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!!!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Bead Journal Project ~ My July Page

July's "page" is so different than June (see here), and yet they seem closely related, and I think deal with the same subject. Before I delve more deeply into the meaning, here is July.

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, July bead journal project
When I went to Minnesota mid-June to visit my Mom (and teach in Chicago), I didn't really think I'd have time to work on my bead embroidery much. I took with me a small box of beads and prepared fabrics for my June page. To my surprise, I actually finished June and still had a couple of days with time to bead.

My sister-in-law (also a BJP member, but not yet active in the blog world) and I went fabric shopping to a great fabric/textile shop in St. Paul (Colorful Quilts) where I bought several fat quarters and quarter-yard cuts.

For July, I selected three of the fabrics that appealed to me at the moment and layered them on interleaving paper. The top layer is organza (from JoAnn Fabrics). It's quite reflective at some angles, but held at a different angle, you can easily see the pattern of the fabric under it.

Since the only beads I had with me were the ones for my June page, I had to go ahead and use them for July as well. Maybe that's part of the connection between the two pieces, although the fabric colors are opposites on the color wheel.

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, July bead journal project, unfinished
Here's a picture of how it looked when I got back home. Something about it seemed incomplete... One morning I woke up with a strong awareness that I wanted the layers to be less flat. So that day I sewed a bunch of branch (or kinky) fringe at the edges between the layers. Below is a closer look at a bit of it.

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, July bead journal project, detail of layering
One of my goals for the BJP is to use different materials, such as the organza fabric. For this piece, I also included some Angelina fibers, fused together as per this tutorial. Fun!!!! I used a small piece of it behind the rabbit charm, as you can see below. By the way, I believe the rabbit is one of my totem animals.

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, July bead journal project, detail showing angelina and rabbit charm
Both the organza and Angelina were a stretch for me, because I'm the Matte Bead Queen... as in, puleeeezze spare me from any bling or glitz. And since this time I was going for the glitz anyway, why not add more? So the last thing was to use some of my vintage aluminum seed beads to make shooting stars.

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, July bead journal project, detail vintage aluminum seed beads
Looking at the piece now, I see earth, water and air. This was not conscious... I only see it now that I'm finished with the piece. The whole piece is improvisational, and so the meaning stems from some unconscious source within me. As I've mentioned previously, sometimes I can find an understanding of my improvisational work by writing poems. Below is the poem I wrote while looking at both June and July at the same time.

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, June & July bead journal projects
I am layers.
I am looking through the wall to the other side.
My big heart glows with simplicity
and tries to catch a glimmer
across the deep chasm
of the flowers on the other side.
I don't know where my pathway will flow.
The clock is ticking.
A river of time ~
misty, unpredictable.
I am seeking something intangible.
My beads and my rabbit will guide me.