flowers of Flea Market Fancy fall next to the modern graph paper of Architextures that make me smile.

Does it go? I'm not sure. Do I like it? Yes.

And I remember that, in this life, we do not have to fit into a box. We do not have to be a poster-child for minimalism or romanticism or for anything. We certainly do not need to be somebody else's billboard. We can simple love what we love, without worrying about being consistent, and see what happens.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

joy: a finished quilt

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I love making things for other people, but this one... this one's for me.

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In case you'd like to make your own, here are the instructions I followed for the blocks: 5.5" Economy Block Tutorial. Time consuming, but a lovely way to make the most of your most beloved fabrics.

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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

tutorial: dotty valentines

Every year, I'm amazed by the thoughtful Valentine's cards that the kids' friends give -- sweet photos, sweet puns, sweet sweets. It gets a bit stressful trying to think of something with the same wow-factor to give in return, so this year, we've just kept it simple and handmade -- plain card, stickers and a hole punch. A card that is easy to make in large quantities -- and easy for little hands to join in making, at all stages.

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You'll need: 
plain card
a hole-punch
a paper cutter (optional)
stickers or coloured pens
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I told Tilly what I was writing on the front of each card, but in true toddler fashion, she insisted the saying was, "I'm dotty JUST LIKE you." So we put that on a couple of cards, too, to give to her unashamedly crazy friends!

Monday, January 27, 2014

fantastic mr. felix: a foxy finished quilt

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"Even though so much of modern life and theology insists that what matters is my mind, my soul, my inner self, my heart, there is still this nagging part of me that knows on some deep level that the things we see and touch and hear and taste are spiritual, too." 
--Shauna Niequist

I spend a long time picking out fabrics. The perfect shade of aqua, the happiest-looking foxes I can find. And perhaps it's because I expect so much of them. I expect these strips of cotton to communicate years of friendship. I expect them to sum up love and hope and joy. I expect them to act as a promise of support -- that if ever life is difficult, we are here to help, and if ever life gives cause to celebrate, we are here to join in the excitement.

It's a lot to ask.

But I hope that the new little life who'll be wrapped up in these bright triangles will feel some of that -- the emotion wound up in woolly batting -- seeping out through the stitches.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

how I fell in love with fabric

I haven't always been so emotional about fabric. It used to just be material -- something that clothes and sheets and curtains happen to be made of; something that I could pick up at Walmart, in lurid colours, for $3 a yard. It was mundane; something to be used, but not loved.

And then, back in 2012, I happened across Leslie Keating's hand-printed fabrics, and everything changed.

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Suddenly, immediately, I saw that fabric could be used for so much more than just the practical. Sewing (for me) was no longer limited to poorly-made baby clothes, badly-hemmed table runners and fraying cloth napkins.

Beauty was possible. Beauty was probable, with the right fabrics. I felt it, physically, in my chest, and fell completely in love -- with the perfect colours, the unique designs.

And along the way, I found other designers whose fabric made me feel that same pang. Lotta Jansdotter's collection, "Echo", Lu Summers' "Summersville", Aneela Hooey's "Walk in the Woods", Carolyn Friedlander's "Architextures", and Blueberry Park's "Allotments" are all prints that bring about an emotional and magical element to sewing. They all shine with the air of possibility that fabric can hold. Because, after all, fabric is a supply; it wants to be used, not just admired.

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Of course, these fabrics did just sit, admired, on my shelf for almost a year, as I gained the courage to cut into them. But what a feeling it is to go for it -- to put aside the fear of not being good enough to sew with something so lovely, and just soak in the joy of creating.

For more info on Leslie's fabrics, you can find her hand-printed panels in her shop, Maze and Vale, and keep up with her sales and giveaways at her blog.

Friday, January 17, 2014

finding joy in the process

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It's easy to find joy in the first stages of projects. The dreaming, the planning, the making of lists and setting of goals; everything is possible in the future tense. I fill journals with plans for our family, and notebooks with sketches of things to make -- and whether or not they actually come to life, there is something good and wholly meaningful just in the dreaming.

It's just as easy to find joy in completion. Crossing things off lists is, at once, a happy record of something accomplished, and a sigh of relief. The (brief) stage of rest before something else begins. Transatlantic trip -- check. A whole night of sleep -- check. Quilts finished. Books read.

It's the middle bit I struggle with. The doing. The process. The daily. And so, in focusing on joy this year, I am really looking hard at the 95% of life that happens between things beginning and things getting done.

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These complex little economy blocks -- a square in a square in a square -- are teaching me something about enjoying the process.

They are slow to make; eight trips through the sewing machine each, with ironing and trimming (and often, seam-ripping and re-doing) in between.


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Slowing down like this helps to take my attention off finishing the quilt, and focus instead on the joy that comes simply from putting one fabric next to another. And these fabrics -- these hand-screenprinted fabrics that I've been storing up for a year, waiting to feel "good enough" to sew with them -- are pure joy in and of themselves. They deserve a slow-to-make block. They deserve to be handled eight times, and built up gradually.

And I'm reminded, of course, to treat the rest of my life the same way.

I might enjoy dreaming of all sorts of values and behaviours for myself and my marriage and my children -- but before we get there, before I can tick those things off, there is joy to be found in the process. In the daily. And surely we all deserve the care of being run through the machine eight times, or fifty times, or endless times, on our journey.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

a second +++ quilt

This quilt took nine months to make -- which makes it okay to love it like my own child, right?

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The first version (which is happily in a new home) used the same fabrics -- the same solid black, the same collection of low-volume whites with small pops of red and yellow (and foxy faces) to keep it from taking itself too seriously. This one was enlarged to 60" square, with the addition of a row of crosses down the length of the quilt.

Really, the quilt was mostly finished last year, at the start of December, and we dragged it around the house to snuggle with, sans binding, for over a month. The plan had originally been to add black (or black cross-hatched) binding, to serve as a frame, but after using the quilt unbound, I grew to love how the black crosses just seemed to hover in an endless white space. Especially on my white bed sheets. And let's face it, in the winter, we spend a good few hours every day in my bed, reading (or jumping).

So, in the end, I bound this one with a mishmash of the same low-volume prints used in the rest of the quilt. At one point, the binding prints even matched up with the border prints -- perfectionist heaven!

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Tilly has, of course, adopted this one as "hers" -- like everything new around here -- and spends many a happy hour finding threads I haven't trimmed and making sure I drop everything to come and snip them off.

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Friday, January 10, 2014

a return from the void

Last year -- 2013 -- was the year that words went on strike. Written, read, on paper, in print, in my head -- all spaces were wordless; all fearfully blank. Words were lost in the void of the daily. (Ironic, I know, considering my first post of last year, proclaiming it to be a year of words).

Instead, 2013 was a year of colour. When words deserted me, colour stepped in as a back-up language. Hence, my ever increasing love of sewing -- which, really, is simply a love of taking one colour and putting it next to another colour to see what they have to say. (Quilts simply take those bits of paired fabric and put them to use).

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So here, at the start of 2014, I have learnt enough not to make predictions for the future. I simply want to make more of an effort to record. And more of an effort to encourage. So, here's to a new year, and to three paragraphs, at least, that have formed themselves and made their way out into the world!

Monday, September 30, 2013

wild geese

wild geese

wild geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes, 
over the prairies and the deep trees, 
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, 
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, 
the world offers itself to your imagination, 
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things. 

--Mary Oliver

wild geese

This quilt was born from a passionate, all-consuming, full-bodied love of colour. In pairing each fabric up with a partner to form the basic half-square triangle blocks, I let the "soft animal of my body" (thanks, M.O.) decide. Instinct. Gut-reaction. A swelling of joy deep inside my rib-cage when the fabrics were just right.

All of the fabrics I cut were lovely, and yet, in pairing them up, some colours dulled each other, while others made their partner sing. I tried not to think about it, and just kept trying colours together until my heart said, "Yes! These two HAVE to be together."

No maybes.

wild geese

The quilt was inspired, originally, by an Amish layout, which called to me from the pages of a book like (you guessed it), "wild geese, harsh and exciting". I had planned to follow suit, using only solids in the Amish tradition, but when a half yard of Anna Maria Horner's "Ghost Wing" arrived in the post, it was just too perfect of a colour not to use -- that blend of minty green and turquoise that is so elusive. The pops of orange from the snippets of large-scale butterflies in the print give the quilt another dimension. I also added in a few rows of PB&J's "Picnic Raspberry Jam", which again, put a bit of a geometric spin on the Amish design.

I'm almost tempted to call this "Wild Geese I" right off the bat, as there is no doubt in my mind that I'll repeat this basic pattern with other flocks of other colours!