It was the best of strip piecing; it was the worst of strip piecing

Now I AM trying to be coy with that title, but it has been a most unusual and unexpected week. In fact it's been one of the more disturbing weeks in recent memory; not quite in the same class as my surgery week, but up there with some of the recovery weeks. I'm physically fine, though still trying to shake the last vestiges of the creeping crud that seems to be pandemic at this point. Mentally--I've got a little healing to do in the next 2 days. So, let me start by saying that Nancy Crow is wonderful, committed, nurturing, and keenly observant of each of her students' needs, capabilities, and struggles; and she pushes each person to do his or her best in her classes. Given a chance, I will likely take another class from her. But...I won't be taking the class that I was signed up to take starting on Monday, "Strip piecing and restructuring."

Something bad happened this week and I'm having trouble putting my finger on just what it was or exactly what caused it. The best description that I can give is that while I'm certainly at a point in my development as an artist where work on composition is needed, strip piecing does not seem to be a good vehicle for doing so. The first day and the first composition went well. I even enjoyed working in black and white; I might even do more of that on my own. We began the second composition (4 x 6 feet) Thursday afternoon with a deadline of 4 PM Friday. The assignment was to create a strip quilt composition using the strip-pieced fabrics that we had created Tues-Thurs AM. We were to make substantial use of restructuring in the composition, not just string together strips of strip-pieced fabric. I was totally and utterly blocked. I HAVE DONE THIS MANY TIMES BEFORE. Why was it so hard in this class? Anyone who knows me will be horrified and just as mystified as I am to hear that I did not finish my composition and that, while it had interesting elements, it was in my opinion worthy of being ripped off the wall.

This happens to everyone involved in any creative pursuit. There are times when you need to rip the page out of the typewriter, paint over the canvas, or rip the quilt off the design wall. That said, a workshop is a free and open time to be wild and take risk. Somehow I just shut down. In a nutshell I was the seed that failed to germinate. WTF!

Nancy saw this and felt the--what were her words, "radiating anxiety"? So now I feel like a bit of a failure, but I'm processing it. Here are my takeaways so far:

  • I learned some valuable things about figure/ground relationships, value, and proportion this week.
  • I learned that I can sew a lot in 65 hours and that if I focus and avoid procrastination I can produce more work that I am currently producing.
  • I'm going to rework my studio space to have a larger design wall, a different work/cutting table, and less display space.
  • I'm not going to be throwing out my ruler any time soon, but I'm going to do much more freehand cutting and change some of my other construction techniques.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway (and I'm trying not to use this as an excuse) is that I think part of the problem this week was that I am (a) rather more willful than I care to admit, and (b) more committed than I realized to the layered manner in which I'm currently working and the motifs on which I've been focused. Stitching strips and dealing with lines and rectilinear shapes is the antithesis of the circles and curves to which I'm currently drawn.

Yesterday I had alternating conversations with Nancy and Carol Soderlund, who's been teaching a dye class in the wet studio this week and with whom I've taken two classes. Next week Carol is teaching a new class called "Layers upon layers," which is pretty much exactly the way that I work. That's where I belong right now. I wrestled for quite a while with the concern that I might be running toward what is familiar and easy. I don't think that's the case and I've asked Carol to offer hard criticism and challenge me. I'm sure I'll add a few new techniques to my bag of tricks, but my goal is to focus on this circular motif and ways that I can use and restructure it in more sophisticated compositions. Nancy graciously offered me the option of doing a independent study with her upstairs, but as much as I intend to do stitched composition next week, I also need access to the wet studio printing/painting/dying resources.

I still feel a bit like a Nancy Crow drop out, but perhaps it's more that I changed majors. I hope to get the train back on the tracks next week. Wish me luck.