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.

Tuning in to outside influences

Taste buds do it. Ear worms do it. Lurking scents do it. Words do it. Dreams do it.

If I see a picture of french fries I can actually taste them. Play a Joni Mitchell song for me and I will hum it for weeks. If I smell Old Spice aftershave I think of my father. If I see a drawing that speaks to me I’ll find hints of it in my stitching. I think one of the reasons I make art is to catalog all of the influences in my life. I want to leave a record of my thoughts.

I am receptive and susceptible to outside influences. It is often beyond my control.

I’m reading about the history of cancer (The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee). A second book about the biome of bacteria we live among (Never Home Alone: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live by Rob Dunn). I just finished 1491, a book about the millions of people who were in the “new” world before the Europeans got here (1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann) . Their story and how the explorers of today are unearthing the truth behind it simply entrances me.

And how do these three non-fiction books relate to my art practice? They make me think. They bring up imagery that I didn’t have before reading them. They turn on the receptors in my brain, enliven my curiosity and add to the library of imagery that I might incorporate into my work.

Here’s how reading non-fiction can change the way I work.

This layout has been on my design wall for a number of months. I couldn’t finish it because it didn’t have any meaning to me. Just a pretty picture. I liked the colors but not the layout. It lacked something important.

Last week I cut all the pieces of it into 1.5” squares and layered them with other 1.5” squares. I was thinking about specimens and trial balloons, invasive cellular growth, archeological layers and population centers.

I stabilized the layers with small dots of glue. It was a mistake. The glue changed the color of the fabric and looked like I had stained the fabric. Not one to waste an opportunity, I decided to outline each stain. As if I was identifying bacteria in a slide or pinpointing a clay shard in an archeological dig.

The piece started to take on its own character as I began to identify groupings. I added a rough grid pattern in the light blue squares to imitate scientific exploration. I added detail to some of the stains to identify differences. The next few weeks will be devoted to identifying more connections and details.

The edges are flapping off the background on purpose. I love how they add action to the piece. I’ll put the piece into the dryer after wetting it down to fluff it up and fray it even more. Knowledge has raw edges.

This is what the back looks like today. I use drapery blackout lining for these pieces. It stitches like a dream, adds body to the final piece and doesn’t stretch. It can hold the weight of the quilt that is sandwiched between this backing and the scrap pieces. And, I like this side almost as much as I like the other side. I love how the back reflects the same narrative in a sparer context.

The work on this will continue for a while. I like how it is moving along. I feel like I am tuning in to a different frequency when I work on it.

In the Weeds

It’s about the process. I’ve said it before and I say it to myself every day. But it’s more than that. It’s about connection, meditation, intuition and evolution. The work I do is no longer precious, no longer final, no longer static. It lives on, breathes inconsistency and opens new insights. This process keeps me thinking. This process brings pieces together. Here’s a brief summary about the process for a new piece, In the Weeds.

I started with this piecing composition. My thoughts were about sentinels — beings tuned into signals that may not be heard.

I did a lot of stitching on this piece, both by machine and by hand. There was an inkling of dissatisfaction during that time. But my motto tends to be “more is more” right? You can see the warping that is happening to the piece as I add more texture. Not a good sign most of the time.

I let it hang on the studio wall for about 4 weeks. Then I put it into the divide and conquer bin. This piece would not see the light of day until I could resolve its main problems — frivolity without reality, composition inadequacies, warpage meant for the sea not the wall.

Then one day I had an itch to destroy, erase, and engage.

I ended up with 96 4” x 4” squares. And it felt really good.

Reassembly took a few days. This was one of the solutions I had. Still not there. I attach the blocks to a substrate. This time I used drapery blackout fabric. It stitches very well and maintains its shape.

Of course, I am not shy about adding details. And, I added a few pieces from other quilts that were in the divide and conquer bin.

It was about this time that I knew the title of the piece, In the Weeds. According to the Cambridge dictionary: Concerned with so many problems or so much work that you are finding it difficult to deal with something; or concerned with small details, often when this prevents you from understanding what is important.

I’ve been in the weeds about a few things lately. Understanding what is happening in our governmental bodies, concern about the environment, moving into the third period of life. The catharsis of stitching helps quell the storm.

In the Weeds, final composition. Paula Kovarik, 34” x 39.5” The sentinels are still there but they are more active in their environment.

In the Weeds, Paula Kovarik, back panel.

Let's get together


2019 will be a busy quilting year for me. I love hanging out with people who have the same passion. Here are some things to consider when planning your new year.

Memphis Festival

Plan a trip to Memphis this Summer! I am heading up a quilt festival in Memphis that debuts on May 10. We are bringing in the Masterworks: Abstract and Geometric show in from SAQA. In addition, we have issued a challenge to quilters, makers and artists within a 200 mile radius of Memphis to make up to three quilts. The quilts will be three layers, stitched, 24” x 24” in BLUE. I have children making quilts, woodworkers making quilts, artists making quilts and quilters making quilts. It should be a glorious blue room full of stitching. We are reaching all the guilds, sewing circles and artist groups in the area to focus on BLUE for a little while.

Are you within a 200 mile radius of Memphis? Enter the show! Click here for a link to the submission form. The show will be housed in the beautiful Crosstown Concourse art galleries. The two shows will hang from May 10-July 28, 2019. Visit Memphis. Good food, good music, the mother of all rivers — You won’t be disappointed. And in May the azaleas are in bloom.

Follow the Thread workshops

I am teaching workshops three times next year. Consider joining me and like-minded explorers in a journey of thread and free-motion quilting.

Let loose! We’ll go off the beaten track at these workshops.

Focus on Fiber, April 4-6, in New Smyrna Beach, FL. What could be better than a week in Florida as the sun warms us to new inspirations? The beach, a retreat center, and hours with creative people. Classes are filled on a first come/first served basis and classes are filling quickly So hurry and register now!

Quilting by the Lake, July 15-19, sponsored by the Schweinfurth Art Center in Syracuse, NY. People from all over the world have enjoyed workshops at QBL. I was supposed to be there two years ago but life got in my way. So I am looking forward to this opportunity to work with some serious stitchers. Join us!

Art Quilt Tahoe, November 3-8, at the Zephyr Point Conference Center, Lake Tahoe, California. Need I say more? The mountains, the lake, the workshops, the talent? What are you waiting for?

Fifteen years quilting, Paula Kovarik

I have a book(let)

Really, it’s just a portfolio of quilts I have made in the past 15 years. There was a slippery slope of doubt and introspection I encountered while creating it.

I learned this in the process:

  • I am an eclectic explorer carrying a thread of anxiety and mystery through each piece.

  • Many pieces are explosive, dark and uncomfortable.

  • My stitching can sometimes reveal humor in the midst of query and strain.

You can order a copy here. There is a digital version that will lead you to links in this journal that might explain some of the process or thoughts that created the works (just click on the titles of the quilts that have underlines). Or, you can order a printed version. The booklet is 48 pages long. 48 pages of explorations in thread and cloth.

I recommend the exercise. Reviewing the work I have done over 15 years clarified some of my underlying themes and pointed to some new directions for exploration.

2019? Already?

Yesterday I was 25, looking forward to a life full of excitement, love and challenges.

I got the love — Oh my. I got the excitement —Oh yes.
And, I had some challenges along the way. Yes, I did.

Today I am older, still trying to be wiser. And this I know: life is short.

So, I will reach for my loved ones. Read the good books. Fill my mind with art and nature.
And stitch untilI sleep.

Wishing you all a healthy, peaceful and creative new year.