Almost a decade ago, I worked for a general contractor who filed a claim for compensation for construction time lost. We lost a month of production due to flooding at the job site from a tropical storm. The site collected all the water from the surrounding area in the large excavation we’d dug for the future building. This “Act of God” issue lingered, unresolved and disputed for months and, as these things tend to do, ended up in the hands of lawyers.
One day, my boss and I went to see our lawyer to discuss the claim. We were escorted through the office suite up a flight of stairs. Hanging high on the wall near the plush mezzanine was a brightly colored kite, which turned out to be a painting.
If you’ve read my first post, you’ll know I’ve been out of the quilting world for several years. I would like to say I always knew I’d come back to it but I can’t. I figured I’d make a random quilt here and there, maybe after my heart-sons graduated college and got their own places. Then I could commandeer one of their bedrooms for my work room. But that was a haphazard thought drifting along one of the many twists in my mind, sharing space with the other thoughts on other mind twists, wishful dreams of ways I could live a creative life.
I can, however, say with all the certainty that my independent, strong-willed mind possesses:
I’ve always known I was meant to do creative work.
The problem, reinforced by well-meaning adults (when I was young) and society (all the rest of the time), is that creative work is notorious for not paying well. Unless you’re one of the very few who make it big. Since there was no guarantee spending my productive working years making art would result in luxuries like food or a retirement fund, I copped out and went corporate. Or, to put it another way, I did the practical thing and got a job.
There’s nothing wrong with that; there’s just a part of me that wishes I had been as strong-willed when I was starting out as I’ve grown to be. If I had been, then I would have been brave enough to try.
The job isn’t creative but it pays well and is producing a nice nest egg for that far off day when I won’t have to wake to an alarm clock, shower, dress, put on 4″ heels, and slog my way through commute traffic. (I’ll miss the heels.) So I’ll keep it, or one like it, as long as needed.
But the lack of freedom to create in the day job has been killing my spirit, sucking the soul right out of my fingertips. I watched my essence drift away in wispy whiffs of heart. It made me cranky because I could not find the balance between work me and live me. Work me was taking over and the lack of creativity in my day-to-day produced literal pain. So I went in search of balance.
Turns out I’d already found that balance in my Sweets.
He encourages, in fact, actively supports, me. Not just the things I like or love to do, but me. I’m a lucky lady.
With his support, I embraced leaving work at work, going to the gym to swim before going home, keeping up with my prolific reading, and investigating ways I could make creativity an integral part of who I am, not just who I want to be.
Earlier this year, I dove deep into researching myself so I could figure out the best way to bring my imagination to life, so I could find those things I love to do. A couple of things popped to the surface of my memory ocean.
Poetry. And quilts. What if I combined the two?
I’ve written poetry since I was 9. During the tail end of the dismal, dank, absolutely miserable Chicago winter of 2013-2014, I’d written a poem about rainy, dark days after staring out my office window. As I scribbled the first draft of the poem, I saw a quilt. It formed, almost fully designed, right alongside the words I’d written. I sat back, stunned. Not at the awesomeness of the poem, but because I suddenly knew what I was meant to do.
My poetry would inspire my quilt designs.
I went home that evening and in the rat-a-tat-tat that is me excited, told Sweets I wanted, no, needed, to go get my sewing supplies out of storage. He smiled and said okay.
Of course he did.
When we got everything back to the house, I opened the boxes and discovered an unfinished quilt — Celtic Knot. I’d forgotten all about it. Maybe I’d blocked it out.
Celtic Knot was a pre-made pattern, a stained glass quilt design. When I purchased and started it back in 2007, it was a total b*tch to work on. To create the “leading”, I was required to snip, fold, and glue the raw edges back onto the “lead”. Tedious. And difficult. I needed Herculean strength to squeeze the glue bottle to dispense the glue and I’m no Hercules. Or Xena, if I’m going to get the gender right. I’d given up on the project. After all, not every quilt gets finished.
However, I have a mild case of OCD. When I re-discovered Celtic Knot in that box, my OCD wouldn’t let me start on a new creative endeavor making poetry quilts as a way to keep myself sane until I finished what I’d left unfinished. I made a decision: if I could find pleasure in completing a quilt I originally had no drive to finish, then I would know I was on the right path.
So I went and bought a new bottle of glue. One that didn’t require me to possess Xena’s strength.
That bottle made all the difference.
I finished the “leading” and piecing the “glass” in a matter of a few weeks. Working backwards to let the quilt inspire the poem, I wrote one, printed it on fabric and used it to sign the quilt.
The quilting isn’t all that great – I went with stitch in the ditch and my stitching was erratic, but you can only tell if you get up close. And the binding. I don’t want to talk about the binding. Suffice it to say, I’m really out of practice and I’m glad no one sees the backside of a quilt when it hangs on a wall. But I finished it.
And I loved the process. So much so, I immediately began the next one. Stay tuned for progress reports!
What has stopped you from finishing a project? Did you find a solution?
My mother insisted I learn to sew when I was young. She felt it was a good life skill but of perhaps greater importance (important because this is the part I remember with the most clarity), she wanted me to learn because I was a very short child who grew to be a vertically challenged adult. Knowing how to hem garments was considered crucial.
I may never have gained much in the height department, but I did gain a Herculean stubbornness and independence which resulted in sewing rebellion. I detested sewing clothes — every pattern required adjustment so the finished product would fit. And to be told I needed to know how to sew because I was going to be short was just the sort of statement to prompt me to do the opposite (if only that had worked with the growing part). To say I was contrary is an understatement.
But I still lugged a sewing machine from apartment to apartment once I’d graduated college and moved out on my own. My mother’s old reliable Singer 401 (gifted to me when she bought a Bernina) sat in a nice cabinet that looked like a small desk. The desk part was handy for paying bills and writing letters back when people wrote letters. And, on occasion, I’d use the machine to shorten a pair of pants.
My mother was (is) a quilter but I refused to consider being a quilter myself. That contrary streak again. I got it stuck in my head that darn sewing machine was for clothes making only and I was not making clothes. Finding garments that fit properly in a store wasn’t always easy, but it was a heck of a lot easier than me trying to make them. (Still is, actually.)
But everything changed in October 1998. Someone I cared about was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. His liver, lungs, and other organs were also impacted. He was given 30 days.
My reaction when loss occurs is to do something. In the middle of the pain, action keeps my focus pointed outward. This particular ache pushed me to make my first quilt because the disease made this strong man weak, shrinking him at a rapid pace.
He lived 26 days after diagnosis. He stayed warm under that first quilt for the last 10.
In the next year, I went on to make birthday quilts for my brother, my father, and my mother. I made a small wall hanging as a wedding gift and an art quilt that is a conceptual take on the original master plan for the Austin, Texas airport (my day job is in construction management).
Production slowed in the years that followed but I still made a quilted cross; a college logo quilt; a screen printed center patch with rockers wall hanging for a motorcycle club; a hand dyed, quilted and machine embroidered skirt; and a motorcycle club chapter tribute quilt. I wish I’d taken pictures to show you. Except for the skirt and the airport, all were gifts.
A little age, a bit of wisdom, and a lot of love tempered my contrary streak. When I could see past my stubbornness, I discovered an unexpected pleasure in sitting down at my sewing machine. I can’t imagine losing that. Creating quilts for others or to display as art work is a gift I was given, one for which I am very grateful.
In what way have you been contrary? Did anything happen to change that?
I made my first quilt in 1998. It was made from “cheater” fabric and filled with flaws but I found tremendous satisfaction in the finished product. The picture in my head came to life. I was hooked.
For the next few years, I was a prolific seat of the pants quilter, crafting my quilts by reading technique books, listening to my gut, and eventually taking a few classes. I made quilt after quilt as gifts for family and friends, until I found myself relocating from Texas to Chicago, where quilting fell off the back seat in the wake of new city, new job, and assorted other life changes. In addition to those assorted life upheavals, I found myself dissatisfied with what I made. I wanted to quilt but I didn’t want to make traditional quilts. I wanted to make art like that displayed at Houston’s International Quilt Festival (IQF) and through Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA). While that desire to be a quilt artist lingered in my soul, I did nothing to fan the flames. I didn’t build up a collection of work; instead, I let fear tell me it was an impossible dream, that I didn’t have what it took, that I couldn’t be an artist.
Screw the fear. I’d rather know I tried.
This year, I dug a UFO out of a box and dove in to finish it. It’s not an original design but the act of picking up the rotary cutter and applying foot to pedal on my machine sparked something in me. It reminded me how much I enjoy the process and the craft. It also reminded me how much I have to learn and how rusty my skills are. But I still scribbled down a list of over 15 quilts I want to design and make. I can see them in my head, and I know there are more lurking in the background.
I’ve always dabbled in poetry and, in one of those weird, random connections, I find my poems are sparking those quilt designs. (I can’t say if the poetry is any good or not — go here if you’re interested in reading any of it — but I hope the quilts will be!)
It is my goal to become a quilt artist. I know there are many steps to take, many small and large goals to set and achieve on that path. There are classes to take, techniques to learn, wise people to listen to and learn from.
I know it won’t happen overnight, if at all. In fact, if it happens, it is likely to take years. But I’m looking forward to putting in the time.
This blog is a record of the journey. Thank you for coming along on the ride.