Labor Day

The other night, the word “incubate” presented itself in a bolt of awakeness.

patch 1

In that flash, it became clear:


why I’ve had no words as place markers on the personal map,

White Windows

why I have been sitting on most of the process work for the last month,

Stitched Cube

why I have been brooding, the kind where trusting and questioning can get frustrating and cause a pall on mood.

Grid Stitch 2
earlier piece

The work is incubating, (has been for quite some time)

Black Circle

gathering strength so it can hatch.


“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.



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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2015-05-05 16.14.56

2015-05-11 10.50.16      2015-05-11 10.50.36

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.



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.”


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.


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.”


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.

2014-12-25 13.32.20

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?


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.)

Visual Journal 1

I love books – reading them, making them or just appreciating them.



About ten years ago, I received a wordless book as a gift.  It’s black cover shows the marks of fading in the sun from the various perches it has occupied with other “art books.”


In the process of rediscovering my studio inventory after our move,  I thumbed through this stunning folio of empty pages.  Beautiful in and of itself.


Its hand-pressed, boldly-colored papers that had previously been “sanctified” as untouchable, cried out with inspiration.   I mused the notion of pushing against that fear-of-the-first-stroke creative wall (times 30) by starting to use this tactile codex as my canvas.  Daunting thought.  I tend not to doodle well on demand, so I set the book on the shelf again.


This week in my “research,” among other amazing things, I came upon a quote by Rumi that accelerated my journey into this personal journal project.

“A new moon teaches gradualness
and deliberation, and how one gives birth
to oneself slowly. Patience with small details
makes perfect a large work, like the universe.
What nine months of attention does for an embryo
forty early mornings alone will do
for your gradually growing wholeness.”

With a few simple rules,

First thing I do


All materials welcome

No tearing out:  pages or pieces or stitches


Every day, until the book is full.

I began…

With the full moon,


a stomach ache


and a promise…


Patterns: Two Ways

South Carolina storms are intense with patterns. They come in quickly, starting with a canopy of clouds, then a light patter, a flash of lightning.  I count the seconds like a child. How far away will it strike? Then the bolt of thunder.


Six, seven miles. I’m not that accurate when my heavy head is pressing hard into my memory pillow.  It’s the middle of the night.  My mind wanders several miles to say the least. And I start talking to myself about patterns.

fabrics 1.15.1

In my “awakeness,” I had admitted to someone in Week 16 that I don’t like patterns, following patterns, that is. I don’t like the constraints forced upon me by a list of directions to make something that looks like the original.

garden lady sketch

With two baby girl quilts in my gifting queue, I must consider a design. There is room for improvisation with this pattern.

garden lady bag

Six or seven times I’ve constructed Marston and Moran’s Garden Party Ladies for little girls.

But the longer I’m at this craft, the more I prefer to discover the end at the end, playing with the parts, the pieces of cloth, untangling the surprise of their fit.


Letting it evolve…


It is not the simplest way to the finish, but the journey is more interesting, for sure.

house sketch 2

So I took another look at my sketchbooks.

tree quilt drawing

What I discovered in revisiting my designs is that blanket assertions are foolish and potentially dangerous.


I do like patterns. the kind that recur organically, intuitively, almost genetically.
So here is a short list:

The semantics of words, for one thing
and puzzling over a design
the unbound dress,
the silly little bird,
the feather and the house.

I constantly return to these icons ( and a couple more) on the circuitous thread that is my creative search, that is, in itself a pattern: the recurrence of an image, a theme, an idea.

Where do you get ideas? What are your patterns?

Making the most of Mistakes and Moving In: Week 7/8

2014-11-21 09.11.30

Quilt 1 of a two-part project has just returned from it’s gentle after-wash.  Hand-dyed color ran serendipitously into the binding.  Learning from this happy accident, I have attached the binding to Quilt 2 in the twin series – but will wash it before I close it up.

Twins Quilt

I decided to replace a section of binding 1 and have determined a solution for the dye debacle.   I just have to get my hands on some carving blocks to make little bird prints in some of the dye bleed.  (still in storage).  Still, there’s something wabi sabi beautiful about the way dye does that.

Got the materials on a “surprise” trip to Savannah this week.  (To be continued…)


The bird/house fabric is one that I designed and is available through Spoonflower.  I had bought a couple of yards of it for a class I taught at “the old shop.”

Nest my fabrics

Meanwhile,  all sorts of home reno has taken precedence in anticipation of our move-in, leaving less time for stitching. I’ve been anticipating this detour from my stitching but there is value beyond the obvious when one spends hours on a tedious, elbow-greasy projects that seems endless – in this case,  stripping wallpaper border.  Mindless in a good way.
Creative daydreaming.

And some quilting work at Granny’s, which makes me feel more at home that ever, is also keeping my hands otherwise busy.  I’m learning how to use the Gammill’s Statler while integrating the freehand work that I love to do.

My mini mavin, Nancy, has shared previews of her latest quilt, which is due to arrive in  South Carolina today.  She’s taken the bride’s duvet as color inspiration and is using a Gwen Marston design.  Her fabric choices are almost always Cherrywood or mine.  The big quilt is now in the queue.  (Quilted images in an upcoming post.)


So busy, but thought I should post before week 9 slips by.