quilting

Finish it!

I never work on more than one quilt at a time and I never start a new one until the one I’m working on is finished.  Does that surprise you? Are you the type who starts a piece,

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The Heron – 42″ x 58″

gets midway through and then puts it aside to start another one?  Or maybe you’re working on a piece but get stuck at some point and aren’t sure what to do next with it so you decide to put it aside and come back to it.   Your intentions at the time are good and you tell yourself you’ll definitely go back to it but a few days away from it turns into a week and then a month and then by that time you’ve moved onto something else and going back to it feels like taking a step backwards.  So you stuff it into a box, a drawer or a bag in the corner of the closet and take an out of sight out of mind approach.  You might remember this as stage 3 when I talked about the 7 stages of art a few weeks ago in this blog post.

Stage 3 is the doubt stage and  one of two things usually happens at this point in the creative process: either the artist trusts the integrity of the original vision and their skills and pushes through to the next stage or they abandon the artwork to the unfinished or WIP (work in progress pile) where it promptly gets forgotten about.

It can be a tough stage to push through and each one of those unfinished pieces is a lost learning opportunity.   Now I’m not suggesting that I’ve never abandoned a piece midway through because I have.  I’ve made more than my fair share of wastebasket filler over the years with quilts that seemed like a good idea but just didn’t come together the way I thought they would so I decided the best strategy at the time was to trash them.  But I’ve learned that the only way to move forward in my development as an artist is to see my pieces through to the finish.  That’s not always an easy thing to do and I’ll give you an example.  I’ve been working on a new series of “line and space” quilts and my latest piece “The Heron” which you can see above was a real challenge to get past stage 3.  It started like all my quilts, with a full sized sketch.  I quilted the background and then began to add the imagery:

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In these two examples above you can see I added some color to the heron.  I started with a dark blue on the back side of the heron and then took that off and replaced it with a lighter blue and then added a bit to his chest as well because it felt like there wasn’t enough color on him.

Then I decided that there just wasn’t enough color so I took off the blue that was on him and I replaced it with some larger pieces and carried the blue up his neck to his head.  And then I decided he needed more contrast so I replaced the blue along his neck with black.

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Didn’t take me much time to figure out that was a mistake!

At this point I was starting to feel frustrated and was ready to throw my hands up and toss the whole thing but I took a day off from it and decided I wanted to see it through.  This style of working is new for me so I wanted to finish it, if for no other reason than it was an opportunity to learn.  So I pushed on.

Unfortunately at this point I had already fused and quilted the blue and the black in place.  So when I pulled the stitching out and peeled the blue fabric off I had a mess…

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Fortunately I hadn’t applied a lot of heat to the fusible so it wasn’t completely fused to the surface.  But what to do at this point?  I figured that I couldn’t ruin the quilt anymore than it already was so I took a piece of wool felt, spritzed it with water and started scrubbing the surface and I got just about all of the fusible to come off the surface. Took me several hours of scrubbing and peeling bits off with a fine tweezer but I got most of it.  I couldn’t get it all off but I got enough that I thought I could still save this quilt.  so I pushed forward…

I hung the piece up and re-evaluated where I wanted the color on the heron to be.  I cut a new piece of blue, put it in place and  played around a bit with the line details on him.  After a few adjustments I was ready to do the final stitching and add a binding.

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So am I happy with the final quilt?  For the most part I am – there are a few things I would do differently if I make him again which I just might do at some point.  I am glad I pushed through and finished him because I learned a lot and I’ll be that much smarter when I begin the next piece in this series.   The next time you find yourself knee deep in stage 3, remember that we’ve all been there so do your best to push through it.  You’ll be a better artist for it, you may learn something about yourself and the techniques you use and best of all: you’ll end up with one less unfinished project!


Have you registered for my Artistic Development 101 class yet?

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This online class begins Sunday June 4, 2017 and runs for 8 consecutive weeks. Click here for more information or to register for this class.


3 thoughts on “Finish it!

  1. Ah, yes. The Creative Process: 1. This is awesome. 2. This is tricky. 3. This is shit. 4. I am shit. 5. this might be ok. 6. This is awesome. I completely agree with you, Sue. Push through. After several years of writing daily morning pages, and deciding to finish all of my ufos, I have found a lot of questioning, wtf? But, pushing through brings me to a good feeling at the end, modifications, lots of pleasure. Now I am a finisher, and it is an amazing process. I still have stage 3, but I have discovered how quickly I can finish a started project. I used to think everything took a long time. Only if I let it sit for a few years. Your piece is nicely written, thanks.

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  2. I can see the benefits of pushing through a project and it does seem to work well for you. I like to let ideas marinate so moving on to a different project and coming back to it works better for me. It adds variety, and sometimes I learn something from the different project that helps me with the first one. There is a fine balance though – starting too many projects without following through has its drawbacks too.

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    • I agree Shasta – letting an idea marinate for a bit while working on another one can be a great way to work and the experience of one can help to inform the direction of the other. The key though is avoiding falling into the trap of having so many projects marinating that you end up not seeing anything through to the finish.

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