April 4, 2009

Get to Work

Last night's gathering of quilters has been a regular feature of my life for the past nine or ten years. The group varies: last night we were fairly lean in numbers with only three of us gathered around the table. In February, twelve came, but it was a block exchange and the quilters wanted to get their blocks. That was the same night I'd just received my daughter's diagnosis (PPCM--a form of heart disease) and I felt like I was among sympathetic friends, buoying me up. We had a chocolate fountain, snacks, pink soda (which I spilled all over the counter--I wasn't too stable that night), two ironing boards, two cutting stations and a room full of whirring sewing machines.

Is the creative process something that can be done in a group? Even though I value this monthly get-together (I don't make it every time, and and obviously many others are flexible in their attendance as well), it's more of a time to Show and Tell, catch up on the our children, work situations, schooling, exchange recipes, and socialize. It's kind of a writers group for quilters. If you try to be too creative, there are pieces sewn on backwards, missing strips of fabric, skewed block layouts. The distractions are too many, but certainly pleasant.

As in most creative ventures, the artist/writer/poet/quilter needs time alone. Too many irons in the fire puts out the fire, was a phrase I used to chant, reminding myself to leave some space. Another aphorism that I toted around was from Thoreau: I like a wide margin to my life.

However, I find I tend to thrust in one more iron (oh sure, my mouth says) and scribble in my margins too many times. I fill my life to the edges, and crowd out the spaces needed to maintain creativity. This post is beginning to sound like a Natalie Goldberg sort of wah-wah, and although her writings can be helpful, truthfully it all comes down to work. So I'll close with this from Annie Dillard:

Every morning you climb several flights or stairs, enter your study, open the French doors, and slide your desk and chair out into the middle of the air. The desk and chair float thirty feet from the ground, between the crowns of maple trees. The furniture is in place; you go back for your thermos of coffee. Then, wincing, you step out again through the French doors and sit down on the chair and look over the desktop. You can see clear to the river from here in the winter. You pour yourself a cup of coffee.

Birds fly under your chair. In spring, when the leaves open in the maple's crown, your view stops in the treetops just beyond the desk; yellow warblers hiss and whisper on the high twigs, and catch flies. Get to work. You work is to keep cranking the flywheel that turns the gears that spin the belt in the engine of belief that keeps you and your desk in midair.


  1. I need a quilt group. At the very least I need a class. Now that I have a new sewing machine I am ready to learn more. I know what you mean though, about needing to be alone in your creativity.

  2. What book is that Annie Dillard quote from? I love it. As to quilting groups and solitary creativity - I need both too. The group to keep me thinking and enjoying and the solitary time to get to the heart of the work. I guess I just want it all.

  3. Spring break has arrived in my neck of the woods and so now I have time to reflect. The demands of teaching have kept me from writing on my dissertation. I have decisions to make this week and need the solitary time.