Friday, July 31, 2020

Isolation pursuits....Learning

I know many of us are staying close to home these days...and this may go on for a long of constantly reviewing the dire numbers...compulsively watching people spouting hot air on tv, or worriedly eating and drinking and stacking piles of toilet paper (for who know when it might be in short supply again!)...let's figure out what benefits there are to our situation.  For one  thing, think of all those dreary appointments and visits that you don't have to make!!!  There's so many things we do that really don't have much point to them, or, even worse, much enjoyment!

And there are so many things for artists and cogitators to enjoy....making art, observing nature, watching dvds about making art, taking on line art lessons (there are a lot of those!*), reading and learning.
Slow cooking, slow pursuits like embroidery....the quilt below is covered in little stitches in the of my favorite quilts to make, and to look at too.
Reading, going through old photographs and making digital copies before they fade any further, but thinking about the people and places and times depicted.
And learning learning learning.... improving and exercising those "little grey cells"!!!!

 I love taking lessons so much - especially one on one..but any lessons really - from a good teacher...not one of those frustrating ones that tell you everything you do is wonderful - I'm sure we've all been in workshops like first it feels good, then you think "I'm not getting anything out of this!"
Some, but not all, online classes have good feedback from the teacher.  I make a point of answering all questions from students very carefully and I can also work with you one on one if you so desire **.

Thinking about why learning is so good I realise I really enjoy learning new things, or - even more -  learning how to do/make those things I already do, better and stronger. I love learning more about art, and music, and more about learning itself.  I'm particularly interested in finding out the best ways to learn. Robert Bjork is very interesting on this - he's made lots of You Tubes.

And, yes, there's the 10,000 hours idea...but this number has been challenged on many levels.
If you haven't heard of it, a popular science writer summarized a number of findings on learning - (particularly with respect to music) and concluded that 10,000 hours of practice would make you an  expert.However, many researchers dispute this e.g.  Macnamara et al (2014) examined all the relevant research and concluded:
" deliberate practice explained 26% of the variance in performance for games, 21% for music, 18% for sports, 4% for education, and less than 1% for professions. We conclude that deliberate practice is important, but not as important as has been argued."

The original research was carried out by Ericsson, Krampe and Tesch-Römer in 1993 on violin students in Berlin. They noted that the best students had practiced around 10,000 hours by the time they were 20.  However to conclude from that research (as has been done)  that 10,000 hours is both a necessary and  a sufficient amount of time to become an expert is invalid. 
In 2017, Ericsson and Pool wrote a book about the limitations to the 10,000 hours idea **. (by the way there are a lot of negative reviews of this book too!).  One of the big problems with the 10g hours theory is that the variation of the number of hours the students had practiced was great, some of the better ones had done less than 10g, some more...10 g was only the average. And, there are other studies suggest that it takes 10 years  rather than 10k achieve a good level of mastery of whatever craft/acitivity you wish to learn.

And what does "practice" actually mean?  Making or doing the same old same old just doesn't cut it.  Everyone does agree that you need to push yourself further, take risks, make the tasks progressively harder, get lots of feedback about mistakes or weaknesses and then devise specific strategies to work on those.  As the athletes do.
People who are very honest with themselves about their work, and who gain good feedback - even if difficult to hear - (and believe me I've been through that!) -  do improve faster than those that keep repeating the same stuff.  Often it's when you hit that brick wall and struggle and struggle and really think about what you have to do to overcome it that you make the most progress.

The research on so-called brain games also suggests that it's not just using our brains that makes the differences, it's taking on ever more difficult tasks.  So, if you want to get anywhere, it's probably not going to be easy.   But are in good company!  If you learn a new brain game and then just settle into playing it over and over,  the brain begins to make things automatic. That doesn't lead to more cognitive strength.  which is why most "brain games" are completely pointless once you've got the hang of it.
NOW...we have the time to excuses!  No dashing around on all that mindless stuff!
We have the time to learn, to listen, to look, to absorb...let's celebrate that instead of bemoaning what we have lost.
So ...what do you think?   Is there a way to consider Isolation positively?
Please comment!!
And, if you have been, thanks for reading.   Elizabeth
*I have ten different online workshops with the academy of quilting - reasonably priced...and low numbers in the classes so you can get plenty of attention!
** I do private tutoring too.  Please write me: elizabethyork100 AT for more details.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Lockdown projects

Lockdown can actually be good!!!  Believe it or not....
though it can be tedious...and sadly, no dancing!, it is a great opportunity for new projects!
And for this one, you don't need a pattern, or a drawn design, simply......a closet full of old clothes!

Stuck at home with a sewing machine and no chance to go fabric shopping...hmm time for a little death cleaning!

okay, now "death cleaning" doesn't mean getting rid of the bodies!  well except for the squashed long dead cockroaches I keep finding (we live in the woods)...'s actually a very positive thing.
It involves getting rid of all that STUFF you thought might come in useful one day, or has sentimental value that has diminished over time.  And somebody else would have to clear it out for you if you died without doing it!!!!

The term is translated from ?Swedish where apparently death cleaning is a national pastime!!
Now if you live in Sweden, you can correct me if I'm wrong!
But the spare Nordic look is only achieved by minimizing accumulation!
Not accumulating minimalization.......

So ...staying at home...I'm not even grocery shopping, though I'm very glad our local pool is open to little old ladies trying  to keep fit!......staying at home, I decided to tackle The Cupboard in the Study!!!

This bulging closet has had "might come in one day" stuff shoved into it for years....
my first find was a huge box of garments made from Liberty fabric. When I was in England, I lived near the mills  that produced Liberty fabrics and bought yards and yards.  These fabrics are renowned all over the world for their classic tiny flower designs.  They were printed onto regular cotton, onto fine lawn and onto a beautiful fine wool.

Thanks to changes in fashion, to say nothing of changes in shape!, and a much warmer climate, I don't need any of these are just a few of  them....

I cut off collars and cuffs and elastic waists etc etc...and ended up with some good chunks!!  different rectangles of many different colors....together with my friend who is just learning about quilts, I then sewed these chunks together to make a summer quilt...just one layer of fine wool, enough for the middle of the night when it cools a little and you're sleeping under the fan....

and here is the result....

The big red piece was one huge gathered skirt...I must have looked like a giant potato sack in it!!
Did contemplate cutting it up - but then I decided I like the bold statement it made, and I could arrange the other fabrics around it.

We were really pleased with the result...something both beautiful and functional out of a box of old garments that even the thrift store wouldn't want, and out of Liberty Laine fabric, probably impossibly expensive now...
and all thanks to being stuck at home!!!!

Now I'm embarked on another summer quilt - this time we're going to use all the fine lawns ... smaller pieces...this is going to be fun!!!  Sure hope the virus keeps us at home a bit longer!!!

oh, and the quilt on the wall behind???  I made it a while back, I was intrigued by the illusion of basket's a lot of half-sewn seams if you want to know the technique.

If you have been, thanks for reading!
and do write and tell me about your lockdown projects....


Saturday, July 4, 2020

Art Changes Your Brain! Coping with Stress in our new pandemic world.

Have you ever noticed how energized you feel after making art?  While at the same time being relaxed and calm, there is an excitement underneath?

And, in these times, the "new normal" as everyone is calling it,  we need energy to adapt to our new way of life and also calmness to cope with the many anxieties.

Other countries are going back to the "before"...but we are surging ahead with the need to be separate from each other.
Socializing (except within the bubble) is probably going to be a thing of the past. can we make this work for us?  How can we actually GAIN from this rather than lamenting what we have lost?

The question is:
Can we use art to learn to be less stressed?

Instead of going back to our old ways, can we actually gain from spending more time making art and less time running around town, shopping, socializing, see the latest shows, attending lectures and concerts and dances...?
Surfing around the 'net, I came across a fascinating article that was published in 2014 by Bolwerk et al called How Art Changes Your Brain: Differential Effects of Visual Art Production and Cognitive Art Evaluation on Functional Brain Connectivity. 

In the Introduction, they point out that research has largely focussed on the  psychological and physiological effects of making art in clinical populations i.e. the basis for art therapy in psychiatric hospitals.

Making art has consistently been shown to help to reduce stress, increase thoughtfulness and miindfulness, and also to help to bring heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels towards normal.

It's not known, however, if these effects are lasting...can art affect the functional neuroanatomy of the healthy human brain.  also does this work for everyone as well as for people in hospital.

So this is what they set out to study.  It is clear that art is 
 a powerful resource for mental and physical well-being, but there's very little known about 
the underlying effects at a neural level.

 They took 28 normal people of retirement age and divided them into two groups.  The control group attended art appreciation lessons in a local museum.  (not sure where this was, but the authors names suggest Holland or Belgium).
The experimental group attended art lessons where they were encouraged to make art.
The study lasted 10 weeks with the subjects going once a week to museum or art class.

Before and after the experience, they were given various cognitive tests and MRIs.
Both the tests and the MRIs showed that the subjects who actually made art demonstrated great ability to cope with physical and psychological stress.

By the way, I also found that another strategy for stress reduction is engaging with you can see from the images I've posted...I've been walking in the woods AND making art!!!

Just some thoughts.....and, if you have been, thanks for reading!
Please comment!!!   Elizabeth

PS do check out other fiberart blogs:     and then - go make art!