The Remnants of Aunt Roberta’s Sunflowers Quilt

There is a magic in new beginnings. This is the last of the Janet Broxton Sunflowers Fiesta bolt of fabric. There were about 15 yards on that bolt of fabric. I bought it nearly 8 years ago when I lived in New Mexico. I made two lap sized art quilts that were used not only for art instillations, but also as charity quilts. Aunt Roberta’s Sunflower’s Quilt is traditionally known as a grandmother’s flower garden quilt. I used a hand quilting technique known as English paper piecing with an inch and one fourth hexagons. I hand pieced the top of the quilts, but had them finished with a long arm sewing machine in the interest of time. Both gala charity events took place within the same week, literally two days after the other.

After the quilts were done, this is all I was left with. It may make 14 blocks, but I am not going to be sure until I am done. But I do know that I will not be able to get another quilt out of the remnants. Maybe it will make some placemats or something? I will see.

Quilts with hexagons are known as grandmother’s flower garden quilts. I made mine with a hand quilting technique known as English paper piecing with one and one fourth inch hexagons. It takes a lot of time to do these quilts. Some people even pay other people to make them so they won’t go through all that sitting around, cultivating their patience.

These quilts are proudly displayed in the textiles exhibits of museums and quilting conferences around the world. Because of the intricate hand work, they are highly coveted. Because these quilts take so much time to create and are so intricate, I received the message from a quilt shop owner was, “Don’t sell a grandmother’s flower garden quilt. No one will ever pay you enough money for the time and energy that you spent making it.” Good advise if you are in it for the money. However, I don’t do this for the money.

I do this because I love it.

And I also stand firm with the platforms the money made from the quilts would support. I was both pleased and honored to be able to offer something that would be helpful to someone somewhere. At first, saying goodbye to these quilts was difficult. I mean, I loved the quilts as well.

Making money off of quilts isn’t a bad thing. But these quilts and I had been through so much: cross country travel, graduate school, domestic violence counseling, a job where the boss embezzled million dollars, dear friends moving out of state due to the economy, studying various meditation techniques to learn how to relax through all of this.  I tried to write a novel of mystery/romantic suspense about that one job I couldn’t stand, but I thought better of it. Making my quilts won my creative heart. I kept hand piecing until those situations had resolved themselves.

In the end, though, one thing I have noticed is this: Now that these quilts have been given another loving home, I keep approaching bolt after bolt of sunflowers fabric without even trying. The fabric is on sale. And the prints are beautiful. It is like the universe is saying, “Let go of worry and make even more. You have more wisdom now than you did then. Let the magic begin again!”

The Remnants of Aunt Roberta's Sunflowers Quilt

Purple Strippy Scarf

Purple Strippy Scarf 1This week, I have been knitting my strippy scarf from the skein of yarn I bought at Yarn Con 2015.  Right now, it measures 21 inches. I am using size 6 bamboo, 45 inch circular size needles. The purple color calls to me. Purple symbolizes so many things: first crown chakra, the ribbon color for charity, hey, even Purple Rain by Prince! What else does it mean? I have no idea.

Donald Maass Writing Workshop

The Donald Maass writing workshop was a major hit! I had a theatre class years ago which helped me see why Donald Maass’ writing workshops are so powerful. He is using a theatrical approach to writing. He is encouraging us to perform on the page. No matter what your genre is, his writing workshops are extraordinary for developing craft. I have taken classes at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival before this time. In one of my classes at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, my teacher had his writing instruction book Writing the Breakout Novel clearly displayed on the desk. Donald stayed onstage for a good 7 hours, talking about the process of characterization, setting, world building and other elements of craft. He stated, “Most of theatre is getting rid of your inhibitions. And the same should hold true of writing as well.”Donald Maass

 

Start Over

Windy City Donald MaassI trashed my first manuscript of fiction after literary agent Donald Maass taught a writing workshop in March 2015. I was half way through it, but I’m not mad. Seriously! I am a member of the Windy City RWA (Romance Writers of America) professional writing organization. We had been planning to bring him here to teach one of his legendary writing workshops for nearly two years.

I have had a mixed media project of nonfiction writing and textile arts in mind for years. However, I’ve spent the better part of nearly 8 years trying to fit myself into molds that were not by, for or about me. He knew about the major fiber arts based presses and their importance, such as University of Nebraska and Yale University Press. I told him about my art instillations in graduate school. He knew about the Gees Bend quilters. He also knew the names of various quilt designs. His office is block away from the Fashion District and City Quilters of New York.

I told him City Quilters of New York was my favorite quilt shop ever. I also told him there was a local quilt shop in Chicago named Quiltology (now out of business), that was heavily influenced by City Quilters of New York. He’d been to the American Folk Art Museum in New York many times. We talked about the exhibits we saw.

“The people who drive this market are all of you, the textile artists” he said. “Textiles are a very lucrative market, especially in writing.”

“I was trying to write to market,” I told him. “For me, it seemed to me like that John Cougar song, ‘I could fight authority, but authority would always win.’”

“You shouldn’t do what other people are doing,” he said. “You should do what you believe in.”

“It’s been so long to get something off the ground,” I told him.

“But would you rather keep going in the wrong direction for even longer?” he asked.

That did it. He had a point. It was a leap. It was also another setback. Almost four years of working full time and attending graduate school part time. Five years after graduation, weeks upon weeks, years of upon years of professional writing organizations meetings and conferences to get craft instruction and learn about the business of publishing. I was trying desperately to fill in the gaps that my undergraduate and graduate education left out. And it all came down to one thing and one thing only.

Do what I knew to do.

It wasn’t like it was a radical concept, but then again, it actually it was. It has been a fishing expedition for me on what to do and how to do that. This is the challenge with art. There is no clearly presented path. And either you are willing to find your way out of no way, or you aren’t. It wasn’t like I didn’t know how to do me or be me. I had done that for years. I am a writer. I am a visual artist, textiles to be exact. I was also an activist in rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters. But the question was how to best go forward as an artist?

Another issue is that I learned all about other people’s paths both in school and out. I had tried to write a book of romantic suspense. I have respect for all writing. I was even given an offer to help with a true crime novel, but something in my spirit sensed that my own artistic path was quite different. I knew this. I needed a blog site to start off. I simply didn’t want to go into my next art instillations without one. Most people have been establishing a blog following for years.

I was just starting.

 

Strippy Scarf Delight!

“Howl or you won’t find your pack.” –Women Who Run With the Wolves by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Quiet as it is kept, I am not high maintenance as far as textiles are concerned. Knitting a strippy scarf is just fine for me. A picture that a vendor took of me at Yarn Con 2015 of a strippy scarf she created and put on display reminded me of this fact. A strippy scarf was the first knitted pattern I ever made when I lived in New Mexico in 2006. My first knitting teacher had just come out of a 35 year abusive marriage, moved out of state and discovered the joys of textile arts (and a wonderful new husband)! As a direct result, she was eager to teach me everything she knew.

There is an excerpt in the book, Zen and the Art of Knitting by Bernadette Murphy, about someone who taught knitting at a domestic violence shelter. Unconsciously, this same scenario was being reconstructed each time I sat for my strippy scarf knitting class. “This will quiet your mind and build your confidence,” she knitting teacher said. I appreciated her taking me under her wing to give me professional textile arts instruction. She learned everything: knitting, crochet, weaving and quilting. She was so active that the local yarn shop hired her to work for them.

She also taught me about the various textile arts conferences I didn’t know about, such as Stitches, the International Quilt Festival, the Taos Wool Festival and the Midwest Weavers Conference. Just as Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes had advised, I had found my pack and I loved it. The old world of textiles was becoming a brand new and expanded world for me.

I learned Fair Isle and intarsia knitting, the harder stuff, but I never evolved past the beginners mind and enthusiasm of my strippy scarf pattern. For those people who have advanced more than I have in their skills, I aspire to their greatness, but no worries. I was told that there are people who knit in garter stitch (knit one, purl one) for years and it is okay if that is the way I rolled.

Besides, I had other concerns. I was born and raised in Chicago. I found that a strippy scarf went with most of my winter clothes and looked decidedly bohemian and stylish. And given the weather conditions, I needed to have that scarf quick, fast and in a hurry!

Some people get into textiles for meditative purposes, not necessarily to win best in show awards. I found that working in textiles was a new way of relating to the world. Life became more sensual. I wasn’t just sitting back, watching things happen. I became more involved, even if I was moving my fingers with my attention focused on one spot. Life became about living in the present moment, which is great for post traumatic stress disorder. There is no past and no future. Life was taking place right now right in front of me and it was actually enjoyable. And for some strange reason that I cannot describe, anything that was troubling worked itself out better than I could have ever planned.

“Don’t worry,” knitting teacher told me about my nonexistent love life. “I got involved in textiles and found a new wonderful husband in the process. He is very supportive of me and my crafts. Just focus on doing what makes you happy. Then the people, places and situations that match you will come to you.” She also said the same thing Tina Knowles said about her recent marriage to Richard Lawson at the age of 61: “You are never too old to do anything, including find love.” She inspired me!

My New Mexico knitting teacher and her husband didn’t live happily ever after at first, though. “Four days after we got married, my husband was diagnosed with cancer,” she said. “I knitted him socks and prayer shawls during his chemotherapy and radiation. He pulled through and we were just fine.” Leave it to textiles to save the day! Then they lived happily ever after!Strippy Scarf Love!

“Knitted and Crochet Knockers” for Breast Cancer Charity

“Honkers, hooters, bazooms, headlights, tits, boobies, and just plain big tits.” –Succulent Wild Women by SARK

“Oh you’re a brave one!” I was told when I walked through the door. I would hope so. I wanted to believe that not only was I up for the challenge of making a female breast out of yarn; I was also wholeheartedly supportive of the cause of breast cancer. This event took place at The Nook, a yarn and ice cream shop in Lisle, Illinois.

The announcement in the newsletter sounded a little unusual: From 6 PM to 2 AM, there would be a charity “knit in” creating breasts for women who have experienced mastectomies due to breast cancer and raise money to give to breast cancer research. I’ve done some charity work, but this was a fascinating spin on things.

I had to first read the endless selection of textiles books that The Nook had to offer. One in particular, in light of the circumstance, stood out for me. It was called The Joy of Sox, a phonetic play on the book title, The Joy of Sex. This book however, was filled with sock patterns and articles written by the women who love them.

There was a money jar for anyone who said the “b” word: breasts. The jar began to fill quickly.  Some people made their own mantra while knitting and doing crochet: “The bigger the better the tighter the sweater the more the boys will look at us.” It was the first time I had heard that one. It sounded like a variation on, “I must, I must, I must increase my bust” that I heard when I was growing up, but I couldn’t ponder on it too much. I had to focus. This was my first time doing increasing and decreasing. I simply wasn’t good enough to do mantras and crochet at the same time.

The food was reflective of our various ethnicities: apple strudel, chutney, chicken enchiladas. For everyone, regardless of race, creed, or nationality, there was also a yellow cake with strawberry filling in the form of a female body.

Hearing the sounds of the Mama Mia soundtrack and the laughter of the women inside the shop prompted people to walk in from the street. Why were these women up past their bedtimes? One woman who had survived breast cancer came in with her husband. She was genuinely touched by our charity event.

“Mine looks like a coaster, though,” I told her about my attempt to crochet a female breast. “Oh, well you know there are many different varieties of breasts, so you’re fine!” she said.

My Crochet KnockerBetter Crochet Knocker

Author Reading by Neil Shusterman

I received a free poster of young adult author Neil Shusterman’s new book Challenger Deep! I’ve never received a free poster at an author reading before! The reading took place at Two Doors Down right next to Anderson’s Bookstore in Naperville, Illinois.

The atmosphere was jovial and festive. There were all kinds of kids there who were curious about Neil’s inspiration for their favorite books. Personally, I felt like a big kid myself, matching their enthusiasm. The book came after a long wait.

According to Neil, it had been planned for a number of years with his publisher, Simon and Schuster. The title, Challenger Deep, refers to one of his son’s elementary school science projects, but he wasn’t certain about the plot. With time, however, the story emerged. Neil revealed that the main character was inspired by his son’s struggle with schizophrenia. After the author received the news about his son’s diagnosis, he told the audience about the feelings of devastation felt by the family.

The book was timely in the current anti stigma campaign concerning mental illness. Those who are struggling may not feel comfortable in reaching out for help. He also hoped by writing the book that the people reading it who struggled with mental illness knew that they were not alone, the families that had a mentally ill relative would feel comfort and for those who have never had a mental illness would know what it was like to experience a psychotic break in reality.

As a former psychiatric nurse, I couldn’t agree with Neil more. As Neil read passages from his book, I was inspired by his ability to taking this experience and make something beautiful and positive. There were other freebies, which delighted me to no end! Neil’s son drew pictures that he gave away in a raffle for the audience. At the end of the night, I couldn’t wait to take the book home and read it curled up in a chair with a hot cup of tea!

 

Author Neil Shusterman Photo

My Name is Paula Simone White

ChrysanthemumMy Name is Paula Simone White

“It is necessary to try to pass one’s self always; this occupation ought to last as long as life.”

Queen Christina of Sweden

There’s been some confusion about me and my name with Paula White Ministries, so I felt the need to explain myself.

Literally.

First Name: Paula

When my mother was seven months pregnant with me, my maternal grandmother and maternal great grandmother sent my mother in Chicago a package which contained a letter with the name Paula and a single Irish chain baby quilt that they both created together from Marvel, Arkansas. I was the first grandchild out of twenty seven grandchildren on both my mother’s and father’s side of the family, so they were very excited to name me, even though they didn’t know my gender at the time. So my name, my gender and my destiny as a textile artist had been preordained.

 

Middle Name: Simone

My father had just came back home from the Vietnam War. While he was in Chicago, he fell in love with jazz music, most especially with the sounds of jazz singer Nina Simone. He had the honor of giving me the middle name Simone.

Last Name: White

To my knowledge, I am not any relation to Paula White, the television evangelist minister in Florida, though I am frequently mistaken for her. I am not quite sure of why.