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Embrace Your Creative Independence

We all know how challenging life has been since last year when the pandemic drove us indoors and away from social events and activities. Many folks have struggled in so many ways with different challenges. It hurts to remember it.

Thankfully for most people, things are changing for the better and we are emerging from our isolation. Now that I am fully vaccinated, I look forward to the Fourth of July and spending Independence Day with family and friends—and even strangers at a fireworks display, perhaps!

I’m nurturing a renewed creative independence, too.

I didn’t sew much this past fall and winter. I was mopey and uninspired. But when spring burst on the scene with all its lovely flowers and new growth, I felt a surge to come out of my own shell and stretch my creative muscles. For me, the best way to break a creative drought and get inspired is to take a class.

Luckily, in these days of remote learning and working, Zoom is ubiquitous and everyone can share regardless of the miles between participants. This was certainly the case when I took a class with Maria Shell—she lives in Alaska and I live on the East Coast, so we’re about 4,500 miles apart! The class, Riffing on Tradition, was the perfect antidote to my funk. We cut almost everything improvisationally and without rulers. We used the lines on our cutting mats to eyeball the destination we wanted to end up at with our rotary cutter. Lines were wobbly and wonky … and delightful! Nothing shakes off the cobwebs better than getting out of your comfort zone. Did I mention no rulers? Hmm, I think I did. That is not what I’m used to but I was willing to give it a try and I had a blast!

We started with a traditional block—I chose the Churn Dash—and made a black-and-white version, our maquette, to test the measurements and technique. We moved on to other versions, with Maria encouraging us to stretch the block (like my rectangular one), modify it, make it in our least favorite color (brown for me), and so on. She also introduced improv-pieced stripes, ‘polka dots,’ grids, and more. (Full disclosure, strips for the blue and green grid shown here were cut with a ruler. Sorry, Maria.)

Working this way was very freeing. I embraced it even as it challenged my organized, rules-following self. After all, it’s only fabric! It was a great day and a memorable experience. Maria was a fun and supportive teacher who shared so much with the class. I plan to continue exploring this technique.

Step One on my way to creative independence.

Just the other day, I noticed a class Daisy Aschehoug was offering titled Giant Nested Curves. I love Daisy’s work so much and I wanted to learn about how she creates her large-scale, curved, modern patchwork. So, less than 24 hours later, I was in a Zoom class with Daisy, who lives in Norway!

For this class, we used rulers and templates. (A little closer to my comfort zone.) But there was still some improv-style patchwork to make the ‘slabs’ from which we would cut convex, concave, and arc pieces.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to not overthink things. My brain and I were communicating aloud so I would keep moving as I sewed the slabs. These were the building blocks of the curved piecing so I had to be more intuitive—and work faster!—so I could participate fully in the class. And I did it! In fact, I was enjoying myself so much that I kept sewing for another hour after the class ended.

I love curves so much but they baffle me a bit. Daisy has done all the math in creating her templates and she even taught us the formula to create our own templates of any size. That tip alone was extremely valuable and—if I don’t lose my notes because my math brain was sleeping during class—I will be using this technique over and over again.

As you can see from the photo below, I managed to cut and assemble two blocks, cut another arc which awaits other components, and create several more slabs and partial slabs for additional blocks. I’m hoping this will turn into a quilt by Christmas. And, yes, I do know I need to work on value and contrast, my perennial challenge.

Daisy is a great teacher, too. She was warm and engaging, and communicated so well. I look forward to future classes with both Maria and Daisy!

Step Two into the creative independence realm.

The photo at the very top here is my interpretation of another Maria Shell technique, Braided Curves, that was featured in the Summer 2021 issue of Quilting Arts Magazine. I used her directions from the article to freely cut the curves and sew them together. It’s been many years since I’ve worked with gentle curves such as these and I love how Maria took them a step further to ‘braid’ them together. Check out the issue for more tips and guidance from Maria to make your own.

There are so many ways to explore your own creative independence in the pages of our magazines and many digital patterns. Take some time to nurture yourself and I hope it feeds your creative soul and makes you happy.

All the best,

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