Friday, November 17, 2006


beaded vessel, detail, by Robin Atkins, bead artist

Have you ever taken part in a challenge? How did you feel about your work? Would you do it again?

In the long-ago days of my bead shop (Beads Indeed!), I issued a challenge to my customers, The 23 (BAD) Bead Challenge, and had about 40 entries, most of them highly creative. A few years later I judged a Challenge sponsored by the Minnesota Bead Society, again with many surprisingly wonderful "out-of-the-box" entries. But, until recently I'd never had an opportunity to be a participant in a challenge.

quilt camp, 2006

Never... until last year at Quilt Camp, which is an annual event sponsored by our local quilt group. For 4 days, about 35 of us gather at Camp Orkila on Orcas Island (NW Washington) to quilt, sew, finish things and socialize. Every year the organizers offer the participants a challenge for the following year.

Last year each of us drew from two different baskets. One had letters in it; the other various quilting techniques (red work, paper piecing, hand quilting, etc.) The challenge was to make a quilt using the drawn technique and to include at least one block starting with the drawn letter.

I drew the letter "N" and the technique "embellishment." There was a big whoo-haaa-ha about that one. The word "cheating" was mentioned, as embellishing is certainly right up my alley. However, since quilting is rather new for me, I figured I'd have enough of a challenge making anything at all and figuring out what to do with the letter "N."

In a flash it came to me... Nine patch, Northern lights, Nice! I figured I'd make a jacket, a fancy quilted jacket, an aurora borealis jacket... all embellished with beads, with shimmering, dancing beads... and it would have a mini nine patch border. If you've ever seen the magic of the northern lights, you can probably imagine how delightful such a jacket would be to wear. I was thrilled with my idea.

Over the next 10 months or so, I dreamed about this jacket, envisioned it, considered many different approaches to constructing it. In short, it was a huge creative challenge. And in long, I just didn't do it. Thinking about it was way fun, but I couldn't take the first step toward getting started. Maybe the idea was bigger than me. Maybe making garments just isn't my thing. I don't know.

Three close quilting buddies and I get together every Tuesday, have ourselves a pot-luck lunch, and spend the remainder of the afternoon stitching. It's a lovely thing... a subject for another post... to have this continuity of creative support! For the past couple of months, the three of them have been working on their challenge entries.

One Tuesday we had a discussion about it. Basically they got on my case a little about not making something for the challenge. They suggested I make something simple, a pot holder maybe... anything. I remember one of them mentioned how important it is to participate and belong to the group, and how disappointed I'd feel when all the challenge entries were displayed but not one by me. Yes, they had a point... I already felt left out as they hustled to finish their entries. But time was short, and what to do? I fretted about it.

Less than three weeks before this year's camp (the challenge due date), inspiration finally came to me. At a friend's house, I noticed a little hanging basket she had made, hand-pieced from silk. Instantly I could picture making something like that, embellished with beads and of course with a nine patch or two. It took me a week of intense work. But here it is!

beaded vessel by Robin Atkins, bead artist

The fabric is silk, except for the organza I used to make the little windows and to line the whole vessel. Little treasures are sandwiched and hand quilted between the layers of organza.

beaded vessel by Robin Atkins, bead artist

beaded vessel by Robin Atkins, bead artist

My quilting buddies were right! It felt grand to be making this, grand to put it on the table next to the other entries, and grand to have created something totally new!

Below are two other entries. The teapot quilt is by one of the Tuesday lunch bunch, Lunette. She drew the letter "T" (yup, T is for teapot). Machine-quilting is the technique she drew. She got the top done in time for the challenge, and it's pinned ready to quilt.

teapot quilt by Lunette Higdon Hertel

Here's a detail of one of the teapots... cute use of doilies, don't you think?

teapot quilt, detail, by Lunette Higdon Hertel

Everyone at the camp gets to vote for their favorite challenge entry. Here is the winner. It's a doll quilt by Linda Coleman. She drew the letter "E" (eight-point star) and the technique of "foundation paper piecing." It's a beautiful example of excellent workmanship... so tiny, and yet every point is perfect!

Eight point star quilt by Linda Coleman

I believe all of us who met the challenge felt good about doing it. In a sense, we are ALL WINNERS - we all stepped up to the challenge, saying, YES, I can do this!


  1. your piece is ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS!!! wow. Now I am inspired to make something similar.

    I haven't done any challenges in a long time, but for the new year - after the holidays madness! - I have been making a list of online challenges just to inspire myself to try new things and give myself ideas that I wouldn't have otherwise.

  2. You can be proud of what you created! wow...
    congratulations, it is beautiful!
    Very talented!


  3. Anonymous10:17 AM

    Thanks, Robin, for sharing your wonderful work and hopefully inspiring others to participate when "The Challenge" resumes at Quilt Camp. Claudia

  4. I know all about the Minnesota challenge as I learned a lot about finishing from that piece.

    We also have a challenge every year with our weaving guild and I did a sqaure one year. I've had many people tell me it was the most beautiful, but I thought other's squares were better and I loved them all. This was a quilt we displayed at Convergence with all the different sqaures making a picture (mosaic sort of)of an eagle flying over mountains at sunrise or sunset. I think that was the last challenge I accepted. Other than your challenge that I start blogging, that is.

    I love this piece you did, Robin. I love the way you use what to me, are odd or different colorways to make stuff that is unique and such a blessing to others.

    I'd encourage everyone who hasn't done a challenge to try them out occasionally. It is fun to present something that no one else thought of doing.

  5. The piece you created is beautiful and unique....just like you! I'm sure you would have been very unhappy with yourself if you had not done it.

    I have recently agreed to do a piece of artwork every day for the month of Nov. and it's much more difficult than I thought! I am having fun though and it is making me do some things I probably wouldn't have done on my own.

  6. To all ~ Thanks for the compliments about my piece. I love the notion of making vessels, as we have absolutely no wall space for quilts or even framed work anymore. Maybe this will be the first of several?

    To Mary ~ Yes I agree in the encouragement department... not only might you be inspired by the challenge to create something nobody else thought of doing, but something entirely new for you as well!

    To Janet ~ You've taken the ultimate challenge... one you set for yourself. Congratulations! I'm really enjoying seeing what you do each day. Do you follow John Stewart's blog A Drawing Per Day? I've enjoyed and been inspired by it too.

  7. Your work is beautiful.

    And, I participate in my own personal challenges every day. LOL

  8. That is just GORGEOUS! =)

    I've done numerous swaps in different mediums which I consider "challenges" because it makes me: 1) work under a deadline and 2) work with a theme or materials I'd not previously thought about.

    I find challenges exciting, inspiring and motivating, especially when I'm in a creative funk.

    Thinking outside the box, going outside your comfort zone, is something that everyone should do from time to time to keep from getting stuck in a rut and to keep the desire to create going.

  9. I really, really like your challenge piece...I did one this summer that I had fun with, but there weren't many other participants.

    Our old bead store used to have yearly challenges where she would hand out a small bag of the same beads to all participants and we had to use all of them, plus whatever beads we wanted to add.

    It was wonderful fun until it became a swap and then it kind of died. I think challenges are great for all levels of skill, but swaps are a bit different if the skill levels are too disparate it discourages the newbies and disappoints the experienced.

  10. To Lone Beader ~ Yes, you certainly do participate in personal challenges, more than most! I encourage my readers to check out your blog, if they haven't already.

    To Teantae ~ Yes, I agree with you totally. Thanks for the compliment!

    To Beadbabe ~ Yes, swaps, where the participants differ in experience and skill can be disappointing.

    To all ~ I like challenges when they require of me something I hadn't thought of previously, when they require me to learn something new, and when they require me to work with materials in a different way. We CAN put those requirements on ourselves, and many of us do that.

  11. I think challenges can be great -- helps us think outside our "box".

  12. Robin, this piece is so YOU but so new. That has got to be the best part of challenges: same artist, new parameters.
    Wonderful that you stepped up....where will this take you next?


Thanks you for joining the discussion on this post today!