Fortune Cookie Says…

Actually being Arizona, it was a fortune Taco, but more about that later…

I’m starting to get letters.  I apologize for leaving everyone hanging, but I made it home and haven’t had two minutes to breathe.  Are you surprised?

I left Tucson in a pouring rain, felt like NJ in the spring.  I saw it as a sign the universe didn’t want me to become too in love with the warm dry weather in Tucson.  🙂 The final four days of workshops were a terrific experience, I had some great students, and I thought I’d be exhausted by the end, maybe not at my best, but I found that the opposite was actually true.  When I first go out on the road to teach, after being home a couple of months, I find it takes me some time to get warmed up and to engage the part of my brain that takes over and makes sense when I talk.  After teaching for 15 days straight, I found I had a sort of groove I settled into, and found that the thoughts came easily, and repeating certain workshops only made me more efficient in the material and gave me opportunities to try a few new angles.  The last couple of workshops I taught in Tucson provided me with an opportunity to talk about an area with the students I hadn’t actually defined before in any of my presentations.


Four years ago, I finished teaching at the Grand Rapids Convergence, feeling like I was at the top of my game so to speak, and yet feeling like I had reached a plateau of sorts in my work and my creativity.  I needed someone to bounce ideas off of, and someone who could give me some guidance as to what I direction I should consider next.  That person showed up outside a Starbucks in Grand Rapids, waving to me through the window, Carol Westfall, well known and respected fiber artist and my college professor.  We have remained friends since I met her as a freshman in college in 1974.

Carol and I had lunch back in NJ when we returned home, and I dutifully brought my portfolio with me, and we sat for awhile, while she looked through it.  I was struggling with direction, with where to take my work, and she finally closed the book and looked at me, and said, “Daryl, when was the last time you went to a museum or show in NYC?”  I was surprised by the question, I hadn’t really thought much about it, and truthfully, up until that point, my track record for seeing shows and visiting museums was abysmal.  I sat alone all day in the studio and made stuff.  Carol looked at a couple of pieces I had brought and instantly made reference to other fiber artists that my work seemed to be derivative of, though I’d never even heard of these artists.  Point taken.  I hadn’t been to a show in ages, I didn’t have any idea who was working in fiber, who was bringing fiber and art together, and what they were saying.

Carol couldn’t and wouldn’t tell me where to go next because it is a journey only I can take.  What she did was hand me a subway map and a bus ticket of sorts, and told me to have fun exploring.  And explore I did.  I’ve seen more and experienced more art, fiber, fashion, and cultural experiences in the past four years than in all the time since I attended college in the 70’s.  That’s probably a stretch, but that’s what it feels like.  You can’t produce anything in a vacuum.  (My physics genius of a daughter might argue, but I think for me, that’s a pretty accurate statement).

Fast forward to Tucson.

When I used to do craft fairs, the most often asked question was, “How long does it take?”.  We’ve all heard it.  I never hear that question anymore, because I am with others like me who are involved in a process that has no time table and no way to actually calculate how long it takes.  What I hear most often now, is the question, “What can I make with this fabric?”  It is very common, and I encourage it, for students to bring things they are having problems with, and need feedback on, and more often than not, the “problem” is a piece of yardage they just need someone to tell them what to  make from it…

There’s the problem in a nutshell.  What I’d make is so very different than what they might make.  My skills, body type, area of the country where I live, climate, and body image all affect my choices when I decide what to do with yardage.  And I don’t force a solution.  I go out, and I look around, I see what’s out there, in magazines, on fashion blogs, in museums of historical costuming, in paintings, and in stores.  I know what I think looks fun and playful on my body, keeping in mind I’m not my pink haired 17 year old daughter, but a 55 year old woman, a breast cancer survivor (8 years last week!) and 8 years past menopause.  (OK, I’m still in serious denial about the four inch heels, but nobody is perfect!)

So, after 15 days straight teaching, I was feeling a little like my college professor, Carol.  I turned to the student and said, when was the last time you went shopping and looked at what was out there?  By now I had a crowd of students, and the words catalog and LLBean were muttered by more than a few of them.  We are so disconnected from our bodies after menopause, we have no clue what looks good, what feels good, or what makes us happy if we don’t go out looking.  That evening, Diane, my hostess and I went shopping at an open air upscale mall near her.  We hit Talbots, J.Jill, Anthropologie, Cache and Coldwater Creek, and a couple other stores that looked interesting.  We found all sorts of jackets, skirts, dresses, pants, and tops.  We found interesting collars, sleeve treatments, and yoked pants.  We tried on everything that looked curious, Diane found she looked good in short jackets, and I liked the 3/4 sleeves on me.  Who knew?  We bought nothing, but absorbed lots of wonderful information about what to make.

So I came home with all sorts of fun ideas and shapes crawling around in my head.  I can’t wait to cut into some fabric.  My answer to the student about what to make from her fabric would have been very different before I went on my shopping expedition vs. after.  Which brings us to the fortune cookie taco.  The class did take-out for lunch, calling in an order to a local deli.  Each of us had a fortune taco in the bottom of our bag, and one of the students squealed in delight as she pulled out her fortune and read it to the class.

El perro que no sale no encuentra hueso.  A dog that won’t go outside finds no bones.

That became the class mantra.  I enjoyed this class a lot, each student brought something different to the table, some different experience, fabric, or agenda.  And I felt I brought them to a bridge and helped push them across.

packagesWe left Tucson in the rain, and I made my way west to LA, where the sun was shining and the TSA security lines made Disneyland look like a Ghost Town.  Once at the gate, I just sat and knit.  It felt good to be alone.  I arrived in Newark after midnight, the airport there was deserted and all the bustling businesses were closed.  As it should be.  My husband and I drove home, the roads were dark and wet from the melting snow, and I struggled to get to sleep with my mind already on Monday’s agenda.  There was laundry, unpacking, banking, bills to pay.  There was a stack of mail, and two weeks worth of emails to sort.  I had to get my car reinspected. And orders.  I had 21 book orders to fill, that’s printing, binding, and packing.  The whole load went out to the post office this morning.  So if you ordered books or interfacing from me on this trip, hang on, they are coming.

I only have a couple of days turn around before I leave again, this time for Rhode Island.  Meanwhile, Candiss came last night, to hang for a couple of days between her shows in Baltimore and Philadelphia.  My house was in decent order, much to my complete delight, and my family even vacuumed while I was gone.  The only thing is no one can figure out what happened to the oven mitts.  They seem to have vanished.  Maybe the dog stole them and we will find them outside after the spring melt…

I’ve heard from three of the eleven shows I entered before I left for the southwest.  I was rejected from all three.  Big sigh…  Maybe I’ll get into a couple of the remaining eight…  It all works out the way it needs to…

So, to my classes on this trip, thank you for the privilege of spending time with you and getting to know you a bit.  Go outside and look for bones.  You might find an oven mitt or two…

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March 3, 2010 9:08 am

This inspiration thing is something I’ve been thinking about for a while now. I was feeling like I was in a dry hole until I visited an museum exhibit. That opened the gates to a big flood of ideas, and receptive to sparks from many different directions. And, I love the fortune taco. Gotta get one of those!

Julie Kornlbum
March 5, 2010 11:48 am

At the Southern California Handweavers meeting on Feb 13, I mentioned that I used to be a pattern maker in the fashion industry here. One of my first classes in school was Fashion Sketching with a wonderful teacher named Louis LaSalvia. He had a mantra of sorts that he repeated several times in every class session. At Los Angeles Trade Tech, where I went to Fashion school, our classes met four hours a day, five days a week for 10 weeks; so Mr. LaSalvia said this a lot: “You can’t design in a vacuume!” This was my first semester of… Read more »

March 6, 2010 7:38 am

Wow, I wish my meals brought me that kind of message! I am excited because our local art gallery has just reopened after a three year refurbishment – it is like the rain after a loooong artistic drought. When we lived in NJ I was a gallery junkie and we binged on everything that NYC had to offer. Back home there is not such an abundance of inspiration and it is easy to drop out altogether, but this dry spell has made me appreciate what I am missing when I stay home.

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