Tag Archives: inspiration

AfricaGoal: A Stepmother’s Pride

Yesterday we received word from my stepdaughter about a new video she and her husband had made. AfricaGoal founders and members throughout, their immense dedication and technical skills are obvious weapons in the ongoing fight against AIDS.

Mouse, whose voice you hear throughout the video and you see snatches of her with her butterscotch blonde hair, and Maciej, who appears only briefly in one or two scenes (not the fellow with blonde dreadlocks–that’s Dom), and all their friends have made huge sacrifices over the years to bring the World Cup digital broadcasts into some of the most remote areas in East and southern Africa. They have had remarkable experiences and gathered amazing memories of their safaris throughout the continent, and they have made many good friends as they worked to save lives along the way.

Please visit AfricaGoal to see more of their photos and read their stories. These young people deserve all the support they can garner. Thanks!


Filed under Networking, People, Women

Mud, Glorious Mud

So, I wanted some new fabric, right?  So I bought 28.5 meters of white silk dupioni at what must be a reasonable price in an escalating market.  That means it wasn’t cheap!

Then I bought 6 or 7 packets of dye.  I came home and dyed 24 meters using the dyes and guess what–all the fabrics came out PINK!!

So, I gave the matter some thought and decided to try dyeing (painting, actually) some of these disappointing cloths with mud.  Earth pigments have always appealed to me.  They are indeed my colors as I am an autumn color type, and there’s something so fundamentally earthy about using mud–I love the idea!

So, on my last trip home from Nairobi, I stopped several places along the road and collected some soil specimens.  I had a great time doing this, making up a fictitious story about being a visiting geologist from some obscure oil or diamond company looking for the right soils to indicate that 2000 feet below lay riches beyond belief!

Instead, a couple of fellows took great interest in the notion that mud could be used to color fabrics.  One happy guy even offered me the use of his panga (that’s not a dirty word; it’s a machete) to chip some stubborn clay out of a bank.

I could see their minds working, “I must run straight home and tell my wife that she should be dyeing fabric with mud!”  I did impress upon these fellows that they would need cow’s milk or soy milk to bind the mud to the cloth.  It should not surprise me, then, next time I go to Nairobi, to see lengths of mud-painted cotton cloths waving from clotheslines along the sides of the highway, right?!

Cleaning soil

Cleaning soil–the cup is for my coffee; all else is for washing dirt

Anyway, I brought my soil samples home and set to work cleaning them.  A somewhat messy business that reminded me very much of my years working with ceramic clays, the job was one that took me away from the computer and let me work in the out-of-doors–I loved it!!

So, I washed the dirt and sieved it with a fine plastic sieve, let it settle in plastic ice cream tubs (that was good, too!), and then poured off the excess water.

Tubs of clean dirt drying in the sun

Tubs of clean dirt drying in the sun


Now, two days later, the soils are really drying out, having been left out in the hot sun (jua kali).  The colors are lighter than they were when the soil was wet, but still they are indeed the colors of Africa!!

Dried dirt samples

Dried dirt samples

The red on the right is from Nairobi, and the orange on the left is from Limuru, higher above Nairobi.  It was drifting down through the red iron oxide (?) of the lower lands.  See the set of four colors together just to the right of center?  That was my comparison of browns–quite a range!  The near white was the toughest to clean; I had to pound it with my hammer.

I just love getting down and dirty!!  ;-)

Next step:  soaking the soy beans!  Read more . . .



Filed under Quilt Equipment, Quilt Supplies, Quilt Tips & Tutorials, Quilting Technology, Travel

Whole-Cloth Quilts and Mixed Patchwork Techniques in Quilt Competitions

Friends and readers often email me and sometimes they ask questions relevant to patchwork quilters everywhere.  The discussion below is one such correspondence.  If you are interested in competition quilting and whole-cloth quilts, you may find both the questions and my responses informative:

I am trying to find out a few facts about different aspects of quilt competitions.  Can you please help me as you are a judge and experienced in this field?

I’m happy to help.

"Lamu," whole-cloth quilt by Dena Crain

"Lamu," whole-cloth quilt by Dena Crain

For a whole-cloth quilt, can I use a whole fabric which has a theme print on it (flowers, houses, etc.) and quilt it intricately as one piece and enter in this competition?

The beauty of whole-cloth quilts is generally to be found in the quilting design and stitching.  You should consider, as you make this decision, whether your quilting design and beautiful stitching will show up best on a printed fabric or on a solid color fabric.  If you intend merely to outline the shapes that are printed on the quilt top fabric, I fear the element of quilt design will be minimized, and the stitching will disappear into the print.  I would not recommend using a printed fabric as a whole-cloth quilt for competition unless you do something remarkable with it, something that shows you clearly understood the issues at stake and that you are deliberately making a powerful statement with this piece.

"Wanyama," whole-cloth quilt by Dena Crain

"Wanyama," whole-cloth quilt by Dena Crain

"Wanyama," whole-cloth quilt by Dena Crain (detail)

"Wanyama," whole-cloth quilt by Dena Crain (detail)

For the mixed technique category, is there a requirement for minimum number of techniques that have to be used or do any other rules apply to enter the piece in this competition?

I would think this category permits quilt tops that have been executed as both appliqué and piecing, the two forms of patchwork.  A mixed techniques category would be for quilts that go beyond the requirements for either appliqué or piecing by combining elements of both.  It is not a reference to “mixed media,” as defined in the world of fine art, which would permit painting, dyeing, found objects, crayon, pen, etc.

I am flattered that you ask my opinion on these matters.  However, you are well advised to consult with the competition organizers if you have any questions about their requirements, categories or definitions.  They will have specific ideas about what they are looking for, and they will be happy to communicate with you further to help you avoid any misunderstandings.

Thanks in advance.

You’re most welcome.  Good luck, and let’s hope you win!!

If you have questions about patchwork quilting, feel free to email me using the Contact Form.  I will be happy to respond directly to you, and to share our chats here with other quilters around the world.  Thanks!


Filed under Quilt Judging, Quilt Tips & Tutorials

The Power of Influence

As artists, we often speak of inspiration and its sources.  Topics like nature, landscapes, people and politics arise repeatedly.  Certainly these sources of inspiration are fundamental to self-expression.  Without them what would we express?

Often overlooked, however, is the power of influence.  Key to our understanding and, more importantly, to our realization of its potential is our recognition of influence in our lives as well as in our work.

How do we recognize the sources and effects of influence?  We must first look for them!

Turn your mind’s eye inward.  Whom can you see there who has had a powerful influence on your work, on your life?  The two, work and life, are one for an artist.  As a dear friend, also an artist, once said to me, “Art is not an occupation; it is a lifestyle.”

Consider first the obvious powerful influence in your life, your parents.  Think about how their attitudes and behaviors helped shape you as both person and artist.  How powerful was their influence?  Was it a positive influence?  How so?  What steps can you take today that can lead you forward as you seek to achieve your goals?

For example, my mother always encouraged me to “be an individual–do not just follow the crowd.”  That advice led me to Africa, caused me to stand apart from others, to create my own identity, and to be a leader rather than a follower.

How do I use that influence today?  I take a leadership role in my guild, live in a remote part of the world, brand my persona through my blog and design quilts my way.

What positive influence in your life can you attribute to your parents, and how can you better maximize the essence of that influence in your life and in your quilting?

What, if any, negative influence did you receive from your parents?  Can you now view that past influence dispassionately, come to terms with it and turn it around so that it benefits you in the present?

When I was a teenager, my father insisted that I must learn to touch type.  He wanted me to study shorthand as well, but sadly, I never did.  Dad’s logic was that if I did not go to college and was ever in need of financial support I “could always find work as a secretary.”

Youthful pride and ambition in a world where women’s job opportunities were largely limited to nursing, teaching and secretarial work, I resented and resisted Dad’s advice.  I did, however, get my touch typing skill up to 70 wpm, a level that has stood me in good stead through university papers and reports.  It underlies my comfort and success with computers, makes it possible for me to manage my blog easily and helps me write articles for quilting magazines even today!

Dad had more vision that I credited him for at the time.  I deeply regret not studying shorthand when I had the chance.  If I had, I would now be able to capture even these thoughts as quickly as they occur to me.

From parents and perhaps siblings, we can extend our consideration of the power of influence to teachers and spiritual mentors, those who assisted our parents in the upbringing of children within their communities.  Look again for the many ways words of advice from those special people so many years ago continue to direct your footsteps today.  Look at both positive and negative influences and how each of use can now observe from a distance and redirect or capitalize on those influences in our lives and work.

More relevant to our discussion here, think about the people who have had the greatest influence on your quilting.  Maybe your grandmother or your mother taught you to make patchwork quilts.  How much of what you learned from them have you re-examined, discarded or expanded upon?

What quilt classes or workshops have you attended?  Which teachers were your favorites?  Why?  What made those teachers special to you?  What influence did each have on your work and how has that influence affected the outcome of your pieces?

The teacher who had the most profound effect on my attitudes toward quilting was Nancy Crow.  For me, Nancy “opened the door.”  She showed me that it was possible and acceptable to think about quilting in a different way, to go beyond mere acceptance of the norm and to challenge every assumption.  This influence and its effect on my life and work is a debt I can only humbly acknowledge.  I can never repay it except by “passing it forward.”

Click on the link to visit Nancy Crow’s Web site and view her work.  Then compare what you see there with my own.  It may be difficult for you to see any similarity between the two styles of design, but to a large extent, my work is based on what Nancy taught me many years ago.  We have each moved on since then, and moved in very different directions, but Nancy’s influence on my work was truly profound.  Thank you, Nancy!

Redefinitions I, art quilt by Dena Crain

Redefinitions I, art quilt by Dena Crain


Redefinitions II, art quilt by Dena Crain

Redefinitions II (work in progress), art quilt by Dena Crain

When someone special in your life exerts a strong influence over your or your work, receive that influence with humility.  Indeed, you may not even recognize its important at the time.  You may have to wait some while before you will sense its presence.

Once you see that influence, though, push it forward.  In your heart, you know that person’s words rang true.  Look more closely at them, search for deeper meanings, reveal and understand them in the light of greater awareness.  Then look for ways you can add to those thought, use the ideas, teach and stretch yourself.

The power of influence can be a wicked tool of evil when used for wrong.  Used for right, it is one of the greatest gifts we can receive and share.  Understand the influences in your life and use them well!

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Filed under Quilt Tips & Tutorials, Teachers, Uncategorized, Women

Quilts Around the World

Spike Gillespie has written a new book titled Quilts Around the World, and she has included a photo of one of my quilts!  She pulled together a great group of contributors and made it happen:  Spike Gillespie, Karey Bresenhan, Marsha MacDowell, Hollis Chatelain, Carolyn L. Mazloomi, Karen Musgrave, and Laurel Horton.  Find the book at Amazon.com.

Quilts Around the World by Spike Gillespie and Others

Quilts Around the World by Spike Gillespie and Others

Although I have not yet seen the book myself, it looks to be a wonderful celebration of the craft from many places around the globe.  Subtitled “The Story of Quilting from Alabama to Zimbabwe,” this book should be destined to serve as a reference work for various international styles and sources of inspiration for quilting, something every quilter will want for herself.  A mere glance at the table of contents shows that Spike has covered all bases.

For Kenya, Spike has included text written by my very good friend Gill Rebelo.  Gill’s interests lie in textile history, especially textiles and quilting in Africa but elsewhere as well.  Well done, Gill!

I have to wait a while to receive my copy, but you can get one right away.  I see Amazon.com is showing that this is the last day for two-day shipping.  Don’t miss out on this fantastic opportunity.  Head for Amazon.com now!

Happy reading and happy holidays!

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Quilt Categories and Definitions

Over the past year or so, I have heard from several of my students asking about whether they could exhibit quilts made during or as a result of a class taken with me.  Issues of concern include whether or not to give me credit for teaching them how to make that particular quilt, whether their work would be considered original, and whether the work constitutes an art quilt.

I have posted previously about derivative work.  To that article, I now wish to add a few more comments; food for thought, if you will.

Exhibition organizers describe with care the differences between traditional, innovative and art quilts as they seek to categorize the work to be displayed.  Students, however, often tend to toss about quite a few terms relative to quilt design without really organizing their thoughts and ascribing to each category a proper definition.

For what it’s worth, here are my suggested definitions:

Traditional quilts:  Block-based, medallion, crazy, wholecloth or other design structure that has been used for more than 100 years (by general standards, the length of time for any artifact to attain antique status) as the basis for the quilt design.  Patterns must have been, or look similar to, those used by many others over a long period of time and reflect in some specific way the history of that particular kind of design.  Emphasis on fabric selection, color and value use, and quality of craftsmanship.

Innovative quilts:  Work based on traditional designs that moves beyond that level.  New materials, sewing techniques and design modifications that change the historically recognizable work to a new form, incorporating new ways of thinking about design.  Emphasis on deviation from recognizable forms and technical skill in execution.

Art quilts:  Original design beyond innovation, exhibiting complete mastery of the medium and methods of quilting, with emphasis on creative self-expression as primary process.

This set of descriptions may help keep those works which fall short of art quilting in a category more appropriate to them, innovation.  In my opinion, it’s not the image that appears in a work that makes it an art quilt.  It is the process by which the work was conceived, developed and expressed that makes it art.  The work must come from a combination of head and heart, not simply be a finite (no symmetry) image like a landscape or portrait, technically well executed but devoid of personal involvement.  We’re seeing quite a lot of that kind of thing at the moment, landscapes and portraits derived from photographs in a kind of “paint-by-numbers” style.  This kind of work can be very expressive, but much of it lacks the soul of the artist, making it a mere graphic representation without satisfying substance.

Please note that although one category seems to come out of the previous one and historically there may be evidence this is true, today there should be no value ascribed to any category as being superior to any other.  Art quilting is not inherently more valuable or better than innovative or traditional work, nor is traditional quilting to be deemed in any way less important than any other kind of quilting.  These distinctions are not value judgments about the significance or merit of design style, but merely conveniences that allow us to pool together works sharing common origins for the purpose of evaluating each individual work with its peers.

Then arise the questions of source of inspiration, derivative work and originality.  For these terms, I suggest the following definitions:

Inspiration:  A combination of three factors which serve as the basis for the imagery of a new quilt design:  1) observation of the visible world, natural or contrived; 2) a theory or concept, the application of which inspires new work; and 3) an experience or emotion that informs the work which serves as the basis for the imagery of a new quilt design.  These three factors could, and should, serve as the basis of inspiration for all quilt design.  They represent, in effect, what you see and how you respond to what you see, how you interpret what you see into quilting as medium, and how you feel about the subject as you express the imagery as a quilt.

Derivative work:  Work that is exactly or obviously similar to work done by a quilt teacher or other quilter as their original efforts.  This description includes all student projects completed during or as a result of a project or process class or workshop.  It certainly includes any work produced as an attempt to replicate or copy another quilter’s designs or ideas for designs. Copying is not the same thing as being inspired. One may be inspired by another quilter’s work, but one should never copy that work; that is intellectual property theft!

Originality:  Work that is developed through independent study and analysis without reference to another quilter’s experience.  One may admire or be inspired by another quilter’s work, but then one has the responsibility to take whatever is gained from that experience to another, more personal and individually distinctive level.  In other words, if what you have made is something you have seen before, it is not original.

Following these guidelines, I believe that if one of my students makes a quilt that looks anything like the one I use for teaching a class, it is derivative work.  The student will doubtless change the fabric colors and/or prints, use values in different way, use different embellishments and so on, but such minor alterations do little to disguise the inherent nature of the work.  That basic imagery is mine and does not belong to my students.

Also, if someone who has not studied with me, but who looks at one of my pieces and figures out how I made it, then proceeds to replicate something that is recognizably similar to my work, I would consider that to be intellectual theft, possibly subject to copyright prosecution.  If I recognize the quilt as being like or even very nearly like my original work, I would question its originality.

On the other hand, if one uses a method for making a pattern learned in my workshop, combines it with a sewing technique from another teacher’s class, and blends the two methods together into a completely unique image, I will never complain.  The purpose for teaching others is not to replicate oneself, but to equip and empower others to accomplish their individual goals.  To the extent that my students grasp my ideas and then move forward into new arenas with them, I am delighted that my teaching has been successful!

For example, there are quilts in the Best Darned Quilts exhibition that I would definitely consider to be art quilts that utilize Darned Quilting methods.  To the extent that the work looks nothing like anything I made, or might have made, I believe the quilter has applied enough deliberate and conscious thought to the interpretation of their subject that their work is their own, original art quilt.

Examples of these include:

  • Cheri Norris’ Solar Power and her 2Lips
  • Barb Wilke’s Untitled Work, the red swirly one
  • Carole P. Kenny’s Green Piece
  • Mary Rawlins’ works, several of them

and others.

I look to see that the quilter has gone beyond the mere basics presented by the class and has clearly demonstrated her personal artistic style in the work.  Darned Quilts that mimic my original “Bubbles” series fall short of that expectation, even in such instances as where the quilter has changed the original circle form for some other shape; I would label them as derivative works.

Quilters in doubt about the best category for entering work in exhibitions do the right thing by inquiring of the exhibition organizers into which category any uncertain definition quilt best belongs.  It is for them, not me, to say.  In a small local or even regional show, there may not be enough original art quilts coming forward to make a nice display.  In that case, the organizers might well expand the category definition and shift a few pieces into that category as a way of encouraging those quilters and others like them to produce more art quilting.  In a large show, such as the AQS exhibitions and others I can think of, the reverse would likely be the case.  Unless the work is truly outstanding, it would not be appropriate in an art quilt category.  Much of that decision-making process has to do with the show and its organizers’ goals.

Much has been written about what constitutes an art quilt.  If you belong to Studio Art Quilt Associates, you can find a lot of discussion on the topic in their Yahoo Group.  The QuiltArt elist also has had threads running on this subject in the past.  Poke around on the internet and see what other people have to say.

And remember, the qualifier “art” quilt is only to be applied to your work if you feel truly confident that you can defend that position if challenged.  To do that, you must be able to justify your sources of inspiration, demonstrate that the work is not derivative, and thereby prove that it is original.

The world of art quilting is still relatively small.  Those of us involved in it know who makes what kind of art quilts, so if something appears that resembles too closely the work of a well-known artist, those in the know immediately recognize it as derivative.  We all know that original art quilting does not come easily.  It takes many years of hard work, dedication, purpose and direction.  Do not think to shortcut that process by building on another’s efforts.  None of us wishes to be embarrassed, and you will be if–no, when!–someone finds out you have cheated.

Instead, direct your efforts toward defining and achieving your own goals.  With determination and the will to produce art, you will bring into the world that which is original to yourself.  Then, you can justifiably glow with pride when your piece wins an award in an exhibition.  Your teachers will be delighted to see you achieve such success, and they will help you move forward as you walk the path of “The Artist’s Way,” which, by the way, is not a bad place to begin!


Filed under Quilt Judging

500 Art Quilts – Got It!

Yesterday, I received my copy of Lark Books’ 500 Art Quilts.  This is the most amazing collection of the work of talented quilt artists I have ever seen, and I am so very proud to have one of my pieces, “Heart’s Aflutter,” included in it!

Lark Books' "500 Art Quilts"

Lark Books' "500 Art Quilts"

Each quilt featured is so different from all the others that the book is a fantastic survey of what’s happening in the art quilt world now, today.  Karey Bresenhan’s thoughtful and sensitive introduction to the work sums it up beautifully:

” . . . their creators’ kinship to the painters of the past is as strong as their connection to women who hand-sewed traditional pieces in order to keep their families warm.  Today’s quilters draw from both sources.  They’ve established a new genre of art.”

If you have not yet got a copy of this delicious volume, visit Amazon.com and order one now!  Destined for history, 500 Art Quilts will provide you with many hours of inspiration and delight!

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