They're working on the train tracks. I can see the big machines, the workers in their orange vests. The construction noises from the big machines are loud, but comforting. When the work is complete, the next train comes along. I say, hi train. The whistle is blowing loud and really long. This is significant because the conductor does not always blow the whistle. Today the whistle is laughing about something, or maybe just happy to get the train moving again.
Did you know Nature produces many shades of green? I'm reminded of that because of the foilage outside my window. I'm waiting for the deer to pass. They usually come in the morning. Maybe they'll come later. After the train goes by I realize something's different. Then I notice in the midst of green is a sheath of gold. The beginning of August, and gold is reminding that Autumn will be here soon.
Coffee, leftover rice, fresh veggies, eggs, oranges and toast for breakfast. Energy. Maybe I should eat like this all the time. Maybe I should workout.
I read somewhere that it's not healthy to workout everyday. Something about the body needing to recalibrate, recharge, heal. Maybe I should finish the painting I started the other day.
canvas, acrylic paint, wheat paste, beads, pearl cotton thread, hand embroidery
Like AWB sings in School Boy Crush, I was "just out walking," getting some fresh air and exercise. The other reason was to get to know my new, refurbished camera, a necessary tool for visual artists.
It is 84 degrees and 9:30 a.m.
By the time I get going, it's nearly 90 degrees. Mask on and sweating, I make my way to Riverfront Park along the Monongahela River.
Funny thing about sunshine and breezes, the 90 degrees part of the equation is not a hindrance, rather a blessing. People all over the world are sick, some dying or dead. No complaints from me. I walk for them. The following is a photo and video journal of my morning walk.
This first image is a mistake, the camera did its job as it swung around my neck. I forgot to turn it off and this is a picture of the path I walked. Mistakes can be good things. Like Miles said, "There are no mistakes, just new music."
This little bird allowed me to take its picture. Then suddenly turned in the other direction so I could get that side too.
Texture and color theory. The first is a close up of a huge boulder situated along the path. The second is the same boulder where someone spay painted across the bottom, lines of pink.
Lots of shades of green and majestic trees along the Monongahela River. And then bursts of fushcia.
Next came geese walking. Time to sit, relax, reflect.
Pardon my shaky hands.
Since I began with AWB, here's School Boy Crush. Back in the day I knew the number to this song on the jukebox at the bar. Here's to relaxation and good times. Listen with earphones so you can hear the baseline. Enjoy!
Remember finger painting, how much fun that was? So messy and rewarding at the same time. Why is it that when we become a certain age, we stop needing to be messy.
I was reading one of my art journals yesterday, looking for inspiration and came across this quotation by the painter, Howard Ikemoto. He said, "When my daughter was about seven years old, she asked me one day what I did at work. I told her I worked at the college -- that my job was to teach people how to draw. She stared at me, incredulous, and said, You mean they forget?"
Saturday, I was out walking and decided to visit the Goodwill store by my house. I found canvas boards, new ones and at a much cheaper price than regular art suppliers.
Thinking of Mr. Ikemoto's daughter, I decided to get messy. I never could draw, but what about the feel of a brush in my fingers, letting the paint become an extension of my good mood. Here's the result that I titled Underwater.
Underwater: canvas, acrylic paint, glitter, embroidery thread, chain stitch
Thanks for stopping by!
Free style quilting allows the quilter to relax and sew. There are no preconceived notions about block construction. You simply reach into the basket, pull out the next piece of fabric and attach it to another piece of fabric. Before long the design wall is filled with interesting and delightful blocks, colors and textures playing nice.
For this quilt and others like it, after your design wall is filled with your blocks, start to rearrange them. See where the quilt is taking you.
After several weeks of piecing and finally arranging and rearranging quilt blocks, one block emerged as the spokesperson, displayed a window motif, hence this quilt's name, Golden Window.
When I was piecing this quilt, I watched a documentary about the great jazz musician, Sonny Rollins, titled Beyond the Notes. Mr. Rollins said something about horn, without the words and I thought, quilt without fancy technique. Simple movement through color, shape, lines, texture and thread.
In this same documentary, the bassist, Christian McBride, said improvisation is the genius that allows for music composition on the spot, while the thing is going on. He also said, "Learn everything you can about playing jazz and then forget it."
That's how I feel about quilting. Learn everything and then have fun. Those techniques are your foundation, your toolbox to pick, choose or discard as the need arises. We needn't be overburdened by doing something "right," as opposed to doing what feels "right."
The Golden Window
Quilt photos by Natalie Moffitt
This quilt and it's fabric may look familiar. They were born from the same scrap basket. See Golden Window's sister quilt, Bit of Raspberry.
Thanks for stopping by and happy creating!
This is what you call an old fashioned quilt. It's made from bits of fabric scraps leftover in my stash. You step back, let colors and textures speak among themselves. It’s quilted in sections, so that I wouldn’t have to struggle machine quilting on a machine designed for garment construction.
The middle section came first then I built around that. Once all the pieces were set on the design wall, I noticed a flash of raspberry. Hence the quilt’s name, Bit of Raspberry, which reminded me of raspberry sherbet I loved as a kid.
Photos by Natalie Moffitt
This quilt is machine pieced and quilted. Some of the fabric (including the raspberry fabric) functioned as clothes in another life that I purchased from Goodwill. Other material includes polyester, cotton and muslin. Sometimes muslin gets a bad name. It’s an inexpensive fabric that designers use to make a garment before cutting the “good” cloth. I like muslin. It’s sturdy and malleable. It’ll do whatever you want. And it’s great for paints, will accept water color, acrylic and others. I also use it when I want to tea or coffee dye fabric.
Some quilts are for hanging on the wall. Other quilts are for wrapping up in. Bit of Raspberry feels good.
Bit of Raspberry
Quilts chat about contradiction; they tolerate harmony. When you get going on a quilt, the sewing machine sings to you. Even an old machine like mine, clunking along in her bass voice. The act of pushing and pulling the quilt, having the feed dogs lead—these things—and the experience becomes meditative, especially during this time of deceit and honesty.
Liars and oppressors are ugly, but beautiful when the whole world notices and isn’t afraid to comment.
Honesty can be ugly. When colors, fabric textures and hand-feel clash and don’t want to work together, but you put aside what you know to be true and push on anyway. In the end, the quilt is not really ugly, as in revolting, but sad, just there, in your house. Maybe a child wraps up in it on the floor as they watch television.
Like if you know the truth, are honest with yourself about truth but feign ignorance about it in conversations, or during your daily rituals and encounters. You lie to the world, but in your heart, you know the truth. God forbid if a child lays on the floor and watches television wrapped in your deceit.
One day though, and suddenly, your silence slips and your honesty, that thing you know but have lied about, exposes itself. Maybe you whispered it to someone who may have been your ally at another time. But during this pandemic-killer cops time, you realize that person is no longer a collaborator. You missed it when they voiced the hidden truth, stood tall and took it, the uncomfortable feeling we all get when our brains shift and we decide on something better. Your collaborator owned up to complicity. Your collaborator changed.
All these thoughts, a meditative approach, as my sewing machine hummed.
The dark fabric is light, like truth found on a blank slate, the blackboard waiting for someone to record thoughts or calculations.
Gangster yellow reminds about care, how much goes in because too much yellow overpowers the quilt’s message, its flow and then not even contradiction can have a say. Use yellow like spice sprinkled from above, sparingly.
The yellow is sun pushing her way though, no matter what, and aligning herself with darkness, the grand plan, the empty slate, the blackboard that reveals our limits too, when we flinch as fingernails dig the slate’s surface and scratch across. That sound. That’s where we are, able to stand the sound, or cowering, our nerves shot to hell under the weight.
The on and on of seasons. The leaving and coming. Straight lines. Crooked lines. Sunflowers alongside camouflage. Slants of green until Spring highjacks and green throws itself everywhere in a pleasing way. There’s gold specks on black and gold specks on red. There's red and gold prairie points jutting answers, recommendations, and healing.
Midnight and Sun
Photos by Natalie Moffitt
Techniques: nine patch, strip piecing, prairie points, reverse appliqué, machine piecing, machine quilting.
Materials: antique quilt pieces, cotton and polyester fabric, threads, batting.
This post is about unfinished projects and imperfections.
In the quilt world, we say there is no such thing as a perfect quilt. Look outside. Nature is crooked, bent and twisted. We also say in the quilt world, when imperfections become too noticeable by the maker, the quilt becomes a “keeper.” It’s perfectly beautiful, just not one you want to offer to paying customers.
It’s probably true about all forms of creativity, that if you are in a middle of a project and, for whatever reason, find yourself being pulled away from its completion, getting back to it can be problematic. You forget your place. Inspiration fueling advancement dries up. Impressions are forgotten. Keys to next steps go away.
While reorganizing fabric, separating cloth into piles of like-minded colors and textures, I stumbled across an unfinished quilt project. We had a sit down, the quilt and me, as I tried to remember what the quilt wanted. I couldn't remember.
Luckily, a new set of inspiration arrived. The quilt and me moved forward. There were shortcuts. I decided not to continue hand embroidering which, now that I think about it, is probably one of the reasons why the quilt remained unfinished. Hand embroidering is time consuming and more than that, our bodies have just so many cycles. Embroidery has become hard on my wrists and fingers. I decided to finish the quilt, try to remain as close to the original plan as possible, but without adding more hand embroidery.
I always preach to my students the importance of hand sewing bindings. You don’t want to see hemming threads from the back on the front of the quilt. Plus, there’s such a calming effect that happens when you hem: the pretty hem stitches, the mesmerizing rocking of the needle. I was all set: tea, audio book, threads, needles. I began hemming, realized how long it would take me to finish, and coupled with the tingles in my fingers as I worked, broke one of my cardinal rules and decided to machine hem.
Here's Redwork In Blue Variation. The word variation is added because the binding fabric is black and gold. A traditional redwork quilt uses only two colors: red and white.
Materials include cotton fabric, West African woven and hand dyed cotton cloth, pearl cotton and embroidery floss. Techniques include hand embroidery, applique, machine piecing and quilting.
Reorganizing? Find an unfinished project? Give it another go. Nothing unfinished? Try something new. What better time.
Thanks for reading. Hope to see you again!
Back in the 1950’s and 60’s children grew up with The Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan presented once a year as Sunday night television treasures. I have to admit my excitement about both presentations.
In Peter Pan, I could fly. The singing by Mary Martin as Peter, and Cyril Richard as Mr. Darling and Captain Hook, made the whole thing joyful. It was a thing to take part in. I clapped loud and long for Tinker Bell. The content as pertains to Tiger Lily, the Native American character portrayed by Sondra Lee, was problematic. Without knowing any authentic Native languages or music, we knew that portion as bogus and learned to skip over the weird parts.
The Wizard of Oz lasted longer than Peter Pan, as a Sunday night television event. The flying monkeys were terrifying. The Munchkins lived in a beautiful neighborhood with lots of big colors, flowers and candy. The town was clean. Everyone dressed nice. Even the thug Lollipop Kids were accepted by the community. The Wizard was a big disappointment. But kids should know that feeling of disappointment, believing in something or someone and then realizing the whole thing as fake. This is one way for children to recognize fakery in real life.
The thing that bothered me about The Wizard of Oz was the treatment of the so-called Wicked Witch of the West. Munchkin Land was afraid of her. Why? Listen, if some girl in a flying house from some place no one ever heard of came crashing down, landed on my sister and killed her, I’d be angry too.
As a kid I learned the difference between anger and wickedness and I wondered why no one else understood. The Witch of the West was angry. Not wicked. To me, Mrs. Gulch was the wicked one, pedaling around on her bicycle being mean to innocent puppies.
I had an old broom. Sometimes I used it. Most times it sat in the corner. The broom followed me everywhere I moved. Finally, I put it in the hallway outside my apartment door intending to use it to sweep the hallway as needed. But I never did. One day as I was unlocking my front door, the broom stopped me. I looked at her and decided to bead her, brought her back inside and began to bead. As so often happens in the midst of creation, the thing being created tells you what it is and how it is to be. I listened. The result is The Old Broom, Resurrected by the One They Called Wicked.
By the time I completed The Old Broom, my fingers felt arthritic, by back hurt, and my eyes were seeing black and white stripes and boxes at the edges. But, I was grateful for the opportunity to create Her. I was happy I listened to her instructions. She has become a part of me. We are one. She is me. I am her.
What The Broom asked for, is that she be resurrected with shiny glass beads to reflect light, and packets of potions hung in muslin by twine at the base of the broomstick. The potions include elemental tools like rice for sustenance, spices for excitement, coins for prosperity, dirt for planting and standing strong, and candy for happiness and relaxation. She also wanted a quilted pad to rest her feet (the bottom of the broom straw).
Techniques include design, circular peyote stitch (the real name is tubular peyote, but I always forget that word. It’s one bead on your needle, you sew it in, you pop it into place, you pull the thread for tension, you pick up another bead and around and around you go) bead weaving, twine braiding, hand piecing and machine quilting.
Materials include the repurposed broom, glass beads, muslin, glitter, Mod Podge, rice, spices, pennies, dirt, candy, threads, batting and twine.
Photos by Natalie Moffitt
As always, thank you for appreciating my work and Happy Creating!
If you follow this blog, you know that in 2017 I visited my niece, Karen, in San Diego, California. Karen had just undergone brain surgery and I wanted to lend my support to her as she recovered. Since that time, I am happy to say, Karen has survived two surgeries and radiation. She is thriving. She is my hero.
Our family is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Karen left home to join the Marines when she was 18 and never looked back. She traveled extensively, finally settling in San Diego. She’s happy there, and when you go through such a life altering event as she did, home seems so far away.
This is when you find out who your family and friends are, you find out about willing warriors, the ones willing to stick with you during the thick of it.
Karen’s friend, Thomasina, rose to the occasion, let me tell you. She attended every pre-operation doctor visit to help Karen listen to doctor’s instructions, was there for the operations and post-op check-ups, as well as just being there for Karen at home and during her recovery.
I noticed when I was there, the effect Buttons had on Karen. Buttons is Thomasina’s puppy and when Thomasina and Buttons visited, Karen’s spirits soared. She smiled, got on the floor with Buttons and generally enjoyed herself that day. She and I talked about the fact that maybe a puppy would be good for her too. We visited a shelter and she continued to visit shelter websites after my visit was complete.
One day Karen called to tell me about Cookie, the shelter dog she had adopted. What a difference Cookie has made in Karen’s life. Cookie is funny, smart and protective, the kind of puppy you think you have known all your life. She just fits in!
What do you do when you are so far away from a loved one, how do you continue those moments of love and healing. Karen and I talk frequently. She plays upright bass, bass guitar and rhythm guitar. So we talk about music and our family ties to stringed instruments. My paternal grandfather, Boyce Richardson, (who I never met, he died before I was born) played guitar, and his brother-in-law, my great uncle, Jim Bennett, played upright bass. Uncle Jim Bennett was an entrepreneur and died during a shoot-out with Revenuers as he protected his still and other investments, with his silver 45, down there in Spartanburg, South Carolina. We know they are pleased, from heaven, about our love of music and stringed instruments.
But still, I wanted to do something else. I wanted to keep my energy in Karen’s life, from Pittsburgh all the way to San Diego. Then it hit me. I’ll make quilts, one for Cookie and one for Buttons. That way, as I thank Karen for her strength, and thank Thomasina for her friendship, the sentiment has a tangible component.
The quilts are identical, except that Cookie’s quilt incorporates gingerbread cookie fabric.
Here is a slideshow of Karen and Cookie, followed by Thomasina and Buttons and Cookie. Cookie is such a ham, getting in all the pictures.
Thanks for stopping by and good luck to you on whatever you create today!
Women and Drinking Songs
This is a continuation from another post titled Music Appreciation, a thing I'll continue to do as the mood dictates. Pandora played a song for me by Mikki Howard that I'd never heard before. I liked the song so much (lyrics, voice, music) that I wondered what other songs had been recorded by women about drinking and getting high. It's usually men who record get high songs, so I did some research and what I found interested me. I'm sure there are many other songs, but let's start with Mikki Howard's Beer For Breakfast. This song is so fonky. The bassline alone. My My. Enjoy!
Let's go back and pick up some classical blues. Here's Bessie Smith singing Me and My Gin, "Don't try me nobody, cause you will never win. . ."
Nina Simone recorded Me and My Gin under the name Gin House Blues. Her rendition, though upbeat, is still the blues. Of course Nina on the piano. This is a live version. Unfortunately no video. Imagine being in that audience.
Lil Johnson is one of my favorite blues singers. Her songs tell it like it is, like this one, Let's Get Drunk and Truck, "You know my other man is out of town. Your other woman she's not around. Now is the time to break em down, let's get drunk and truck."
Ruth Brown. The song is not about drinking, but it is about confidence in what you got. If I Can't Sell It, I'll Sit on It, "This is not St. Vincent DePaul."
Let's slow it down a pace for Dinah Washington singing Drinking Again. I grew up with Dinah's voice in the house from my older siblings, Dorothy, Evelyn, Sonny and Jerome. This is the kind of music they listened to. I'm glad they did. Their choices in music helped lay a solid foundation for the soundtrack of my life.
Listening to Dinah made me think about Nancy Wilson, who passed a few days ago. Their voices are close in texture and mood. I couldn't find any drinking songs by Nancy. But I did remember she did a commercial for Stroh's Beer. Once at a concert at the Syria Mosque in Pittsburgh, she sang the commercial for us. Here's Nancy at the recording session. Watch Nancy's expression when the man wants to go through it once for her, as if she needs help interpreting a little ditty.
Smokin Room by Rufus and Chaka Khan presents another thing. I guess the song is open to interpretation but I think it's about a woman who wishes to take the relationship beyond just having fun and getting high. See what you think.
We'll let Billie Holiday end this post with Ain't Nobody's Business if I Do, "If I go to church on Sunday then cabaret all day Monday, ain't nobody's business if I do."
Hope you enjoyed this installment of Music Appreciation.
Happy creating. Good vibes to all that you write, sing, compose, sculpt, build, whatever you are doing. Stay in the groove!
Oh, but wait. I found this. Aretha singing Drinking Again. Had to include my girl.
I'm sitting by the back window, cup of coffee warming my hands when suddenly, I see through the camouflage of brown brambles and bare trees, two deer—one female, head down nibbling whatever nourishment still thrives under layers of dead leaves; and one male, head down sniffing the female’s nourishment. They are a couple, I think.
Just as suddenly, a train passes along the trestle as it does everyday in 15 or 20 minute intervals. Today, the train stops though and awakens the sun to shine on me through my window. I raise the blinds to allow full access. The deer continue nibbling and sniffing. The train continues to stay. The sun continues to shine on us. It is tableau.
We remain in our respective roles for 20 minutes or so. I marvel about how my body slows, is neither thinking of what I need to do nor caring that I don't. I do notice that the female deer is almost impossible to see, her camouflage so correct as to save the next generation. The male is brown, but deeper, more noticeable.
Finally the female deer decides to sit. She uses three jerky movements to settle herself. The male deer stands a few more seconds, then joins her in sitting. They are opposite each other, only inches between. His ears remain upright, twitch, listen. She is more relaxed, continues chewing. I smile because it looks like she’s chewing a stick of Juicy Fruit.
We are montage making a miracle; Olorun (the sun) shinning down on Òsóòsì (the hunter, deer), Ògún (iron, technology), and me.
My fixed schedule looms but I can not move. It's as if the miracle bids me relax, desires that I bask in the majesty of Olóòfin's (God’s) natural manifestations, His/Her/Its science and technology.
After about 20 minutes more, train sounds begin, the grind of metal on metal urge forward movement. As the train slowly departs, the deer stay, are not frightened by the train’s big noise, have become familiar and comfortable with the reverberation of iron.
The sun hangs about. The deer and I receive continuous shots of vitamin D.
After more minutes, a new train arrives. The deer glance up, appear to watch its arrival as children do, in states of wonder.
I turn my face to the sun, directly in front of me now, smile, hold the miracle. Physically, spiritually and intellectually, I experience majesty, say:
Mo júbà Olóòfin! Mo júbà Olorun! Mo júbà Ògún! Mo júbà Òsóòsì!
Only then am I released and refreshed enough to fit myself into the schedule Spirit has planned for me.
Most often our schedules prevent us from spending moments with miracles. Like the train, deer and sun, let us revive ourselves again.
What are your miracles? Translate the experience into your knowledge of majesty.
Share them if you'd like and happy creating!
Back in the day someone would buy a new album, a dime bag and adult beverages. There would be food and friends all converging to relax and listen, our version of music appreciation. Most often the sounds were instrumental—jazz, and R&B from popular singing groups that also wrote and played their own music, like War. I remember once the celebration centered on the soundtrack from a movie scored by Quincy Jones. Some of the pieces were short bursts of musical energy that probably represented some lively thing happening on the screen. Other pieces were longer. Quincy took no shortcuts. Each piece, whether brief or extensive, was a fully realized composition. I don’t remember the name of the movie. I do remember the fun we had that night, partaking and listening to Quincy’s creativity.
If you are still a partaker of adult stimulants, or if your mind is sufficiently stimulated without help, sit back and enjoy this version of music appreciation.
This morning on Pandora, the first song played was Aretha singing Today I Sing The Blues, recorded in 1960. Aretha was 18. Today I Sing The Blues is an old standard, but I’d never heard Aretha’s rendition. A lot of her songs have a Blues foundation, like Dr. Feelgood and many others. But this is clearly the Blues, straight, no chaser.
As one thing often leads to another, my mind took a turn from Aretha and met up with Pharaoh Sanders. Here’s The Creator Has a Master Plan, recorded live in Leverkusen, Germany, October 19, 1999. Prayer, revolution, lust, sensuality, a spiritual convocation. The piano sounds like a waterfall, the bass is both thunder and rain, the drums punch heart beats, and Pharaoh is the echo between two mountains, wa guitar, and percussion. Pretty music.
“This is what he said,” is Jennifer Hudson’s introduction to her live interpretation of Al Green’s Simply Beautiful at Kennedy Center Honors. Just listen…
For Eddie and the Cruisers fans. This is one of my favorite love songs ever. Sung here by the real “Cruisers,” writer and singer of all the movie’s original songs, John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band. Tender Years.
Next is a cut from the video and film, Take Me To The River, featuring Bobby Blue Bland and Yo Gotti, on Ain’t No Sunshine, a little old and new fusion, “built for bad weather.”
I mentioned War in the introduction. This next cut, City Country City, is from their album The World is a Ghetto. I remember precisely the time and place of this musical appreciation session. I was living in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Gold was good, and War produced a multi-layered sound, all instruments speaking beautiful music together. When you concentrate, you hear the conversation, the push, the pull back: rhythm guitar, bass, organ, horn, trap drums, congas and other percussive instruments. Never get tired of this one.
It's funny how language transcends, is borrowed and shared. For instance, when I was in Ireland in 2010, I noticed people saying “ta,” to mean thank you. It reminded me of my mother saying “ta ta,” to the little ones when she was teaching “thank you.”
We began this post with the Blues and will end with Johnny Guitar Watson singing I Want To Ta Ta You Baby.
Happy listening! Hope this post inspires you to create something wonderful today.
This morning, Thursday, August 16, 2018, Aretha Franklin, The Queen of Soul, stepped from this life into the realm of ever, everlasting. Her voice defined music. She was composer and arranger. She taught herself how to play the piano and she sang everything. Here's Aretha back in the day on the Martha Steward Show. When Martha asked about the song she played and sang, Aretha explained that it was Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes, "an old English folk song with a little Bach in the middle."
Everyone is writing about and commenting on Aretha. Most of what I have read and heard is heartfelt and passionate. Some people, however, need to tell us whether or not she was raised by her mother, or how old Aretha was when she had her first baby. If it is shame we want to expose, what of the baby father? Why must girls and women continue to bear the brunt of stigmata. I got pregnant at 17. This is called life. Aretha's situations informed her creative juices, her outlook on whatever may befall, and dared the world to decide if she was copy or the real thing. When we talk of love or the lack of it, I think "Baby Baby Baby" is her best tragic love story work, she sings, "I'm bewildered, I'm lonely and I'm loveless. . ."
When Angela Davis was arrested for her supposed part in Jonathan Jackson's plan to release his brother, George, from prison, Aretha offered to pay Angela's bond, stating: “Angela Davis must go free. . .Black people will be free. I’ve been locked up (for disturbing the peace) and I know you got to disturb the peace when you can’t get no peace." (Read Soledad Brothers, Chicago Review Press, 1994). Here's Aretha singing Nina Simone's "Young Gifted and Black." Thanks to Hans Linden for uploading the song and carefully curating the photos.
I won't write about "Respect." I know "Respect," is generally everyone's favorite song. Back in the day, we liked that song, but Aretha had so many songs and we considered some of the others more pertinent. I'm talking about the kind of songs where we had to sit and think about the lyrics and why she was singing them the way she did. For example, if some boy approached with some ole okey doke, we could readily say, boy, you must be running out a fools. Later in the 1980's, we could say something like, really? Who zooming who? Thank you to Soul Roulette for posting this video of Aretha singing "Running out of Fools" on the TV show, Shindig, from 1964.
The very first album I purchased with money I earned from a summer job was "I Never Loved a Man." I remember listening to those lyrics, not fully understanding most of them, but falling in love with the voice that sang them. She addressed my feelings about my little young boyfriends in ways that I could not express. Later, when I found myself in stupid relationships with men, and not strong enough to set myself free, Aretha's lyrics, still deep in the recesses of my mind, got me through. Thank you to allaretha.wordpress.com for posting this 45, "Sweet Bitter Love" from 1965, both "A" and "B" sides.
There really is no difference between R&B, the Blues, Jazz, or Gospel. Each reflects some version of life, our downs, our ups, our holy combinations and everything in between. When Aretha sang "Running Out of Fools," she could have been singing "Oh Mary Don't You Weep." The combination of Quincy Jones and Aretha on the album "Hey Now Hey" produced some Blues so raunchy, we hear Aretha talking about how she feel like "somebody just slapped her with a nasty gym shoe."
Another song I want to introduce you to, or have you remember is "Try a Little Tenderness." I was seventeen, pregnant, confused, abused and generally ashamed of my life. The first version was done by Otis Redding. I had the 45 playing on my little record player. You had to sit close in order to hear the music and I remember thinking, wow, tenderness. I didn't know how to give it, or ask for it, but I knew I wanted it. I played that 45 so much the face of it turned white. Aretha did it later, put it in first person, made it more relevant. Chris Brown did it also for the movie "This Christmas." Here's Aretha's version.
What I think about Aretha is that she was a down to earth woman, daughter, sister and mother, born with that voice. She never had a face lift or any other kind of cosmetic surgery that I know of. She aged. She was and is forever. She had no need for playacting, no need for any theater of the absurd. You could take her, or leave her. She was holy, in the way that Marvin sings it at the end of Let's Get I On, "I been sanctified," meaning set apart, made legitimate, purified, unburdened, redeemed.
Always when an icon such as Aretha Franklin leaves this earth, people emerge, try to copy the style and grace of the legend. For example, there's a girl on this season's America's Got Talent who is all the rage with her renditions of James Brown. Everyone is over the moon about her, but I would say to her, what is it about your own life that informs your creative juices, your outlook? What about you will tell the world whether or not you are copy, or the real thing?
On the other hand, there is this desire to add our voices to what has already been created. The other's work inspires us, and motivates us to see what else can be done. We don't want to paint another Starry Night, nor quilt another Gee's Bend quilt. We want to take the feeling we derive from these works and create our own majesty. Here is Aretha creating her own "It Was You," first written and recorded by James Brown.
That's Aretha on the piano for "It Was You," and it happened during a rehearsal session complete with full band. Some of the recordings from those rehearsal sessions became the album "Aretha Arrives." When I listen to this album, I realize that even the great ones have to practice. We hear Aretha saying things like: let's start over, and that will be a good one when it's right. What's really telling is the rehearsal rendition of "Dr. Feel Good." She sings it almost on the other side of the beat of the finished project. As an artist, Aretha empowers my many, many tries.
I will probably add more to this post, but I was compelled to write something now because of complete sadness and wanting to celebrate Aretha's life. A candle is lit for Aretha on my Ancestor Altar and if it is as we think it is on the other side, there's much rejoicing going on over there. Here's Aretha with James Cleveland and the Southern California Choir.
P.S. August 17, 2018
I forgot this one, "My Song," which is literally, my song: "your leaving makes my heart beat slow and slow. . ." Aretha on the piano, "you left me, singing a song."
Here’s me entering an MFA program in 2008 because I thought I wanted to write fiction. Here’s me emerging in 2010 fully committed to poetry. We don’t always know who we are; the trick to finding out is to put one foot in front of the other, to travel along the road to discovery.
Here’s a photo of my mother as a young woman enjoying a night out with girlfriends, cocktails and dinner, at a place called the Loendi Club in Pittsburgh’s historic Hill District.
Harlem Renaissance poet, Claude McKay, dubbed The Hill, “Crossroads to the World,” because it was home to Billy Eckstein, Earl Hines, Billy Strayhorn, Art Blakey and Joe Harris, to name a few greats and including entrepreneur, Gus Greenlee, owner of the Old Negro Baseball League Team, The Pittsburgh Crawfords.
Here’s me submitting a manuscript titled Good Dirty Down to The National Poetry Series 2017 Competition. On Wednesday, September 13, 2017, I received an email announcing winners and informing me that from 1,500 manuscripts, my collection Good Dirty Down was chosen as a finalist. The email concludes, “Many congratulations again on an extraordinary manuscript.”
So I’m thinking, what made me a finalist and not a winner. These thoughts prompted me to rethink, revise and refashion the collection. During the extensive reconstruction, I realized that, among other things, the title was wrong. It did not capture the essence of what I wanted the poems to reveal.
My mother began speaking. She was aggressive and gentle; she pushed and soothed until finally the magic clicked. I thought about that haunting photo of her, my Christian, upstanding community member mother (the mother I knew) sitting in an after hours club with friends, relaxed and enjoying food and cocktails. I think by studying the photo, my mother gave me permission to dig deeper, to dismiss the obvious, to linger long (a phrase my friends and I used to say during heated Bid Whist parties at my house back in the day) on the blurred and uncertain in order to make sense of the seemingly senseless, thereby discovering or rediscovering the valuable.
Here’s me realizing that the poem I’d written about my mother needed to take a front row seat, if not in placement, then certainly as the needle and thread that would anchor the collection. After reworking and improving her poem, everything else fell into place.
I wrote an earlier post about a collection I’m writing called The Book of Spells. In my mind, The Book of Spells was supposed to be my next published book. But, we don’t always know what we are doing; the trick to finding out is to put one foot in front of the other, to trust the process, to travel along the road to discovery.
Daughter Mouth Blues (formerly Good Dirty Down) will be published by Blacksmith & Bones Press, available here.
I think Daughter Mouth Blues articulates signs and symbols of our time, including magic; the differences between prophecy and divination; the change from ancestral analysis to sculpted concealment; and the ramifications of profit or passage.
Daughter Mouth Blues reveals necessary work at the crossroads, the “sudden transformation, sudden certainty, sudden articulation, long legged talking finally foaming from [our] daughter mouth blues.”
The idea of “still life,” (the representation of inanimate objects, such as fruit, in paintings or photography) intrigues me. One day, I set out arranging and rearranging items in pleasing manners to take photographs. Maybe for quilt ideas, or if the images came out real good, to frame and hang on my walls. The image I liked best is this one: my shoes, hat, guitars, quilt, water, glass, magic leaves.
If you are a fledging musician, like me, and your timing is cockeyed, and you can't get your fingers to move fluently over the guitar strings, from one chord to the next, my advice is to study Tupac (Gangsta Party and California Love; both music and video) and Muddy Waters (Champagne and Reefer, and Too Young To Know. Search youtube for old footage of Muddy.)
Both of these artists radiate music through voice, timing, and percussion. In Gangsta Party, there is no slide in, no pause: "Picture perfect," before we realize the verse has even begun. In Too Young to Know, Muddy sings/narrates, but the conversation is between young girls and the more mature women who knows very well. Both are lightening and thunder. Spontaneity, exaggeration and craft. I honor them. They are more than inspiration, they motivate me to add my voice to the conversation.
So, the mind as mixture, seemingly askew, but not, simply bubbling excitement, and these artists, with our shared origins, led me to go back further, to research other artists and was there such a thing as homemade stringed instruments. This is a sampling of what I found.
Stunning beauty and creativity all around the African continent and the Diaspora. The images are excitement and contagious. The artists have the nerve to create, are in possession of the artists' way. Create, no matter what. So I thought, what if? The following is Blue Belle, my homemade cigar box guitar.
I’m writing a book on my experiences using Tarot, and want to dispel the notion of negativity as relates to magic, spellwork, and divination. What is the etymology of the word “spell,” what does the word really mean and what are its origins. From the American Heritage College Dictionary:
My next burgeoning project began as songs, just me playing around with lyrics and guitar chords. One of the songs that emerged, White Night Falling, seemed a strong contender for the main voice of something. I just didn’t know what.
Artists, you know that in these times of seemingly jumbled information, the thing to do is wait, listen to day and night dreams, believe and ask the question, what if?
So I thought--
What if the project was poems and music?
I’m writing, I’m writing.
What if the project expanded to include other written forms?
I’m writing, I’m writing.
What if the title and book cover had to do with trance states, magic words, the awesome-ness of still lives, those inanimate objects that portray the power of seemingly motionless form?
I’m writing, I’m writing.
What of heterodoxy, the challenge of taking the least walked or new path?
I’m writing, I’m writing.
What if you include a cd of musical forms and selected poems?
I’m writing, I’m writing.
The project birthed itself as The Book of Spells, became a bubbling cauldron, a mixture of picture perfect swerving heterodoxy, something like Tupac and Muddy Waters making low down music on angel harps. Make. Do. Become. “Lick candle wicks. Wish. Work spells. Pounce.”
This collection is continuing to move through my need to tell it what to do. The collection is teaching me to shut up and let it tell me. It's in it's eighth iteration. Here's me learning patience.
Steps one through five on one version of creativity:
The following shows how Steps 1 -5 can be translate into actual production:
1. Initial inspiration.
One day I searched goodreads.com for something to read and found a book titled All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave, edited by Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith, The Feminist Press, 1982.
2. My feeble attempt to create something.
The title, All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave, inspired me to write a poem about how I think black women are, and are not, seen in the media, particularly television and movies. It was an OK poem.
3. The actual inspiration.
One day, as I was looking for an image online, instead of the image I was searching for, the ancestors gave me the following image:
The image shows a little girl. She is no older than 10. She and the other children are slaves. While the mothers of the babies are working the field, the older child watches the children. She is the babysitter.
4. Listening ears
A tiny, soft voice began talking to me. She spoke in a tiny, soft voice, but as a rebel, with clear, concise, emotionless directions. She woke me up. I reached for my notebook just in time to catch her initial thoughts: "Of all the dandelions, it’s me, I am the most beautiful.”
5. Free-flow writing
I said, “Yes Berthenia. You are the most beautiful. I sat at the computer. She continued to speak and I transcribed her words. She even sent me back to retrieve the initial OK poem I had written inspired by the book title, All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave.
It was an easy fix. Berthenia showed me my mistakes, and how to re-imagine the poem so that it could take its rightful place in her story.
The name, Berthenia Belle, entered the session in the midst of Berthenia's narration.
Berthenia is an artist: songwriter, musician, craftswoman. She gave me the lyrics to one of her songs, and she created her own Diddley Bow.
Back in 2016, I was beginning to teach myself how to play guitar because some of my poems wanted to be songs. In researching early musicians, especially Blues musicians, I wondered what they played before the guitar, as we know the guitar today. One of the instruments they played was the Diddley Bow.
The following pictures show my Diddley Bow. It is nailed to a door frame in my kitchen. The door frame surrounds my Ilé `Ọrun (my family ancestor shrine or altar).
As was the custom, Berthenia's Diddley Bow is nailed to the front porch post of the cabin where she lived with the babies.
Berthenia Belle, the most beautiful flower. Thank you for your life, your power, your struggle, your creativity.
I thank God for Berthenia Belle, this brave child, this wondrous woman baby girl.
Some of the ancestors are children.
Berthenia Belle spoke her story to me as one long, book length poem.
Find Berthenia Belle, a poem, here.
This is how we listen. This is how we create.
Read more about the Diddley Bow
Hear Mr. One String Sam, below singing My Baby Don't
Mr. Moses Williams playing Diddley Bow, 1984
Photo Credit: Graham, Andrea, Collector. Moses Williams playing the diddley bow - Orlando, Florida. 1984. Color slide. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. Accessed 28 Jun. 2017.<https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/121981>.
Children Creating Music on Didley Bow
This morning at 6 a.m., I was awakened by the sounds of screaming. I looked out of the window and saw nothing. Then I noticed what I thought was a white garbage bag lying in the street. But suddenly, the bag moved and I heard the awful, in-pain screaming again. The white garbage bag was a woman lying in a fetal position in the street, not the sidewalk, in the street. Oh God. Her intermittent moans and screams. A woman alone and in distress. Then I heard the man's ugly voice, "Get out!" and remembered, not lying in the street moaning, rather, in my bedroom on the floor. At least I had the privacy of brick and mortar. But it wasn't privacy, it was the luck of the draw. I called 911.
I wrote on my calendar, on the June 21 block, “go back to work today.” I figured, first day of summer, refreshed by the newness of life. In this blog, I have written about artists needing to feed their creative wells because, well, ideas get used up. I was feeling used up and took a long stretch of time off, decided to do some reading. I consulted goodreads. But what does reading have to do with quilting? With layers, texture, background, character, plotting (thinking), color, surface design, interior grace, letting go of ego, letting in of Spirit, and it was so beautiful yesterday. Perfect. Sun. Gentle breeze. A trip to the library and Gwendolyn Brooks’ first and only novel titled Maud Martha. “Copyright, 1953, by Gwendolyn Brooks Blakely. Copyright, 1951 by The Curtis Publishing Company.”
There is a description of Maud Martha added to the inside, glued onto one of the book’s front pages, typed with a manual typewriter:
BROOKS, GWENDOLYN. MAUD MARTHA.
The story of Maud Martha Brown, a colored woman - daughter,
wife, and mother - who lives in Bronzeville, a neighborhood of
Chicago, told with the intimate understanding of a woman who
has made a life-long study of negroes.
The book is so old, and I think, valuable, that it is housed in the third floor restricted section. Someone has to go back there and get it for you. I look at the book’s old fashioned reddish brown hard back cover, the back in the day check out card stuck on the inside pocket documenting that the last time someone checked out Maud Martha was September 13, 1972, when fines were “One cent a day on juvenile cards and two cents a day on adult cards for each book kept overtime.”
In Maud Martha, Gwendolyn Brooks opens with:
“What she liked was candy buttons, and books, and painted music (deep blue, or delicate silver) and the west sky, so altering, viewed from the steps of the back porch; and dandelions.”
In Maud Martha, Gwendolyn Brooks ends with:
"But the sun was shining, and some of the people in the world had been left alive, and it was doubtful whether the ridiculousness of man would ever completely succeed in destroying the world—or, in fact, the basic equanimity of the least and commonest flower: for would its kind not come up again in the spring? Come up, if necessary, among, between, or out of—beastly inconvenient!—the smashed corpses lying in strict composure, in that hush infallible and sincere."
I go into my sewing room, look at the Redwork in Blue quilt hanging lonely on the design wall.
I finger my hand embroidery, remember my numb fingers as I told myself, just 20 minutes more, then you can take a break. I try to remember where the quilt wanted to go and why I had stopped driving it there. “Hmm,” I say aloud to no one. Or maybe I am apologizing…to the quilt for her loneliness, that fact that she is unfinished.
Next, I am reading Blessing the Boats by Lucille Clifton, BOA Editions, Ltd, 2000. In Blessing the Boats, I am reminded of honesty, the integrity and fearlessness needed to create. You just gotta put it out there. Say, “Here, this is what I made.”
From Blessing the Boats:
How painful is insecurity. In not knowing. In our intermittent moans. I pick up my guitar. Her name is Ice and she talked to me, said, “So what you just decided to learn me last year. If you listen, really hear me, I will sing to you and you can mimic me.” And so I became accepting, like a child, and thankful that I stopped listening to insecurity, just in time. Insecurity woulda ran me over again, its booted foot kicking me in my ribs, leaving me on my bedroom floor in a fetal position, muddy footprints all over my soul.
From Blessing the Boats, Gwendolyn Brooks writes in “study the masters,”
So maybe I'm misinformed. Maybe this isn’t a blog about quilting, only.
I decided to listen to the masters, Gwendolyn Brooks and Lucille Clifton. This is a blog about us and our internal Maud Marthas and Aunt Timmies. A blog about how to iron, perk up our own dried edges, how to dream, how to remember and decipher, how to think in multiple languages, how to hope and ritual chant so we can better recognize our hot irons need to strike.
This is how we make things.
See and read information about the completed Redwork in Blue Variation here.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, located in Ohio, invites teaching artists to develop arts activities that connect with the Park Association's interdisciplinary environmental education curriculum. Artists live in a cottage in the forest for 6-8 weeks and besides teaching, have time to work on personal art projects. In 2001, I accepted the invitation and enjoyed the end of summer, fall and the beginning of winter.
The children and I created a narrative, mural quilt depicting Ohio environments from the early 1800’s through present time; we wrote theater pieces that documented Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, and created structures in the forest using only material that had fallen to the forest floor. To see more, click images below.
While I was there, the environment inspired me to create a quilt titled "Cuyahoga Forest Spirit." The surface design was created using a technique I call abstract positioning. It is the same technique used in Bebop in the Small of Her Back.
Other techniques include machine quilting, machine embroidery, beadwork, and stamping. Materials include cotton and synthetic fabrics, found objects, wood, paint, glitter, beads, sequins, and threads.
The stick included at the top of the quilt was waiting for me one morning on the steps when I went outside to drink my coffee. A gift.
Our Name Is Memory is a reissue of my collection of poems (first published in 2013 as Wild Howling Woman). The new and improved second edition is available here.
I decided to use Cuyahoga Forest Spirit as the cover, and with a little manipulation with filters came up with the following image.
Purchase Our Name Is Memory here.
Some years ago, I curated a quilt exhibition inspired by former slave, Sarah Wilson, who though elderly, said, "I Can Still Quilt Without My Glasses." Artist and exhibition designer, Elizabeth Asche Douglas, and I installed the exhibition at the Associated Artist Gallery in Pittsburgh, PA. (2000)
Click the newspaper article and exhibition card below for better viewing.
Because of the marketing surrounding the exhibition, a lady in the nearby town of New Alexandria, PA, contacted me wondering if I would like to have a box of quilt squares she inherited from her mother-in-law, Mrs. Hargnett, who’d just passed away. Of course, I said yes, and in a few days a box arrived filled to the brim with Mrs. Hargnett's work!
This post describes Mrs. Hargnett's Nine Patch Blocks. Click the two images below for better viewing. You will see that a nine patch is 3 small squares at the top of the block, 3 in the middle, and 3 at the bottom. The combination of 3x3x3 and alternating color, makes the Nine Patch Block. See Redwork in Black to see another version of the Nine Patch.
During As We Mend, I shared Mrs. Hargnett's quilt blocks with my students. Of course, I was inspired to finally do something with them, but at the same time, remembered a quilt I created sometime after 2000 and before 2008. I forgot to sew a label on the back of the quilt, which is very important. We quilters have learned that we must document our work for future generations.
The quilt I will share with you now combines Mrs. Hargnett's antique quilt blocks with contemporary fabric, technique and surface design.
While I'm writing this I have decided to name the quilt, "Nine Patch in a Nine Patch in a Four Patch." I'll go back and make a label to attach to the back of the quilt later.
Let's start with my reinterpretation of one of Mrs. Hargnett's Nine Patch Blocks (above). The quilting is done with stippling, the overall, rambling, sort of doodling you see throughout. Then I added hand embroidery with pearl cotton threads and glass beads. That's the Nine Patch portion of the quilt title.
Using Mrs. Hargnett's Nine Patch Blocks as alternating color, I created the second part of the quilt title. In the image below, you can see three different blocks at the top, 3 in the middle, and 3 at the bottom which give us the Nine Patch in a Nine Patch.
Below is the final design.
So now, if you look at each section (orange, yellow, green and black) you will see four sections of Nine Patch in a Nine Patch as described above. Here we have our final quilt title explanation -- Nine Patch in a Nine Patch in a Four Patch.
The following images show more detail of quilt blocks. Each using a combination of old and new quilt blocks, acrylic paint, hand and machine quilting and embroidery and beadwork.
Well, that's it for now. Happy Quilting! or whatever creative endeavor you are doing or thinking about doing.
The train will not find you. You must find the train, its pulse, its way of being beyond obvious rock and sway. The train’s pulse is deeper than movement.
If you listen, you will hear the song of the train, and when you find the song, you will find the engine, the heart, the blood, the pulse.
You ride the train. It is the Iron Horse Without A Saddle: silent, strident, gentle, strong. Everyone must stop for the Iron Horse. The Iron Horse owns right of way.
CALIFORNIA: San Diego, Los Angeles, Fullerton, Riverside, San Bernardino, Victorville, Barstow, Needles; ARIZONA: Kingman, Williams Junction, Flagstaff, Winslow; NEW MEXICO: Albuquerque, Lamy, Las Vegas, Raton; COLORADO: Trinidad, La Junta, Lamar; KANSAS: Garden City, Dodge City, Hutchison, Newton, Topeka, Lawrence; MISSOURI: Kansas City, La Plata; IOWA: Fort Madison; ILLINOIS: Galesburg, Princeton, Mendota, Naperville, Chicago; INDIANA: South Bend, Elkhart, Waterloo; OHIO: Sandusky, Elyria, Cleveland, Alliance; PENNSYLVANIA: Pittsburgh.
From San Diego, California to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Three trains, two and one half days, three nights, me at a window seat, marveling.
The southwest is shades of dark to light and everything in between of brown, green, black, pink with very little white. The white is ancillary and too obvious, out of place, except for snow covering mountains in the distance.
I thought of my camera in my bag, yet found myself relaxed beyond need, perfectly peaceful and serene that the camera became an afterthought.
If creative people are not careful, they will find themselves bereft of ideas and unable to create with highest authority. This is called being all used up. This is the time when artists must fill the creative well. Three nights on a train became another filling the well opportunity for me and I am grateful.
Three nights on a train is not luxurious. Shame on you Amtrak, the train needs a thorough steam cleaning front to back, top to bottom. The bathrooms are wiped down but never really cleaned, obvious muck. But I’m a camper and allowed myself to think of the train as a moving campsite. I listened to that small voice prior to my departure date and brought along Clorox wipes, also body wipes, snacks, water, pillow and other comforts and decided to enjoy the experience. I’m glad I did.
I still have a romantic notion about trains. The clean train I’m looking for is out there somewhere. I’ll find it. Nature is already there, waiting for me.
Well, that’s it for now. God has refilled me, can’t wait to get back to work quilting, writing, painting and whatever is next. Happy Quilting! or whatever creative project you are dreaming of and working on.
This is a blog about how we make things.