Finishing Unfinished Projects (UFOs) Part 1: Smaller Items

The Problem

Over the years, I have accumulated an ever-growing pile of UFOs (Unfinished Objects). This wasn’t intentional, it just kind of happened. Sometimes I was working on things right before vacations or trips, and never got to them once back. At other times I started something new before finishing an existing project, and then moved on. And right before my father passed away, I worked on a big batch of totes, and then couldn’t bare to touch them afterwards.

I kept my UFO pile on a glider chair that was a part of our guest room before I conquered it and turned it into a sewing room. It didn’t bother anyone, and was just sitting there, getting taller and taller each year, out of mind although in plain sight (I have to admit that sometimes I did feel a little guilty because of it…). Over the years, whenever I did a major tidying up of the sewing room, I reluctantly went over that pile, and sometimes took things out that I no longer liked. But major tidying up was rare, and for the most part I didn’t even remember what was in the pile. Until, in the fall, my kids decided they needed the glider chair, that is. They moved it into our family room, leaving my UFO pile homeless on the floor…

You need to understand that my sewing room is rather small, and that a queen-sized guest bed takes most of its floor space. That leaves very little space for me to work in. Having the UFO pile take some of that space was bothersome. And so, in December, I decided to go over it and take inventory.

My UFO Pile

During my excavations of the pile, I found 58 projects (!!) as follows:

1 troll art doll.
1 veggie bag.
1 moth soft sculpture.
1 boro spring jacket.
2 journal covers.
3 messenger bags.
5 small crossbody bags.
6 clutches.
7 zippered pouches of different kinds.
8 quilts/wall hangings varying from small to a twin-sized bed quilt.
And, last but not least, a staggering 23 totes!

The Resolution

I am usually not one to make New Year’s resolutions, but this was too much. Besides, I needed the floor space for my scrap boxes. AND I thought I should teach my kids by example, and I DO want them to finish things they start… So, I decided to dedicate January to finishing up as many of these projects as I could. I forbade myself from starting anything new for an entire month.

The Execution

I decided right away that I don’t have to finishing everything. Only the projects that I still liked, and only those that were in fairly advanced sewing stages. I decided to absorb the fabrics of early-stage projects back into my stash. That meant dismantling the veggie bag, moth, one journal cover, one crossbody bag, five clutches and a zippered pouch. All of these went back into my stash, as I barely started them.

I resolved to leaving the jacket for the spring, and work on the quilts later.

Of what was left, I decided to start with the smaller projects, the ones I could complete relatively quickly. I knew that seeing them finished will encourage me to keep going.

Pouches

I began by completing the zipper pouches. The first three I probably started in preparation for some craft fair or other, although I don’t remember exactly when. I worked on scrappy pouches (in the bottom pf the picture) in fall 2019, when I made them as gifts to family and friends. I didn’t have time to finished those three then. If you’d like to try making your own, you can find a tutorial here.

Once the pouches were all finished, I went on to complete the one remaining clutch. I started it in spring 2018, in preparation for a May craft fair. At the time, I made two clutches out of the same beautiful embroidered fabric. I never got to finish this one, so it ended up in my UFO pile. Its sibling, on the other hand, sold right away.
Like all my clutches, I lined this one with silk and decorated it with an enameled coconut-shell button.

Crossbody Bags

When I finished with the small items, I moved on to the mini crossbody bags. I don’t remember when I started those. More than a year had passed since I last sewed a bag, and when I resumed working on these I was surprised to realize just how much work they were. There are so many required steps, thread changes, ironing…

Back in December, when I decided to dedicate January to UFOs, I imagined myself sitting in my warm sewing room, hot beverage at hand, looking out at the rain. But January 2021 in California turned out to be one of the warmest I remember. It was dry, sunny and for one week–summer hot, with temperatures close to 80 degrees. Naturally, I couldn’t just sit and sew. I ended up spending a few days gardening, something I’ve never done in January before…

Messenger bag

There were three messenger bags in my pile. Two required just a few extra rivets. The third, in the below picture, waited almost-finished for a LONG time. It was one of the very first bags I ever designed. At the beginning, I experimented with shaping bag flaps to match the fabric designs. I probably made 3-4 bags in this way. For this one, I sewed the flap and lining years ago, but still needed to finish the outer layer. In recent years I’ve always been making the lining last, so it was surprising to realize that I made them first once. It might be five years later, but I finally finished it!

Blue messenger bag

Most of these finished items are now listed in my Etsy shop

Spark Mini Quilt Series

What do you do to get yourself motivated?

2020 was a challenging year, with lots of ups and downs. Locked up at home, I often found myself turning to art as an escape from the world. There were times during the year, however, when I couldn’t muster what it takes to create at all. When this happened in spring and summer, I went out to the garden and kept myself busy there. But in winter things got a bit more difficult.

After I finished my Desolation series at the end of the year, I was left with a kind of deep emptiness. I often feel this way after completing bigger or harder projects. I went into my sewing room, and … wasn’t sure what to do next. That, despite the huge UFO pile and the long list of projects in my head… 

In the past, simply organizing my scraps helped ignite my creativity. But in December I didn’t feel like doing even that. And so, after several days of doing absolutely nothing, I decided to give myself a little creative challenge, just for fun. A small game to spark my creative juices. Hence, the Spark series 🙂

I made up some rules:

  • Nine days.
  • One mini quilt a day.
  • Each piece will be 6″ x 6.” Small and manageable.
  • Use only scraps.
  • Use the existing shapes of the scraps (but cutting them to fit was OK).
  • Each quilt should use at least one fabric from the previous quilt.
  • Use only black thread to outline shapes.

Here is the result: The Spark Mini Quilt Series. Can you find the fabric/s in each piece that I also used in the piece before it? (Hint: the very last piece also uses fabric from the first, closing the circle):

Did you find it/them? Which is your favorite?

Hopefully this will inspire you to create a Spark Mini Quilt Series of your own. It’s fun! And it does help rekindle creativity 🙂

Desolation Quilt Series

In March 2020 we went into a pandemic-induced lockdown and everything closed. For months, places which were once crowded and bustling were suddenly deserted. The streets were empty, as were shops, movie theaters, libraries, places of worship. Everything remained abandoned for months. Then some places opened, only to shut down again when case numbers spiked .

Desolation prevailed wherever you went. Inside and out.

In September, the California wildfires restricted everyone further. Unable to go outside, I went back into my sewing room and tried to lift my spirit up with some bright colors. A small quilt formed, but it was all sharp angles and confined spaces. I tried to soften it with some lace, but the lace, too, ended up as a border, restricting. Mazes within mazes, escape routes blocked, small, confined spaces, sharpness. And yet, there was also some beauty in it all, just like in the real world…

This is Fenced Garden. 10″ x 10.”

In the following months, slowly and painfully, more quilts in this series emerged. Emerged in-between other projects, as if on their own, designing themselves. Some took weeks to complete. This was not an easy series.

These quilts evoked abandoned streets, taped-up play structures, empty squares, and boarded-up shop fronts. They portrayed cities that lost their citiness.

This is Eerie Streets. 10″ x 10.” The emptiness of streets in that first lockdown, deprived of both people and cars, was one of the most striking differences between the “before” and “after.” And the quiet that accompanied it. A deep, screaming quiet. The quiet was nice, actually.

The quilts in this series shouted barred cathedrals, churches, synagogues, mosques and temples. They whispered of locked museums and closed schools.

Here is Locked Cathedral. 10″ x 10.”

These quilts hinted at abandoned structures, quiet public spaces and things falling apart.

For my family, one of the hardest aspects of the March Lockdown was the closing of theaters. Both of my daughters were in a youth theater production at the time. They practiced for months, getting ready to perform over two consecutive weekends. The first weekend still happened, albeit in front of smaller, spaced-out audiences. By the time the second weekend rolled by, however, we were already in full lockdown. The disappointment was bitter.

Fittingly, the last quilt in this series is Shattered Theater, 10″ x 10.”

And yet, each of the quilts in this series contains some beauty, too. In pleasing colors, the softness of textures, or in rounded shapes. In each, there is some hint of nature, in the form of leaves or the silhouette of mountains. And each has the silver lining of lace, pretty even when constricting, bringing hope…

Looking Back at 2020: An End-of-year Summary

2020 is about to end, which means it’s time for that end-of-year summary, by now a tradition. It turns out that this is my fifth end-of-year post. ANY Texture is now five years old! 

How do you summarize a year like 2020? A year in which the sense of time itself has been compromised? The world as we knew it shifted. Time got warped. Our lives were turned upside down and we all went on a wild emotional roller-coaster ride. Many of us emerge from this year somewhat altered…

Life Changes

For me, this year led to both physical and lifestyle changes. The physical changes were relatively quick: We had to adjust our house to accommodate distant learning and everyone being home all the time. We moved large pieces of furniture, rearranged rooms, assigned new functions to old spaces. My kids confiscated the glider chair that sat in my sewing room for years, and which housed my huge pile of unfinished projects. That forced me to try my hand at reupholstering… 

There were changes in the garden, too. After several years of neglect (ANY Texture’s fault!) I finally managed to spend a lot of time outside, digging, pulling, pruning and planting to save my sanity. The garden almost resumed its pre-ANY Texture glory.

The lifestyle changes have been more gradual and are still ongoing. My life slowed down. I’m in less of a hurry. More and more, I’m enjoying the small things, the little moments, the here and now (perhaps because the future is so unpredictable, and any plans are susceptible to change). I’m finding more time to read books, to watch movies, to practice yoga, to learn new things. I have a better balance between life and art making. With everyone home, there’s been more cooking, baking, eating, spending time together. The upsides of a dire situation.

Art Changes

ANY Texture was born after I got the Bag Bug five years ago. Following a few months of intense bag making, however, I started creating other things, including art quilts. For a couple of years I’ve been meaning to make more fine art, but haven’t quite gotten to it. When my father passed away last year, I realized that life was short, and that I should concentrate on the things I want to do and spend less time on the things I don’t enjoy. So I made less bags, participated in less craft shows, and completed my first quilt series, the Calendar Quilts. Then 2020 arrived.

Jacket

I kicked the year off with a boro jacket to honor my dad.

Right when I was finished, the pandemic happened. Shows got cancelled, online shopping halted, everything closed. I no longer needed to create inventory. Instead, I turned to art as a refuge, a means of expression, an escape from the world.

Animal art

Insects

We entered the first lockdown in the spring. I spent much of it in my garden, where insects, birds, squirrels and the occasional cat kept me company. I found it to be the perfect time to further explore the shape of insects and beetles, something I’ve been meaning to do more of since I completed my Dare! quilt in 2017. I made more butterfly brooches:

Art in Times of Corona: Textile Butterfly

Then the Amazing Beetles series.

Art in Times of Corona: Beetle quilts

And I was finally able to play with three-dimensional beetles as well:

Four fabric beetles

Birds

For several years I’ve been wanting to try Ann Wood Handmade’s owl and bird soft-sculpture patterns. The pandemic gave me the time to get to it. I first made owls.

And also wrote a tutorial for a small owl my daughter made based on something she saw in Japan:

Then I worked on a flock of birds.

And finally created a series of small bird quilts:

Cat

My sister and mother were supposed to visit in the spring. Their much-anticipated visit got canceled like everything else. So I made my sister a quilt of her cat Trini:

Trini the Cat art quilt

Abstract Art

My true passion lies in abstracts, and this year I got to play more with that. Interestingly, I am realizing more an more that even my abstracts are strongly influenced by nature…

Early in the year, I completed the Colors of the Day series, a series influenced by landscapes I enjoyed on past travels.

Later, I created a series of mood-depicting Textile Poems. These drew much of their inspiration from my garden.

I also explored the textural variety of Tree Bark, something that was on my to-do list since my trip to Japan a couple of years ago.

Art Influenced by Current Events

2020 was an unusual year, and I couldn’t but respond to it in my art. This year, I created three of what I think are my most powerful art quilts to date: Interdependence, Ashes and 2020.

I also made Black Lives Matter, Wildfires and Let the Mending Begin.

Other

Early in the pandemic, I made wall hangings of the Jewish Blessing of the Child for my children, just in case…

Before Thanksgiving, I made a textile card for my mom:

Thankful for you, mom

And in the fall, the maple tree outside my window inspired me to make an Autumn Leaf wall hanging. You can find the tutorial here.

Autumn leaf wall hanging

After completing all these art quilts and more in one year, I decided it was time to finally join the Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA), something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. I’ve been really enjoying all that they have to offer. Check out their website for some gorgeous textile eye candy!

In December, I was honored to be included in an article on recycling in textile art, written by Heidi Ingram for the TextileArtist.org blog. Check it out here.

So here we are, at the end of 2020. Back in a second lockdown, with Covid numbers skyrocketing, but with the promise of a vaccine in sight. My sewing room is still messy. The Unfinished Project pile is taller than ever (I didn’t even touch it this year!), and is now homeless. My scrap boxes multiplied from three to seven, and are all overflowing (even though I used mostly scraps this year… This will remain a mystery).

Next year? Tackle those UFOs, perhaps? I have ideas for more art quilts than I can possibly make, piles of jacket-worthy fabrics, and a long list of things to learn. In other words, I’m excited to keep experimenting, learning, and growing as an artist… The adventure continues 🙂

Thanks so much for accompanying me on this journey!

Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year. Keep safe and cozy.

Autumn Leaves Wall Hanging

Autumn is my favorite season. It’s the time of year when the trees change color, painting the world with warm, vibrant reds and golds. The air gets cooler, sending us indoors, to warmth and fireplaces and hot chocolate.

I have a beautiful maple tree right outside my sewing room’s window. In fall it brings a reddish glow into my studio. Sewing in a warm room, a hot cup of tea at hand, admiring nature, gives me a wonderfully cozy feeling.

It always amazes me how beautiful fallen leaves are, and how unique. Because although there are millions of trees in the world, and thousands of leaves on each tree, each leaf is special and one of a kind. Just like people.

In fall, autumnal colors always creep into my work. They inspire me to make various red and yellow products, and, of course, quilts. This year, I decided to make an Autumn Leaves Wall Hanging. Below I explain how I made it. You can follow these steps to make a wall hanging of your own, or, if you prefer, a table runner.

Fall Leaf Hanging Tutorial

I started by collecting different kinds of fallen leaves during one of my neighborhood walks. I brought them to my sewing room, to use as templates.

Looking through my scrap piles, I found suitably-colored pieces, and made little quilt sandwiches out of them: a backing, batting and top. Then, I placed the actual leaf on the top fabric, and drew an outline around it.

I zigzagged along the outline, and, once done, carefully cut the leaf out along the outside of the stitch. This has to be done carefully, so as not to cut the stitching itself.

I made a little pile of leaves.

Out in the garden, I picked a dry stick. I placed it on my carpet, and started arranging the leaves beneath it. This took a while, as I wanted to reach just the right balance between colors, fabrics, shapes and sizes. (If you want to make a table runner, leave the stick part out, but still arrange your leaves in any shape you want).

Once I knew where each leave goes, I free-motion quilted details onto the leaves. I used a heavy, variegated thread for added interest.

I placed each leaf back carefully. To make sure I have a mostly-rectangular shape, I placed them onto a cutting mat and straightened them a bit. Then I carefully pinned them together.

I delicately took the pinned piece back to my sewing machine, and stitched the leaves together where they touched each other, starting from the top and going down.

When they were all connected, I hand stitched the top row around the stick.

Finally, I found a red string that one of my kids brought home as part of a school project years ago (yes, I collect things that might be useful one days, and some of them do find a new purpose, even if years later!). Viola: an Autumn Leaves Wall Hanging!

I hung this in our dining room, to enhance the autumnal feel. I love how it glows in the light!

And now, it’s time to collect the real fallen leaves out in my yard, so I can add them to my compost bin all year long!

The Tree Bark Quilt Series

I’ve always enjoyed textures up-close. Textures of man-made things like old structures or rusting tools, or the textures of nature: lichen, rocks, cracked earth or tree bark. But it wasn’t until I visited the island of Hokkaido three summers ago, that it occured to me that it would be really interesting to make a tree bark quilt series.

The Birth of an Idea

In Hokkaido, we visited a local museum. One of the displays included felled trunks representing the different native trees of the island. Put together, the contrasting textures were striking. When I saw them, I immediately realized they must be turned into quilts.

Alas, I when I came home I got busy and distracted, as I often do. I archived the idea of tree-bark quilts in my head, alongside many other creative ideas.

Timing is Everything

Then came the 2020 Lockdown. I spent most of the pandemic-sticken summer in my garden, surrounded by wildlife, flowers and trees. My only outings were walks in the neighborhood, on which I noticed the plants and trees in my neighbors’ yards. Some were truly beautiful, like this tree right down the road from my house:

The California wildfires, which started in mid-August, smoked me out of the garden and into my sewing room. The unhealthy air made it impossible to leave the house. That, in addition to the pandemic, was a lot to deal with. I desperately needed to treat myself, to somehow uplift my spirit. So I decided to buy myself something I didn’t really NEED but that I’ve been wanting for a while: a big box of thirty variegated 12-weight thread spools!

I didn’t use them immediately after they arrived. I wanted to first finish my pandemic quilt, and the fire-influenced quilt I started. But I saw them, and drooled over them, every time I came into my sewing room.

Then, one day, it suddenly hit me: these spools were made for the tree bark quilt series!

The Process

I decided to make six quilts in this series. Like all my work, I meant them to be a study of shapes, colors and textures. An excuse to play with forms and color combinations I don’t normally use. I wanted to utilize my new thread, and also to practice my free-motion quilting, something I haven’t done much of.

I began by searching the web for pictures of tree bark, and settled on six general types. My idea wasn’t to copy them, just to use them as inspiration. For color combinations, I was inspired mostly by pictures of Rainbow Eucalyptus and Gum trees that I found online.

I used many layers of fabric and stitched over them, raw-edge-applique style. It took a lot of playing and tweaking to get the stitching right.

I was absolutely smitten by the thread, but my machine didn’t like it at all. It squeaked. Potested. Broke the thread again and again. It did strange things with the bobin. I had to change the tension over and over. My jean needle wasn’t good enough, so I tried a top-stitch needle instead. I also had to clean the machine often, as it turns out that 12-weight thread sheds. A LOT.

The Quilts

Each quilt taught me something. In each, I played with slightly different techniques. They each have little flaws and blemished, but in general I’m pretty happy with how they turned out.

This is Tree Bark 1:

Tree Bark 2:

Here’s Tree Bark 3:

Tree Bark 4:

 

Tree Bark 5:

And last but not least, Tree Bark 6:

I hope this series captures some of the diversity that nature offers. We live in such an amazing world with so many interesting lifeforms. Maybe my work will propel people to notice, and more importantly–to CARE. Care enough to help preserve the beauty that is already here…

So what do you think? Which of the tree bark quilts do you like best?

A New Art Quilt: 2020

2020 is such a round, even, symmetric number. A pretty number, even. After a difficult 2019, in which I lost my father, I was very much looking forward to that beautifully-numbered year. 2020 promised a new, better decade, a fresh beginning, a rosy promise…

Well, as you all know, it didn’t quite deliver…

2020 turned out to be unlike any other year. It brought one calamity after another, in unrelenting waves, from all directions. A worldwide pandemic. Numerous natural disasters everywhere. Daily news depicting one outrage after another in devastating speed. Blow after blow after blow. And then there were personal catastrophes, too. Really bad things happened to really good people that I deeply care about. It just didn’t end.

Some mornings I wake up afraid to open my eyes, afraid of what the day might bring. There are entire days in which I walk around with a lump in my stomach, hardly able to breath. Sometimes I find it hard to function at all. I’m not depressed. It’s just that this year has been really trying. The world seems to have gone awry, and the light at the end of the tunnel feels far away and dim. It’s been overwhelming. 

Somehow, out of all of this, a new quilt idea was born.

The Idea

I had this vision in my head: A narrow grotto with overhanging boulders, threateningly squeezing a small human figure. I could see the scene in my mind, but it took a while to decide how to translate it into fabric.

One day I asked my daughter to take a picture of me in a fetal position, depicting how I felt. I wanted to use the picture as a study, a model for the human shape I wanted to embroider. She took several pictures, and I chose one and printed it on paper. I cut it out and started planning the composition.

Although I was in the midst of working on another series, a series that is marked by bright, cheery colors, I chose to select dark grays for this quilt. 

A Self Portrait to Represent Us All

The human shape, at this point, was still paper, and I wracked my brain trying to decide what to do with it.

Although I originally meant to use my picture only as a study, the more I progressed with the quilt the more I wanted to leave it the way it was. This wasn’t any human form, it was me. A self portrait of sorts in which I am seen on the outside, but am entirely unrecognizable. The quilt itself, or course, is more “me” than my picture, because it depicts how I feel on the inside… This self portrait wasn’t just a self portrait, however, because this year many of us feel the same. This meant that I could represent all humans. 

My daughter took the picture on a regular, Covid-Lockdown day, just like any of the other two-hundred-and-something lockdown days we’ve had so far. I was wearing my Day Pajamas: comfortable, broken-in, unsightly sweats. The outfit, I decided, represented the times we live in and was therefore just right.

The Process

Not quite abstract but not realistic, either, this quilt pushed me to try some new techniques.

I printed the picture of me on fabric, something I’ve never tried before. It turned out washed out and ghostly. I thought that that, too, was appropriate…

For the first time ever, I added details in acrylic paint.

I glued and then sewed the human form into its position. It looked out of place, not really belonging to the world around it. Exactly the way I feel about my world right now, which morphed under my nose into something unrecognizable.

I stressed some of the rock details with crude thread painting.

I didn’t like the white highlights on the boulders, however, and later spent quite some time pulling them out.

Final Touches

The composition was just as I intended, and yet the quilt still didn’t depict the internal and external turmoil I wanted to convey. So I took a picture of the quilt as it was, printed it, and drew different quilting options over it. Once I knew what I wanted, I free-motion quilted big squiggles on the cliffs of both sides, in big, crude stitches (because I didn’t have heavy-weight thread in the color I needed, and the fabric would have “swallowed” small stitched in the thin thread that I did have). That was more like it. In the process, I broke TWO machine needles. I often go months on end without breaking a needle, and have never before broken two needles in one sitting. Somehow, though, with a quilt called “2020,” I wasn’t really surprised…

Finally, I added a touch of red shadow, and my ANY Texture logo in a Chinese, chop-signature way.

I left the edges fraying because, really, which of us isn’t fraying a little at the edges at the moment?

This is 2020 in all its repressive glory.

A suitable quilt to show four days before a crucial election, don’t you think? Can you tell I’m also suffering from a server election anxiety???

How to pass the next four days? Apply every self-care strategy in your arsenal, breath deeply, and hope that the election won’t drop another boulder over our heads…

3D Textile Beetles

You might recall the Amazing Beetle quilts I made back in the spring, at the beginning of the Lockdown. I knew then that I wasn’t quite done with beetles yet. I find them absolutely fascinating, with their varied, interesting shapes and huge array of colors. They are beautiful and alien and truly wondrous.

After spending the entire summer in my garden, I was eager to explore beetles a little more once back in my sewing room. I was wondering how it would feel to make 3D textile beetles. But I had a few quilts to finish first…

Materials that Inspire

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that my sewing room is in a constant state of disarray. The room is small, but my fabric stash isn’t. I also have a growing collection of treasures, things I rescue from the trash knowing they will be useful someday. The only advantage to having a messy studio is that every now and then you come across things you collected a while back and completely forgot about. Every time you see those things you get excited all over again…

Well, I recently came across metal spirals.

At the end of last school year, as we do every year, my kids and I went over their school stuff. We kept what we thought important, and recycled or threw the rest. We took apart notebooks with spirals to make it possible to recycle the paper. Once separated, I couldn’t help thinking that the spirals themselves might be of use. So I took them to my sewing room. And now I found them again. I pulled on one, and as I did so I realized it would make excellent beetle legs!

Experimenting with 3D Textile Beetles

I printed a picture of a beetle, and dove into my scrap boxes. I picked a blue floral fabric, and began to experiment. I drew, sewed, cut and stuffed, then twisted the wire. Viola! A small, 3D textile beetle!

Using an already-bent wire wasn’t ideal, I realized. It was very hard to work with, and had a lot of twists that couldn’t be removed. I didn’t mind it much–it has its charm, I think, but I wanted to try using other wires.

I had different wires left over from my troll, birds and owls. I now used them to make more beetles.

Each type of wire felt very different, and resulted in a different look. I learned that:

  1. I have a lot more to learn about wires
  2. There are endless ways to make 3D textile beetles!

I’m still not done. I want to try more techniques, more patterns, more colors and more wires. Alas, my brain is already wandering on to the next project, so I might have to do that, first. I will get back to beetles later, I promise!

In the meantime, can you help me decide what to do with the beetles I already made?