Sometimes I have to unsettle the settled patterns of my mind. I start with no ideas, no burning need to communicate. I just have to get out of my head and into my hands. I grab the nearest slab of fabric, stick some batting into the fold and start stitching. Black and white satisfies the need for definition. It forces me to focus. These pieces flush out and flesh out latent anxiety. Perfection isn’t here. Neither is story or parable. It’s just a traveling line.

traveling lines in black on white.

They mean nothing. It’s just a release. I may find a use for them in the future. The dimensions please me.

What fun.

Free-motion Quilting 101

Many people have asked me how I do my free-motion quilting. And, usually, I say I am no expert. I couldn't do a feather if you paid me to do it. What I can do is respond to my ideas with a threadline that makes sense to me.  I do it sitting down on a domestic machine.

For me, using YLI 40 weight thread, both in my bobbin and on top, helps. But it is no panacea. Tension issues can arise based on how fat the batting, how loose my shoulders are and how dull my needle might be (I switch out my needles at least every two weeks and sometimes more if I am stitching intensively). I don't drop my feed dogs as it gives me a little more resistance that I find helps me in directing the thread. Some people prefer that the dogs are lowered. Let me remind you: it takes hours and hours of practice and a vision for where you want the thread to go.

If you are interested in starting the journey I recommend my friend Nysha Nelson's new video Free-motion Quilting 101 (buy it here). His precise, easy-to-follow instructions will get you bumping along the road with a set of tools that allow for creative exploration. Nysha takes the time to think through the zen of stitching. He allows the casual bump or divot to inform the work rather than detract from it. Nysha sets up simple exercises that won't overwhelm the beginner and will still challenge seasoned stitchers.

Starting the journey takes planning, deep breaths and a certain devil-may-care attitude that allows you to make mistakes along the way.  Listen folks, do we really want each stitch to be so precise that when people walk by they say that it must have been done by a computer? Not me. I like my quirks. Spoiler alert: I will not win blue ribbons at quilt shows because of it. Blue is not my color anyway.  Dips and dingles are part of the charm of moving the fabric around.

I say go for it. Start. Practice. Walk away from those pre-programmed stitch patterns. Dream stitchlines. Nysha will help.

sometimes it doesn't have to make sense

The winter sun always casts awesome light. After several days of rain the sunlight adds a little extra joy to the day.

Who can resist the glow of gingko, the spark of maple and the dusky undertones in sycamore leaves?

My focus is omnivorous and indiscriminate today. Light, shadow, line, shapes they are all teasing me into running down alleys with cloth and stitch. Practice. Experimentation. Practice. There are a lot of what-ifs? What if I striate the cloth with lines and add new layers of texture with every thread color change? What happens if I add curves to line when I change colors? What if at each intersection I add a dollop of a thread knot? What if I let the threads just hang there. . .does it add meaning? The trick is to slow down enough to see. Slow down enough to let things happen. Slow down enough to make art without meaning.

It's the sphinx like shadow there on the lower right corner that made me move on with this practice cloth. What is he looking at?

big blank wall

Distractions, responsibilities and confusion have set my studio in stasis. The design wall has a big blank hole on it. About two weeks ago I took out one of those precious pieces of cloth I have collected and pinned it to the board. It is a piece of hand woven linen. With slubs and weight and presence. I found it in a junk store in Germany and instantly knew that I had to have this cloth in my work.

Problem is the preciousness. How to deconstruct, define, deepen (and defile?) the cloth with my visions? Those little hand stitches that join the two panels down the center of the cloth have to stay in honor of the weaver. The slubs provide their own layer of texture and depth. Stitching, marking and moving beyond the original cloth challenges my resolve.

Usually when I come to this stage in a work I start with a clear concept. A couple of the ideas in my sketch stash could work with this cloth. But which one? Which is worthy? Why?

Placemat practice, Paula Kovarik

For now I will experiment on smaller cloth. Stained and tattered placemats with scalloped edges present a pallet without risk. Without gravitas. The big blank wall will have to wait. I feel the breath of it whispering.

Texture studies, Paula Kovarik