Sunday, February 21, 2010

Shaping of a Studio

My photographs of my studio-in-process need no explanation, no apology.  I have always been an artist and while I have structure, I am also a very patient person and rarely much in a hurry to adopt all structure.  I would rather sit with a mess while I sort it out in my head and dream on it than rush the process.  I post these pictures because I want YOU to feel better about being a person of process.  Once we arrive at the product, we often find it not nearly as enchanting as the process of creating.

Having studied every publication I could find of studios, I am further in how to tackle my own studio. As I looked at pictures, I gauged how important it was to me to have this element or that.  The most key features to me are light, aesthetic beauty, organization and the ability to share my space with others.

I can only control my penchant for ample light just so much with having two windows and French doors and that wall being the smallest wall space in the room.  I put my cutting station in front of one window with the ironing board nearby.  The other window is the location for my main sewing machine.  I angled that Koala Studio so that I could advantage both the window and the French doors.  I am going to put a desk in the corner behind my main sewing area.  Unlike when I started sewing many years ago, a computer nearby is crucial to my sewing experience.  Using my computer for research, machine embroidery and communicating to others is all part of my sewing and creating experience.   I need a window nearby as I need variety when I am working on my computer (laptops have changed the world for me).

Beauty of my room is important to me.  Feeling a calm in my room brings out the best in me.   I don't need Better Homes & Gardens beauty.  I need a room to feel happy and peaceful and inspiring.  I am not big into painting and usually accept the wall coloring as it is and texture a room with layout and wall art.   Currently my sewing room has walls that are working as storage units...easier to store the pictures, clocks, etc on the wall lest they be broken sitting on the floor.  This will take time as I see where I am sitting in the room.

I think I am wired with an organizing gene.   I suspect we all are a little better functioning when we have some structure around us.  Raising five kids didn't make me more organized, it made me prioritize that which was important to them and to good functioning of our family in our daily tasks.  Shoes went in the closet not because it was neater but rather because it was easier to remember where shoes were as the bus was sitting outside waiting if they were in the closet rather than kicked off next to the sofa.  I am definitely a peace-seeking unit, always have been.  I am not so prone to complain as I am like to embrace change.  I need to be able to find my many tools and books and fabrics, easily.  The Koala studios have ample drawers for my tools.  Now, I need to take the time to sort them out as to how I will use them.  I start that by just getting working on things a bit at a time.  If I don't like where the presser feet are, I can change it as I go along.  I cannot wait until I have everything put away until I sew.  I need to keep sewing to feel the room and decide if that is actually WHERE I want  those tools.

It was working in the room that has made me move the furniture around many times.  Every piece of furniture in my room has enjoyed a view of the room from every corner and space of the room.  It has taken me weeks to get that feeling.

Realizing that I don't have storage space that will work for my fabrics and books, I will begin putting together shelves in the next few weeks.  As I have all this wonderful wood grain in the room, I am adding white shelves to the room for variety.  Along with sewing, I am a drawer, colored pencil junkie, decoupage groupie, knitter and computer graphic fan (and I am sorta an author).  I have never had room for all of my "other toys" in my studio.  I am adding a desk and ample storage for all of my stuff to be in ways that I can see most of it.  If I can't see it or easily access it, I won't use it. 

Will everything be out?  Doubt it.  I have no shame to say I am a fabric lover.  I buy fabric because I love the texture and vision what it might be later on.  I have t-shirt knits from the pajamas I made when my kids were little.  I can't get rid of it because every time I see it, I still remember how much joy I had making their favorite jammies for them and how much I enjoyed watching them grow out of the jammies and pass them on to the younger siblings and then on to their cousins.

As our children have grown and moved the fabric into a closet in one of their vacated bedrooms, I still love to go into that room and touch the things that my son left in "his room", open the closet and love the fabric all over again.

If my room were just my own, I might have had this finished much sooner.   With each step, I have been careful to respect my husband's pool table.  He loves to spend time with the kids playing pool.  I have worked hard to keep a cozy sitting place for Henry to sit and enjoy a book or his favorite movie while I am working in my sewing room.  I have room in my sewing room for at least five people to sew.  I want to make sure there is ample room for when our kids come home to feel welcome to sew with me or feel they can come and just escape the hub-bub of a house full of many people (at holidays).  

You still can't really walk around my sewing room but it is getting happier each day I live in it a little more.

The best part is I actually got to sew today...making my next installment in the Party With Patrick...applique project.   I am presenting this topic at our next VIP coming up.  This is unbelieveable.  I am presenting something in six days and have the project done and the slides for my presentation ready to go.  While this looks like a simple thing to do, I am going to show you how you can make this in less than two hours.  I used satin stitch applique for the shamrocks and did a fun embellished binding on mine.  I love this new fabric from Benartex.  It is subtle coloring and has one of my favorite pieces in it....paisley.

The brain cells are rockin' and rollin' now!
all the best to you, jill

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Feel of a Room

I have always had issues with the "feel" of a room. My precious husband has accused me of finding great sport in moving furniture around on a whim. There is no whim to it....I believe it is a science. I lay in bed and vision floor layouts. Then I move the furniture around and walk out of the room and walk back in (several times), testing my theory. Tilt the chair this way and that, move a piece of furniture out.
     When our daughter Johanna was four, we were moving furniture out of the living room where she was watching Sesame Street. Henry and I had had a heated discussion that had to keep going through the furniture move. Our "discussion" wasn't about moving furniture but something more personal. We are moving the sofa "discussing". It isn't anything I am proud of but we had to move that furniture right then because the carpet cleaning people were coming any minute. As we moved furniture out, the "discussion" ensued. Two days later when we went to move the furniture back in the room (we were calmer), Johanna wailed, "NO...NO....DON'T MOVE THE FURNITURE.
     Now I move most of the furniture without help (if I can) and then call on various family members to help me move the impossible pieces. I have become a master at putting my back against furniture and prying it into place using my feet to propel the unwielding pieces. Also, have my own toolbox of moving casters that are sure handy. Before they came out, I often made my own casters of recycled plastic tubs & lids. I don't ask for help not because no one is willing to help. It is more I don't really want much input. Few people understand that a room must feel the right way. The configuration must be happy aesthetically and functionally. If it were up to my husband, every room would have an oversized recliner and a table nearby big enough for snacks, the remote and magazines and newspapers. Each to his/her own domain dreams.
     In re-arranging my sewing room (aka: studio), I have put the furniture in nearly every configuration I can imagine. My main goal is to have a workable area for myself, combining an area for my computer to visit and for my lifelong passion of drawing, doodling and messy types of crafts....paint, decoupage and the like. I am almost there but have realized that my storage concepts are really lacking aesthetically. I have solicited the help of Studio magazines which has been a huge inspiration as well as the advice of friends. Some friends tell me they have taken over their grown children's bedroom closets, bought every tote system on the planet to forfeiting excess only to find themselves with need for tons of storage for other tools and fabric and more.
     Having a plethora of books and patterns, I know I need more shelves. Having more than my share of started projects (I don't call them UFOs because the term "un-finished" is a bit defeating), I need to employ the use of baskets and am working that through. I have always loved the open wire baskets that glide on runners.
     When I was recently in Denver at Lynda and Nancy's studio, they use the wire basket system to an art form with baskets ready for all their forms of machine applique. It was SOOO inspiring. I also have a lot of thread. I am thinking of systems that I have seen and am most inspired by Libby Lehman's collection and storage that I'd seen in Quilter's Home and more recently on The Quilt Show with Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims. Nancy Halvorson has sent me photographs of her custom-built system for notions and threads that is stunning and so incredibly functional.
     So, I am still taking the shared genius of these and other helpful friends to my sewing room. The stack of magazines and books next to my bed has made my puppy have to move her bed a little further away lest the stack would threaten to attack her in the night.
     Do you have things you love about your sewing space? Do you have areas of concern that you wish could be improved upon?
     all the best to you....jill

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Day at LaVeta

If you were to close your eyes and vision a location in your mind where time stood still and you soaked up all the beauty of the land around you….where would it be?  Perhaps it is the morning sun coming up on the beach in North Carolina, sounding the alarm to all the night creatures on the beach to retreat.  The sun warming the sand and casting shadows on the ridges made by the tide.  Perhaps it is the stretch of the prairie across along a roadway that yawns into the distance.  While some think there is more beauty elsewhere, there can be a timeless feeling of floating along on the roadway, eyes scanning the horizon for silhouettes of animals and houses as the grasses and grains dance in the sunshine.  And time stood still when you watched snowflakes dance in the mountain air.  You look up and see the mountains disappear as the dance of slow-floating flakes gathers into a cacophony of snow and mist that shrouds the horizon and majesty of mountains.
Have you never had hours slow down to a timelessness?  It might be time to give your mind a chance to dream.  Ironically, as children most of us can remember a time when we lay on the lawn and stared at the clouds for even a little bit of time.  As we mature, we are chided to be practical, to be systematic, to have good reason for our actions.  The child in school who stares off into space is reprimanded.  The message is loud and clear that to be mature one must be practical and take sensible measures of discipline to quiet the child within us.  We often lose touch with this skill of visioning and yet few of us would be the intelligent beings we are had we not made good use of dreaming and pondering, embracing the timeless.
Of late, our son Teddy has been wrangling through a knee injury.  I’ve had the privilege to spend a good amount of time in 2010 in Colorado Springs with Teddy as he prepared for and had surgery.  Teddy is a student at the Air Force Academy.  His life is one of structure and systems, protocols and strict disciplines.  However, as we as a family have come to know and become endeared to the family of instructors, cadets, officers and practices of USAFA, we have watched as disciplines are leveraged on the cadets and yet there is always freedoms that they enjoy.  Hiking in the mountains, skiing now and again, the adrenaline of competitiveness in sports and even the pranks of young over-absorbed cadets are all expressions of creative release for these officers-in-training.  The practice of stepping back is an integral part of their lives. 
Connecting with being a visionary is not just for poets and artists.  All of us need times of wakeful rest, dreaming with your eyes open.  It is in these moments of timeless wonder that we find new concepts, new routes and a fresh appreciation for all that is parallel and all that is contrasting. 
While in Colorado, Teddy and I accepted an invitation from our friends Ricky and Justin to visit them in their hometown of LaVeta, Colorado.   Ricky Tims is a quilt artist, musician and a true visionary in so many ways that combine nature and art.   
We were graced with Ricky as our guest at our store in the Spring of 2009.   An accomplished composer and musician, Ricky Tims honored us with a concert and walk through his journey as a quilter and artist.   We also had the chance to soak up valuable information that brought quilting to a new level in Cedar Rapids.  Ricky has the gift of taking simple and intricate techniques and make them achievable to the point that even a novice can celebrate being a quilt artist.
Checking the map, we discovered we would trek a journey that take us through desert and mountains.  It was in every way a trip of wonderment and beauty.  Seeing the land stretch out and ranches surrounded by dots of grasses and grains slowed down our world.  Teddy and I watched in amazement as the interstate until the roads split off into narrow roadways in the desert landscape.   I could have run the video camera the whole trip.
At first I’d thought there were hills in the distance.  Then we watched a stretch of the Rockies rise as giants from the earth slowly as we neared them.  The stretch of desert, wide gaping prairies and mountains spoke to me of that which I have heard Ricky and Justin tell of their beloved view of Colorado.  The drive neared a sacred journey as we began to feel time stand still before us.  Brushes of snow and red earth painted color and inspiration all about us.
The closer we came to LaVeta, the more wildlife we saw with rabbits skittering through the grasses and deer wandering.  I also reminded myself that there are probably snakes out there too.  Hmm…better to enjoy this from the road.
When we pulled into the small town of LaVeta, the charm of the town unfolded before us.  Driving at a leisurely pace, we enjoyed the town as if it was a delicious buffet of variety and charm.   We slowed down with great reverence trying to soak up every inch of this town that looks as if it sprouted up out of the desert.  Truly, seeing Ricky on the steps of the studio was a chance for me to really see him more at home than I’d ever seen him.  His warm "howdy" smile was so fitting for pulling up on LaVeta.
I so admire Ricky Tims' work for his creative expression.   Being invited to his studio to spend a day with Ricky and Justin was such a treat and a great day trip.   Having had the privilege of hosting Ricky as a guest in Cedar Rapids was transfixing as we watched the magic of his music and the artistry of his sewing unfold in front of all of us. 
Visiting the town of LaVeta was a chance to see the heart of his inspiration.  Having heard his presentation, one becomes very aware that his passion for people.  Although, you don’t have to see his presentation to know he is a passionate and creative being.  Just his easy smile, the embrace of his music and his outreach with his publications and audio and video work.  Seeing their view of LaVeta and the landscape of mountains and desert, I could absolutely see why Ricky and Justin so love their LaVeta.   Being a midwest girl, I am always stunned by the mountain vistas and the stark contrast of the desert landscape.
Then there was the charm of LaVeta as a small town.  We ate lunch at the local dinner.  Patty melts, french fries a special steak salad for Ricky and banter with the locals was a fabulous reminder at how much the ordinary is a special gift that Ricky and Justin share with their LaVeta.  A village unfettered by covenants that restrict the color of your house (we saw several in lovely shades of fluorescent purple and orange) or restrict the local wildlife from making a lunch of the few plants on your lawn, LaVeta looks to be home for some who have been there for generations and for many others looking to escape the urban sprawl.  It was very clear that the “small town” of LaVeta attracted artists and visionaries.  Each home and yard seemed to be voice for the character of the dwellers as the homes were embellished with art of all natures and the yards as well were unique expressions.  Then there were homes that looked as if they might have come right from any of our neighborhoods in all manners of grooming. 
We got a chance to chat about what happens in LaVeta when visitors come for The Quilt Show or retreats.  The town's population must be doubled for those days as visitors and screening crew comes in for the visits of your favorite quilters and Ricky Tims and Alex Anderson.  The LaVeta Inn must be a hoppin' as it is next door to the Studio.  I recall a designer once questioning why she would go to LaVeta.  Being so far from airports and city living, it surely could be a long journey to find LaVeta.  I would have to say if I heard that again from anyone, I would debate the topic.  I would visit LaVeta just to thumb my nose at city lights.  Don’t get me wrong, I love being in the city as well; but often small towns are shamed by their lack of offerings.  If one doesn’t find a cappuccino in LaVeta, you probably didn’t need it anyway. 
When I had the quilt shop in Cresco, Iowa, I once recall a visiting teacher telling other national teachers that she was appalled that the salad bar had cottage cheese and chocolate pudding…after where were the bean sprouts.  As farm community, the locals might well have questioned why one would eat the sprouts that yield better in their fields than atop their cottage cheese.
And so it was with lunch in LaVeta.   We complimented the cook as we leaned into the kitchen as we left.
In the Studio, we got a chance to enjoy the fabric dying rooms.  The room is designed with two dying stations with facing sinks.   Talk about being in the candy room.  How yummy it was to see those fabulous cuts stacked up.  The line of fabric dyes and finished product was so inspiring, I wanted to just start cutting and sewing.  It was like being in front of a new box of colored pencils, I just wanted to play with the colors.  On the wall was a new fabric dye artist’s recent masterpiece.  While I am sure it was just a toss together, it reminded me again of how the desert and mountains and snow were a toss together of artistry. 
I was taking pictures of the most ordinary things.  Ready to be scolded by Teddy, I apologized for being camera happy.  Ricky smiled and assured me he does the same thing all the time. 
One of my favorite pieces in the studio was a simple Convergence Quilt done with the hand-dyed fabrics.  Sitting as sentinel at the door, it is a greeting and a reminder of Ricky’s journey.   I love that Ricky has done Convergence Quilts in so many different manners that he often doesn't understand peoples' continued fascination with convergence.  I think that speaks to the artistry of Ricky Tims' work and how generous he is with sharing his talent and his teaching.  Convergence quilting has brought so many people to their first touch with art quilting.  I know for all of us at the store, the unfolding of Convergence was one of the most fulfilling quilting experiences we have had. 
I started this post with a challenge to dream.  I also started with visions of what your dreams might look like.  My dreams have always been in color and texture.  When I saw Ricky's simple Convergence piece, I was struck with the simplicity and complexity of it.  While I was reminded that many of my customers would (if this were their own piece) look at it and say, "I need to get it quilted."  Need is for food and water.  This Convergence had a need to be inspiring and thus it is framed and it is doing its job....inspiring.  I am also reminded of a comment I gathered from Judy Martin nearly 20 years ago in a class I took with her.   Judy was telling of her quilts and the color choices and using scraps.  Someone asked how she quilts her quilts.  She looked puzzled and simply said, "When they are pieced.  I am done."  I loved how matter-of-fact she was about it.  The expression was her piecing (if you've seen Judy's quilts you know the art of her work). 
Paintings on the wall of one of the offices, looked incredibly familiar.  Like seeing an old friend, I was drawn to the native-like painting.  Sure enough....the wall painting was part of the cover of the audio CD, Sacred Age.  Even the walls are art.  The ordinary of his home and office blooms into his music.  Now as I listen to Sacred Age, I can close my eyes and see the mountains around LaVeta and can feel the brush of the texture of the images of a time long gone. 
We got to take a road trip “up the mountain”.  LaVeta is nestled between the Rockies and a smaller mountain range, the Spanish Peaks.  Having Ricky as a tour guide, we enjoyed the telling of the formation of the mountain range and his pointing out geographic highlights.  Winding the steep turns up what would likely be considered a small mountain, we perused the closed ski resort.  Ricky and Justin shared the stories of how there is hope that the resort will once again be opened, bringing tourists to the area.  While not like the busy resorts of the Rockies, it is surely a respectable local site.  A small collection of businesses nearby seems to challenge the area to live up to its beautiful and tour-worthy stature.  In fact, as we wound up the road, we enjoyed the hearing Ricky and Justin describe not only unfamiliar parts of the landscape but also describing what it looks like in summer and spring and fall.
After a full day of fun touring and seeing, we said our good-byes to the girls (Ricky and Justin have adopted four beautiful ladies…who are ever so happy with rollicking around their LaVeta homestead).  It was sure hard to leave, and Teddy and I did one more drive around the town before we made our way back to the main roads.  As we drove off and saw the Spanish Peaks disappear in our rear view mirror, we could feel the tug of LaVeta. 
Ricky and Justin have invited us to bring guests for a taping of The Quilt Show.  Who wants to go?