The Places I've Been - Improv Letters in Action

Improv Letters and Words Quilting

The quintessential graduation gift is Dr. Suess’ Oh, the Places You Will Go! For whether you are graduating from kindergarten or medical school. It’s a fun one, full of optimism and encouragement. And while I don’t want to disparage any of that, I do think it is also important to look backwards some times. Not to hold grudges, obsess over past mistakes, or fester (although I do a fair bit of that myself). No, looking back sometimes is important for celebrating progress and success. It is a good reminder that our hard work did get us somewhere.

In the wake of some high profile retirements from the quilting industry, plus a few more you might not have noticed, I’ve been doing just that. Well, actually, I started this particular process years ago, but the past month really got me being reflective.

Quilting was a lifechanger and is a lifesaver for me, no question. I would not be the person I am, the mother I am, the woman I am, without quilting. It teaches me to embrace my own creativity. It provides a mindfulness that no amount of meditation would ever give me. It is an outlet for anxious hands. And, at the end of the day, is a career that provides financial freedom and personal challenge.

A few years back I started teaching a class on making letters and words, improv style. For my class samples I started working on the names of places I was at or had been. As a teacher I like having samples that can be something else some day, that can be built upon with each class I teach. It simply provides a focus. Picking the community names was a fun thing I tried. And it kind of stuck.

Cheryl Arkison Quilt Teacher

In all fairness, I haven’t got that far. I will admit to overwhelm when I think of having to add Charlottetown, Kangaroo Valley, and Prince Rupert to the list. That’s a lot of letters! But when I sit down to make a word, in the end, it doesn’t take that long. It becomes a wonderful trip down memory lane. I often pull out the photos from the trip and pick colours based on the scenery or something memorable from the class.

My plan is to make a quilt with all the places I’ve been. I can’t predict where I will go in this industry - it is constantly changing, as are my personal challenges - but I sure can appreciate where I’ve been. Since becoming a professional, as a writer and teacher mostly, quilting brought me to some pretty amazing places to meet some even more amazing people. How lucky am I?? I’ve worked hard and will continue to do so (this is not a retirement announcement). As I have no travel gigs booked for this year I might get this done to this point. Then we will see all the other places I will go!

Epic Battle With the Scraps

Little Log Cabin Scrap Quilts

Victory is mine!

A month ago - after teaching multiple scrap and Values Plus workshops - I got it in my head to buckle down and hit the scraps. And I hit them hard. While I have my lovely little bins of colour sorted a blue IKEA bag kept getting filled with strips and random bits. I sorted out a bunch of little bits back in May, but otherwise the bag sat there taunting me.

Hey you! Hey! I’m talking to you. You know you won’t throw me out, you simply can’t do that. But did you know I grow when you aren’t looking. The rest of the fabric? It comes to me at night and fills me up. You will never take me down!

Oh yeah? Let the battle begin.

I spent an hour or so sorting that bag by colour. Easy enough. And usually sorting is enough for me. It gives me the calm I want and finding order makes me happy. But there were just so many scraps! So I went headlong into the fury and am happy to say I emerged victorious!

Values Plus Scrap Quilts

This morning I finished the last of the blocks for a queen size quilts based on my Values Plus class. As I sorted, sewed, and trimmed for those blocks little bits and little strings revealed themselves, like soldiers stalking me in the grass. Well, they’ve been tamed too. I have a pile of skinny strings ready to action on my side - in some little log cabins. And the little bits leftover from battle are contained in colour sorted bags, another project in mind.

All my Morning Makes and any other free time in the last month has been spent on this battlefield. I became solely focused on this. While I generally have no issue with scraps something just got in me that these needed to be dealt with. Like an itch I couldn’t scratch it became an obsession to empty, sort, and use everything in that blue bag. While not everything is used yet, it all is designated or tamed. I am winning!

Now I hope to spend some time actually finishing a quilt or two, that’s a whole other battle.

Modern Scrap Quilts

Firefly Quilt With a Fluttering Start (Via Pattern Drop)

Firefly Quilt A Long

Even though improv is my mother tongue, sometimes I crave a little precision piecing. It gets my brain working in a slightly different way. Yay for firing the neurons! (Does this mean I won't get dementia in later life?)

I made a single Firefly block to help my friend Katie launch a Quilt Along through her company, Pattern Drop. It was a pleasant way to spend an hour in the afternoon, digging through the scrap bin of solids. But hmm, that was a really nice way to spend the afternoon. Of course I started another block. Then I ran out of the backing fabric (before the block was finished).

Firefly Quilt Block

Darn it, I wanted to finish that block and make more! And usually I would just dig through the stash and keep going but I really, really liked the look with the Essex Linen (in the sparkle variety and regular) and didn't want to change that. That meant convincing myself to order some because no local stores had the regular Essex in Indigo like I needed. Then waiting for the order. And now I just need the time!

The original pattern calls for 16 Firefly blocks. Lindsey Neill from Pen and Paper Patterns did a great job of drafting this block. There are some piecing options plus a bee version (I think mine lands somewhere in between bee and firefly). The pattern reads for the whole quilt, with options. I won't lie, read that way it scared me with the cutting instructions. That's because I never cut all at once. I can cut one block at a time and feel good. Less efficient, but suits my time allowed and available brain space. Plus, I have a think a bit more so more neurons fired!

Scrap Fabrics Essex Linen Metallics

From 0 to 125 - A Survey of Unfinished Quilts

quilts under construction sep 2017.jpg

Where do you fall when it comes to unfinished quilts? Earlier this year I conducted a survey of readers on the topic. Everything from true confessions on the number of quilts under construction to attitudes towards these projects.  Over 400 people answered the survey and I am finally able to share the results. My own current number sits at 47. It certainly creeped up this year!

What counts as a quilt under construction? I left the definition of unfinished open, by design. For some people a stack of fabric counts as an unfinished quilt, for others it is a quilt top. I let everyone define that personally. 

Just how many quilts under construction do you have? A few of you have 0, zero! unfinished quilts. A a few of you have over 100 quilts sitting unfinished. Most of you, however, are in the 10-15 unfinished quilts range. 

What I think is more telling is how people feel about their number. I asked people does this number stress you out?

does this number stress you out?.jpg

Unfortunately, it didn't occur to me to have these questions link so I could figure out the statistical correlation (I am not a survey designer by trade). Same goes for the next question, where I asked people how many is too many?

how many is too many?.jpg

In looking informally through all the responses though, it appears (but is not proven) that those that have a higher number don't seem all that stressed by the number. Nor do they think there is such a thing as too many. I have a theory about that. 

It comes down to perspective. If people view quiltmaking as a means to an end - a process by which we make a product - they get hung up on numbers and checking things off lists. Must finish becomes a mantra because their goal is a finished quilt. But if people view quilting making as an end in and of itself - a process that may or may not result in a product - then the number doesn't really matter.

Of course it should be said that at some point the majority of us do want to finish quilts. We are, ultimately, trying to make quilts here. If the emphasis, however, is on the finished product over the process we might as well go to the mall and buy a factory made piece. 

Back to the survery results.

Let's get practical. I asked where in the process do you generally stop working on a quilt? The question about process was left open ended, so the numbers don't add up to 100%. But the results are still telling. 

Hung up at?.jpg

I know, for me, making a backing and basting are my blockades. Quilts pile up there. It seems I am not alone. Those are tedious tasks, no doubt. 

One question and the most popular answer probably tell the story here. The question was asked, what makes you stop working on a quilt?

Overwhelmingly, the answer was what one respondent referred to as Shiny Object Disorder. Something else becomes more inspiring in that moment. Or we get bored. It's pretty simple. Other answers included uncertainty about quilting plans or skill level. And that ever present need to wash the floors to baste a quilt!

I was able to present these results and my take on them in a lecture at QuiltCon in February. For the rest of you who weren't there I am happy to both share the results here and my full take on them in the latest issue of Modern Quilts Unlimited. In the article I defend all these unfinished quilts as markers of creativity. If we take on the Five Ps of quilt creativity we can all see it this way.

  • Perception - how you view your quiltmaking in general makes a huge difference in how you view unfinished quilts, your skill level, and creativity
  • Planning - approaching quiltmaking willy nilly is fine for some, but most of us require a more thoughtful approach to a project and practical considerations of space, time, and money
  • Process - there should be as much joy for you in the process as the product
  • Practicality - how we manage the unfinished quilts in our space and minds
  • Play - bringing that spirit of playful joy to our quiltmaking

Long time readers will recognize these themes from posts. After nearly 20 years a quilter I've learned a few things, and I don't just mean hand applique. When we start our quiltmaking we almost always all start with products in mind. Some of us stay there and some embrace process more. Neither is more right than the other. When it comes to quilts under construction, however, I do need to defend every single one you have as a mark of creative action. Even if it's been years since you touched that project it does not represent a failure, it celebrates creativity! Own it.