Sunday, August 26, 2007

Quilting ~ Love, Friends and Zen

Quilting ~ for Love

My first two quilts, made in 1985 were baby quilts ~ one for each of my nieces, born 4 months apart, children of two of my brothers. Here they are.

Layne's baby quilt, made by Robin Atkins

Margaret's baby quilt, made by Robin Atkins
Layne, the eldest, carried hers around until it wore out, except for the appliqué teddy bear in the center. Her Mom framed the bear, and she still has it. Here’s a picture of Layne as a child.

Layne Cook, 1988
They grow up so quickly! This spring, Layne graduated from college. Here’s a picture of her taken a couple of years ago.

Layne Cook, 2004
What better gift of love and congratulations than an adult-sized quilt? When I asked her what colors she liked, she replied, “all colors, bright colors, especially turquoise!” Works for me too! I love Bali batiks, so decided to go with a patchwork quilt with squares of bright colors bordered by turquoise and navy. Here it is displayed at our County Fair!

Layne's Quilt by Robin Atkins, exhibited at 2007 County Fair
Obviously, I’m pretty pleased about the ribbons. Didn’t expect to win anything, as the design of the quilt isn’t very complex.

Layne's Quilt by Robin Atkins, ribbon winner at 2007 County Fair

Quilting ~ with Friends

My first half-dozen quilts were wing it quilts, which means I made them without really knowing anything about how to do it, and with no experienced quilters to help me ~ following the old just do it philosophy.

It worked ~ the quilts were lovely and kept us warm. Yet, it is so much nicer to make quilts in the good company of others, especially friends more experienced than I, who can explain the easy way to cut a binding, how to make the corners square, how to iron seams without stretching the fabric, etc. That’s how it is for me now that I’ve found and joined our local quilting group.

Here we are pinning the back, batting and top together for Layne’s quilt.

quilt by Robin Atkins, pinning layers

Quilting ~ from Zone to Zen

The exciting, fun part of quilting (for me) is designing the top and buying the fabrics! After that, it’s all about getting the job done. Cutting the pieces is hard on my back. Sewing them together into blocks is fun for the first few blocks, then becomes tedious ~ at least until the final seam reveals a finished top. Then comes the quilting ~ in the case of Layne’s quilt, marking and machine quilting stars and diamonds over the entire generously-sized, double-bed surface. Finally, there is the job of hand sewing the binding around the outside edge of the quilt.

What goes around in my mind during all these hours of sewing? At first, during each stage of making Layne’s quilt, I found myself in a counting zone ~ making mental note of relevant numbers.

For example, while sewing the blocks, I multiplied (in my head) the number of pieces in each block by the number of blocks, and added the number of pieces in the borders to arrive at a total number of pieces in the quilt top (754). While machine quilting, I passed the time by figuring out how many total quilting seams I had to sew across the width and length of the quilt (38), then how many times I had to stop and change directions (678). And, while hand sewing the binding, I timed myself to figure out how many inches I could sew in ½ hour, then multiplied that times the number of stitches in an inch, which gave me a stitches/hour figure (500+). Whoa ~ anyone else do anything this goofy?

quilt by Robin Atkins, machine quilting
For a while I stayed with the numbers, mentally ticking off how many units were finished and how many I still had to go. After a while, my mental state shifted. I forgot to keep track. The process slowly became more meditative, and I went from one step to the next seamlessly, without conscious comment. My hands kept working; my mind was calm, and long chunks of time passed in peace and contentment. Until eventually I realized, with surprise, that I was doing the final unit in the process.

Is that Zen? I’ve read about Zen Buddhism, and once attended a 4-day silent meditation retreat. Of course that’s hardly even a start to understanding the nature of Zen. Yet, I feel it is so ~ that while quilting, I sometimes come into a Zen state. It’s a beautiful place to be!

Teaching ~ in WI

In case any of you midwesterners have a bit of free time, in two weeks I'll be teaching at the Valley Ridge Art Studio in SW Wisconsin. I show pictures of this fabulous place taken when I taught there last year here.

September 7 & 8th, it's Acrylic Painting ~ Delux Decorative Papers, where you will learn all about painting in layers to create painted papers for collage, book arts, cards, etc. You can see a few examples on my website, here.

September 9th and 10th, it's Improvisational Bead Embroidery, where you will learn all of the basic bead embroidery techniques, many variations, edging, fringing and finishing methods, plus create your own unique piece working improvisationally.

As far as I know, both workshops still have a couple of openings.

Visiting Mom ~ in MN

For a few days before and a few days after teaching in Wisconsin, I'll be in Minnesota (St. Paul), visiting my wonderful 90-year old Mom. For a couple of decades, she was THE banner maker for her church. After moving to assisted living, with limited space, she quit making them, until last spring she got the bug again. So while I'm there, she'll be working on two Thanksgiving banners while I finish my August BJP and start the one for Septmeber. After all the quilting I've been doing, it will be great to get back to beads!!!


  1. I love that quilt! It must've taken forever to make...

  2. That's a beautiful quilt - she must love it!

  3. Great post and quilt, Robin. It's so good to see you, too. Congrats on your ribbons!

    Now really, don't you get into that peaceful calm state when you are beading as well?
    I think attaining that "place" is a big reason all us creative types do what we do, no matter which medium we do it in...

  4. Yes, a great post Robin. I also began quilting with a "just do it" philosophy, and only years later learned some of the shortcuts and standards of the craft. And I agree, the meditative state that this work cultivates is what makes us want to keep doing it over and over, even, like your mom, after we've been "retired" from handwork for a bit. Enjoy your travels.

  5. Beautiful quilts! I love the teddy bear and the colors on the batik patchwork quilt are beautiful.

    How wonderful to be wrapped up in that, feeling the love that went into making it. A great gift indeed.

  6. Hi All ~ Thanks for your comments!

    Yes, DEFINITELY I get into a Zen place when I'm beading. That happens almost immediately as soon as I begin beading improvisationally... but I'd never experienced it while sewing on a machine before. Allison, I think you're right.

    I'll be delivering Layne's quilt in person when I go to MN next week. Can't wait to see her reaction!

  7. What an awesome gift for your niece!

    (and who it that little critter hanging around your sewing machine in the last photo? looks like he/she might be supervising?)

  8. What a lucky niece !

    I believe it's more "relevant" to experience zen, as you did, than to understand it :o)

  9. To BeadBabe ~ Oooooh, you spotted Mabel! She's my bead crazy (and embellished) gaurdian lamb of all things sewing.

  10. The quilt colors are wonderful to be sure. I admire your patience, for to me that is what pieceing is about, it isn't fun, in doing a pieced quilt of such a balanced, asymetricly, design.

    I think the zen you describe is what I call, going to the other place which is what I do when life is not what I want it to be. I deal with it awhile and then go away for awhile and feel better and go back to dealing with whatever. I happen to believe it is a gift I've been given to help me cope, but it could just be a universal way of dealing.

  11. You had me laughing about the counting. I had a few sewing students, 11 year olds, and we did square quilts. We spent many classes counting. Yours is beautiful, what a beautiful gift.

  12. Anonymous8:27 AM

    Hi Robin,
    I have been a lurker for several months but have to pop in to say how much I enjoy your work. I can't wait to see the progress of those who are involved with the bead journal project. I have only done simple beading on crazy quilts and think I may have to continue work on some finished projects.

  13. I especially like the first photo of you with the look so happy. The colors are just what your niece asked for and they work together and give such a cheerful look to the quilt. I can just imagine her snuggling up with it and thinking of you.

    I also like your description of how you worked on it. I count lots of things when I'm creating but just like you I end up forgetting to do it and losing track.

  14. Beautiful quilts and how wonderful to share them with the ones you love.
    Have a great visit with you mom, and a safe trip.
    Sunni .. who is trying to catch up with my BJP.
    Also wanted to share with you that I ran into Linda G. She came into where I work and was talking about the BJP. I told her I was unofficially doing it. It was so fun to meet her.

  15. Beautiful quilt, Robin -- all the photos were great and it is so nice to see you in them too -- makes it more 'personal' -- thanks for sharing with us. Have a wonderful time teaching in WI and a lovely visit with your Mom and family.
    Beadin' Gram / Jackie in IL

  16. Anonymous5:21 AM

    Your quilt, so colourful and gay,
    reminds me, I would like to say,
    of a certain ancient story
    full of drama, fate and glory.
    The hero of this story wore
    a garment that his brothers tore
    to pieces. They then dipped the shredded coat
    into the blood of a poor goat.
    Joseph's coat was later mended,
    in love and peace the great tale ended.

    A multicoloured coat is fine,
    but let's imagine the divine
    Pharaoh's premonition-dreams
    beneath your quilt of thousand seams!
    Oh Pharaoh, rich and full of might,
    what would you give for just one night
    snuggled up in warmth and beauty,
    forgetting worries, wars and duty?

    In admiration,

  17. Just amazing, I can't even make a pair of curtains on a sewing machine without pulling my hair out in frustration.

    Thankfully, beading has the total opposite effect, so much so that in the last few weeks I have almost jumped out my skin as my Husband walks quietly into the room. Now he makes lots of noise,just so I don't end up with a heart attack!

    Your niece is one lucky lady but now you will have to make one for your other niece. Look forward to seeing that one.

    Well done to your Mother, I hope I can still be creative at that age.

  18. To all of you... your support and comments mean so much to me... THANK YOU!!!!! I'm in MN as I write this, and yup... my Mom is an inspiration. She's finished one of her two banners, and like Jacqui mentioned, I only hope I can be half that productive when I'm 90+ years old.

    To Sabine... Great to hear from the bard again. I've been missing you. Are things going better?

  19. Anonymous11:45 AM

    Dear Robin,

    the bard will write a mail to you.

    Apart from that, I am very curious about the banners your mother makes. Do you think she would permit you to let us see them, or just one of them, in your blog? My best wishes to her, and a happy time to both of you.

    Love, Sabine

  20. Thanks for sharing your beautiful quilts with us! I'm working on combining some quilting and beads- ATC style :) And I can totally relate to the Zen feeling!

  21. I really enjoyed reading about your new quilt - especially since I am a quilter also.
    I am thinking about you and your lucky students enjoying a few days of beading together...the facility looks wonderful and I'm sure you will have a great time! Look forward to hearing about it when you get home.

  22. I enjoyed your post : ) Congrats on the ribbons .... well deserved, what a bright & cheerful quilt you put together.

    enjoy the day

  23. Isn't the sharing fun? Right now I'm sharing pictures of my daughter's house but while I was out there in California I also took pictures of the quilts I made for each of her 4 children when they were born. I plan to show them after I finish the house pictures (I've been having trouble getting pictures to upload so it's taking more time than I'd like).

    The batik fabrics made a lovely quilt; I'm sure your niece will love it. Simple designs go with any style so she can use it forever.

    Glad your mother can enjoy herself and be so creative. At 90, that's a great gift.

  24. Anonymous11:30 AM

    To My quilt's admirers: I absolutly adore my quilt, it was a wonderful gift and I am a lucky girl to have such a fantastically gifted family.



Thanks you for joining the discussion on this post today!