Monday, February 28, 2005


(My great grandmother's quilt top)

I always heard that my great-grandmother had tried her hand at quilting. It wasn't something she did regularly, as she preferred millinery and dressmaking, so when my grandmother found this and gave it to me, it was confirmation. I believe that as artists, we are not always comfortable with the method, but it's by trying it that we can create something beautiful. My great-grandma and I were very very close and her loss devastated me. Having this, knowing that she stitched it, that she touched it, that it was something she created, makes me so happy.

Yesterday, my two little cousins Brianna and Talani (ages 11 and 5) came over. They wanted to learn to sew, so I thought I'd teach them. I had beautiful purple fabric of my great grandmother's. "This was my great grandmother's and she taught me how to sew," I said.
"And now you will teach us what she taught you!" Brianna said. I was so touched by that.

"I'm sure you'll find a good use for it," my grandmother had said when she gave it to me recently. I did. I taught two little girls how to sew for the first time in their lives and when they finished they were so proud of themselves that they were beaming.

I was too.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Isamu Noguchi akari lanterns

Me surrounded earlier today by sculptor Isamu Noguchi's akari paper lanterns at the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum. They are made of handmade washi paper and bamboo. They were so beautiful and softly golden hanging there as the only pieces in the connecting hallway.

Inspirations for the week:

  1. Ancestor altars
  2. Minton tiles from the Capitol building
  3. Sharajat-al-Hayat--the "Tree of Life" of Bahrain. Surrounded by sand dunes with its water source a mystery, this lone, lush 500-year old acacia tree is a testament to the endurance of nature.
  4. Quilt Artistry by Yoshinko Jinzenji
  5. African Textiles by John Gillow

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Quilt of Belonging

Started in 1998 by artist Esther Bryan, Canada's Quilt of Belonging project was created to recognize the diversity and multiculturalism of the nation. 263 quilt blocks were created to represent each group from immigrants to the native peoples of Canada.

I think the blocks are stunning. Check out the online gallery and the descriptions of each for yourself...

Friday, February 25, 2005

I Wear Sunglasses at Night...

I don't wear glasses, but yesterday I had on sunglasses because I was experimenting with free-motion. I've snapped needles before so...

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Free-Motion Experiment

Had a big discussion with a guild member last month about covering my feed dogs on my little Singer. "Mine is 50 years old and I can do some free motion-type things on it so I know your 10-year old can handle it." Turns out she was right. I taped a business card down over my feed dogs and got to experimenting. Doesn't look like much, but I'm happy. There's the result.

Make Like Nike...

...and just do it.

At least that's what I'm trying to tell myself. Lately I've been on this thing where I'm hesitating about cutting into my fabric. Does anyone else have this problem? Perhaps it's what drives that quest to keep buying more. I remember going with my grandfather, who was a tailor, into a fabric store as a child. I loved buying fabric. "You're going to make me broke buying out the store," he'd say, but he bought it anyway. I would sew the most beautiful clothing for my Barbies. Fancy slinky evening gowns, full skirted ballgowns, blouses and slim pants. Even then, I loved to take a needle and thread and create.

Sometimes I think you get so hung up on the technicalities of it all that you forget that kid who just liked to go for it.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Why Art Quilts?

My very first block I ever did was a year ago and I went straight for all the triangles and squares I could handle. No nine-patch for me. What was I thinking? "Good Lord," a quilting friend told me when she found out. "You're just starting and made that? No wonder you got scared to make anything else for a while!" It was all a little too regimented for me. I'm a rebel, YEAH.

"Traditional" quilts just don't appeal to me as something I want to do quilt-wise. Like my watercolors or sketches, I prefer to be a little more freewheeling and improvisational in terms of my techniques and material usage, etc. I love seeing the incredible things that other quilt artists like Hollis Chatelain and Faith Ringgold do. These are the types of quilts that I aspire to make someday.

For me, art quilting is the ultimate blend of my visual arts background and my love of sewing. There's just something about the feel of fabric between your fingers, the hum of a machine, the needle in your fingers as you pull thread through, or the sheer satisfaction once it's done. Ahhh...

Monday, February 21, 2005

Orange You Glad...

...You aren't me with fabrics that have orange dye stains on them from one bleeding piece of fabric? Darn it!

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Inspirations for the Week

Inspirations for the week:
  1. A lightning tree--trees built specifically to attract lightning away from homes in the 1800s.
  2. Ethiopian brocade umbrellas--used to shield priests during Timket (Epiphany) processions
  3. Star trails
  4. How storms from Africa create hurricanes here in the States

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Comfort Is Other Newbies

Went to my guild meeting today--the Uhuru Quilters. We've got two new members, both of them kind of new to quilting like I am. When it was announced that all day next month was "Back to Basics" classes, I said out loud "YES!" Afterwards I had a chance to really talk to one of the long-time members. We talked about inspirations, hopeful future projects (because you always have more ideas than the time to execute them), great books, and hand quilting. She was hand quilting a large quilt and she took the time to really show me what she was doing.

As guild webmaster, I also act as photographer during meetings lately, so I popped in on a workshop being held on free motion quilting. The instructor, Cynthia Catlin, was doing some beautiful things with her machine. I stood there admiring her sample quilt for a moment--filled with hummingbirds and vines and leaves in multicolored threads. I looked around the room at all of the Husqvarnas and Berninas and thought of my old forlorn little Singer at home. I asked a member how she likes her Husqvarna and she said it took her 2 years to get it, but she loves it.

Talking with some other members, I said that I found that I really like art quilts vs. "traditional" ones. That it really suited me and they were like, "Don't say it like it's a bad thing! There's room for all styles of quilting!" I always come away from guild meetings feeling better.

Friday, February 18, 2005

OK, So I Made A Mistake Already

I still make lots of mistakes since I'm new at this. Things aren't perfect. I can't say I always want them to be. Weird stuff goes down. I do some questionable things with the settings on my machine. There's a good amount of "uh-oh"s and expletives being said, but the drive's still there.

I'm looking forward to the pieces I'll create. In the meantime--being a little clumsy--I'm just trying not to accidentally slice & dice myself with my rotary cutter.

I finally finished my guild nametag to wear tomorrow. We get fined a dollar if we don't wear it and they want to start enforcing that. It's a King's Cross pattern and I thought I'd have some fun with beading.

"Uh-Oh" of the Day: Didn't leave enough of a seam allowance after beading.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Darn That Thinking Stuff...

My mind has gone blank and my hands seem almost frozen. Visions of Carol Bryer Fallert-style spiral flying geese and Seminole patchwork dance through my mind. My sketch is before me and my list of projects is there as well. Everything’s ready for me to begin, yet how come I can’t do anything?

It’s simple, really. I thought about it too much.

I am a creative type—a writer and an artist—and both are prone to blocks. There are times when that computer screen seems really blank and that paper’s way too bare and you honestly have no idea how to change that. It seems I have the same feeling sometimes about my quilts. Nagging little self-doubts come into play like a quilting neurosis, which then leads into that next bane of the creative type: excuses. “I don’t want to cut that fabric,” “It’s just not going to look that great like this,” “I don’t have the right colors,” “My hand hurts.” Crazy little things that keep you from doing what you’re supposed to do—which is quilt.

It’s about letting go of that voice in your head, and letting out the creativity within.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

A Whole Other Animal


That’s a word I find myself saying a lot as a beginner to quilting. Just when I think that I understand, something pops up to make me question everything I know so far. I have always sewn and I even went to fashion school in NYC for a very quick minute, but quilting? Now that’s a whole other animal. I read all the books and websites I could. I watched television quilting shows religiously. Who knew folks were so into hand-dyeing? Or that free-motion machine quilting was the thing to do? Was there an obsession with perfection and stitch size? Would my hand-sewn pieces have an “Ooo” factor compared to machine work? Not to mention my old basic Singer machine with only three stitches that isn’t fancy or cool at all. "Terrified" just about summed it all up.

Batiks and batting, rotary cutters and rulers; metallic/monofilament/machine-friendly threads. The variety among quilts themselves are staggering. It's enough to make my head spin, yet it brings me peace. The feel of the fabric between my fingers, the hum of the machine, the gentle give of thread being pulled through by a needle. I feel filled with and fulfilled by that satisfaction and pride of completing a new work of art and beauty. There’s a rhythm, a calm, a mood that envelops me when I'm quilting. It’s what makes me keep on trying even while I sometimes feel lost.

Thanks to the Web, I've seen some wonderful, complicated work and felt very small and clumsy in my beginner’s way—with my fear of half-square triangles and appliqué and curves. As an African-American quilter, I’ve discovered a community of quilters like me and during meeting show and tell at my guild I am awed by my colleagues’ works, because they are beautiful and seem so polished compared to mine. Yet I am inspired just the same because someday, I suppose, mine will be too. I’m getting better with every try. That’s the nice thing about learning and being surrounded by folks who don’t mind sharing their knowledge with a newbie like me—soon you won’t be hearing “Uh-oh” quite as often.