Saturday, January 11, 2014

More excuses for not making art

Since Christmas I've been seized by the desire to finish unfinished projects (as opposed to making actual new art).  This kind of impulse doesn't come over me very often, but when it does I feel morally compelled to roll with it.  Last week I finished two quilt tops that had been started at least 30 years ago.

This week I spent several hours with some drapery samples that came from a high-end decorator.  Most of them were cotton and/or linen, with a bit of rayon here and there.  They were set up for showroom display with four grommets along the top side of the panel and it occurred to me that if you folded the panel in half vertically you would have a tote bag, with the handles running through the grommets.

So I cut two 1 1/2-inch strips off the bottom edge of the samples for handles.  I turned the top edge over and hemmed it for a firmer finish, and sewed up the side and bottom.

Most of the edges were already serged, but I zigzagged the newly sliced edges and the corner where I had to cut off the label.  Then I folded the handle strips into thirds, sewed down the zigzagged or serged edge, threaded them through the grommets and sewed each handle into a ring.

I think it took me only a half hour to sew each bag, after I figured out the plan.

So here's what I have to show for my two afternoons of work:

So now the big question: is it morally superior to have seven tote bags than to have seven drapery samples?  On the one hand, you've turned something basically useless into a functional object, with very little effort.

On the other hand, you've closed a lot of doors; no longer can these samples possibly become placemats or postage stamp quilts or pillows.

And besides, what will I do with seven low-end tote bags?  They have no zippers, no inside pockets, no reinforced bottoms, no linings (vinyl or otherwise), none of the extra features that make fancy tote bags special.

But for some reason, I felt really happy sewing on them, and (mildly) proud to have made them.

You know, I could do this sort of thing every day of the year.  My house and studio are full of raw materials and I know how to make beautiful placemats, pillows, mittens, hot mats, and other useful items.  Pretty soon I'm going to have to throw off the fever of making silly functional items and get back to that Quilt National candidate that has been in progress on my design wall for months.  Maybe tomorrow.  Or maybe I'll make some more tote bags.


  1. yep, I am in a similar mode.
    I think it is new yearitis.
    I am having a big clean out and find it hard to overcome the desire to turn every bit of saved junk into something useful that no one in my family will want.
    I have a whole suitcase of furnishing fabric samples.
    I fear that as soon as I throw this all out I will need it.
    An artist I know had a flood destroy all her accumilated stuff, she said it saved her artistic life to be rid of it all and start afresh.

  2. Kathy, you are an artist I really respect, and now even more. You are feeding that innate need to just stitch while letting your mind gear up for the spectacular finish of your Quilt National piece. I for one will be there for the reveal in Athens. Enjoy the ride.
    Bethany Garner in Kingston, ON

  3. I love the simplicity of these bags, making use of what is and creating something new and more beautiful.

  4. You didn't mention what size the bags are. If at least a medium size, they would make a nice bag for a small knitting project--for that it's nice not to have zippers or anything else for the yarn to catch on. Or maybe a small hand-sewing project.

  5. I love the bags and have been in a similar frame of mind - although I have also been too ill to do any work. I have been looking at all the UFO I have and thinking I should get some finished before starting a new project esp as the new project is not in my mind just yet

  6. I think Bethany is right--sometimes we just need to stitch. Our hands need to be busy while our right brain percolates on ideas. I also find there is a moment when my body says stops this nonsense and get to your real work.

  7. Something about a new year brings out the "finishing gene" in me, too. I think it's the morally superior feeling. Also a little sewer's guilt makes it necessary for me to so some pro bono work. I've vowed to make at least one walker tote and catheter bag cover each month. I made two of each today, so I'm ahead of my promise to myself and can devote my time to something more creative and satisfying.
    Martha Ginn

  8. You could see it this way: you have transformed pretty useless items into something useful, potential gifts (?), and you have done something to save the environment: I (always the trash-sorting German) always carry tote bags when I leave the house so when I am buying something I don't need to take a plastic bag from the shop. Even when grocery shopping.
    So by making tote bags you have stopped waste at least twice (not throwing out the samples, the first actual usage as a plastic-bag-preventer) and again and again for every time you use it. How morally superior can you get?! And in the back of your mind Quilt National is brewing... Good luck.