Getting my (quilting) groove again

“A finished quilt is better than a perfect quilt.”  —Beth Ann Williams

I am in the midst of the great sewing room purge. It’s been a chaotic mess for a few years and I was resorting to creating pathways between stacks of fiber arts, quilting magazines, and piles of other stuff.

sewing roomThis corner of my sewing room isn’t quite as cluttered now.

As I was sorting through a stack of papers I came across the notes and directions from the “Storytelling in Fabric” retreats that Beth Ann Williams and I co-led for a few years. The above quote was scribbled across a retreat schedule—I remember quickly writing it after I heard Beth Ann say it. Anyone who has studied with Beth Ann knows she has a treasury of quotable quotes regarding quilt and art making. She also has sage advice on nurturing our creativity:

  • Nurture your creative spirit.
  •  Don’t neglect responsibilities, but remember that you also have a responsibility to your creative self.
  • Chores don’t always need to come first.
  • Cherish the joy of creating – whether you are preparing a meal or painting a future masterpiece.

I am also finishing up two quilts. One quilt is pieced and ready for me to pin it to the quilt batting and back.  The other quilt is for Advent and I am hand-quilting parts of it and will machine quilt the rest. My goal is to have hanging above our Advent wreath before the second Sunday of Advent.

Advent quilt WIP photo-1

It feels good to find my quilting groove again.

Also, clearing and cleaning my sewing space is giving me room to breathe and ponder new ideas for further quilts and art quilts. I’ve heard that “making a clearing” in one’s living space allows room for something new or fresh to enter or emerge. I don’t know if this is true but I am willing to open my heart to find out. 

Getting Unblocked

August Break 2013--Day 13

August Break 2013–Day 13–home. Our front porch.

Sometimes when one is blocked creatively in one medium it’s good to explore a different medium. This is what I’ve been doing this month with my new phone, Instagram, and the August Break #2013. The creator, Susannah Conway provided photo prompts for each day of August.

I’m having fun pondering the prompts and experimenting with the photo possibilities. Sometimes I am really pleased with my picture and other days, not so much. But that’s how creativity happens–exploring, testing, trying.

I didn’t do it daily yet I did more than just dip my toe into this new medium and I’ve had fun.

I am circling around fabric again, pondering fiber art again. Perhaps photographing will inform my fiber art? Think so.

Here are a few more photos I took:

Day 4--love.  A love note a found on my bulletin board one day.

Day 4–love. A love note a found on my bulletin board one day.

Day 18--looking down. These are the potted flowers on our front steps.

Day 18–looking down. These are the potted flowers on our front steps.

Day 27--numbers. These are the tools I use for my quilting.

Day 27–numbers. These are the tools I use for my quilting.

Prayer of the week (with audio)

By June Mears Driedger

By June Mears Driedger

“O God, come to my assistance,    

Make haste to help me!”  (Ps. 70:1)

Loving God, Compassionate God~

I need help. I’m stuck on a freezing river of inertia and unable to create.

I’m spinning my wheels, unable to gain traction to follow-through with my ideas, dreams, and projects.

So, please help me. Please come to my assistance.

Please send someone to give me a push, or put chains on my tires, or spread salt or sand, or whatever it takes to give my wheels a grip and to get moving.

Help me to not be afraid of the ice but learn to navigate myself without doing harm to myself or to my creativity.

And, please remind me that ice does melt, eventually. And that the spinning of my creative wheels may be just a season, and like the ice, the season will change.

Thank you God for coming to my assistance (I’m praying with confidence that you will respond to my prayer). AMEN.

(Notes) On Art into Faith

jan richardson books

“It is time for religions to open the eyes of a world that believes it has seen everything.”—Daniel Kantor, Graphic Design and Religion.

I recently heard artist and writer Jan Richardson at a conference. I’ve appreciated and admired Jan’s work for many years and I leapt at the chance to hear and see her and I wasn’t disappointed.  Jan’s paper collages have inspired me as I think about fabric art.

One workshop was led by Jan and her husband Garrison Doles on “Art into Faith” and I was nudged again to think how artists and “the arts” can become integral to faith communities. Here are my notes from the workshop and I want to emphasize these are my notes and I may have misheard or misunderstood Jan and/or Gary.

Jan pointed back to medieval cathedrals that used a “multimedia” of art forms to embed the biblical Story into and for the medieval congregants to ultimately embody the Story in their lives.

We need to reclaim the language of “symbol” and how symbols become a part of our existential being—and this is how the Story gets into our bones and we embody the Story of God’s love. Jan said there is a difference between reciting the Story and telling the Story, that is, we live into the Story and develop the skills to tell the Story through all forms of the arts and culture. It is a significant way to tell our story to God and to tell our story to each other. Yet, how can we, with our brokenness and our beauty, tell the Story (and tell our stories?).

These are the things we need:

1)     Engaging people in the creative process, including people who don’t think they are creative. We are co-creators and collaborators with the Creator so we do have creativity. But we have become a culture of spectators so we let the professionals present to us.

2)      We need to develop the talent and skills in people—like developing the “farm league” of a particular medium.

3)     Decide to seek out those who have developed the facility to tell the Story that creates new doorways into the Story.

4)     Art doesn’t happen in isolation but needs community, a fertile soil that provides cross-fertilization, and is focused on the process of telling the Story rather than a final product.

5)     Discern who are the “culture makers” in the congregation and can lead into the mystery of the Story rather than a literal interpretation that limits another understanding of God’s love and interaction with humanity.

6)      Challenge this statement: “I don’t know much about art but I know what I like.” Ask: why don’t you know much about art? Are you afraid of it? Are you choosing to be illiterate? Explore: How does art communicate with people?

7)   Art jars us out of a particular way of seeing, understanding, and knowing. Art is always a dialogue—what happens in the heart of the artist and the heart of the other. Sometimes art can help us talk about the Story in ways that we haven’t been able to before.

Find the line between the telling of the Story in a powerful and meaningful way and a place of emotional manipulation.

At the end of the workshop, Jan distributed a recommended book list:

Janice Eslheimer, The Creative Call: An Artist’s Response to the Way of the Spirit

Makoto Fujimara, Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art, and Culture

Robin M. Jensen, The Substance of Things Seen: Art, Faith, and the Christian Community

Daniel Kantor, Graphic Design and Religion

Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water, Reflections on Faith and Art

Christine Valters Paintner, The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom

Luci Shaw, Breath for the Bones: Art, Imagination and Spirit: A Reflection on Creativity and Faith

Dick Staub, The Culturally Savvy Christian: A Manifesto for Deepening Faith and Enriching Popular Culture in an Age of Christianity-Lite

W. David O. Taylor, For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts

Sister Wendy, Joy Lasts: On the Spiritual in Art

**********

What are your experiences of integrating art into faith?

 

 

Mr. Rogers and Quilts

o-MISTER-ROGERS-HELPERS-QUOTE-570

The quilt top was done. I finished it months ago. The back was also finished. But I didn’t like the batting I bought to use between the quilt top and back. And I couldn’t decide on a design or pattern to quilt everything together. So the parts of the quilt stayed draped over the stairwell, taunting me every time I opened the door to my sewing room.

I was stuck. I was creatively blocked for months.

The quilt was made for my youngest niece as she transitioned from a crib to a “big girl bed.” I wondered if I would finish the quilt in time for her to move into a college dorm. I felt terrible about how long the quilt was taking and I was feeling increasing stuck. I couldn’t work on other sewing. My sewing creativity was jammed and bound up in that quilt.

I wanted to give the quilt to my niece and her parents when I visited my family in early March. And my frustration was spiking as the date of my trip approached.

I began to pray about the situation (finally). I prayed about being stuck and unable to find a way to resolve my dilemma. Then the story of Mr. Rogers “look for the helpers” came to mind.

“Look for the helpers.”

And I understood that I need to hire someone else to quilt it. I needed help to maneuver out of my creative block. So I did.

I took the quilt top and back to a local quilting shop and hired the owner to quilt everything together. She suggested a design and a different batting and I knew this was the way to go. As I walked out of the shop, I felt my shoulders drop and I breathed a deep sigh of relief.

Two weeks later I picked up my quilt—quilted and bound—to deliver to my niece. I’m not sure how much she likes it but my sister and brother-in-law do!

Quilt front with my niece. Photo by Kevin Driedger.

Quilt front with my niece. Photo by Kevin Driedger.

Quilt back with my niece.Photo by Kevin Driedger.

Quilt back with my niece.
Photo by Kevin Driedger.

I met with my spiritual director just before I picked up the quilt and we talked about my “look for the helpers” revelation. She suggested this was a move toward freedom for me. Rather than me insisting that I do it all, I chose to let others assist me. She suggested this is a journey from inner bondage to inner freedom.

I’m still pondering this. And, I’m praying a new prayer: “God, let me be free.”

And, one answer to that prayer is finding the helpers.

*The quilt pattern was originally posted on the Film in the Fridge blog.

Interview with poet/musician Andrew Kreider (Plus chapbook give-away!)

Andrew Kreider and I met at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary (Elkhart, Ind.) in the mid-1990s. He was the student book store manager and, according to Andrew, I walked into the bookstore and we started talking of our mutual enthusiasm for Canadian singer, Bruce Cockburn. We’ve been buddies ever since.

Andrew was born and raised in London, England and  has lived in Elkhart, Indiana, since 1992.  He is married to the lovely Katie, with three children.  He is member of band The Minor Profits (http://www.reverbnation.com/theminorprofits) and he is a performer and poet – www.andrewkreider.com and poetry blog http://thepenguinpoet.blogspot.com

He kindly agreed to be interviewed for my blog, reflecting on poetry, humor, and the call to the creative life. He recently published the chapbook, answers like socks that includes a cd of Andrew reading the poems. I am offering a free copy to one lucky commenter (see below).

 When did you write your first poem? Can you share it with us?

Like many people, I wrote poetry as a school student.  I don’t have any of those early masterpieces any more.  I do, however, remember a line from a poem about “Autumn” I wrote for an English class when I was thirteen or so: “leaves squashed by Dunlop tyre” (note the English spelling!).  My teacher chose to put that poem on the board in the hallway, and I took a lot of ribbing about that inspired phrase.  That was pretty much it for my poetic career at that age.  Oh, the humiliation of it all. I think it’s experiences like that that make many of us give up creative work in high school – embarrassment, peer pressure, lack of subject material…

Really, it was only in my thirties that I was finally able to say out loud, “I am a poet,” and to begin to attend to the words rattling around in my chest.  I realized that I see the world with a poet’s eye – image, allusion, rhythm and color – all these are more important to me than straight lines or correct information.  Poetry is a wonderfully flexible medium for right-brained people!

Do you have a process or ritual when you write a poem?  And, is your process different for songwriting?

I love to write within a structure.  To have some form of limitation on my choice and volume of words.  For this reason, I often choose to follow a particular poetic form (sonnet, kyrielle, limerick, or whatever), or at the least to write lines of a set number of syllables.  Having to limit my words makes me much more careful about the words I choose, what I’m trying to say, and how I say it.  This is a lesson I learned back when I was a preacher – that often in a sermon, less is more.  Same with many forms of communication, including poetry.

I also have become a student of other writers, and try to copy their approaches.  There is so much to be learned from others!  This is true as a poet, and also as a songwriter.  One exercise I do regularly is to take a famous song, analyze its structure, and then write a new song following the same pattern.  It’s amazing to me how you can take the same structure and come up with something entirely different from the original, in sound, feel, mood.  For example, I’m not sure how Bill Withers would feel about it, but I have a modern-day classic just waiting to be discovered titled: “Doctor Love” which is based firmly on “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone.”  Fans of the band I play in, the Minor Profits have endured this song many times by now.

Many of your poems have humor—or bemusement—on them. Is this intentional or just a reflection of your worldview?  

I believe in the power of small things.  I love to take tiny moments, or single elements, and then set them free to see where they want to go.  This is especially true in my longer pieces.  I am developing a whole show of monologues – funny pieces based on things that have happened to me.  For whatever reason, I seem to run into a lot of crazy situations, and they make a great jumping-off point for monologues that are (mostly) true.  There’s a genre of writing called “faction” (fact/fiction) – and I think that’s where I thrive, enriching true events for the purpose of entertainment!  You must know, though, that any stories I tell about my childhood are completely accurate – especially the one about practicing driving with my mother.

(Here’s Andrew reading, “Coming through in the clutch”)

http://youtu.be/ksONmcuubng

I do love to laugh, and to make others laugh, too.  My live performances have probably seventy five percent funny material, with just a few serious pieces thrown into the mix.  The contrast helps the serious pieces make an impact, without overwhelming the audience with the weight of the world.  Over the years I have come to the conclusion that most audiences want to laugh more than cry.  So… I meet them on common ground and then once we’re laughing, I say: “Here’s a more serious one – see what you think.”

You transitioned from full-time pastoring to pursue family time and creative pursuits. Can you tell us about this decision and how you discerned these “calls”?

Three years ago, my wife began medical school.  This was a huge shift in our family life – and there was no way I could carry on being a pastor without chaos ensuing at home.  It was a good time for me to move on, both for me and for the congregation – a wonderful group of people who have gone upwards and onwards with excellent new leadership.  Leaving the pastorate has allowed me to say, and do, things I never could have gotten away with as a minister.  As a preacher, I loved to dig into stories and let people find themselves in the details – I think this has carried over into my writing, but now I have even more latitude because the answer doesn’t always have to be “Jesus” (although that’s a fairly good answer in many cases, just not in stories about getting stuck in an elevator, or then again… but I digress).  Poetry allows the writer and reader to walk into the mist without insisting on a particular destination.  And I love that.

 Have you been able to find more time for creativity?

These days, I consider myself a quarter-time writer and performer.  I try to write every day, and perform regularly as a musician and a poet.  I am also relishing new connections in local community theater, onstage and behind the scenes.  Some spiritual guides counsel us to find a “rule of life” –  for me, creative work has become that life-giving rule: writing, blogging, rehearsing, performing.

 Do you have any wisdom and insights to offer others who want to seriously write poetry?

Read lots.  And write.  Write every day.  Make connections with other poets online or in person.  There are many wonderful communities of poets on the internet, and almost without exception people are very encouraging of each other in those places.  As time goes by, learn about poetic forms and practice writing in them.  Try lots of different angles.  And all the time, keep one ear tuned for your own voice.  Learn to recognize the moments when you have something special to say – the poems that no one else will or can write.  Turns out, my voice is often kind of crazy –it laughs a lot and loves to make people look at things in new ways.

Robert C. Dykstra wrote a book titled Discovering a Sermon.  There was one passage in that book that made a huge impact on me.  Basically, his point was that if you are listening to someone and you are becoming bored, this is an indication that the person speaking is not fully comfortable in themselves.   They are trying to be something they are not, trying to look right, trying to impress, but it’s not working for either of you.  This is a challenge to me with every performance and every piece I write – to be at peace with myself, to be authentic, and NOT to be boring!

Thank you Andrew!

To receive a free copy of Andrew’s recent chapbook, answers like socks, (including a cd of Andrew reading the poems!) please leave a comment. I will randomly choose a winner Friday, April 27, 5:00 p.m. (eastern time).