Over the past 18 months that the doors have been open at AGOS I have met all sorts of wonderful people. Some of them have walked in the front door, and others I have accosted (!?) at events elsewhere. In my experience I have found that I like people who create with their hands. When I was in food I was always impressed by the delicious beauty that cooks could create with a few simple ingredients. The fact that a simple butter cookie, made of flour, sugar, butter and salt, can have such complexity of flavor speaks to the touch of the baker. The same can be said for the stitcher and their work. Some scraps of fabric, some thread, a little batting and the creative skill to arrange, to design... Beauty. And function!
When I went about planning the first retreats for this year I reached out to some of my favorite makers. I kinda figured if I was going to stretch my model, extend myself into the unknown a bit, then I should do it with people I really like. The idea of retreat, to my mind, is a chance to step down off the merry-go-round and pause for a moment, and that is how I set the AGOS retreats up. We all run around our daily lives a bit like the proverbial chicken. Even the calmest and most organized of us (not me) have moments when forward motion has taken over their day and they cannot but go with it. Some of us are good at carving out a small piece of our days (our weeks, months) to set aside some time to make. For those of us driven to create, we ignore that impulse at our own peril. I have been suffering from Vertigo this Winter and Spring and I cannot deny that I have played a part in it's arrival by stressing too much about business, and not sewing enough.... So I have created these retreats as opportunities for you and I to slow the pace down, create some psychic space for making, and give us all a breather from the constant push forward.
I sincerely hope that some of you will join me and these fabulous makers [Amy Butler, Heather Jones, Chawne Kimber, Carolyn Friedlander, Rebecca Ringquist and Lauren Taylor] in the next couple of months to explore our creative curiosities and live within them for even just a few days with no other distractions. Below is a conversation I had with Chawne a couple weeks ago, that I have been meaning to share with you. You can read more about the Slow Stitching retreat that she will be teaching at this August here. I will have similar conversations with Carolyn and Rebecca in the next little while to further whet your appetite. You can also read about the Quilter's Color Weekend with Amy and Heather here. Do join us!
All the images in this post are the work of Chawne Kimber.
AGOS: Can you describe a typical day for you?
CK: Well, no day is typical in my day job: it’s largely autonomous work with many responsibilities yet the freedom to decide how and when to get it all done. There’s some minimal structure, to be sure, but the challenge and the fun of the job comes from the unexpected. I spend time every day doing work for the day job (so that I can respond to surprises more nimbly) and this often leaves just a few stolen moments for other things. Stitching on weekdays happens in the wee hours to calm before sleep; whereas, sometimes I can manage a weekend “Crafturday” to retreat for a few hours.
AGOS: Do you have a favorite place to make? Time of day?
CK: When the weather cooperates, it is lovely to do handwork outdoors in my yard or at a local coffee shop. But mostly I’m tied to my machines indoors. A new shorter worktable has allowed me to piece on my comfortable couch, which is also the warmest place in the house during winter.
As for time of day, it depends on what I’m making. Complicated things require daylight; embroidery is an evening pursuit, while binding (ugh, the worst) is a late night slog.
AGOS: Do you practice any other crafts besides quilting? If so, how do they compare, or contrast, with your quilting?
CK: Yep, I knit, spin, and embroider. And for me they are “crafts.” They are occupational things to do to relax, rather than to make statements of self-expression like I tend to try to do with quilts. There are lots of other differences. First, quilting is a year-round activity and these seem more seasonal: knitting is a winter sport, spinning is early summer, and embroidery intrigues me more in autumn. Not sure why, but that’s just when the whims tend to hit and I try to follow the motivational momentum of whims.
Second, I am addicted to the process of patchwork piecing, while these other crafts each provide a different way to build. Knitting is a fairly magical yet elegantly simple way to make fabric from strands. (I pretty much only knit blankets so it’s similar to quilting in terms of the product.) On the other hand, spinning is a way to feel part of the pre-product process. It is a full-body rhythmic experience, turning fluff into yarn. I have spun tons of fiber and it ends there for me; I rarely do anything with the resulting yarn. Whereas, embroidery can be a tedious experience for me that I endure to achieve the final product. I revel in the progress along the way, of course, but the scale of stitchery I prefer takes some of the joy out of the process.
AGOS: What does “slow stitching” mean to you?
CK: I guess it describes what I do all the time? You see, when I made my first quilts, I did almost the entire process by hand, partially hand-piecing and always hand-quilting, done as a way to deal with extreme stress in my life back then. My feet planted firmly on the ground when I recognized the control I had over the small bits of fabric in my hands as stuff spiraled chaotically around me. And I indulged in every sensation: the feel of cotton fabric stretched in a quilting hoop, the sound of thread pulled through layers, the fresh-baked smell of ironed starch, the look of the patchwork designs and fabric prints, and the taste of the coffee that fueled it all. Even though I use the machine more often now, I sew on the slowest speed and stop every so often to feel the work and check on progress. To me, process is everything, so I like to linger in it.