Tag Archives: improv

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.

Musings on creativity – 2 basic styles?

"December House"

“December House”

I’ve always thought there were at least two kinds of creators — those who start with an idea and those who don’t. These approaches are inherently alien to each other and sometimes one camp fails to recognize the strengths of the other. Both are valid, of course.  And, as valid approaches, either can bring honest expression forward.

This quilt started out as response to the George Zimmerman acquittal (one on left, below). It was about outrage. And grief. But somewhere along the line I dropped that idea and let the thing be about the darkening time of the year… December in New England. The lengthening night is keenly felt in these parts, but because of the crazy freight train that is the holidays (comin’ straight at ya!), many of us squash the mammalian instinct to curl up in the dark and quiet down. To listen to ourselves breathe. To listen, period. For this reason, and this reason alone, December can be stressful.


This post’s quilt started as the left-most house


pattern stars, rhinestone stars, polka dots and stitches


checked shutters made from a former Anne Taylor skirt – a small remnant of life as a downtown lawyer

I enjoyed layering up the dark. Adding ecru and navy blue “X’s” for stars. And ‘finishing’ the house with shutters and a window box. Making all the layers cohere was a task (one of the downsides of being an improv quilter, I might add), but even that became a useful exercise, as it allowed me to sit with the metaphor of creating unity from disparate parts. Integration.


pre-shutters, with some REAL shadows


with patchworked seat

had to add shadow under moon to interrupt vine - otherwise it would look like a lollipop

shadow under moon added to avoid its resembling a lollipop


house needed the fanning foliage to look like it belonged

Just as extroverts have their need for solitude and introverts like the occasional party, the line between artistic approaches is far from clear cut: planners wing it and improv folks plot. But, I would venture to say that we possess one basic tendency or the other.  And more — that getting comfortable with one’s basic tendency is essential to success.

None of the above is new for me. What IS new is this idea that the approach we abide in might dramatically change how we describe our work. People who form an idea and then strive to express it, might talk about the how forming the intention to say something is essential. People who discover their idea as they work might talk about how being open to what arises is all important. Maybe these commitments ultimately end up in the same place, when true and practiced, but do they impose noticeable differences? I am wondering.

But not for long, probably, because this has gotten to a place of abstraction that is mental and potentially boring. Though I would love to hear reader’s thoughts.

I have to add one more thing, because it bears on honesty in one’s art.  Blogging in a public forum, or a even semi-private one, can dampen one’s level of disclosure. Unavoidable choices about what is or isn’t revealed must be made, and may turn on concerns that have nothing to do with the level of honesty in one’s work: a commitment to protect children’s privacy (even if they don’t!), for instance, or a refusal to be public about some personal issues (even if they are informing one’s work). I find this part of blogging difficult. The WISH to be free with my thoughts almost always feels at odds with the NEED to stay bounded.

Boundaries and interruptions and a red thread

C peeking out

C peeking out

Parenting means being interrupted. And it means improvising.

D itching under cast just like the doctors said not to

D itching under cast just like the doctors said not to

Long gone are the days when I craved a solitary bowel movement, or wistfully anticipated the reclined dentist’s chair for the quiet it represented (those were intense times — with two extremely active boys, neither of them particularly inclined toward napping!!).  With a seventeen and a nineteen year old in the house now, the frequency and urgency behind the interruptions have changed, but the fact of them has not. They continue — as they should.

Add to the parenting — a disabled sister for whom I am the sole support (my brother sends money from the West Coast, and that helps, but NOT with the day to day) and a husband who travels often to Asia, and you begin to get the picture here. Our dog is a piece of work, too – requiring special accommodation for getting up and down stairs, for the correct positioning of his food bowl, and a three-person-applied muzzle for basic grooming. Lately, he’s been ill (I think he’s better, but not quite sure).

Relax! I have already ranted in my Morning Pages. This was done while drinking coffee in Newtonville and waiting for the camera shop to open, so that I could purchase photo paper for D. and then deliver it to the high school (speaking of interruptions)…

(I would love to know what the business types in the coffee shop thought of this deranged-looking woman scrawling across a notebook page in ink nearly as fast as one could speak the words…)

And anyway, if I was going to rant it would be about our fucking computer ‘upgrades’ which have produced a series of repeating and ever-unfolding glitches, such that it is nearly a form of torture to blog (one of the reasons for the gaping pauses of late).

No, I would rather look at boundaries.

White House with Red Boundary

White House with Red Boundary

Last night, I surrounded the White House with an edge.  It really changes the composition, perhaps in too obvious a manner, but I’m willing to entertain it for awhile. Study it some. The thread is red, it is true, but it doesn’t scream red. Maybe that’s because it was hand-dyed in India and billed as “Meditation Thread”.

Maybe it is because there is relief associated with having boundaries. From knowing where the house ends and the sky and yard begin. Recently I have learned the difference between asserting ‘a need’ and shouting a demand.  I discovered that need does not have to be associated with basic survival.

Remedial insight, perhaps. But I share it here because I think it governs my response to this red.

The sky poofs and tuckers in places and will require some attention. I find a lot of quilting to be (in my case, anyway) the resolution of problems created earlier in the process. Not unlike parenting, yes?


buckling sky

As for the bump in the bottom edge and the frayed intersection of the thread-ends, I am going to let those be for awhile, too.  I like the idea of an imperfect boundary, or one that flexes to its surroundings. I like the idea, too, of having an obvious place where the boundary’s ‘gate’ resides, so that it does not come across or function as a solid and permanent fixture. Maybe having had a swinging door for so long makes the idea of a fixed boundary too difficult.

when the edges meet (and a bump)

when the edges meet (and a bump)

In any case, it is food for thought.  And, here are some red lines from the garden this morning. Once you start seeing a red line, or a window (right, Jude?), or a bird in your work, you start to see it everywhere.

red lines as stalks/support

red lines as stalks/support

Around the other side of the house, rhubarb is ripening! Almost time for my annual Strawberry Rhubarb pie. An exception to 2013’s gluten-abstinence will have to be made!