Ellen sees sewing as a vi­tal skill for women fight­ing in­equal­ity. Sandi Sawa Ha­zle­wood finds out what gets her fired up...

Love Patchwork & Quilting - - FEATURES -

Ellen Luck­ett Baker is in­spir­ing us with her views on quilt­ing as a form of craftivism. Sandi Sawa Ha­zle­wood dis­cov­ers how this leads Ellen to cre­ate fab­ric col­lec­tions

How would you de­scribe your cre­ative jour­ney?

Al­though I’ve al­ways been in­ter­ested in art and de­sign, for many years I lacked the con­fi­dence to de­clare my­self cre­ative. At home with my two young daugh­ters, we be­gan craft­ing, sewing, and bak­ing, while doc­u­ment­ing it all on my blog, The Long Thread. Time and space led me back to creativ­ity and these new pur­suits re­minded me of the per­ils of per­fec­tion. Learn­ing to make things by hand forced me to over­come mis­takes, ac­cept im­per­fec­tion, and ex­pand my creativ­ity.

The dig­i­tal world moves quickly and so much has changed since I started my blog th­e­longth­ in 2007. Dur­ing the hey­day of craft blog­ging, I dis­cov­ered a con­nected and en­cour­ag­ing com­mu­nity. Mak­ers were writ­ing about their process and per­sonal lives while paint­ing a por­trait of a whole per­son. To­day, it seems craft so­cial me­dia has be­come a ve­neer of life glimpsed through glow­ing In­sta­gram photos. Ev­ery­thing I learned in those years was gath­ered from blogs and books.

Around the same time, I started a busi­ness sell­ing em­broi­dered linens and baby items. Once that work be­came too repet­i­tive, I be­gan de­sign­ing dig­i­tal em­broi­dery files to sell on­line. As sewing be­came my pri­mary fo­cus, I wrote my first book, 1, 2, 3 Sew, which was an ex­cit­ing ad­ven­ture and a true labour of love. What had started as a pas­time was be­com­ing a ca­reer.

In 2011, I tried my hand at tex­tile de­sign with a col­lec­tion for a ma­jor fab­ric com­pany but it wasn’t the right cre­ative fit. I was lucky to be­gin work­ing with KOKKA the fol­low­ing year. I then fol­lowed up with a sec­ond book, 1, 2, 3 Quilt. Tex­tile de­sign has al­lowed me a tremen­dous amount of cre­ative free­dom and it’s been ex­cit­ing to watch the in­dus­try change over the years. With de­signs cre­ated by paint­ing and stamp­ing, Paint is my ninth col­lec­tion with KOKKA, and one of my favourites. I’m feel­ing more con­tem­pla­tive about my work these days. As my kids get older, I’ve learned creativ­ity evolves with each new sea­son of life.

How do you de­scribe your work? I’ve re­alised that my quilts need to be less func­tional and more mean­ing­ful. I re­cently sorted through my chil­dren’s baby


clothes and cut squares to make a quilt. It's the next project on my list.

I’ve also be­come in­creas­ingly in­ter­ested in the cre­ative process and its util­ity in our ev­ery­day lives. Learn­ing to use creativ­ity as a hobby or ca­reer can set you on a pos­i­tive tra­jec­tory for life, which can in­crease con­fi­dence, mind­ful­ness, and per­sonal sat­is­fac­tion. With the dis­trac­tions of our fast-paced world, I of­ten for­get to carve out time for creativ­ity. For me, the med­i­ta­tive and re­flec­tive ben­e­fits of mak­ing are es­sen­tial to good men­tal health.

You once wrote about hav­ing a ‘growth mind­set’ ver­sus a ‘fixed mind­set’. How do you ap­ply this? In her 2007 book Mind­set: The New Psy­chol­ogy for Suc­cess, Carol Dweck writes about how we limit our­selves when we view our abil­i­ties as pre­de­ter­mined, or fi­nite, but when we ac­cept new chal­lenges and open our­selves up to fail­ure as a growth ex­pe­ri­ence, we can ex­pand our skill set. When we ap­ply growth mind­set from a cre­ative per­spec­tive, it re­minds us to take risks and ex­per­i­ment with new tech­niques and ma­te­ri­als. As I’ve got­ten older, I now re­ject the ro­man­ti­cised no­tion of creativ­ity as a light­ning bolt and un­der­stand that daily work and dili­gence reap greater re­wards.

In terms of cre­ative ca­reers, a growth mind­set al­lows us to em­brace new op­por­tu­ni­ties, even when we don’t yet have com­plete con­fi­dence. For in­stance, when I’m asked to teach a class or give a talk that may be out of my com­fort zone, I force my­self to pre­pare, learn, and meet the chal­lenge. A growth mind­set doesn’t come nat­u­rally for me, but when I put aside per­fec­tion and ac­tu­ally al­low space for fail­ure, I find tremen­dous cre­ative growth.

Take me through your de­sign process. Do you use dig­i­tal tools? Pat­tern ideas start floating around in my head months be­fore they hit paper. Most of my re­cent col­lec­tions have in­volved phys­i­cal mak­ing, such as paint­ing, print­ing, or paper cut­ting. I then sit down at the com­puter to scan, digi­tise, and put the de­signs into re­peat. Over the years, I taught my­self how to use Il­lus­tra­tor and Pho­to­shop.

As I for­mu­late a col­lec­tion, I of­ten think of the colour­ways dur­ing the process, but I make all of the hand draw­ings and dig­i­tal ren­der­ings in black and white be­fore adding colour. I find that de­vel­op­ing one el­e­ment at a time helps the de­signs stay fo­cused and min­i­mal­is­tic. Once ev­ery­thing is digi­tised and in re­peat, I be­gin ex­per­i­ment­ing with scale and colour. Vi­su­al­i­sa­tion of the fin­ished prod­uct is an im­por­tant part of my process. I print out the de­signs and think of what peo­ple might make with them, imag­ine them shelved ver­ti­cally on bolts at fab­ric shops, and how they'll look as a col­lec­tion.


For your fab­ric col­lec­tions, do you de­sign dif­fer­ently based on the print’s fab­ric sub­strate?

Since I sew, I con­sider the tac­tile ex­pe­ri­ence of the fab­ric and how peo­ple will use it. For li­nen blends, I imag­ine bags, pil­lows, and ac­ces­sories as the end-use items with de­signs that are larger scale and higher con­trast. Dou­ble gauze is most com­monly sewn into ap­parel, so I make these pat­terns smaller scale with more neg­a­tive space and solid back­grounds. Sim­plic­ity al­ways

rules when I ask the es­sen­tial ques­tion, ‘Would I buy that?’

Did the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump change your artis­tic per­spec­tive? It’s changed my per­spec­tive on ev­ery­thing and pro­foundly af­fected my cre­ative life. Sud­denly, fab­ric de­sign seems su­per­fi­cial when there’s such im­por­tant work to be done. This cre­ative paral­y­sis has left me im­mo­bile for months.

My cre­ative work is in­trin­si­cally con­nected to who I am as a per­son, so I haven’t hes­i­tated to speak out when I feel that peo­ple are be­ing tram­pled by a sweep­ing wave of ha­tred and in­equal­ity in the United States of Amer­ica and grow­ing na­tion­al­ism around the globe. As a par­ent, it’s dif­fi­cult to raise chil­dren with op­ti­mism right now, but the com­pas­sion and open-mind­ed­ness I see in their gen­er­a­tion gives me hope for the fu­ture. Ul­ti­mately my work is per­sonal and not po­lit­i­cal, but some­times it’s im­pos­si­ble to sep­a­rate the two.

You re­cently wrote that 'craft­ing is fem­i­nist.' Can you ex­plain why you feel strongly about this?

There’s an in­her­ent and un­avoid­able con­tra­dic­tion in craft­ing as a fem­i­nist. When sewing has been ‘women’s work’ for cen­turies, how do we em­brace it as a lib­er­ated choice? As we de­fend our rights as women in


a world spin­ning back­wards, I think we should care­fully ex­am­ine our de­ci­sions. I’ve al­ways felt de­fen­sive when jus­ti­fy­ing the im­por­tance of crafts in con­tem­po­rary so­ci­ety.

In the year 2017, mak­ing can be both an ex­er­cise of cre­ative ex­pres­sion and a fun­da­men­tal rejection of con­sumerism. Ap­parel sewing al­lows us to take con­trol of the process while own­ing our bod­ies, re­ject­ing so­ci­ety’s neg­a­tive mes­sages about body im­age. The creativ­ity of craft­ing is em­pow­er­ing for women. Quilt­ing can be a cathar­tic process with med­i­ta­tive rep­e­ti­tion and un­lim­ited choices.

The sim­ple steps of choos­ing fab­ric, plan­ning a lay­out, then cut­ting, sewing, and neatly squar­ing up blocks can help us hone new skills and ac­cept im­per­fec­tions. In ad­di­tion to sewing and quilt­ing, craftivism has be­come an in­te­gral part of fem­i­nist craft­ing with a new wave of craftivists prov­ing once again that craft has power be­yond func­tion­al­ity. The cur­rent po­lit­i­cal re­al­ity in the United States has caused an ex­plo­sion of re­ac­tionary art, which has carved a new space for both the loud and quiet voices of the craftivist move­ment. In Jan­uary, I was busy knit­ting pink hats and ended up mak­ing al­most 50 of them. When we ar­rived at the March in DC and saw a sea of pink hats, their col­lec­tive power was over­whelm­ing. When we raise our voices to­gether, we can make a dif­fer­ence.

But still, the fab­ric shops and craft stores are pop­u­lated mostly by women, re­mind­ing us of the con­tin­ued gen­der dis­tinc­tions. Un­for­tu­nately, I don’t see much ef­fort to flip this par­a­digm for the next gen­er­a­tion. I’d love to see all boys and girls im­prove their vis­ual-spa­tial and mo­tor skills by learn­ing to knit and sew. Women can con­tinue to ex­er­cise their creativ­ity through craft while also achiev­ing equal rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Congress!

Ellen's Star Duf­fel Bag is a mas­ter­class in per­fectly matched di­ag­o­nal seams

Ellen's sewing room is giv­ing us a touch of crafter's envy… we'd love a wall of sun­shine Dres­dens!

The vi­brant Tri­an­gle's Quilt from Ellen's 1,2,3 Quilt book uses four dif­fer­ent tri­an­gle types!

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