On Learning PATCHWORK IMPROV

Despite my many attempts at sewing over the years, I’ve never been able to shed my frustration with puckers and crooked seams and all sorts of irregularities. Enter “Patchwork Improv,” the possible antidote to my feelings of defeat and disenchantment with precision patterns.

improvquiltThere are three “Patchwork Improv” classes offered through Creativebug and presented by Sherri Lynn Wood, an award-winning author and “improvisor.” I watched the series on working with shapes—the other two installments deal with angles and strips. Given what I experienced through the videos I’ve watched so far, I also can’t wait to pick up Wood’s book The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters: A Guide to Creating, Quilting & Living Courageously (Abrams). Improv. Creating. Living courageously. Sure, I’m all ears!

The best part about patchwork improv? No measuring! It involves all free-hand cutting and trimming! No more aggravation with one piece not quite matching up with another, with the result looking kind of kitty wumpus—in fact, the more kitty wumpus, the better, with this art form. The process? I learned that you begin by cutting out a variety of “squarish” shapes from any old fabric —Wood loves tearing apart men’s shirts for her fodder—then determine your “filler fabric,” then rev up your sewing machine and go to town!

Not long ago, I purchased a funky geometric painting from one of my favorite local art centers. Now I can’t help but think of how I could make something similar with fabric using Wood’s improv methods. Stay tuned for an update!

 

On Learning FINGER KNITTING

Finger knitting. I remember learning how to finger knit from a childhood friend so many decades ago. We’d spend hours together during sleepovers making long lengths of narrow knitted tubing in various colors. Sometimes we’d attempt to make something useful from our thick, long ropes of yarn—little pillows or blankets for our dolls, for instance—but we were never quite satisfied with the end results. I eventually traded in finger knitting for embroidery and cross-stitch, which seemed much more sophisticated back in the day.

homepage-knitting-without-needlesIt was through Creativebug that I was recently reminded of the fun of finger knitting.  And thanks to the brilliance of maker Anne Weil, my eyes are now open to the craft’s possibilities. In one of her six Creativebug classes, Weil walks viewers through the steps of creating a pretty and practical woven rug from finger-knitted cords. The same project is featured in her book Knitting Without Needles, which is full of patterns for finger- and arm-knitters alike. I picked her book up from the library, along with Finger Knitting Fun by Vickie Howell, Arm & Finger Knitting by Laura Strutt and Finger Knitting by Mary Beth Temple. Sweaters, toys, hats, and blankets—the options seem endless as I page through these resources on finger knitting.

Of course, I have all I need to get started again: a good pair of hands and plenty of yarn. I think I’ll try Weil’s idea for a wreath first, then maybe I’ll finally have something presentable to show for my finger-knitting skills. It only took forty years.

 

 

 

On Reading TELL IT SLANT

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“The care of words is urgent Christian work.”
—Eugene H. Peterson

It was through the writings of Madeleine L’Engle and her best friend, Luci Shaw, that I discovered another one of their contemporaries Eugene H. Peterson. Best known for authoring The Message Bible, Peterson boasts a knack for taking age-old language and thought, and translating them into contemporary terms. His book Tell It Slant follows suit.

Poet Emily Dickinson wrote, “Tell the truth but tell it slant,” which means to employ creativity and subtlety and ambiguity and “unhurried intimacies” to deepen our understanding of the many facets of life. Such is the inspiration behind Peterson’s book as he delves into the parables and prayers of Jesus Christ, and focuses on the various nuances of His teachings and conversations.

At the same time, through Tell It Slant, Peterson aims to “cultivate a sense of continuity between the prayers we offer to God and the conversations we have with the people we speak to and who speak to us. I want to nurture an awareness of the sanctity of words, the holy gift of language, regardless of whether it is directed vertically or horizontally. Just as Jesus did.”

As a writer by both trade and passion, I admire Peterson’s goal. And in reading Tell It Slant, I now count him among my “artistic ancestors,” those whose work will forever impact my own. I enjoyed every one of Tell It Slant‘s chapters, but I knew Peterson would leave a lasting impression on me in reading the introduction to a portion based on Luke 18:9-14:

It takes a storyteller to give us access to all that is going on—the swirling maelstrom of sound and silence, visible and invisible, in even the dowdiest of women, the dullest of men… 

Storytellers activate our imaginations to see and hear beneath the surface of life and involve us in the many dimensions of what is going on behind our backs or just around the corner. It takes a storyteller to reveal the beauty that dazzles like “shining from shook foil” (Gerard Manley Hopkins). 

Every time Jesus tells a story, the world of those who listen enlarges, understanding deepens, imaginations are energized. Without stories we end up with stereotypes—a flat earth with flat cardboard figures that have no texture or depth, no interior. 

Though my artistic explorations of late have focused on the visual, my ventures in writing and storytelling are the most constant way by which I exercise my creative muscle. And in Peterson’s words I find a new calling—even a personal prayer—related to those endeavors. May I continue to grow into a storyteller who values and demonstrates the sacred art of language, the beauty revealed through original insight and twist of phrase, and revulsion of the “flat.” May I dream to create that which “dazzles”!

 

On Seeing SAINT JOHN’S POTTERY STUDIO

My fascination with the Saint John’s Pottery Studio began with “Clay, Wood, Fire, Spirit,” a documentary produced in 1996, but featured recently on TPT Twin Cities PBS. The film serves as a “video portrait” of Richard Bresnahan, a master potter and the studio’s artist-in-residence. Watch video>>

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The sales room offers an overwhelming array of pottery in various forms.

During a recent visit to the campus of Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., I was able to swing by the studio to see it in the flesh. I was greeted by two young apprentrices hard at work at their wheels—barefoot, gooey with clay, and engrossed in the forming of their signature vessels. I took in the gallery walls filled with numerous pieces of pottery in various forms: platters, bowls, vases, candlesticks, and cups. And I marveled at the hundreds of works for sale in a side room. Oh, to imagine the people-hours invested in the throwing and glazing and firing of all that I saw!

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Guests of the studio are invited to enjoy some tea at the “irori,” a traditional Japanese hearth.

Perhaps the biggest impression the studio made on me was its air of hospitality. The apprentices were quick to offer a formal tour, which I look forward to taking them up on another day. I was offered a seat at the studio’s “irori,” a traditional Japanese hearth, for a cup of green tea and conversation. Smiles and warm attention and a sense of home—these qualities definitely enhanced my appreciation of the art around me and, of course, the people who make it.

The experience got me to thinking… How can I infuse some hospitality into my own art making and sharing? What part does environment play in the spirit of my work? These are good—and fun—questions to ponder.  I’m eager to keep my eyes and ears open for more inspiration.

On Trying MACRAME

As a product of the 1970s, I’ve seen my share of macrame. So many dangling plant holders. So many different types of apparel. Then there was the gigantic owl with bulging bead eyes, perched on a piece of petrified cactus—he hovered over my family’s hi-fi during most of my formative years. Many may consider it kitschy or even a bit of an eyesore, but macrame has made a comeback in recent years.

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I decided to give it a try. I bought a cheap kit with a relatively simple pattern and spent a Sunday afternoon with another curious and creative friend. In two hours time, I finished one small section and there are five more to go. In the end, I’ll have a four-inch-wide and twenty-inch-long wall hanging. It’s definitely not an enormous project, but I do value the learning experience of it. Here’s what I’ve discovered about macrame so far:

Prep time is important
This never occurred to me before pulling out my supplies and instructions: there’s some preparation involved in macrame. There’s the matter of cutting the string to precise lengths. There’s the attaching of them to the base. I was eager to begin making knots, of course, but proper set-up is necessary for the more gratifying next steps.

Keep your strings straight
My project involves ten strings, which means I have to manage twenty pieces hanging from the base. I feel like Rapunzel’s hairstylist, manipulating those long blonde cords into tidy knots and braids, setting to the side or over the top what I’ll work on later. At first, it all felt like a big tangle, but I eventually landed on a system that helped make the whole process more manageable.

Rely on your own logic
I spent the bulk of my first two hours of macrame-making simply studying and trying to make sense of the project instructions, including detailed diagrams. It wasn’t until I put the instructions away, and began to experiment and understand the logic of the knots on my own terms, that I made some progress. But isn’t that the way it is with everything artistic or otherwise? I don’t know about you, but I find that, in this kind of transition, I enter the zone of true creativity.

I admit gravitating toward boho-chic decor and anything boasting interesting texture. In turn, macrame seems of natural interest to me. I look forward to mastering the basics through this first project, then considering how I could grow my skills further, perhaps in a creative work of my own dreaming. It’s worth a try.