Monday, May 7, 2012

I'm Old, So What?

A week ago today I celebrated a birthday with a number that brings me much closer to pensions and social security payments than I ever imagined I'd be. Well, truthfully I knew I'd get there eventually, but I imagined the me that arrived would somehow be a different one than the smiling person in the photo below. That "girl" still feels like a girl. She is still trying to lose weight, still working out regularly, still eating healthy, still in love with life and, thankfully, finally on the road to doing the things she always dreamed of. Maybe the dreams were a little grander in the long ago, with fame and money in the mix, but basically they were always about exploration and creativity, and daily joy rolled into one. Oh yeah, and friendship and dancing. Always those.

The birthday number is not so important, except for the reality that they come with a finite count, and we have to understand that we are on the countdown. So we try not to dwell on years, but on the moment, because we finally came to understand, that is the only place that matters. Plans for the future are great, even necessary, but only in how they lead us to use our current moments with awareness and gusto. I've gotten so good at going for the gusto that sometimes I tire myself, and have to have that pep talk that says "Stop! Sit! Breath! The expectations are only yours, and you can choose to change the agenda."

It didn't take me long after the quilt show ended to move on with a new spring list. First came the items that had been promised completion and really were a pleasure to do. The prayer flag above was my first experience with such a project. I have seen blog friends making them for themselves or to participate in a group venture, but never thought of doing it until I was asked by my friend Linda Miller at The Bhavana Project. According to Linda, the Sanskrit word means "emergence, visualization and cultivation of intention...[and is being used] to send out positive energy as a contribution to the community." She sent me a string of already completed flags with a blank base to decorate. Our intention was "Reflections on Peace," and I was proud to add my painted and hand stitched design to fly in the wind at it's eventual destinations.

Next, it was high time to finish construction of my Shrinebook Project from the Advanced FrankenStitch class with Arlee Barr. If you haven't kept up with the progress on this "monster" of an embroidery project, here is the link to an album of all the stages. The eight panels are mounted back to back in a strip of four, so that the screen may be displayed in a variety of ways, sometimes with both sides available for viewing (say, on the center of a table,) or possibly in a cube with only one side facing out. Either way, you can see it's just tall enough to reach a kitty's chin.

For those of you who collect fabric stashes with no apparent purpose other than to shop, you will be pleased to hear I bought not one thing to add to this artwork. Even the solid color silk strips joining the panels were there for the finding. I think I required a couple hanks of embroidery cotton to finish the buttonhole variations that make up the hand work.

The dowels that form the support hinges required end caps that would be difficult to find ready made. Luckily (in addition to all my other interests) I am fairly proficient with polymer clay and bead making, so I just whipped up (Ha!) ten tight fitting pieces. Seriously, this took quite a bit to design and execute, and was the main thing holding up the finishing. I do love how the collaged design adds interest and ties in to the panels without detracting.

Just before the quilt show brought my long season of "get 'er done" to a close, I was already making plans for a new direction. It has been a while since I have made clothing, although there were years of my life where I made the majority of what I wore. I also hadn't done a lot of art clothing in the past few years, partly because fluctuating body size made the large investment in time less than useful, and because my life recently had been rather casual. Both those reasons struck the new me as being totally unacceptable as excuses to not do what I've always loved best. The first could surely be conquered by making it a priority and a project (now ongoing and successful), and the second: well it was time to make beautiful art to wear that did fit my life.

I had recently discovered the handmade clothing of Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin. Her designs are both simple and outrageously embellished as you chose, but all made of organic cotton jersey and as comfortable as pajamas. So I was off and running. My first purchase of yardage, delivered days before the quilt show, was waiting for me, as were my hand cut stencil and hand traced pattern for a simple princess line dress.

I chose to begin with a stenciling technique new to me: fabric paint on WET fabric, intentionally made to run. They call this one "faded leaves" and I did it with black Setacolor Translucent on the natural color medium weight fabric. I was very glad to have purchased the fabric from A.C. because the quality is lovely and superior to anything I can find locally.

The idea of wet stencilling is to work on wet, but rung out fabric to allow the paint to first spread from its placement in all directions to soften the design, and then dry slowly while hanging to allow osmosis to run the paint away from the pattern and fill some of the blank area with a softened version of the color. What started black became grey and even separated to an accent of a blue component.

The two panels here show what it looks like when first hung versus about an hour later.

Even though I have sewn all my life, this is the first entirely hand stitched piece. This particular design has the seams on the outside which are then flat felled with a whip stitch. The only hard part of the process is, unfortunately, working with the jersey, whose tendency to curl on the edges requires patience and exactly care to keep the seams aligned and the proper width.

The hem is left completely raw, and the neck and armhole edges are bound with self fabric strips and decorative stretch stitches of your choice. Here I used Herringbone.

At exactly the same time I began a Spring treat. A five week long class in painting techniques that focus on fantasy flowers with one of my faves, Carla Sonheim. Working with layers of gesso and watercolor, with many choices of substrate to experiment with, we are learning that flowers are a state of mind, and that there is nothing you can't save with a little bit more layering of gesso!

This first painting started as an exercise in layering quick doodle floral shapes, then several days later was rescued and focused with, what else, gesso and watercolor (and a bit of marker.) It has since been revised a second time with collage additions in week four.

These two painting are again from week one, when we continued to experiment with tools and mark-making, and most of us created fantasy flowers that looked like they came from a galaxy far far away. We are now entering our final floral fantasies in week five with little books of paintings. Next time I'll show you what we've done along the way.

So back to the idea of art to wear. Here is my Dave and I in jean jackets bearing woven, embroidered and quilted pieces that I made a year ago in Jude Hill's Contemporary Woven Boro class. Jude has been lately expanding the notion of what a class can be. Those of us who have been participating and following over the last couple of years are now fortunate to be a part of a new type of clothing class, one that is equal parts community building, sisterhood (and a brother), counseling session, and design course all wrapped up in one. We are only a week into things over there, and already my head is spinning with interaction and possibility. It's going to be a great journey, and I haven't even planned our summer travel yet.


  1. Ha, Cheryl, first of all belated birthday congratulations ! To many healthy and creative years to come ! You look radiant !
    (Well I'm 66 now and feel like a girl a LOT of times, though not always ;-)!!!)
    You have been very busy and made some beautiful things !!! LOVE that dress and fun to see that "old" Boro jacket still going strong ...

    1. Thanks, Els! Another friend just mentioned that she is 71, and feeling full of life. And the fact is, when I saw her recently she looked better that ever. I think there is a growing trend among those of us who are supposed to be done with new stages to say: I think I'll just keep being me and loving life for as long as life gives me. And I think that attitude is likely to give both quality and longevity.

  2. wow! busy lady! love the dress, love it all! hey, we need those prayer flags over at
    and by the way Happy Birthday!!!

    1. Thanks for the birthday wishes, Jane! When summer comes and I am able to get my current projects caught up I will definitely consider joining in to the prayer flag project. (After all I've been up to lately, I need a little creative breather to just stitch on my embroidery sampler.)

  3. Happy Belated! You are certainly expanding your creative expression! Love the dress, by the way!

  4. Wow, synchronicity. I just came over from Rice's blog and saw your wonderful jean jacket. I am looking for ideas, and while I am not a quilter it is still inspiring. Do you have a closer photo of your man's jacket?

    You look like an interesting woman, I look forward to returning. :)

    1. Hi Zom! So glad you found me! Here is the link to my flikr album with those photos.

  5. Hello Cheryl!
    Happy Birthday, and you do look wonderful! Your words explaining how young and creative you feel are a perfect fit! [It is hard to remember that we can take a break and that all these creative things on our list are not meant to be burdens!]
    I met you in Jane LaFazio's on-line class and have popped in to see you occasionally! I too have been following Alabama Chanin's work. Your dress is absolutely wonderful. This post is so full of your fabulous finished works! Congratulations on many well done!

    1. Thanks for the good wishes, Lila. Nice to see you stop in for a visit.

  6. Hi, Cheryl. Always a joy to stop by and read your blog, it's so dense with creativity! Happy Birthday and what's in a number? You look great. I celebrated that big milestone of 60 a couple weeks ago with blogging friends and family--it was magical! Love your dress and the stitched screens--really gorgeous. Enjoyed seeing the quilt guild show pictures as well.
    best, nadia

  7. Hey - Happy Birthday!
    Looks like you have a whole new energy - finishing things like crazy! That is fantastic! Its cool that jude's class is right up your alley - can't wait to see what you make this year. I like that dress too - really nice pattern. Your 8 panels were great - really well done, and I liked the clay toppers/feet that you made. We need a detailed photo of them finished. The prayer flag was great - now you need one for your home. Have fun with all of your art! When you come to Portland next, let me know and we'll have lunch.

  8. This is such a lush, rich, sensuous blog! hello from ali (from boro 2) --I'm out of China for a couple short weeks, so I have access to Blogger for a bit! Wonderful images--I'll keep reading earlier posts now!

  9. Hi Cheryl! I love your stenciled flower fabric and the dress you are making with it!
    May I ask what type of dress form you have - do you like it? I would like to get one but I don't know what to get or how to choose. Thanks! See you in class.

  10. dense is right!! what a lot going on here... I love your reflections on your birthday - you seem like such an upbeat person and that comes through in your attitude, your images, and your creations. I'm also taking CB2 right now, AND a Karen Ruane class AND just did a show, so I really should not be adding things to try to my list at the moment, but after reading this post, I really, really want to try the stenciling on wet fabric - I cannot believe how great that looks (as does the dress, ps). Did you just drape your dress or did you use a pattern? I love the exterior seaming - that makes hand sewing seem do-able, somehow.