Monday, 10 November 2014

Value


I started blogging about three and a half years ago, inspired by a pretty intense envy for Anna Maria Horner, one of the few bloggers I followed at the time. It sounds malicious, but it wasn't. I'd just finished my History degree, a lifestyle (part time mum, part time student) and identity which had suited me perfectly. I'd had a second baby. I spent a lot of time breastfeeding, while reading Anna Maria's exciting tales of setting up a new studio above her house. I felt trapped and lost. So instead of continuing to moan about it, I decided to take positive steps towards creativity, productivity and thankfulness. I started to write.


When I started blogging, I started reading other blogs, meeting new friends, people like me, sewing more, becoming part of a community. I discovered that some bloggers actually managed to make money from their craft, and I was struck by how great it would be to contribute to the family income that way. It would certainly justify the time I was spending writing about myself. When I wasn't feeling so optimistic, I wrestled with the extravagance of it all. I've written here before about my young-adult intentions to live and work with orphans and homeless children in Eastern Europe. It all seemed so bizarre, trying to find my place in the world through sewing, on my own, hoping to God the babies slept just a little longer, while much of the world wrestled with more urgent issues like war and food and shelter.



Over the last few years, there's been a lot of discussion on blogs I read about value. Valuing ourselves as creative workers, putting the right price on our work, whether it be physical or intellectual. As I've gotten to know creative folk in my city through my pop-up shop, or market stalls, I've loved the open and honest conversations I've had about how people price their wares, how business is going, what they love most about it. My own efforts to make money, selling clothes and quilts, developing a pattern, happily ticked over enough cash into my Paypal account to pay for fabric and support creative friends in their businesses too. It was part fun and exciting and part (mostly) monotonous, and never helped put food on the table. And, well, it didn't really feel like it was achieving anything or solving world problems.



When I had Finlay, earlier this year, I said goodbye to craft markets, started turning away custom orders, and decided to spend any time I happened to get sewing (a lot more than I expected!), making quilts for friends who had graduated from university and moved on. The experience has been so much more than I could have imagined. It's stretched my creativity, helped me discover more of what I love in quilts, and it's touched my friends deeply. This is the sixth, and final quilt I aimed to make this year, and I think it's my favourite.


I love that I got away with not using white or low volume prints. I love that it's scrappy, but still within a pattern. I love the mix of Anna Maria's saturated prints with the other lighter, brighter ones from my stash. I love that it includes a blessing, written by Tim, for the recipient, quilted into some of the church dash blocks. I love, LOVE the feeling of making something really work, after being worried from the beginning that it might not.


I was talking to an artist friend of mine a few weeks ago about this experience of making for gifts rather than making for sale, about how it's settled much of the angst in me about value, about needing to justify the time I spend sewing and thinking and writing about quilting. I've enjoyed seeing the changes in me (as an artist and a person) as well as the way it's touched other people.
She looked at me and said, "You know that even if you hadn't made those quilts as gifts, it's still a valuable thing to do, right?"
Yes, I did. I mean kind of. Actually maybe not. But it's been something I've been mulling over ever since, until yesterday when I read yet another blog post about valuing ourselves as bloggers/makers/business women, and I had that feeling again that maybe because I wasn't attracting blog sponsorship, that I wasn't really valuing my words here.

And that's when the light went on.

I absolutely support women working in a way that suits them and their families. I am for women who put themselves out there find ways to monetize their gifts and skills. I support paying them for their work, valuing it financially.

But I think I've had it around the wrong way. For me, at least.

My blogging, my making, are not valuable because I put a price on them. They are valuable because in the beginning there was colour and creativity, stories and relationships, way before money entered the scene. And they were good. In and of themselves. And when I make, when I write, when I pour my girl a drink of water, I make this place a little bit more like the author's original intention.

And that has great value.


May God grant you an adventure big enough to inspire awe in your indomitable spirit.
May all who share fellowship at your meal table be blessed by the sacrament of communion.
May God bless you with the harmony of work and passion that blossoms into a vocation.
May God make his face to shine on you, and yours in turn to shine in your world.
And until we meet again may God carry with you, all those you love in the palm of his hand
-Tim Godfrey

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Nine Patch Dash



I've hit an interesting little snag in my quilt making, where the style of quilts I've become deeply inspired by don't really fit my natural work flow. Does this ever happen to you? There are a few areas in my life where I am a stickler for detail. I love making a corner or shelf in my house tidy and beautiful. I arrange picture frames just so. But the way I make quilts is with a pile of cut fabric next to my machine, which I then churn everything through in one sitting, then press, then church, press, churn, until I have a quilt top. No design wall, no coloured grid, not too much of a plan, just a kind of idea. That's how I find my zone. It's the way I find easiest to stay motivated, and work in small chunks if I need to.



But lately I've become more and more taken with traditional blocks, especially those that make secondary patterns once put together. After stealing many small moments on Pinterest and Googling images, I was inspired by this one for my next Graduation Quilt, but I was intrigued to see if I could make it scrappy, with a focus on Anna Maria Horner Prints, because I knew my recipient liked them. I played around with a grid and some markers, trying a few different variations before settling on the original, with aqua basics in the negative space. I wanted something more saturated than you can get with white or low volume prints, and more vibrant than grey.



As you can see, the quilt won't end up with the same clear pattern as it does on paper. It does have a shimmery, colourful sea kind of feel that's helping me to keep going, but it's definitely been one of those learning experiences where I spend much of my time thinking, "Oh, if I'd done it this way..." or "I think next time I'll use that colour instead." Add to that the fact that I'm laying out each block before I sew it together rather than picking out random squares next to my machine, and it makes for a whole lot more thinking than I tend to find relaxing! Such is the way with experiments. While it's less fun than complete confidence, there is a kind of satisfaction in growth.

So with my turn coming up as designer for do. Good Stitches' Care Circle, I thought I'd let my bee mates put the work into the complete opposite interpretation of this design, so we can compare the results. I thought I'd share the tutorial here in case anyone else wants to contribute to the experiment? I've been labelling relevant pictures on Instagram with the hashtag #9patchdash if you decide to make one!

I've made my blocks from a 3.5" base, which makes a 9.5" unfinished block.


To make the two-colour cross version, cut one strip of each colour 4" wide, by width of fabric.
From each strip, first cut two 4" squares. My preference for sewing half-square triangles is to cut these in half diagonally, and then sew and trim to 3.5".
(If you are making the traditional churn dash block, you can now cut two pieces from each colour that are 4"x3.5" wide. Cut these in half to get four 2"x 3.5" rectangles in each colour. Sew the different colours together to make four 3.5" squares.)
 

From the remaining strip, cut:

- One coloured 9.5" x 3.5" rectangle
- Three coloured 3.5" squares
- Eight white 3.5" squares.

(for the alternative block layout, you'll need instead, 6 white squares and 4 coloured squares)


I sewed mine together in strips of three squares and then sewed those lines together into the blocks. And, I found it so enjoyable that I made two lots. So maybe it's the constant learning, arranging, thinking and reassessing that slows me down, and not the old nine patch afterall?


I'm asking the Care Circle girls to make one block (or more if you'd like!) of each in really plain mustard/yellow. I've put some other basics in the picture above so if have those, you can use them, or refer to the colours as a guide. I think it would look great with solids too! I'm looking forward to seeing this contrast between this sunny/flat look and the other rich, turbulent one. Which is more your style?

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Just moments.



I spend a lot of time thinking about where I'm headed. Where I fit in the world. What my purpose is. I'm so drawn to the idea of having a creative identity. I make this, and when I do, people know it's me. But it seems that when I pin something down, when I say, "I'm going to make reversible clothes and sell them in town!" or "I'm going to make patterns!" or "I'm going to make drawstring quilts!" that I start to feel stuck. That settled feeling of finding a niche is an elusive one for me.



So it probably shouldn't have surprised me that after announcing absolutely and unequivocally a few weeks ago that I Am a Quilter, I started to feel at sea. Trapped. Like the very act of mapping out my path stole it's beauty, it's adventure. Like it was supposed to be a secret thing, left unspoken and mysterious.


I have a nearly four year old who's a lot like me. Suggest a plan for the afternoon and she runs the other way. But leave her to her own devices and she'll flit (mostly) happily from one thing to the next. If I'd offered to make this pinafore for her, she would have politely, but firmly declined. But today she had in mind that she wanted a purple dress. And because life doesn't always allow you to drop everything and make at a little girl's whim, but today seemed one of those days, I agreed. I gave her the option of the pinny or a wrap dress, and she chose the print.




As I started ironing, then pinning, then cutting this all too familiar pattern, I felt the kind of peace that comes when you get lost in something. I've made more than one hundred of these, but the last was over a year ago. Still, I didn't stop once to double check the next steps.
"I'm enjoying this!" I thought. And then, "Maybe I could make more to sell before Christmas!" And then along those all too familiar tracks, my thoughts meandered. Price. time. feelings. How am I feeling? Would I want to make another after this? Would I hate myself in a couple of weeks when I have 20 cut out pinnies staring me down?

"Mum? Mum. MUUUUMMMM!"


This is why it's good to sew with a nearly 4 year old every now and then. Because you can't think with a little girl's constant stream of questions and stories. And when you can't think, you realise that the good you were enjoying was not the making, but the moment. The opportunity to say yes to Evie. The knowing it was quick and familiar. The feel of her hand on mine so she could help me sew, but "not get needled". This wasn't about finding an identity, this was about being. A mother with a skill and passion that could be shared just like this, right now, because Tim was outside with Tully and the baby was asleep.


And so we sewed. And dressed up. Brushed her hair and photographed her dancing. It occurred to me, just quietly, that it was impossible to get her to model last time, that maybe we could do more now. But I stilled that voice quickly.
No plans. Not right now.
Just moments.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Tree Change


After a long weekend of hours driving, sitting in meetings, broken sleep, I don't usually drag the whole family out for a photo shoot. But today was cloudy. And on cloudy days, you can organise photo shoots around the baby's sleep time, rather than where the sun is. So we all hopped back in the car and drove over to the Fernleigh Track. An old rail corridor come bike path, I've been wanting to take quilt photos here for a while. It's a beautiful, interesting spot, but I'd forgotten how huge that tunnel is, and how the wind funnels through it, making for a dramatic photo shoot!


We spent the weekend in Dubbo, discussing with our friends and family, our big move to Canowindra, NSW next year! I've mentioned before that Tim and I work with Cornerstone Community, a Christian organisation that focuses on community living, mentoring, and simplicity. We'll be moving to one of our training campuses, where students come to study the Bible, Ethics, History; work on the local farms to pay their way, and are mentored one on one.
It's a really exciting move for us for lots of reasons. We'll be living in a big old house with lots of room to create, spread out and invite guests. (Come visit!) My brother and his wife, and their homeschooling family will work there too, and I can't wait for our kids to learn and play together more. Tim and I will both teach. My brain has been waiting for a chance to get back into learning and thinking again! And finally, having grown up on a farm, and now living in a city suburb, my soul loves space and fresh air. While I'll know I'll miss ducking out to the shops at 10pm for milk for tomorrow's coffee, I look forward to living 20 minutes from town, with real quiet and bright stars. I can just borrow milk from my neighbours! Or buy a cow.
So as you can probably tell, I've come home excited and all motivated to make the most of our beautiful city landmarks for quilt photos while we're still here!


This is my Fancy Fox quilt, pattern by Elizabeth Hartman, another 'Graduation Quilt' for a good friend of mine. I knew she liked Denyse Schmidt. Simple, graphic, not too floral. (I love making for people who've hung out in my sewing room a lot!) Foxes are a feral pest here, so I hesitated somewhat, but in the end, those faces that reminded me of computer games from the 90s, won me over. I backed the quilt with Anna Maria Horner's Mary Thistle Voile in Tangerine, and then free-motion-quilted with a long, wavy grass pattern. Free motion quilting is fast becoming one of my favourite things, and I especially love the effect here.


After the photo shoot, we spent time climbing the tunnel, racing through it, singing at the top of our lungs. It felt good to feel like 'us' again, after a weekend in a big group, with lots of babysitters. I often feel guilty for having to drag the whole family out if I don't want photos in my yard. But I think I'll start to pitch them as an important family adventure. For myself and for them.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Out of the Box Quilt


Sometimes, in a way, a quilt makes itself, as much as I make it. Sometimes I just feel like the the hands, and my quilt has a mind of its own, leading me step by step.
About a year ago, I started making these log cabins for my bed. And then when I laid them out on my bed, I felt completely overwhelmed with noise, and used only 4 big blocks with massive sashing to quieten it a bit. One day I will finish hand-quilting that quilt (It's already bound and on my bed) and show it here. One day. 


It was February when I put that quilt on my bed. I was hot. And eight months pregnant. I put the remaining 20 quarter-square blocks in the WIP box, promising myself that one day, when it was cooler, I would make up a smaller version of my original idea.
This week, going through that box again, feeling a bit lost and between projects, I was struck by a motivational idea. I could use 'quilt-as-you-go'! I could use this quilt as a way to eat into some of my leftover wadding that was starting to flood my sewing room.
I quilted them in diagonal lines, patting myself on the back, because getting the overall quilting design I wanted proved much easier quilting by eye on small(ish) blocks than marking it out on a full size quilt.


I chose Anna Maria Horner's Aloe Vera print for the back. I had a few yards of it because I really liked her "Hot House Flowers" quilt and bought it on a whim. And then I lost inspiration. But I love it with this. It seems to bring out all the light Spring colours. And in a way, it's like crossing two projects off the list because we all know how much those 'to do' quilts feel just as much like works in progress sometimes.
After attaching the backing, I realised I was perfectly situated to use the overhanging backing as the binding, because the rest of the quilt was already trimmed. Saving that much fabric and ironing and sewing, and finishing up the quilt before the light fades? Any resistance I may have had about colour matching was futile. And thankfully! The light citrusy colours of the aloe make me feel like the whole quilt sparkles and dances. I've been smiling about it all afternoon. 


I can't tell you how much I love the way quilts seem to do that. Do I sound like a 30something, stay-at-home mum when I say the adventure of it keeps me coming back? The ideas, the risk of pushing through, or changing mid-way, when it's not looking like what you had in mind, or when you simply want to finish it by 4pm. The delight when you pull it off. I love that it's not quite in my control. Which I think is why I couldn't make the Hot House Flowers quilt. I already knew how it would turn out. And where's the fun in that?

I was thinking just today that I've been sewing seriously for over three years now, and I've entirely abandoned garment sewing. I still get inspired by some of the prints out there, but they stay in my shopping cart, because I know, when they arrive, I just won't feel like pulling out those patterns again. For all the developing quilt ideas, and refining what I like, going back to sewing pinafores would feel like a bit of a sacrifice. Even making quilts to sell comes at a cost. For now, this place where I am, where I can take risks, play, cut corners, or take my time, I've found a sense of identity here. I am a quilter.


Stats and Credit:
I got the idea for the blocks from the book Sunday Morning Quilts.
I use Maureen Cracknell's Quilt as you go tutorial whenever I have an abundance of scrap wadding!
I used Cluck Cluck Sew's Backing as Binding tutorial to finish it off.