Sunday, December 29, 2013

Rules? What fun!

"Rules are made to be broken" has always seemed an odd adage, though I have broken my share of rules--usually unintentionally but, still, my share have been broken.   I think perhaps it has been a matter of the "why " of rule breaking.  The intent determines the quality of the breaking and, when it comes to fiber arts and quilting, the creative intent makes all the difference; breaking rules just for the sake of breaking them seems unnecessarily disrespectful of the artists and craftsmen who have come before us and established the rules--though that establishment was likely as unintentional as my breaking!

Sometimes I break rules unintentionally, conjuring unexpected creative opportunities.  At least,I allow them to be creative opportunities after I have explored some colorful turns of phrase.  After making mistakes I learned to figure out what I could do to work the happy accident into a new design, instead of "fixing a mistake."  I didn't always approach it this way, especially in quilting (in which I have the most experience) and I have unfinished projects to prove it!   Over the years I have seen and heard quilters who are desperately seeking just a bit more of a particular fabric to finish a quilt.  I will grant you that there are times when you don't want to explore new design opportunities but most of the time my quilts have benefited from stepping back when I make a mistake, looking at the design, and then looking at it again from another angle (sometimes literally).  I have learned to not make the suggestion to other quilters, though, unless I know them well; I have gotten horrified looks from some when I have suggested substituting another fabric from their stash.   It is what our foremothers would have done, out of necessity; think of all the antique and vintage quilts we cherish for just those qualities that we sometimes reject in modern times.  They are those bits of fabric or design that cause us to wonder what happened so the quilter did that.  Quilts (and, I think fiber creations as well) are all about stories, and these accidental designs tell such interesting stories!

Sometimes we break rules with a specific intent to come up with something new and different, trying out the "what if?" possibilities.  In this case I think it might be better if we do this after we know some very basic rules, for the sake of some structural integrity, if nothing else.   Judith Mackenzie, a marvelous spinner and fiber artist, tells of a teacher she had who allowed students a certain number of happy accidents and after that they had better be able to tell her why they were doing what they were doing differently.   I adore looking at "what if," and given all the wonderful new ideas and techniques that fellow quilters and fiber artists are coming up with, it's not an uncommon activity.(I'm constantly amazed and admiring of people who have developed techniques that, even when shown how to do them, seem inconceivable--how did they come up with these things?)

Over the past few days I have immersed myself in a gluttony of how-to videos, because I have a great deal to learn and learning is one of my favorite things.  Watching them in such rapid succession has made it apparent that experts have different rules about the same things, and they are sometimes in direct conflict.  What one expert explains as a "must" another expert will say, "What a waste of time!"  

 Granted, this can be a confusing thing for beginners in a craft if they aren't experienced enough to know head from tails.   The key is to try them out for ourselves and find out what works best for us, personally.  That takes time and practice, and as a person with a very short attention span who wants to know how to do something and wants to do it well NOW that can seem a daunting prospect.  But happy accidents along the way make the practice a joy.  Any art that has hard and fast rules, with artists who always follow them, will not advance or stay truly alive and thrive, or tell a good story.

Breaking rules--what fun!!  I'm all for it.  I don't do New Year's resolutions but if I did, I would make one to break some rules in quilting, spinning, weaving, and any other fiber-y activities I undertake.

The videos:

I am enrolled in a many Craftsy classes about quilting; the videos I've been watching the past few days have been about spinning and weaving because I'm still very much a beginner in those areas.  They are all available from Intervweave and yes, I have bought a lot of videos--these aren't all of them--but mostly over a period of 2 or 3 years; I just revisit them:

How I Spin, Rita Buchanan

The Gentle Art of Plying, Judith Mackenzie

A Spinner's Toolbox, Judith Mackenzie

Weave a Good Rug, Tom Knisely

Loom Owner's Companion, Tom Knisely

Spin Art, Jacey Boggs

Spin to Weave, Sarah Lamb

In Praise of Simple Cloth, Rita Buchanan

From Wool to Waulking, Norman Kennedy  (Mr. Kennedy has some great stories and memories of spinning and weaving over 60 years, beginning as a young man in Scotland)