Are You Up For A Challenge?

I’m always up for a challenge!

I mean, I like small challenges in my daily life—solving a problem, figuring something out, overcoming a difficulty, meeting a goal.

But even more, I love an external challenge–a set of standards or constraints, presented to a group of people, to see how they respond individually.

For instance, a number of years ago, we did a family fitness challenge. Four of us each put in $125 and set a 3-month time limit. The plan was to see who could exercise, for at least 30 minutes, for the most days in that time frame.

Two of the four participants exercised every single day for three months and shared the prize! And, of course, even those of us who “lost” won because we did far more than we would’ve, without the challenge.

Challenges are a big deal in the crafting world. Sometimes, these challenges are pretty straightforward—for instance, my quilt guild’s challenge last year was to make a red and white quilt and to incorporate, somewhere, two specific red and white print fabrics, which we were given.

Other challenges are more . . . challenging. One of the most intriguing I read about was a Beatles challenge, where each quilter chose a Beatles’ song to provide inspiration. My blog pal, Snarky Quilter, chose Paperback Writer and made her quilt a depiction of a pulp novel.

If you read a lot of craft blogs, you’ve probably come across a lot of craft bloggers who are participating in challenges and reporting back in their posts. Whether the crafters are knitting, embroidering, or quilting, challenges seem to draw us in.

What’s the appeal?

Part of the fun of a challenge is personal—I feel like I’ve done some of my most creative work in response to a challenge. Having guidelines and limitations is both constraining and liberating!

The best part of the challenge, though, is the unveiling, when the participants come together and show how they’ve each addressed the challenge. It is always fascinating to see how different people interpreted the guidelines and all the different directions creativity can go. A challenge creates a sense of community while celebrating individual creativity.

We went to the Vermont Weavers’ Guild show last weekend. We saw a number of lovely hand-woven pieces but, for both of us, the best part of the show was the display of challenge pieces.

The weavers had each chosen a postcard of an Impressionist painting and used that to inspire their choice of color and weaving pattern. The towels were displayed with the inspiration cards.

I loved the idea that practical, earthbound kitchen towels were inspired by transcendent works of art!

We spent a lot of time at the three racks of towels, choosing favorites and talking about what the weavers accomplished.

Seeing this challenge also got us thinking about ways we could use art as inspiration. It was fun to think about our own favorite paintings and consider ways we could use the colors. Don thought he might go the direction of Monet’s water lilies while I would look to the work of my favorite painter, John Singer Sargent. Wouldn’t these colors be pretty in a towel?

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Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose by John Singer Sargent

One never knows where the next challenge is coming from, in life or in craft. Our life challenges may weigh heavily, tire us out, bring us down. Happily, our craft challenges can do just the opposite–lift us up, energize, give us new insight.

Have you participated in a favorite artistic challenge? Have you blogged about it? If so, consider leaving a link in the comments!

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Joining A Quilt Guild–IBMTD #2

quilt guildThis week, my ongoing quest, to do something I’ve Been Meaning To Do (IBMTD) every week, took me to the meeting of my local quilt guild.

I’ve been meaning to go to a meeting and join the guild since I went to their biennial quilt show in October. Being at that show and having a good look at a lot of beautiful quilts inspired me to finish a quilt I had started years ago.

I made my very first quilt about 40 years ago when I was in college, but got more serious about quilting about 20 years ago. Quilting has this very fundamental appeal to me. When we talk about “hands at home,” it’s the image of quilters, working together around a quilting frame, that pops into my mind first.

I love the idea that quiltmaking has such a deep tradition in American life, but can also be so modern.

I love the idea that quilters take scraps of the old and homely and transform them into something surpassingly lovely.

I love the idea that quilting has given generations of women a social outlet and a place to meet and join hands to create something lasting, practical, and beautiful.

Quilt guilds across America are keeping these traditions alive and thriving in the 21st century. The website of the American Quilter’s Society lists 1250 local quilt guilds. That’s a whole lot of loving hands at home!

Like other guilds, the local one teaches new skills, offers quilting challenges to members, and participates in community life. Members make quilted pieces for many local charities, providing warmth and color to people whose lives can be cold and bleak.

I joined the guild the night I went. Being there has already inspired me to start a new quilting project, another item on my IBMTD list. I suspect you’ll be hearing more about that later!

All of this has gotten me wondering—are there quilt guilds in other countries or is it an American phenomenon? Do other traditional crafts have comparable guilds, where crafters meet regularly and organize around the activity? Knitters? Crocheters? Jewelers? Do you meet with others who share your love for your craft?

I’d love to hear!

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I’ve Been Meaning To . . .

i've been meaning toAs I’ve read your blogs about your hopes, dreams, plans, and resolutions for 2014, I’ve caught myself thinking, “Oh, I’ve been meaning to do that.” Then I was reviewing my never-ending to-do lists, which include prosaic items like “buy shampoo” but are also littered with things that never get marked off the list. The latter are things “I’ve been meaning to do.”

These aren’t the big, earth-shaking, bucket-list kinds of intentions. I don’t find the making of a bucket list too compelling. And they aren’t the little day-to-day to-do list kinds of items. Those are easy and they get marked off the list promptly.

Right in the middle of “really big” and “really small” are the kinds of good intention that are just right for my “I’ve been meaning to” list—you could call them the Goldilocks goals. These are manageable goals—projects to start, places to go, new skills to try. Maybe it’s because they are manageable that they never get done.

For instance, I’m always saying I’ve been meaning to spend more time in Montreal. It’s close, it’s easy to get to, it’s an antidote to provincial rural life. But because it’s easy and close, I can postpone doing it—it’ll be there tomorrow.

The quilt I just finished fell into this category. It was right there, waiting. It only needed a couple of days of focused work to be finished. Easy. Postpone. It’ll be there tomorrow.

But then I finished that quilt and felt such satisfaction! I strutted around for a couple days! And that has added to my certainty that I should do more of these things I’ve been meaning to do, both because they’re worthy things to do AND because I feel so smug when I actually follow through (and can take them off the list).

So, here’s my plan. I’m going to try to do one of the things “I’ve been meaning to do” every week this year and tell you about it. I’m going public with it because I hope that means I’ll be more mindful of following through.

My guidelines for myself are as follow:

  • I’m going to remember that my blog is NOT all about me. I write a personal journal for that. The blog is about, and for, you, too.
  • Having said that, I promise to write about things in ways that I hope you can relate to.
  • And having said that, I may not do a post on this topic every single week. I may do something I’ve been meaning to do that is too personal or weird to burden you with!
  • I will seek to stay true to my theme of “loving hands at home.” Many of the things I’ve been meaning to do are tailor-made. Some are a little further afield. Both may show up here., with an emphasis on the former.
  • If the plan gets boring to me or I think I’m boring you, I’ll abort!

So, thank you for sharing your plans and goals in the last week—it seems to have motivated me to re-consider some of mine. I hope we all follow through!