Back Door Friends

Back Door Friends

Come on in!
Come on in!

In the south, close friends and family always use the kitchen door to enter one’s house. The front door is reserved for those uppity neighbors, the preacher and his wife, and salesmen. In most of the houses of people I’ve known (well) in the south, the front door may not even really work from lack of use!

Lots goes on in that kitchen.  Meals are prepared, secrets shared, problems hammered out. Handwork is always handy for moments away from the stove. Sewing, knitting, knotting, one can get a lot done in the 15 minutes the food is simmering.

Creativity takes a lot of forms, and one of the basic tenets of creativity is that it is contagious.  Creativity tends to spark creativity; and the second tenet is that practicing creativity breeds more creativity.  (It’s like exercise in that the energy is renewed and amped up with repeated use.) Lately I’ve really enjoyed watching my daughter discover the joy of baking and how she takes such care arranging the food for maximum visual impact. She’s getting really good and more and more adventurous, and we are all enjoying  eating what she makes! And  the second “wave” is watching my son who is then inspired to take photos of these beautiful creations, and how much his work has improved with the practice. And the funny thing is that with all of the house within which to work, we are all huddled in the kitchen together where the energy seems to center. But in my history, we’ve always gathered in the kitchen, ever since I can remember, and in every house I can remember.

Love on a plate
Love on a plate

My studio is my kitchen. It’s always a bit of a mess (this may be an understatement – come and see for yourself!) and often I have to shake myself back into the world to be able to even talk. Nothing gives me more pleasure than welcoming visitors into my studio. Lately, though, I have found myself a bit protective about who comes in, and it’s made me think a little about “the company we keep”. I have become more aware of the energy that accompanies people, and of what can happen when those energies merge or collide. It can be magic!

Where does your magic happen?

Living Small(er)

Over the past few years, I’ve found myself downsizing, beginning in fits and starts, and lately more steadily. I no longer try to “organize” as I end up losing more than I can find (I KNOW that thing is here somewhere …) but I am trying to curate my possessions and maximize my negative space. I find this to be a very good way to increase my mental space as well, and frees me up to do things, instead of just moving things around in preparation for doing things (my code name for which is “housekeeping”).

Living Small(er)

Which had you rather carry?
Which had you rather carry?

Over the past few years, I’ve found myself downsizing, beginning in fits and starts, and lately more steadily. I no longer try to “organize” as I end up losing more than I can find (I KNOW that thing is here somewhere …) but I am trying to curate my possessions and maximize my negative space. I find this to be a very good way to increase my mental space as well, and frees me up to do things, instead of just moving things around in preparation for doing things (my code name for which is “housekeeping”).

Where I struggle with this concept, however, is fiber and reading material. Fiber is a tale for another day.

I love books. I’ve always loved books. I love the way they look, smell, feel, how they take up space, and how useful they are in blending with other things that take up space. My travel souvenirs were most often fibers, either in the form of fabrics, finished textile products, threads or yarns, and books, often on these fibers indigenous to an area. Art books are another favorite – museum collections, famous houses, famous gardens, city tours, odd collections, I’m a sucker for a pretty book. I have books in languages I cannot read (magazines too!) just because the text was so beautifully laid out.

After a while, this can be a problem, especially these days with decreased weight allowances on travel and increased postage rates. But now my biggest “problem” is storage space, as I am living in smaller and smaller spaces. And actually moving all these books now counts as weight-bearing exercise for me. I’m getting too old to haul them all around.

So about 3 years ago I caved and bought myself a tablet, telling myself I wasn’t going to really like it and I would probably return it. Much to my surprise, I actually really love my tablet. I love it too much, actually, in the evenings, and have had to put myself on a tablet diet lately. I love it for watching classes on YouTube, comedy clips, Ted Talks, and amazingly enough, reading. I didn’t think I would like it for reading but find that I am now quite happy to read books or (most) magazines on a screen. I guess it’s truly a matter of practice.

Of course, things couldn’t be too simple, and I ran into trouble trying to find something in which to store and transport my tablet. I hate the feel of the oily, sticky plastics and “rubber” things and there was just nothing else available that made my hands happy. That’s where the electronic envelopes were born – I wanted something that I liked the look and feel of to carry around my stuff. My books, my magazines.  Something beautiful to the eyes and hands, form and function.  I’m really quite pleased with my tablet cover – I’ve used mine for 3 years already and it still looks brand new.  It makes me smile every single time I pull my tablet out of it or put it back in – and that’s pretty good payback for all the time and energy I put into it.  Just like moving all those loads of books and arranging them on the new shelves …

Behind the Curtain

Knowledge. Now everyone knew exactly what went into every single garment. Material costs. Skill set. What kind of labor. And more importantly, how many hours. Hours and hours and hours.

Behind the Curtain

I’ve been a very big fan of Natalie Chanin since she began Project Alabama in 2000 (and of which she is no longer a part).  I can’t remember now how exactly I found out about her, but it was probably in a magazine article.  She is now the force of nature behind Alabama Chanin.

My Alabama Chanin DIY poncho
My Alabama Chanin DIY poncho

With Alabama Chanin, in developing her line and her marketing stragegy, Ms. Chanin has given everyone involved, from designer to maker to client, an incredible gift – one that keeps giving back. The gift of information.  She has resurrected the educated clothing consumer.

Alabama Chanin is beautiful, distinctive clothing and home dec made from organic American grown cotton.  Fabric is dyed in small lots, patterns individually cut, stencilled, hand embellished, hand sewn.  This work is performed by people close enough to the Alabama Chanin studio, located in a retired t-shirt factory in Florence, Alabama, to drive in, pick it up, and take it home to finish, as it is quite time consuming.

Perhaps increasingly frustrated by the comments on how expensive her clothing is – everyone I know who makes anything by hand hears these rather constantly! – Ms. Chanin began to educate.  Today it is entirely possible to purchase her patterns, her stencils, her fabrics, her paints.  She sells the thread.  She has published four books elucidating exactly how one would go about the process of making any given item in her line.  I suppose some people thought she was giving it away.

But exactly the opposite of what you’d think would happen did happen – her line began to sell even more.  Sales increased in both her custom and DIY lines.  Ms. Chanin now has factory tours, makers’ days, workshops.  She teaches an absolutely incredibly in-depth Craftsy class (I signed up!).  Her workshops and tours are so popular they have even added a factory eatery and evening events including speakers.

Exactly what happened here?  And how does this directly benefit you and me?

Knowledge.  Now everyone knew exactly what went into every single garment.  Material costs.  Skill set.  What kind of labor.  And more importantly, how many hours.  Hours and hours and hours.

No more instant disposable clothing that “magically” appears in stores!  And there aren’t rows and rows of identical items – most everything is made to order.

And even Chanel and Dior are beginning to open the doors to their previously guarded back rooms.  Perhaps they too are feeling the need to educate a little?

[The shawl in the photo was purchased as a DIY kit from the Alabama Chanin website and completed from the pattern in her book.  It took me about 6 weeks of working on it 3-4 hours at night.  My ASG guild in Atlanta, CityWide Couture, was very complimentary but when I told them how long it took me there was a collective sigh.  It was then that I realized they had probably not made many quilts!  I love this and wear it a lot.  Totally worth the money and effort.]

Retreat!

Retreat!

Improvisational quilt top
Improvisational Piecing

It’s that time of year again – summer “vacation”.  Somehow I have come to equate that with the urge to go on a retreat, sort of like summer camp was years and years ago, but a bit more focused.  Well, a LOT more focused, actually.

It took a long time for me to actually go on a retreat.  I had lots of excuses not to – expense, time, worrying my family couldn’t get along without me (wishing it, more likely), not knowing anyone else, fear of flying.  Just about any excuse would do.

Then I went on my first one.  Ten whole days of nothing to do but practice new skills, meet new and inspirational people, and see up close and personal the most amazing work I’d ever seen.  Ever.  I went home with my brain on fire.  And did some of MY best work, with a ribbon to prove it!

One of the challenges I’ve found with classes is the supply list.  Seems no matter what I take, or how much of it, I never have exactly the “right” piece of fabric, or color thread, or “inspirational photo”.  I’ve had to learn to improvise and make decisions within the parameters of what is on hand, which is actually a very good skill for me to practice.  I think it is this ability to improvise that makes vintage quilts so very very interesting, and it inspires my process and exercises my creative muscles.  (Once, a participant showed up for a 4-day master class pulling a trailer, into which she had packed her entire sewing studio.  She probably paid for her trip selling fabric from the back of her car!)

Last year I went with a talented and patient friend to MISA, in Wisconsin.  It was a great change of scenery with a great program.  This year I’d like to stay a little closer to home, close enough to take my own stuff.  My own sewing machine for starters.  I’d like to spend less time actually getting there.  And I’m feeling quite lucky as there are so many really good choices close to me – John C. Campbell, Penland, Arrowmont – just for starters.  This year has its own special challenges, all personal, and I’m not feeling quite so “free” to take off for a couple of weeks.

I’m also finding that the studies that interest me are rather unexpected, and I’m not sure if that’s a distraction or a new path.  But I am finding that I do want to dig a little deeper into my own process and expand my ability to get my “voice” out.  That excites me, but also scares me just a little.

What do you do to excite (scare) yourself a little?  Have you been on a retreat?  Which was your favorite, and would you try to recreate that with friends or mentors?

And does it only have to be summer camp?