Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2011, A Building Year

At the end of last year, many of the people who belong to the QuiltArt list chose a word that would be their beacon for 2010.  I did not.  It seemed like a good idea, but I just couldn't choose.  I read and was impressed by the thought others put into their words, but just was not able to do that for myself.

I had no way of knowing then that 2010 would be a year of new ventures.  There was no grand plan in March when, after gentle nudging over the last few years (thanks, Ulie!), I decided to be a vendor at the Links Assembly in Detroit with my dolls and quilts (thanks, Mommy!).  While everyone was excitedly helping me prepare for what they saw as a new chapter for me (thanks Karen and Royce and Chloe and Courtne and Uly B and Alyssa!), I was sure this was nothing more than a one-time lark. 

I was wrong.

The interest my dolls and quilts generated at the Assembly and, later, at the Urban League Convention was totally unexpected (apparently, only to me) and hugely gratifying.  Suddenly I was a small business.

With my mother at the Links Assembly

Urban League Convention

And so, my word for 2011 is BUILD.  Build on the foundation of 2010 with careful planning and unrestrained creativity.  I think I'm ready.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


The sewing machine is quiet.  It deserves a break.  I shall deeply enjoy the beauty of the season, and the beauty of a perfectly golden sugar cookie.

Merry Christmas.  Peace on earth.  Good will to all.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What I Did For Love

I am a doll murderer.  I have only done it once, and it was for love.   

When my daughter was about 9 months old, her Aunt Ercelle gave her a doll.  It was sort of a mouse, but with a baby's face, kind of like if a child was wearing a mouse costume.  There was a little pink dress, too.  We named her Dolly, because we are super-creative.

Alyssa holding Dolly by the ear. 

Alyssa had received many dolls, but she really took to this one.  She dragged Dolly around by the ear; she slept with Dolly; Dolly was always within easy reach.  She went everywhere with us. 

And then, one day when Alyssa was about 14 months old, her Daddy picked her up and she dropped Dolly onto our hardwood floor.  Until that moment, we had had no idea that Dolly's head was porcelain.  Porcelain breaks.  I was aghast.  Not at the shattering, but at the apocalypse I was sure would be visited upon my home with the loss of Dolly.  My husband said, "Just give her another doll.  She'll be fine."  I did not truly believe this, but I put her to bed with another doll and all was well...

...until 5AM when Alyssa awoke shrieking.  I knew what I needed to do.  I needed to replace that head and quick, because we were going out of town to a family reunion the next day and there was no way I was traveling with her minus Dolly, a four-year-old, and no other adult. No way.

So Alyssa and I set off as soon as the stores opened.  The doll had been purchased from a vendor at a luncheon and had no tag or anything else to identify the maker, so simply getting another one was out of the question.  I thought an art supply or craft store would be the perfect place to find a suitable head.  I was wrong.  The heads were too small, or too big, or not brown like the original. 

Everywhere we went, it was the same drill: I put Alyssa in the cart and kept poor, broken Dolly in a bag at the other end of the cart where I would surreptitiously pull her just far enough out of the bag to make a comparison, but not far enough that Alyssa would see me if she turned around.  Finally, at Toys R Us, I found a doll head that would fit.  The problem was that the head was attached to a doll.

When we got home, I passed Alyssa to her father and went upstairs to make the switch.  I had to decapitate the new doll.  I felt terrible about it, but rationalized it by saying it had given its life so another -- all of us, really -- could live.  I disposed of the body as quickly as I could.

Alyssa noticed that there was something different about Dolly; the eyes opened and closed, where they had not on the old head.  She poked at the eyes and frowned, but then sniffed her and decided this was her doll after all. 

The apocalypse had been averted.  Peace in my home had been restored.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

How Long Did That Take?

This is probably the question I am asked most frequently. I wish I had a good answer, but I don't.  The best I can do is to say that it is hard to calculate because I rarely work on one thing at a time.  Here's the truth:

There is the time daydreaming about what the piece should look like and refining the concept in my head.  There is the actively-not-thinking-about-it period, which usually involves working on something else until I feel ready to start.  There is the going to the fabric store and considering what I might need.  This could last days or even weeks, but I don't count it in my "how long" estimate.

The day I start pulling out fabric is the real Day 1.  The best first days involve loud music and an empty house.  I enjoy pulling out fabrics I might want to use, tossing them on my work surface, seeing how they work (or don't work) with each other, changing my mind -- basically making what would look like a big mess to anyone else. 

Red and pink living together peacefully in the drawer

Sometimes I get stuck right away; there is a color that doesn't work or something feels off and I can't quite figure out what to use.  What to do? Walk away, for as long as it takes for the answer to come to me.  This could take a while.  I usually work on something else in the meantime.

Then there is the construction of the quilt top.  Again, an empty house and loud music are bonuses.  This is where it becomes even more difficult to track my time.  Everything will be coming together and then the screeching halt.  That fabric I really wanted to use isn't working, or the design needs I do what I can, walk away, and work on another piece.   I might return sporadically for months before the piece feels finished.
Detail from Chief Osei, in progress
Chief Osei and I parted company about two years ago.  This piece is based on a picture I took in Ghana when I worked for the African Development Foundation.  (The people in this village named me Adwoa Osei and made me queen mother. I might be married to this guy.)  I was unhappy with the foliage I had put in the background, so I took it all out and tried something else, which I disliked even more and removed as well.  The solution would not present itself and the Chief hung on the design wall, unfinished.  Eventually, his reproachful gaze got to me, so I covered him up.  I can still feel the unspoken plea...

Once the top is completed and layered with batting and backing, it is ready for quilting.  I can usually give a pretty good estimate of how long this phase takes, because I try to get it all done as quickly as possible.  Even my largest, most complex pieces take less than one week, quilting up to six hours a day, but this is after weeks or months of starting and stopping in the design stage. 

That's an awfully long answer.  Maybe I'll just stick with "it's hard to tell."