"musings"

KonMari Your Sewing Space

Konmari your Sewing Room

So much is being said about Marie Kondo and her Konmari method these days. Haven’t heard of it? It is a decluttering/home organization philosophy. What makes it different from most - at least as far I see it from reading the book and doing my own clean up efforts - is the breakdown into categories of items, as opposed to by room, and the whole notion of sparking joy. She says you shouldn’t keep an item unless it sparks joy. It isn’t really about getting rid of all your stuff and living as a minimalist, but about keeping what truly makes you happy.

We are sewers and quilters, arguably everything we have for creating sparks joy - eventually. That being said, the amount of stuff many of us accumulate in the pursuit of a joyful hobby can indeed be overwhelming. That applies whether you have a dedicated room (s) in your house for sewing or a corner of the bedroom. It is easy enough to say to put your stash on a bookshelf or store projects in the bins under the bed, but like the Konmari method espouses, it is worth asking yourself whether it is worth keeping.

Cheryl Arkison Konmari Studio Space

To organize your sewing space inspired by KonMari I make the following suggestions:

  • Breakdown your stuff into categories.

  • Say goodbye to things that no longer hold your attention or appeal to your current taste.

  • Embrace the space you have and work with its limitations.

Let’s talk categories first. Under Konmari our sewing supplies would fall under one broad category called Komono. It is a really broad category. For sewing supplies we are giving them their own categories. These are the ones I recommend and some tips for sorting/purging.

Thread storage
  • Stash Fabric - go through every bin/shelf, stack, pile. Remove what you don’t like anymore, even if you think you might use it one day. Chances are there will be another purple fabric you will buy down the line. Trim any dangly bits. Fold or refold. Go with what works for your own storage, just be consistent in how you do it. Also, do it in a way that makes sense to you. If you don’t you will not maintain the system.

  • Scraps - I am a firm believer in storing scraps by colour, with some discretion for size. Then again, I did write a whole book on just that (with Amanda Jean Nyberg - Sunday Morning Quilts). If you’ve never sorted your scraps just doing this can open up potential. If you’ve always sorted scraps and never used them, consider passing them along.

  • Thread - Sort by fiber content and use. For example, I have some poly/cottons or poly for garment sewing and all my cotton for all my quilting work. I may have a pretty rack that shows them by colour, but that is only for my all cottons. And my Valdani and thick ones for hand stitching are all together as well.

  • Notions - As a quilter I don’t have much this way myself, but garment sewers are likely to have zippers, buttons, bias tape, and much more. Or applique quilters might have a collection os fusibles. Whatever it is, bring it all together. Bought a big role of Wonder Under and used it once? Pass it on, you can always buy more if you start a different project. Some of these lose their viability too. I like zipper pouches for smaller notions grouped together and a drawer in my cutting table for rolls of paper and such.

  • Tools (including machines) - Rulers, oh the rulers! And the templates and the sewing machine feet, and 4 rotary cutters. Unless you are a minimalist or beginner you probably have far more than you need in this department. Look at them all together and pick out the top 3 rulers you use. The rest you can probably pass along. Same for rotary cutters and scissors. One for daily use and maybe a travel/back up set. Sewing machines and their accessories are expensive. Personally, I have 3 machines. That is really 2 too many. One will do the job. But I will keep them all - one I use when I travel/teach and the other is technically my mom’s. Ask if the collection all gives you joy and decide for yourself.

  • Patterns and Books - Even I, the improv quilter, have a collection of patterns and books to rival most. I love my books so much, and the built in bookshelf my husband made me. Go through and decide if they are something you have or will ever pull down again, otherwise donate them to the guild library. As for patterns, let it go! Made it once already and loved it, fine, but will you make it again? Think you might make it? Is that going to be this year or ‘sometime’? If the latter, let it go. As for storing, I suggest finding a drawer or bin or bankers box that will hold them all together. No more looking for a lost pattern. And those PDF sewing patterns you printed? Roll them up and put them in poster tubes or even paper towel rolls.

  • Quilts Under Construction - This is the time to really ask the question about whether the project sparks joy. Every few months when I visit my list I ask myself the question. Sure, there are a mountain of projects on the list, but I am keen to get my hands on all that stay on the list. The rest I have passed on to guild members or repurposed the fabrics. It’s totally okay to admit you don’t love the fabric, the process, the project anymore. Free yourself from that creative baggage.

  • Finished Quilts - I realize that not everyone has a stack of quilts to worry about. Being in this game for as long as I have (20 years!) the stack of finished quilts has really grown. So many have sentimental value or are gifts for my immediate family. Many are ones I made for publications in books or magazines. All get used at some point - whether on a bed/couch or in a trunk show. But the time comes when the racks are full and I need to say goodbye. It is purely a sentimental decision at this point, but I do have a stack for giving away. Friends and family first then some charity donations.

Quilt Book storage

Our sewing supplies hold the potential for joy more than the joy itself. That is completely valid. No one, even a Konmari expert (of which I am not) is telling you to get rid of all your stuff, to buy only for the project at hand. (Although I saw a thread on Reddit that said exactly this!) All of this is about getting a handle on what you have and being able to access it - as well as the joy it can bring in the process of sewing - easily.

While I have a dedicated sewing space now for the longest time I did not. Taking over the dining room table, kitchen counter, and any spot of storage in an old house was how I built my quilting career. And the second, the absolute second I was given any more space I filled it. Sewing supplies are like any liquid - they will fill the available container. If you find your stuff overflowing what you have then it is a good time to empty the glass and start over, before you are flooded entirely.

Honest craft room

What about the things you decide you don’t want or need anymore? What are you supposed to do with them? Unless it is the tiniest of scraps (which I often leave out for the birds and squirrels) you can donate or sell most of what you are getting rid of.

  • Try your own destash sale on line or have a quilting garage sale. Join forces with a friend or two to make it even bigger.

  • Look to local charities for donations or larger organizations like Victoria Quilts, Quilts of Valour, or Project Linus. Always check with each organization first to see what they want or need.

  • Have a supply swap at guild. Give it away to someone who is interested.

  • Donate to a Home Ec program.

  • Ask around online for beginner or low income quilters to share your wealth.

Whatever you do, don’t get hung on how much you paid for it originally. If you goal is to clean up your supplies and keep what gives you joy then your goal is also to get rid of what doesn’t help in that matter. Besides, you aren’t throwing it in the garbage, you are finding it a new home with someone who will likely find joy in it.

Sewing Room Cutting Table Scrap Storage

A friend recently sent me this article on minimalism and creativity. It is me to a T. Is it you? Ultimately, I believe that clutter is the killer of creativity. I realize that some folks love the piles and the messy desk and will claim that kind of space their favourite. To each their own. But I am a firm believer in empty spaces providing opportunity. It is why I don’t have an inspiration wall, why I store my fabric behind closet doors and not on open shelves, why I like bins and baskets contained, and why I like large furniture wherever possible over small carts and shelves standing next to each other. When we have space to create, space to breathe, then we have the space for creativity to blossom.

Don’t think of Konmari in the sewing room as a tragic event, that you are saying goodbye to creativity along with your stuff. Hanging on to a million things that you might use isn’t feeding your creativity at all. It’s actually weighing you down, maybe even causing you stress. Why do you think people are always shocked when I talk about my Quilts Under Construction list, it stresses people out entirely. And when we are heavy creativity has no room to breathe, there is no space for the imagination to soar.

At the heart of Marie Kondo’s message is that we should only keep what sparks joy. Ultimately, it is your space, your sewing. Do whatever works for you, what brings you joy.

Cheryl Arkison Sewing Room





A Year of Quilt Play

Scrap Quilts Under Construction

There I was, going through the mess on the cutting table, minding my own creative mess. Company was coming and tidying was in order. My blue clipboard emerged. This is my all purpose clipboard - it holds the Quilts Under Construction list, it travels with me to gigs for newsletter sign ups, it holds notes and sketches made during classes. It also holds the list of finished quilts each year. For whatever reason that particular list was on top.

4 quilts. And one was a mini. That was the last quilt I finished, back in July.

My first reaction was a bit of sadness and shock. That lasted for about 30 seconds though. I moved on to a bit of anger. How could I only finish 4 in the year?! Just 4! I know why and that is what brings the anger. Chronic back pain since April has meant that basting quilts is out of the question and sitting for long periods of time is also out. I’d always hoped that I could use a rented long arm and get some done but I don’t have the time to do that with our family schedule. All those things combined into anger, full confessions. Let’s be clear, though, not about the unfinished quilts, the anger it about those situations. But that is life and being angry won’t do me any good.

So perspective kicks in. I’ve been sewing nearly every single day this year. Some days only for 10 minutes, some days I get a whole hour. Sewing is what saved me from rage and frustration this year. Sewing kept me sane when pain and stress and constantly moving kept fighting for dominance.

Heather Ross Fabric

I worked on… let me count them… 22 different quilts this year. I feel like it might be more than that, there might the odd day where I played on one random quilt under construction or another.

Some started from scratch, some were old playtime pieces. These became quilt tops:

Improv Curves

Others were just consistent work that will eventually, probably, result in a quilt. Or something I decided to try, just playing.

I played with scraps, sorting and sewing. I taught classes and those samples became something. I tried ideas I had.

Mostly, I created for the sake of it. Sure a quilt at the end is nice, but mostly I sewed for the sake of sewing and what it does for me. Keeps me sane in a crazy, angry, busy, intimidating, and stressful world. Process matter so much more than anything else.

Maybe I will finish more quilts in 2019, maybe not? Either way, I will be sewing.

Quilt Sketch Uppercase Fabric

Confessions of an Unconventional Quilt Teacher

Quilt Teacher

I am just back from a two week teaching trip through the Maritimes. On top of the feeling of homecoming in Halifax, the exploration of new to me cities and islands, and the joy of end of the day solitude I had a glorious time teaching! Yes, we call these bizcations in my house, but the business part comes first. That is, the business of inspiring quilters to creative action.

My style of quilt teaching is not to come in to a class with a pattern and a timeline to finish a project. While I can completely appreciate that there are many students who want just that, it isn’t the kind of class I like to teach. Rather than 20 versions of the same thing at the end of the day I want to see 20 different things! My style is to come in, teach a technique or pull an idea out of you to make. The goal is for you to see what you can do with your own skill, time, and imagination. No two quilters are the same, no two projects are the same, no two classes are the same.

For sure, I concede that this isn’t for everyone. I know that a small majority of quilters want to come out of class with a thing at the end. Something to show their partner to prove the worth of their time in the class or something to share at guild to demonstrate the joy of the effort of bringing in the teacher. I get that, really. But that just isn’t the type of teacher I am.

The work of the Maritime Modern Quilt Guild in the Improv With Intent class

The work of the Maritime Modern Quilt Guild in the Improv With Intent class

The first thing I tell my students is that what they make in class doesn’t have to be anything. Not even a mug rug or a Meals on Wheels placemat or pillow, let alone the start of a quilt. It can just be some fabric you sewed together. Ultimately, and more importantly, the class is about showing up. Just being there: embracing your own creativity, good company, and the process of quiltmaking. I want everyone to learn, but mostly, I want everyone to play.

The second thing I tell my students is that we are there to jump off a cliff. Not to worry, though, I am going to hold your hand every step of the way. Improv work, the bulk of my classes, does not come easy for most. It takes a leap. But with me in the classroom - or church hall - you have guide on the creative journey.

As a quilt teacher I see myself as three other things on top/in conjunction with quiltmaking guide: performer, playground supervisor, and therapist.

Performer

Unfortunately, I don’t get a spotlight or pyrotechnics for each class I teach. Sounds systems are nice, but not necessary (as anyone who knows me knows what I mean). Stages can sometimes be found in the room. You see, when I am in front of a group of quilters I consider myself a performer, not just a teacher.

It only took one class for me to realize that a teacher that sits at the front of the room sewing her own stuff is quite possibly the worst kind of teacher. I’ve been in those classes, as a student, and I will admit, have been that teacher at times. It is the worst. You, the student, paid money to be there, took the time to be there, hauled all your stuff to be there. If I am not going to give a thing to take home at the end of the day then I sure as hell better make the day worth it for all for you!

You can be guaranteed of stories, some bad jokes, ideas, hand holding, stunt sewing, and more. This is on top of the stellar quilting techniques we do. Hopefully no pyrotechnics though - cotton is flammable.

Playground Supervisor

At my kids’ elementary school the teachers take turns supervising recess. They walk around in reflective safety vests so everyone knows who they are. Just enough supervision to stop a fight or bandage a skinned knee. Mostly they stay out of the way and let the kids do their thing. And what are the kids doing? Playing made-up and real games, sitting in groups gossiping, tackling each other, looking for four-leaf clovers, creating yet another version of tag or grounders, or generally enjoying not having to think for a little while. Recess is the best.

I like to think of my classroom as the playground. We are there to play! To explore, to experiment, to try something new, to figure something out. It’s like taking the basic rules of tag but having a million iterations. We still use a 1/4’’ seam allowance, we still press, and squaring up happens eventually. After that? Well, we are only constricted by our fear and perceived limitations.

By no means am I the quilt police, but maybe I should wear a bright safety vest next time I teach, just so you know who I am?

Therapist

This is a stereotype. The more traditional the guild, the harder it is for most participants to relax and play. We are just so used to playing by all the rules and sitting nicely. When I say it is time to get dirty and throw some rules out many people balk. It just isn’t what they are comfortable with/used to/approve of/like. I get that. It’s normal, it’s okay. It doesn’t mean, however, I won’t encourage you to try something new just for today.

When people are struggling with what I am trying to teach or the space I am creating to play I don’t like to leave them struggling. I will sit down and have a chat. We’ll talk about the why of their quiltmaking and why this particular approach is so hard for them. I’m coming to realize that it makes me a bit of a therapist. (Minus any degrees, training, or certification.) I can’t offer any real life solutions to real life problems, but I can hold their hand as they talk about their quiltmaking journey.

What I can also do fairly well now is understand why they struggle with my approach. The response, then, is unique to each quilter. Sometimes a few personal, encouraging words is all that is needed. Other times I might literally hand them the fabric and tell them where to sew as a start. And for those running full throttle with the play and improv techniques I teach it might mean a high five or chest bump, or even a slight pull back. No matter what, I’ve got your back. I’m here for you.

Quilt Teacher Cheryl Arkison

Inspiring quilters to creative action is my biggest thrill. It is the mission of my work, as cliche as that might sound. It is a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to be in front of a crowd full of expectations. I do not take the job lightly and always try my best for the group in front of me. So you know, I appreciate every opportunity you all give me. From the big classes to the tiny guilds, from the exotic locations to the small church basements. No matter what, I am here for you.

Dear Quilting Industry: Simmer Down

Quilters Stash Closet

As we pull in to our neighbourhood, home from the pool or errands or whatever my kids inevitably start talking about the things they will do when we get home. Can we watch TV? What is there for a snack? I have homework. Does Dad have to work tomorrow? Can I go over to so and so's house? It is relentless. The demand for attention, the inability to focus on what is front of us right now - a conversation in the car together - and the creation of more chaos when a bit of order, first, is needed. It is exhausting.

Life is full of competition for our attention. The kids are in battle with our parents, the news is in battle with the laughter of memes, the dog is in battle with our partners. And around and up and back again. How we don't all live with a crick in our neck from the constant twists of the head to watch something, the next thing, is beyond me. 

Fabric and the quilting industry is no different. Hundreds of lines, with probably 10-20 different fabrics in them, launch each year. Actually, each season. Then there are the patterns to go with each. Not to mention the thread, the latest notion, and the world of bags, crafts, and garments. It is all enough to make one feel like they are spinning in a vortex of colour, not knowing where to stop or look.

And I didn't even mention social media. 

Those of us working in the industry have been saying for a few years that it is getting worse and worse. The churn through of inspiration, the saturation of the market, the sheer volume of stuff is overwhelming even for us. It makes the hustle more exhausting as you try to find a way to differentiate yourself. Yet we too are contributing to the noise.

I always think of the Grinch and Boris Karloff saying "Oh the noise. The Noise. Noise. Noise. Noise."

Quilt Books

Book publishing has already slowed down. You just don't see the volume of quilt books hitting in the market anymore. Two weeks ago we all saw the news of Free Spirit shutting down. Now it will have a new owner.  Brick and mortar stores are closing, and others are opening. Ecommerce still expands and contracts 

All of this could truly be a market correction. The quilt industry has nearly tripled in the last 20 years. That is a lot of years of buying, not just new quilters. The economy is still not great. I know my own disposable income doesn't get spent on  fabric even though as a professional I can write it off. How many other people are in the same boat?

I have three other theories regarding the consumer side, while others have addressed the supply side of the quilt market.

... One, all those new quilters, the twenty somethings who led the Modern movement, now have kids, and sometimes parents, to take care of. Our time and money disappeared. We are quilting less obsessively, if at all. Not to mention, #2 below.

... Two, we have enough fabric. Plain and simple. Many of us got caught up (still do) in the need to stock up on the latest and greatest, to build our stash of celebrity designers fabrics and products. Those stashes are now sitting there. There is that old joke about she who dies with the most fabric wins, right?

Some folks destash, others let it languish in the closet. This is regardless of the age and the situation we are in. Many of us can now shop at home first. Those large stashes have essentially created a quilt store in our home. That means we aren't necessarily hitting the stores to stock up anymore.

... Three, I'm seeing a move away from consumerism. It might be the recession, it might be a increase in environmental awareness, it might be simple exhaustion at the churn of new product. Regardless, I think a lot of us are buying less new stuff simply for the sake of buying less. This translates to a rise in upcycled material, thrift store purchases, and using what we have already. This also ties into what I am seeing as a backlash against new, new. new. 

Tag Fabric Names for Snow Quilt

Personally, I've been feeling a shift over the last year. At first it was because we were tight on cash and I needed to not shop so much. (Kid's sports, yikes!) It continued because I wasn't seeing much new stuff I eagerly wanted. Or rather, nothing was standing out to me. I also launched my own fabric line in there and 20 bolts of fabric suddenly in your tiny space is A LOT of fabric. To be perfectly honest, I have a large stash. At least for the last 10 years or so. And I always shop first from there. But if I went to the store because I needed a particular shade of blue, I would buy 4 different fabrics to fulfill that need and fill the blue bin. It was a lot of consumerism. 

At the beginning of the year I cleaned out the stash. The closet was full of falling over piles, bins that wouldn't close, and a heck of a lot of fabric I wasn't and will never use. So I went through each colour, purging and refolded. It only took a few evenings after the kids went to bed, not the big deal I made it out to be in my head. I now have a large blue IKEA bag ready for donation and a neater closet. Was it ever liberating!! I've been in a quilt store twice since then and only bought what I needed because that was the easiest thing to do. Perspective is a wonderful thing.

None of this, however, helps the quilt shops or the suppliers. Or my colleagues in the industry trying to make a living. This market correction is going to hurt some people, I have no doubt. People will leave the industry, things will get leaner. This isn't always a bad thing, but it sure can be ugly. It also doesn't guarantee that quality is the winner. If social media has taught us anything it is that those who know how to play the game, with or without the rules, are likely to win.

Aurifil Wonderfil Thread

I've been asking myself a lot of questions about the hustle lately for exactly these reasons. As I said before, I'd love to write another quilt book, but that may not be in the cards. I'd love to design more fabric but I have a lot of work to do there on improvement and I need to be comfortable with putting more product out in the world. I'm not ready to leave the industry, but it is definitely time to redefine my role in it. And I don't think I am alone in this process, from the consumer to the supplier level people should be doing this.

In the meantime, I've slowed down. Life is insanely busy between kids and the family business (outside of my own work). The only time I really sew is for that Morning Make habit. Let me tell you, slow is good! I love all my quilts under construction but I am starting to focus more. Working on only one or two at a time. Trying to spin less, take more deliberate action. Instead of walking in the door of my sewing room and asking a million questions about what comes next, I take off my shoes and move thoughtfully, getting things done little by little.

As I say to the kids every time they start off in a frenzy: Simmer Down.