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?

If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it with a friend. Thanks! 🙂

Art & Crafts

The Foolish Quilter

My mother should have stopped me. She should have wrested the fabric and the scissors from my hands and padlocked the sewing machine. But that’s not my mother’s style. A quilt purveyor and sewing instructor for much of my childhood, the bulk of what she’d learned she’d taught herself—from books, from trial and error, from having the sheer gutsiness to reason that if it could be done, then why couldn’t it be done by her? And apparently this belief extended to me because, when, at 17, I hatched the brilliant idea to design and construct my first quilt—a “mosaic” turtle comprising over 1100 1½-inch squares and a few similarly sized triangles—she did not gently explain to me that such an endeavor might be rather challenging and perhaps just a mite beyond my novice quilter status. No, she just nodded her head and smiled.

Turtle Quilt

I began by getting out my colored pencils and graph paper and sketching a rough turtle shape. I then decided that I wanted my creation to be as colorful as the mommy-made, rainbow biscuit quilt I snuggled under every night, so I determined that the turtle’s head, legs, and tail would be green, the surrounding ocean blue, and the articulations of the shell would vary the rest of the spectrum. After coloring each square on the graph paper its appointed hue, I raided my mother’s glorious scrap bin, finding a multitude of shades and textures to use in each color zone. I delighted in the many remnants leftover from her projects over the years and, since I only needed to cut a 1½-inch square or triangle out of each, no piece was too small!

Then, the sewing. My mother offered no unsolicited advice at any point during the project, but when I asked how to randomize the squares within each color zone (particularly the blue ones, of which there were many), she suggested I toss them all into a box, mix them up, and sew them together as they came to hand. How thrilling it was to watch them come together, seam by ¼–inch seam, the appearance of the fabrics changing as each new piece was added. I made 33 chains of 36 squares (the triangles now joined together to form squares) and then pinned the life out of those chains, matching seam to seam and piercing each. Throughout this stage, there was a lot of deep breathing, quite a bit of praying, and yes, a fair amount of swearing (especially when, on at least one occasion, I sewed two chains together the wrong way round!), but at long last, the top was done, the mosaic turtle framed by two borders, one light and one dark.

About a year after I started, I completed the 41”x48” piece, hand quilting ¼-inch inside the shell articulations and other body parts.

I love all the different fabrics.
I love all the different fabrics.

After that, I outlined the turtle as a whole, and repeated that outline into the ocean at greater and greater intervals to create a kind of wave pattern. Then my mother showed me how to wrap the back around to the front as a binding and finish it with a hidden stitch. Lastly, the one thing she did insist on, was that I sign the back in embroidery thread.

You can tell I like turtles!
You can tell I like turtles!

Is the quilt perfect? Ahem, no. Far from lining up properly, many, many seams travel off like little roads to nowhere; the seams beneath the top are folded in a comical variety of directions, making the quilt slight bumpy; and the corners are not quite the 90-degree angles to which a rectangle usually aspires, but whenever I look at it, I smile. I am reminded of the power of the fool—the one who is only one part wisdom to nine parts enthusiasm—too ignorant to believe that trying might be a bad idea, might be too hard, might make oneself look like, well . . . a fool.

I still can’t believe my mother didn’t try to talk me out of it. She just sat back and let me create and I can only thank her for that, especially because with all her skill and all the beautiful things she’s made over the years, that quilt still hangs on her bedroom wall.

P.S.  I have to admit, I had an added motive for publishing this post.  It’s in response to a Quilting Daily challenge to write about one’s first quilting project and if I win, I get to pick 5 items from (sigh).  Here are my choices: Watercolor Markers Supply Kit; Hand-Carving Premium Collection; New Tatting; Friendship Bracelets All Grown Up; and The Art of Whimsical Lettering.  What would you choose?