Chutzpah

“The answer is always yes.”
Sandra Brownlee

photo studio

I took a shot.
One shot
among many
that flashed
yesterday.

I took a shot
a year
like a flash
still crisp in memory.

I took a shot
and in a flash
I remembered something.
“The answer
is always yes.”

“The Courage to Create”

I’ve been working feverishly on a fairly large piece for the last three weeks. Large, in terms of the usual smaller size of my hand-stitched pieces and large for such intense hand-stitching. I’m stitching in every spare moment, when my fingers aren’t throbbing from pushing and pulling the needle through the heavy layers. The interaction with this piece has become an all-consuming, conversation with stitching and the story.  And, I’m considering a particular quilt show.

monodye layout
I haven’t entered a quilt into a show in many years.  That’s mostly because the work I’ve been doing has found no fitting category in a conventional quilt show where judges are trained to measure value by accuracy of stitches and finishes. But, it’s also because when I did enter a couple of quilts a while back, I was sadly disappointed in the process and the feedback. Not just an un-winner, but really feeling like a loser, hanging my head in a puddle of “they just don’t get it.” My quilts are outliers.

Kimono

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In recent years, more opportunities have been built into the judging prescription for “quilters” who wander outside the conventional lines. But tending to my fabric business, made it impossible for me to add personal competition to my list of must-do’s – one too many hats in the updraft to put my mind and needle to the test for a long time.

store single girl
Time has taken a new shape in the last few months. It began with the no-time-to-think rush from our old house, and turned into twiddle-my-thumbs time on my hands. Oh, I was house hunting, teaching an online workshop and working on a new identity by stitching this chapter, but real deadlines consisted of a three-month rental window and making sure the dog was walked.

grow full
As things have settled, time is divided between a little job and tending to my stitching.  But, stitching can be isolating, especially in a new place with few contacts. So I’m getting out again by completing the lifecycle of my art and showing it in public.  I’m stitching.

TOM Fly2
Stitching leads to thinking and remembering and soul assessment. Even a few sleepless nights.  As I gave the stitches space and found a comfortable rhythm, the story emerged.  On my work table the cloth, now referred to as “Migration,” and the notebook sit together, capturing the story.  And I’m remembering patience.

Roxanne Steep
What else has emerged in the thought process that stirs while working on “Migration” were episodes in the past that relate to settling into a goal. Hopefully there’s a lesson here.

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Question 1:  Am I worthy?
While I believe in taking risks, looking failure in the eye, there remains that humbling question, “Am I good enough?” Lots of hard work and ideas seem to go nowhere when they are really the groundwork for the eventual right time. On occasion, I’ve had good outcomes and unexpected successes. The hard part is remembering they happened.

Question 2:  What am I afraid of?
It’s different for every situation. When first asked this question it made me think, “What am I holding back?” This time, I was afraid my beautifully dyed cloth would be ruined by covering it with stitches. I had constructed the piece into it’s 40 by 52-inch rectangle in such an easy, organic way. The dye had migrated perfectly across cotton and linen. The vintage silks punctuated the composition with contrast and complementary color. I almost thought it was done six months ago. The first notion I had to release was the preciousness of my cloth. And…
Question 3:  Where is the story?
When this question was asked, it wasn’t the first time I had been told I am “all over the place,”   A project starts in the imagination with lots of space around it, but the story emerges by pinpointing the focus. As an artist, you may lose sleep over unsolved questions with no google search categories.  You may have to wait out the answers until they are ready to reveal themselves. You will, without exception, have to have a dialog with your work to get to the end of it.
In the past weeks, I’ve stitched and looked, stitched and looked.  As stitches went into the cloth, I could tell what needed to happen next.  And sore fingers make for good places to rest and look some more.

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Remember you successes.
Address your fears.
Get the story straight.
Because of this, I am learning that preparing for a show serves a greater purpose.

Imprint…

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I love creative experiments and designing, but the plans for our move to warmer weather had barely been drafted when it happened, leaving me reeling as the suv slowed to a stop in South Carolina.   There are days when the color of life in this new place is drawn from a rich dye, deep and having developed to its full potential.  Some days, my head is barely above the froth and steam, reading a wishy washy shade of what-am-I-doing-here?  Moves are notorious upsets, this one unraveling the shape of my identity.

shadow and reeds

Days can be up and down even when you stay in one place for a long time.  We’re not the only ones (or things) on the move.  But I need to set roots, however flimsy, as a point of reference for all the activity, in and out my head, as the next “home base” from which to launch.  The colors show truer from a steady vantage point, good or bad.”

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Number 9 is a small cottage that sits almost at the dead end of a curvy cul-de-sac, on a pie-shaped lawn, in front of the woods.   The sun rises in my kitchen window and sets in my studio.  My neighbors houses dot the road at neat intervals,  next to and across from mine.  And folks are friendly.

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Four months have spun a routine of sorts. I wake to tropical bird sounds, wishing I knew more about birds. *  I take my cup of coffee to my work desk, wishing it were easier to keep my daily journal promise.  I wind floss to a bobbin for morning stitching, then sit a while with the needle, waiting for inspiration.  Email, and sometimes take the dog out to a spot on the turn-around or through the “rabbit hole.”

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I usually bring two bags.  Yes, I pick up.  You-know-what goes in one bag.  And the other collects the booty of windfall that I use in my dyeing experiments.  Spring has offered me a variety of surprises in Low Country – unfamiliar trees and shrubs (that I’m trying to learn the names of), and my recent discovery of two types of deciduous oaks, wild roses and a fabulous cache of fern..   I’ve picked up fuchsia poly-noses as winter ended, and now a prolific maple shares its leaves.

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My neighbors might spy me pruning on occasion and I’ve mentioned in passing to the potter at #10, my pension for imprinting color onto paper and cloth on the stove. I had just unbound some freshly steamed bundles when my doorbell rang.  The potter also grows exotic house plants.  She offered a handful of robust philodendron and begonia leaves from the day’s plant-keeping.  So grateful, I invited her in to see what had just developed between the layers of watercolor paper.

feather imprint

As a potter, she has pressed the texture of leaves into clay projects for decoration. Seeing the delicate traces of plant color on the paper fascinated her creative instincts.  I directed her to roll a slab and cut it to my paper size.  We would experiment together.  Two days later, the slab is drying with a coating of mordant brushed on.   We are prepared for failure, but hopeful.

What do you think will happen?

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Chemistry and collaboration aside,  when I stand in place, even while wandering,  abundant nature will provide just what I need on any given day.

*(I always make the bed.)

Back and Forward

This has been an exciting week back, well five days.  It’s always good to get home from a trip, nest with my stuff, rearrange and revisit projects and possibilities.
We did the usual re-hanging of quilts, in new spots, and  sorting of fabrics,  promotional discounting, cutting, stitching, teaching, greeting of customers – lots of newbies this week ( we love that our network continues to expand .)

(Breath)

Our plans for helping the Chinese Orphanages grows exponentially.   A quiet mention of the idea  has  more individuals and an entire class of young volunteers committing to the project. Here is an excerpt of an email I received from PL upon returning with her new baby.

“…the SWI director decided to hang (the quilt I sent with P) on the wall, so all the

children could see and touch it. It is currently the only source of

visual and tactile stimulation for these kids, which is so needed…The

orphanage walls are bare, but this quilt brightens up the area. You

know, Roxanne, you handed me the quilt, which was one of the many

beautiful ones you have, as a gesture of generosity. I don’t think

either one of us could have ever imagined the magnitude of its worth to

these people. Just amazing. You made a lot of people happy!”

This is a hard act to follow, but we also received a generous donation of fabric and a sewing machine which will go to Community Service Club of New Fairfield, Healing Hands Quilters. I think the end of summer is a call to organize our lives for the coming season.  These gifts were from two separate sources, both this week.

Finally, as the Quilter’s Alley  was closing for one of our few remaining 2-day weekends ( we reopen on Sunday from 11-3 after Labor Day), we were graced with a visit from Sheila Hicks, weaver (and her friend, Joyce).  I recognized her as someone who had been to our shop a few months earlier by her enormous smile.  Her smile is like a hug that laps you into her energy.  Never has anyone complimented my needle selection with such joy.  It is so precious to be around people who revel in such simple beauty.  From a case in her purse, like treasures, she pulled out the scissor I sold her last time and a graceful latch-hook  tool that she uses to pull threads through the weaving ends.  As the interaction unfolded, we were on the metallic threads, ribbons and anything I might have for her minature weavings, Paris studio  (?) website?  Before long, we circled Stu’s computer screen to see the amazing work she has produced over the last 40 years, all over the world.  Wow!  I feel so lucky!