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Seeing Potential

The potential of a bag of lemons excites me. I was given the bag of fruit by a friend. Her neighbor has a fruit-bearing lemon tree and is happy to share. When I look at the bag, I see jars of marmalade and lemon curd. I see potential.

It is the same kind of potential I see when I look at a skein of yarn or bolt of fabric. Touching them begins my process. The color and texture set off a series of pictures in my head. When I touch heavy upholstery fabrics, I see an ottoman, a couch or a coat. Cotton yarn sets off pictures of hats or vests.

The ability to see beyond what is present helps me as a crafter and as a human. Yesterday was an incredibly busy day. My plans for productivity were completely derailed, but it was still a good day because I can see beyond yesterday’s events. I can see the beauty and opportunity that could grow out of the human connections I made yesterday. I touched the texture of my day. It felt like a fine solid-colored cotton with a light sheen. I see potential.

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Finding Focus

I just read an article on the relationship between knitting and good mental health. The article stated that the repetitive activity of knitting helped knitters achieve a meditative state and overcome negative thoughts. The zen of knitting! I’ve resisted knitting. Denise, a friend who successfully taught me to crochet, has not been successful in teaching me to knit. Keep trying, Denise, I’ll get it one day. But I have experienced that same meditative calm when working on crochet. The feel of the yarn rhythmically gliding through my fingers and the repetitive hand movements take me to a place of serenity, even when I am experiencing difficulty with the crochet stitches.

The article also mentioned the value of other crafting disciplines on mental health. A woman interviewed in the article stated that quilting gave her focus and a goal. I, too, found focus in quilting, but only after I had come to terms with technique. I only found frustration while I was learning to make flying geese and Ohio stars. I took a look at my frustration. I loved the fabric. I loved working with color. I loved sewing. I did not love the exacting requirements of traditional quilting. I was able to let that go. I found focus in making art quilts that do not require the same amount of geometric precision. I found focus in choosing to focus on the things I love.

Getting My Groove Back

Click Three Times

I like to do several different kinds of crafts and I’m finding that certain conditions lead to a specific craft. When I am tired or stressed, I gravitate toward crochet. When I am feeling energetic, I sew garments or do upholstery. There’s an upholstery project I started at my church that is waiting for a burst of energy. The project waits patiently.

I haven’t found the conditions that precede altering shoes. Altered shoes are a pair of old or thrift store shoes that are covered with fabric or decorative paper, painted, beaded, bedazzled or changed in some creative way. I’ve had a pair of friend’s shoes for months. She gave them to me after I showed her a pair that I had altered for myself and promised to alter a pair for her. When I brought the shoes home with me, I placed them on a shelf in my studio. They still sit there on that same shelf, every day a stunning indictment of my neglect. Fortunately, the shoes and my friend wait patiently.

The shoes are, for me, a great example of contrast. There are some things that come to me naturally. I’ve had some days of fatigue, so crochet projects have been attended to. I’ve had some energetic days, so sewing projects have been attended to. (I’m coming for you, upholstery project!) But there are some things that have no muse, no bright light of inspiration. They just have to be done. And just because they call for an intentional choice to move forward doesn’t mean that I won’t find magic and wonder in my choice. When I pick up the shoes with fabric and scissors nearby, I know the shoes will start whispering to me, “You could put some fabric here. You could put some beads over there.I will complete this project and wonder why it took so long. I will wonder why I spent so much time refusing to dance with my creative self.

Sometimes, in order to get your groove back, you just have to start dancing.

Talking to Dresses

I love upcycling garments. I upcycle garments by taking one piece of used clothing and using part or all of that garment to make something else. I recently worked on an upcycling project for a dancer. This project involved the transformation of several pieces of clothing. I took strips of fabric from several of her old evening gowns, pieced them together and added the fabric strips to a the hem of a jacket. I also scavenged a large embroidered dragon. The result? A multi-colored floor length coat with a dragon appliqued to the back.

I love the entire process of upcycling. It starts with the hunt for items to upcycle at the thrift store. Then I study and question the garment to see what it wants to be. I talk to it. Finally, I create the new upcycled garment. I use denim quite often for upcycling projects. Denim provides a sturdy and inexpensive canvas for upcycling projects.

My friend, Tanesh, told me that she had a dress for me and she could no longer wear the dress. She handed a bag with the dress in it. Tanesh told me, “Make something beautiful.” I dug through the bag and pulled out the dress. The beading on the dress caught my eye. Since she handed over the dress to me shortly before a crowded church service, I resisted the urge to squeal. I knew I didn’t have time to do a detailed study of the dress, but quickly asked the beading, “What do you want to be?”  I immediately visualized the beading as an embellishment to a pocket on a pair of jeans.

I haven’t completed this project yet, but Tanesh’s charge to make something beautiful still rings in my ears. It reminds me of how we are charged from the Universe to make something beautiful of our lives. For those of us who take on this challenge, we strip together pieces of life our experiences–a heartache here, a triumph there–to create something entirely new and unique.

Here is your life. Make something beautiful.

How do you bring beauty into the world? How do you make your life beautiful?

The Art of the Toothbrush

ToothbrushI’m not sure how it happened. Maybe it was the result of hoisting my mother in her wheelchair over the tall front door threshold one too many times. Maybe I picked up a heavy box of books the wrong way. Maybe I hurt myself by cutting thick layers of mudcloth with inadequate scissors. I’m not sure, but my right arm ached after awaking from a Sunday afternoon nap. It was a small hurt in my forearm that felt like it would go away after I got out of bed and became active. It did not. After a few days, it became a big hurt with swelling and redness. After a few more days, my left arm joined in. Now I have two aching arms, a pile of fabric waiting to become skirts and a pair of black peep-toe pumps that are whispering into my ear, “Transform me.”

It is the most mundane activities that capture my attention with stabs of pain. I would think that helping my mother with an awkward wheelchair transfer would bring on torrents of pain. That only aches in retrospect. I ask for help in these moments when I am wise. And to be honest, wisdom reigns with me, but only most of the time. Brushing my teeth is the singular activity that almost brings me to my knees. It comprises the most painful two minutes of my day. Using my electric toothbrush helps minimize pain, but I have to use the toothbrush with both hands. It is not as painful as single-fisted, manual toothbrushing, but using the electric toothbrush causes pain in both arms. It is an unexpected daily challenge with which I am unwilling to ask for help. Over the years, I have asked for assistance with the most intimate of daily activities, but I always brushed my own teeth. Perhaps this is a lesson in humility that I have not yet learned. If so, it is a lesson I will learn on another day. Today, I will brush my own teeth.

So I look at the pile of fabric and the pair of shoes. They are patiently waiting for me. The friends who have requested these projects are patiently waiting, too. I am stretching my patience by buying supplies for the projects and working on them mentally. I resist picking up a pair of scissors. I will see a doctor and have some bodywork done in the next few days.  In the meantime, I navigate around my painful arms as gently as I can, but it is time for me to go brush my teeth.

Helicopter Daughter, Helicopter Crafter

helicopterI was half-watching television with my mother and writing. It is a daily ritual we share. She has her favorite programs lined up. She sits very close to the television because of her vision. I sit farther back because of my vision. I usually work on something else while the programs are on, but I am there when she needs something or wants to discuss something from one of her programs. While I was multi-tasking a couple of days ago, the term “helicopter mom” drew my attention. A woman on television was talking and used the term to describe herself. Helicopter mom.

I instantly had a picture in my head of the famous helicopters in the MASH television show, bringing in wounded soldiers. At the beginning of the show, the helicopters would arrive at landing target and slowly descend to the earth, while MASH unit workers ran toward the helicopters to retrieve the wounded . The helicopters did not land immediately, but rested in the air for a few moments before landing. This is the image that stuck with me–the hovering helicopter. In in that moment, I knew I was seeing myself. I am not a helicopter mom, but I am a helicopter daughter.

I spend my days hovering over my mother to make sure she gets her medications, gets the proper food, gets adequate exercise and mental stimulation. I give her showers. I wash and condition her hair. I lotion her skin. I massage her muscles and scalp. I monitor her behavior, her moods, her bodily functions. Yes, I hover. Every day. I hover because that is what is required. If I were not hovering, my mother would be in a nursing home where other people would hover over her.

I also hover in other ways. In my creative life, I hover over and around ideas before they come to life.  I am not a jet that’s known for flash and speed. Rather, I think, ask questions and do muslins. That’s sewing term for taking a practice run at making a garment. It gives the sewer a chance to refine sewing technique and the garment’s fit before cutting into the fashion fabric. I do “muslins” when trying any new craft or artistic techniques. I take my time. The process of creation is more important to me than the destination of creation.

Now that I understand that I am a helicopter, I will no longer try to be a jet. I will no longer punish myself for the lack of speed. I will relish my ability to hover over my ideas and projects. I will enjoy my creative journey from a helicopter’s unique vantage point.

 

How do you create? Are you at ease with your creative process or do you struggle with it? Why or why not?

 

Happy National Craft Month!

A Memorial Quilt

A Memorial Quilt

The month is almost over and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to acknowledge National Craft Month. I look to the projects I have completed and the ones I have yet to complete to see the power and scope of crafting. Many of my crafting projects meet personal needs. I need a formal gown to wear to a dance in April, so I am making it. I get to wear a dress made of high-quality silk that I otherwise could not afford.While I honor that practical side of my crafting life, the more important part of my art and craft is much less tangible.  I met Carla when I was in graduate school. She was the lead singer in a local band I’d met at a party. Carla and her band thought they had a shot at a record deal, but an unscrupulous producer dashed those hopes. Life on the road with her band was beginning to affect Carla’s health. She decided to end her singing career and start her life anew. I went to her final performance. It was at a small hotspot. The club was crowded with students and others who were Carla’s biggest fans.  Everyone was dancing and joyful, yet sad that this was the last time we’d hear Carla and her wonderful band. Toward the end of the evening, Carla starting singing one of my favorite Chaka Khan songs.  Carla spotted me in the crowd. While she was singing, she walked toward my table, pulled me from my seat and danced with me. It was a movie moment when the nerdy girl finally gets to be cool. Carla made her way back to the stage to end the evening. No one, including me, wanted the evening to end.

I had the chance to see Carla settle into her new career, but lost touch with her over the years.  I checked my email a few years ago and was shocked to read the news that Carla had died. I got the news too late to go to her funeral. I consoled myself by remembering that wonderful evening that I didn’t want her music to end. I grabbed fabric and scissors and seed beads. When I finished, I had a memorial for Carla. Her music never has to end.

May you celebrate National Craft Month by creating something that keeps alive the music in your life.