Summer Songs…



Thinking out loud,

The robins get up very early around here.  We know because they sing the morning song just outside our bedroom window.  Even though it is barely light, they are ready for the day.  I turn over and doze until I hear the raucous call of the Pileated Woodpecker, or the crows, or all of them together.  It’s time to get up!

I really don’t mind this kind of wake up call.  I don’t have to leap out of bed, but my brain starts working on whatever is “up” for the day.

As a kid, summers seemed long open ended weeks, time for anything and everything, time to let my mind roam and the ideas sort themselves.  There was time to dream, to imagine, time to watch a stink bug make its way through a puddle, time to watch a popsicle stick sail the rugged seas of the street side gutter, or time to figure out what a shadow was and how it came to be.

I treasure those memories.  And I treasure the ones I build each day.  I watch my back yard bunnies helping manage the lawn.  In the evenings we watch the swallows soar way up high over the back yard.  We watch the dragonflies cruise back and forth on mosquito patrol.  Dragonflies are my special friends because mosquitos seem to think I am on their particular menu…

And in the studio there is relaxed activity.  You could almost say lazy, but it isn’t really.  My imagination is busy…I am stacking up fabric from my stash as an idea brews.  Pulling fabrics out has been pleasurable—I have some pretty good stuff hiding in those shelves.

I’m not in a hurry.  I aim to let the fabrics sing to me.  I’m going to watch them and imagine and discover what story they have to tell me.  I am going to take my time.

Questions to ask…

Thinking out loud…

There are questions to ask, (What was I thinking??), and some not to bother with, (Where did I put that?), and some that just naturally unfold themselves. (What “meaning” am I looking for in this piece?)

One of my strategies for figuring out what meaning an in-progress work holds for me is to list all the words that come to my mind.  I let myself be literal and symbolic, obscure and obvious, humorous or not—just listing the words, the qualities that dodge through my thinking.

Sometimes this gives me clues as to a direction change.  Sometimes a title appears.  I like to have working titles as I proceed, and often these change as the work progresses.

And eventually I bring out my trusty thesaurus, and look up the words I am most interested in.  I look for words that carry the meaning (or hints of it) that I am searching for.

Titles are the clue I provide to the viewer—a place from which to stand and look at my work, a starting point.  Hopefully, the viewer has to (or wants to) ask the questions I have asked myself.  And, hopefully, the viewer finds answers in her own (his own) experience.

It is that connection between the viewer and the work that I value.  It is what I value about looking at art.  If I can bring my own experience to the conversation between me and the work, I am able to have a dialog with the artist.  It doesn’t matter if my experience is different from the artist’s, it only matters that meaning has been carried, transmitted, communicated, shared.

Art grows and advances civilization.  That may seem obvious, but think about it, let it sink in.  Let the necessity of art give you hope and purpose in your work.



Thinking Out Loud,

Sometimes I just like to cut loose and try something.  Not really preparing or thinking about it a whole lot, just grab the stuff and give it a whirl.  I’m not sure if this ever really works at once, but it gets me in the ball park, and the ideas begin to build on one another.

So began the coffee and tea experiment.  Things in my mind:  staining (anyone can do that!), weathering fabric (yeah, I can do that), using what comes to hand (yep!  I have lots of coffee and tea), sitting back and watching what happens—got it covered.  First off white sateen, poured leftover tea and coffee over, outside hanging from the line.   Check.  Next day, repeat.  Simple experiment, pour stuff over and repeat.  Let it rain!  Only it didn’t rain.  So I just kept it up.

Getting a bit bored, I thought to toss some cotton Pima in a dye bath of very old Safari Grey dye.  Check.  Added soda ash at appropriate time, and rather than wash it out, just hung it on the line and proceeded to pour coffee and tea over that on a daily basis.  And wait for rain…

It began to get interesting….

Then it rained, a little bit.  Now, I fully expected the rain to wash out a lot of what I was seeing, but I wanted to see if staining had occurred and if it would “stick”.

Hmm, that’s not too bad, let’s keep going…..

Then, we went away for a week, traveling, and while we were gone it rained.  A lot.

And I was back to square one…

I’ve had more staining when I mopped up a whole coffee pot spill!  But, I figured I would lose most of the color and detail, just sort of wistful that it pretty much took all of it.  However, along the way, it was fun, interesting, and got my brain thinking about how to get the effects I liked in a permanent way.  It was a process.

I love the process!


Thinking out loud…

It isn’t easy, is it?  I’ve been feeling pretty blown around by the human climate in our nation, in our world, on our planet. It is too easy to sink into fear and despair, and that does not help anyone, anywhere.

So, as an act of will, I turn away from that option, and in my small way, do my best to make every action and response positive, to act out of goodwill, not fear, not despair.

What we think matters, what we say matters, what we do matters.  I do believe that the goodwill of each single human gesture adds up, and that there is power and balance in that.


Best Laid Plans…

Thinking Out Loud,

Well, it took me one day to figure out that an imposed routine doesn’t work for me right now.

I can see that that has been generally my MO—set a plan and make myself follow it with discipline and the knowledge that “work” should feel like “work”.  My new work routine did feel like work, and I got a start, but it wasn’t enjoyable.  I wasn’t even going for the fun part, but I did want to enjoy “working”.  Trust  me, over the years work has been fun, challenging, engaging, exciting, difficult—all that good stuff.  But change happens and time passes.

I guess I want something else now.

Yeah, one of those would be really good, too.

Anyway, by bedtime, after following my new work routine, and after setting a plan for the next work day, I ached all over, felt a bit bummed, and was definitely NOT looking forward to doing it all again the next day.  I wondered–what the heck is the matter with me?  This isn’t how I want to feel.  This isn’t how I want my work to feel.  This isn’t how I want each day to be.

I had an epiphany.  I really did.  I announced to Jim (my hubby)–because I figured he should know it too– I am retired!   At first he looked at me like  I had skipped a beat, then we both had a good long laugh…(I retired nearly 2 years ago, but I guess it has taken a while to sink in…)

Here’s what I think about it today…I don’t want to work to accomplish something, I want to savor something—my process, my experience, my expression.  I want to play!  Pure and simple.

I feel light hearted about the whole thing.  I feel like playing with the same stuff I have been working with, but with a different attitude.  There is no road map for that, no logical following the scientific method, no agenda, no commitments or schedules.  But there is curiosity, lots of it.  I wonder what will happen if I…?

Anyway, I’m retired from the business, not the art making.  I know, duh…

Routine, what routine?

Thinking Out Loud…

That’s one of my favorite Gary Larson cartoons.  The old Far Side calendar copy is long gone, but photo copied so I can keep it pinned to my design wall–an old friend, it seems just the right thing.  As I encounter rethinking the way I work and re-establishing a work routine, believe me, this feels very familiar.

But this morning I feel ready, a shift in my thinking.  I’ve spent the past week finishing up a major knitting project (yea!), and I can feel the urgency to knit (and finish) relax its hold on me.  So I’m clearing a space on my sewing table and looking fresh at my design wall.


There are layers of stuff on my design wall…at this count, three layers.  Projects roughed in and left, covered over with fleece, and new ideas fleshed out on top.  There are actually some good ideas in there, underneath, somewhere.

One that keeps nagging me is the sweater on the yellow plaid field.  Something about this one makes me feel really good, makes me smile–until I think about how to actually DO it.  I’ve got lots of ideas about it, but up to now, not quite the energy to dive in and try it.  I think I am there.  At last.

While often over the past few years I berated myself for not “working”, I realize now that I was simply not finishing anything.  I’d see my design wall everyday, look past the work up there, somehow going blind to it, and end up feeling overwhelmed and discouraged.  But occasionally, I’d fling something else up there–very rough, very incomplete, but an idea that compelled me in some way.  Then I’d think about making it and go lie down.

I have to chuckle at myself…about a week ago, after my last post, I walked into the studio, sat in my comfy chair, looked at the design wall, and I SAW my work.  I saw that I had been producing, not finishing, but producing viable ideas.  Maybe I didn’t want to finish them in the ways I have worked  in the past, but that seemed OK with me.  It seemed interesting to me.  I felt the energy to find a way.  Well dang….it feels good.

So I’ve cleared the decks and thought out a new work routine.  I’m going to take it easy on myself and start out gently, slowly–a couple hours in the morning, doing some trial and error projects to grease the wheels, and to figure out some things.  I am going to allow myself to venture into uncharted territory, explore materials and ideas I am curious about.  And I am building in time to screw up.  At last, that sounds like good fun.

Also, I’m going to add a few minutes of exercise bike time to my work routine–and do some research/reading while I pedal–easy going.   My current pedaling fav is this book…fascinating text accompanying beautiful images.

It’s time to cut myself loose from expectations–mine.  It is time to experiment!

I could not resist adding this–my NEW sweater!  A hand knitting experiment in “will this fit?”  YES!

That Place…

Thinking Out Loud…

That place is Baker Bay, Cape Disappointment, Washington.  Every time we go there, I lose myself in photographing this spot.  There is some mystery for me in that this is the terminus of the Lewis and Clark Trail.  They didn’t find what they were looking for– the Northwest Passage, an easy, cross the continent route to the Pacific and on to the Far East.  Disappointment.

Baker Bay opens out into the Columbia River just before the river flows into the Pacific.  At this point, the Columbia is a place of dangerous sand bars, shifting waters, and often wild weather–still requiring careful piloting of the ships that travel up river to Portland, Oregon.  While Baker Bay is a small protected and shallow bay, sand bars come and go with the storms.  It is a place of many moods.  I love it.


Even in the pouring rain and blowing wind, I can’t help but try to capture it.

Marks for counting—the posts, relics of an old pier,

Imprint still water.

On our most recent trip to that place, I found myself saying–“I need to make a quilt of this.”  And then I stopped, astounded.  I haven’t said that in a long long time.  For a brief moment, I could see the fabric I would use.  I could see the pale colors I would use.  Then the moment passed.

Like a bolt of lightning, the idea seemed so clear

Where did it go?

I’ve been writing a lot of haiku lately.  Well sort of haiku—17 syllables. Traditional haiku pays attention to the number of syllables per line as well as in the whole…I am just letting it rip.  I think of haiku as a word picture with a point.  And that is the basis of what I am going for.

Since the beginning of my quilt making, I have thought of my quilts as poems, not particularly holding to any form of poem, just your garden variety visual poetry.  Kinda high-falootin’ my mother would say….  but there you go.

It is helping me, right now, to think of my quilt ideas as haiku—short statements capturing a feeling or a moment—visually.  And somehow this place that I keep photographing is prodding me.  It’s a bit like bird watching–catching glimpses among the branches, standing quietly, respectfully, gently so that the bird does not fly away.

So an idea begins to come into focus, just a hint or two for now.

The next stage feels as though I am marshaling my forces to begin a campaign–gathering the bits, the tools, all the stuff that takes an idea into real form.  And it still seems a task I am not ready for.  What’s holding me up?

I know I have to figure out the HOW.  How am I going to work now?  How am I going to DO it?  I don’t want to force myself into the ways I have worked for so many years.  It feels like an old shoe that no longer fits.

Hand work, lap work, portable, rough and ragged, loose and fragile, humble, collected elements, simple, crude techniques, unfinished, unvarnished, imperfect, aged and relaxed, freed up….Ideas are coming around, and around, and around….





I’m Back!

Thinking Out Loud…

“Camping” for three weeks touring around the Olympic Peninsula.  Aaah, what a treat–relaxing, relaxing, relaxing.

When we left home, there was still snow on the ground, and when we returned a week ago it was full on Spring.  Amazing.  We had freezing weather, wind and rain, bright sunshine at 30 degree temps, and two days of a heat wave that broke local records for the highest temperatures ever recorded for Western Washington in March.

Our goal was to revisit some of our favorite places from Fort Flagler State Park to Cape Disappointment and points in between.  We aimed to include a bunch of simple cafes out in the wilds, take lots of pictures, and see the wide open spaces of Washington off season–rain or shine.  For me, it was a good time to think, to ponder next steps, and let my mind wander just as we were, letting each day unfold in its own time.

Dawn, Fort Worden, WA.  Yes, we really did get up at dawn–once.  It was worth it.

This place has pie….and darn good burgers.  Town of Joyce, WA.  We managed quite a few cafes…good ones.   Over the three weeks, we indulged in pie, razor clams, hot cakes,  home made hash, and burgers….oh, yeah, and beignet.  Oh man….

We love little towns.  This place is the oldest (1911) continually operating General Store in the state of Washington.  Inside is a step back into history, and…

Candy–the most amazing candy collection I have seen since childhood!  It was mythic.  They also had a store cat, but I didn’t manage a picture of him. Darn… I even went back, but he was out.

I stored up a lot of great views…That’s when I know I am not really a photographer.  I get lost in looking.  I listen to how it feels to be seeing what I am seeing.  So I didn’t get pictures of the river otters at Cape Disappointment, or the vultures riding the thermals above Salt Creek.  But I watched and soaked it up.  And that felt really good.

I found myself wondering how I might translate what I saw into stitches.  Each time this happened, it was a brief fleeting moment, but it was there.  And then we came to a place that I never get tired of trying to capture with my camera.

Baker Bay at Cape Disappointment, WA.  The Terminus of the Lewis and Clark Trail.

But more on that next time…



Mulling, Wandering, Collecting…

Thinking Out Loud

My, my, my.   My photos, my favorite glimpses, my surroundings.  From time to time, I like to photo what is right in front of me–from various and different vantage points–looking for compositions, looking for textures or colors, looking at how light works.  Looking and collecting.

Sometimes, there are oops!  Like the photo above.  I do this a lot, probably having more to do with too many fingers in the way than any kind of skill.  But I kinda like it.

Often this practice teaches me what I am drawn to, leaning towards, or interested in before I am really conscious of it.  It clears my mind.

Lately I have noticed textures…

I like looking at how light behaves…

And then playing with it…

Layers–I always enjoy looking at layers…I also like those blues…

And don’t EVEN get me started on yellow…

So my assignment for the next few weeks is to mull, wander and collect with abandon, and without judgement.  I am telling my inner critic to take a hike!    I may take a saunter or two….  Wanna come along??


Picking Up The Threads

Thinking Out Loud…

Right after I retired I completely reorganized my studio to reduce clutter, and generally make my work space more friendly to my achy joints. I was also wrestling with a deeper issue—was it time to let go of my long arm quilting machine, Millie.  For some 15 years, Millie had been my steadfast partner in making my quilts.  Millie gave me the ability to densely quilt my work so that it had the sense of intensity I was striving for.  But, a quilt had been sitting on Millie half way quilted—untouched for nearly 2 years.  I couldn’t bring myself to work on it, partially because maneuvering Millie across the surface of a quilt was painful, very painful, and partially because I no longer felt connected to the piece.  I no longer knew what the quilt meant to me.  I didn’t know what it was saying.  I didn’t know what I wanted to say, or IF I had anything left to say.

I removed the quilt from Millie, deciding that it would be a sacrificial transition piece (whatever that meant…) to help me find my way from then to what would come next. I decided to hand quilt it in big loose stitches, letting all the “bits” show, all the steps.  This seemed like a good idea, an interesting idea, but after a few weeks of working on it, I lost interest.  I pinned it back up on the design wall, and there it rested until last week.  

It felt like it was time to ask the questions again—“What is this about?  What do I have to say?  What does it mean?”

Regret, conflict…Talk about conflicted

Between what I feel,  and what I think I should feel.

Between what I want to do, and what I actually do, and what I think I should do.

Then there are the different sides of what I feel about this one thing—the rough and smooth, the tangled, the tight and loose, the hidden, the exposed, the raw edge left alone. 

No wonder I like knitting.  It is simple.  You take a strand or two of yarn, a couple sticks, and you fiddle your way to make loops, through loops, and you get a hunk of fabric that holds together.  It stretches, it bounces back.  You can pierce it, but if you cut it, it will come undone.  If you pull a loose thread one way, it will tighten, if you pull another way it will unravel.  It’s about the loops, always the loops.

Who invented this stuff?  What a mind that took, what thought, what vision and interpretation—to see such possibilities with a simple loop, repeated, repeated, with sticks.  Boggles my mind….

Loops.  Loops of thought.  Some things just keep coming round, again and again.  I think I have that figured out, and here it comes again.  We think we have made progress, and here it comes again.  We have made progress, but we are not done yet, it is not totally fixed.  Here it comes again, I have to deal with it again.

Layers.  There are layers and more layers.  As quilt makers we deal with layers.  We bind them together.  We have lots of ways of doing this.  Sometimes parts are hidden, sometimes revealed, sometimes tight, sometimes loose, sometimes purposely and apparently careless, sometimes with painstaking accuracy we hold those layers together.  I love that about quilt making.  I love that about my own quilt making.  

I am amazed I just said that…I haven’t felt that way for a long time.

By gum….it is still there.