In praise of counting, even when you don’t plan to sell

How many of us hit the first weekend of February, completely aghast that January was already history? One tenth of the year is done, and I’d be lying if I said I’m cool with that fraction. It’s actually making me sweat a bit. I HAVE SO MUCH TO DO.


Like many people, I navigate the transition from December to January by taking stock, and one of the things I take stock of is how much work I do in my studio. Counting quilts isn’t too hard as they’re pretty big, but my post-meno memory still manages to lose track of a few – mostly test versions of a pattern in development, or things done for charity. I finished 28 quilts in 2014 – yes, a good number! And don’t hate me… remember this is my living! But when I look at that divided by 52 weeks, it made me wonder where my time went.

So here’s a more detailed breakdown:

  • 28 Quilts finished
  • 21 Bee blocks or donation/charity blocks
  • 4 Quilt tops
  • 17 Quilt Talk buckets
  • 11 Chunky Wee Bags
  • 27 Miscellaneous containers (small buckets, zip pouches, etc.)
  • 2 Cross Stitch pieces
  • 10 Other stuff (scarves, pattern tests for other people, sets of napkins for the house, etc.)

A whopping 111 items. Whew. Now *that* number makes me feel like I didn’t spend the entire year fiddling with social media!

So how do I track it? With this worksheet (download it here).


While I point to other more detailed documents for tracking project time and materials, the one I use most is this one, with just enough space for the time used on common steps like piecing or binding. And this easily lets me see where my time went on all the other stuff!

Also – data is power. I can see that I made a lot of bee blocks, and this year I decided not to join in anymore bees or swaps for a bit to reclaim that time for other things I’d rather be doing. I can also track some broad numbers that I can use for more detailed bidding for projects, should the need arise.

I already have a good start for 2015 going (names of projects blurred to avoid spoiling a couple of surprises!):


OK – back to the studio. Time to get something else ON the list!


BTW – Did you join my mailing list yet? Do it here. I’m dreaming up groovy exclusive stuff for you!

Filling the well – more process

Last week I experimented with a different way of working… instead of just working one thing to the end of a logical step, I tried giving several important things a spot of focus in the same day. When I work one thing at a time it feels like other things may begin to rot from lack of attention. I start to get unfocused on what I’m doing because I’m worrying that the neglected children on my to-do list are getting up to something naughty – and such lack of focus usually makes for some type of mess (an over-looked commitment, sewing through my finger…)

So I attempted to inch the major tasks forward all at the same time, and the result was that I was even more scattered. A great experiment in process, but in the end, not one that fit me well. Remember what I say about process – it’s the one that works for you that counts!

After a couple of days of feeling like a juggling clown, I was ready to take to the couch with an attack of the vapors, and possibly a box of chocolates (I would have gone to See’s, and had them hand-pack my favorite dark morsels – hellooooo Dark Chocolate Butterchew!). But instead, I decided to fill my mind instead of my tummy – and I headed for the Getty Center.

It would be easy to list the downsides* to living in Los Angeles, but being close to several world-class museums is not one of them. As they change their special exhibitions often, you can bet that on any given day there is more new art to look at than you can handle. This particular day was bright and sunny, the perfect day for refilling the well.

Refilling the well. Sharpening the saw. Feeding your head. When you live a life of creative output, there must be a balancing input. Yin and yang, circle of life, field and fallow. If we don’t occasionally feast, we will hit creative famine. Finding inspiration is a necessary part of artistic endeavor, and it is critical to your creative well-being to make this just as important as any other task in the studio.

Image courtesy of the Getty - Vermeer's Woman in Blue Reading a Letter

Image courtesy of the Getty – Vermeer’s Woman in Blue Reading a Letter

My reason for choosing the Getty was the young lady above, visiting our fair city for six very short weeks. She is Vermeer’s Woman in Blue Reading a Letter. I was fortunate to be among sparse crowds as I absorbed the painting’s mysteries, and spent about 20 minutes just looking deeply at the work.

She is lovely. While I’m picky about the realistic painting I like, every Vermeer I’ve had the privilege of getting my nose up to has taken my breath away. It’s not just that the painting technique is sublime, it’s the immediacy of moment that he captures. They feel as un-posed as Cartier-Bresson’s street photography, and they are so very enigmatic. Who is she? What’s in that letter? Is it good news or bad? I love getting lost in the questions a work asks me. (The Getty asked their blog followers to write the opening line of the letter).

And then there are the technical marvels. The tiny flecks of light added to the studs on the chairs to give them dimension. The myriad shades of blue – and not just in her jacket. They are deep, dark, bright, shiny, sunny, airy… how many ways can you use a blue? They are in the chairs, the finial, the walls, the cloth, even reflected into the envelope on the table. There is tension in her hands, and a slight parting of her lips. Is it a gasp of surprise? An exhalation on the cusp of despair? Vermeer allows us the room to craft our own story for her.

After my time with the lady, I re-visited a few favorite pieces, and then ate my lunch in the gardens while getting some sunshine on my skin. Head filled with ideas. Tummy filled with healthier fare than those chocolates. Heart filled with beauty. Art always makes things right in my world.

*And then I hit the traffic filled freeways to get home :-)

PS – Vermeer’s legendary Girl with the Pearl Earring is at the De Young Museum in San Francisco until June 2nd (first time out of Holland in 30 years). I’ll be making my way there soon!

The “You Made Me Clean My Studio” Sale!

There’s nothing like outing the mess in your studio to make you clean it up – it’s right up there with inviting people over to dinner so that you’ll clean house! As I was looking through the photos to add to the previous posts, I got the urge to sort out some of the stuff that was really beginning to bother me. Looks like I’m not the only one that happens to!

The things that were weighing on me the most were the tallest piles. The boxes on top of my book case were beginning to feel like they were looming over me, like Snoopy doing his vulture impression. And the rack was just out of control… piled high and beginning to shift and wobble… you know how it is – touch one thing and the whole mess tries to jump into your lap.

So – I gave myself an afternoon to improve the space… I waited until I had the right amount of ruthless coursing through my veins, put on dusty clothes and some righteous Motown tunes and got busy! I tossed a couple of bags of trash, donated a couple bags of things I was no longer using to my sewing pals, and relocated 4 boxes to the garage. Now I feel like I can actually breathe! This is what I have now:

Just taking down all the big dark items from the top of the bookshelf allowed more light into the room.

I sorted the chaos on top of the drawers, and put some things in tubs to stop them from getting sloppy or toppling.

And on the rack… several boxes got moved out to the garage, and a couple of others got reworked into different space. I also started working through my “need to quilt these” pile which lives on this rack. WHEW!

There are only two boxes left that need to leave (those two on the bottom left of the rack), and they are currently filled with kits for my shop. So let’s have a SALE! All the kits in my shop are now discounted by 25-30%! And they all include the pattern for free (which is a $10 savings by itself!). So head to the shop and treat yourself to a deal! My studio and I will thank you!

Process – storage ideas, part 2

In the last post, I got halfway through describing some of the storage goodies in my studio… here’s some more stuff that lives on the big bookshelf:

Machine needles and spare blades live in their own little sectioned box, something I found at the hardware store. Always check the hardware store for storage options for small things – chances are you’ll get more choices for a cheaper price. I keep a good stash of spares on hand so I don’t need to run to the store mid project (or after hours).

On the center of the shelf in the above image is a sectioned plastic thingy that I got from a Tupperware clearance sale years ago. It used to live on my cutting table and hold my cutters, but now it’s over here filled with scissors, pliers, screw drivers, machine oil, etc. The wire rack on the left once held shampoo and bath goodies, but now holds all the little bits of paper that are reference materials I use often, along with my calculator. Pens and brushes go in mugs – I would guess that most of the pretty mugs in my world are holding pens! And on the left, underneath snacks and tissues is my binding box, which holds the scraps of all the binding I make. I frequently can collage these together into a fun scrappy binding so they are worth holding on to. The shelf below hold containers of pins, clips, thumbtacks, etc., along with my favorite tea.

And next to all of that is the fabric! I used to store my fabric in filing boxes (I know, the horror of all the acid of paper pulp next to my fabric!) but a job bonus a few years back allowed me to tool up with these “drawer in a box” units. I like how I can just pull a drawer out and not collapse my stacks, or have to move 5 boxes on top to get to the bottom one. Because what you need is ALWAYS in the bottom one.

The drawers are sorted by families (batik, modern, etc) and further by color family for the most part, with a few of them serving hybrid duty as needed. One drawer is all notions like ribbon and zippers. Another is full of patterns. I label each with an index card slipped in front of the first piece of fabric. More on my affinity for index cards in a later post…

On top of this row of drawers is another piece of cheapy particle board that I used to level off the top surface to make it more usable. The stuff I need quick or easy access to lives up here… current projects, radio, box of sewing machine feet (this is right behind me as I sew so all I have to do is swivel to get to it), and so on – including things that just don’t fit anywhere else like my old overhead projector. It’s also a catch-all for anything that has not yet been put away, so if there is going to be a mess explosion, it starts here.

And speaking of mess explosions… this is where the big stuff gets stored – all on a rolling rack. Crates of stuff for shows. Bolts of various stabilizers. Old pillow forms. Boxes of fine art that I don’t want out in the garage in case they get damp. A gumball machine(!). A few art garments. Quilts ready for layering and quilting. Batting up on top. The cases and covers for tripods and sewing tables. And anything else that fits… Like the last drawer in the kitchen that has all the odds and ends in it, this is final shuffling place for large scale mess in the studio. I really need to have a go at this and sort it out a bit!

Process – how’s your space?

I’ve been musing a lot about PROCESS of late. How I work, how I navigate my space, how I navigate my time.

While I was in graduate school (MFA in Fiber) I was “encouraged” to work in processes that were unfamiliar or uncomfortable… in essence my favorite toys and tricks were forbidden so that I would get out of my comfort zone. It was at times painful and frustrating, but the game afoot was to make me try this other stuff out so that I could either adapt some of it into my process, or return to my process without any of it and at least understand why I do things the way I do them. I’m sure my professors would be happy to hear I kept a few things in the improved toolbox!

Thus, I’m going to describe some bits and pieces of my process (over the course of various posts) to offer some insight into why I work the way I work, and perhaps there will be a gem or two amongst the scraps that could end up in your toolbox too…

One of the things I look at a lot is how efficiently I’m working. Efficiency is important to me, but not in the “I need to finish first” kind of way. It’s important because I have so, so many things I want to work on, so if I can increase my efficiency, I might actually get to more of them! And so, along this vein, this post is about how I have my workspace set up.

I am lucky to have a studio. Now, before you imagine one of those light dappled spaces in the glossy studio magazines, mine isn’t like that! It is a narrow space that was once a storage room in a friend’s studio, and I’ve puzzled it out into something that is working well (and just so you know, I used a similar set up when I kept most of this in the dining room). Here are two panoramic shots (how I love the Pano app on my phone!), one taken from each end of the space. It’s 18′ long by 8.5′ wide, or as a friend remarked, somewhat of a glorified hallway!

There are two principles afoot in this space… on one side is the stuff that doesn’t move – shelves, drawers, racks (the rack does have wheels but there is nowhere to roll it!); and on the other side stuff that can be moved and collapsed to accommodate what I’m doing – the design walls, the tables, my sewing table (I use a Sew-Ezi and love it). The non-moving side has been built to go UP – everything is shelved, modular, stackable, etc. And any surface on top of those is flat for more storage area.

My cutting table is a chunk of particle board across two shipping crates that my friend needed to leave in the space, and in that wonderful happy accident way, they are the perfect height for me for cutting. I made the board on top bigger than my mat so that I had room around it to store tools (I will get into my tool choices in another post), and I taped off the edges of the board to avoid snagging fabrics. The plastic drawer box fit between the crates perfectly, and I keep all my marking tools, pens and pencils in the top drawer.

For tool storage, I have a hybrid mix of things designed for sewists, and things appropriated from the Tupperware cabinet and office supply aisles. Full disclosure here… organizing widgets draw me in like a magpie to shiny. I love me some little boxes! But I would also rather save my pennies than have a full matchy-matchy array of plastic, so I scrounge and re-purpose. My rulers are stacked in a little metal filing thingy; weights in half a plastic box from the dollar store. Cutters, pens and scissors in metal pots from the craft store. The rule at this table is that everything I need to cut is right where I can grab it without having to dig or fuss. Also… I’m right handed, so notice that cutters are on the right and rulers to the left, which is how I actually use them. It might seem a little OCD, but it’s not… it’s just efficient… grab the cutter in one motion (notice the handles are up and ready just like a relay baton) and the ruler in another and I’m cutting.

And in the last shot for this post…. my bookshelf. What would we do without Ikea? This guy holds stacks of things that don’t fit easily into drawers, or that need to be visible (thread) or grabbable (more scissors, pens, note pads, snacks!). I keep most of my thread organized by type, then color, but I keep it in boxes so that it doesn’t get dusty. Only cones of my piecing threads are out, mostly because I use them so much. Next to the book shelf are box/drawers of fabric… more about those in another post!