Sustained concentration takes a lot out of you, especially when your project gets derailed at the end. (See “Goal Digger, 3/1/17) Buoyed by the promise of a rescheduled museum exhibition in the near future, I have now hung “Busted” in my studio in my own one-woman show. It inspires me to start on something new — as soon as I figure out what that will be.
I have several possibilities. Before I got consumed with this museum competition, I had begun yet another small piece in my Istanbul series: a whirling dervish done in rich fabrics with lots of movement. I have been collecting beautiful, distinctive fabrics, (and hauling them in my luggage) ever since my first trip to the Middle East a few years ago. In Egypt I not only learned about the many, many variations of thread count and finish and weave of those famous Egyptian cottons (from a generous and knowledgeable shirtmaker in Luxor), but I also became captivated by the intricate geometrics and artful appliqué of the Tentmakers of Cairo. They, in fact, inspired me to move beyond traditional block quilting into art quilts and appliqué myself, for which I then began to cultivate a more diverse stash of materials.
What quilter doesn’t collect fabric? For me, this has become one of the great joys of travel, as well as an immediate way to relive memories. Just looking at the fabrics, admiring their designs and feeling their textures reminds me of where I bought them — in a souk in Turkey, on the roadside in Africa, or in a modern shopping mall in Dubai. I have silks from China, tapestries from Spain, and laces from Greece; I have material that is hand-painted, hand-dyed, hand-embroidered, even hand-woven! Honestly, I have enough fabrics now to last me a lifetime — but of course, I will buy more, even at my local quilt shop.
If I don’t return to my dervish, I might tackle one of the other ideas that have been floating around in my head. I haven’t designed any one of them yet, but I have begun to accumulate fabrics, embellishments and found objects that might be suitable. It’s the old chicken-or-the-egg dilemma: which comes first, the design or the materials? To be sure, beautiful fabrics can be inspirations in themselves, but we need to design with them in mind rather than rushing out to buy something new for every new idea. I recently took a course from a well-known quilt artist and her first rule for our class project was to “Use what you have!” It’s a good lesson, but still a challenge, no matter how big of a stash you have — and I’m not just talking about fabric.
Anyway, after “Busted,” my first order of business was to clean up my studio so I could find what I have. It’s always a good idea to clear the worktable before embarking on a new project, especially when that worktable, and the counters and the cabinets and the couch and the floor and even the ironing board are all littered and cluttered, scattered and piled. I became a whirling dervish with a feather duster; I even took my sewing machine apart and removed all those fuzzy balls under the needle plate. And as I whirled, the ideas swirled around me. I could hardly wait to get started on “something new.”
That was a week ago.
Anyone who has ever worked at home is familiar with the way distractions can derail a good idea. You start off the day with your usual routines — exercise, breakfast, a quick check of your e-mail — but then: Turbo Tax wants me to get started on my taxes, my insurance company has begun processing my surgical bills, a friend sends hotel choices for a trip we’re planning … I take care of these little things, and then remember to take the meat out to thaw for dinner, and then double check that casserole recipe while I’m at it. Since I’m in the kitchen, I rinse out the coffee pot and load the breakfast dishes into the dishwasher. On my way to my studio, I pop in a load of laundry, because it’s Monday and Monday is laundry day.
By the time I get into my sewing room, start flipping through my idea notebook and digging out some of those beautiful fabrics, I am already preoccupied with other things in my day and overwhelmed by the creative possibilities I have laid out before me. Too many ideas can also be a distraction. Besides, it’s almost lunchtime. I decide to have a yogurt, take a nap, and start again refreshed in the afternoon. But of course, the afternoon dribbles away too. Before I know it, a whole week is gone and I have nothing but a tidy house and balanced meals to show for it.
As a writer, I have always rehearsed my pieces in my heard before committing words to paper, so I have perfected the ability “to write” while performing mundane activities such as cooking and cleaning and doing laundry. I’ve even dictated stories while commuting. But you can’t really do that when pursuing a tactile art. Sure, you can roll ideas around in your head, but at some point, there has to be hands-on, focused attention to sketching, tracing, piecing, sewing. No matter how adept you are at mental visualization, that vision has to become a real thing. You simply cannot paint or sculpt, or sew, while you are also doing something else.
So today I am headed into my studio to get started on “something new.” As soon as I get this posted.