Art & Crafts, Writing

My Creativity Playlist

Are You Ready Little Art Card | My Creativity Playlist | dianaklein.comI was recently going through some old mixed CDs—you know the things we made back in the dark ages before Spotify? Anyway, several of the CDs were titled with particular emotional tones like sad or contemplative, so that I could listen to them when I was in the corresponding mood.  One of the CDs I came across, however had no such label.  I gave it a listen, and remembered that it was my creativity playlist!  It’s a bunch of songs that for one reason or another made me feel encouraged to be artistic—to write, to sing, to make things.  And I realized, giving it another listen, they still do.

There’s a lot of music from the soundtrack of The Lord of Rings: The Return of the King on it which is not surprising because much of my first manuscript was written with Howard Shore’s orchestral brilliance pumping into my ears.

There’s also two songs from Stephen Sondheim’s Sundays in the Park with George—one (Move On) taken from the original cast recording of Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin and the other (Putting It Together) a cover and partial rewrite by Barbra Streisand.  These tunes support me in my creative pursuits because “art isn’t easy” and even though “there’s nothing that’s not been said”, it hasn’t yet been said by me.

It’s interesting to me that there are two songs about vulnerability: BareNaked by Jennifer Love Hewitt and I’m Sensitive by Jewel, but it shouldn’t be surprising, after all, how else can you be when making and showing your stuff, if not open and vulnerable?  I particularly like Jewel’s determination to embrace her delicate senses by saying “Please be careful with me.  I’m sensitive and I’d like to stay that way.”

There’s one actual folk song (Fair and Tender Ladies sung by Rosanne Cash) and another (When Love is New by Dolly Parton and Emmy Rossum) very close to that style which, for me, always seems to get inside an emotion, but often with a sort of matter-of-fact kind of practicality that I like.  I guess some might find lyrics like “Love is pretty when love is new, like a blushing rose in a dazzling dew” and “Come all ye fair and tender ladies, take a warning how you court young men” somewhat cynical, but I find the words and the voices that sing them wonderfully evocative.

The remainder of songs are basically singer-songwriter-y. There’s Dido’s reminder that I need to grab living with both hands in Life for Rent.  And Eva Cassidy’s poignant cover of Sting’s Fields of Gold.  The drums and vocalization at the beginning of Rubén Blades’ Patria are enough to get my creative juices flowing.  And Joan Osborne’s One of Us makes me want to try look at things with God’s eyes and, to be honest, I really just love belting that chorus. That I Would Be Good by Alanis Morissette prompts me to remember my intrinsic value as a person, not for how I look or what I can do (even and especially artistically!)  And the lyric, “That I would be good, if I got and stayed sick” never fails to give me chills.

And of course, no playlist can be complete without a rousing call to action song—in this case, Defying Gravity from the musical Wicked because “Everyone deserves a chance to fly.”

Recently, I added one more song to this list: Emily Maguire’s Start Over Again—because, in most situations in life and almost always in creative ones, I find myself needing this advice “Go Slow.  Be kind.  Be wise.  Start over again.”

What about you? What music makes you feel creative?  Do you have a playlist?

Art & Crafts

Confessions of an Overwhelmed Crafter

I think there has never been a better time in history to be a maker of art and crafts. There are so many glorious books and fascinating tutorials out there all just waiting to be salivated over.  Walking through my local arts and crafts supply store, I am bombarded with one exciting possibility after another.

And all of this is great, except for this balloon-popping truth: I can’t have it all. I can’t do it all.  At some point, I am going to have to choose.

Which can be tough. I think most crafters have been in this situation: they start a project with gusto, only to have it turn from something they were excited to begin, into a chore they had to finish . . . at some point.  Some people deal with this problem by simply junking the un-fun project and moving on.  I have done this, on occasion, but, for me, it’s even less fun to waste resources.  I know, some unfinished projects can be repurposed, but then that can turn into another uninspiring task.  In order to avoid all this, I’ve recently begun paying a lot more attention to how and what I’m feeling while I’m crafting, so that I can understand what I like and don’t like about a given process and subsequently choose projects that reflect those preferences.

countryside-softies-amy-adams-dianaklein-comFor example, I finally decided to sew a duck, based on a pattern from Amy Adams’ Country Side Softies.  This is one of many, many books I’ve bought because the ideas are so cool, and I just have to try them and then proceeded to spend many, many years . . . not trying them.  Anyway, as I began, I could feel the tension building inside of me, Is this really what I should be doing? Is this really what I want to be doing?  But as I started to just pay attention while I worked, I found myself relaxing.  I realized that what excited me were the fabrics, bringing together coordinating patterns and colors.  Also, I was really happy doing the embroidery, and admiring it as I stitched along.  I wasn’t super happy with the duck itself, though.  The beak was too long, and I felt like there was more I wanted to say artistically that couldn’t find a home on this little canvas. Alright, I thought, good to know.

Later in the day, feeling tired and bored, I began looking around for something else to work on, but nothing seemed to grab my fancy until I remembered an article by Linda Willis in the January/February 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors about making an iPad pouch from a piece of embellished, raw-edged quilting. From my earlier run in with the duck, I knew that playing with different fabrics and embellishing with embroidery would be fun.  I was a little unsure, however, when it came to the matter of  raw edges.  I am the daughter of a master quilter, and raw edges (when a piece of fabric is topstitched, leaving its edges to fray at will) is something we just do not do, but it’s become a popular look in textile art (it also takes less time!), and I wanted to see how I felt about it.  So I went for it. But, instead of stitching the piece in straight lines on the sewing machine, as instructed by the article, I decided to hand quilt circles through the top layer, a felt middle layer, and down into the backing.  I quickly found out more things during this process: a) I needed greater overlap for fabric pieces than I had allowed for (oops!)and b) though the circles looked cool, sewing as directed would have minimized the fraying of the edges and made everything more secure.believe-pouch-pinning-dianaklein-com


Alright then, on to the embellishing! I sewed on a little rectangle bearing the word “Believe” in fabric marker, which I then outlined with backstitch.  Then I did a lot of embroidery and a little ribbon work to hide those pesky spaces where the fabric did not quite meet, further lock down the fabric, and just because it’s fun.  Once I got the purple ribbon and the gold embroidery floss on there, I realized that those are LSU’s colors which, given the fact that I live in Louisiana (and it’s football season), I see a lot of around here.  I decided to dampen down the school spirit with a few blue and silver beads and some sequins.  I think that helped quite a bit, though when I look at it, I still can’t help thinking Go Tigers!

Finally, I zigzagged the edges of the piece on the sewing machine and then sewed it together to form a pouch, complete with a Velcro closure. The finished product is pretty small.  I can just barely get some index cards into it.  And it’s not something that will stand up to a lot of wear and tear—partially because of the embroidery, but also because of the raw edges.  Yes, the jury on seaming is in for me: I suppose in some art pieces, raw would be better, but in general I prefer finished.  They are simply more durable—and neater.

There’s a lot I like about the pocket though: It reminds me again of how magical I think hand quilting is (even when the stitches are uneven). I love the way the blue thread pops off the lighter fabrics and melts away into the darker ones.  I love the texture created by the stitches—the small hills and valleys.  And I enjoy the feeling of quilting and embroidering—weaving a needle through fabric, pulling thread up and down, watching as the many small stitches add up to something so much more grand than the sum of their parts.believe-pouch-front-dianaklein-combelieve-pouch-dianaklein-combelieve-pouch-closure-dianaklein-combelieve-pouch-detail-dianaklein-com

And I love that the pouch itself makes me think of Rita, a friend who died some years ago. She made God’s pockets for an entire confirmation class one year.  They were unembellished fabric pouches meant to be a place to house notes about things a person wanted to hand over to God.  It’s a neat idea.  I’m not sure that’s what this is for, but I am happy to note that this pouch did not turn into something for me to finish.  It was something I got to watch evolve.

What about you? How do you decide what to craft? Do you ever get overwhelmed by all the choices out there?

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Harp & Voice

Rethinking the Traditional Way

If you’ve been reading this blog lately, you know that I recently returned from the Somerset Folk Harp Festival in Parsippany, NJ. It was a great opportunity to reconnect with some old harp friends and meet some new ones. It was also an opportunity to learn—a lot. And not just about playing the harp. One of my favorite lessons came from the amazingly talented and wonderfully warm, Cuban born, Paraguayan harpist, Alfredo Rolando Ortiz. A friend and I were taking one last stroll through the exhibit hall on Sunday, when we happened on Dr. Ortiz (he also has a medical degree) playing one of his many intricate (not to mention speedy) compositions in his relaxed, effortless style. When he finished, we complimented him, expressing our doubts that we could even approach his level of mastery. He waved this away and proceeded to give us technical instruction on how to play ascending passages with more comfort and ease. “It’s not the traditional way,” he told us.

Ortiz went on to tell us about his joy when he witnessed a classically trained pedal harpist (pedal harps are the big ones that play in orchestras) using his fingernails to play a complicated piece—in much the same way that Ortiz himself does. Again, this was a departure from “the traditional way”. Most pedal harpists would never dream of growing nails that extend beyond their fingertips, let alone use them to manipulate a harp. After this fantastic performance, Ortiz found himself among a group of pedal harpists who were raving about this man’s performance. But when Ortiz mentioned proudly that the performer had used his fingernails, they said that couldn’t be possible. When Ortiz assured them that it was, someone said, “You know, I knew there was something off about the performance, I just didn’t know what.”

How often do we do that? Put limits on our enjoyment of something based on our expectations? How often do we tell ourselves that the “traditional way”, the accepted way, is the best, and, perhaps, only way?

I’ve always tended to be a rule follower. There’s a right way of doing things and a wrong way. (The right way is usually more demanding, mind you.) You have to do A in order to get to B. No exceptions. I was already challenging these notions when a few days ago, I watched an interview of artist Julie Fei-Fan Balzer on Sue Wojtkowski’s website Irreversibly Moi. In it, she said “The rules are there to help you. If they’re hindering you, if they’re inhibiting your creativity, then you need to get rid of them.”

Sometimes you need to follow directions—sometimes that is the best way, but it’s important for me to remember that that’s not always true. Sometimes those directions, that “traditional way” is just getting in your way and preventing you from exhibiting your greatness.

Dr. Ortiz, his beautiful harp, and me!
Dr. Ortiz, his beautiful harp, and me!

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Art & Crafts

It’s Called a Knitted Brow for a Reason

The knitting gods are laughing.

Many people—too many people—over the course of time, have decided to perpetuate the notion that knitting is relaxing, soothing, a restful way to pass the time.  I have to admit that I have been one of those people.  And it is true that when one’s nerves are raw from sitting in one too many doctors’ offices, it is comforting to have something to occupy one’s hands and mind.  Order can be restored to a chaotic world through the gratifying binary surety of knit and purl.

That is, until you make a mistake.  Okay, one mistake is not so bad.  Everyone makes mistakes; you just go back and fix it.  So what if it means ripping out three rows?  It’s not a big deal.

Until you make another mistake.  Two mistakes is not a lot, but it’s a little frustrating that you weren’t paying better attention to what you were doing so that you could have seen you’re misstep right when you made it.

The third mistake is where it starts to get ugly.  The yarn is starting to fuzz from having been ripped out so many times, but really, it’s okay, you are learning and really, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Sure, and after ten years, I’ve made enough mistakes to be a master knitter by now—though I’m not.

I started making a hat last Thursday.  It was going to be a quick, fun project before I went back and tackled the Fair Isle vest I’ve been avoiding since August.  This is the vest that I nearly finished at least twice before having to dismantle almost all of it and start again.  The one that needs me only to knit the neck and shoulders, but whose completion involves picking up stitches evenly which can be a whole other nightmare I won’t even get into.  The one that will probably be too small for me when I actually get up the gumption to finish it.

So I started the hat—a lovely, tweed, cabled tam from the same wool with which I had just successfully completed a beautiful shawl in just over a week and a half.  This should be no sweat, I thought.  But the knitting gods are capricious and really, I think, just a bit cruel.  This past weekend I worked and reworked the hat as I watched the final games of my beloved Mets heartbreaking 2009 season.  Maybe it was because I had become a little cocky.  Maybe St. Augustine is in among the knitting deities and has insisted that I be purified of my ignoble sin of pride, but that hat that should have taken only a few hours to make is still yet to be finished.  I made a grand push Sunday night.  By the end of the Jets/Saints game, I had begun to decrease (knitter speak for “I see a light at the end of the tunnel!”), and I thought, I’ll just stay up until I’m done.  Three national parks later (Ken Burns The National Parks: America’s Best Idea on PBS), I realized that I had made yet another error.  I put it down, resigned.  This is something I have learned during my knitting tenure.  After a certain number of missteps, it’s best just to let it rest awhile.

And so it sits on my ottoman in the living room, waiting.  I will finish it, probably this week.  I don’t know what it’ll end up looking like, but another thing I’ve learned is that if you want to create something beautiful, you have to be willing to crash and burn—a lot.  I’ll finish the hat.  And I’ll make peace with the knitting pantheon, because I know in my heart of hearts that they are only trying to do me a favor.  They know what I need to be doing right now (write now!) and knitting is not it.