Tag Archive for philosophy of creating art quilts

Zen Hours of Stitching

Art quilter, Nancy SmeltzerI will have to begin today by giving credit to a fellow art quilter, Kathy Loomis for the title of today’s posting. In an email exchange, we talked about what I call “The Time of the Long Sew”, and she responded with “Yes, the Zen hours of stitching”. What we were referring to is that “zone” that artists find themselves in when the piece is really going well. Hours may have gone by, but it only seems like a few minutes. “What! It’s midnight already?” I’ve often thought, as I wanted to finish this one section before going to bed. At times like that, it’s as if the piece and I are breathing as one.

I think that any form of repetitive motion can instill in a person this inner peace. From my healing work, my take is that a bipedal induced soothing state of being was wired into us early on when we were still small enough to slosh around inside of our mothers. That right,left – right, left movement as our mothers walked seems to be inherit in the human unconscious. While I rarely sew while I walk, I do have a rhythm when I work. I stitch down through the top of the fabric with my right hand, catch the needle underneath with my left, and pass the needle back up to the surface. That counts as a rhythm, right?

People often ask me how I have the patience to sew on all those little tiny beads. I respond with the fact that my sewing requires no patience at all in comparison to teaching 7th grade science for 27 years. At least my art quilts don’t stick pencils up their noses or flick spitballs around the room to get attention.

My art quilts do command my attention however, as this Nancy “gets ancy” if I don’t sew on a regular basis. My fingers actually feel itchy as they need to be moving in their usual patterns, and I get quite grumpy if it’s been too long since I’ve had my sewing “fix”. To get it, I’ll even put up with the occasional spills and picking seed beads out of the carpet as an occupational hazard of my work in order to do what I do. However, on a plane, those little beads can really bounce quite a distance.

My final piece for my MFA at the Maryland Institute, College of Art in Baltimore was an art quilt. While I wasn’t adding beads to my work at that time, it took 650 hours to complete. I know this because the head of the Crafts department was a jeweler and felt that fiber artists didn’t put in enough time into their work. So in order to appease him, I had to keep a sewing journal of dates and times. He was rather amazed that one would spend that much time on “just a quilt”. I imagine that by now, he is long gone, but is watching from some distant place as I lean over my latest creation. “Sorry, I take it all back”, I can hear him saying. “I guess fiber artists do put in a lot of time.” “Ya think?” I respond.

What delights you about your own medium? Is there a special part of completing your creations that brings you inner peace?

Why not leave a comment as to your thoughts on this posting. Please take a minute, fill out the form by clicking on the “comments/no comments link” at the top of the posting, and then share your ideas with the rest of us. We all grow when we share our thoughts and impressions, so why not join our growing community of those who appreciate art quilts and textile arts. We’d love to hear from you!

You can see more of my art work on my web site at www.fiberfantasies.com and can find me on Google + , Facebook,  and Twitter.

To find out how to buy my art work, please check out “How to Buy my Art Work” in the “Pages” section to the right of this blog.

“Sewing with a Needle and Thread is a Dying Art Form”

Don’t get me wrong; I love my Bernina 1630 sewing machine. It was one of the first seriously computerized models, and I bought it because it had additional software where you could draw simple, linear designs on your computer and then send it over to the machine to stitch them. The machine is sort of portable, although that terms gets redefined for me every time I have to pick it up and move it. The motor on it keeps on going and going, yet for the most part I choose to do my work by hand.

When I was starting out as a professional art quilter  in the 80s, I investigated commercial machines that were used for sewing clothes. At the time, they were one function /sewing machine, as the production of clothing was done one section at a time and then passed on to the next station for what ever comes next in the process. There, a different sewing machine would be used. As for sewing on buttons, I may use hundreds in a large piece. From what I’ve seen, there are commercial machines that will just sew on buttons in evenly spaced increments, such as shirt buttons down the front placket or placard. I’ve also visited some professional local quilters who have dedicated the top floor of their home to two commercial quilting machines. Their wide beds and easily pushed sewing head were marvels to behold, but the space required is way more than my single room studio could accommodate. (Photo above is a detail of “Circles of Black, Circles of White V”)

At an exhibition, when someone comes up to talk to me about my work on display, one of the first questions is usually if I did it by hand. Many of my buttons have shanks on the back, especially my favorite glass buttons from Czechoslovakia, and the beads go in all directions, so I point out how impossible if wold be to have a machine do that kind of work. The next question is then usually “How long does it take for you to do one of those?” I point out that an area of intensely beaded, size 10 seed beads progresses at the blazing speed of one inch/hour, and they walk away shaking their heads. (Photo left is a detail of “Elements – Fire”


 We are becoming more and more dependent on machines to do the work for us. I finally broke down and bought a GPS system for my car, but I am still grateful for my ability to read printed maps. I would also have never have met some of the interesting people that I have while sewing on a small quilt, sitting on my suitcase, in train stations all over the world if I had been dependent on a sewing machine. Even though we may not have spoken the same language, we still managed to share some ideas with gestures when they came over to see what I was doing.

I had a friend once who called my work “Needlework Obsessive” in that I use a LOT of diverse materials in the construction of my art quilts. Yes, I do. It brings me great pride to think, “I made that” and “Look at all the clever combinations of items I arranged!”. So stitch by stitch, my work progresses from my heart, to the connection I have to the piece, and then out to my hands to give the work life and form. It’s an art form that I enjoy perpetuating.

“Beauty Honored Here” Zone

I grew up in the 60s when minimalist art was at its height. In art school, the virtues of a few strokes of paint splashed across a very large canvas were extolled. I was left feeling….well, left out and bored. I thrive in the intricacies of details. What’s down inside of here? O-O-Ohh! Look what’s peeking out from behind here! (A stereo-microscope with its abilities to magnify up to 50X in a 3-D format was my favorite piece of scientific equipment when I was teaching middle school science.) So, my intricate endeavors in my art classes went pretty well ignored, or if commented on at all, dismissed.

These years were also the time of riots and civil disobedience regarding the Vietnam War. Art, or so I thought, was supposed to make significant statements about the injustices in the world. The “Occupy Wall Street” posters and banners of today’s headlines are reminiscent of that time period, and I applaud those who are working for a fairer playing field. I’ve seen many examples of street art that are being used to advance that cause.  However, since the 60s, I have come to a state of inner peace where I can see that there’s a place for all kinds of art.

Here’s a detail of an art quilt, “Cherry Blossom Snow” that I wrote about a few weeks ago. It’s poofy and soft, and has thousands of buttons, beads, and mirrors on it to capture a moment when I was standing under a cherry tree during a snow shower, and for one second, the sun came out. The shining, exquisite beauty of that solitary second I can still see in my mind’s eye. Yet, how does this piece improve the human condition?

If you read on my “About Me” page in this blog, you’ll find a statement that I wrote awhile back that contains my “Reasons for Being”. I came to a balance within myself a long time ago that there’s a place for makers of beautiful things is the world. Not only is there a place for them, but there’s a need for that kind of person and their art, as the world is filled with enough ugliness and hate. Some of my pieces have been shown around the world, but on the wide scale of artistic endeavors, my audience has been pretty small. Still, I’ve heard people gasp when they turn a corner and see one of my works in an exhibit. At least for that moment, in that place, I gave some pleasure to that person.

 Here’s another view of “Diving Deep into the Stream of Love and Connection”, which I also wrote about in another blog last week – “It’s All in the Lines”. The beauty and awe that I feel when I look at this piece, even though I made the thing, is often overwhelming. It hangs right now in my dining room, and that jaw dropping sensation of the aesthetic tingles on my neck as the light plays across the surface, the interplay of details, the delight I had in finding the perfect buttons to give the effect that I wanted….all of these experiences are justification for me to make pretty things. Here, on my little piece of the planet, I’ve declared it to be a “Beauty Honored Here” zone. I hope that my sharing of my images will inspire you to create a similar space for yourself, no matter how small. I invite you to start with an honoring and valuing in your heart of whatever your life’s path happens to be, and to guard that special place with all of your passion and zeal against the ravages of the world inside. May you find your own inner sanctuary where lovely things, not matter how you define them, have a place.

Have you ever had one of those aesthetic moments when your jaw drops at the beauty of something? Have you duplicated that experience in some art form or other way of honoring that space in time? We’d love to hear about it, for as one person offers up a piece of their soul’s experiences, we’re all enriched.

To see more of my art work, please visit www.fiberfantasies.com