Creativity and Mess, Each has a Purpose

I am often very messy in my creative process. Overtime, I found I am most creative when I just go with the flow. I can’t create or get new ideas without some mess and clutter. But there comes a time in each project when my mess is too much and I am not able to proceed. This always happens when it is time to do what I call the finishing processes, the freemotion quilting, the binding, the mounting or putting on of a hanging sleeve. When I get “stuck”  I have to pick up my work area. 

A scientist just “figured me out ” ! Her paper explains both of my behaviors. She established that “disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights,” and that explains the first half when I am being creative. 

Her second conclusion that “Orderly environments, in contrast, encourage convention and playing it safe, ” makes sense too. When I get to the conventional part of my process, making it actually into a quilt, I need some order in my environment. 

So I celebrate my mess! It is what makes my work mine. And I celebrate my order, It is what helps others to understand my work.

Read about Kathleen Vohs’ Study here

When to use a thread net

I use a thread net on the spool of thread when I see the thread coming off the spool in jerks or big spasms. I always use one on monopoly and metallic thread spools. 

Two things happen when a thread net is used. 

1. A teeny bit of top tension is added. So I may have to back off the top tension a smidge. On my Innova ling arm that is about a quarter turn of the top tension knob.

2. The thread comes off the spool more smoothly so the thread does not drape and get caught on a screw, get wrapped under the spool, come out of a hook or eye, or get caught on a fitting. 

Kelly’s Chicken Pumpkin Chili

I love fall. I love cold crispy weather. And, I love pumpkin. But I’m not too crazy about sweet pumpkin dishes or even about sweet “sweet” potato dishes either. So I decided to make a savory pumpkin recipe. A couple of nights ago, my family pitched in together to make chili on a cold frosty Nebraska night. Tonight it is a cold chilly Texas night and chili seemed to be on order too. But we had no beef… What to do? Invent! Hubby had two servings (unusual for him) and said, “you have to remember how to make this, it’s good.” So, here it is.


  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 good-sized leeks including the green tops (leeks are not scallions, and are not green onions) or 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, diced including the leaves
  • 2 carrots, diced (or 1 snack pack )
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
  • 1 (32 oz.) carton reduced sodium chicken broth
  • 1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin purée (NOT pumpkin pie filling, needs to be 100% pure pumpkin without any flavorings)
  • 1 (15 oz.) can black beans
  • ½ cup frozen or sm can of corn kernels (mexicorn works great too)
  • 1 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt (I used 2% Fage Greek Yogurt)
  • 2 teaspoons – 2 tablespoon ground cumin* (I LOVE comino and use a lot)
  • 1 tablespoon pinto bean seasoning (Fiesta)
  • 1-2 tbsp chili powder (Gebhardt’s)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoon Cider Vinegar
  • 3 cups cooked shredded chicken breast
  • 1 teaspoon or more of red cayenne pepper (start with less and add to taste)

Optional garnish finely chopped fresh cilantro, greek yogurt, diced avocado, shredded cheddar cheese and tortilla chips


Heat olive oil in deep soup pan, add leeks, celery , garlic. Sweat out the leeks and celery until they are just starting to caramelize, then add the carrots. Sauté till carrots are tender, add the black beans, corn, pumpkin, mix up. Add the spices, and cider vinegar mix up. Add some broth until it is like runny pudding in consistency ( it will not use all the broth). Add the yogurt. Now add the corn and chicken. heat and stir. If it gets to thick, add more broth. Keep stirring every once in a while until the chicken is hot. Add more broth if you need to. You will probably not use all the broth.


I prefer to make this very thick so it is like a chili. You can easily turn it into a tortilla type soup and stretch the recipe for more people if you add more broth. if you do that, you will need to adjust the seasoning by probably adding more.

My family loves comino and chili and spicy foods, so after the flavor was good, I added MORE. Use the smaller amounts first, until you know what your personal taste is like. And, you can tone down the spiciness by adding more yogurt if you need to.

I served the Chicken Pumpkin Chili with a dob of greek yogurt, grated cheese, and sprinkling of chopped cilantro.

*I ground my own comino seed in a small mortar and pestle. I also used leeks. I find leeks sweeter and smoother tasting than regular onions, and prefer to use them whenever I can find them.

Mom Made a Quilt for Me

Mom loves traditional block patterns, especially log cabin blocks. I am not and never have been a traditionalist at anything. So we decided to quilt but quilt different things. Mom has gotten into the quilts of valor big time and has also made a quilt for almost everyone in family. The quilt she made for me is purples, lavenders and pinks. And it IS on a bed! In fact, I decided to decorate a whole guest room around it. It’s going to be an 1880’s bordello fluffy vision of linen and lace and crystal chandeliers (while the rest of my house is distinctly southwest eclectic tomboy.) I hope it gives Mom and Dad a thrill to spend the night in it. Maybe it will kindle romance. (cover my eyes, can’t imagine the parents romancing).

The Day Mom Tried to Steal My Quilt (aka the day we started quilting).

I have to start this story with some background first:

My mom made a lot of my clothes when I was a toddler and she made some fantastic formal dresses and things for herself. So awesome in fact, that when she was throwing one out, I kept it. It is in my closet today. She and I have never been the same size or shape. I am taller and had less bust. She is finer boned. But that dress in a beautiful 70’s avocado green is runway quality. I couldn’t just let her throw it away. I remember her wearing that with her hair teased up and sparkly earrings and jewelry looking like a movie queen when Dad took her to a big formal Dining Out Military Ball. She was beautiful. So the dress is mine! HA! Mom loved sewing and she did it really well.

I took home-ec in high school because I loved to cook. What I didn’t think about was that home-ec had a half semester of sewing which, being a tomboy, I didn’t have much time for. The result I created was the most horrendous rendition of a hippy shirt that even the most down and out hippy wouldn’t have worn it. We had to wear our creations to school and mine fell apart. My best friend, Nicole, saved me from total nudity by grabbing the shoulder seam and keeping it from falling on the floor. I do think I flashed my size AAA bra at some senior cutie though. I was sooooo embarrassed. That was pretty much my sewing experience until I was in my 40’s.

My mom was looking in my linen cupboard and fondling the quilt my great-grandmother had made for me. It was the last quilt Grannie ever made. Completely hand sewn from piecing to quilting with her very arthritic fingers. Of course I didn’t appreciate it as a fourth grader. I was into ‘pink’, pink carpet, pink walls, pink sheets, pink teddy bears. But I didn’t wear pink and I hated dolls. Also, I was a confirmed complete tomboy who liked helping my dad work on his cars. I was a tomboy who just happened to like pink to look at. Anyway Grannie’s quilt was green, as green as green could be, and covered in the most carefully stitched Sunbonnet Sue appliquéd dolls. So I wasn’t exactly jumping up and down when I got it in fourth grade. Mom told me I had to use it since Grannie worked so hard on it. I put it on my bed UNDER the pink coverlet.

Roll forward 40 plus years, to the day I caught my Mom trying to steal my quilt from Grannie. Mom told me she was taking it home since I didn’t appreciate it. HUH!?! What are you talking about!?! I said. She informed me.. I had it in the closet; and, not on a bed; and, since it was made with love; and, that I didn’t appreciate it because it wasn’t out on a bed. I kinda got mad.. okay, I got really mad.. what Mom didn’t know or remember was.. that quilt saw me through pneumonia in the hospital, that quilt went on all our US crazy nation crossing camping trips, that quilt went with me all over the United States of America after I grew up and left home, that quilt was the one I chose to curl up in watching late night movies (and still do), that quilt covered me and my dog when I was crying to myself over cancer trials and tribulations, that quilt was the first thing I took and packed when leaving my exes… all of them… all the boyfriends and jerks and all. That quilt lived my life with me and was the only thing I had from a great-grandmother I heard great stories about but never got to really know because my family lived all over the world, away from the relatives. That quilt was part of my life and gifted to me. Not to her. That quilt didn’t mean as much to her and it did to me. No way it possibly could. I lived some very emotional parts of my life and left gallons of tears on that quilt. But Mom didn’t know all that. All Mom knew was that I didn’t like it as a fourth grader and I hid it under the pink coverlet to hide it.

But I did realize something. She had her own story about Grannie. And that got Mom and I talking. We talked about other relatives and how she didn’t have very much in the way of material things to remind her of Grannie.

Mom is getting older and her children have not reproduced. I think sometimes that really gets to her. What legacy is left, what will be left behind? She wants to leave something that people will appreciate, care about and remember her by. She has done and incredible job and is still finding facts about our family history. It is fascinating. But what about the future. We talked around that subject, but I think that the future is what really was bothering her that day.

We talked about what Grannie’s quilt meant for each of us. Mom mentioned she always wanted to quilt. I asked her why she didn’t. Mom often just doesn’t do a thing because she thinks they will be too hard to do or she will be unsuccessful. I doubted Mom could make a bad quilt if she tried because I have seen her sewing skills and have the dress for proof. I told her that and I suggested that the only thing that can happen is that we make an awful quilt and we would really hide in our closet. not cause we are adults and don’t want a twin size sun bonnet sue on our king size bed.. but because we really should hide it. And we would see it and laugh, and it would be a legacy of her.

So, that was the day, Mom and I made a pact to start quilting.

A Blunt Question to Ponder

Melanie of Catbird Quilt Studio wrote a post that made me think profoundly about what happens to all our quilt stuff and stash when we die:

Last month a family member died. He had no will, and aspects of his assets have created a mess for his widow. Jim and I have long had wills and recently reviewed them with our attorney. But I still…

Source: A Blunt Question to Ponder

Drought, Improvisation

The entire process has been interesting. I started with the intent to improvise, to use my ugliest fabric, and to enter a show. I also planned to apply color and design theory and stay rigidly within a complementary color scheme.

I succeeded in those goals. It was butt ugly. Really it was. At first.

The ugly brown fabric I chose was one I bought in bulk with a lot of other bolts. It languished on the shelve for three years. At a quilt guild meeting, I heard several others talking about their ugly fabric challenge. I thought it was a great idea, I knew exactly the fabric I would base this on. At least now I had a challenge to use it up. This fabric was so bad, no one wanted to swap for it and I couldn’t give it away. Being raised frugally, I couldn’t just toss it.

Amazingly I also had in my stash a blue which was exactly opposite that brown on the color wheel and it was also an ombre.

Now this was improv, with no pattern or plan. So I just started by layering the two fabrics and cutting big swaths in mild curves. I sewed those matching curves together, of course with big chucks I ended up with things that wouldn’t lay flat. So then I chopped up into blocks  that would lay flat and decided I would just sew them together. It looked like a muddy mess with no life to it. It was the sleepiest boringest most awful quilt I had ever made. Now what? CMYK color wheel to the rescue. I realized I needed some pop. but what? more blue.. na, more brown, na.. but what? Would I need to change my complementary rule? Well, turns out on the CMYK color wheel that orange is really brown that isn’t diluted. how wonderful! And I just happened to have a yard of the perfect orange in my stash. So I began layering and slicing orange into the most boring blocks. I ended up with something much more interesting, now the blocks had fire! I realized. Muddy browns, Sky blues and fire.. the name of the quilt came to me at that point.. Drought! We were living it for real and this quilt was being born in the middle of drought made of the colors of drought.

For me 100% improv is impossible. I compulsively have to add rules as I go, I have to build a framework or I get “stuck” and go nowhere. I have found that 4-7 rules is the right number to get pleasing results. A few rules give structure, too many rules and the improve quilt will look plain boring. Limiting the number of rules encourages experimentation and flexibility when “issues” arise in the process.

I had been in a stubborn Dr Seuss mindset regarding quilting during this period of my life. This could have been my mantra:

I’m not going to do straight lines,
I don’t like straight lines,
I will not do them, no I won’t,
I will not do them,
It’s not a joke.

My rules for this quilt were:

  1. Must use the single absolutely ugliest fabric I had in my stash.
  2. Must stay in a complementary color scheme using the CMYK color wheel.
  3. Keep the idea of a “modern” quilt in mind especially negative space, scale, contrast, and incorporate illusion depth of field ideas.
  4. Let the quilt develop. i.e. Build each stage as I go without pre-planning the next stage… Worry about the blocks first, then figure out the layout, then the quilting plan, then figure out the binding.
  5. If it gets a few wows from people, enter it in a couple of shows.
  6. My Reward if I do all the above: (not really a rule, but a goal
    If I do all this, Get a new camera. (see one has to set fun goals especially if one is using ugly stuff to create new stuff. I had a goal even if the project stayed ugly and got boring. I believe in rewarding oneself at the end of onerous tasks. And my old camera, was really old, and had white spots where pixels were burnt out, and needed replacing really badly)

(if you want to know… I got all the way through number 5, so I had to get the new camera so I could submit the quilt to the shows. YAY!)