It is such a joy to work in a clean space. After a massive de-cluttering and de-stashing, my craft room lets me breathe. Sometimes it takes drastic action to re-invigorate one’s creativity: I packaged up three quarters of my fabric stash to give away. That process was agonizing. Each piece reminded me of its original purpose, whether for a particular quilt or because it cried out to me with its color and design. But it was too much wealth, requiring endless organizing, and became a burden. I couldn’t face the bins and boxes of fabrics calling out to me, rooting me in the past when my tastes have changed. With the stash and the mess gone, this room’s quiet is somehow quieter than the rest of the house.
The drawers and magazine bins are from Ikea, which has finally opened a store only two hours’ drive away. Following the dictum that life is too short to hoard one’s treasures, I cut into some of my remaining favorite fabrics to cover the drawers and bins. The chocolate and pink ones on the left are by Denyse Schmidt, who puts colors and simple shapes together in a way that is completely refreshing. The animals on the right are by Beebe Moss, Ami Simms’ mother, who has inspired a whole movement to raise money from quilts to research Alzheimer’s disease. And the bins in the middle have the coolest paint-by-number birds and flowers, half finished. (My husband had to study them to see if the numbers on the unpainted portion were consistent; he thinks they are.)
The glass vase is for those little thread clippings and fabric scraps that would otherwise inevitably end up on the floor. I found it at a garage sale, I think. I love its curving flower petal shape and gently weathered surface.
The quilt is a top I put together in a fit of inspiration a summer or two ago at my parents’ lake house. My mom very generously took me to her lovely local quilt shop and let me pick fabrics to make a quilt. I loved the old-fashioned florals in the shop that day and added regimented squares of navy blue to smarten them up. I was reminded of the garden design advice of the English gardener Penelope Hobhouse: Structure! Flower gardens need structure! Put in some statues and shaped shrubs so that the soft billows of flowers have something to organize them.
That summer I only completed the top, and it has languished amid other unfinished quilts until now. It was the first project I chose to work on in my fresh new start of crafting. So far it has close spirally quilting across the center, and leaves and straight lines in the white borders. Next, the navy half squares at the edges need their second halves appliqued on (I decided not to machine-piece them into the border fabric), then the binding applied. It’s very exciting to me to see the different facets of quiltmaking come together to make an object greater than the sum of its parts (or so I hope).
There seems to be a lesson here: from strict structure comes creativity. And I’d wrap up this post with that bit of wisdom, only I’m not sure it’s true. For everything, eventually, ends in chaos (the rest of my house is a huge reminder of this principle), whether it’s a craft room or a house or endless paperwork at the office, and I don’t want my life’s purpose to be fighting chaos, battling the inevitable. That sounds like drudgery. The fight isn’t, after all, with knights in armor and bright slashing swords (no blood in my fantasy, please). In my reality, it’s more likely scrub brushes and dishes and laundry that never end, like the pails of water in Mickey Mouse’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice. And when the battle invades my crafting space, inspiration withers.
I had intended the floral quilt with its regimented squares to be the destination of my musing: the free form of creativity bounded by a structured form. But I think, instead, it’s the paint-by-number fabric design. Here is the promise of an orderly progression of art: begin with the outlines, then label the colors and fill them in. When all the blank spaces have their prescribed color, the artwork is done. No mess. No wandering, or wondering. It’s structured from beginning to end.
But what makes this particular design so wonderful is that it is forever unfinished. The blank spaces, marked only with their obscure numbers (is 17 orange? maybe — but maybe not) are what draw the eye, jarring against the colorful completed portions. The promise of a destination is there, the direction is given — or is it? Maybe it’s not the process, nor the completion. Maybe it’s that moment when we think we can see both, when we’re almost, but not quite, sure we have the path.