Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Tarot of Fabric Selection: Six Games for Ultra-Serendipity Quilts:

There are a lot of quilters out there who talk about serendipity, but really, they have elaborate plans.

For example, Susan Carlson, one of my quilt idols, wrote two fantastic books called Freestyle Quilts and Serendipity Quilts. But her projects start with a beautiful, intricate sketch (she has a degree in illustration). Here's a part of one of her drawings:
I made several complex fish from her patterns, and anyone who knows Carlson's work would immediately recognize my guys as her offspring:
There were many serendipitous moments - choosing fabrics was a gas - but I was definitely following a  plan.
Similarly, Sarah Nephew, another longtime inspiration, has a couple of quilt books with "serendipity" in the title. Her gorgeous quilts require a ton of careful planning and cutting before you get from the serene to the dipity. (No Y seams, though, which is great!)
You can see and buy Sara Nephew's terrific books here. I totally love this book and am going to make something from it. 
I, by contrast, practice a radical form of serendipity quilting that is closely associated with, and in fact, virtually identical to, extreme laziness.

Here's how it works: A pile of unrelated fabrics accretes like stalagmites in a conspicuous area of my sewing room, for whatever reason (I auditioned them for different projects; my overstuffed cabinets exploded; I bought them seven weeks ago and am too lazy to put them away; I am a hoarder in denial; etc.)

After a while, I start to see connections. The universe appears to be sending a complex message - like Tarot cards, runes, or tea leaves - important dispatches that I must not ignore.

For example on a recent Hawaiian vacation, (blog entry), I bought a half-dozen new, mostly unrelated fabrics, including dupioni silks, cotton batiks, and a half-yard of this elegant, high-quality gold-flecked Asian print;
And, from a different store, two yards of this flimsy, low-quality, wacky fabric poking fun at Tokyo's pop culture:
Once home, I procrastinated putting them away, because I so enjoyed looking at them. Eventually, it came to me that these two totally go together. If you've visited Japan, you know that the juxtapositions of ancient and edgy - in the streets, the clothes, the packaging, the hearts and minds - are enthralling.

So I went for it!
 I patched up the turning hole in the back and added a hanging loop.
The back took almost as much time than the front. If I were into ultra-radical serendipity, I would hang it backwards. A friend of mind admired it (the front), and I was thrilled to give it to her!

Want to experience authentic serendipity for yourself? Here are five highly-disciplined exercises to force you to be lazy (or crazy) enough to make a very serendipitous quilt:
  1. The Random Number Method: Use a family member or online random number generator (like this one) to generate three numbers between 1 and 25. Go to your fabric stash, pick a pile, count down from the top, and pull out three fabrics that correspond to those numbers. Make it work. (If your stash is small, you can do this at the fabric store. See #4).
  2. The Project Runway Method. Set the timer for 10 minutes, race to your fabric stash and randomly pull five fabrics. Splay them on the kitchen table and leave them there until a concept comes to you. When your spouse asks why you can't clear the table, explain that you are channeling messages from the universe.
  3. The Pet Method: Similar to #2, but lay six fabrics on the floor, and then use ONLY the two that your dog, cat, rodent, etc. first lie upon. Same thing works with small children. (The pet can also help with decorative stitch selection...(although there is a danger it will gnaw on the spool pin.)
  4. The Method for People Who are Mediocre at Darts: Acquire darts. Print out a color wheel from the Internet. Thumb tack it to a bathroom door. Knock on the door to make sure no one is inside. Stand far back and yell loudly to make sure none of your family members or pets are approaching. Throw 3 darts toward the wheel. (If the darts land on the door or the floor, those count as colors, too.)
  5. The Blindfold Shopping Method. Put a blindfold in your purse. On your next visit to a quilt shop, approach a sales clerk, introduce yourself, blindfold yourself, and ask politely if she can steer you towards the fat quarters section. There, use your hands to feel out 3 fabrics. No peeking! Warning: The salespeople will whisper that you are kinky/bonkers.
  6. The Relationship Buster. This next approach works best if your spouse or #1 best friend is NOT a quilter or visual artist. Set the timer for 20 minutes. Ask him or her to pick 3 fabrics. Refrain from making suggestions or faces. Find a way to make it work. You may be stunned by how beautifully it all goes together; or, just plain stunned. Vengeance will be yours! Give it to them when you're done!
Whatever you make, keep it small, just in case it's a disaster. My bet is that you, or someone you care about, or your pet, will love it! (Send me a picture, I will strive to love it too!)
Ginny was very particular about stitch selection. 

43 comments:

  1. FUN! Not sure IF I've done that or not? I often just use 'interesting fabrics' for my Chemo Quilts.

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  2. OMG I nearly peed myself laughing. This is great-i want to try them all! Thanks for sharing

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  3. I love your ideas! Let the universe guide us! Throw fabric to the winds! I love nothing better than a challenge so will gave to try this :-)

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  4. You are so funny, it's so good to have a laugh sometimes. I love reading your blog. Thank you

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  5. I love them. But next time I will actually do your tarot cards to get you ready.

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    1. I would love to get my tarot cards read by you. Though I'm a little afraid, too.

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  6. Yes! now i am in good company for spontaneous selected of mater(fabric,) depends upon juxtaposition and one of the best reasons not to be tidy or quick to clean up a project and not just have too few projects in stages of work! Yea! love the list especially #2 pet method for starters.

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    1. Our late doggie, a papillon, would, without fail, walk to the center of any fabric or quilt I laid out on the floor, and lay down at it, staring at me defiantly. She'd get very irked when I tried to shoo her off. She knew her rights!
      Thanks for the comment!

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  7. I wish I had a knack for serendipitous fabric choices. I upend my stash, plan, think, unfold, stack, restack, rethink, dither in indecision for ages ...

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    1. I do that for "serious" and major pieces, GMG! But for fun inbetween small pieces, try moving faster!

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  8. My then 18-month old granddaughter wanted me to knit a sweater for her very new brother. I dumped all my wool on the floor and asked her to choose three. She did - not the brights I imagined she would choose, but 3 unusual, subtle colours. It was the prettiest baby sweater I have ever made :-)

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    1. I LOVE that story!!! Thanks for sharing it. Your granddaughter has a wonderful eye!

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  9. I love serendipity and it has worked really well here; your two fabrics do look like they are meant to be together. I also really enjoyed your post - funny and thought-provoking.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Kaja, thanks for the nice comment!

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  10. Great post! Loving all the ideas on keeping fabric choices interesting! Fun!

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  11. I have done the selection by how it falls on the floor approach; however,I am somewhere in the middle between totally random and planned improv. claire aka knitnkwilt.wordpress.com

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    1. For my "serious" projects, it can take literally weeks or months to make fabric decisions. That's why I desperately need short little projects! Thanks for your thoughts, Claire.

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  12. I've been in the "they've been lying there for weeks, and OH! those look so cool together" camp. More recently I've "allowed" myself to be more conscious in my color choices, but next time, I'm going to try one of your more random approaches. Thanks for a great chuckle!

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    1. I live in BOTH camps, Sue. Sometimes when I want to decide in a hurry, I just can't! Thanks for the nice comment.

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  13. Thanks for liking up with AHIQ.
    Clever, amusing ways to choose fabrics. I get some of my best fabric combinations when I'm sorting and potentially discarding fabric. Your quilt is so engaging

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  14. Hmmmm...I might have to try some of those approaches. My grandkids might like to have a go at the last option. Usually I go to the scrap bin and I think everything in there goes together so just use out of there. Now how the scraps actually get in there is beyond me.

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    1. Cathy, that's how I feel about my batik scrap bag - virtually everything looks great together, except sometimes brown! Your grandkids will have a ball! Thanks for stopping by!

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  15. What a great post! So fun.:) I don't think I'm quite as brave as you but it is fascinating to think about working through this sort of challenge!

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  16. LMAO, Cathy! You are totally right that if you look at a random pile of fabric long enough, they will start to align themselves.

    I will steer clear of the blindfold, though. I already have a funny story about a new clerk at my LQS who thought I was a hobo. I don't need another one!

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    1. I think all the people at my LQS consider me a bit bonkers. And I've never even blindfolded myself there! Thanks, Monica!

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  17. That was funny! I love your mixture of contradicting fabrics and humor. Sometimes I think fabrics can go together just because we like them both. Your fun personality is definitely connecting these.

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    1. Thanks, Jill. You do have a great point - everything conceivably goes with everything else, taking the larger, and more spiritual view. That's very profound (LOL!). Though it might make for some hard-to-love quilts!?!

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  18. So Funny!! Messages from the universe, the pet method. I think you're onto something, write a book, I'll buy it!
    Thanks for lightening up my day.

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    1. Thank you, Janie. Let me know what fabrics your pet(s) choose. I imagine they would like food-themed fabrics best. Just like me.

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  19. This is hilarious! I too follow this method of serendipity "I, by contrast, practice a radical form of serendipity quilting that is closely associated with, and in fact, virtually identical to, extreme laziness." I have often made quilts with only one box of scraps - whatever is in the box is the only thing I am allowed to use. My recent Winter Scene is similar. I pulled out fabric that are not cotton - which is a small selection, but I did allow myself to use some scraps off the table.

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  20. You used TABLE SCRAPS, Shasta!? I'm laughing because I'm imagining bits of roast beef and broccoli in your quilt. I have so few fabrics that aren't cotton - except I do have a box of silks. I also have some polyesters, mostly from the 1970s, I think, that have incredibly vivid colors and designs....plus, since they're petroleum byproducts, they'll last forever...hmmm, I should work up my courage to use them....Do you have a link to your Winter Scene? Thanks for stopping by!

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  21. Love this! Creativity happens when we don't take ourselves too seriously, and if we can take it up a notch, change in out, or allow the Universe to drive, it may turn into a most wonderful expression of our work!

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  22. I used 6 fabrics (cut into squares) and a die to determine which fabric was next up in the row. If I ran out of a color before the end then I just re-rolled until I got a number I had. The top was beautiful. I am now echo quilting inside of adjoining matching squares.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Denise. Serendipity rocks!

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  23. Your post is very entertaining. I actually HAVE a quilt made of cheap, 1970's polyester that is heavy as heck and feels awful rough on the skin. A full size quilt that my MIL made, my boys have done everything but set it on fire. The boys are now in their 30's and the quilt is still here. I have found it being used as a horse blanket, left to winter in a wadded up tent, and tied to the bed of a truck. I ask no questions...just pick it up, wash it, and toss in the closet for when someone says picnic, moves furniture, or rides a horse. I don't care if it is returned, yet it always seems to come back home.

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  24. What a great story, Mary! What a quilt! There is something to be said for polyester! Thanks for stopping by!

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  25. This is the first time I've seen your site. It's great. I'm adding it to Favorites. Thanks for the great and fun ideas

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