Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Making a First Quilt Pillow

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Summer Camps still open:  August 5-9, August 26-30
Creating the Color Wheel

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Photo: Kate Kaznowska
Happy Anniversary, Dear Family.
I love you with all my heart.

Spring speaks

Nobody sees a flower, really, it is so small it takes time—we haven't time—and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.

—Georgia O'Keeffe

With all the flurry of work (making pillows with 120 third-graders,) family activities, putting in a vegetable garden, and the overwhelming gorgeous chaos of bursting flowers, leafing trees, petal confetti in the streets, on cars, in one's hair, shimmering sun breaks with stunning rainbows—I haven't been able to say much lately.

Yet it's important to pause.  

And really see.

A dear friend, my first friend here in Portland, will die soon from a very long illness.  We shared many beautiful moments.  And she opened many doors for me.  I will miss her very much.

It's time to pause.  And see.  

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Returning to the Studio

Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth. --Pema Chodron

I learned to quilt in the late 90's.  I'd been sewing clothes for decades.  After college I began exploring many other artforms--dance, creative writing, photography, drawing, painting, collage, ceramics, mixed media sculpture.  I kept ripping up the images, paper, canvas, wet clay and materials, and stitching them back together.  After discovering some 100-year-old family quilts, I realized I should try quilting. 

Yet quilting was far more personal than I'd realized--somehow demanding more from me emotionally and energetically than any other kind of creativity.  This was the way all the stories wanted to come out.  And some were very challenging to reveal.  

The first quilt had to be about my grandmother, a professional dressmaker, who taught me to sew.  I lost her when I was 13 and sewing had just never felt right or easy without her.

First Quilt  Lisa K. Alan 
Cottons, sheers, synthetics, mixed media machine-pieced, hand-appliqued, machine-quilted, 4' x 4.25'

I made a number of quilts at that time that were equally demanding--about being injured in an accident, about war, about the loss of my mother, about gratitude and wanting what you get from this life, the exquisite beauty along with the shattering heartbreaks.  

Some quilts were more lighthearted, mainly explorations of color and design, learning how far to push this fiber medium into sculpture.  Many were gifts for others.

I then put ten years' worth of time and energy into teaching quilting, as an artform and as a life skill.  In the container I made for my students, they shared their own stories through their quilts.  I heard again all that life has to offer us--humor, joy, loss, struggle, wonder.  

Honesty.  Quilts require something very real and honest.  And they reflect the truth about ourselves, our unique experience.  I can't explain how, but I've seen it again and again in my students.  Especially with the teens-at-risk.

So, it was time to make my own work again.  In my studio.  Alone.  Just me and the potential and the FEAR.   

Art and fear.  Entire books have been written about this, much better than I can express here. But the hamster wheel message going round and round in my head was (to quote my students): What if it sucks?  Peppered with my own mid-life perspective: And what if I don't have IT anymore?    

IT.  I've worked with all kinds of resistance in my students.  Teacher, teach thyself.  So I created a game plan to trick the HWCC (Hamster Wheel Committee of Critics.)  If the fear I felt was a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth then how could I use that experience to fuel something positive?  To create a good and useful outcome?  Or at least a juicy little quilt.

OK, so one hour, one pillow per night.  My own little Game Show.  Set the timer.  No attachment.  It can suck if it HAS to.  When the HWCC gets overwhelming, cut it up, add another strip, or simply start again.  Just keep working.  

I discovered two things:  
The fear never really goes away, but it can be temporarily transformed into excitement and even curiosity.

The HWCC is surprisingly slow on the uptake.  They have one trajectory (round and round and round) and can't adapt easily to switching.  Kind of like mosquitoes.  When I'm paralyzed and stagnant, they locate and feast.  But when I'm in motion, changing it up, threads flying, they get confused.

And I get closer to the truth.

   Branches Pillow 2  Lisa K. Alan
Made after a week of the Game Show
Cottons, satins, velvet, corduroy, synthetics, machine-pieced, 12" square


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

400 Years & 4,000 Designs

An extremely brief history of quilting in the U.S. by Lisa K. Alan

Americans Made Patchwork Quilts:

To stay warm
A form of shelter and survival

To recycle and reuse materials
Patchwork designs were developed from scraps

To build communities and stay connected with each other
Quilting Bees or “Sprees,” and ongoing sewing circles brought people together, sharing life experiences

To honor and remember loved ones and important life moments
Baby Quilts, Friendship Quilts, Marriage Quilts, Memory Quilts

To bring awareness to larger social issues
Fundraising, Political Movements including Abolition of Slavery, Suffrage, AIDS awareness

To express artistic creativity
Exploration & evolution of thousands of Patchwork designs, Art Quilts 

Patchwork Quilts are a uniquely American Art form, reflecting the history of the United States.

The three-layered technique that makes a quilt—a top, a back and some kind of stuffing or “batting” in the middle—was first developed in China thousands of years ago.  Europeans including Romans slept under three-layered bedding.  Yet, the idea of combining scraps in creative ways for bed quilts was first used by American Colonists, Pioneers, Slaves and subsequently freed African Americans.  Patchwork quilting was also developed and influenced by First Nation Native Americans & Native Hawaiians, and immigrants from all over the world who came to this land.

It began out of necessity.  Pre-industrial cloth production in the colonies was slow and costly and trade relations with England became increasingly difficult, so early Americans had to make do with what they had.  Repairs in clothing and bedding were “patched” together.  Scraps left over from sewing projects were pieced together to make larger material.  Any kind of fabric—old clothing, kitchen linens, bedding, flour sacks and other packaging—was never thrown away.  It was saved, cut and sewn into new designs, which became more and more elaborate and creatively expressive. 

When textiles became more easily available by the mid-19th Century, Americans continued to develop and celebrate their patchwork designs.  Patchwork quilts became decorative and fashionable, sewing circles became central to social causes and political movements, and American quilting began to express personal and spiritual ideas, relationships, family events and rites of passage within communities.  In the 20th Century, American artists began to embrace fiber and patchwork quilting as a form of fine art and craft.

Over the past four hundred years, people from many continents and all walks of life have offered their own creative ingenuity, cultural intelligence and shared experiences to create not only the thousands of American patchwork patterns, but also the America we have today.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Get Them in a Row

Photo: Kate Kaznowska

Tax time. I like to think of all these receipts as patches in a quilt. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Quilt stories

Calling for all Quilt stories...

After giving a presentation on quilting and sharing my work with a wonderful group of people, I was reminded how common and how powerful it is to share our family quilt stories.  

While teaching quilting in elementary schools, I'd often be interrupted by excited students blurting out something like: "My grandma makes quilts and mine has a giraffe on it!"  "Well MINE is extra soft and it's the second one MY grandma made for me, since my brother was born!" (Meanwhile I was trying to get us back on task because this could go on the entire hour.)  

I've also heard many stories from volunteer parents: "Our family made a quilt out of my father's shirts after he passed." "We had a quilt in our family from the Great Depression."  "We're all making a class quilt for the teacher, who's going to be a new dad."  Parents and grandparents would often bring family quilts to share in the classroom.  I noticed how riveted the students were.  They listened with focused attention and many couldn't wait to contribute to the conversation, if only to share what they had made.

And last night a number of people alluded to having a wonderful quilt story to tell...

So, is there anyone out there who wants to share a quilt story?  
I'm riveted.

You can comment here, or on my website.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Joy, finally

I did it for the joy it brings, because I am a joyful girl--Ani DiFranco

It's natural to acknowledge the courage and strength it takes to get through a difficult time or to overcome a challenging situation.  Lately I've been struck by the tremendous courage it takes to choose a joyful life--the strength and focus required to reach for a joyful moment, amidst the serious and demanding work at hand.  

Allowing even the smallest opening to joy, in any situation, radically changes everything.  For the better, all day.

At a summer quilt camp I had a student who was a great teacher to me.  Sewing strong seams, choosing the best colors and designs can seem like serious business.  This produces stress in some of us, myself included.  This 6-year-old sat in her chair, rocking gently side to side considering all the possibilities.  

"I'm so excited!" she whispered to herself, repeating the phrase over and over, sitting on her hands.  

She took the time to absorb the joy of the situation before moving on to the work.  And that joy informed her process the entire week, radiating outward.  Her name was actually Joy.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


Start where you are.--Pema Chodron

Good morning.  This is my first public blog post.  Ever.  Where have I been?  Busy.  Almost five decades of keeping very busy, mostly making things with my hands and building relationships that, for the most part, involved sharing molecules in the same room.  Or at least in the same community.  Like sewing circles. 

Being in the direct experience of another live person, animal, river, starry sky is a compass for me.  A way of orienting and knowing where I stand, who I am in that moment.  There are visual learners, aural learners, kinetic learners.  What kind of learner absorbs info through one's skin?  Well, that's what I am.  And that's why I haven't gravitated towards social media all these years.  Busy learning.

Yet a trustworthy and dear friend with more life experience has been exploring and gleaning amazing things from this world.  She soars here, beautifully.  And mindfully.

With her inspiration, I'm opening my sewing circle to a wider solar system.  
(Whew, I did it.  Now off to string-up trellises for the sugar snap peas, with another dear friend.)