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Midland, Texas, United States
I write. I make stuff.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Anything Is Possible

Do you know that feeling? When you try something new or discover something new and all of a sudden it's like the clouds part and trumpets sound and the angels lift their golden voices in song. Or, for me, like fireworks start going off in my brain. I start kind of dancing around--I can't stay still--and I start talking REALLYLOUDANDFAST (to The EGE, or sometimes to the cats) and it's like things start moving so quickly I can't keep up.

I love it when this happens: a whole new world of possibilities opens up right before my eyes and I know that this Thing, whatever it is, is going to take me for a wild ride. This happened last night, and I wanted to talk about what sparked it because while I hope it happens for you, I know it doesn't happen for everybody, and it's such a hugehugehuge part of what makes my life fabulous that I hope I can help you figure out how to make it happen more often in your own life.

Here's what's fabulous:

This is tie-dyed cotton interlock, and the darker parts are streaks that weren't part of the tie-dyeing.
And here's what got me there:
I love Alabama Chanin. The brand, not the person. The person is actually Natalie Chanin, and I don't know her at all. In fact, she's the only person I've ever profiled with whom I never actually had any direct contact. I had to read pages of FAQs and then submit any additional questions by email to her assistant, who forwarded them and then, later, sent me Chanin's responses. She was way too busy to be interviewed for a profile. So I'm pretty sure a podcast would be out of the question, don't you think? Plus I wouldn't want FAQs; what I'd love to talk about is where ideas come from and that moment of possibilities opening up. You know?

But never mind. I'm a huge fan of the concept of Alabama Chanin. I have all the books, see?
I made this skirt from a pattern in the first book. Whoa! Me? A pattern? Yes, indeed:
Of course I didn't follow it exactly--I kind of changed things and didn't exactly follow the instructions and kept having to adjust it for length and fit and had to keep dicking around with the latter because I'd never sewn knitted fabric before and it kept
in fact, even now I can wear it only when it's "fresh"; after a little while, it stretches out and I have to keep hitching it up. Any more adjusting, though, would interfere with the appliqué, which was not one of the stencils in the book, obviously.


The second book was OK but kind of a disappointment to me as it had recipes, and for me, any pages with recipes are just wasted space. The EGE gives me a continuing subscription to O Magazine, and I love it (fabulous writers!), but I always skip over the pages about food and recipes (and also the ones about hair and make-up. Geez, come to think of it, I skip over a *bunch* of pages. I'm probably missing a huge whack of stuff, but I care nothing about those things, and life is too short to spend time reading about stuff that doesn't interest me. Especially when it's geared to getting me to--duh--buy stuff).

Anyway--so I was a little leery of ordering Book #3, but I had to have it to round out my collection, right? I seldom buy brand-new books sight unseen--I either buy cheapo used books from or I order a book I've seen in Barnes and Noble and know I have to have. But to order a book cold? Yikes. It was like $27 plus shipping or something, and I almost didn't do it.

Man, am I glad I did. This book is sparking all *kinds* of ideas.

No, it's not the garments--I wouldn't wear either of these, above, for instance. And it's obviously not the colors--there's not a single color in this book that makes my heart sing. And it's not the angry-looking 16-year-old models, for sure (why is it that they can't have adult women model clothes? Oh, wait: I forgot. Everyone now officially Hates Women. Of course they don't want to see us as models. Right. Got it. Never mind.)

So it's not the things I see on these pages; it's the *possibilties* I find there. I love her explanations of the design process, and I love what she says about having a wardrobe of basic pieces. What I love most, though, is that seeing what you can do by hand has inspired me to think about my own wardrobe in an entirely different way. This came home to me stunningly this weekend, when I decided to alter a linen tunic I'd already altered several times. I started ripping out and sewing in the machine and realized I just hate it. Totally hate it. Now, I have four sewing machines. Two of them I love. In THEORY I love them, but there's something weird that happens whenever I use them. My seams are wonky. The tension is never right. It's like a constant battle, and I don't know why. As much as I love sewing by hand, I hate sewing by machine exactly that much. It could be so many things: my aversion to Rules, the fact that my mother was an EXCELLENT seamstress/machine sewer (she didn't much care for hand sewing that I know of), the fact that that kind of sewing is too  nuclear and rigid and not anywhere near funky. It could be any of those or all of those. Or something else entirely. 

So I had that new book, and it's about sewing by hand (everything is done totally by hand) with cotton jersey. Old t-shirts, originally: the first book had a lot about using old t-shirts; now that they're selling organic cotton jersey for $17.95 a yard, they don't much mention t-shirts. Duh. So I got to thinking about this, about how I might try some garments (the book comes with sheets of patterns you trace off), and I thought I'd go to the fabric store and see what they had in the way of cotton jersey. Not much, but they had 100% cotton interlock on sale for $6.99 a yard, and while I had no idea if it would work, I liked the weight and texture of it and bought two yards of an insipid pale blue. Why buy a color I find insipid? Because I'd dyed some leggings with Sky Blue and Wedgewood Blue and really liked the way they turned out and wanted to try some more on a different base color.

Because I tie dye with rubber bands, and because the agitation of the washing machine loosens the bands and because I don't want them going into the belly of the machine and forcing me to buy yet ANOTHER washing machine (I am, as you might imagine, kind of hard on washing machines--I get the very most basic Kenmore, the one that will let me do everything manually so I can adjust things as necessary. A front-loader? Forgettaboutit: you have to be able to open the lid multiple times during dyeing. So: in order to keep rubber bands from coming loose and going down in the those little drain holes, I keep the agitation to a minimum when I'm tie-dyeing.

Then: when I started trying to give things a denim/chambray color, I bought Sky Blue and Wedgewood Blue dye. They looked reallyreallyreally close in the catalog, and the person I talked to didn't really know which one was more chambray-colored. So I got both and tried the Sky Blue first. It was insipid, too--that fake pastel blue that makes my teeth ache. So I mixed up a bunch of Wedgewood and dumped it in. With only a very, very tiny bit of agitating. The results were fabulous. Here's a linen tunic that was white:

See how the shades of blue are really random? I LOVE that! The white parts are where the rubber bands were, but the darker blue parts are from the second dump of darker dye. (The dress underneath is the Isaac Misrahi dress from My Sister's Closet in Phoenix--it's probably Isaac Misrahi for Wal-Mart or something, but it was more expensive than their other stuff--I bought it because of the color + linen. It has a bunch of tiny holes in it, which makes it even cooler to me and was probably what made it affordable). I love how they now look like they go together.)

So this morning I got up and started looking at this stuff--this yardage of tie-dyed interlock and this book, and I was thinking about my Journal Shawls, the things I used to make out of cotton with images and text and embroidery and beading. They were way cool, but I never really loved them because they were a couple layers of woven cotton = they didn't drape and were too stiff and were really hard to wear. They were more display pieces--and, in, fact, that's what most people did with them when they bought them: hung them on the wall.

I've always wanted something I could do a lot to and then wear comfortably, and suddenly I have these ideas for lots of surface design on cotton interlock or jersey (I read the technical explanation of the difference between these--multiple needles in the bed, for instance, and it means nothing to me), so what I'll do is order some jersey from for less than $5 a yard, since I have no need of the organic cotton jersey Alabama Chanin sells for $17.95 a yard. I'm glad organic cotton jersey exists, but if I paid that for a yard of fabric, I'd be paralyzed. There's no way I'd start dyeing it and cutting it and experimenting to find out what it would do.

This afternoon after my Annual Physical with Mendez, involving much hilarity and trading of insults, I went over and bought 5 more yards of the interlock, this time in white. I'm washing it now with a little bleach and then will dye some of it pink + fuchsia, and then I'm going to start thinking of all the other possibilities. Book #3 has instructions for a really simple poncho--just a length of fabric with one seam--and I'm making one out of the blue. I'll wear it and test it and see what tweaks it needs, and then I can begin thinking of the embellishments I want to do. Stitching. Beading. Writing? Stamping text? I have no idea--I don't know what I want to try, but I think it will be perfect: I'm always cold and always carry something with me in the summer to put on whenever I go into a store or office. Making a bunch of these in all sorts of variations would be perfect.

Or so it seems right now. Tomorrow something else may hit me. I'm working on Twirly #2, and that's still exciting. I've got some other alterations going on. I'm still clearing out my closets and getting rid of things I don't wear--I'm taking a couple of things every week over to Trish to sell for me. That feels good. My goal, as I'm sure I've said many times, is to have a wardrobe of stuff I love, each piece unique, embellished, comfortable and colorful and--the biggie!--something that makes me happy whenever I put it on.

What are the elements that lead up to this particular "aha" moment, the moment I began dancing around the house and talking REALLYFASTANDLOUD because I realized that Anything is Possible?

~~my constant source of inspiration has always been, ever since high school, Native Funk & Flash. That's always in the back of my head, those one-of-a-kind garments lovingly made by hand with no thought to what's stylish or hip. I've said it before, and I'm sure I'll say it again: for me, this is the best book ever written. It literally changed my life, even though I didn't know it at the time.
~~Alabama Chanin--that it's possible to sew with knit and do it all by hand
~~the vagaries of Dyeing Without a Net: I learned to do it The Right Way, timing and measuring and following instructions, and now I ignore all of that and experiment.
~~the things I've done in the past--the Journal Shawls, the Journal Skirts--things that worked and things that didn't quite work and things I dreamed but didn't know how to execute.

This is how it always works for me, putting these bits and pieces into my brain and letting it mix and stir. For me, it never works to go look at other people's stuff: that just makes me depressed. Because the things I love are things that aren't popular, I'm not going to see inspiration in shops or galleries. There I just see things that depress me in their predictability. Even artwear, even cool clothes--it just doesn't usually do much for me. I need the bits and pieces of stuff grabbed from here and over there and way up on that shelf, all disparate, all quirky. Dump all those in the pot, and let my brain play around with them.

Then there are the things that kill it for me. Today was like that: I had to get dressed and get out of the house (the physical) and then run a couple errands, and by the time I got home, all I wanted to do was lie down with a bottle of vodka. And I don't even drink vodka. Being out in the world is exhausting. I saw people I liked, and I even talked about my project--this thing I'm making, this poncho--because I had it with me. And while the people were nice and listened politely, it was obvious--of course it was: they were normal, regular people--that they had no idea why I sounded so excited by this length of knit fabric. As long as I'm at home working, it's as if the whole world shares my enthusiasm about whatever-it-is that I'm doing. Out in The Real World, it's obvious that I'm exactly like the weird old guy standing in the middle of his yard gazing up at birds in the sky and going, "Wow."

I was telling someone the other day, someone who's trying to decide whether or not they want to do a podcast with me, that if they're not excited by the idea, I'd just rather forget it. All by myself, I've got enough enthusiasm to power the world. But put me with someone who doesn't have any, and trying to generate enough to share? It's exhausting. It makes me want to lie down. + vodka. Or maybe scotch. No, wait: I tried that one time; it tasted like engine cleaner.

OK. So that's kind of what it's like. Putting little bits and pieces in your head and letting things perk. It's fabulous, and I hope it happens in your own head. Now my load of fabric is ready for the dryer, and I'm going to go stitch on my poncho-ette thing--got to make the test one to see what needs tweaking. I would already be in there working on it, but I kind of need some other colors of floss--these aren't colors I usually use, and the floss book shows me the perfect colors, which are, alas, colors I do not have. I could drive all the way across town, but I'm hoping that when The EGE finished running, he'll need to go to the store for something--I HATE driving all that way just for floss. Probably $1's worth of gas for $2 worth of string. Sigh.

I'll try to be better about reporting back--I always think I'm going to post every day and show photos, but I get so wrapped up in the work and then the projects that I think, "OK, so I'll do it tomorrow, then." And then when the next day's almost over, "OK, then DEFINITELY tomorrow," and then. . . .You know how it goes.

So tell me: do these Anything is Possible moments happen for you? What do they feel like? What sparks them?

Let's go make something~~XO


Peg Howard said...

YES they do....and they are very special--the adrenaline,,,the brain rush...the bliss....and yet- like you said--not eveyone sees those same fireworks in thier head.

What a gift it is when it happens though...and to not know how long the thrill will last...ah...but its a wonderful ride when it happens.

What does it for me- and most times it happens- when I am really supposed to be somewhere else or doing something else....but the draw to follow that muse at the moment is so strong it can NOT be denied. It keeps me from sleep...I lose track of time....Yep been there done that...but it too can be exhausting in a goo way :)

Ricë said...

Yay! I love hearing this! XO

Adrian said...

"Being out in the world is exhausting."
I could just not stop laughing during this post, Rice! Unbelievable writing that is so true, true, true. Doing the happy dance when your brain is just foaming with an idea that connects it to another idea and then keeps on going is food for life!!! I never have enough energy for all that flows through the highway of imagination, but it does feed me in a way nothing else can. I am so happy for you in your newest quest and just love your courage in dyeing to color the world.
You made me feel good today. Thank you.

Ruth said...

I love it when that happens. I think of it as composting, you keep putting little scraps of ideas, images, thoughts from different perspectives into your brain or in my case, in my journal so I don't forget and let it compost and percolate for a while. Then when you're least expecting it, you get these wonderful ideas of how to combine an idea with something else that will solve that problem you had about making something. And then I've got to stop everything and write all the thoughts down that come pouring out of my brain so nothing is lost. I usually get most of these ideas when I'm out on a walk or see something that triggers the reaction.

On another subject, thanks for all the wonderful podcasts. I have just recently started listening to them as I hand stitch projects and they are really interesting. I love to hear about everyone's take on creativity and where/how ideas/curiosity develop. Keep up the great job.

Linda said...

Love it, looking forward to seeing the colors and the finished poncho. I do have those moments and most anything can set it off. Color is a biggie for me.

Ricë said...

Thank you, thank you, all of you--for taking time to comment and share your experiences with this. This is our alternate universe, where we get to hang out with other people who get it--who get those flashes and don't go, "Huh? What in the world are you going on about?"

Jeannie said...

First there is this twinge of excitement, then the critic starts in. Once I have him tucked into his little box, I start. During each step the excitement builds, it reminds me of the logic diagrams I did in college - if yes follow this arrow - the thing is, there are so many arrows. From one teeny, tiny idea sprouts an encyclopedia of "what ifs" and "I have to try this". The thrill is hard to explain, but it is why I create. It feeds my soul. Thanks for the review. Another book for the list!

Anonymous said...

What does it for me is a mystery. For no reason at all, 42 disparate thought atoms club together and whammo, I know who all these people are, what they are doing, and why they are like that. Fizzy fireworks all through my nerve endings. I write fiction, in my own way (the wrong way, most people tell me, so now I don't talk to them about it) for mostly just me. And for two friends, who get stories for presents.
Yes, "being out in the world is exhausting" for sure.
Marilyn the Art Appreciator

Robyn A said...

Hi Rice, you just made my day, I can just imagine you bopping around and talking faster and faster. Your excitement is contagious which is one of the best things! I know that feeling when you are all excited and you are trying to tell someone else about it and they get that glazed, out of the corner of their eyes look and you know they think you are most likely crazy - out in the real world. It can be a bit isolating sometimes but I get out my books and magazines and visual diaries and just revel in the colour and the texture and the how to do this and that and I begin to feel happy again. Thanks for your full-colour, supercharged delight in life and discovery.

Angie Quinby said...

This post absolutely made my day. Ever since I found this blog, it's almost like your energy is feeding mine. I love your enthusiasm!

I know exactly the feeling you mean. For me, it usually hits when I need to be sleeping, but I will stay up for days to work on something that has fired my brain, only leaving to walk the dog, feed animals, and reluctantly feed myself. It takes over. And I LOVE it. Until the crash.

And no one here understands it, so I try to contain it as I don't want nice men gently assisting me into a snug warm jacket so I can hug myself. You're right. Being out in the world is exhausting.

Have fun with your projects. I love the blues. Gorgeous.

Ricë said...

Oh, wow--this is just The Best: I read y'all's comments and go, "Yes! Yes!"

Peg Howard said...

It is wonderful to married to a man ( 35 years now" that while he doesnt "get it" lhe LOVES that I am LOVING it....he's happy that I'm happy.... :)

Yes...the passion of discovery/aha moment at the moment- can be nothing BUT talking faster and louder....the excitement has to go somewhere.... LOL...
The frenetic feeding of one idea on ideas usually after the culmination of the perculation of recombining different "creative moments that have crossed our like a drug....Sometimes I just want to tell my imagination- SLOW down....- I havent processed the thought from three minutes ago...

any of thos who have stopped by and dont get it---PRomise me you wont turn this statement over to the mental health folks....;) They dont allow sharp object when they lock you up- and there is nothing more precious than a good pair of scissors....

I think these moment happen to alot of people but on different levels of fireworks..

There are some moment of discovery that I know that it is not thier time- that I have taken it as far as I can at that moment- it goes back away to simmer- always filed away in my creative brain-
My earrings started 5 years prior- and never saw the light of day- because I wasnt using my ART...but once I discovered my digital art voice- the earrings resurfaced with a set of fireworks to rival Y2K LOL....
YEP....I GET IT...TOTALLY!!!!!may not be able to communicate it so well...

Anonymous said...

I get the rush all the time. Once I was at the local art center and the exhibit was an artist who embroidered and did 3-d pieces with thread and found objects, just awesome stuff. I had put embroidery away because it was too time consuming. I picked it up again after that show and haven't been able to stop. I get inspired by so many things that real life stuff gets in the way. People, even the artist friends, don't get it. That is why I come here because I feel like you are a kindred spirit.

Sharon Robb-Chism said...

It happens to me, usually when I least expect it. It just sort of hits me upside the face. LOL Then I'm off. The cats just stare at me with that, "Oh dear, there she goes again." look. But you know, the cats don't judge, nor does my husband. They all just roll with it. :=)

Ricë said...

"the cats don't judge, nor does my husband. They all just roll with it. :=)"


Heather K Ross said...

OMG! I am so in love with that skirt!!! Did you design the fabric? That was my "spark", I couldn't even focus on the rest of the post. LOL. That skirt is absolutely delicious!

Ricë said...

Thanks, Heather. That's an Alabama Chanin pattern (from her first book). I over-dyed old t-shirts. Each panel is two layers of reverse appliqué. The cool thing about her books is that they contain patterns for several/some/many of the garments featured. The problem is that the patterns sometimes have to be enlarged on a copy machine, which is way too much trouble for me (l-a-z-y), so you have to wing it. Or not be like me~~

Thien-Kim aka Kim said...

Rice, I totally get it. I love the excitement of a new project. I can't stop thinking about it, sketching, making it in my head. I even lose sleep over it.

I "met" Natalie Chanin last year at the Textile Musuem in DC.

I found her distant. She was very hesitant (or matter of fact) about her artistic inspiration. To me it just seemed like business. I'm not sure if that's how she really is as a person or due to the history of her first company. She mostly spoke about how her business model. She shared how she got started, when she created a garment out of old t-shirts as a necessity. She was too broke and needed an outfit for some hip NYC party. But I'm sure she's mentioned this before. I remember asking a question about how she got her ideas and her response seemed very vague.

I think I first learned about Natalie Chanin from when you profiled her. Thanks for sharing this!

Ricë said...

I enjoyed reading your post, Thien-Kim. And I think your take is probably spot on: distant, more focused on a business model. Too bad--another kind of personality behind that fabulous design sense would be so delightful. As I said, this is the only person I've ever profiled with whom I had absolutely no direct contact. Even in the days before Skype, people in Europe would at least send personal emails.

Thien-Kim aka Kim said...

Rice, I agree, it's a shame she's not more forthcoming about her inspiration. I love seeing her designs. Her style is so distinctive that I can tell at a glance that something is hers. It would have been cool to see her how brain thinks when she finds inspiration. That's what I find so fascinating about artists whose works I admire. Even if they teach/share their techniques, I don't always have the time or desire to do what they do. But creative minds, that's stuff that scientists still try to figure out.

Thanks for reading mypost!

Ricë said...

And thanks for reading mine, too! You know, I'm learning that very few creative people feel comfortable talking about ideas and inspiration. Part of it is that some don't much think about that and so can't articulate it, and part is, I think, because it feels a little like sawing off the top of their head and inviting strangers to peer into their brain, you know?