What I Did This Summer… Fun with Sew Alongs on Instagram

First block in my Moroccan Tiles quilt

First, for those who enjoy a little backstory:

(if you don’t care about backstory, skip on down to the Sew Alongs – I won’t be offended!)

One of the challenges of pursuing your passion (or something related to your passion) as your vocation is the risk of adding so many financial and/or performance related pressures that what once gave you joy becomes another source of stress instead. Back when I was showing and selling my work in galleries, I found myself in the very odd position of not being able to afford my own work. The amount of money I could make by selling my art quilts was too high for me to justify making anything for myself when I had a family to help support! Later, when I was designing quilts and writing quilting books for Martingale & Co. and teaching both locally and all around the country, I found my sewing and quilting time so limited that I felt I couldn’t justify taking the time to sew or quilt anything just for fun – everything had to be something I could either sell, show, include in a book, or use as a teaching sample. I love to experiment and play the “what if” game, but I felt very constrained in my experimentation – I had to be pretty confident in the outcome in order to justify the expense of time and resources. I couldn’t allow myself to take the kinds of creative risks I yearned to take. 

Another of my Moroccan Tiles blocks

This phenomenon was exacerbated for me when an apparent mini-stroke almost 10 years ago (combined with long term symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis) left me not only reliant on aids like wheelchairs, walkers, and canes to get around, but left me with impaired fine motor control and strength – and mostly unable to cut fabric, sew (by either hand or machine), and especially quilt.  As the severity of my symptoms fluctuated, I was able to do a little sewing, but it was mostly (of necessity) related to my role as Creative Director for Lakeshore Sewing. 

I coped with this by turning my creative focus to writing, drawing and designing fabric – things I could do even when confined to bed, and sewing small items when able.

But something changed this spring. As my mobility, dexterity, and energy gradually improved, I started sewing again. Small stuff at first, like bags and purses; but eventually even quilts. While I am still very much affected by MS, I am physically doing the best I have since 2009/2010. And I am so happy!

But I also know that I want to approach my sewing and quilting differently than I have in the past – I want to keep more of the joy. As I was discussing this with my sister, she mentioned to me that I was reminding her a lot of a book she had recently read by Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. As soon as I could, I bought a copy for myself and started reading. I devoured it!

I won’t get into a full book review here, except to say that I heartily recommend it for anyone and everyone who is interested in living a creative life – not necessarily as a vocation (although it’s applicable for that, too), but as a way of living. One of the most important take-aways for me personally was not to get caught up again in always creating “original” or marketable work, but to allow myself to freely and without the pressure of expectation pursue any rabbit trails that might catch my eye and capture my interest.  Allowing myself to play and to participate more fully in the creativity around me has become a new goal for me.

Which brings me back to what I did this summer… Continue Reading…

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Fun with Paints – Acrylic Pours

I am very grateful to note that the dryer, hot water tank, chimney and furnace I mentioned in my last post have all been repaired and/or replaced.  Yay!

But my sewing machines, fabrics, and tools have yet to be unpacked and sorted out.  (They will be soon – I just haven’t had time!) Meanwhile, I have been in some serious need of quick creative therapy…

Happily, I came back from my recent trip to New York to see my sister all jazzed up and inspired by her very patient and very inspiring hands-on demo of acrylic pours. I love messing around with paint, but this technique was new to me. In retrospect, I kind of wish we had gotten the paints out at the beginning of the visit instead of detouring into the art room at 10:30 pm the night before we were to leave first thing in the morning, but sometimes things just happen that way. And honestly, there’s nothing we did during our visit that I would have wanted to miss; so on second thought, I’m tickled pink about my late-night introduction to acrylic pours – even though I did come home with paint on my favorite robe 🙂

Also happily, when we popped into Michaels after our trip, acrylic paints and packaged sets of 10″ x 10″ canvases were on a huge sale, and I had another stackable coupon on my phone for an additional 20% of the entire purchase. I took it as a sign and loaded up on inexpensive materials I wouldn’t worry about using up.

The basic concept Amy showed me was very simple. We mixed individual small plastic cups of white acrylic paint and a few additional colors with an extender to make them flow more easily, added just a bit of silicone, and then filled a larger plastic cup with a layer of thinned white paint, then a color, then white, and so on. Then we placed a canvas on top of the cup and flipped the whole thing over, pulling the cup away to allow the paint to spread out over the canvas. This is very messy, so plenty of newspaper, paper towels and plastic garbage bags were extremely helpful. She also lined a large box with plastic to contain the paint that ran off the edges of the canvases. 

Supplies I purchased for my experimentation. I also picked up a couple of cheap vinyl tablecloths to cover my worktable and floor, as well as thin plastic gloves. 

But it’s also surprisingly complex! Continue Reading…

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8 Tips for a Creative Life

Photo by Beth Ann Williams

This is a reprint of an article that originally appeared in the magazine CraftSanity, Issue 2, published by Jennifer Ackerman-Haywood. © Beth Ann Williams, 2011.

I also had the pleasure of being interviewed by Jennifer on CraftSanity Episode 116.

CraftSanity. Making stuff. Crafting Sanity.

Sometimes it’s about having something do to with my hands while my heart and mind are in turmoil. Sometimes it’s distraction from pain. Sometimes it’s about expressing friendship, love or commitment to a person or a cause. Sometimes it’s a way to reframe hardship or powerlessness. Sometimes it’s an affirmation of identity. And sometimes it’s for the pure joy of exploring “what if?” But mostly it’s a compulsion.

I have had to accommodate significant fluctuations in available resources and in physical abilities, but I have also learned there is ALWAYS a way to continue to create. It’s right up there on the level of breathing in importance to my sanity and well-being…

Which brings me back to CraftSanity.

Here are a few of my favorite tips and tricks for living a creative life: Continue Reading…

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Finished Is More Important Than Perfect

Finished is more important than perfect.

Anyone who has participated in one of my classes or Demo Days at Lakeshore Sewingt has probably heard me say this – it’s one of my favorite mantras when teaching.

The second part goes like this:

The more you finish, the closer to perfect you’ll get.

It’s generally true, especially when applied to learning a new skill or “perfecting” established skills. Time after time, I’ve observed that the creative souls who forge ahead and joyfully finish their project (whether it is a learning exercise or a finished work) tend to advance much faster than those who stop, judge, rip out, undo, redo, and eventually abandon the work because it doesn’t measure up to their expectations. Continue Reading…

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