textiles · exploration · misadventure

On Art and Self Doubt: August, 2015


Poppies by Brenda Higginson


You are wishing to create. This wish is an exhortation, a command from deep within you. It cries out to be realized, it demands that you serve your own purposes… ~Fearless Creating, Eric Maisel

This text from the first paragraph of chapter one is just too dramatic for me, and a little cliché.

Also, some of the author’s terminology turns me off. He calls one of the first tools hushing. I don’t know why it bothers me so much, but I really can’t stand the word. Nevertheless, I recognize that it is a good tool: allowing ourselves a quiet, meditative time for ideas and connections to float to the surface of our minds.

I do tend to do this by default. I sit on the porch, hold my book, and think about what’s next with the textiles, layer on another layer, complexify, complicate.

I used to do that in my writing program at SF State. I’d begin an assignment, and before I knew it I’d be building in layers, sometimes so many of them, or on such complicated themes, that the whole was incoherent.

In textiles, I think it’s harder to achieve incoherence. Or at least, the layers I’m currently exploring tend to complicate the working process, but seem to me to be evolving towards a coherent whole.

For instance, I am a hand-spinner. I have A LOT of yarn lying around. When I injured my elbow and needed some non-taxing textile enjoyment, I decided to build my dyeing muscles by using some of the dye plants available at my own home.

I knew that mordants could change the color of a dye, so I decided to try rounds of dyeing with bougainvillea, rosemary, and coffee dyes using alum, brass, copper, and iron mordants. I spent weeks collecting the mordants from salvage yards, and in the meantime started envisioning what I’d do with said dyed yarn. I’d sit down for five minutes, and the plan would evolve, new directions and possibilities would emerge.

I’m learning to quilt, and thought something handmade and hand-stitched would be nice. I envisioned a beautiful pillow for the couch, but once I started reading India Flint’s EcoColour, I started considering a garment.

I found a favorite skirt, traced the pattern, and started sewing a new one. In the process, I decided I wanted a wrap-around skirt with a tie at the side instead of zippers and buttons. To do this, I have to learn to make a skirt-waist. Then I decided I also wanted an embellished underskirt, so I’m sewing that too.

Honestly, the last two changes came about from mistakes. First, when I traced the pattern I failed to include the seam allowance, so it was too small. In order to make it larger, I’d need to add an extra panel, which would ruin the bilateral symmetry… and make it perfect for a wraparound. The underskirt came about when I understood how truly thin the fabric I’d chosen was, and realized it would need a slip. Ruffled underskirts are way better then slips!

For me, the mistakes illustrate how necessary flexibility is, the ability to make a general plan, but then play it as it lies instead of sticking rigidly to protocol. A certain improvisation seems important to me, and in that sense the hushing seems to work well for me. (I’ve got to find a better word.)

Because the skirt is cotton and I’m currently test-dyeing wool, I’m adding cotton dye and mordant tests to my process. Cellulose fibers need different mordants than animal fibers, so I’m exploring soy, gelatin, and others. (I honestly regret not bringing home any elk dung, I swear. I asked Matt what he would say if I tried to stuff a sack of elk poop into the trunk for the six-hour ride home. He said, “Baby, I would have been fine with the elk poop.” Can you believe this guy?)

In the meantime, I went to Humboldt and raided a friend’s backyard for new dyestuffs. And there’s all of Twin Peaks to explore and prune of fennel and ivy invasives, so I might play with those possibilities.

Once the skirt is sewn together, I’ll dye it, embellish it with the yarns, and perhaps some beads I’ve picked up at salvage yards too.

So you see? LAYERS. Complexity.

Desire. Lust. Satisfaction.

One process after another, complication that hopefully results in a solid, hand-made whole. I cannot describe the satisfaction I derive from thinking this through, from taking each step, even when that step is cracking acorns and grinding them to meal to leach the tannin to use as a mordant. Levels of drool and lust are off the charts, I’m happy, I’m at peace.

I’ve gotten away from the subject of rhetoric here, but really, I think that’s the point. To interpret the rhetoric in a way that works for me, to use it as a jumping off point from which to explore, within my mind, on paper, in what I do, and what I try.

I have a feeling some of the author’s other rhetoric or word choices may put me off. Nevertheless, it’s not really an obstacle. I’m good at renaming things in my head to make them work for me, and the author encourages his readers to do that, if any of his word choices don’t appeal. I think that’s a really smart tactic.

I look forward to reading more, and seeing what else I learn.

For a full list of all articles on art and self doubt, look here. At this point, the list is short.

Image Credits:
Painting, Patchwork Poppies, by my college roommate, Brenda Higginson. Brenda, your work has always stunned and moved me. I’m privileged to own two of your paintings. They make me very happy.
Photograph: Of Patchwork Poppies and granny squares, by curvylou.

20 thoughts on “On Art and Self Doubt: August, 2015

  1. I’ve never worked with textiles but you make me want to try. The detail you give about the process is fascinating. The whole thing seems to create a serenity within you that comes out in your writing. And I’m with you about “hushing”. Do we have to name everything? I’ve been doing that all my life without having to call it anything……..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your last two sentences made me cackle. (: Thank you for your thoughtful and kind comment. I know you’re a creative person, maybe you will try playing with textiles in some form, one of these days.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Perhaps the Quaker term “seasoning” might work: Seasoning–A word used to describe a period of waiting, where action is not taken because “way” has not yet “opened” or some other “stop” is felt. “Seasoning” is a good way of testing a leading to be sure it is in God’s will, not our own will. ( (You could also think of it in the sense of preparing a cast iron pan!)

    Liked by 2 people

  3. How good was this post? I have previously had no interest, thoughts, or opinions on textile work, and now after reading this post, and considering where to locate materials for project, how to learn more …oh you Curvy Lou! HMMMMM 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hee hee heeeee! Best! Comment! Ever! My evil plans for taking over the world and converting it to textile production are succeeding mwah ah ahhh!
      So, so happy to hear fresh thoughts are fizzing up for you. That’s such an exciting feeling. (:

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I have always had a bit of an interest. Smiling at the “Bit”…one of those times I can’t think of a better word.
    I agree with JoHanna, I want to learn more and more. I wish I had a way to get my mom’s things here. My sister has them. I wish I could afford and was able to …just drive there and bring them here.
    I have plenty of room here to create.

    Love this post. As usual.
    It is exciting. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ah! I just found this! Love this quote from you: “or me, the mistakes illustrate how necessary flexibility is, the ability to make a general plan, but then play it as it lies instead of sticking rigidly to protocol. A certain improvisation seems important to me, and in that sense the hushing seems to work well for me. (I’ve got to find a better word.)” I so relate! I must have room to change, improvise, and revise in whatever I create. And I’m glad to find another scavenger–I crochet “granny booties” all from recycled yarns and give them away. (And I think the elk-dung would have been boss!) ‘Nuf said. How about “chill” instead of “hush”?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cracking up. Speaking of quotes we like, “I think the elk dung would have been boss” is pretty much the best thing I’ve heard all week. And yes, flexibility, improvisation, the ability to switch gears on a dime—SO important! And scavenging is such fun, isn’t it? Making something useful out of what you scavenge is so satisfying. Booties sound adorable! Love booties. Usually so painfully cute.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ll send you some if you email me an address ( Ever made a jean skirt out of old jeans and 12 men’s ties? Fun! Send you photo if you like making jean skirts.


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