Adventure - A Quilt for Not a Book

Improv quilting Doe fabric


36'' x 42''

My husband defines the distinction between an excursion and an adventure as this: When you go on an excursion everyone makes it back. When you go on an adventure, somebody or something doesn't survive the trip. He is morbid and sarcastic, that man. 

This quilt is definitely an adventure.

A few years ago I had an idea for a book. I was fresh off the publication of You Inspire Me to Quilt, still riding high. Over bourbon on the best patio over I sat down with an industry friend, a good colleague, and we were brainstorming ideas for my next book. We both got really excited about one particular idea. It was stellar. Or maybe it was the bourbon talking?

Walking Foot Quilting Aurifil Thread
Robert Kaufman Essex Linen

Nope, it's still a pretty good idea. Unfortunately, my publisher did not necessarily agree. Even though I've published three books I can't just throw an idea at them and have them send a contract my way immediately. So I took a few months to flesh it out. Because of the nature of the concept this required more time than I usually need at this stage. A book proposal is necessarily detailed as it is - table of contents, sample chapter, and quilt examples all required - but this one needed even more to get the concept across. I got all this together and then they came back with a request for an actual quilt to see the concept in action.


Sure, okay. I went right to it. Got the quilt top all made, got it basted, then stopped. Life got busy. And it's never really stopped. No excuse, because I've made other quilts in the meantime. But the mojo slipped away after the initial burst of work. Then the reality of whether I truly had the time to actually write another book sunk in. I did not. Not for about 2 years there. I so desperately wanted to, but unless I became both a) suddenly flush with cash and b) able to function on zero sleep for months at a time it wasn't going to happen.

I won't lie, I shed some tears over this. Frustrated and annoyed at the position I was in - even though I put myself in that exact position - I wallowed for a bit. I got depressed seeing the success of others in the industry via social media, jealous even. It was ugly and mean spirited on my part, to be perfectly honest. And that is before I beat myself up on the regular about it all.

Not sure how exactly, but gaining some perspective changed everything. At some point I took stock of my own successes and felt proud. I started to play my own game. I saw all the freelance, short burst writing I was doing as practice for everything else. My schedule, or at least my approach to it, allowed for more time. So I re-pitched the book concept. 

Shot down again.

This time though I decided the quilt I'd started needed to not languish on the closet shelf. Up there it mocked me, made me feel like a failure. It was time to reclaim that part of my creative history. At worst, it becomes another story to tell at a trunk show (or on a blog). At best, it becomes a cool quilt gifted to a beautiful baby. So here it is. 

This quilt went on a creative adventure. The book never came back alive, but that's okay. The journey was still worth it. And who knows, that concept hasn't died entirely...

Improvisational Quilts Half Square Triangles
Carolyn Friedlander Doe Fabric

Quilt Details:

-  Fabric is a couple of Mini Charm packs of Carolyn Friedlander Doe mixed with her curated selection of Kona cottons. It was a give away from Quilt Market a few years back. The background is Essex Linen.

- Backing is also from Doe.

- Binding is Carolyn's crosshatch in this amazing green. I wish I could find more.

- Quilted with a pale yellow from Aurifil in straight lines changing directions. There were a million knots to bury with the quilting pattern I chose, but I do love the end result.

Familiar Blocks in Fun Ways

Churn Dash Traditional and Modern Quilt

As a quilt teacher I am constantly thinking about my classes. Seriously, I think about them a lot. If I am not prepping a class - I teach a few times monthly now - I am playing around with ideas for classes. Can I change the way I am teaching a technique? What feedback did I get from that workshop? Do stores even want this class? Who else can I pitch a class to? It is a near constant state of juggle and hustle. At the same time, I want consistency and any marketing expert will tell you that I should have some standards.

Last year I ran a fun series at a local shop. I'm still trying to figure out how to translate it into my offerings because there is overlap with existing listings. For now, I am excited to offer this new class.

Familiar Blocks in Fun Ways

Take a traditional block and change it up. Play with technique, scale, colour, value, and more as your take the familiar and turn it into something fantastic and fun. 

Right now it is on offer at My Sewing Room as a monthly club. Each month we will tackled a familiar block. Up first is Churn Dash. Coming up next is Pinwheel. Then we have Stars, Drunkard's Path, House blocks, and Flying Geese. I had a lot of fun sewing up that first sample and I have no doubt students will as well.

2018 is set up to be a busy year for teaching, with a few trips and a lot of local classes. Like I said, I am constantly looking at the juggle and the hustle. My schedule is still being updated - there are some fun Fall excursions in the works. Keep an eye on things! Teaching is one of my most favourite things to do so I know this will be good times ahead for all. 

I am always open to feedback, custom requests, and questions. This includes my classes. Don't hesitate to drop me a line. 

The Truth Behind Morning Make

morning make Lilla Quilt Improv Quilting

My alarm went off this morning precisely 7 hours and 1 minute after I got in to bed. I did not jump out of bed. I lingered, staring into the mostly dark, listening to my husband breathe. For at least two minutes I debated rolling over and going back to sleep. For another two minutes I wondered if I should go to the gym instead of sewing. And for two minutes more I stretched out my arm with the tennis elbow. Then I got out of bed.

In my PJs I shuffled to the sewing room. My dog is sick so I hugged the wall in case he'd pooped in the basement again overnight. (He didn't, but if he did I needed some sewing before I dealt with that.) I clicked on the machine and turned on both the design wall lights and the overhead lights. Normally I don't make it so bright because, damn, it's first thing in the morning, but I am machine quilting so it helps. I settled on my pillows and set to finishing the stitches on this particular quilt. 

I've been thinking about my Morning Make practice lately and how much it is saving lives. Mine and those of the people around me. Okay, so that's melodramatic. Morning Make is definitely changing lives though. I first wrote about it in May of last year. I'm amazed at what it has done for me since then.

Life came at us hard once September hit. Like any other family it is the daily barrage of school lunches, playdates, sports, homework, drama, driving here and there, work, and moments of glory, beauty, and snuggles. It's exhausting and most days I feel like the only time I sit down is in the car and then the kids are all talking and nothing is silent or calming about traffic. Add to that family drama,  a bountiful harvest, and financial stress and life is like the peach tree done for the year - all the promise and the lingering sweetness, but ready for a good long rest. 

Despite all that, or maybe to spite it, I am committed to my Morning Make. Some days it is 10 minutes of random piecing of scraps, others it is machine quilting. Some times I take an hour to write. If the kids get up early I sketch and colour with them. The phone, as always, stays on the nightstand. The computer does not get opened. I use my hands, my feet, my heart, my brain to do, to be. I create before I consume.

Morning Make Values Quilts Cheryl Arkison

The reason Morning Make is saving lives is two fold. One, most days that is the only time I get to actually be consciously creative. The whole day is a juggle and even making your bed or dinner can be considered creative acts. Yes, even those. You have choices to make and hopefully the end result is somewhere between passable and beautiful. That counts as creativity. If I've started the day with a creative act, a dedicated moment where I did the thing that gives me so much joy and peace, then I've set up my mood for the whole day. And when Mama is calmer we all have a better day. Not to mention I won't be cranky or frustrated quite so much when I elect to watch the Daily Show when my day is finally done instead of heading in to the sewing room.

Two, Morning Make has turned in to a daily practice. From what I understand what I do is very similar in practice and impacts as a meditation practice. It is about being present, with no outside influences. I focus on the task in front of me and that is all. Just rather than that focus being on breathing, a mantra, or a particular thought, it is on the creative act I am doing right then. It is focused concentration. The more you do that, the more the benefits extend to the rest of your life. That's why meditation is so strongly recommended for anxiety and even problem behavours in children.

Beyond these two amazing benefits, Morning Make has made me far more productive. In terms of sewing I am getting things done. A little each day goes a long way! That ability to be more present in what I am doing also means I waste less time when I am doing things. I can stay off social media, avoid click bait, and process the news in smaller chunks. So the little time I have for all the things means it is getting used well.

In no particular order, these are quilts or quilt tops I've finished via Morning Make:

Improvisational Picing Small Piecing Cheryl Arkison

The icing on the cake is quite literally, the creative energy. Not just the making of things, but the fuelling up I get from this daily practice. This is my time to play, explore, improvise. Zero expectation for what I do, only some time to try. Creativity begets creativity. I get a million more ideas, I see things differently, I want to try more, do more. 

So today I finished quilting that quilt. Then I went about my day of momming, part time work, cake baking, driving, and all the rest. And not once did I have a temper tantrum or even say something snarky. I totally give credit to Morning Make for that!

Tonight I will put out some fabric. I will set my alarm for 7 hours and 1 minute after I get into bed. When I wake up in the morning I will breathe and stretch and make. 

For practical tips and more about Morning Make check out this piece on the Craft Industry Alliance blog

Screen Printing Lesson and Coincidences at Maze and Vale

Kawasaki's Theorem on Fabric

On my Australia trip I got the opportunity to learn silk screening printing from the wonderful Leslie Keating at Maze and Vale. We were in Melbourne for 48 free hours in between the two retreats. Jules McMahon arranged for us to go meet Leslie one morning. I'd interviewed Leslie for a Modern Patchwork/Quilting Arts article before, but this would be a treat. We were in for far more than we expected!

At Maze and Vale

Leslie invited us into her shared warehouse studio space. A number of different artists working on their painting, printing, sewing, and making in a sunny, crisp warehouse. Divided by plywood walls and mixed with creativity. The Maze and Vale space is long and narrow, perfect for a printing table. Perfect for Leslie's gorgeous drop cloths (which Jules and I really, really want), a cabinet with her base cloth, and shelves of inks. Not to mention the true value of her unique screens stacked under the window.

We, admittedly, thought we were going to have a cup of tea, a short tour, and a little chat. But no! Leslie gave us that and so much more. She gave us lessons, stencil papers, a blank screen, and access to her beautifully custom mixed inks. Before our tea was cold we were cutting stencils with an exacto knife.

Prepping a stencil

To be put on the spot for this was momentarily disconcerting. Thank goodness for my nearly full sketchbook that I always carry with me! I flipped through the pages and came across these sketches. In an older issue of Uppercase Magazine there was mention of a paper folding technique called Kawasaki's Theorem. While me drawing it out has nothing to do with paper folding I loved the lines of the illustration. It screamed quilt block to me. And, on this day, I used it as my inspiration for a stencil.

Now, the last time I used an exacto knife I nearly sliced my thumb off and my brother had to practice his eventual doctoring on me. So, I was a little nervous. But with some good chit chat I calmly got through and got to the exciting part of the process - printing.

Silk screening demo at Maze at Maze and Vale
Procrasticraft printing

There is something wonderfully meditative and quite exciting about screen printing. You think you know what it is going to look like, how it will finish, but there is still some uncertainty at the beginning. I could see this being addictive for me. At least in the summer at home because I'm not sure I could appropriate the dining room table for this in the winter months!

My prints dried, we heat set them, and last week I put together a small quilt top with my fabric. We used Essex Linen as out base cloth. With a bit more of the blue colour and a paper piecing pattern drafted to take advantage of the prints themselves I made 4 blocks. The blocks themselves are the Kawasaki's Theorem on repeat. All very meta. I think I will continue that with the quilting.

Fresh prints drying

Leslie was a wonderful host and teacher. If I lived in Melbourne I would hope we could hang out a lot more. If she lived back in her native Canada it is likely we would too. Then again, we may have in the past! It turns out that not only is she Canadian, she is from the same Prairie suburb as I am. We know mutual people and even now, her sister and my sister in law are friends! We discovered all this while chatting and printing. It was a crazy coincidence and I can't believe I had to go halfway around the world to discover the connections. My little quilt and my prints mean that much more now.

This day of printing was an excellent creative retreat for Jules and I. Working hard for others and doing all we could to nurture their creativity was decidedly fantastic. But getting a chance to play and nurture our own was such a welcome and needed break. Thank you to Leslie for providing the space, inspiration, and guidance to do so.