Wonder: Establishing and Maintaining a Creative Practice

I have blogged about this before, in part, but yesterday I gave a talk and I know some of my friends who live in the ether wanted access to it as well.  I departed somewhat from the script and talked about specific mistakes, but basically, this is what I talked about.



Because I was talking to a group of quilters, I started with my first quilt. I will note I have not attempted piecework this complicated since.

Take what works for you and leave the rest behind.

Start with the basics: get enough sleep, eat well, exercise. Take your medications.

Commit to your creative practice — REGULAR PRACTICE. Good writers go and write for X many minutes/hours or whatever it is a day. If you want to be creative, you have to do it. Not all of us have the luxury of doing it every day, but for me, even if I’m not in my studio, I still spend part of the day thinking over ideas.
Three main components:

Structure (physical, chronological,)

Inspiration — many sources

Challenges — how to challenge yourself and what to do when big challenges (ie, mistakes) occur

Physical: have a dedicated space — it doesn’t have to be a whole room. Some people manage to work out of a tiny corner. I find having a whole room dedicated to my practice enormously helpful. I can maintain an organized stash of materials that are at the ready when inspiration strikes. Or when I need to just force myself to sew two pieces of fabric together.


Having the machine set up and ready to all the time made a huge difference in my willingness to get down to business.

Time: Commit to your practice.  1 day a week every day for an hour.  Whatever works for you. Know what time(s) of day work for you and don’t sacrifice them.


SAY NO this opens up time/energy for things that really drive you


Have a solid routine where you don’t have to think creatively about every decision. It’s ok to eat the same thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I think Feynman made that decision about lunches. It’s ok to have a closet full of clothes that look the same. Look at Steve Jobs. Did you ever see him in anything other than a black turtleneck?


If you have a hard time getting started, just say to yourself, I’m just going to go do something for 10 minutes today. You don’t need to block off 2 hours or 6 to get work done!



Be your authentic self:

I know that I learn by talking. Some of my best inspirations have come from conversations I’ve had with people. If I’m looking for a creative spark, I know certain topics will get the juices flowing: science, marine topics, outer space, and textiles. Because I talk so much, people will sometimes bring me ideas. It’s great!

Listen to NPR or podcasts. Go to lectures and classes.

I’m a member of two local quilt guilds and I go to the meetings no matter who is speaking because I never know if someone will inspire me. I’ve had people say things that hit right to the core even though their style and possibly even their technique are of no interest to me! Same with classes. You never know how a technique might be used in your work if you don’t try it first. Just because the teacher uses dots to make cats doesn’t mean you can’t use dots to make ice cream cones (or something along those lines :))

Sometimes I will try to use a different thread or fabric or yarn to see what I can do with it. I also make challenges to myself and invite my friends to join me.  

Someone told me a while ago to try doing things “the other way.” So, try being the driver or passenger. Try eating left handed. Or drawing (if you draw — I don’t:)). I’m a contra dancer, so I’ve started switching roles during a dance, something I had not been able to do before a year or so ago. I think it did something to my brain because I can now do it easily!

Being creative is all about expressing the subjects that excite me. Find subjects, shapes, colors that excite you and pursue those exciting bits.

Try different colors from your favorite safe colors.

If you find something that excites you, follow that thread. Indulge in it. Revel in it, even.

Step outside your comfort zone. Sign up for classes you are unsure about. It’s ok to try something and decide it’s not for you. You tried it! Good job!

Make up challenges with friends. Respond to calls for entry. Stretch yourself. Share your work. Submit it places. Apply to things you love even if you think it’s not going to happen. Take commissions!

How do you challenge yourself? (rhetorical question)
Stretching/challenging/dealing with blocks and mistakes


I’ve been living with anxiety for a long time.  Don’t let fear do the driving (Liz Gilbert). Tell it to come along in the back seat and stay quiet.

FAKE IT. Show up and tell yourself that’s what counts, because it’s true.

Take breaks. Allow yourself “palate cleansers” as Cyndi Sauder calls them. Someone else talked about strip therapy, where she couldn’t do anything except sew strips together. I’ve made a number of quilts that way and it has worked wonders for me. I have the confidence that I can sew two pieces of fabric together. It really works!

Allow yourself to make ugly imperfect messed up work

Wonder is the antidote to a block. Ask “what if” and see where that leads (Liz Gilbert)


Things to tell yourself: better done than perfect. It’s ok to make something ugly/bad/terrible today. What’s the worst thing that can happen?

This is not a competition. The more we support each other, the better we all are for it.

Some of my most creative solutions have come from perceived mistakes.

Have cheerleaders and trust them.

Cultivate relationships with people of different ages. My kids have wisdom that people older than me do not and vice versa.

Do not take yourself too seriously. Loosen up, let go, and have fun sometimes.

Here are the images from the slideshow, which I didn’t project because I forgot to bring a cable. Some people looked at it afterwards.

These last 8 quilts are Trajectory: Escape Velocity and I have blogged about them before. Just click on the tag and you can find individual entries.


Warping the Fabric of Time and Space, panel 8 of Trajectory: Escape Velocity

Studio Session-017

Here we are, the end. The last panel of Trajectory: Escape Velocity. Starting from the beginning of time, we have skipped and hopped, stroboscopically, from the Big Bang through early life and some key points of evolution (at least from the human perspective) to the future. Or one possible future.

In this panel, rockets are leaving earth, heading for the depths of outer space. This panel differs from the others in that it was hand dyed.  As soon as it was done, I knew it would be the last panel. I never expected it would look like this. I will have a post about that issue in the future.

This picture was also taken by Ron Freudenheim.

Here’s a picture I took yesterday which shows how much warping there is. I sewed 16 gauge wire to the each edge to get that effect, among other things. Again, more on that later.


Trajectory: Escape Velocity Part VI: Grandpas in the trees

Grandpas in the Tree

Grandpas in the Tree

Panel 6 brings to primates. I attempted to arrange them in some semblance of evolutionary order, although it gets tricky as a lot of them are more parallel in development, rather than linear.

In this panel, you’ll note that the animals get more numerous at the top and also a bit more rambunctious, looking almost as though they might leap off and into your hand (or perhaps onto you heard) to go exploring.

The title of this panel comes from a line in a song by Dillon Bustin. I’m not sure of the actual title of the song, but it is a song about evolution and he refers to his “grandpa in the tree” in the last stanza. I’ve always been charmed by that and was pleased to be inspired by it here.

This picture was actually taken my by someone who knows what he’s doing, so Ron Freudenheim gets the credit here.

Scorched Earth: Part VII of Trajectory: Escape Velocity


Here I’ve created a slice of a cityscape (most likely in the United States). It is so full of people, they can’t all fit in the buildings any more. They are pushing out the tops, like little pieces of popcorn bursting forth.

The panel is called “Scorched Earth” because it hints at global warming.  It’s done on red background, which is mostly obscured by the buildings, but you can see a few glimpsed between a couple of them.

(I know part VI got skipped. I’m working on it and hope to have it done in the next day or so.)

The Oceans are Teeming: Part IV of Trajectory: Escape Velocity


I know some time has elapsed since I posted about the last panel, but fear not, I have been working away! I finished panel IV this week. I’m calling it “The Oceans are Teeming.”

This is a story told in stroboscopic post hole moments.  I hope the leaps I’m making aren’t too grand.  In this panel, there are some small fish at the bottom, but as your gaze travels upwards, the number and complexity of organisms increases.  Note that the fish don’t fit tidily. They are pushing out of the boundaries of the space they are allotted.

Most of the fish on this panel were cut out (during my daughter’s swim lessons, which I found rather apropos), but I did create a trio of jellyfish, one lone octopus, and a little squad of cuttlefish.  A treat for someone who stays to linger a moment or two extra.

Next up: dinosaurs and an abstract allusion to evolution. Hopefully that will be done much more quickly.

Black Smokers: Part III of Trajectory: Escape Velocity


I was reminded the other day that I had not posted this yet. Sorry! Family life overtook me for a while there and I forgot to blog.

This panel represents black smokers, where early life was thought to have originated. I felted roving on top of silk to create the black smokers which I then appliqued onto the background. Then there was white silk sticking out, so I painted around the edges with a metallic blue fabric paint.  I also put a big plume of smoke in the middle, its base hidden.

The ribbon that is couched on represents streams of smoke or bubbles.  I fused some very small metallic pieces I picked up at Scrap DC to represent those early single celled organisms.  They start out small in number, but as they rise to the top, they become much more numerous. Look for this theme in future panels, as populations rise and create tension over habitat space.

These are tweets of the black smoker in progress:

Primordial Soup: Phase II of Trajectory: Escape Velocity


Last month I brought you the Big Bang. The next phase in my story is a little quieter, but equally as dramatic. Primordial Soup is where elements appear and combine and DNA pops out! The DNA is made of wire and beads and really does stand out from the quilt base. All the crystals represent different elements and some molecules. I lost count of how many crystals I used, but I’m pretty sure it’s over 400.

Trajectory: Escape Velocity

I have started a new project I’m calling Trajectory: Escape Velocity.  It is a story of evolution, beginning at the very beginning (let’s ignore what quantum physics tells us in favor of telling a more linear story for now) and ending with people leaving the planet. I don’t know all the steps in between. I won’t know until I’ve created them.  I post pictures of things in progress, if you are interested in those.  I am going to attempt to post as each phase is completed. So, here is phase 1.

In the beginning, there was darkness:

This is a little one inch black square.

This is a little one inch black square.

And then there was light:


Starburst (19X19 inches)

Next up: The Primordial Soup. See a teaser DNA picture on Twitter.