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What have I been up to? Using Kirsten Skiles’ guideline for her own blog, that as long as it’s to do with creativity, it’s okay, I’m going to tell you about my non-jewelry making project.

As part of my volunteer work with kids, I’ve been working on a quilting-for-charity project where kids are making quilts for kids in a residential group home. And these are real quilts, pieced together, machine quilted and binding. The kids are learning a real craft skill, and are being taught the right way to do things.

I can sew a straight line, and even make simple clothing and doll clothes, but I’ve never seen sewing as a source of personal expression. But I have been sewing since I was a kid and know enough to help guide this project, especially with all the other volunteers helping out who are serious quilters.

Here’s what surprised me: making stuff expressly to give away is really cool. It feels really good to spend all this time choosing the fabric, piecing it together, and all to give away to a child we’ll never meet. (Like many of the adults helping with this project, I’m jumping on the band wagon and making a quilt in addition to all the ones the kids are making.)

That surprised me. I’ve been “making things” for practically my whole life, and making jewelry for 18 years, but I haven’t given away much. That whole precious-ness thing of jewelry doesn’t lend itself to donations quite the way fabric does.

I have donated to charity auctions in the past, more as a favor to the friends running the events than anything else.

This experience is changing the way I think about donating my jewelry work. It’s making me very excited about making charms for the Charms for Charity project of the metal clay community for cancer research.

(The quilt picture above was made by three adult volunteers involved in the project, but not me! I’m not done with mine yet!)

Here’s another thing about the sewing…

I’ve always limited myself to metalsmithing and Precious Metal Clay (and now BronzClay…) because, well, to get really good at metalsmithing takes years and focus. I have added a few other things along the way — felting, marbling and silkscreening with the Print Gocco — but my primary focus remained on jewelry.

For assorted reasons, I have not gotten a lot of jewelry made lately. I have been remarkably unproductive. I have lots of excuses, but I finally asked myself, “What would Luann Udell say about those excuses?” and I think I figured out part of the source of my slump.

And I’ve been feeling like I’ve been wasting my time, creatively, “doing nothing,” as I’ve gone through the last few months, not making jewelry.

Slowly, I’ve begun to notice — oh, the quilting. I’m learning more about fabric and design. As I cut what felt like hundreds of strips of fabric (the rotary cutter isn’t something we want the kids to use), I’ve felt the differences in quality of fabric. I’ve seen the cheaper ones fray. I’ve felt the weight of the top quality fabrics donated by quilting fabric manufacturers.

I’ve been reminded what it is to be a beginner, among beginners, learning a new craft. (Even though I’ve done quilting before, I’m going in a bit more deeply this time.)

In addition to the quilting, I have another volunteer gig (no wonder I never get anything done!) teaching art to kids. I waited and waited for someone better at painting and drawing to show up, but they didn’t, and I got the job.

In that class, we draw from observation, we paint with watercolors, we make artist trading cards, heck, we even make frescos. My background is most decidedly not in painting and drawing.

I used to always say, “I can’t draw,” but my husband insisted, “Everyone can draw, you just haven’t practiced enough.” I’ve come to see that he’s right.

And as I’ve given this group of kids opportunities to practice, different things to draw from life, they’ve gotten better. They believe that everyone can draw, so they just do it. Despite my iffy skills, they’ve put in the time and gotten better. (and I have too.)

All the teaching of the art class has really made me stretch, artistically. I’ve had to learn things I’ve never done before, things that were out of the realm of what I’ve allowed myself to do before.

And you know what? It’s really fun. There’s no pressure, because it’s just a demo, or I’m just painting along with the kids to keep them company. And watercolor pencils are awesome, you should try them.

I think I haven’t been wasting my time after all. I think I’ve been getting refreshed. Now I’m ready to make jewelry again. I’m digging out a path on my studio floor, so I can uh, you know, get to my bench without stepping over things.

I’m excited again about the challenges specific to jewelry making, and I’m back on board with the Masters Registry, back to making those first ten pieces.

That’s a bit long and not what we usually talk about here, but it goes with the Art and Fear theme we’ve had, and well, I hope it helps someone.

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