Saturday, May 2, 2009


By Sue Bleiweiss

“What if:” Two words. Six letters. Gives wing to a whole lot of possibilities.

Those two little words when spoken together are probably among the most powerful tools you have in your studio. They have the power to take your artwork in a new direction. They invite you to step off the paved sidewalk and venture into new and unexplored territories.

Those two words can help during those times when you’re feeling blocked or unmotivated. The next time this happens ask yourself,

  • “What if” I tried working with a material I’ve not used before such as metal sheets, fine wire, knitted mesh, or paper?
  • What if I tried using paper towels, coffee filters or dryer sheets in place of fabric?
  • What if I painted them and then sewed them to something and treated them just like I would a piece of fabric?

(In the photo: Painted paper towel vase painted with Jacquard Dye-na-flow paint and fused with Mistyfuse to Timtex )

Or, what if I sewed them to a base fabric and then added paint, foiling from Laura Murray

Designs, hand stitching and beading? What if I took a soft metal and sewed it to a piece of paper

or fabric and then used ink to color it?

Or maybe you’ve been working on a piece and it just doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Ask yourself, what if I cut it up and sewed it back together again? What if I sewed the pieces back together again randomly, or used wire to sew them together instead of thread? What if I added eyelets or buttonholes?

Like a lot of fiber artists I like to paint and dye my own fabrics, and just like many of you I sometimes get less than stellar results. Recently I painted a large piece of fabric with colors that I don’t usually work with and the resulting fabric seemed flat and boring.

And then I thought, what if I added some scribbled text and squiggly lines using a craft syringe. Which then led to, what if I cut the fabric into smaller pieces and made postcards from it?

And then I thought, what if I used this same technique on a boring denim jacket?

Some of my most unexpected and wonderful discoveries have come from asking myself “what if”.

Next time you’re tossing something in the recycle bin ask yourself, what if I used this in my studio? What if I painted this paper bag with acrylic paint and treated it like fabric?

What if I saved tea bag wrappers and used them like little pieces of fabric by fusing them along with some painted cheesecloth to Timtex using Mistyfuse?

What if I fused that old pattern tissue to a base fabric and then used it to create a box?

“What if” has the power to turn boring into interesting.

For instance, recently I held one of my books in my hand:

It’s a beautiful book but, what if I added a different stitch pattern along the spine?

Much more interesting don’t you think?

Of all the tools I have at my disposal in my studio, it’s the question "what if" that motivates me the most. It's the exploration of finding and discovering new ways to manipulate and embellish paper and fabric that drive me into the studio and inspire me every day and it’s the power of the words “what if” that push me to look beyond the expected results.

My goal is not to create a perfect and flawless item. It is to create a piece that excites the viewers eyes when they look at it, makes them wonder when they hold it in their hands and inspires their own imagination when they consider how it was created.

What better way to achieve that goal than to ask myself “what if”?

Sue Bleiweiss is a mixed media fiber artist with a passion for surface design and book making. She lives in Massachusetts, USA, where she teaches classes at the Danforth Museum of Art. She also teaches online through her website. You can see more of her work on her blog at .


Terri Stegmiller said...

Woo hoo!!! Way to go Sue....excellent post.

Candied Fabrics said...

Wonderful points, and a great description of many innovators in all fields, not just art! Thanks Sue!

Saucy Chick Sherry said...

Excellent words of wisdom Sue. You continue to inspire art in everything you say and do. Thank you for "what if".

susan sorrell said...

Love the post Sue!!

Valerie said...

I enjoyed this post and mentioned it in my blog. Very good advice, whether or not we're blocked or not.

Lorraine said...

great blog..thanks for these ideas to stretch us when we are stuck in a creative rut

Sandy said...

Good thoughts.

Anonymous said...

What a "great" mind. I love the way you segue from one thought to another. I'd love to be a fly on the wall if you ever "creatively brainstorm" in a group.

kjkoukla(at) hotmail (dot) com

TexasRed said...

what a great inspiration! thank you!

Virginia A. Spiegel said...

Sue - Great post with stunning examples!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for such a great and inspiring post. Here's my problem. "What if" the what if never occurs to you? In other words, you just never think of the idea or you're afraid of really screwing up your project?

Dawn said...

I'm right there with you on this one. I think of ideas sometimes and then don't know how to create them. Other times I don't have the materials and let it drop. And then I consider cost in time and money and turn away. But the best times are the times when I threw caution to the wind and just enjoyed and indulged myself. I didn't create anything award winning but for me some of my best memories.

No ideas? Books, websites, a trip to the art museum, talking with or listening to others, a trip to the fabric store, or craft or art store. Anything to get your thoughts moving. Maybe see something you need -- napkins or placemats perhaps -- and then ask how you could use up scraps. Or maybe it is summer and you want something to reflect the season -- sunshine, kites, children, fireflies, watermelon and swimming.... A simple placemat that I love here in Florida is a strip pieced basic fish shaped placemat made of Florida citrus colors or sea/beach colors. One little embroidered eye and that's all it takes to bring the sun and sea to the table along with some whimsey.

Speaking of whimsey. The best way to get your creativity flowing -- visit the children's book section of your favorite library or bookstore and indulge in dancing dinosaurs and cows that type and curious monkeys. You will feel like you've found the fountain of youth and inspiration at the same time!

Art doesn't always need to be taken seriously! Just have fun.


Anonymous said...

beewitchenstichen thanks for your comment! I don't have your email so I thought I'd post a response here:

Well there's nothing wrong with leaving a project just as it is if you're happy with the way it looks. Not every project or situation has to have a "what if" moment and sometimes it can be as simple as "what if I walk away and leave it the way it is for a while". When you come back to it, you may look at it in a different way. Or What if you turned it upside down or looked at it from a different angle. As far as fear of screwing up your project: It's inevitable that you will at some point do something to a project that you won't like or won't give you the expected results and in that case "what if" can be the tool you use to recover from it. So you painted it with a color you don't like - well what if you add another layer of color, or fused on a piece of netting or organza to tone it down or change the hue. Or what if you covered the area with some beading or some buttons etc... Or before you cut it up seek a second opinion from an artist whose work you admire.

You know at the end of it all the worst that will happen is that you'll end up hating what you did and in that case you can either cut your losses on it and toss it and chalk it up to experience or cut it up into smaller pieces and make atc's or postcards with it. But on the flip side of that if you never take a chance on yourself and try something new then you'll never have the thrill of discovering a technique that you really enjoy.

Gayle Pritchard said...

Great post! I especially loved seeing the craft syringe, because it reminded me that it would be a potential solution to my own "what if" problem. I wonder if airbrush paint would work??