What to do: Kill your darlings

Mal | Art Process and Creativity,Media,Quilting,Sewing | Thursday, April 30th, 2009

Hex closeup

I finally figured out what was wrong with my mini-hexagon project. Don’t worry. It wasn’t anything major — only the whole entire concept from top to bottom.

Fortunately I was able to switch it up pretty easily and get back on track. I also gained some good insight into some of the reasons why those hexagons have been compelling me so fiercely for the past few months. I’ll let you know more about that later.

Hex red flower

For now, here are a few thoughts on what to do when a project goes awry.

First, from Annie Dillard‘s book The Writing Life. This wonderful book is, you guessed it, a book about the writing process. However, there is plenty about general creativity to be gained here. Please don’t feel too badly about extrapolating from writing instructions for your knitting, pot-throwing, jewelry-making, or other pursuits. A quick jaunt over to Annie’s website reveals that she herself has been painting in recent years. Go, Annie, go.

The line of words is a hammer. You hammer against the walls of your house. You tap the walls, lightly, everywhere. After giving many years’ attention to these things, you know what to listen for. Some of the walls are bearing walls; they have to stay, or everything will fall down. Other walls can go with impunity; you can hear the difference. Unfortunately, it is often a bearing wall that has to go. It cannot be helped. There is only one solution, which appalls you, but there it is. Knock it out. Duck.

You must demolish the work and start over. You can save some of the sentences, like bricks. It will be a miracle if you can save some of the paragraphs, no matter how excellent in themselves or hard-won. You can waste a year worrying about it, or you can get it over with now. (Are you a woman, or a mouse?)

The part you must jettison is not only the best-written part; it is also, oddly, that part which was to have been the very point. It is the original key passage, the passage on which the rest was to hang, and from which you yourself drew the courage to begin.

Hex turquoise

There is a well-known quote of unknown origin. It is often attributed to Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald, or William Faulkner. (Does anyone have compelling proof of authorship?)

Kill your darlings.

No, don’t slip cyanide into your children’s chocolate milk. Instead, be willing to part with (slice off, scrub out, or frog) your very favorite part of a piece of art. If you’ve been laboring on any one aspect for too long, it runs the risk of becoming precious, overdone, and (for lack of a better term) priced out of its own market. It could be the very thing that is weighing you down.

Hex greenAnd this, from Samuel Johnson:

Read over your compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.

Hex yellow

Here are a few more essays about the idea of killing your darlings, and an interesting sampling of creative media which appear to benefit from the advice.

What about you? Have you? Would you? Could you? Should you?

Life in the shadows

Mal | Art Therapy | Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

Shadows and light

I live in a city that nurtures a great creative industry. This means that I meet (and, sigh, date) lots of out-of-work artists, musicians, and writers. Some of them live with their parents so that they can pursue their dream without paying rent. Others work “day jobs” as receptionists, delivery drivers, and store clerks so that they can free up time and attention for their artistic pursuits. All of them, to one degree or another, are juggling their tolerance for professional and artistic compromise.

Julia Cameron (author of the much-beloved book, The Artist’s Way) doesn’t have much use for artists who only go halfway or live in the shadows of other artists. She calls them, in a slightly derogatory tone, Shadow Artists.

Too intimidated to become artists themselves, very often too low in self-worth to even recognize that they have an artistic dream, these people become shadow artists instead. Artists themselves but ignorant of their true identity, shadow artists are to be found shadowing declared artists… Shadow artists often choose shadow careers — those close to the desired art, even parallel to it, but not the art itself.


By her definition, as an art therapist, I could be considered a Shadow Artist. I’m not out there producing, exhibiting, and actively selling my own work. I suppose I could, if I really dedicated myself to improving my skills and did art at the expense of all else. Instead, I am facilitating artistic expression and creativity in myself and others. I am “using” art for other means. I’m in an artistic profession, but am not an “artist.” I have not thrown myself, headlong, into the artist’s life with all of its uncertainties. I hate to be this way, but I like my paycheck.

In some ways, I think Julia has it right about the process of embracing yourself as an artist. Behold:

As a rule of thumb, shadow artists judge themselves harshly, beating themselves for years over the fact that they have not acted on their dreams. This cruelty only reinforces their status as shadow artists. Remember, it takes nurturing to make an artist. Shadow artists did not receive sufficient nurturing. They blame themselves for not acting fearlessly anyhow…

For all shadow artists, life may be a discontented experience, filled with a sense of missed purpose and unfulfilled promise. They want to write. They want to paint. They want to act, make music, dance… but they are afraid to take themselves seriously.

In order to move from the realm of shadows into the light of creativity, shadow artists must learn to take themselves seriously.

Whenever I reach this point in the book, I wonder if Julia Cameron would prefer that all creative people attempt to become full-time artists. I am not trying to be overly critical of her or the book (which contains some good stuff), but the world does need doctors and lawyers and farmers.

One of my favorite poets, William Carlos Williams, was a highly successful pediatrician and medical doctor. You may know him from his famous poem, “The Red Wheelbarrow.”

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

I love to think about Dr. WCW squeezing in his poetry and writing at odd hours and in random breaks during the day — between patients or after procedures. I relate to him, as a creative person who was also interested in compassionate care. I think it does a lot to explain his simple, straight-forward style and the way he uses images to convey meaning.

I think there are many of us who are caught in a trap of feeling that we should be doing something productive with our creations — making money, gaining notoriety, or whatever — but are unsure or are, as Julia Cameron suggestions, intimidated or short on self-worth. As though the only way to measure worth were in dollars. As though productivity were the apex of all goals. As though an external validation were necessary for satisfaction. Those things are nice, yes, and I certainly would never begrudge anyone who made a living from their art! But, I also don’t want people to think that it is the only way to find value in their pursuits.

The recession drags on and we are all beginning to feel the pinch. Even if we still have jobs, we may have noticed that the cost of our art supplies has increased. We may stand at the work table and mentally tabulate the amount of time and money that we’ve invested in our pursuits over the years. We may begin to wonder about return on that investment and what it means to make your passion into your work. Several bloggers have been thinking and wrestling with these ideas in the past few weeks. Some have successful shops, others are pondering shops, and still others are closing shops. The reasons and emotions are as varied as the personalities, but it’s interesting to consider their struggles.

Personally, I’d like to stand up in defense of the Shadow Artist. Yes, there are those who are able to make their art or their craft into a full-time profession. But then there are those for whom the joy of the process, the magic of making, and the other “fringe benefits” are enough. Must we all quit our day jobs in pursuit of art greatness? Maybe you sell off some of your creations from time to time, you take a commission or two, or you submit to juried exhibitions while continuing to pursue other interests and responsibilities. Maybe the creative process thrills or calms or challenges you and that’s enough for now.

Perhaps the world would be better with more capital-A Artists. For my part, I think the world would be better with more artist-grocers, poet-ranchers, and musician-cops. I like the bus driver that composes new tunes to whistle along the route. I wish I could find more waitresses who sketch out their customers on napkins just because. Accountants who write poetry on their ledger sheets. Barbers creating sci-fi stories as they cut.

Time to chime in. Do you feel you should be doing “more” with your art, or is your current balance of work/pleasure rewarding enough? If you were to move in one direction or another (toward work, toward passion) which would it be? Do you feel one impacts the other? What are your thoughts?

Getting back to it

Mal | Art Journal,Media,Quilting,Sewing | Monday, April 27th, 2009

Hexagon colorway

Enough with the bellyaching already. Just because I can’t set up my sewing machine in the kitchen, or an easel for painting or anything else, doesn’t mean that I can’t get back to the business of creating. Thanks to some good advice from you guys and my own private butt-kicking, I’m back to it.

For instance, I had spent all that time describing how I can take my hexagon project on the road. There’s no excuse for not working on those just because my apartment is upheaved. Here are some cell-phone-cam shots of me working on hexagons in various places last week:

Hexagons at the laundromat

At the laundromat.

Hexagons on the subway

On the subway.

Hexagons at my desk

In my office. (Shhh… It was lunch hour, mostly.)

I also pulled out my art journal on the subway the other day and was a bit surprised to find that the rectangles I sketched out for drawing quilt ideas turned themselves — suddenly and quite unexpectedly — into a comic strip. Woah, dude. Guess I needed some blatant insight into some of my recent decisions. You can stare at a page all you want and wonder about subtle meanings and nuances until there is a drawing of yourself talking back to you. Yeah. Not so subtle.

Comic strip in journal

What about you? How do you kick-start yourself after a low point in creativity?

Roundup: Anatomical Art (Therapy)

Mal | Art Journal,Art Therapy,Resources,Roundup | Sunday, April 26th, 2009

 What hurts?

One great way to facilitate a good mind-body connection is to make artwork about your body — its ailments or its triumphs. Today I’m thinking more about ailments.


I made a lot of art about my own body last year before, during, and after surgery. I even wrote about it here and here. As an art therapist who works in a hospital, I’m always interested in representations of physical, mental, and emotional pain.

Frida Kahlo famously lived with pain caused by childhood polio and then a traumatic bus accident. Her art is generally labeled as Surreal, though I see it as a therapeutic reflection of reality. Frankly, with varying degrees of technical skill, this is the kind of art that shows up a lot in a hospital setting. The problems of pain and the foibles of the human body are, as we all know, very very real.


 My painting carries with it the message of pain. (Frida Kahlo)

The Problem of Pain

Obviously, the human anatomy is a common theme in artwork of all kinds. Click the image above to find out more about the artists and their work.

Other very excellent examples include:

Of course, actual physical representation is not necessary. One of my favorite flickr images is by karmapolis and is called “Mi enfermedad” (My Illness). It depicts a dragon, not a body or a brain. Other people may just use color, shapes, and lines to abstractly depict what they go through.

Parts of me

What about you? Have you ever made something about your body, an illness, or a physical ailment or triumph? Please share!

Guest Post: Frustration in the Creative Process

Mal | Guest Posts,Resources | Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

Welcome to our latest installment of the Guest Post Series. Holly chose to write about the creative process and some of its frustrations. There are some choice phrases in here that have stuck with me for weeks, so I’m pleased to present you with her words. In the meantime, if you’re interested in writing about your creative process, your emotional connection to your artwork, or thoughts about a specific project, please contact me!


The creative process is powerful but it isn’t always wonderful. Sometimes it’s fraught with self-doubt and anxiety. I’ve been sitting here for hours staring at this blank page, why can’t I think of anything??

It always feels bad when you try to “force-create.” I’m sure you all know the feeling — staring at a blank page, willing the ideas and creativity to flow. Maybe there’s a birthday/anniversary/christening/special occasion coming up and you’ve promised to make something, but what? It has to be perfect, and no pressure, but you’ve only got a few days to make it so better get cracking. Gotta get those ideas flowing. Come on now, time’s running out.

I don’t think there’s any way to avoid force-creating — we’re all going to come across it at some point — but how I like to deal with it is to get up and walk away for a while. Give it some space, come at it from a different angle. Often my best ideas come to me while I’m doing something completely unrelated. 

My actual creative process is usually very subconscious. It always starts with an idea. It starts foggy at first, like the phenomena of seeing something from the corner of your eye, but when you turn to look it’s not there.

The idea creeps around the outside of my mind for a few days. I like to think of it as an incubation of sorts. I don’t interfere – I let it sit and incubate and grow and develop until it’s ready to reveal itself to me. Then comes that deep-in-your-stomach flutter of excitement as you think yes! Yes this is really great! Yes I can do something with this! Then it’s like a fever takes hold. A fever where eating seems irrelevant, where sleeping just slows you down, where your head is full of wonder and light and colours.


Sometimes notes are made and sketches are drawn, sometimes I just roll up my sleeves and jump in. Often it’s messy. Often the casualties are grand. If you have ever seen someone trying to design a new plushie, you will know how big the pile of mutant discards can be. Club legs, misshapen heads, darts gone wrong.

But sometimes it’s not until you put it all together and you stuff it and you look at it for a while that you realise… something’s just not right. You might not even know what doesn’t suit to begin with, but if something’s off you’ll have a nagging feeling in the back of your mind. Often I have to talk myself into fixing things, instead of continuing to work on a piece that I’m just not happy with, or letting it languish because I’m not happy.

Admittedly, ashamedly, I do have a short attention span and a lot of my creative ideas fall prey to the thought that if I don’t do them now, they’ll slip back into the edges of my mind and get forgotten. But I do love the fever pitch of a new idea. It’s like the honeymoon phase of a relationship, all giddy and exciting.

Other days… it’s not so great. My creativity comes in spits and spurts. Usually I feel my most creative when I have a lot of things I need to do, and suddenly my productivity increases – of course, not toward anything that actually needs to be done! I don’t try to start anything when I’m in one of my down periods, as I hate to force create. But I have a few projects I can pick up when I’m in a creative lull – like a cross stitch or some embroidery — just something small to occupy my hands until my brain fills up with ideas again.

For me, creating is living. Creating is finding myself, validating myself, exploring myself, trying on different things for size. I am a plushie maker, I am a stamp carver, I am a quilter, I am an OCD sufferer with a penchant for organising my fabric in a rainbow fashion. I struggle with creativity, but I know, now, that I couldn’t live without it.

Through creating I’ve learnt that not all criticism is bad. I’ve learnt patience and persistence, and I’ve watched myself grow. I’ve learnt to go slow, but not too slow – you’ve gotta keep working at being creative. I’ve learnt new techniques, I’ve met new friends, and I’ve learnt to respect myself again. I’ve learnt that not everything works out the way you want and you know what? Maybe that’s okay.

Holly McGuire is a mild-mannered bus driver by day, bringing her love of craft to the people on the streets, one bus stop at a time. By night, however, she is a rogue crafter and lover of all things handmade. Too excitable to be tied down by one craft she dabbles in many – plushies, stamps, quilting, bag-making. You can follow her creative adventures (and mishaps) over on her blog, Two Cheese Please.

Granny Day Giveaway Winners

Mal | Color study,Give-aways,Resources | Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

Thanks to all who entered the Granny Day Giveaway by choosing a color and associating it with an emotion. Winners are listed below. But first, I thought I’d play along too.

At some point in the last week, my emotional color was yellow — not a nice, warm, orangey-yellow, but a lighter, green-like yellow. These photos were mostly taken around my apartment on Saturday morning.

Yellow mosaic

Unlike many who commented about yellow, I don’t always associate the color with sunshine and cheery mood. This dank, green-ish yellow is more of a desperate color for me — something tight and trapped, something stuck. I don’t know why. Guess its been a weird week.

Before I reveal the winners, I want to give a special nod to Dawn (warning: music plays on her page) who took my Granny Day Celebration one step further and created her own Granny Creed. I love it! The world would be a better place…

At any rate, without further ado, here are the winners of the Granny Day Giveaway. Yup — I said winners plural. Because this is the first giveaway, I thought “aw, heck.” Let’s get crazy.

Congratulations to ecky (no blog) who said: i’d say brown…earthy and calm. (Well, calm can be considered an emotion so there you go!)

Congratulations to gahome2mom whose email with the secret subscription phrase was also chosen. She says: I’m entering to win blue because it makes me feel relaxed. (gahome2mom also entered via twitter. Hip!)

And finally, congratulations to Patricia Ojeda (no blog, but that’s a twitter link), who said: I’m feeling red today! To me, red is an exciting, energizing, and vivid color! Red just screams vitality! This is the way I am feeling today. I love red in the quilts that I sew. There must be a touch of red in every quilt I make. Red makes colors pop! The color red is also in my garden that I planted for spring! Against all the green grass and bushes, red just stands out so pretty! (Patricia also entered multiple ways, so that’s also extra yay-worthy.)

Honorable mentions to Dionne, Margi, Liz, and Elizabeth who went the extra mile and earned the bonus point.

As a final point of interest, here is a list of the selected colors in order of popularity. Interesting trends!

  1. Blue
  2. Green
  3. Pink
  4. Yellow
  5. Orange
  6. Red
  7. Purple
  8. Brown
  9. Aqua/teal
  10. Black
  11. White/Cream

I had a great time with this fun giveaway and it really brought out the lurkers! My feed reader is now bursting at the seams with new blogs that I never would have discovered otherwise. I highly recommend you pop back to the original entry and check out the commenters. Visit a few blogs you’ve never heard of before. Expand your circle and start leaving comments. Let’s get interacting! I know I am looking forward to interacting with you all more.

Please don’t forget — this is just the first of many giveaways I’ve got planned, so you’ll all be able to enter again! I recommend subscribing to this blog so that you don’t miss anything good.

Tutorial: Invisible Ladder Stitch for Quilt Binding

Mal | Media,Quilting,Resources,Sewing,Tutorials | Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Update: Apparently this stitch is called the Ladder Stitch. Personally, I prefer my title for it: Invisible Mamma-Jamma Stitch. While ladder stitch is common to embroidery, applique, and closing up stuffed plush dolls, apparently very few people have applied it to quilt binding. Let me know if you try it!

I mentioned before that my mom had taught me a stitch for quilt binding that was so simple and obvious yet so wonderful that I wanted to share it with you.

Quilt binding with whip stitch

The photo above shows the back of my rough draft quilt.

Whip-stitched bindign in action

Following the many tutorials and demonstrations online, I whip-stitched the binding to the back of the quilt.

Whip Stitched Bindings

But, as you can see in my photo and the ones above, whip-stitching can leave a very visible line of tiny stitches. In addition to being sort of unsightly, I worried a bit about the stitches getting caught and, God forbid, ripped.

Creative binding solutions

Some people go to great (and creative!) lengths to machine stitch their binding, as seen above. I imagine that at least some of them are frustrated (as I was) with the result of the whip-stitching and looking for alternatives.

When it came time to bind my friend’s baby quilt, I whip stitched the entire thing and hated it. On the phone with my mom (sewing consultant extraordinaire), she said there was a better way and that if I would be willing to re-do it, she would teach me. It only took me 3 evenings to unpick all that stitching, and 3 weeks for her to arrive in town with thread and scissors in hand.

Mom proceeded to teach me the ladder stitch — a stitch that is easy, fast, and nearly invisible! She uses it for both quilt binding and hand applique. I think it would work for any application requiring joining of two fabrics where at least one of them involves a fold.

The basic idea is to think of the shape of a castle wall.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch Illustration 1

(I work mine from right to left, because I am right-handed. Lefties may wish to mirror-image the process.)

When you tighten up the thread of the castle wall, the bits that were visible disappear into the fabric like this:

Tutorial: Blind Stitch Illustration 2

So that all that’s left visible on the outside of the fabrics is a tiny dot of thread where the needle has passed from one side to the other. In my experience, you have to really hunt if you want to see that thread. Awesome.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch Illustration 3

After my brother’s wedding, I took some action shots of my mom teaching the stitch. Hopefully you’ll find it useful!

Tutorial: Blind Stitch 1

Start off with the Mamma Jamma knot I already taught you. Then, insert the needle on the back side of the binding to hide the knot. Only go through one layer of the binding, as the goal here is invisibility, man.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch 2

When the needle comes out, it should be between the two layers of binding fabric and smack dab in the middle of the crease of the binding’s fold. If you felt like popping the knot through the fabric to bury it, nestling it right into the inside of the binding’s fold, you can do that. My mom didn’t do that, though — you can see the knot poking out on the right if you look at the image below.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch 3

Make sure the exit point is directly parallel from where you want to insert your needle into the quilt. Check the diagram above — you shouldn’t have too much diagonal or angled anything while working this stitch. In this case, mom started about a quarter of an inch from the previous stitches, since that’s about how far she spaces this stitch. For my part, I space them a little closer.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch 4

Then stitch down straight across from that exit point. Make your stitch just above (on the quilt side, not the edge side) of your line of basting stitches.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch 5

Come back into the binding fabric directly across from the previous exit point. You want to stitch right in the fold of the binding, because the thread will ultimately nestle there, perfectly parallel to the fold.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch 6

Alternate stitches between the quilt and the binding, always inserting your needle directly across from your previous exit point. Again, refer to the diagram above if you have questions.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch 7

When you’ve done a few stitches, gently tighten up the thread. As you do, the stitches will disappear and the whole thing will be held together by thread which is tucked neatly out of sight, buried inside your work. Be careful, though, not to tighten too much — if the quilt stretches more than your stitches, your stitches will break and your binding will come undone.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch 8

And voila! The stitches are now only visible if you go looking for them.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch 9

Continue along this way until you reach the end of your thread.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch 10

To finish off, take a couple of stitches in the quilt, between the basting stitches and the raw edge.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch 11

Mom likes to finish hers off by bringing the end of the thread through the loop before tightening the last back stitch to secure it.

And there you have it! If you try this stitch, if something doesn’t make sense and you need more/better explanation, or if you dispute the name of this stitch, please leave it in the comments!


Mal | Home,Organizing | Monday, April 20th, 2009

Small to large

A closeup of the “browns and creams” stack reveals some progress on incorporating my mom’s stash infusion. I had started with washing, ironing, and folding the smallest pieces — fat quarters and 1/2-yard cuts — and am now graduating to the larger pieces. You can see how they get bigger toward the top.

Fabric progress

I keep having to remind myself, with internal pep talks and late-night hand-wringing, that I am making progress on this gargantuan project. The picture below was taken two weeks ago:

The beginnings of assimilation

The larger pieces present unique challenges. I don’t need the fabric to be perfectly crease-free, but I would like it to be relatively straight before folding. Ironing and folding 3-, 4-, 8-yard cuts of fabric on my miniature ironing board in my miniature apartment feels very daunting sometimes. I try to plug along — committed to folding at least 5 pieces a day — and know that ultimately, I will reach the end.

Sewing room, disguised as kitchen

I have mentioned before that I live in a small one-bedroom apartment and am relegated to using the kitchen table for my projects. Although my mom’s fabric infusion has overtaken corners and closets throughout my entire apartment, the kitchen is where the impact is the greatest. All of my regular “working” surfaces are covered in scraps, folds, and stacks of fabric. I haven’t been able to work on any of my other projects for weeks now, and I feel it building up in me.

This made it both exhilarating and difficult to edit, share, and think about Julie’s recent guest entry. I loved to read about her process of retreating from corporate culture into her lovely blue cocoon, healing from the fast-pace and expectations of modern employment. Even just looking at the photos, as Clare mentioned in her comment, felt like good therapy. But as I come home every night and try to cook dinner around stacks of fabric, ironing boards, and baskets overflowing with scraps, I admit that I do feel a little jealousy about that amazing backyard studio.

Julie’s post ends with an echo of Virginia Woolf‘s famous words about women — creative women — needing a room of their own. I have long thought this was true and yet also harbored a secret fire of rage over this concept. I have never had a space dedicated only for creating, and probably never will. As it is, I survive in a hybrid living space — half apartment, half art studio. Sometimes this is thrilling and inspiring, others it is downright frustrating. People who come to visit me must accept the fact that the television sits on the same shelves which house the paints, that the couch faces a wall of art supplies, and that the kitchen, well… the kitchen is full of fabric.

I’ll get over it. I feel badly complaining about this windfall, since I recognize that my mom was very generous to share so much. For now, I just need to keep working at the project and encourage everyone to enter the Granny Day Giveaway to get rid of some of this stash!

PS: Julie makes such lovely creations and is instilling such a creative spirit in her daughter that it’s hard to be jealous for too long! I’ll share more thoughts about Virginia Woolf’s famous statement later.

Color Study: Mexico

Mal | Art Journal,Color study,Links to Others | Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Mexico Courtyard

With the Granny Day Giveaway going on, I’m thinking about color this week.

Somehow I had missed (or forgotten) that Geninne lives in Mexico. Her recent post about the colorful country she lives in reminded me of my trip to Mexico from a few years back. (I highly recommend you click over to read that post, as it is very beautiful and insightful. Go ahead. I’ll be here when you get back.)

I first visited Mexico in 2004 for some art therapy classes and was so into sketching and visual journals at the time that I didn’t even take a camera with me! This strikes me as absurd — my first time visiting in a new country and no camera!? — but I sketched my way across the Mexican countryside as evidenced by this photo below:

Sketching (under the arrow)

Yeah, that’s me. Under the orange arrow. Note that I am the only person not paying rapt attention to the speaker, and instead am sketching the cactus to my right. I remember it was bursting with small fruits and I couldn’t NOT capture their deep burgundy-gold-ness. The photo was taken by a friend who sent it to me with a note: “This is what you looked like the whole time in Mexico, FYI.” I think she was a little annoyed, but my sketchbooks from that trip are their own reward.

Mexico Colored House

While I was in Mexico, I read a quote that I thought at the time really summed up my thoughts on color in that country. In hindsight, I think it is rather Aryan-centric and a little class-ist, but I still think it’s interesting:

In Mexico, the people who have no money make their walls beautiful to show off their one element of wealth: COLOR.

— Elena Ponintowska

And, it’s true. My journals from that trip are filled with warm oranges, reds, yellows, and pinks. The blues are really bright, and the greens kind of fade away. Here are a few more scans:

Mexico Fountain

Mexico Blue Sky Church

Mexico Bar

Mexico Umbrella

There’s still time to enter the Granny Day Giveaway. Just think of your current favorite color and an emotion you associate with it. There are 5 ways to enter!

(Note: There are also giveaways at Bumblebeans and Mrs. Schmenkman Quilts. Go stash up while I work to stash down.)

Guest Post: Healing Space

Mal | Guest Posts,Resources | Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

This is the second in a series of guest posts written by creative types about their creative process, their experience with art and healing, and their emotional connection to artwork. If you’re interested in contributing, please contact me!

When Julie explained her reasons for not wanting to capitalize words and sentences in her guest entry, I agreed wholeheartedly and left Julie’s original grammar choices intact.


at the end of 2007, i left my job. it was a hectic, fast-paced, cut-throat, high-powered, career-track kind of job that i had, for a long time, really loved.
in a way, leaving a job like that is like a divorce. you loved it once, deeply and completely, and were blind to its faults. but slowly, over time, without really noticing, you fell out of love with it. although you may be happy that you’ve gone — especially if it was your decision — that doesn’t really make it any easier.
i worked at the headquarters of a multinational firm that was the largest in its field and by far the most significant company in my country of residence. it was a very traditional company in a very traditional, conservative, very masculine kind of business, so i had to be extra tough to get along there as a woman. and while i loved that in many ways, i found that i couldn’t shed the constraints it had given me overnight.


when i look back, i realize that it took nearly a year to be free of them. i spent the best part of 2008 getting back in touch with a creative side that had become subsumed under the crushing wheels of the career and the company. such a conservative, traditional business demands certain frames and constraints on the kind of creative thinking i had been accustomed to. it’s not that there was no creative thinking, it just wasn’t the kind that allows a person to stand before a canvas and freely paint.

i tried to rush my recovery. i immediately signed up for a painting class which ended up a source of frustration to me because i was completely blocked by nearly four years on the fast track. i had been so (re)defined by the expectations of that conservative man’s world that as i stood before the canvas with paint and brush in hand, i felt cramped and unable to break free. i found it difficult to even know where to begin.

one of the reasons i had felt out of touch with my creativity in my job was that i was simply too busy. when i finally got home at the end of a day at the office (or after my nearly 200 days of travel a year), i was too exhausted to sew or draw or paint or do anything creative. throughout college, i had always had all kinds of projects going on — sewing, painting, decorating, cooking — but i didn’t have time for any of that while at my job. the entire notion of dragging everything out, doing the project and then putting it all away again before i had to go back to work on monday morning was simply overwhelming and it shut down any impulse i might have had to do it.


what i came to realize as i struggled to reawaken my dormant creativity (because i never believed it was gone, just that it was in hiding), was that what i craved was a space in which to be creative — somewhere to leave works in progress without them being in anyone’s way (in other words, not our dining room table). somewhere i could retreat and think. somewhere with an atmosphere conducive to creativity. where my muses would be comfortable and happy and venture forth once again. somewhere i could be alone or create together with my daughter.
so i put a lot of thought into what that space would be like. it would be separate from the house, it would have plenty of light and be very open to take advantage of any summer there might be (it can be quite rainy in denmark in the summer), but very cozy when the rainy grey days inevitably would come. it would be inviting yet private. there would be room to have several projects of different kinds going at once.


all of my supplies/stash would be at hand on shelves and in drawers. it would be ok if paint got on the floor. it would have wi-fi and a stereo. there would be room for books and items of inspiration. there would be plenty of space for kids to work alongside adults. it would be ok to make a big mess.
there would be a wood-burning stove for heat and coziness. it would be a space where everyone wanted to hang out and make something and there would be plenty of inspiring supplies at hand when inspiration struck.
even before i left the hectic job, we were already discussing my dreams for the space with our architect. and thankfully, over last summer, the space unfolded before me. it has four sets of double doors that open wide for those summery days. it has a cozy wood-burning stove for those days when it rains and is so grey and chilly you think the sun will never shine again. the supplies are there. the books are there. the walls are a rich turquoise and the ceiling is a darker, deeper teal. it is both cave-like and light, warm and cool. it is all of the dichotomies rolled together into one fantastic vortex of creativity.


there are snips of fabric and bits of paper on the floor. the sewing machine stands out at the ready at all times. there are projects in various stages of completion on the coffee table and the sideboard. the drawers are filled to bursting with pretty paper and fabrics. music spills forth from the ipod. there are inspiration books on the shelf, beckoning to be taken down when one feels like drawing or quilting or making clay figures. paints and pencils and canvases beckon. embroidery threads, rolls of felt and rubber stamps whisper ideas.
it is a good, healing space where my muses have been set free. they are still walking on tippy toes, but they get stronger all the time. perhaps virginia woolf was right; one does need a room of one’s own.

julochka is an american living in denmark after following a lovely danish boy home from the balkans more than a decade ago. she works as a journalist in the shipping industry. additionally, she is a blogger and photographer and learning to call herself an artist. her blog is moments of perfect clarity and you can see her photos at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/julochka/

Granny Day Giveaway Still Open

Mal | Give-aways | Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Momma's De-Stash Giveaway 

I’m still recruiting guest authors, but this week I am hosting a Blog Give-away in honor of Granny Day. The winner will receive pieces from my mom’s fabric stash infusion. Be sure to check the details and enter up to 5 times!

Giveaway: Granny Day Celebration

Mal | Give-aways | Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Momma's De-Stash Giveaway

In honor of Granny Day, and in the spirit of her warmth, charity and generosity, I happily announce my first giveaway!

I say “first” because, seriously, in working through my mother’s stash, it is clear that this give-away idea needs to become a regular event. I highly recommend subscribing to this blog so that you don’t miss any opportunities.

Rather than pre-select fabrics to give away, I wanted to make this an interactive activity and somewhat related to art therapy. Each person can earn up to 5 chances to win!

Here’s how to play. Choose a color and determine an emotion that you associate with your color right now. For instance, you might say “Orange, because it’s so happy,” or “Purple makes me nostalgic; it reminds me of my Aunt Lilah.” The giveaway prize will be based on this answer, so be sure to give it some thought.

When the winner is selected randomly, I will choose 3 pieces of fabric (and a few other goodies) in your color and mail them off to you. See? This way you have some control over what you receive in the giveaway! (Please note — fabrics have been pre-washed and ironed.)

To earn your five contest entries:

  1. Leave a comment on this blog entry telling us your color and emotion. Include your name/email address if you are commenting anonymously.
  2. Post a link to this contest on your blog, telling us your color and emotion. Be sure to link to this entry so that I can track it. If you don’t see your link posted below as a pingback, please email me and we’ll resolve it.
  3. Subscribers to this blog will find a secret contest entry phrase at the bottom of my RSS and email feeds for the next week. Send me an email with the subject “Giveaway Secret Phrase” and include the secret phrase in the body of your email along with your color and emotion. Find out how to subscribe here, if you haven’t already.
  4. If you’re on twitter, tweet about entering this contest. Say, “I’m entering to win _________ because it makes me feel _________. #turningturning.com” (without quotes, inserting your color and emotion in the blanks) so I’ll be able to find it.
  5. If you do all 4 of the above entries, you earn an extra “bonus” point! Send me an email with the subject line “Giveaway Bonus Point” and I’ll hit you up!

The contest will be open until 11:59 p.m. (US Pacific Time) on Tuesday, April 21, 2009. Good luck and spread the word! I’ve got a lot of fabric sitting around here and if this is successful, we’ll make it a recurring event.

Granny Day

Mal | Current Events,Here and Now,Simplicity | Monday, April 13th, 2009

An image last year's Granny Day.

This weekend, I celebrated Granny Day — 10 years after my sweet grandmother passed away. I used to celebrate Granny Day on the day she died, but for the past few years I moved celebrations to her birthday. I wrote a bit about her a couple of weeks ago when I was musing about passing on textile arts.

Blueberry Pancakes Coming Up

Celebrating Granny Day is no easy task. The idea is to live like she did for one day. It involves making delicious food from scratch, doing something creative, giving something away. It involves waking up early and going to bed late, calling someone you love to check up on them, and making sure all the chores get done. It involves fulfilling your own needs while being sensitive to the needs of others. It’s a little exhausting.

The day Granny died, she woke early and pruned down the raspberry patch on their small, self-sustaining farm. She made her weekly bread from scratch — enough loaves to share with neighbors (as always). Granny worked on a sewing project, went and voted, took dinner to a neighbor who’d been sick, and watched the news while she crocheted. Before she went to bed, she wrote in her journal and tidied up. In other words, according to my values, she lived the perfect last day.

Me and Granny

The picture above is of Granny and me working on a quilt together. It’s the last photo I have of her, and was taken about 2 months before she passed away. I’ve lost many people in my life since I lost Granny (and, let’s face it, at this point she would be well into her 90’s and probably gone anyway), but I still get teary-eyed every time I talk about her. She was incredibly influential in my life.

Granny Day 2008

Granny believed in hard work. She believed in learning (a teacher and school librarian for 50 years). Granny believed in giving things away, in abundance for all, and in caring for others. She was creative and dynamic but in a quiet, humble way. She was keenly insightful with her advice and her counsel. She lived close to the earth in literal and figurative ways. Granny was a dynamo and we all wanted to be like her. I still do.

Granny Day 2008

You can celebrate Granny Day, too. Simplify things, get to the raw, whole ingredients, think of your loved ones, serve those around you.

Do you have someone that you miss?

Assimilating it

Mal | Home,Organizing | Friday, April 10th, 2009

The beginnings of assimilation

My creative output has whittled down to zero this week as I’ve worked to assimilate my mother’s generous gift of fabric stash.

I live in a small 1-bedroom apartment and this gift means I’ll probably have to re-arrange all of my furniture. I need to buy new shelves to hold the fabric, and have spent every night since the wedding ironing, folding, and sorting. I have to spend time with each fabric piece and ask myself if I will really use it, if it’s worth keeping, if it should also be given away or (in many cases) just tossed.

Fabric to be folded

Once this folding and sorting and re-arranging is done, I expect my creative output to go up — way up. Until then, though, there is something psychological and primal for me in trying to assimilate my mother’s cast-offs. My life has always been colored by her mental illnesses — my childhood needs eclipsed by hers. Most of those rifts have been repaired by now, and we largely enjoy a positive adult relationship.

I just have to remind myself, until new shelves are purchased and the couch is moved and the old stuff discarded, that this infusion is a gift — a great and generous gift — and I am lucky to have it. I am lucky to have her.

Most of this fabric is not modern or trendy. Would you still be interested in blog giveaways? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Color study: Pops of red

Mal | Color study | Wednesday, April 8th, 2009


When looking back through 300 or so photos I took of family members, decorations, and celebration folderol at my brother’s wedding, I noticed that each time my eye wandered, it was to capture some out-of-place pop of warm red.










What about you? Are you drawn to a particular color these days?

Tutorial: Quilter’s Knot

Mal | Media,Quilting,Sewing,Tutorials | Tuesday, April 7th, 2009


I’ve been gone for the past week attending my brother’s wedding. (You probably only noticed if you sent me an email and are waiting for a response!)

Because I was with my mom again, I convinced her to let me take photos of a few of the techniques she’s recently taught me. The first I wanted to share is called the “quilter’s knot” and it makes a much tidier knot than the one I’m used to. Normally, I lick my finger, wrap around and around, and twist it off. The resulting bird’s nest of a knot is unpredictable and, well, ugly.

Not so with this tidy quilter’s knot. Enjoy these photos of my mom’s demonstration.

 Tutorial: Quilter's Knot 1

To begin, hold the needle and the end of the thread so that they are pointing toward each other.

Tutorial: Quilter's Knot 2

Bring them together to form a cross, then

Tutorial: Quilter's Knot 3

holding the end of the thread against the needle,

Tutorial: Quilter's Knot 4

begin wrapping the thread around the shaft of the needle.

Tutorial: Quilter's Knot 5

Wrap the thread around the needle 3-6 times.

Tutorial: Quilter's Knot 6

Grasp the wrapped threads snugly between your thumb and forefinger.

Tutorial: Quilter's Knot 7

Pull the needle through the coil of wrapped threads with your other hand.

Tutorial: Quilter's Knot 8

You’re still holding the coil between your thumb and forefinger as you pull.

Tutorial: Quilter's Knot 9

And pull…

Tutorial: Quilter's Knot 10

And pull, all the way to the end of the thread. When you reach the end, give a good sharp tug to tighten the knot.

Tutorial: Quilter's Knot Final

And, voila! A tidy little knot will be left there in your hand and you can begin hand sewing with ease.

Spontaneous art therapy

Mal | Art Therapy | Sunday, April 5th, 2009
Photo by Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Photo by Laura Seitz, Deseret News

My sister emailed me a link to this article by Deseret News (a paper in Salt Lake City). It’s another instance of art in unlikely places, and this one leans very far towards formal art therapy. In fact, I may email the hospital and find out if they want to hire an art therapist to facilitate this kind of miracle full-time.

A temporary construction wall inside LDS Hospital has become a place for oncology patients to vent with colorful words and drawings, providing an open forum for the emotions often hidden …

“My mom always told me I couldn’t draw on the wall, but one night I couldn’t sleep and I started drawing,” [Bruce Daughters] said …

Others saw his artwork, and “within a few days, the wall was covered” with a rainbow of hopes, wishes, frustration and gratitude.

Read the whole lovely article at deseretnews.com.

Have you ever seen (or started) anything like this?

Hand-dyed threads

Mal | Resources,Roundup | Saturday, April 4th, 2009


I recently ordered some hand-dyed threads from SharonB, who was de-stashing. They arrived all the way from Australia with a hand-written note.


Sharon is so thoughtful and appropriate. I thought it was so sweet of her to remember (and mention) my band-sampler project. I hope I grow up to be like Sharon someday.

The vibrancy of the thread’s colors nearly took my breath away and I can’t wait to find just the right project for them. In the meantime, here are some links about hand-dyed threads.

Do you stitch with hand-dyed threads? Are you intimidated by them? (I am, a little.) Do you dye your own? Did you even know such a thing existed?!

Intermittent Inspiration: Memory Projects

Mal | Art Therapy,Intermittent Inspiration,Media,Sewing | Friday, April 3rd, 2009

Memory quilts 

The nature of textile art lends itself well to the process of grief and bereavement.

You’ve probably heard of the AIDS quilt, where loved ones create quilt blocks in memory of people who have passed away from the disease. When I was in grad school, I was lucky enough to be able to see some of the traveling panels in person. It’s a lovely (and now humongous) project.

Loved ones leave behind many items, but fabrics and textiles are easily repurposed. Sherri Lynn Wood calls them Passage Quilts.

But, cloth homages to our loved ones are not limited only to quilting. Allison Ann Aller of Allie’s in Stitches talks about losing her brother in a tragic accident many years ago. She embroidered her brother’s name subtly onto the beach in a lovely landscape she was making. I love how she described her process (quoted below), and I encourage you to click the link to view the gorgeous images.

This quilt is about many things for me….the place I love best in the natural world, the cottage itself that houses so much of my family’s history, my desire to push the envelope of what my crazy quilting can be…..but it is also about my brother, Freddie. . .

And the waves still lap the shore there, the sun still lights up the water and the woods, and we still find great joy on that porch, where such horrible news was delivered in July of 1958….that’s part of the incredible blessing of a place like Michillinda. It absorbs all the drama of our little lives, it’s unchanging beauty and rhythms give us a sense of perspective, and we have a polestar to refer to when all else is in flux….

So I had to write Freddie’s name in the sand on the beach….

I can’t tell you how wonderful it has felt for me to do this. Now the quilt is saying what it is meant to say in its entirety.

Have you seen, made, or received a memory quilt? Would you consider making one, or do you disagree with the idea of them? Please tell us about it.

Art in unlikely places

Mal | Art Therapy,Links to Others,Resources | Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

Elevator Door Fix

When a glass panel on the subway’s elevator was smashed a few weeks ago, a design-minded repairman saw potential in his temporary fix. His confused glue-face greeted us every morning for about 2 weeks. I ended up wondering a lot, as I arrived at work, about why the face was confused? Why not a smiley face, or no face at all?

I love to find art in unlikely places. I know of several movements to encourage beauty where you wouldn’t expect it.

Do you know of others? Please share!

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