Friday, October 27, 2006

Improvisational Bead Embroidery ~
Great Example by Karen Cohen

Bead embroidery by Karen Cohen, mirror or picture frame

Karen Cohen, who learned improvisational bead embroidery from my book, One Bead at a Time, just sent me this photograph of her recent accomplishment. It's a frame for a mirror. Isn't it grand! This is the kind of frame I need... where I'd be looking at the frame all the time, and not my own face. I shouldn't kid about this... it really is an extraordinary piece. The more I look at the details, the more I see. Take a look at some of her work featured here and here (earlier posts).

By the way, if anyone wants an intensive workshop with me on this subject at an absolutely gorgeous place, check out Valley Ridge Art Studio in WI. The class is Sept 8 and 9, 2007. As you know from my recent post about teaching, I plan to retire from this part of my beady career soon. So if it's something you've wanted to do, this may be the last chance.

Here's a quick update on Robert's surgery. It went well; the surgeon was pleased with himself. Although he still has to deal with a lot of pain, Robert improves a little each day. We're home, I have a doozie of a cold, and he needs to nap a lot... quite a pair. Thanks to all of you for your good wishes and crossed fingers, toes and eyes... it all helped!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Progress on
Boston Commons!

If you've been following my blog for the past few weeks, you know I've been working on a king sized Boston Commons quilt. I have to admit, it's been rather character building. I even had to resort to rewarding myself with a mint for each seam completed.

The construction method starts out easy enough. You cut fabrics in 3.5 inch strips and sew the strips together in sets of three or so at a time. Then you cross-cut the strips into new 3.5 inch strips, which then contain one block of each of the fabrics in the set. (Is that about as clear as mud? Good thing I'm not trying to write quilting books!) The sets are sewn together to make long strips. All that went pretty well for me. But then comes the big challenge... sewing those long strips together in the correct order to make the fabric of the quilt top. Ironing the seams wasn't easy either. I mean the quilt is 101 inches square!

Boston Commons quilt by Robin Atkins

Here is the top complete except for the very last seam, sewing the two halves together along the diagonal. I had dreaded it. But, in fact, it wasn't so bad. All the little blocks lined up fairly smartly, bless their little hearts.

Boston Commons quilt by Robin Atkins

Here is the completed top. I'm sooooooo happy to have it finished! Now, I have to piece the fabric for the back side and find someone to machine quilt it. Maybe we'll have it on our bed by Christmas. Wouldn't that be glorious!

On a personal note, my husband, Robert, will have back surgery (spinal fusion) on Friday. We live on an island with a nice medical clinic, but no hospital. So, we'll be going to a hospital in Bellingham for this surgery. He has tests scheduled for Thursday, and will probably be in the hospital until early next week. We both have a very positive attitude about this, believing he will finally get some relief from four years of constant back pain.

I'll be looking forward to catching up on your blogs and writing again soon after we return.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

To Teach
Not To Teach

That Is The Question

Reading through many of my favorite blogs in the past few days, I’ve noticed a similar thread ~ concerns about teaching. Whether your field is beading, doll making, quilting, collage art or painting, if you’re good at it, sooner or later you’ll face the question of teaching. Someone will ask you to teach, or someone will tell you that you should teach.

Here are some questions to consider:

1. Would teaching be fun? Would you enjoy teaching students how to do what you do?

2. Would you be a competent teacher? Do you have the ability to explain and demonstrate what you do in such a way that your students could get it?

3. Do you have time to write proposals and handouts, prepare samples, make up kits, pack it all up and travel? Will your earnings justify this amount of time away from your studio work?

4. Do you want to share your creative process, techniques and designs? What if some of your students become your competition ~ copying your designs, selling items they make based on your designs, or teaching your class?

Robin Atkins, bead artist, teaching at the Chicago Quilt Festival
I’ve been teaching beading for 19 years, and I’ll tell you one thing from experience, it’s hard to say “no, thanks” to a teaching offer. But it is OK to say no. Your reputation will not take a dive to the bottom of the muck. You will still be admired and loved for what you do.

In my experience, teaching takes much more time than you might expect. Preparation and travel time before teaching, plus travel time and time to put everything away after I return generally adds 5 to 10 days to the actual teaching time. To teach a couple of classes will take me out of my studio and away from my own work for about two weeks. If it’s a new class, there’s an additional time commitment to write handouts and make an adequate number of class samples.

In 1986, when I quit my “regular job” and began doing beading as a business, I took a long hard look at just what my new career might be. In the ‘70s, I had been a part-time metalsmith for five years. I made gold and silver jewelry to sell. The making part was way, way fun. The trying to design what people might buy, trying to second guess the market, and the actual selling of it was a drag. So, I decided not to go that route with beads. I made a conscious decision to do beadwork for fun, and to make my living by selling beads (and beading supplies) and teaching.

For the first few years, I taught workshops in my studio. I decided that I didn’t want to teach specific projects so much as to teach technique and design process. So my classes tended to be at least one full day, many of them two days or more.

At the time there was no competition, no web, no bead magazines, no beading books in print. My classes filled (or didn’t fill) by word of mouth and a little newsletter I sent to my growing list of students and customers. The bead shop craze of offering 2 and 3 hour make-it-and-run classes with good cash to be made from selling the supplies was not yet known. So I got to teach exactly what I wanted in the way I wanted to do it. Those were the most fun and rewarding years of teaching!

Out-of-state Bead Societies (and various guilds) began to get word of it, and soon I was being asked to travel to teach my workshops. This was a little more stressful than teaching in my own studio, but still lots of fun and very personal. I loved the travel aspect of it. Often I would have two long-weekend classes, with days off in the middle – time to see a little of Hawaii, Anchorage, Santa Fe, etc., under the gracious guidance of whoever was hosting me.

As bead shops sprouted everywhere in the mid 90’s, they began to fill the need for local classes. Yet, they seemed to gravitate toward offering shorter, more project-oriented classes. Many of the more experienced students seemed to crave longer, more intense, more design-oriented workshops. And, I set about to fill that niche as much as I could.

I call the period from 1998 to the present “The Proposal Era,” the years when I was always writing proposals to teach at national conferences, art schools and regional events. Often these venues do not pay the expenses of the teachers, only a small per-student stipend. To make any money, one has to have large classes, teach as many classes as possible, sell kits and stuff (beads, supplies, patterns, books, etc.) I tell you it’s exhausting to the max. And to prepare for teaching at an event, such as the Quilt Festival or the Puget Sound Bead Festival, takes a tight schedule, careful planning, and several weeks of steady work.

In the beginning, I felt special. I got to know my students and to be somewhat of a mentor to them. I felt important. It fed my ego to be asked to teach in a state where I knew nobody. It fed my passion to think I was contributing to the spread of beading as an art form. It fed my art, as I strove to make more and better examples of the techniques I was teaching, unhampered by the need to sell my work. It fed my creativity, as I was inspired by my students and learned from them in countless ways. And, it fed my pocketbook by providing a reasonable living. Eventually it led to writing my first book, One Bead at a Time, which practically wrote itself because I’d already learned how best to teach what I know, how best to inspire and give confidence to my students.

But, here’s the bitter pill about what’s happened with me. In recent years, I’ve found that teaching has gotten less and less personal, less rewarding, and takes much more time in proportion to the amount earned. It exhausts me, drains my creative force. The truth is, I can stand apart from myself as I’m teaching, and notice that I’m not giving it every ounce of my energy as I once did. This, I fear, is the time for me to wind down the teaching part of my career.

What will be ahead to produce income, I really don’t know. It’s “new beginnings" for me, a time to be open to possibilities, to be conscious of the passions and yearnings from within.

To those of you considering teaching, I hope my experiences may help in some little way. To those of you who have already been teaching, if you’d like to add questions to the list at the start of this essay or tell about your experiences teaching beading or other art forms, please feel free to make comments below or link your blog to this post.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Boston Commons quilt fabrics, photo by Robin Atkins Boston Commons Quilt ~
In Progress!

Before beads, in the 60’s and 70’s, I made a number of full-sized bed quilts and quite a few baby quilts, mostly using appliqué techniques. Since then, I’ve only made two wall-sized quilts, plus I've used log cabin quilting techniques for extending beadwork for handbags.

About a year ago, I joined Rainshadow Quilting Arts, the local quilt group on San Juan Island. It’s such a warm and friendly group of talented women, with interests and experience in many types of quilting. How could I not get hooked?

At our fall quilt camp last year, Kitty Sorgen was sewing the binding on her Boston Commons Quilt. Here’s two pictures, one showing the whole quilt, one a detail so you can better appreciate her fabric choices.

Boston Commons quilt by Kitty Sorgen
Boston Commons quilt by Kitty Sorgen, detail
Smitten with Kitty’s quilt, another member, Kris Phillips asked Kitty to teach her how to do it and to help her with fabric selection. As soon as I saw what Kris had made, I was over the top ~ with wanting one, of course. Here is the one Kris made, and a detail showing her fabrics.

Boston Commons quilt by Kris Phillips
Boston Commons quilt by Kris Phillips, detail
Now this is not a difficult quilt to make… nothing like one of Allie’s crazy quilts or Debra’s pieced lone star quilt. All it is, really, is cutting 3.5 inch strips of fabric, sewing the strips together, cross-cutting the sewn strips into new strips, and sewing the new strips together. If it wasn’t for my back giving out at the cutting table, it should be possible to complete the top for a generous king-sized quilt in about three long days.

The quilt is worked from the diagonal in both directions. Here is a grid that I colored with approximates of my fabric colors. The grid came from this fabulous site, full of free grids of various types that can be sized exactly how you want them and then printed. I’m nearly finished with the sewn strips, and to the stage where I’ll sew those long diagonal strips together to complete the top.

Boston Commons Quilt, colored grid, Robin Atkins
Here is a picture of my quilt in progress. It’s complete out to fabric number 10, and I’ve started adding the next set of strips.

Boston Commons quilt by Robin Atkins, in progress
I’ll try to take and post a picture (later) of it at it’s current stage of completion, which is out to fabric number 18, with only three to go. By the way, the fun part of this quilt is selecting the fabrics. Unlike Allie’s recent post about the enjoyable, on-going process with her crazy quilts, for me the sewing part is pure “character building.” Maybe I should try crazy quilting. It would be more like improvisational bead embroidery, which I adore doing, and which is always an absorbing process. Yet, no doubt about it, I will love having my new Boston Commons quilt on our bed!

Does anyone have a good (tried and true) recommendation for a reasonably priced machine quilter? If so, please email me: robin[AT]robinatkins[DOT]com. Thanks ;>)

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Siamese cat, Hollie-Three-Bell-Huntress, photo by Robert Demar
5 Weird Things About Me…

This is the first time I’ve been tagged (thank you Allie) to do a meme. While I’ll try to be honest, I just hope that my husband, Robert, doesn't make a comment on this topic. Now there might be a meme… 5 things my spouse/partner thinks are weird about me. Shhhhh!

1. Except for the very hottest summer nights, I wear flannel nightgowns. The weird thing is that I love to hang out all day in my nightie and not get dressed until I have to. In fact, although it’s already 10 am, I’m still wearing my faded old faithful at this moment. Yes, I’ve gotten caught… delivery people around here and our neighbors should be getting used to the spectacle by now. Long ago, I had a job that was 5 days on, 5 days off. On my off-days I made gold and silver jewelry in my home studio. One time, I was getting ready for a show, working hideous hours at my bench. You guessed it! For three whole days I made jewelry in my nightgown!

2. I’m date and time impaired. Neither sticks in my brain. Shortly after moving to the island, I agreed to teach a class for the quilt guild (spirit dolls). At 10 am on the day I was supposed to teach, I was in my studio (yes, of course, in my nightie & robe) messing with a current project, when two of the guild members arrived. I saw them coming up the trail, and thought, “Oh dear, here I am caught again in my you-know-what. Why don’t people call before they come?” Well, turns out they had been calling for an hour (class started at 9 am), but the phone in the studio wasn’t working. Happily, this goofy situation does have a good ending. The gals rushed back to my waiting students with class samples, handouts and instructions for getting started. After the speediest shower of my life and a few minutes to assemble materials, I was on my way. My gracious, forgiving students agreed to stay later and chalked up the two-hour delay to “island time.” A bevy of post-it notes, computer calendar, wall calendars, and reminders to my friends to remind me generally keeps me out of deep waters.

3. My throat/esophagus/tummy growls (long and loudly) at inappropriate times. The first time I remember this happening was during a silent prayer at church when I was a teen. Here are a few other times it’s happened: ~ drive-in movie, first date, the hero and heroine are about to kiss ~ senior prom, posing with my boyfriend for a professional photographer ~ during a job interview ~ while taking tests in school.

4. I absolutely detest it when at the bottom of a cute/funny/thoughtful thing received by email it says: send this to 10 people immediately. Even more irritating is when it says or your luck/fortune/friendships will be broken. I never do it. If I want to send it to someone who might enjoy it, I always remove the directive at the bottom before sending it. While this meme is fun and I actually enjoyed getting tagged, the part about tagging 5 others falls into this weird thing about me category. Therefore, I won’t be tagging anyone specifically. Of course, if you’re reading this and would like to put 5 wierd things about yourself on your blog, please do!

Siamese cat, Hollie-Three-Bell-Huntress, photo by Robert Demar
5. Our cat, Hollie-Three-Bell-Huntress, loves to roll in the dirt. She has her favorite spots, one near the trail to the studio, one by the little bridge on the trail from the garage to the house and one by the fire pit. Nothing like a good roll in the dirt!!! That’s cat weirdness. But how ‘bout this? One thing I love to do is nuzzle my face between her ears, where her fur is ever so soft. Predictable story here… She’s on her favorite haul-out place, the back of the living room rocker (picture above), and I give her the customary nuzzle not knowing she’s just had a roll. Yup, a mouth and snoot full of dirt is my reward... happened more than once.

Now that all of you "get dressed and take a long walk before breakfast" people have had your chance to feel virtuous, please consider yourself tagged ;>)