Quilt heroes

Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash

My first quilt was a trip around the world lap quilt. I was asked to fill in as an instructor for a class and thought I should make the quilt before attempting to teach others. Why me? I do not know. Desperation, maybe. I was a long-time sewer at that point, but I had never made a quilt. I was probably a lousy teacher, but I hope that my enthusiasm and encouragement made up for my complete lack of knowledge. My second quilt was also a trip around the world quilt for my boyfriend. It was queen-sized, and I appliqued his name into the border. I went all out for quilt number two, and he was suitably impressed. Looking back, I see it was a turning point in my life as a sewist. Quilts became my primary focus and have been for a long time. I’ve taken many classes and tried all kinds of techniques making many traditional and non-traditional quilt patterns. 

Fast forward about five years, and I started making the quilts that I think of as my quilts. Pieced strip quilts combined with black sashing. The first quilts used every color. Then I did color themes, like blue and green and red and green. Fast forward again, and now my quilts don’t always have black sashing–and sometimes I forego the sashing altogether, especially in my small quilts. I have been experimenting with a close-to-zero waste strategy, sewing tiny bits together to make strips. 

This use-what-you-have strategy connects me to generations of quilters who created quilts for warmth out of what they had. Many quilts are utilitarian, but an extraordinary number of quilts are also works of art. Needle arts were one of the few creative outlets for generations of women, and quilting is now an art form dominated by women.

Last year, I read about an incredible bequest of 3,000+ quilts from the estate of quilt collector Eli Leon. Honestly, I tried to picture having a 3,000 quilt collection in my home. I told my husband I was willing to try it. 😉 Leon built a temperature-controlled addition to house much of his collection. He studied and collected quilts made by African American quilters, and supported and championed the work of quilters like Rosie Lee Tompkins.

Rosie Lee Tompkins is a pseudonym for Effie May Howard. Howard was an extremely private person and sought to remain unknown. Eli Leon suggested that Howard use the name Rosie Lee Tomkins when exhibiting her work. 

Leon donated his quilt collection, the largest private collection of African American quilts, to the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA).

Rosie Lee Tompkins: A Retrospective is currently on exhibit at BAMPFA. Covid-19 has closed down museums worldwide, but the shutdown has inspired many great online museum tours like this one, led by Chief Curator Larry Rinder. 

Tompkins quilts have power and movement, bold colors, whimsical motifs, and unexpected fabrics. She could transform a controlled geometric pattern into something organic, transforming traditional designs and techniques into modern art. Her color combinations glow and pulse. I’ve been thinking about what she might have wanted people to feel when they saw her work: Joy. Energy. Power. Faith. Happiness. 
Read more about the exhibition in this review by Roberta Smith in the New York Times.


Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash

Hair DIY

Hair scissors photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

After a series of haircuts that were not quite me, I realized the importance of finding a hairstylist who could work with why I have: fine, straight hair and lots of it. I learned why it’s worth it to pay someone who is well trained. My last haircut was in early February. One of my last pre-Covid-19 outings, I remember that it was pouring rain and cold and that I left the salon with a cute but expensive haircut. I went on a business trip through the Seattle airport, which made me nervous as I read reports of a virus that was sweeping through China. Within a month, my home state was hammered by the virus, and we were acclimating to a new stay-at-home reality. 

I really understand the “I need a haircut bad” feeling. But I also know I’m not willing to die for a haircut. Even with short hair, I can make a haircut last about 12 weeks. Mid-May, I was shaggy. I trimmed my bangs, and that helped. My computer headset camouflages a lot, and it helps that no one can see the back of my head on Zoom calls. But by July, it was out of control. So I enlisted my husband for a full haircut. It took two rounds of cutting and a YouTube video, but we accomplished a good-ish haircut. 

He’s very experienced with clipper cuts, having cut his own hair since college. (Yep, he even cuts the back.) I cut the hair in front, channeling the best stylists that I’ve had. The first go-around, my hair was still too long in the back. My husband, like so many stylists I’ve had, was really reluctant to cut it short. I found a video showing a clipper cut on a woman, and that gave him the confidence to go for it. 

Two things that I wish I had: hair clips (we used chip clips) and texturizing scissors. Next month’s goal: get some tools and learn to do a fade with the clippers.


Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Negotiation, Creativity, and Inner Peace

Photo by Edu Lauton on Unsplash

I always have a stack of books and a long list of online classes. Here’s what’s come to the top in the last month.

I just finished Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator. My big takeaway from the book is that negotiation is a big part of our lives, and our aversion to it doesn’t help us in the long run. Voss builds on the research of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky–I wasn’t expecting a continuation of Thinking, Fast and Slow when I reserved this book at the library. Check out his talk at Google for the TL;DR alternative:

I am a big fan of LinkedIn Learning and just finished Banish Your Inner Critic to Unleash Your Creativity with Denise Jacobs. I attended an online summit several months ago and heard Denise speak about the inner critic. Then about a month ago, she was featured on a LinkedIn live event on creativity. 

I have been making my way through How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie (best known for his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People). As Jen Sincero of You Are a Badass fame would say, it’s an old-timey book. What surprised me is how relevant a book first published in 1948 feels in 2020. Carnegie’s work is filled with practical advice and was amazingly well-read and dedicated to helping people improve their lives.


Photo by Edu Lauton on Unsplash

Pick a Mantra, Any Mantra

Today was good, today was fun, Tomorrow is another one. Photo by @jannerboy62/Nick Fewings on Unsplash

When you feel stuck, unhappy, anxious, frustrated, or just a little lost, a mantra can help you keep going.

My go-to mantra: Right now, it’s like this.

Here are some others that might help you push through to a better place:

I’m safe right now.

Learn everything that you can.

Make friends.

Help people.

Breathe.

Stick with it.

Prepare for the future.

Don’t give up. 

It’s not about me.

I can do this.


Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Keep Learning

Stylish woman working on a laptop. Photo by LinkedIn Sales Navigator on Unsplash

I am a big fan of LinkedIn Learning. Many of the video segments are 5-10 minutes so almost everyone can fit a little bit of training into their day. I find that even when the topics are familiar, these online classes offered a great refresher and even new insights. 

LinkedIn purchased Lynda.com a few years ago, and you may still see it referenced that way. Lynda.com was my go-to source for software training for a very long time.

Here are some of my favorites:

LinkedIn Learning may be available through work as a professional development opportunity or as an electronic resource through your local library. Check it out!


Photo by LinkedIn Sales Navigator on Unsplash

Quilted Joy

Small red strip quilt

I was in the sewing room trying to find a project that I could work on and finish–I needed a win–and came across some red strips from another project. A long time ago, I took a quilting class called “All Reds Go Together (ARGT),” and this is an ode to that class. That take-home message has stuck with me all these years.

I usually set pieced strips against black borders but I went all in with ARGT for this mini quilt. It feels like quilted joy.

The Listener

Black lab listening with cocked head. Dogs are the best listeners.

Sometimes I talk too much, but mostly I don’t. I’m a listener. I listen to understand. Listening is also a gift I can give to others. I have observed that many, many people are longing to be heard. And to be understood.

In times like these, it feels especially important to listen: listen with an open heart and an open mind. To be prepared to be wrong and to make mistakes – and to be humbled. We need to listen for the ways that we need to change, the actions we need to take, and the reparations we need to make. 

Many people are waking up to a reality they have long avoided. And many people have suffered too long in that reality.


Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Ready, set, write.

Journal, computer and coffee--all the tools to start writing! Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

I have always wanted to be a writer, and I meet a lot of other people who want to be writers. But most people stop before they get going. They give up because the prose doesn’t flow out in the perfect way they imagine in their minds. Or they don’t plan their writing projects and get slammed by fast-approaching deadlines. Sometimes people give up because they get frustrated with their bad results, the editing process, the self-doubt, and sometimes the soul-crushing feedback. Many people don’t realize that many accomplished writers deal with the same frustrations and must face their demons again and again.

Don’t let self-doubt derail your writing aspirations

In a recent interview with Stephen King in the New York Times, David Marchese asked King how he knew whether a piece was working. King, author of 60-plus books and more than 200 short stories replied, “I never did anything that I thought was working. When I get in the middle of something, a part of me is always saying to myself, This is certainly a piece of [expletive].”

It might be a piece of crap or you might think it is, but don’t let that stop you. Realize that the words aren’t going to flow from your pen in perfect form on the page. Writing doesn’t work that way.

Don’t give up your writing dreams!

That’s why I love these Study Hall: Composition videos by ASU with Crash Course hosted by ASU composition student and fellow Sun Devil Yumna Samie.

Study Hall: Composition is a great intro (or refresher) on what works. It helps new writers get started and seasoned writers get back in the game.

I like this seven-video series videos because Yumna is engaging, the videos are short, and the content is actionable. You will learn a repeatable writing process from these videos.

I Googled Yumna to learn more about her because that’s what curious people do 🙂 and I found this short TEDx talk from 2019:

I admire her willingness to retire from being over competitive and her willingness to pursue something that she could not do well–running. It endeared her to me all the more.

So if you have always wanted to write, start here and start today.

Want to know the secret to better writing? It’s more writing!
(And more revising. And more editing.)

Time to start! Or start again. You’ve got this.


Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

Yo! More art, less media consumption

Yo sculpture, Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

Unless it’s multimedia! The news takes me to a dark place and I have decided that I need to spend more time creating and less time ruminating. Saturdays have come studio days plus any other time I can eke out here and there throughout the week. I’m working on a yo-yo quilt. Yo-yos are circles of fabric gathered up to make a shape that’s reminiscent of a yo-yo and then sewn together on the edges to make a quilt. 

I fell in love with yo-yo quilts after staging a rescue. On one moveout day in an apartment long ago, I found a quilt folded neatly on top of old blankets in the dumpster. It’s a queen-size quilt made entirely of yo-yos – thousands of them! My guess is circa 1930? Someone’s grandma worked hard on that quilt! It’s in beautiful shape and only a few of the yo-yos are separated. 

I’ve probably had the quilt now for 30 years. It’s now time to honor its maker with a quilt of my own. 

Stay tuned!

(Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash)