It's an amazing thing when a gift falls into your lap and as soon as you unwrap it in your mind you know exactly what you're going to do with it. That's kinda what happened in April of 2000. A few months before that I had read a book on the journals of pioneer women and was really impacted by their strength and the haunting ring of their words. Something started to tug at me. Somewhere in one of those books I saw where a woman who had gone West in a wagon train had later made a momento of the journey by taking an old weathered piece of the tent they had slept under and stitched a blurry photograph someone had taken of them to the piece of fabric. She had then written in thread simply "Piece of the old tent." Something continued to tug at me. Not long after that I watched for the first time in quite a few years parts of the Ken Burns PBS Series, The Civil War. Here Burns touched you visually with the power of the old photographs and grabbed you emotionally with words read from the letters of that time. Something started to bug the heck out of me.
Then the gift appeared. On a Sunday morning in April the solidified thought of what I would do with the inspiration I had received didn't exist...but by that evening I had put together what would be the first of thousands of pieces of work that I would sign my name to over the next eight years. Now mind you it was a distant cousin of the pieces I do today, but the idea was there. I knew that what I wanted to do would require putting layers together and that it even might mean sewing. Problem was I didn't know how to do that. I didn't like sewing...or so I thought. (Years earlier, when I was a professional singer, I almost quit a band I was in because they wanted me to sew my own costumes.) I didn't own any fabrics really...why would I? But the more I thought about it the more I wanted to stitch that photo down just like my "tent-lady." I gathered up some unprimed artist canvas that I had in my little paint studio, a couple of pieces of cardboard and a couple of cotton blouses whose fabrics I didn't mind sacrificing. Strangely enough my husband at the time, had a little $100 Sears sewing machine in his workshop where he would make little pouches for all the electrical cords he took out on the road with him when his band toured. I had to read the manual on how to wind a bobbin. As it turned out, the imperfection of my sewing was perfect for the rustic, old look I was going for. He also had some photo-transfer paper on hand from trying out photos on t-shirts before the band made them to sell. Basically, I had no idea what I was doing.
The first piece you see above was rough to say the least...and not exactly what I had in mind. Tried it again with the Sadie Austin piece you see next and felt like I was getting a little closer. A big mostly cardboard piece followed (still lacking in the fabric department). Not happy. Then I did my first Annie Oakley piece and something clicked. I knew from the beginning I would recognize what I was after when I saw it. That piece was closer to the story I was trying to tell. Gave myself a good talking to. I decided that if I wanted to ever be good at this I had to give myself permission to be bad at it for awhile. Being bad at it wasn't a problem. But then I did something that made all the difference. I stopped trying to tell "my girls" and my materials what I wanted them to say and started listening to what they were already saying. The first of well over a hundred quotes, that I would write via this "listening thing" followed, and the gift was completely unwrapped. God signed the card in big, bold letters and I have been taking his winding roads and winding bobbins ever since...thanking him every step of the way.