Category Archives: Creativity

Too big a wobble

Do you see the big wobble on the right? It got me thinking
about the improv method of quilting.

If you are not a pattern follower, chances are you’re in possession of a certain amount of ruthless decisiveness. Ruthlessness is not, as I may have previously thought, a virtue — something akin to bravery.  It’s more of a necessity.  With the improv method, you simply have to be willing to cut, re-order and switch out sections, live with uneven edges, and throw shit out.


It can be frustrating — abiding by the tweaking redo’s that don’t work, the major botches that can’t be saved. There is frequently the feeling of running in place, or worse, traveling backwards. Photo-documentation, while a boon for recording the process & sharing online, has the unfortunate capacity to reveal that previous iterations of your quilt were better (sometimes, way better) than what your repeated tinkering’s produced.

If you work this way, there’s no point in getting too hung up on these frustrations because the alternative is too awful to bear (i.e. following a pattern (even your own), upholding precision as a goal, suppressing ideas along the way). Plus, for some, it’s simply impossible to do it any other way*.

Have you worked on a quilt for two months and suddenly need to see how it takes to the indigo vat? Hold your breath and dunk! Fed up with the progress on a large pieced Global Warming wall quilt, perhaps also two months in the making? Cut the fucker up! Can’t sort the edge of a composition? Walk away and work on something else for a while.

Cutting off worked sections of cloth to true up an edge is routine and I generally do it without much more than a twinge of regret. This week, however, the idea of removing an inch of edging along half the quilt’s length feels like sacrifice. Sacrifice.I’m left wondering what to do.

Have I changed? Has my cloth-making changed?

I can pinpoint two material reasons for my hesitation. One, I am piecing smaller bits of pattern together these days. A corrective slice now potentially subtracts an entire little world of color and geometry! Ouch!

Two, I now apply hand-stitching to pieced sections as I go, meaning that a long cut-away would cut through rows of stitching, with unknown result. Anchor later? With what effectiveness?  It’s a quandary.

I’ve slid two pieced sections under the edge to see if I could avoid the cut. One section came off the top of the quilt and the other came off the bottom, so the cloth is consonant with the rest (there’ve been times when I’ve had to use poorly matching fabrics to fudge something). But, even well-matched, it looks like shit.

 Is there any way to tinker with a long stretch of raw edge applique on a quilt that is otherwise pieced so that it doesn’t look like a botch job? Any ideas? The moon is the only other appliqué. 

*This is actually, for me anyway, an oversimplification. Even as I’m finishing this piece, I’m drawing on a photo that may become a pattern.

Let your freak flag fly

This work-in-progress garnered the comment, “I love it when you let your freak flag fly!” on Instagram yesterday. After pressing back to make sure it was a compliment (it was), I’ve decided that the phrase makes a pretty good working anthem.


Maybe articulation will follow, but for now I’ll rely on that old Supreme Court ‘definition’ of pornography: ‘I know it when I see it’. Probably something about voice and style.


Is this square with woven strips and indigo moon ‘letting my freak flag fly’? No. Or, not yet. It is too derivative – persistently, dismayingly derivative. On the other hand, the newly assembled cloth collage below lets me announce: “I’m letting my freak flag fly!”

The early stages of composition nearly always more closely capture my ‘style’, such as it is. I have to figure out how to bring more of the free and pleasing (to me) beginnings forward. This is a question of technique, but not exclusively. To be continued…

Losing things and finding them

Are you a person who loses things a lot of the time or just now and then? A recent New Yorker article by Kathryn Schulz takes a beautiful wander through the topic. Subtitled, Reflections on Two Seasons of Loss, Schulz examines not just the business of losing things, but also what it means to lose our minds and loved ones.

Things go missing so much in this house that I have categories for lost objects, not unlike the childhood game of calling out ‘warm’, ‘cold’ or ‘HOT HOT HOT’. I usually can tell that I’m going to retrieve a lost object before I find it and often sense its general vicinity. Lest you think that gives me some sort of advantage, know this: even a ‘hot’ lost item with a felt sense of place can take DAYS to find.

In my early twenties, my checkbook went missing so often that the bank tellers on North Street rolled their eyes to see me coming. I’ve gotten somewhat better. Medication helps.

In spite of my incapacity, family members are right to ask me where things are, since in addition to being an over-the-top loser of things, I’m a good finder. Is that uncommon? My mother used to call me “old eagle eyes” and ask me to round up her scissors.

When the “where’s my” question is posed to me, it feels like more of an imposition that it might otherwise, because I’m kinetic. Being kinetic means I have to take notes to remember anything and that to find a lost object, I have to move my body. When both boys were home over Christmas, I really enjoyed cooking for them and felt neutral about loaning the car and picking up. But the “where’s my?” routine was annoying.

“Where’s my jacket?” “Where’d I leave the fob?” “Did you move my paycheck?”

I was asked to find things I hadn’t used, touched or seen. Being winter, I’d have to unearth myself from a blanket, heating pad and lap top (that’s two cords and a lot of fabric). My joints hurt sometimes. I’d groan. Then I’d wander around the house, maybe finding their lost thing, maybe not.

Objects can move from one category of lost to another. ‘Fucking vanished’ is a category, but believe it or not, a mutable one. Some things that I could swear after a vigorous, multi-day hunt have been taken by leprechauns do in fact show up. (‘taken by leprechauns’ is a whimsical name for ‘fucking vanished’). It is especially hard when something that feels retrievable shifts into the ‘permanently gone’ category.

Frequently losing things teaches you about attachment, sharpens intuition, and inspires resourcefulness in coming up with substitutes. Humility is involved. But those are topics for another time.

Let’s instead descend into my studio, which is really messy (also a topic for another time). Yesterday when I went downstairs to find some xerox color copies I’d gone to some trouble to make a few months back, I wasn’t sure how readily I would find them. That they were pretty much right where I’d thought they’d be felt like a gift.

There are about forty-five collages ready to be mounted to card stock. Then, at last, they will be SoulCollage cards.

Because I hate to measure and really suck at it, it took a good long while to mount just five of the collages. At five a day, I’ll need eight days to get through the pile. But guess what? After an especially demoralizing day of writing, the task actually satisfied. I took my time. I enjoyed working toward a goal with manageable and discrete steps — so unlike finishing a novel (am I finishing? is it a novel?)


Off to walk Finny, then back to my laptop (wish me a more productive day!)

  • (thank you for posting on FB Michelle ! Even though we get The New Yorker, I might have missed it)

H is for humor C is for courage

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Rethinking this platform big time. Bear with me while I re-jigger it enough to keep my own interest (and hopefully not lose yours). Otherwise, I need to just walk away.

First up, name change. This blog is now called: Pattern and Outrage. It more accurately reflects content and I have always hated the primacy and repetition of my name. If you list me, please revise when convenient (the url will not change).

I’m remembering Austin Kleon who said, ‘you don’t blog because you have something to say. You blog to find out what it is you need to say’. Bingo. I’m thinking of Jude, too, who over the years has consistently modeled blogging as a way to track her creative process. What I track may or may not inspire or even interest others, but I don’t have much to lose (as long as I keep my 35 readers, that is).

Here are a few things begging for regular mention: what I’m reading; what is inspiring; political resistance resources; the scary antics of the new administration (something along the lines of: ‘favorite lie of the week’); digital photo collage; and maybe, if I am courageous enough, deeper level thoughts about race — what I’m learning, where I’m stuck, etc. (that’s a  mighty ‘etc.’)

Also considering an occasional semi-private post — not sure how to do this (with a password?). It’s a strain to censor myself, but it strains me in a different way to air private matters. A recent revealing post brought this into sharp relief (now it’s tagged ‘private’). Unlike in the past when I have overshared and taken the post down immediately, this time there was an interval. In that space, many of you made generous and caring comments, both here and on the phone. It felt like part of the point. (NB: can my ADD-addled frontal lobe organize this?).

This is all very fluid. Input is welcome. Are there any improving tweaks obvious to you? What would make you more inclined to come here and/or comment more often? Would you prefer a different platform, like typepad? What form of social media draws you in the most right now and where do you read it?

So today for humor, I am going low. I find this absolutely hilarious.


And for courage, I go to the word itself and the inspirational Brene Brown:

“Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences — good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as “ordinary courage.”

Brené Brown, I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame

The stuff we save

  
Here I am a little tongue-tied, a little at a loss, and wanting to show up anyway.

It’s a cloudy, warm Wednesday in February. The dog barks. The fish tank hums. I feel suspended between things, which is nice because my suspense is filled with silent freedom, but it’s not so great because I feel a little unhinged, not as in crazy, but as in not connected.

The cloth drought continues. It’s kinda killing me. I can’t stand finishing big projects and I have three right now: two bed quilts for my firstborn and the Hearts for Charleston Quilt (which is proving harder to assemble on the vertical than I would have liked).

Today I cleared out a downstairs closet because getting the vacuum out had become nightmarish. Boxes of fabric stowed ‘temporarily’ had tipped over and gotten mixed up with unpressed shirts, unpaired socks, camera bags and cleaning supplies. Ugh!

Just folding and sorting the cloth made me feel better. And the closet is a closet again. Later, I’ll iron some of that fabric while watching TV. I will like that, too.

Next week come: my birthday, the anniversary of my mother’s death (it will be 20 years), then: Valentine’s Day. It’s a weird blend.

My mother died when I was 39 and pregnant. More than once, I have wished for her ‘take’ on my boys even though if she were alive, I’d be batting away her pronouncements as if my survival depended on it. Her judgments were painted with a broad brush and right to an obnoxious degree.

Recently, I revised a memoir piece in which I ask for my mother’s advice and found I really could hear her voice. She was saying things pithy, dumb-sounding, irreverent, and wise.

I plan to submit the piece to a literary journal before tax day. I swear! As Deb Lacativa messaged me recently, “It’s time to start collecting rejection notices.”

So, to close, in the spirit of housekeeping, aging, and examining what satisfies, I dragged this link out of the drafts folder: Candy Chang

Several years ago, she painted blackboards on the sides of buildings and stenciled a collection of lines reading: “BEFORE I DIE, I WANT TO _______.” Passersby filled in the blanks.

BEFORE I DIE, I WANT TO: finish a novel; see my sons get married; hold my grandchildren; eat antipasto in Italy; buy fabric in India; take K to The Fat Hen in South Carolina; sunbathe in the Caribbean; knit a sweater that actually fits somebody.

What do YOU want to do before you die?

 

The internet on our PC is broken (I just love saying that… it’s kind of like announcing “the electricity is broken”).  I am posting with laptop and phone, something I never do. 

Waiting to become

IMG_9898This morning, I revisited the little gem of a book, “Steal Like An Artist,” by Austin Kleon because it’s good and worth revisiting and because, well, seeing my blue indigo woven square on Instagram turned my stomach, just a little, because of how much it said, “Jude” to me. Not arrogance here. Rather:  dissatisfaction. The thing is far from done and woven strips are kinda woven strips, but still, I thought I’d share some of the excellent things Kleon has to say about this, “this” being developing a style or a voice, even though the “Hearts for Charleston” quilt is not about this. At all. (and, as you take a breath, can you tell I’m reading Faulkner again this summer?!)
indigo-woven-deemallon“A wonderful flaw about human beings is that we’re incapable of making perfect copies. Our failure to copy our heroes is where we discover where our own thing lives. That is how we evolve. So: Copy your heroes. Examine where you fall short. What’s in there that makes you different? That’s what you should amplify… ”

And: “Don’t just steal the style, steal the thinking behind the style. You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes.”
IMG_9854Also this: “… you don’t just steal from one of your heroes, you steal from all of them.”

[Who are all of them?!! The blog roll on the right is a starting place. This morning, Robert Rauschenberg, John Singer Sargent, the Gee’s Bend quilters, Susan Carlson, and Ruth McDonald all come to mind. Jude Hill (obviously). Maybe I don’t think about this enough].

“Nobody is born with a style or a voice. We don’t come out of the womb knowing who we are. In the beginning we learn by pretending to be our heroes. We learn by copying.”

“We’re talking about practice here, not plagiarism…. Copying is about reverse-engineering. It’s like a mechanic taking apart a car to see how it works.”

This is not hand-wringing, per se. Just follow-up to a little turn of the stomach. It’s important to follow up on little turns of the stomach. That might be a piece of advice I’d give an artist. Or just plain a person. It’s a little like Julia Cameron suggesting that we use a list of people we are jealous of as a laundry list of things we need. It works. Try it.

Meanwhile, I am in love with some new double exposures. I wish I could figure out what to DO with them!
IMG_9884These feel wholly mine. And yet? Thumb tapping? Digital code? What ARE they?!
And, not free of influence, obviously.
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