Friday, 13 January 2023

How long?

Three years ago, the art group I belong to, Fibre Art Voices, made plans to put on a show at our local community art gallery. The theme would be “In My Garden.” That was before Covid, before social distancing, show cancellations, gallery closures.

This week, the show finally opened. It was worth the wait. It is beautiful! (IMHO). I think most viewers will be delighted. You can visit it virtually at this address:

Now I’m steeling myself for the one question that is asked every time I display some work: “How long did it take you to make that?” The short answer is, “Maybe a day or two of actual work.” The long answer is much more complicated.

I started out well. It was fall, so my first piece would feature seed heads from the many varieties of flowers we grow in our garden. 


But before I could do that, I would have to create a background on which to place these flowers. It took two or three days of trial and error before my fuzzy vision came into focus. I found a background that pleased me: a table cloth fashioned from a lace hanky; a sheer organza curtain, a nubby loosely woven background. How long did it take me to make that, you ask?  Days and days of muttering, and then an hour or so of sewing. Maybe too long, but it feels good: I’m on to something.

Every day for the next 10 days or so, I thread sketch a new stem with my sewing machine on to the background, using a real winter bouquet as my model.


I like it! I add a see-through blue chiffon vase, and we are done. Sort of. Okay, it’s not laying flat like it’s supposed to, but maybe I can fix that later. “I’ll fix it later = many, many more hours.

I echo the background composition in the next piece, a big one that I call Homage to Holland. It will feature a Delft blue vase of tulips, a lace curtain, and a nubby table cloth. It’s a piece full of nostalgia, recalling elements of my growing up years in a Dutch immigrant family. 


I add tulip after tulip after tulip to the bouquet – seems like it will never get done. And how long did that take you, you ask? Literally years, before I finally felt it was done. In between creative spurts, it hung on my design wall waiting for me to see what was missing. Finally, the “aha!” moment arrives:  more tulips, and, of course, a cup of tea. Now when I look at it, I can feel like I am sitting down with mom having a good visit.

By now covid has invaded our world. You’d think with all those hours of isolation, I’d be producing big time. But that’s not how it works. Knowing that our show would be delayed, I worked on other things. (Check my blogs for April 28, 2020; Nov. 7, 2021, and Jan. 7, 2022.)

But the Garden pieces niggled at me, so I began creating pieces depicting four seasons in the “Garden in the Woods.” I created a big piece, but after a week or so of work, I knew it wasn’t what I’d envisioned.


Start over again, this time in a small format, using the same trees in each piece, but changing the background and foreground to depict the seasons. Better! It involved handwork and embroidery, which I did while watching TV. If I’m working as I watch Wheel of Fortune, is it okay if I count those as work hours? But when I knew these pieces would probably work, they too were laid aside “for later.”

We finally got the dates for our show: Jan. 10- 28, 2023, almost a year away. No rush, lots of time, and besides, we have a road trip across the country planned. The Garden in the Woods pieces accompany us across the country and back again, but I am never interested in taking out my embroidery threads and beads to complete them. How long did it take to make those pieces? Does languishing in the back seat of an overstuffed car for two months count? Every time I saw those pieces, it activated my creative juices. Does that count?

Suddenly, it’s the middle of October, and now the pressure is on. I know December is crowded with other commitments, and I give myself a deadline. Finish 8 pieces by the end of November: four Woodland pieces, and four bouquets of garden flowers, including the winter bouquet. Those six weeks of being in the studio every day for at least a three or four hours is how long it took to get the fabric versions of the 8 pieces close enough to done that I can see the finish line. Unfortunately, I’m prone to running down rabbit trails that lead least not right now. But maybe someday?

Then it’s December, and I stuff it all in the closet, again.

I surface again in January. The pressure is on. I am in the studio fixing up those “I’ll do it later” details. 


The resident sweetie and the daughter step up to the plate. 



We need to make frames. We need backing. We need business cards and hanging hardware and staples and glue. And patience and kindness as we work together. Several hours every day are spent measuring, sawing, measuring again, sawing again, fiddling, hammering, sanding, wiping them with tung oil, and finally putting the whole shebang together. This is the business end of the creative process, and it is not my thing. At all. Thank goodness for my dear, dear helpers.

And now all the pieces are hung.


It’s up to the viewers...and I know I’ll get asked THE question a few more times. I’ll hand them my business card on which I’ve included my blog address, and they can read the answer for themselves.

Really, it takes a lifetime of gazing at beauty, dozens of years of quilting experience, weeks and months, sometimes years of cogitation, imagination, and rumination, and a few hours of sewing, unpicking, and sewing again until it’s pretty close to right. With a lot of help and encouragement from friends and family, that’s how long it takes.