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Always Rising.

The phoenix image is just one that keeps coming back to me.  A few months ago, I sold the phoenix quilt I made last year and felt I was in a different place in my life and wouldn’t use that image again.  I thought about how I felt stronger and how maybe I was ready for imagery about power and already being strong, not still rising from the ashes.  And then, I was hit hard by a few things in my personal life.  Really hard.  I realized that this idea of rising is recurrent.  We don’t rise just once.  It is a constant journey.  A constant battle to leave behind the things, and sometimes the people, that pull us down and make us feel like we have no where to go, and that rising is not within our capabilities.  Some people make us feel that way deliberately. Others do it in much more subtle ways.  One of my biggest battles this year has been fighting the fear of insignificance.

We all want to matter.  I want to matter.  I want to feel like I’m worth a phone call, a kind word, a quick message to ask how I am or if I’d like to grab lunch and catch up.  Something.  Anything. And, don’t lecture me on how a healthy self-esteem would cure me of needing that reassurance from others and how I need to just know I am valuable deep within. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know all of that.  Sometimes, though….sometimes I want to FEEL it from another person.  And that made me realize that I am still in the process of rising.  Of peeling off whatever it is that holds my spirit down. I am still that phoenix looking up and lifting my wings and flying while part of me is still dripping flames and ash and all the things I’m trying to leave behind.

“My Unconquerable Soul”

And that led me to this latest phoenix design using a very different technique.  My first phoenix quilt, entitled “My Unconquerable Soul”, pictured on the left, was built entirely as appliqués. Every piece was cut and the edges were turned under and stitched down on top of a base batik.  In my newest design, the background is a piecing extravaganza! (which is code for nightmare…)  There is no way to cut out a bunch of one shape because the same shapes and sizes rarely exist in this piece.  Once I piece together the background, I will build the phoenix as I did before, through a series of appliquéd feathers and layers that make up her body.  And then the whole thing will be stitched, and most likely I won’t be able to resist adding lots and lots of Swarovski Crystals, though I’m not exactly sure where they will be placed just yet.  She’ll let me know, though. When she’s good and ready.

 

This is the line drawing I had printed full size for the pattern. I will work pieced by piece, cutting it out of vibrant patterned batiks and stitching as I go along. As tedious as that gets, I find it the least confusing way to approach the design.
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Strong Women “Keep Going”

My phoenix rising from the ashes. She is unwavering in her determination to fly again. Read the blog post about this one.

I’ve been obsessed with Harriet Tubman lately.  I love tough girls, and she had to have been one of the toughest. I love Susan B. Anthony, Joan of Arc, Princess Diana, Queen Elizabeth I and Sacajawea.  I listen to Janis Joplin, Stevie Nicks, Bonnie Raitt, Miranda Lambert and Pink. And of course my mother…my biggest influence, and my sister and other amazing women in my family.  I saw a girl on a motorcycle today waiting at a stop light in her sleek leather pants. Red helmet, sweet black ride. I wanted to be her. Badly. Learning to ride a motorcycle has always been on my bucket list. I think it’s because the last few years have had me questioning what it means to be a strong woman.  A feminist. Which is a word I haven’t always related to because where I grew up, it often had a negative connotation.  A femi-nazi.  As if all women really wanted to just be men and/or wanted to live in a world without men.  And being a feminist must mean you don’t want be with a man or have one hold a door open for you and your days were spent bashing them.  As a mom of two young boys, it worries me that they will be seen as the bad guys for just being men. I don’t think turning the tide the opposite direction is equality. I have come to understand that the true definition of feminism is that I have the right to think and feel and pursue whatever I want. And if that means I want to cook pastries and raise babies, I can do that.  And if I want to be a CEO or play hockey, I can do that, too.

When I started making quilts as a business, it was really important to me that my more feminine quilts be just as bold and strong as the more masculine ones.  It also became important to me to bridge that gap and use such interesting combinations of colors and prints that both men and women would be drawn to just about any of my pieces. Since I started out making surf-themed crib quilts, I made a point of keeping the surfboard themes in both my girls’ and boys’ quilts, just making minor changes in the fabric choices…mainly adding more fuchsia to the girls’ quilts. I looked at what was already available out there and the boy decor was surfboards and vintage cars, strong prints and bold colors and the girl decor was inevitably flowers and bikinis. No, thank you. I love flowers, don’t get me wrong, but I felt it was time to portray those cool surfer and skater girls that I had seen ripping up the waves and tearing up the skate park.  Despite me not being great surfer and a worse skateboarder, as a more athletic person, those are the girls I could relate to more.  Nothing against Disney princesses, but there was plenty of that.  I wanted to bring a different powerful dynamic to my work.

She is her own woman, looking out over her limitless domain on a cloudy day, at peace with herself. The manager of her own destiny. The decision-maker in her own life and the chaser of her own dreams.  Maybe she’s a mermaid, but she’s a badass mermaid.

I sketched a lot and worked hard to create feminine designs the rivaled they boy stuff in the cool factor. Yes, I still use mermaids and flowers and feminine things.  But, I try to create powerful designs with those images.  As women, we are both feminine and strong.  Soft and tough.  Bold yet compassionate.  That’s what I want you to see when you see my work. I want you to see life and movement and passion and struggles and darkness and despair and triumph.  That’s what I see in myself.  All those things rolled into one person.  And many many people.

 

I started out with the surf quilts, and that led to creating other ocean-inspired designs. I’ve since branched out into desert landscapes and mountains and wildlife and so many other things.  Even when I’m designing a basic flower, I want that flower to embody how I feel about other women and about being a woman myself. So, even down to the simplest notecard, my designs are full of strength.  You may never know the thought behind each of my pieces or who may have inspired them, even in some small way, but know this…behind each work of art that I create, there is ALWAYS the influence of some badass woman who kept going.

“If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there’s shouting after you, keep going. Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.” –Harriet Tubman

 

More of my strong feminine designs:

“I believe a strong woman may be stronger than a man, particularly if she happens to have love in her heart. I guess a loving woman is indestructible.” ― John Steinbeck, East of Eden
My surfer girl sunset.
This was for another amazing tough woman I know who is a business woman and also conquers the lake on her paddle board regularly.
Fearless flowers.
One of my surfboard notecards. Strong colors but feminine touches in the print.
This little octopus has stories to tell!
Mermaids are often girly, but the vibrant colors and her independent nature definitely make her a tough girl.
I love these wildflowers. Strong shapes and colors and design with a sun full of feminine sparkly Swarovski crystals.
It may be a simple heart, but the strong diamond print background gives it a little extra power. Hard geometric lines against the soft curves of the heart. Very symbolic.
There’s a blog post about this amazing she-wolf.
Touches of fuchsia bring a fun feminine element into this abstract surfboard.
her face…so determined. Wild mane flowing in the water. She knows where she’s going.
Even my jewelry is more rocker chick than quilt diva. So is my hair.
I freehanded the outline of the girl looking out at the wave there on the right. I love that image–of the surfer preparing to go out, reading the break. I also put her in a summer wetsuit because I get tired of the girls always being in a string bikini when most of the surfer girls I see aren’t.
I did a whole blog post about this girl and this design. Check it out under “The Calling”.
Now, this is one of the few I’ve done with more pastel colors. It’s also also more traditional style, which is unusual for me. But this collection of prints had the texture of denim…a little worn looking but still bold and colorful. I really loved them all and put them together in one quilt. I love the very simple design of the single surfboard and the sun on top of the squares and rectangles.
The poppies! I also did a blog post about this one, but I still love how bold and strong this design is. It’s flowers, but they’re powerful with their red color and proportion to the sky and grasses.

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“My Unconquerable Soul”, 48″x68″

This quilt is immensely personal.  It was conceived, constructed and stitched during a year that was perhaps the most difficult of my life. The imagery was inspired by the William Ernest Henley poem, “Invictus” which brought to my mind the phoenix rising from the ashes.

Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

 

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

 

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds and shall find me unafraid.

 

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

I am the captain of my soul.

 

I think most of us are familiar with the last line, but a few of the other phrases are what struck me the most. “Out of the night that covers me”, “my unconquerable soul”, “unbowed”, “unafraid”.  I wanted to mesh the image of the phoenix with a very recognizable human female form. She is rising out of the ashes and flames and she is looking upwards, unbowed and unconquered and unafraid. I used bold warm colors for the sun and flames and cool blues and greens for the phoenix.  I wanted the contrast of the warm and cool colors so she would stand out and be a strong image, but I also sprinkled in a few warm colored feathers to represent the fire, especially in her heart. She is beautiful and strong, bold and colorful. I stitched her in orange thread to bring a little of the warmth to her body.  The sun is stitched in gold metallic thread and the flames have regular red thread and also red metallic thread. Lots and lots of details in the free motion quilting give her added depth and spark.  The quilt is finished with about 1000 Swarovski crystals in the sun and two larger ones in her eyes.  She is definitely an autobiographical statement that I hope inspires others to also rise up from whatever it is that is holding them down and be what they want to be.

(Follow me on Instagram @crystalpiertextilearts or Facebook at Crystal Pier Textile Arts for daily updates and process shots)

I added two crystals to her eyes and they sparkle so much as she looks upwards as she rises.
Each feather has been stitched with such fine detail, giving beautiful life to her wings.
A thousand Swarovski crystals make the sun behind her wings just shine. I love the feminine touch of the pick hibiscus flower around the outside of the sun.
The tail feathers are the last to pull out of the flames and ashes. Each made of a different bold print. The last trailing splash of color as she rises.
This pieces is just so bold and beautiful! I’m so happy with out it turned out.
I wish you could see just how much the sun sparkles! Nothing shines like the Swarovski crystals and there are around 1000 on this quilt.

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“I Am Both”, self-portrait, 18”x24”

A couple of years ago I came across this Rumi quote and it really affected me.  I’ve been going through a period of rediscovery and have been trying to define who I was. Sometimes we want to put everything and everyone, including ourselves, into a category. But, we are so often many contrasting things at the same time.  I love that we can be peaceful and wild, and so many other opposing things all at the same time.  There are perfect times for all parts of us and we don’t have to choose just one thing to be.

I layered the batiks for the background and then built up the design until I had her just right.  Lots and lots of free motion quilting in many different colors of thread came next.  The final touch was to add all the bling.  Fifteen hours worth of hand beading, rivets and Swarovski crystals. The photos don’t do justice to the way that it sparkles.  All those ideas and thoughts and dreams and emotions either bursting out of her head, or being poured in.  You decide.  Or maybe it’s both.

I tried to capture the contrast of peaceful and wild in many ways. Her eyes, the contrasting colors, the juxtaposed stitching and the softness of the fabrics with the sparkle of the hard, shiny beads and crystal.
Love, love, love all the embellishments. Gotta love a little bling!
Layers and layers of bold Indonesian batiks. At least three layers of stitching on those lashes.
Gotta love some bling! So many hours, so much shine.

 

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