On Failure

So, many of you are aware that I’ve moved. I’m in a different house in a different state, and still unpacking and organizing after almost four months. My studio is a mess, and I don’t want to start trying to make art until I can find my paintbrushes and glue. One of the ways that I organize is via what I call “project bags”. I contain all the materials I need for a particular project in a (usually) canvas bag that I can hang to a hook on the back of a door (if we’re lucky) or over a doorknob (if we’re not so lucky). My new abode has very few doorknobs (It has door latches, but that’s another story.) So, along with boxes in various stages of being unpacked, and stuff that has been unpacked but not put away (mainly because I don’t know where to put it away to yet), the studio floor has accumulated a lot of project bags. I recently decided the next best thing to do in organizing the studio was to deal with some of the unfinished projects.

What I found in a couple of the bags were what I consider “failures” from earlier on in the days of Heart to Hand. One bag contained a partially finished garish tribute to the 4th of July that came under the category of “what was I thinking?” I guess it seemed like a good idea at the time. Anyway, it didn’t take long to unravel it and put the yarn back in the storage boxes for another project. The second bag contained a shawl that was completely knitted and bound off, but no fringe had been attached. That was because I took a good long second look at my project. This was a combination of yarns that worked in theory, but not in practice. Yes, the colors all went together, and the textures were interesting, but in combination…well, they should not have been in combination. I had had the good sense to stop and not waste any more time on this particular bad idea, but there it still was, taking up space in a project bag that was taking up space on my floor. Time to deal.

I’m pretty sure I hadn’t unraveled it because unraveling is so much less fun than knitting something new (and more attractive). It took the best part of an entire day to unravel, too. I had used novelty yarns that split easily, and in several cases I had split the yarns, making it impossible to just unravel without getting things pretty tangled up. Also, as it turned out, I started unraveling from the bottom up because the novelty yarns were so fuzzy I couldn’t tell the difference.

All this untangling gave me lots of time to contemplate the nature and function of one’s “failures.” I hate thinking of them as “learning experiences”, but they are, in so many ways. I learned a lot about my knitting technique, and ways I can improve. I also learned about the wisdom of just pulling the plug on some projects and starting over—you don’t always have to finish what you start. You can stop as soon as you recognize that what you are doing is not the best idea you’ve ever had. There will always be another project.

Trial and Error

It’s time again for my monthly coaster creation/surface design practice. I had a hard time choosing a theme, but found inspiration in a new resource. Back in February, while I was recovering from knee replacement surgery and not doing much else, I took advantage of the time to participate in a delightful on-line blog tour and contest sponsored by Julie B. Booth to promote her new book, Fabric Printing at Home. To make a long story short, I won a copy of that book (Thank you, Julie, and your friend Lynn Krawczyk, from whose blog I actually won the book.) And today I turned to it for inspiration and was not disappointed. In fact, there were so many good ideas that I had a different kind of problem for a while. But, the deadline for being done with the project is short this time, so I settled on something that looked easy and still had a spring-like feel to it—a leaf print.

I have a garden, so finding a suitable leaf was not hard. A couple of small mustard leaves would fill the needed space appropriately. Back in the house with two small mustard leaves, I went into the studio to experiment. I wanted to try the technique of putting the leaves under the fabric and rolling over them with a paint-covered brayer to make a print. The results did not look anything like those shown in Julie’s book.

First Fail cropped & lighting adjusted




So, I decided to do a direct print instead, covering the backs of the leaves and pressing them onto the fabric. I had a very hard time figuring out how to get the right amount of paint on the leaves—see mixed results here:

Uneven prints lighting adjusted






I finally figured out that if I applied a small amount of the paint to my glass plate with

a small paint brush, I could get more consistently acceptable results:

Consistent results lighting adjusted






Finally, I needed to sew the prints to a backing fabric to make coasters. I discovered that the two leaves made a heart shape when I sewed around their outlines. I also discovered that using the heart shape could make even the prints I considered failures presentable.

Final fix







I must admit, I diluted the fabric paint. Perhaps I diluted it too much. But still, I’m pleased with most of the final results, and I’m pleased that I was able to figure out a strategy that worked. Perseverance furthers.

Pushing My Limits

I have made it a practice to make coasters once a month as a donation to Meals on Wheels. I also use the coasters to practice surface design techniques that I have been learning in various classes.  I am gradually allowing this practice to push me beyond my comfort zone as I keep trying new things. Here’s the illustrated story of this month’s offering, in which I combined several new materials and techniques.

Step 1: Deciding what I wanted to do. I had missed the deadline for Easter-themed items, but decided Spring was still a current theme. I decided to go with one large flower that would take up most of the space on the 3 ¾ inch diameter circle I was using as the coaster design.

Step 2:   I drew an abstract, random flower in my sketch book and played with it until I thought it was an okay design.  (By this, I mean I wasn’t intending to draw a specific flower—a tulip or a rose—but a generalized design that anyone would recognize as “a flower”.)

Step 3: Drew a similar flower on cardstock. Cardstock is not a great material for making stencils, but it works temporarily until I decide the stencil is worth transferring to a more permanent material.

Step 4: Used an exacto knife to cut out the flower design, creating a stencil. Fortunately, I realized I would have to leave a margin around the stencil BEFORE I starting cutting.

Step 5: Placed the stencil on a pre-cut circle of plain white fabric and dabbed on undiluted yellow fabric paint with a small square of soft sponge to create the basic flower design. IMG_3350Let these dry.



Step 6: Used a similar piece of sponge to dab undiluted magenta fabric paint in a roughly circular area in the center of each flower design. Let these dry.

Second Step cropped




Step 7: Got to use my new Derwent Inktense pencils at last! I used a magenta darker than the fabric paint to draw little “v” shapes in the flower centers to look like stamens. Blended these in, but not all the way, by going over the marks with a paintbrush dipped in plain water. Let these dry.

IMG_3354          IMG_3355

Step 8: Heat set everything by ironing each side for three minutes with a hot iron. (I can do eight coasters at a time.)

Step 9: Sewed the printed designs to commercial print backing fabric. Usually I just sew the two pieces together by making a circle around the outer edge. This time, I used a contrasting color of thread, red, to sew around the flower petals. In some cases, the petals had run together and I had to use my imagination to decide where the petals were, and what shape. It was scary, but when the first few started turning out okay, I relaxed and it became fun.

IMG_3358 (2)

Step 9 ½: After sewing the petals on the first flower, I decided the center needed some kind of highlighting, so I decided to sew a free-form circle/oval in the center. Very scary, but it looked great, so I did it for all the flowers.

Here’s what I learned:

  • I can do more than I think I can.  I tend to start out anything I do with the thought that “I can’t.” Then I do one step, and it’s okay. So, I do another. Eventually, I’m done. Usually the project turns out better than I imagined.  Doing things one step at a time really helps. Just focusing on that one step makes it easier. I only have to solve one problem at a time that way.
  • It doesn’t have to be perfect. The centers weren’t perfect circles. Better that way. The flowers weren’t all the same. Better that way. I had to “make up” where some of the petals would go because the paint ran together in one big yellow area on some of the coasters. That was fine. My sewing starts and stops didn’t always overlap. Added to the overall “look”. It was fine.  This is for practice. And actually, the results look pretty good anyway.

I’m glad I tried some new things. I’m glad I pushed myself, although it was a struggle every step of the way. I’m really grateful to Jane Davila, Eileen Doughty, and Marion Granigan in particular, and to various other teachers, guild members and friends for inspiring me to try various parts of this experiment. In addition to trying new art supplies, this was the first time I tried free form sewing, or sewing to make a design rather than just to fasten two pieces of fabric together.  Who knows what I might try next?

On Hubris

Hubris is a Greek word meaning, among other things, excessive self-confidence, a know-it-all approach. I confess. I am guilty.

I have been struggling with the flaps on the purses since I started making them. I have trouble making them lie flat and line up with the rest of the purse. I have not been blocking the purses because “they aren’t all wool, and blocking won’t work unless it’s wool.” And because “blocking is hard.” (Blocking involves pinning a knitted piece to a padded board in the shape you want you want the piece to be when it is finished. You can either dampen the knitted piece before pinning it, or pin it and then spray it with water until it’s damp. Then let it dry. That’s all there is to it. It is not hard.)

The last purse I knitted had a particularly recalcitrant flap. In desperation, I tried blocking it. When it dried, voila! it was the exact shape I wanted it to be. Sometimes, I am my own worst enemy. Henceforth, I am blocking ALL the purses!

Where Have I Been?

Where have I been since May 22? You might well ask. I spent June dealing with cataract surgery, both eyes, but not at the same time. I’m not quite sure what happened to July. We spent part of August with our children, grandson, and various other family members in upstate NY. We spent part of August celebrating birthdays. Not sure about the rest. So much for my intention to post something weekly. My husband was saying only today that he sees Labor Day as a marker to get down to work again. I’m not sure I agree, but at least I’m posting something. I also updated the “Where To Find Me” section of the website, so perhaps…

My Grandson’s Quilt

I’ve been talking a lot about the quilt I’ve been making for my grandson, so I thought you might like to see it. Here it is.Finished

               I made similar quilts for each of my sons when they were little. I still had the patterns, the drawings where I designed the layout, etc., which made this one much easier—it’s been 30 years since I did this, after all. (I suppose this does nothing to reinforce my efforts to “get rid of things”, sigh.)

The color scheme was kind of dictated by the background fabric that was available—the only one that I liked that was really suitable; with a small, cute print; was black with orange and grey-toned yellow, blue, burgundy and green pawprints. The only other choice was a similar print in white—not a good choice for a toddler. So, this meant no bright primary colors like I had used for my sons’ quilts. Fortunately, I have a closet full of fabric scraps and I’m an earth-tones kind of person anyway, so I had most of the other colors I needed. I chose a bright orange border—we had to brighten this up somehow—and a cats-at-the-beach backing fabric (sorry, no picture of that). The grey binding was the only thing available that went with everything.

The images all depict things that he likes or that are a big part of his life—the middle block has mommy and daddy, with baby Johnny in the middle, and the two kitties. The upper left and lower right corner blocks are also kitties, made of faux fur. (I got to learn a lot about sewing with faux fur.) There are farm animals, his first tooth, outlines of his hands and feet, his house, his car, his plate and cup, a “birth certificate” with his vital information, books, blocks, things to take to the beach, his other grandmother’s camera, a penguin, a black bear, an image of the peas in a pod from his Boppie pillow, a bathtime block, a heart block, a block with the sun for day and a block with the moon and stars for night.

Patterns for several of the images came from cookie cutters. Others were modified from the patterns I had made for the boys’ quilts 30 years ago (I have no idea where I got them from. I suspect I drew them somehow. I’m not sure I’m that creative now, or perhaps I should say, not creative in that way now.) And here’s the real difference between now and 30 years ago—I got a lot of images off the internet. I could not have made this quilt without the internet. I needed a picture of Rubber Duckie, THE Rubber Duckie. Google, copy image, adjust size, print, trace components onto fabric, cut out, fuse, applique, embroider details, and voila—Rubber Duckie! Same with many of the beach items.  I also got to learn how to print a photo unto fabric—again couldn’t have done that without a computer.

Giving him the quilt was also fun. We spread it out on the floor before he came into his usual play space, aka the family living room. At first, he ignored it and went to one of his toys. Every so often he’d glance over his shoulder, apparently to see if this strange new thing was still there. It was. Eventually, he started walking on it, looking at the individual blocks and pointing to the different images. Some he named; most we named for him. He ran from one kitty to the other, showing he knew they were both kitties, and soft and fuzzy to touch. He made his pig sound, and his cow sound, and his sheep sound. Like I said, it was a lot of fun.

It was a lot of work. It presented many challenges. I had to solve a lot of problems, and I discovered my eyesight is not what it was 30 years ago. I don’t regret a minute of it. I hope 30 years from now, he will still have it to show to his children, just as his father and his uncle still have theirs.

On Balance

               A while back, I wrote a post on focus. I talked about picking one thing, or maybe at the most two or three things, and really focusing on them until they got done. This means not doing many other things, except for the necessities of daily living. While I have found this practice to be very, very useful to me in actually accomplishing things rather than spinning my wheels in the midst of chaos, it has occurred to me lately that the other side of the focus coin may be balance.

               I have been focusing on getting my grandson’s quilt finished (yay, it is!) and on a couple of other things, a lot of not necessities of daily living have clamored for, and eventually received, a lot of attention. For example, my younger son and his family are in the process of moving from a house to an apartment, a move necessitated by their landlord’s decision to sell the house he had been renting to them. I have ended up spending a big chunk of time these past couple of weeks helping them out, with a yard sale, with packing boxes, with unpacking boxes and with a few miscellaneous incidents of moral support. Strictly speaking, was all this necessary? Not really. But I felt a need to balance my personal and work focus with family needs. It felt quite good, actually. I really enjoyed myself.

               I have also been working on de-acquisition of the too many worldly goods I have acquired over my lifetime. I have retired from the early childhood field where I focused much of my attention for over 30 years. I have no plans or intentions to return to it, although it was once tremendously important to me. So I am packing up a lot of the professional books from that former part of my life for distribution to current students and former colleagues who might find them helpful. I am making it a practice to spend some time each day working on that project. I balance that with also getting rid of the vast collection of beer and wine bottles that, as a brewer, I have kept over the years. It has occurred to me that never in my lifetime will all these bottles ever be full all at the same time, no matter how much mead and beer I make. 

               So I guess I am working to achieve a balance within focus, or a balanced focus, or some such. I need to focus on one or two projects within each “category”, but I need to incorporate a balance of categories (without including too many or too few). I need to balance out the things I focus my attention on, and I need to continually monitor for categories I am leaving out (just having fun is the most frequent of those).  Focus helps me accomplish specific tasks or projects; balance helps me make sure I am not neglecting important aspects of my overall life. Trees/forest, the eternal conundrum. May I achieve both balance and focus today.

Unexpected Knitting

So, I am in charge of organizing a yarnbombing. What, you ask, is a yarnbombing? In this case, it is a group of knitters (or crocheters-is that even a word?) covering a group of objects (in this case, lamp posts and trees) with knitting. In this case, at the request of a city, in honor of a celebration. One of my guilds, the Potomac Fiber Arts Guild, is participating in honor of their 70th anniversary. And because it might be fun.


               Well, I am participating because it might be fun. Because you get to break all the rules about color combinations and all that. And because, knitting a sweater for a tree? It looked dangerously like our guild wasn’t going to do it, because nobody wanted to be in charge. And I couldn’t have that. It seemed like too much fun not to do it. So I raised my hand. You know how that goes.

Peacock Shawl-petite

What my usual work looks like


But anyway, I’m not going to talk about what this project is turning into. I mean, we have a booth now to organize, as well as sweaters for trees and lamp posts. I’m going to talk about how I was working on my piece of the covering for one of the lamp posts. The city picked purple, yellow, white and red variegated yarn as its palate. So, I’m sitting at a table at a meeting on my other guild, working on this project. Sitting across the table from me are two other people who are very familiar with the work I usually do.   One is a fellow knitter. Simultaneously, in the middle of the program, they both lean forward, eyes wide, and say “What are you working on?”


               I explain. It’s intended to be garish. But I laugh every time I think of it, and every time I look at the piece. A yarnbombing is a thing a joy forever.


The piece I’m working on for the yarnbombing

On Focus

Like many people I know, I have a lot of interests. This situation tends naturally to lead to having a lot of projects. For example, I am currently in the midst of making a quilt for my grandson, knitting a shawl for my business, knitting a pair of handwarmers for my business, making a shrine as a gift for my son, cooking dinner, doing the laundry, and writing this blog. And that doesn’t count the book I’ll be reading later; the ongoing need to clean out the basement, attic and garage…well, you get the picture. So, I have been really working with myself on focus.

               It’s very easy for me to wander off task, get lost in Facebook, fiddle with the neverending task of trying to clean off my desk, and end the day with nothing much accomplished.  To address this problem, I try to set an overall major goal—in this case, completing my grandson’s quilt—and some doable smaller goals related to activities of daily living. Today these included filing an insurance claim and doing the laundry. Then, when I catch myself spinning my wheels, so to speak, I remind myself to “focus”. Do something on my to-do list.

               It has really helped. As a daily sub-goal toward completing the quilt, I try to complete one block. I am almost finished with my block for today (I thought I was finished until my husband came home and I asked his opinion, but that’s okay. Still time to add the part he suggested.) And writing this blog post was on my to-do list for today.

Art with Friends

Back in November, I took a fantastic class on making personal shrines. I wrote a post about it a couple of months ago.  Since then, I have wanted to make other shrines. Specifically, I want to make one honoring my father as a gift to my son. There is also a piece of land that has been in my husband’s family for at least three generations now. We are about to sell our share of it and have emotions to work through over this. And, other possibilities occur almost daily. But setting time aside is hard. There are activities of daily living, and this quilt I’m making for my grandson’s birthday.

               Anyway, a couple of my friends were also really interested in the shrine project. One had made something similar but different; one thought she couldn’t “do art” but really really wanted to. So, we started getting together every so often to work on shrines. Today was a day only two of us could get together, but still it made such a difference. It made a difference to have someone to talk to for the 30, 40, 50?? minutes it took me to very carefully cut around the tiny ivy designs I had printed out to glue on the door of the shrine I’m making for my son in honor of his grandfather. It made a difference to tell stories as we worked. It made a difference to have someone to share supplies with and ask again “how do those hinges work?” It made a difference to see someone else’s work and get new ideas. (I think that’s called inspiration.)

               We are also a pretty spiritual group, and we took time out today to do a short ceremony honoring and blessing the waters of the world and thanking water for its gift of life to all that lives. I’m sure there’s going to be a way sometime in the future that this gets worked into a shrine. I find working with others on similar projects, even though we are each working independently on our own piece, to be tremendously inspiring, and motivating and supportive. I think more about art; I find project ideas everywhere. My friends say the same. I don’t know where this idea is going; I don’t know what we will end up doing either individually or as a group. What I do know is that our decision to work together sometimes is amazingly supportive of my journey into art, personal exploration and healing.